By Daniel Kanu
Prof Ango Abdullahi, former Vice Chancellor of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, is the leader of the Northern Elders’ Forum (NEF). He speaks with Sunday Sun on the controversial, but now suspended RUGA settlement programme of the President Mohammadu Buhari-led government, the corruption crusade, among other national issues. Excerpts:
What is your view on the RUGA controversy, although it’s suspended, most Nigerians are still complaining, why?
The only reason we are having this noise, the hullabaloo about the livestock industry in this country, is because everything has been very badly politicized, there is no rational discussion; there is no investigation about the various aspects that should be discussed about the livestock industry. When the British came this was their main emphasis, agriculture, crops, and livestock, but I don’t know within the last few years everything about this country is being politicized, virtually everything. Every day of our lives in terms of social, economic, political relationships is terribly politicized; there is no reason for all the noise that is going on about this. So, my worry is that people are not rational about it, politics have taken over, but unfortunately, even within this politics, more dangerously religion is being injected into it, that is very dangerous. So, this is why in the last few days we on behalf of the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) have been trying to calm the situation because the last thing we want is violence and conflict, we don’t want it, there is no need for people who have been cohabiting together for over 100 years, a very long time to begin to go the way we are going, there are all sorts of inflammatory statements, threats, drums of war coming out from unexpected quarters about Fulani, about non-grazing laws, etc, I couldn’t believe it. So, that is why I say politics has taken over and if we are not careful, perhaps, all these things can spill over to other things. That is why we said rather than engage in a quarrel because some people don’t want you in their neighborhood, we then advised the herdsmen, that they should move away from the neighborhood where they are not wanted and go to areas they have no problem with the neighbours. It is a piece of simple advice for people (herdsmen) who are on the ground if you feel unsafe and you have no guarantee by the constitutional authority that your safety is protected then they should quietly move out and go to safer grounds. I am really disappointed about the quality of political leadership in this country, particularly at the federal and to some extent, the state levels. All these sentimental expressions and so on about the herdsmen issue are newly created, because people have been living in peace for so long, so why now? The truth is that the issue of Fulani herdsmen and farmers has been overly politicized and until we move away from politicizing it, there may not be a lasting solution. The basic issue is that if there is an infringement of the law, sanctions should follow. This has been the relationship between farmers and livestock owners throughout history in this country. Where they infringe, damage crops, estimates are made and they are supposed to pay. This is what has been going on for centuries. What I see really is that this matter is politics now and we should be careful in the way we are going about it.
But that advice for the Fulani to leave appears ominous or you don’t think so?
No, it’s not. You see, that is why some people have seen it and they looked at it in the reverse. That if they have to move, if they have any counterparts on our side they also have to move. This is what is agitating the minds of some people, but it shouldn’t be so. I think people are simply misunderstanding issues and this is not good for our country. What I have learned in this country is that only 34 per cent of our land in Nigeria is under cultivation. This is my professional field you know, only 34 per cent of the landmass in Nigeria is under crops, the rest of it is bush, forest, grass and whatever. So, that was why when the British came their first job was to create cattle routes from Niger Republic down, all gazetted, we have them all on gazette and in the next few days, I will make public a full list of the gazette cattle routes that have been established in this country. The problem is that these cattle routes are being encroached everywhere; there is no reason they should be encroached. Their watering points have been encroached, we created all these, all of us are guilty because we have no reason to fail to plan integrated economic activities that will embrace every aspect of our economy, and we have no reason to fail to do that.
Most Nigerians are worried why the Fulani issue has taken this dimension because President Buhari is not the first Fulani head of state or president that this country has had?
(Cuts in) You are correct, Shehu Shagari has been there before him, he came in briefly and left, Yar’Adua also a Fulani man was there, so what is the problem?
That is where my question lies, where is this point of departure that everything has gone bad and accusing finger on Fulani, is there anything that Buhari is perhaps not getting well as the president?
This is what I have been telling you that the country has politicized every aspect of our living today. For some of you journalists who have been carrying my interviews in the last few years, I have always said that the trouble in Nigeria is the Nigerian elite. The Nigerian elite, political elite, technical and so on, all elite in Nigeria are guilty of what is happening in the country today because they are the ones that are educated, they are the ones that should know what is happening all around them not only within themselves, but also around the world, so they should be able to learn about what is happening in other parts of the world, and bring all the experiences together to see how they can help their country, but to a large extent the elite have failed us, we are all guilty, but I said the best way forward is that the elite should come together, there should be national conference of the elite, not ordinary Nigerians, ordinary Nigerians have no business with all the crisis that we are having, it is the elite that are having these crises, so they should convene a conference of national elite to discuss the problem of this country objectively, hopefully and agree that first and foremost they should declare they are guilty, and if they are guilty they should identify areas where they have done wrong and then resolve that they will go forward and correct them and then this country will be peaceful.
Recently former President Olusegun Obasanjo raised the alarm on the attempt for the Islamization and Fulanisation of the country. How do you respond to that allegation?
You see, this is part of the problem that I am talking about. First and foremost, let me say that, take away that Obasanjo was the President of Nigeria, let’s put him on the place of elite that I have just talked about, he is an elite like many of us, and, therefore, as an elite, he should be able to analyze things objectively and arrive at a point that what he will say may have repercussions. So, the fact that he has used the term in the style of the terminology is itself a problem and if I were to ask him, Islamization, we have been talking about Islamization of Nigeria for a very long time, we have attended three constitutional conferences, and when the issue of Sharia was brought it was very clear that this was a hot area for our discussions. So, it’s not new for him to say that there is allegation of Islamization of Nigeria, it’s not a new subject at all, but maybe coming from him, people may expect that perhaps he has access to information that other Nigerians do not have, I thought he should have been more circumspect on that knowing how the people will react, as there will be a tendency to believe him. Fulani for centuries have been on this territory before Nigeria ever came into existence, before many of these colonial territories, French or British came into existence. So, Fulanisation has always been on our card because they are part of the population of this West African territory, etc, so I don’t know whether the meaning of his terminology is that the Fulani are new in Nigeria, the Fulani have never been new in Nigeria, they have never been new across the West African region, so we need a little more explanation from Obasanjo, are they coming to Nigeria for the first time? Or are they Fulani that have been identified specifically with Nigeria, but there are other Fulani’s from other territories in West Africa that are rushing into Nigeria, is this what he meant? We are not sure about that (that Fulani from other territories are rushing into Nigeria), I saw and read some articles by some Fulani themselves that people who claim that Fulanis from other parts of West Africa are coming to Nigeria, why have they, those in authority not succeeded in arresting those that are encroaching, at least one of them that are coming to cause trouble in the country. So, these things as I have been saying are tendencies towards politicizing virtually everything that we are discussing today in this country.
What is your impression on the anti-corruption fight in the country today under President Buhari?
I think we have lost the war on corruption rather than winning it.
From my impression, I think, first and foremost we should be very clear about sources of corruption in Nigeria. We must know where the sources of corruption in the country are unless you want to chase shadows. What are really the roots? Are you paying workers well? To my mind, the sources of corruption in Nigeria are largely from our public services. Yes, the corruption is largely within our public services and if indeed they are and I have no doubt that they are, we don’t appear to be winning the war on corruption, we don’t appear to be winning the war at all. Some people may even argue that there is more corruption now than there was some years ago. In fact, in our first republic you can say there was very little corruption and in the military regime that followed, I mean the Gowon’s regime there was very little corruption because it was a continuation of our first republic leadership. But then from there on and I think up to Murtala time he came out very vigorously to fight corruption and to some extent, there was some attention being paid. But corruption began to rarely strive in the country from the public services actions in the last three decades or so and it is on the increase as I speak to you now. There is no equity, balance, and justice in the public service. The Senate President has just told us that his salary in a month, leave out allowances is N750, 000, he gets this money every 30 days as a member of the National Assembly; forget about his being the Senate President. But the issue concerning a minimum wage of ordinary N18,000 has been difficult for them to pay. The N18, 000 is not up to somebody’s tea allowance. In the minister’s office, the money is not up to daily entertainment allowance. Are you not aware that many states have said they will not be able to pay the N30,000 minimum wage? This is a wage you expect a family man to use for feeding, pay school fees of the children, pay for house rent, etc, how will the person cope? This cannot be sustained and unless this matter is addressed seriously, I can’t see a peaceful Nigeria.
Most Nigerians seem to be worried in the lopsidedness in the appointment of certain key offices like the Service Chiefs, which were drawn from virtually a section of the country. Does this not bother you?
This is the trouble with Nigeria, the trouble with Nigeria is that we don’t learn from our history and we don’t keep records of history. I have just done an exercise in a booklet form to show appointments of the first republic since independence in 1960 to date, to show who was in what office and from what area, from what religious faith? By the time you see it, you will be sorry asking this kind of question because the question appears to be parochial by those who have such a view and should not arise. I think it is only recently, during the Babangida administration and even the Shagari administration, particularly when you go back to the Balewa or Gowon administration the issue of Service Chiefs particularly in the military or para-military services etc; it is very open, very relaxed and what normally leads to the appointment of Chief of Army Staff, Inspector-General of Police or any of those Service Chiefs was left to the services in terms of seniority, competence of the officer and so on, but its very sad that there is insinuation here that, for instance, the Chief of Police now is from Nasarawa State, is he going to take decision based on the fact that he is from Nassarawa state or perhaps on a larger scale that the fact that the I.G of police is from Nasarawa state and Nasarawa state is a state in Northern Nigeria, so he is Chief of Police from the North and, therefore, there will be no consideration on police matters concerning other parts of Nigeria? This is very sad, very dangerous argument that is being put forward. How many offices are we even talking about and you are saying lopsidedness of offices? Have you looked at the offices in the civil service and those that occupy them, so what is the fuss all about? Are they parochial or are they biased in the discharge of duties concerning other parts of the country? This is a very sad development because this is driving us into areas that will be very unfortunate for this country.
What is your view or where do you think the 2023 Presidency should go, North or South?
It will go wherever Nigerians decide, based on the election: one man, one vote. Any permutation now may fail because in all it is the situation and Nigerians that will decide with their votes.