From Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
In this exclusive interview, President General of Mzough-U-Tiv, CP Iorbee Ihagh (rtd), commended the Southern Governors for speaking with one voice to ban open grazing across their region. He urged the Northern governors to toe the same line as a way of checking the current spate of insecurity in the country. He spoke on other national issues.
What is your take on the recent ban on open grazing by the Southern governors and their call for national dialogue?
Northern Governors should emulate what the Southern Governors have done for Nigeria to survive. The ban on open grazing by Southern governors and their call for dialogue is a true reflection of the feelings of most Nigerians. It’s not based on ethnicity, religion or tribe. In Yoruba land, you have Muslims and Christians even from the same family, yet you hardly hear them fight each other on the basis of that. The Southern Governors have taken their decision because that’s what their people want. Ban on open grazing has come to stay. We want a balanced federation where people govern themselves. Conflicts can only be resolved through dialogue and not through guns. Through dialogue, we can proffer solutions. I was surprised to hear the Senate President saying that what the Southern Governors have done is wrong. The governors are speaking the minds of their people just like Governor Ortom. Ortom is speaking the minds of the Benue people because majority of the Benue people like what Ortom is doing and that is why he was reelected. You would recall that we recently passed a vote of confidence on the governor as a result of his stance against open grazing. And we told him when we went to Government House that if he repeals the law, we would impeach him. So, the Senate President should not come hard on the Southern Governors because they are doing what their people want. They were elected by their people and not by him. He should know that he is one out of all the 109 senators and so, he’s not above other senators. If he wants to talk, he should talk as a person and not talk as if he’s speaking for the entire Senate because senators are representing their people and they must abide by the wishes of their people. Obviously, I have a senator representing me and I will tell him to vote for dialogue. If he does otherwise, next time, I will not vote for him. So, the call by the Southern Governors is apt and very timely. Dialogue will settle our national problems. If we don’t take time, Nigeria might cease to exist.
I have been saying this before. We are in the 21st century, what these people are saying is that your business should not affect mine and mine should not affect yours. When I went to the West, one of the traditional rulers there said what Governor Ortom is doing, other governors will not see it until later. I believe they are seeing it now. Those of us who travel overseas don’t see chickens, goats, cows, pigs or whatever openly grazing anywhere. They are right in the countryside well kept in ranches. Same foreigners will come to Nigeria and land at Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport and on their way to Abuja, they are stopped for one hour for cows to pass. So, what Ortom brought was something to save the entire country. He should have been regarded and treated as a hero rather than being vilified. I think what the herdsmen are doing is to capture the whole land in Nigeria. First, we thought it was only Benue but it’s no longer Benue alone. And that’s why President Buhari must urgently heed the call for national dialogue by the Southern Governors if Nigeria must survive the high spate of insecurity currently threatening our corporate existence. Nigerians, irrespective of political, religious or ethnic affiliation, are saying that Nigeria must survive. But there’s need for dialogue. We need to sit together and discuss to proffer solutions to our common problems. But President Buhari is not saying anything. When you look at Boko Haram, kidnapping, herdsmen, banditry and so on, they are all the same thing. And I think President Buhari has a plan. If not, why will he be talking of building railway from Nigeria to Niger? It doesn’t make sense especially when there’s non from Igbo land through Biddle Belt and all Hausa land. So, our President knows what he is doing. We want Nigeria to be one and the only way is through national dialogue. Nigeria as it is now, is on life support and if care is not taken, you will not see Nigeria tomorrow as predicted by the United States of America.
As you said, Nigeria is now on life support but what can be done to redeem the situation? Can dialogue still work at this point?
If President Buhari is serious, dialogue can still work at this point. I’m sorry to say this but since we have been talking about herdsmen, Buhari has never made any mention of herdsmen even once. So, if he’s not supporting them and if he’s ready to call a spade a spade, dialogue can still work at this point. But the way he is going about the whole thing makes people feel he has an agenda. If he doesn’t have an agenda, it’s just for Government to send security to go and block the borders and make soldiers push out those who are causing trouble. If he wants, it is possible. It’s not too late. It’s better to do something than nothing because he will be blamed if he doesn’t take action. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo once said as my adviser, you are free to advise me but I’m not bound to take your advice. The earlier President Buhari takes action, the better for the country. If he doesn’t, then, it will happen during his time. So, for me, I think it is not too late for him to call for national dialogue now so that Nigerians can speak and arrive at a decision that will.be acceptable to all.
What’s your take on the call for restructuring by many Nigerians?
Yes, many people have been talking about restructuring and I think restructuring is not a bad idea. It is the only way out for Nigeria to survive.
Why should a Benue man keep 3000 tubers of yam only for herdsmen to come and burn it for their cows to eat. And from there, they start killing. There’s hardly a day that they don’t kill and the presidency is not saying anything. That means the life of a cow is worth more than the lives of Nigerians.
Can you guess how many people have been killed in the last one month?
I think about 30 people have been killed so far. That’s the ones that I know. Some were killed in Gwer West, some in Guma, some in Moor in Kwande Local government area. That’s aside from about 70 Tiv people that were recently killed in Taraba State. They called to inform me about the Taraba killing about 5am and when I asked why the people were killed, they say the Fulani are not happy that Governor Ortom has made all the Southern Governors come out with what he has started and that’s why they’re not happy to see any Tiv man. So, there’s killing everywhere. As it is now, the Benue people can no longer go to the farm. Anyone that dares go to the farm risks being killed by the herdsmen. So, our people are now afraid to go to farm. That means there will be hunger in Nigeria because Benue State is the food basket of the country. And we cannot go to farm now because we are scared of being killed. The Fulani are allowed to carry AK-47 but if they see our people with ordinary cutlass that they want to go to the farm with to cut cassava and plant, they will arrest them. So, the security agencies may be working based on what President Buhari has told them. Again, 90 percent of the security chiefs are Fulani. You know that there’s a plan. If not, you have six geopolitical zones. If they are 60, why not ensure that all the zones have equal representation? If that had been done, we wouldn’t have had any problem as we have today. But a situation where only one tribe has dominated the security architecture of the country makes one to wonder. Even the Hausa are fed up because most of them are not given the privilege given to the Fulani. The Fulani are given juicy offices and it’s not helping them because when President Buhari leaves, anything can happen. Some of them that I have spoken to don’t like it either because he is putting them in trouble.
Recently, after the meeting of the Southern governors, the Northern Elders Forum were calling on President Buhari to resign. What do.you have to say about that?
I think I do agree with them because to me, I see Buhari is not actually in control. I have said that before. He’s not in control. Sometimes, Buhari gives an order and a Defence Minister would go and say a different thing. That means Buhari is not the Commander in Chief. So, I totally agree with them that he should resign because he’s no more in control. If he’s in control, these things will not be happening. I remember I was a student in the USA and there was something that happened in the North and Buhari was the GOC then and he stopped that trouble from escalating even though it was a religious issue then. From that time, I became an ardent supporter of Buhari and if anybody said anything bad about him, I would almost fight that person. But since he came in as President, he has come with a different agenda. That’s why I’m saying that he not doing anything other than working for the herdsmen. Now, they’re bringing herdsmen from other African countries into Nigeria. Fulani in
Nigeria are just about three million but now, he’s bringing them from elsewhere to.come so that they will capture the land. And openly they said Nigeria belongs to them. The Miyetti Allah Secretary stays in Abuja and he says they are free to stay anywhere in Nigeria because Nigeria belongs to them and that the British people handed over Nigeria to them and if you’re not from there, how would you be happy with such statement. And Buhari doesn’t say anything. The Fulani are seen with AK47 yet they’re not arrested.
What’s your reaction to the statement credited to Miyetti Allah’s Hassan Saleh that Fulani are also ready for the break up of Nigeria?
If Saleh said that, then it’s a good point. We also are ready because a situation where only three million people want to take Nigerian land is unacceptable. So, he is speaking for the Fulani people. If he said that, then it’s a good development because you cannot force your husband to stay with you as a wife. If the two of you cannot stay together, it’s better you leave and everybody goes his way. So, if he said that, it’s good but that means they will have to go to their states. In Benue State, we don’t have Fulani as indigenes and so, non of them will be here.
A helicopter was recently impounded in Niger State for allegedly delivering arms and food to bandits. And that helicopter was said to be owned by former Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar. Although he has dissociated himself from the allegation, what’s your reaction to that?
Do you expect him to agree? We know that they’re all working together. So, everybody knows that he is the owner but he will definitely not agree. He’s not the only one doing that. Very many of them are doing it. Even the Federal Government is involved. This project is Federal Government’s project. Of course, you know how Boko Haram came in. It was during Buhari and Jonathan’s election. That’s when it started and a lot of things happened, some of which I don’t want to talk about now. It is said that Buhari brought these people in so that if he didn’t win the election, there would be trouble. Luckily enough, Jonathan was wise enough to allow him win for the sake of peace. That is why Jonathan is looked upon as a good man. I heard about it and I also know that the plane belongs to him (Abdulsalami).
If the President is serious and wants to stop this, don’t you think he will do it? He has all the service chiefs around him. All he needs do is to give the order and they would abide by that order. For instance, the security men posted to Benue would sometimes say they don’t take orders from the governor. I was once a parastatal’s chiefs at some point and any state I was posted, I was for the Chief Executive there who is the governor. But now, some of them (not all) are not taking orders from the governor sometimes. So, if the President wants to stop that, he will. But I think he doesn’t have the political will to do that.
Don’t you think at this juncture, it is high time our leaders began to make arrangements for a peaceful disintegration of this country instead of us ending it in crises?
I must agree with you on this. I think it’s high time we begin to dialogue on how we can peacefully go our separate ways. And I think some ethnic nationalities have started doing that already. Here in Benue, we are doing something too so that there will be no fight because if it comes to a war, the poor people are the ones that will suffer and we don’t want that to happen. Again, Nigerians have all intermarried and people have houses and investments in other regions of the country. All these would have to be put into consideration to ensure that we don’t end it in war. So, I would prefer the restructuring of this country based on the six geopolitical zones. For instance, the Middle Belt should not be called the North Central but Middle Belt. And it is only through dialogue that we can arrive at a peaceful disintegration. Once we restructure, each of the geopolitical zones will have its own police. We copied the Presidential system of government from the United States of America. In America, the Mayor at the county level which is like our local government here, has the police; it’s only the state of Louisiana that has Parish. But the remaining 49 states of America have counties. And then, at the state level, they have the US Police. That is exactly what we need so that governors of each of the state’s would be powerful enough to give orders and their orders obeyed.
If this situation we’re in now persists, do you think the 2023 elections will be a reality?
I don’t think so and I have said it before. Maybe, that’s their plan too so that there is no election. But election must hold. But if these problems continue, it will be difficult to hold elections in this country because as at now, there are a lot of places you can’t go. These people have guns, so how can you go and conduct elections there? They just write whatever they want. I’m saying that if President Buhari does not stop this insecurity, then, it means Nigeria will not be together and there will be no elections in 2023. But my advice to him is to save Nigeria from total collapse.
Are you not surprised that the Minister of Communication was linked to terrorism by the DSS but despite that, he was still appointed Minister?
I’m not surprised because Buhari has never removed any of his appointees, even those of them that have allegedly been stealing money. There’s more corruption in this government. Even the former service chiefs, there was nothing he could do; that’s why he asked them to go. And instead of him to release them, he now appointed them as career ambassadors. What makes them career ambassadors? Career ambassadors are people that when you graduate, especially political scientists, you start your service in the Ministry of External Affairs. From there, you go up and become a career ambassador. He would have rather called them political ambassadors. It means they’re in APC with him and that’s why he is keeping them.