Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
Prof. Daniel Saror, former vice chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, and now teaching at the Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi, is a Senator and one of the founding fathers of the defunct All Nigerian Progressive Party (ANPP).
In this interview with Sunday Sun, he warned the North to be very cautious and careful about how it treats the rotation of the presidency in 2023.
The elder statesman also posited that the way and manner the issue is handled could make or mar the unity of the country.
He, therefore, urged the North to be wary of engendering nepotism, especially in a widely diverse country like Nigeria with more than 300 ethnic groups. He also spoke on many other salient national issues. Excerpts:
2023 is just by the corner. In fact, with the hype that we see all around us, it seems nearer than we can even imagine. Many have thus been agitating that since the North is currently holding the office of the president, it should move to the South in 2023 and to the Igbo race. What’s your take on this?
You know, in 1999 when the military was leaving after the MKO Abiola debacle, there were serious discussions about the rotation of the presidency. Meetings took place in Kaduna. I attended some of them. Adamu Ciroma was there, Atiku Abubakar was there and a host of others. There was general agreement that led to the South take the presidency. Then they had to shop for a candidate. That was when (Olusegun) Obasanjo came in. He was identified and brought forward as the candidate from the South. And the agreement was that after the eight years, the presidency will move to the North. That was then. Some people now said no, no, no. We cannot continue that way because we in the North have a higher population and politics is about number. If you can’t carry people along and you still want to rule over them by force you’re going to have insecurity. So, I think the North should be very cautious and very careful about how they treat the rotation of the presidency because it was an agreement that was mutually reached at that time. Even if it was not a law, it was a moral agreement. If we cannot follow that, and we start talking about population when the North is already very weak, the North has had this power for so many years, yet no development. You can go from Sokoto to Yola and you will not find any industry. You only find Boko Haram and bandits. So, areas like Zamfara, Kebbi, all the way to Borno, insecurity everywhere. We are not using our position in the North as leaders of this country to develop our own people educationally, industrially or agriculturally. We are just satisfied to hold power. And the real people who are getting the benefit are even from the North. The North is the most insecured place from the Northwest, Northeast and part of North-central. Yet the North has power. So, that’s a problem. Today, a lot of people complain that the present government is playing a game such that you have to be Fulani or of Fulani extraction to get something from this administration. That’s what they complain about. Why can’t we open up the space and let other people too come in and benefit? So, it’s all part of insecurity that is inherent and if we don’t follow this properly, we will create problems.
Where do we go from here?
I think Nigerians know their problems. Nigerians are not bad people, we are good people. It’s situation that is impinging on our freedom. Nigerians don’t want to see inequity, unequal access to employment, unequal access to wealth, unequal access to businesses and so on. These are the things that are causing instability in the system. Nigeria has gone a long way through the constitution and through other laws to address this issue, but the implementation has been very poor. Nepotism is becoming an acceptable thing. And nepotism is not good especially in a widely diverse country with more than 300 ethnic groups. If one tribe gets to the office and feels it is only for them, you’re leaving 299 others angry. So, I think strict adherence to the rule of law and the provisions of the constitution will put us back to the right track.
As Nigerians celebrate 60 years of nationhood, the country is still grappling with the challenge of insecurity. Where do you think we have got it wrong?
I will be 79 on Friday October 9, 2020. At independence in 1960, I was in the secondary school and I was among Northern Nigerian students that celebrated that independence at the Tafawa Balewa Square in Lagos. I ran round the square and I was very privileged to have watched Nigeria over the last 60 years virtually uninterrupted. It was interrupted only when I went to the United States to do my studies, but I think that the ideals and ideas of independence, what it portended for us in Nigeria, 60 years ago. Well, we have made some strides in some areas. In education, for example, but we have failed in many other areas like industrialisation, our agriculture is not what it could have been and our manpower development particularly in Northern Nigeria is well below expectation. So, we are facing challenges that are constituting a threat to our future as a nation. The threats I am talking about have to do with the insecurity we have witnessed for decades, especially with the growth of Boko Haram, the growth of ISIS, ISWAP and the devastating effects of herdsmen which have constituted a security threat to Nigeria and unfortunately, these areas were not mentioned by President Muhammadu Buhari in his national broadcast speech on October 1, 1960 and I feel very strongly about the herdsmen problem. You know I was a Vice Chancellor at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and I sold the idea for the creation of National Animal Production Research Institute (NAPRI). That institute was in Shikka as a research station established in 1987 and they have done a lot of work in developing different types of grass to feed livestock. The institute also did a lot of work in trying to develop cattle that will produce more milk than the ones the Fulani people carry about that you see. All of that work has been put aside and government and some powers in the North are insisting that they (the herdsmen) should continue to move from place to place with their livestock as a means of animal husbandry. That to me, is mind boggling, because you cannot develop pasture and allow cattle to be roaming all over the country.
What was the idea behind developing the NAPRI?
The idea was government, assisted by the international organisations, will develop ranches and pasture land to grow grass and legumes to feed livestock. Today, Nigeria has roughly 20 million herds of cattle and we can easily raise that to 100 million if we have the grass for them to eat. The reason herdsmen move from place to place is that they are moving in search of grass and water. Nobody is expected to walk 30 miles a day with his cow and cattle are not made to walk 30 miles a day in search of food. Human beings are using their intellect to provide water and grass for livestock, but Nigeria is not doing it and so we are so deficient in that area and to me it is almost a scandal. What are we doing with the land between Kebbi State all the way across to Sambisa Forest in Borno State? There is so much vast land that is not used which can readily be developed into pasture to feed cattle in both the dry and wet seasons. We can build dams, provide boreholes, water these areas and really improve on our livestock development. Nigeria cannot import one kilogramme of beef because no country can buy it from us because we have cattle that are not being raised to meet international standards. So, the president keeping quiet over this situation in the last five years bothers me because I believe he knows that cattle has to be prepared and fed with grass and water nothing more than that.
So, what is the security implications of all these?
You have seen the effect of marauding herdsmen armed with sophisticated guns across the country. It’s not just here in Benue State. In the Southwest, in the Southeast and all over the place. Why can’t Nigeria at 60, develop pasture for its own livestock by increasing the population of the livestock, feed and even export and create jobs for veterinarians, for animal husbandry and so on? So, talking about insecurity, I am very worried that we have not addressed it sufficiently. That’s why we are all seeing the threats posed by Boko Haram, ISIS and herdsmen and now with open borders, bandits are infiltrating the country.
A lot of people have said that the Service Chiefs have over-stayed in office and they should go, especially now that the ovation is loud. Do you also think they should go at this time?
That is a tricky question because the Service Chiefs served at the pleasure of the President of Nigeria who is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. Nobody has authority over him on that issue. So, it is strictly his own decision. But why he is not listening to the cries of Nigerians, I don’t understand. Nigerians have told him in so many ways, we are not satisfied with the performances of these Service Chiefs. We hear stories. The governor of Borno State is even visibly angry, but the president seems to be committed to a particular band of people as his Security Chiefs and Nigerians are just watching, but they are not happy.
The Water Resources Bill issue is causing a lot of uproar in the country…
(Cuts in) The best I can say about that bill is that it is unconstitutional. The Nigerian constitution vests the power of control of states in the hands of governors and that includes water resources. How does the bill take that away from the governor without amending the constitution? So, I think it’s unconstitutional and it is a source of instability because when the government played dumb and not listen to the cries of the people about what Fulani herdsmen are doing all over the country and is bringing that bill after the cattle colony was turned down, after Ruga was turned down then you are bringing this Water Resources Bill, which is really obnoxious. It’s an insult. Why will state governors go and beg the Federal Government to sink a borehole in their places, because that’s part of what the bill says it will have to do. Individuals that have no water in their places cannot sink a borehole until they go and take permission from Abuja, haba!
Okay, as Professor of Veterinary Medicine, what is your take on the issue of ranching? Why is it difficult for the Federal Government to adopt ranching as a means of animal husbandry in the country?
I think it is political because the president and the Federal Government know very well, because they have all the studies available with them that, you need ranches to be able to produce and expand your livestock population; and the simple technology to produce a ranch is that you identify a place, fell down the big trees, plough, you harrow, you plant the grass that you want to plant and you water it and allow it to mature, allow it to seed, give it two or three years for the grass to grow fully so that the cattle will not finish it up. The technology is there. To get water to supply in the ranches, you can make small dams or sink boreholes, it’s easy. They are using the herdsmen as a political tool. Regrettably herdsmen have become a political tool by the present APC-led government to expand Fulani settlements all over the country for what reason I don’t know. We had been very stable in Nigeria, there has been freedom of choice, freedom of religion and all the religions have been prospering depending on the appeal they make to people. You don’t have to go and impose ethnic an minority in a place that you are growing livestock, no. Let’s develop the land that is available for ranching that is not good enough for other things. So, they are using herdsmen as a political tool at the detriment of the lives of the people in these areas and because these people come for their own religion, they are also seen as a religious problem to other Nigerians. Miyetti Allah is a Fulani socio-cultural and political organisation and they have a lot of money. They have access to government at every level both states and federal. Majority of Emirs and governors in Northern Nigeria are of Fulani extraction so they can easily support what is happening in the country; but nobody is interested in the expansionist approach they want to adopt which is unfortunate.
Recently, the Miyetti Allah wants to establish its own vigilante group across the country…
(Cuts in) It is part of the nauseating agenda. We have to be blunt about this because they have let the cat out of the bag. They want to take over the territory called Nigeria. I am not opposed to anybody growing, but I am opposed to intimidation and forceful take over of people’s land in the name of herdsmen or providing feed for livestock when we can develop these feed reasonably cheaply in places such as Borno and Kebbi states where the land is vast. But when you come to the South where the population density is very high, you cannot even get two square hectares of land that is not occupied and want livestock to come here.
As an elderstatesman, some Nigerians are calling for restructuring, others are saying confab and yet other are saying let’s have a Sovereign National Conference to address the country’s teething problems. What is your take on this issue?
I think Nigeria is a complex society put together by the British colonialists. Before then, you had kingdoms. We had the Benin Kingdom in the Southwest, even there is the Songhai Kingdom by the time Sir Lord Lugard came here in early 20th Century and put a stop to Jihad which started in 1804 and had gone on for almost 100 years before Lord Lugard overpowered them in 1903. There are those who felt that the Jihad must continue and all of Nigeria coming under their umbrella. So, let us agree that we have moved on and established a country under a new set of rules called the constitution and let’s follow that constitution, but it is the idea of trying to subvert the constitution to favour individuals and groups and tribes that is the root cause of many problems we are having today.
Would you say that the fight against corruption in this country is sincere?
No, it’s not. We have seen corruption. You can close your eyes and still see corruption in Nigeria up to very high levels of government. It is crazy. I am not just talking about federal, even in states you cannot even do a job and sit in your house and expect that after being certified that you have done the job, your cheque will be ready and you will go and collect the money, no. You have to go round and bribe people before you get paid so that whatever you are paid cannot be what you are supposed to get. That is how bad it is.
Another problem the country is grappling with even as we celebrate 60 years of nationhood is that of prolonged strike by Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). What do you think is the way out of this logjam?
I feel sorry for education today. The quality of teachers is poor, the quality of material resources available for teaching is poor. There’s hardly any training for teachers. Training and retraining is not there. Then we have this nonsense called miracles centres where proprietors and teachers help students to write examinations and get marks that are only good on papers, but is not in their head. It is so bad that when you interview a graduate who has come out with 2.1, you find out that he has nothing in the head. It’s a terrible stain on our educational system. I feel very strongly that policies should be put in place not only to ban miracle centres, but also punish those who are perpetrators of this acts, including the teachers, proprietors and even the students. Otherwise, we will lose the educational advantage that we have. Talking about ASUU, I am a member of ASUU because I’m a lecturer right now at the Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi. When government started IPPIS, ASUU told them to wait and should not move that fast. IPPIS was designed for civil servants. The universities have peculiar situations like sabbatical leave, visiting professors, contract staff, among others that are not captured by IPPIS. For instance, the vetinary teaching hospital has consultants who are paid differently. But government said no, you must fall into this IPPIS, otherwise you will not be paid. As I am talking to you here, the last salary that academic staff got that was regular was in January. My February salary was one third of what I got in January. Later, I got a salary of N5,886.67 as my salary. I called the Minister of Education and told him that if he fails to address this IPPIS issue, he will kill the educational system. But from July till date, I have received no salary as an old man, as a professor of 38 years, as a former Vice Chancellor. It just doesn’t fit into the IPPIS scheme. Why government cannot see what ASUU is talking about, I cannot comprehend. If you can expand the IPPIS to accommodate ASUU and the peculiarities that exist in the universities, fine. But they’re not doing that, they’re just insisting on a straight line IPPIS, which cuts out many of us because of age limit. I’m dumbfounded that our Minister, our government have continued to see ASUU as a confrontational union when, in fact, it is talking about real life situation. And they are affected, thousands are affected. Believe you me, the morale in the academic environment today is as low as it has never been; thanks to this IPPIS. People that have children in school can’t get them to return to school because they can’t pay their fees. They can’t take them to hospital when they’re sick because they have never developed another active means of livelihood. Suddenly, you said don’t pay them and for three’ four, five months, they have received no pay.