Secretary-General of Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE), Dr. Kunle Olajide has declared that the proposed plan by the Federal Government to establish farm settlements in each of the 109 senatorial zones in the country is a ploy by the government to bring back the controversial RUGA, which had been massively rejected, especially by people in the southern part of the country.
In an interview with OLUSEYE OJO, Olajide insisted that the Federal Government should not be involved in the establishment of farm settlements and should leave such plans for the states. Dr Olajide expressed support for the on-going one million-man man march against insecurity in the country being held by the Nigerian Indigenous Nationalities Alliance for Self-Determination (NINAS) opposite the United Nations Headquarters in New York, United States. He also spoke on the visit of Sheikh Abubakar Gumi to some parts of the South-West, notably Igboho Town in Oyo State (hometown of detained Yoruba Nation agitator, Sunday Adeyemo). He urged residents of the communities being visited to be at alert during such visits to nip any security threat in the bud.
The Federal Government says it plans to establish 109 farm estates across the 109 senatorial districts in Nigeria. But there have been objections to the project in many parts of the country. What do you think?
Virtually, all sections of Nigeria today are agitating for a truly federal system of government. And the Federal Government appears to be going against that tide. By every of its decisions, it is trying to entrench further unitarism that Nigerians are against. Two, for me, it is a ploy, perhaps, to reintroduce RUGA, cattle colony and grazing ranches all over Nigeria.
It is a pity that the Federal Government appears to be subverting the country they are supposed to uniting. They are subverting the stability of this country. So, for us in the Yoruba states, I think we should go and challenge that in court. Then, we should compel the Federal Government to give us whatever money it is spending on those states that have accepted the farm estates. Give us the money you are giving the states that have accepted the farm estates and we shall use the money for agriculture if that money is meant for agriculture. There is no point for some states to be benefiting from federal money and other states that considered that project harmful to their development and their states should not be denied their rights to have access to federal funds.
What would you say then about some states that already have farm settlements to boost agriculture, like those established in Yorubaland by the defunct Western Region Government under the leadership of Chief Obafemi Awolowo?
States that are not in support of the Federal Government coming to compete with state government in setting up farm estates should legally demand the necessary funds to develop their already established farm settlements. At least, it has the same objective, which is promotion and development of agriculture.
The Nigerian Indigenous Nationalities Alliance for Self-Determination (NINAS) made a call recently that the United Nations should declare Miyetti Allah a terrorist organisation, in view of atrocities being committed by a number of herdsmen and the way the group has claimed responsibility for many of the killings in the country. What is your position?
The brazenness of Miyetti Allah, in even announcing to the world that they were going to defy the legitimately passed legislations in various states, to me is clear terrorism, apart from the fact that their members have been maiming, raping women, destroying farms, and so on. There are many other things that terrorist organisations do, such as killings and destroying. So, to us, the answer is yes; Miyyeti Allah should be declared a terrorist organisation absolutely.
Miyetti Allah said the anti-open grazing laws in the Southern Part of Nigeria is a ploy for the region to clinch the 2023 presidency. What is your take on this?
That statement should be ignored because as far as I am concerned, it has no bearing. The anti-open grazing laws and the 2023 presidency are not related at all. The 2023 presidency is another kettle of fish. Some parts of this country are saying that without a new constitution, that election would not be allowed in their own areas. I think we should just ignore that statement made by Miyetti Allah.
NINAS is currently staging a million-man Freedom March opposite the United Nations Headquarters in New York, United States, to demand a referendum based on reported genocide, banditry and terrorism in Nigeria. Do you agree with NINAS on this?
They are enforcing their fundamental human rights, freedom of opinion, freedom of expression, and freedom of hearing your views anywhere in the world. I don’t think they have violated any law. They have freedom to do what they are doing. And asking for referendum, to me, is not harmful to Nigeria. But I don’t think the United Nations will come and conduct referendum in this country.
Who should conduct the referendum?
One, the Federal Government should introduce referendum into our constitution. There is no truly democratic nation of the world that does not have referendum in its constitution. If that is there, and there is any contention that the parliament cannot resolve, then they should put it to people in a referendum.
Controversies have been trailing the visit of Islamic cleric, Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, to some parts of the country, especially to Igboho in Oke-Ogun division of Oyo State. What message does the visit send to Yoruba elders?
We are still in one country. Therefore, anybody has a right to go anywhere. The important thing is that all citizens of Nigeria must be conscious of their security. So, for us, you have to be conscious of the security of your environment. When strangers come in, they have to be seriously monitored. The movement must be monitored to ensure that they have not come to play any card. So, once the citizens of the place they have gone to are at alert, I don’t think there is anything to fear. Even expatriates have been coming to Nigeria, visiting tourist sites and other places, and nobody challenges them. So for a Nigerian to tour the country, he has the right. But at this time, all citizens must be conscious of their security.
But there have been allegations that Sheikh Gumi is planning to relocate fleeing terrorists from Northern part of the country to Oke-Ogun in Oyo State
That is why I said everybody must be conscious of his or her security. Once they find something suspicious, they should report to the security agencies and the respective governors of their states
The Federal Government has been very empathic on the position of the constitution on who can bear arms in Nigeria. But the spiralling insecurity in the country has forced the Minister of Defence, Gen Bashir Magashi (retd), ex-Defence Minister, Gen Theophilus Danjuma (retd), as well as Katsina State governor, Aminu Masari, to call on Nigerians to defend themselves. How should the people, especially Yoruba people who you represent, defend themselves and with what weapon, against their attackers, carrying AK-47 rifles and other dangerous weapons?
Well, that is the duty of the National Assembly. They ought to have passed laws empowering the citizens that can afford it to buy firearms and get them licensed for self-protection. So, I think we should give that to the National Assembly right away. It is important for them to pass the law. Even, the Minister of Defence, who is the highest authority on defence matters, has told us to defend ourselves. But with what are we going to defend ourselves? So, the National Assembly should take up the gauntlet and pass the necessary laws so that citizens of the country would not just be apprehended anyhow.
There have been concerns that if the use of gun is legalised for citizens, there are tendencies for abuse. How should the abuse be handled?
People tend to abuse any law anywhere. But it is legal in the United States and other places. And people tend to abuse it there also. But this should be balanced with the way criminals are killing citizens. We have not developed to that level though, and it is not something I will advocate. But if the Federal Government fails in securing us, then we might have to put pressure on the Federal Government to legalise the use of firearms for citizens for self-protection.
As it is now, how can the people defend themselves, with the absence of legislation on use of guns by citizens?
Well, people should defend themselves with whatever they have to ensure that they stay alive. They should not allow criminals to kill them. They should follow the advice of Minister of Defence of self-defence.
What do you make of the warning by the United Nations that Nigeria’s future is in danger over banditry? Is the insecurity not a threat to the conduct of the 2023 general elections?
The banditry or insecurity is a threat to the stability of this country. So, the United Nations is not wrong. Then, we keep changing the names – bandits, unknown gunmen, Boko Haram and so on. As far as I am concerned, they are terrorists. They are threats to the stability of the country and the 2023 general elections, if there is going to be anything like it without a new constitution.
Value Added Tax (VAT) collection has been generating ripples. In a country where true federalism is being practised, who should be collecting VAT between the federal and state governments?
In a truly democratic country, the states would collect their VATs, except organisations and private companies that are national in outlook, like telecommunications and so on. They have to pay VAT to wherever they are operating from. The Federal Government, of course, will collect VAT from places that are their own constitutionally, like the Nigerian Port Authorities, and so on, that are under them directly, as well as the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). So, collection of VAT should be local. It should not be over-centralised.
What should be the way forward on the controversies trailing the actions of Rivers and Lagos States on the issue of VAT?
On this, we all have to fold our arms and await the pronouncement of the Supreme Court.