Magnus Eze, Enugu
Former Commissioner for Information and State Orientation in Ebonyi State, Chief Abia Onyike, is the chairman, Media and Publicity Bureau of Alaigbo Development Foundation (ADF). As the spokesman of the leading Igbo group, he speaks on the vexatious issue of suspended RUGA programme, proposal by Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) to establish Fulani Vigilance Group in Igbo land; the security situation in the country and need for the people of the old Eastern region to work together.
Do you think the self-determination effort of the various groups in the country is possible?
The Alaigbo Development Foundation (ADF) believes that the old Eastern region should continue to see itself as a regional power bloc and in that regard we’ve always had it in mind that there was the need to continue to reach out to our brothers in the South South geopolitical zone and we’ve maintained that relationship and at a stage, we also had a committee responsible for reconciliation and the committee members had to move round to talk to members and other people from the South South geopolitical zone. So, our own approach has been that which is rooted in recognition of the old eastern region as a major and important power bloc in the Nigerian federation because what we believe in is that they should be strong federation and it’s only important to realise that the best way to achieve restructuring in Nigerian federation is to ensure that the various federating units are autonomous and that is why we advocate a federation of autonomous regions.
In that regard, the old eastern region is split into two already; that’s the South East and South South but even at that; we continue to see ourselves as one and recently we’ve also tried to reach out during the Ijaw National Convention which held in Yenegoa, Bayelsa State. We were invited to attend the ceremony and of course, the leadership of ADF attended and delivered a paper which also highlighted the need for the continuation of spirit of brotherhood between the two geopolitical zones and also gave a befitting tribute to the leaders of the Niger Delta region especially people like Isaac Adaka Boro, Francis Ellah, Obi Wali, Frank Opigo, Okogbue Wonodi, Otonti Nduka, Kimse Okoko and several others living or dead. In a message he delivered at the convention, ADF President, Professor Uzodinma Nwala noted that we relish in the dream of a common brotherhood in a region bound together by the principles of self-determination and freedom. He pointed out that Igbo and our Niger-Delta brothers are in the same bracket now. So, we must work and fight together to earn our emancipation and freedom.
So, in summary, we’ve to know that the whole eastern region didn’t just come in from the blues; it was a region made up of ethnic nationalities; we were related to one another and on that basis, it’s not possible to disintegrate us even though the creation of states by the Gowon administration in 1967 attempted to do that because of the exigencies of the civil war. We also realise the need for ethnic nationalities to maintain their autonomy and independence and in the case of any fusion with others to form a federation, there’s need for very important consultations so that the major ethnic groups would not lord it over others, which has been the bane of the Nigerian federation.
From what you’ve said, the Bayelsa visit was in continuation of the push for the renegotiation of Nigerian federation. Is that correct?
That’s what it should be; if Nigeria were to be a normal nation state where leaders listen to their followership or where leaders are creative enough. The Nigerian nation state is overdue for very fundamental political reforms. The instability is extremely severe but unfortunately, our leaders always prefer that things go off hand and even when things go off hand, they’re not ready to do anything, and so, that’s the problem. If you look at the federation, the crises of the federation have become extremely extensive and if care isn’t taken to address the situation, we may be running into a major conflagration and that’s the truth of the matter. Let’s believe that at the appropriate time, the leaders would come back to their senses and then maybe they should be able to convoke conference of ethnic nationalities; a national conference to come together and address the situation and then evolve a new and authentic people’s constitution that’ll be used to govern Nigeria. The present constitution was drafted by the military; it’s a military decree, Decree no. 24 of 1999 was drafted by the Abdulsami Abubakar military junta and Nigerian people never played any role in the adoption of that constitution which is extremely very criminal. Human societies aren’t governed that way; a constitution is something that should evolve from the people; all the leading authorities have said so.
We have heard about RUGA; and the proposal by the Miyetti Allah to set up Fulani vigilance group in the South East. How is the ADF responding to these issues?
The problem has been on for a very long time; I think it started with the sponsorship of a bill in the National Assembly; right from 2011, the bill was sponsored and that bill was an attempt to set up grazing reserves in the Nigerian federation. It started from there and I think a senator from Niger State was the sponsor and then the alarm was raised that this very approach was going to create problems in the country. Of course, people started talking about the experiences of people in the middle belt especially in Southern Kaduna and others in the Mambilla plateau in Taraba and Benue states. Now, in Southern Kaduna, there were areas where the reserves were created before; during the period of the Northern Regional Government under Sir Ahmadu Bello.
Several years after, the areas were converted to emirates because of the presence of Fulani people and that has been the major centre of the crises in Southern Kaduna where the people that were given land to set up grazing reserves eventually turned it to political instruments of domination of indigenous people who own the land. Bowing to that controversy, there was strong opposition against the bill; from there they started coming up with all kinds of mutations; they now said it was going to be cattle colonies, from cattle colonies another name came up. So, currently, they talking about RUGA and before this time; they had talked about setting up vigilance groups that will be manned by youths of Fulani herdsmen. Of course, we’ve been totally opposed to all these things because we believe that Nigeria should be a genuine federation because it’s a country that’s very extensive and also made up of diverse groups of people; different religions, cultures etcetera.
The only way to govern such complex society is to respect the differences in culture, religion, language; social orientation etc, so that there will be peace and tranquility and so anything you want to do that suggests that a particular ethnic group and nationality want to impose their hegemony on others, will naturally lead to resistance and that’s usually the factor behind wars. Moreover, we’re living in 21st century; this is a century that’s characterised by Islamic insurgency and pan Arab nationalism, especially after the Twin Towers were bombed in New York. In the whole of the African region, we’ve seen a lot of conflagration of Islamic wars here and there; so, people are very sensitive to such developments and anything you want to do that’ll create that impression that there will be Islamic invasion of the environment, will always lead to fear. So, that’s really one of the reasons our people want to be careful.
In the beginning of all these things, the ADF wrote a letter to the National Assembly; the Senate and House of Representatives making a case that even if those ranches were to be established, they should actually be located in the northern parts of the country because they’ve more land there and they’ve more agricultural resources to take care of cattle. Nigeria is not the highest producer of cattle; in fact, in the world, we’re not even up to the 20th when it comes to cattle production. So, we should have understudied what happened in other countries and if you under study those countries you will know that they’ve been having these ranches built in the regions where the cattle production is prevalent. So, making it an issue that will move around the 36 states of the country is part of the arrogance and insensitivity of the leadership of the country and so it’s unacceptable.
Do you think that the South East governors could be trusted with their position on the RUGA?
The problem is the structure of Nigerian politics, as it is now the individual attitudes of the governors in the South East have become very problematic. Everybody is playing to the gallery; every person wants to secure his job; some of them are forthright, some of them are sincere but some of them are also very insincere and that’s where the problem lies because one would’ve thought that some people who’re our leaders should have been giving us strong representation and our views, opinions and aspirations should be articulated by them at all times. It’s not even within their power to make some of these decisions because it’s a matter of life and death right now as it is.
I think there’s need to advice and call them to order once again to always make sure that they carry their people along in all that they do and say. We need a forthright leadership that’s very transparent. But, by and large, the ADF is against the RUGA policy or any policy which create undue advantage for cattle rearers, under any guise, especially when such policies threaten the social, economic and political rights of other citizens, regions and ethnic nationalities in Nigeria.