By Rose Ejembi
Former President of Yoruba Community in Benue State and President of Tito Group of Companies, Asiwaju Isaac Akinkunmi, has warned that the new Service chiefs may not be able to perform optimally unless the body language of the President indeed shows that he belongs to nobody and to everybody. He spoke on other salient national issues.
What is your take on the recent change of service chiefs by President Buhari?
When people were clamouring that the Service chiefs be changed, I was not seriously keying into that idea because I don’t know whether changing them is enough to change the deplorable security situation in Nigeria. It is not about changing the Service chiefs, they may not be able to perform unless the president changes his attitude. This is because the performance of the Service chiefs, ministers, special advisers and so on reflect the perspective of the president. When they watch the body language of the president, they act accordingly. They don’t want to act contrary to the wishes and what they read of what the president wants; his biases, his idiosyncrasies, his preferences and so on. So, changing of the Service chiefs is not what matters unless the president changes his attitude and return to what he said when he won the election promising to belong to nobody and to belong to everybody. But we can see very clearly that he actually deviated from this promise. A return to that promise will make the Service chiefs to perform well. Unfortunately, these institutions -the Army, the police, the Air Force, the Navy and the rest of them, as well as all government organizations and institutions, are not independent of the presidency because the presidency appoints them and so on; their loyalty is to the president and not to the nation. Not like what you have in America. If the loyalty of American institutions were to the president, that election in America today would have been annulled. But people that held these institutions have allegiance to the constitution of the United States of America, and they know their jobs so you don’t have to teach them. Even when the President is giving a wrong directive, they don’t follow it but do what they ought to do. Unfortunately, this is not what we have in Nigeria. The change of the Service chiefs may not achieve much unless the President changes his attitude and gives them the freedom to do their jobs as they deem fit.
Do you think the new Service chiefs have what it takes to confront and surmount the daunting security challenge facing this country right now?
In fairness to whoever heads any of these military or paramilitary organizations, the Nigerian Army is not trained to handle internal security. They are not trained in internal warfare but external warfare and to protect the territorial integrity of the country. I do believe all the same that as trained officers, rising from the ground to the position they are today, they should have what it takes to bring about the desired security in Nigeria. But like I said, if they would do their job without fear of favour, without looking at the direction the president wants them to look but the direction they feel will benefit the nation, definitely, they will succeed. But if they are reading the President’s body language to act, they will all be failures.
Daily, Nigeria seems to be more divided along ethnic and religious lines. I mean what divides us is becoming greater than what binds us together. What solution can you proffer to this?
All these I put at the feet of Mr. President. If the leader comes out to show leadership in unity, the country will unite. But when a leader is perceived as being sectional, as having his own biases, there will always be division. And I can tell you frankly that Nigeria has not been so divided as it is today. But the President could do a lot to unite the country. When you look at the cries today, it is the cries of Fulani herdsmen killing and maiming and occupying people’s land without permission all over the country. We don’t have mirror to read the President’s mind but we can deduce and judge from what is happening around us. In the North, in the South and everywhere, it’s the cry of Fulani herdsmen. And the fact that the President himself is Fulani, one expects him.to.be able to do something about it. As we are all aware, the Miyetti Allah came out during the Presidential campaign and said they support Buhari. I wouldn’t know whether he is now paying them back for that support at the expense of other Nigerians that equally supported him. That is where the problem lies. If the President can show leadership by showing that he belongs to nobody and to everybody, I am telling you that the country will unite. And when you look at the votes that brought him to power, it’s not just the votes of Kano State. The South West that is suffering from his policies today, he should know that without the South West, he couldn’t have been able to win.
A few days ago, the governor of Kano State suggested that the Federal Government should ban the movement of cattle from the North to South, in order to end the frequent clashes between the Fulani herdsmen and farmers across the country as well as curb cattle rustling. How would you react to this?
The governor of Kano State had alluded to that before when he said Kano has enough land for all the cattle in Nigeria. I doff my hat for him. Ganduje has been consistent and that makes a lot of sense that the movement especially by road, of cattle from the North to the South should stop. It makes a lot of sense. Let the cattle in the South be treated in the South and let the ones in the North be tested in the North. That will go a long way to checkmate farmer/herders clashes. Now, the unfortunate thing and why I key into the Kano State governor’s suggestion is because the movement of cattle from the North is not necessarily the Nigerian Fulani. Fulani from Niger, Chad and so on, are the ones coming in to cause this havoc. He is not like one of the Northern governors that said that all Fulani in West Africa are Nigerians and they have the right to come to Nigeria without visas. If that’s the case, that means you have no country. It’s like the Yoruba would say because there are so many Yoruba in Togo and Benin Republic, they should come to Nigeria without visas and they are all Nigerians.
Some states in the Southern part of the country have given quit notice to herdsmen to vacate their domains as a way of checking their criminal activities. Do you think the quit notice order is a step in the right direction?
I think people are misquoting Governor Akeredolu.
Akeredolu is a lawyer of repute and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria. He knows that he cannot give quit notice to any Nigerian to leave any part of Nigeria because it is a constitutional guarantee that every Nigerian has the right to live anywhere within the federal Republic of Nigeria and carry out his legitimate business. What Akeredolu is saying is that if you don’t own where you are grazing, you should quit. He cannot say the Fulani should leave Ondo State. But if you are on government reserve which you have no right to be, it’s either you get permission to be there or you quit. And Akeredolu is right to have said that. But I’m so disappointed in the leadership of Arewa Consultative Forum that was drumming the drums of war if that happens. That means they are not objective. You cannot go to occupy a land that does not belong to you and use it with impunity. I am in Benue State. The governor cannot ask me to quit Benue State but the governor has the right to ask me to quit if I am using government reserve area without permission, that’s unlawful. What Akeredolu and the Southern governors are saying is that everyone must obey the laws of the land. I have Fulani on my land in Ogbomoso but they are staying on my land with my permission and I gave them the extent to which they can go. They can graze with my permission. And then, there are a lot of them that built their homes in the middle of the town. They acquired the land, they have the papers and nobody can ask them to leave just as nobody can ask me to leave where I am doing business in Benue State because I bought the land and it belongs to me. So, the Governor will never ask a herdsman that acquires his land and is grazing his land and is grazing his cattle inside it to quit.
Sometime ago, you advocated the need to have president of Igbo extraction in 2023, who and who would you suggest should be allowed to take a shot at the presidency from the South East?
There are dozens of qualified people of Igbo extraction. We have people like Soludo, Peter Obi, Ngige; we have so many of them who are qualified to be president. And the reason why I advocated for this is that the civil war ended in 1970 and we need to bring people from the Igbo extraction that tried to leave. We need to bring them in fully to really feel to be part of Nigeria. Doing that will neutralize the activities of IPOB. It will neutralize the agitation for the sovereign state of Biafra. It will make people of Igbo extraction feel really a sense of belonging to Nigeria. But unfortunately, politics is a game of number. It has to be by compromise. There is no one section of Nigeria that can do it alone without the support of other regions, even the North can’t do it alone.