From Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
Ihagh Iorbee is the incumbent President General of Mzough-U-Tiv and the Chairman of the three socio cultural groups in Benue. The retired Comptroller of Prisons who currently lectures at the Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi, in this exclusive interview, insisted among others that Nigeria cannot afford to keep power in the North beyond 2023.
Nigeria seems to be going through one of the worst times in its history as a result of high level of insecurity -kidnapping, insurgency, armed banditry and the likes. What do you think can be done to assuage this ugly Development?
I quite agree with you that these are the problems we have. And if we don’t tackle them, they’re capable of breaking the country. So, the earlier we settle them, the better. The only thing I can say is I don’t see how we can settle these problems because I don’t think the government is too serious about this. Why am I saying this? Two hundred people would be killed for instance and they will tell us it’s only ten. Then, they would say they’re on top of the situation and the next day that same thing would happen again. I feel that the service chiefs have overstayed. If Buhari is doing this and he’s not getting results, then he should change tactics. This administration is practising what we call patronage politics. This is because an organisation like Miyetti Allah will come out and threaten fire and brimstone without any rebuke from the powers that be. They will come back and actualise that which they had threatened. Remember the Benue attack on the eve of January 1, 2018; we are all aware that Miyetti Allah issued threat, they had press conference, they had written to the IGP and so on and they came back and actualised their threat and up till now, there have been no arrests. It therefore shows that there is what we call patronage politics which means this regime is patronising powerful informal network of influence that has alignment with the government in power. And that is why it is difficult for Nigeria to win the war against banditry, insurgency, armed herdsmen and so on. Look at the way the Buhari Government proposed establishment of a Fulani radio station, an ethnic radio station saying that was a way to persuade them. When you see outright insurgency? Remember, Amnesty International and the Global Terrorism Index have shown that by 2014, Fulani insurgency had caused more death in the world especially in Nigeria than what Boko Haram had caused. And up till today, the Presidency has refused to declare them as a terrorist group when the US and the rest have declared this. It shows that this government is actually patronising them. You would recall that when the banditry issue in Katsina State started, we saw picture of the governor negotiating with bandits who were carrying AK47. The Military Chief was also there and the man negotiated and went back into the hinterland where he was. And then of course, they stage-managed the kidnapping of those school boys. Remember, during the Boko Haram kidnap of the Chibok school girls, the military got a tip off and did not act until it happened. Before then, former President Jonathan had decried that his administration had been infiltrated by Boko Haram apologists including the military. Therefore, in this patronage regime, the only thing that can bring down this high level of insecurity is for government to come out and dissociate itself from this patronage that it is currently practicing. In 2018, we got to know that President Buhari is the grand patron of Miyetti Allah. So, as the grand patron, he has an affinity with the group. Also, some of the policies of this government are baffling sometimes. For instance, why building a railway to Niger when we have the East, the Middle Belt and all that are yet to have railway?
My submission is that the current insecurity problem in this country, if not well handled, could degenerate into civil war. The civil war could be political, economic or religious. Hence, the need for the Federal Government to quickly step into this matter.
Don’t you think the recent quit notice given to herdsmen in the Southwest, if not well managed, could consume this country?
It will because we have been having the herdsmen killing our people all the time. Even though the security men see them with sophisticated weapons, they don’t say anything. Now, the Fulani were asked to leave the forest in the Southwest and government is having issues with that. Now, the Fulani are saying that they’ve been living there for years but they’ve never talked about herdsmen killing people everywhere in Nigeria especially Benue. I think that most of the problems we have especially with the Fulani insurgency have to do with institutional transformations that have happened in Nigeria. Before the late 1980s, the Land Use Decree came into power in 1978. Before now, Fulani would come to Benue and especially in Tiv land. They would come, negotiate entry with traditional rulers, they would agree on the number of herdsmen to enter. They would agree on the duration of stay. But immediately the land use act was passed, they stopped negotiating. They didn’t find any justification or rationale for negotiating their entry anymore when all lands supposedly belong to the government and became a national resource common to everyone. The ECOWAS in its wisdom in 1988 passed the ECOWAS Protocol on Transhumans. That protocol is similar to what was practised traditionally; the negotiation between Fulani herders and their host communities. But Nigeria has deliberately refused to adopt that ECOWAS protocol on Transhumans. It is now an alibi for the Nigerian government to refuse to implement that protocol. If that protocol is implemented, you will not have these cases because that protocol stipulates that the herdsmen must follow prescribed routes to enter. They must also come with particular certificates and we must know where they’re coming from and where they’re going. We must know where they’re residing, we must know how long they’re staying and when they will go. It is not an all year round thing; sometimes ago, the Vice President said Nigeria had been unable to fully enforce the ECOWAS Protocol on Transhumans which is a major problem. If that protocol is enforced, it’s similar to what the Tiv people were doing in the past. This is why the Fulani have continued to say that they can stay anywhere in Nigeria.
We’re told that the IGP and the FG have also ordered the arrest of Sunday Igboho. Nigerians are worried that the IGP and FG could give such orders when they have blatantly refused to order the arrest of Miyetti Allah whom they say have severally made threats and carried out heinous attacks and killings across the country. What is your opinion about this?
Patronage politics! When you talk about patronage politics, a leader who is primordial in his thinking or a regime that is primordial in its thinking will protect and reward it’s affinity with a powerful informal network. You know, in Africa generally, our regimes are patronage regimes and they thrive on two things; shallow states and informal powerful network. You know, the Fulani have affinity with their benefactor who is Buhari. Do you expect him, himself a Fulani for that matter to come and say that the Fulani are wrong? So, that is why the man who is perpetrating the evil is not called to order. The man who protests the evil being perpetrated against him is the one who is called to order. It shows that we are living in a patronage regime that is biased in all ramifications and only concerned with promoting a particular agenda. And that is what is dividing Nigeria. You say you arrest bandits, you negotiate with them, you say they have accepted amnesty, you grant amnesty, you give them the luxury of amnesty, yet a Tiv bandit surrenders and then you extra-judicially murder him and you say you’re fighting insurgency. So, it is simply that untill this Buhari government goes away, we are going to continually have this problem and it will keep getting worse. And this is about Islamization and Fulanization agenda. So, I am saying if the Federal Government calls for the arrest of Sunday Igboho, that is a gross hypocrisy. Miyetti Allah, Hassan Saleh, Bodejo and the rest of them have been threatening fire and brimstone and nothing happened to them. It’s not as if they go to hide to make such threats. They do that in the seat of power and yet, nothing happens to them. And then, one man who feels threatened cries out, then you said they should arrest him. It shows that all animals are equal but some are more equal than others. It also shows that there is an agenda.
How would you assess the Benue anti open grazing law?
That law is one of the best things that have happened to Benue in recent times because Benue people are basically farmers. In the 21st century, somebody is saying your business should not affect mine and mine should not affect yours and you are finding it difficult to accept that? All these politicians who go overseas should tell us if they ever see chickens or goats roaming the streets in the name of open grazing in the countries they have visited. They don’t. And when the foreigners are coming to Nigeria to come and assist us, when they land in Abuja, they are stopped for 30 minutes for cows to pass. In this 21st century?
As the pendulum swings towards 2023, where, in your own opinion should the presidency go to?
I am not an advocate of power rotation but I am an advocate of fair play. With what we have seen, we cannot afford to keep power in the North beyond 2023 because if power is consolidated in the North beyond 2023, I tell you, we will no longer be here. Our lands would have been taken over. So, we want a presidency outside of the North. Wherever it goes, it must be outside of the North. I personally feel that the North has had it enough. The presidency should either move to the Middle Belt or the East. These are the two places that I feel have not benefitted from it.