Okwe Obi, Abuja
Former Minister of Police Affairs, Humphrey Abbah, has taken the outgone ministers to the cleaners, saying that none of them is fit to be reappointed based on their abysmal performances. The chieftain of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), is also of the opinion that only qualitative education, reorientation and job creation for the youths can quell the reckless banditry and kidnapping ravaging the country.
The country is confronted with the issue of insecurity. How did we get to this point?
The issue of insecurity is so sad. My take is on two sides; the first is that our youths are idle. They are not engaged in gainful ventures. We have not provided a platform for their engagement in productive ventures. So, the energy that should have been used for good is being used negatively. And, it is quite unfortunate that part of the platform that has provided them with capacity for negative activities stem out of political engagements of the youths overtime. These youths have been engaged overtime by politicians who have, in one way or the other, militarise them; equip them with arms and ammunitions to do politics which is a very negative way of playing politics. Rather than play politics of issues, they engaged in politics of force, might and power, such that the negative attributes of it outweigh the positivity that ought to come out of it. And the repercussions are what we are seeing. We need to begin to re-orientate our youths. We need a general reorientation for Nigerians. We need to begin to put emphasis on education. There must be qualitative public school education, education at such a level where children of the rich and mighty can attend with the children of the poor and the middle class. I come from a very humble background. I went to public schools all through my life. But I can compete with any of my age mate who went to other schools. So, we need that kind of standard of education across board. It is shocking to find out that in some states of the federation, half of their school systems are closed. In my state (Kogi) for instance, our schools have been closed for two and a half years now. How do you function? You now have a generation that is coming up that it is illiterate in the 21st century when we are talking about the world moving into an era of artificial intelligence. You have people who are not literate enough to write their names or read. We are sitting on a time bomb, and that is why what is manifesting across board is springing up everywhere. There is no road that is spared. It does not matter the name you give them, they are all the same group of people. If you take a statistics of the age group, gender, you will find out that this group of people causing insecurity are in the same age bracket.
Aside education which you have advocated, is there no other way we can retrieve these arms?
How do you know those who are holding them if it is not by persuasive reorientation and educating the mindset that what you are holding does not benefit you? You cannot decree it. You cannot do it by force because you cannot begin to search from Port Harcourt to Sokoto, from Lagos to Maiduguri. How many homes are you going to search? Where are you going to look into? There are a lot of farmlands where security agencies do not have access to. And even though they do, how many security personnel do we have that you will spread to the length and breadth of Nigeria to begin to search for illegal weapons? It is by persuasive education and reorientation of the minds of our people that can now begin to get them to rein in these illegal arms, and say ‘please submit them,’ or government should pay a sum for the collection of it. Let us have a cross board orientation. I do not think our National Orientation Agency (NOA) is doing much. But it is even beyond the agency from what I am seeing. Recently, immediate past Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi reportedly said that the Igbo should not bother about producing a president because they have not contributed enough, politically to the APC. What is your take?
I empathise with the expression of such opinion because the issue of the presidency of this country should be thrown open to the best materials to begin to emerge. We should move away from tribal bigotry. We should begin to emphasise on the best material to move us forward in the 21st century. For how long are we going to be running a triangular approach of Hausa, Yoruba or Igbo? What about the rest of us. We have more tribes in this country who are not in these three major tribes whose population put together are more than these three major tribes. We should deemphasise tribal issues because it is saddening. If leadership is based on where one comes from and not what you have to offer then there is a problem. We should begin to have leadership based on capacity. We had a minister in charge of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), in the person of Nasir El-Rufai. He showed the capacity that even those who were hurt by his actions acknowledged the fact that he re-engineered the city for the 21st century. They acknowledged the fact that he brought in innovations to move the country forward. But since he left the FCT we have gone comatose; the city has gone to sleep. All aberrations are back. Let us begin to ask for people who have capacity. We had a minister in Akinwumi Adesina, beginning from Abba Ruma. He laid a solid foundation for the revolution of agriculture in the country. I am aware of that. Akinwumi came and continued on that premise. The agricultural sector was beginning to pick up and heading to somewhere positive. But it has collapsed. So, we need men who have capacities to move certain sectors forward. It is not about where you come from or the language you speak. Let us look at the examples in advanced countries. Nobody is talking about where you come from. Because once you begin to chair leadership on the basis of where one comes from then we deprive ourselves of the opportunity of producing the best material.
The world is becoming a global village. It has since become one market. Whether you like it or not development in western world will impact on us here. Whether you like it or not, development of China will impact on us here, regardless of tribe of origin. The boundaries of nations are being collapsed by technologies and market innovations. If we do not brace up to it, it will get to a situation where we will willingly submit to 21st century slavery without knowing it because nobody is going to carry you along to America, China or Europe, you will begin to serve from where you are because market forces and technology are driving it. You are aware that in the automobile industry for instance, give us the next five years what we have here will become relics because whether Nigeria likes it or not, electric cars will take over. These big engines we are driving will become history, parked in our villages for children to say time there was when vehicles were carrying these kind of engines because the solar technology is spreading like wild fire. So, the issues are beyond our territorial capacity. They are beyond what we can locally handle, that is why I said earlier that the borders of nationhood would soon collapse.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo was criticised when he said the actions and policies of government were tilted towards islamisation and Fulanisation of the country. Is Obasanjo stoking the embers of division or he is saying the truth?
On both sides of that divide, I really do not want to part of the debate because if leadership does what is right that would not arise. Those clamours are coming out of our lack of capacity to do what is correct. There is a palpable fear of intrusion into different segments of our society by one group or the other, maybe the Fulani herdsmen whether we like it or not because of their nomadic nature over time and, because they now see themselves as maybe being threatened by rising aggression against them, there is this distrust between host communities and the herdsmen. This is in addition to the insecurity aggravated by the herdsmen across borders which we cannot run away from. So, it raises mutual suspicion. But the issue I want us to particularly address is that if we do the right thing those crisis will not even rear their heads. If you set up 100 hectare ranch somewhere in Kaduna, Borno, Yobe, Katsina or Kebbi, there won’t be any need for the herdsman to ferry his cow seasonally all across Ibadan looking for pastures, and then walking back during the rainy season so that he can integrate with his family. It would not be necessary. I support the idea of ranching. But it should be done by those who want to do it. You cannot take my grandfather’s land and say you want to use it for ranching. Who replaces it for me? Land is this country is hereditary. Yes, I recognise the fact that the Land Use Act is there. But the Act is managed in conjunction with customary rights. So, we must begin to encourage ranching.
What kind of people would you suggest President Buhari appoint as ministers in his second tenure?
Mr. President is a man of experience; he has been a military Head of state. He has had the opportunity of governing Nigeria in the last four years. Besides that, the dynamics when he was military Head of state in 1985 and today is different. The height of hunger has increased. Our agricultural productivity has nosedived. I expect him to bring people who will not play politics with Nigeria, people who will be sincere in their approach to governance. I mean people who will be practical.
Are you saying no former minister fits into your description?
No, if we continue with what we had, then, we are not being sincere to ourselves; and we are going to retrogress. Because you and I know that in agricultural sector nothing has happened in the last four years. Has anything happened in the agricultural sector? My answer is a categorical no. The rice revolution we are talking about did not start from this government. It started with Abba Ruma under Yar’Adua. I was part of the inter-ministerial committee that laid the foundation for commercial rice production in this country.