In this interview with GODWIN ISENYO, Secretary-General of the Arewa Consultative Forum, Elder Anthony Sani, comments on the recent statement by the Minister of Defence that blamed the blockage of grazing routes for the incessant attacks by Fulani herdsmen and other issues
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo in a recent statement asked President Muhammadu Buhari not to contest the 2019 presidency because of his low performance among others. What’s your view on this?
It is the democratic right of former President Obasanjo to advise President Buhari. But the decision to re-contest in 2019 or not is within the purview of Mr. President and his party, the All Progressives Congress.
But he also mentioned other reasons, viz nepotism, inability to halt the herdsmen’ killings in the north and other parts of the country, etc? Do you share such views?
When former President Obasanjo made the allegations of nepotism and cited Alhaji Abdullrasheed Maina, the embattled former Presidential Task Force on Pension Reforms boss, to buttress his submission, I could not get the basis. This is because Maina did not commit the offense for which is being declared wanted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission during the regime of President Buhari. He is from the North East and not a Fulani man. And if he stole billions of naira, I guess those who lured him to come back to the civil service might have done so in order to retrieve some of the alleged loots. But I truly do not know the facts.
On the newly appointed Director General of the National Intelligence Agency, I wonder if the accusers have forgotten the fact that the appointment was recent, while the allegations of nepotism had been long and remained unsubstantiated with facts.
It is unreasonable for anybody to imagine that clashes between herdsmen and farmers are inspired by nepotism on the part of Mr. President. I say this because the president is aware of the fact that the clashes between herdsmen and farmers and any form of violent killings add no political fortune to him and his regime; hence his resolve to bring the clashes under control in no distant future.
What’s more, Fulani are not only herdsmen but some are also farmers. That is why such clashes are reported in some states of North West geopolitical zone which is predominantly Fulani and Muslims. It is therefore unhelpful to give the herdsmen phenomenon ethnic coloration, considering some people in other ethnic extractions are also herdsmen. Once we give purely criminal actions ethnic coloration, we unwittingly provide the criminals platform on which to stand and perpetuate the heinous acts, knowing well how impossible it is to prosecute ethnicity and religion.
It seems to me we only know there is a swarm of locust in town but we do not know the pests, hence the stone groping. Nigerians should better come together and unleash their synergistic potential against the collective challenges for common good.
Some Nigerians were of the opinion that Obasanjo ought to have admonished the President in private rather than his usual ‘letter writing’. Do you share this view?
I am happy you use the phrase “usual letter writing”. You may wish to note that those who posit that the former President Obasanjo would have advised President Buhari privately, given the fact of history that Obasanjo was Buhari’s boss under both military and civilian regimes-since he has ingress to the Villa-are those who do not know that Obasanjo is someone who relishes in publicity and relevance, considering this is not the first letter he would write to a sitting president. And since that is his past time which is his democratic right to do so, there is no qualm.
What’s your take on the current government’s efforts in tackling insecurity in the north and the entire country?
The regime faces enormous security challenges posed by insurgency, kidnapping, cultism, armed robbery and child trafficking across the country. There are predisposing factors of poverty that come from unemployment. The cashless economy by CBN has tended to make people not to carry cash, hence the attention to kidnapping. But as the former President Obasanjo has said in his letter, this regime has tried in the fight against insurgency and corruption despite heavy challenges. What remains substantially is the task of addressing the underlying causes of these challenges, which requires time for desired results to come to pass.
Also, many Nigerians, especially the opposition party, PDP, have accused the Buhari administration of being selective in the fight against corruption. Do you agree with this?
I do not have the facts. But it is important to note that PDP ruled for 16 years. It is natural for those who played seminal roles in those 16 years to be the center of attention. That cannot be said to be discrimination since the fight against corruption is work in progress and expected to outlive the regime of President Buhari. I would, however, advise those arraigned to defend their innocence instead of saying they are not alone who are corrupt.
What’s your take in the government’s handling of farmers/herders clash in parts of the north?
The fact that the clashes have not ebbed suggests the government has not done enough. This is an odd thing to say, considering the security challenges across the country which put too much demand on the limited number of security agents. But I have the belief that the President will act decisively as promised because the clashes between the herdsmen and farmers pose serious security challenges to the unity of the nation. The President will address the challenges posed by the clashes in the same way he has been tackling Boko Haram and about to defeat them completely.
In what ways has the ACF come in to proffer solution to the herdsmen/farmers clashes in the region?
ACF has since suggested that the Federal Government should seize the initiative by convening a meeting between stakeholders for the purpose of arriving at solutions that are acceptable to the pastoralists and the farmers. It is not right for governors of the same ruling party to openly altercate on this matter that poses serious challenges to the corporate existence of the nation. Governors should be speaking the same voice on this matter that calls for a bipartisan approach.
The Federal Government has proposed ‘cattle colony’ as one of the recipes to the herders/farmers clash. What is your take on this?
I understand cattle colony is a form of ranching. But because the word “colony” has a negative connotation, it has not been received well and I think the Federal Government has dropped the name, cattle colony, in favor of a more acceptable name.
What do you think is the solution to the clashes between herders and farmers?
I have told you there are predisposing factors of increased population, desert encroachment, poverty that comes with unemployment and effects of drug abuse by the youths of both pastoralists and farmers. The president should provide leadership by convening a meeting of seminal leaders of stakeholders for the purpose of arriving at a solution which the feuding parties share. The media should not help give the clashes ethnic coloration, lest the criminals use ethnicity to shield themselves from the law.
The Minister of Defence recently stood up in defending the Fulani herdsmen, saying that the ‘blockage’ of cattle grazing routes by farmers led to this crisis. What is your view on this?
No blockade is enough to make herdsmen take lives of others and no entering of cows into farms should make farmers kill herdsmen or rustle their cattle. That is not to suggest that blocking of routes does not constitute a problem in the herdsmen saga.
What’s your assessment of the more than two-year-old administration of President Buhari?
I believe the regime has done creditably well in the fight against the insurgency and corruption in order to clear the way for the economy which is picking up. That may explain why the letter by the former president has become controversial. If the regime has not performed creditably well, Obasanjo’s letter would have received a national endorsement.
But my positive assessment in favor of the regime should not be regarded as if the regime has no shortcomings. No regime can be perfect. Surely, the regime has its own shortcomings such as the impression of a divided presidency where government’s functionaries openly contradict themselves. Also, a party with a majority in the legislature should be seen as working in harmony. But this is not the case because members of the ruling party openly challenge the president and the executive arm of the government. This is odd.
I also do not fancy the culture of silence by the President on almost all challenges that come up. This conveys an avoidable impression of a leadership style that allows problems to fizzle out with time. Some of us do not like such style. In addition, while the emphasis the president puts on appointing only people he personally knows to be very loyal is in line with his professional training may be understandable, he needs to know that some of the appointees can still abuse his trust, hence the need for presidential oversight on their activities.
But on balance, the bright side of the president’s performance outweighs the dark side.