Ahead of the celebration of the nation’s 20 years of uninterrupted democracy in the next one week, Spokesman of the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, in this interview with BIYI ADEGOROYE, examines the progress made even as he discusses other national issues
How do you react to the claim of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu that Mieyeti Allah is a socio-cultural group like Afenifere and Ohanaeze Ndigbo?
It is unfortunate that there is an insidious attempt by the presidency to elevate bandits from the North to the status of the socio-cultural groups from the South, like Ohanaeze and Afenifere. To begin to equate those who are going around, killing people, raping women, a group that the Global Terrorism Index has classified as the fourth most dangerous group in the world in 2015, after ISIS, Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab, is clearly an attempt to play up gangsterism and stating that Mieyeti Allah is now face of the North and the rest of us from the South should deal with that.
If you have read my comments on the issue previously, I referred to it as a gratuitous insult. Let me give it to you verbatim. After a denunciation of the gratuitous insult by Afenifere and Ohanaeze, the presidency came out with another statement which ought to have ameliorated the initial one if it was not deliberate. This time around Garba Shehu asked the two Southern groups to respect Miyetti Allah, perhaps in the order of the presidency’s glorification of an organisation, a sensitive government that cares about building an inclusive country should have outlawed and put its leading lights on trial.
I must profusely thank Garba Shehu for these two interventions which have opened our eyes to the true agenda behind this Miyetti Allah menace. It was what I explained in a friend’s sprawling office a few days ago. I told a group of some distinguished Nigerians that if we relocated the gate man to be the chairman of the company, there would have to be new rules of engagement to bring the rest of the office to his level. It has to be anti-culture. That is what Nigeria is being made to wade through and which we must reject.
In likening Miyetti Allah to Arewa Consultative Forum, Garba Shehu is telling us that Miyetti Allah is the new consultative forum for Arewa and the rest of us must climb down to be at their level. We have been forced into this mode in the last four years as Miyetti Allah became larger-than-life.
When their members killed 71 people in Benue on January 1, 2018, and Governor Samuel Ortom was summoned to the Presidential Villa; it was not to assure him that the killers would be found and prosecuted but to be tutored on how to live peaceably with his killer-neighbours. The herders have killed hundreds of Nigerians in the last four years but I am not aware of any of them that the government has brought before the law. Instead, top officials of the administration in charge of security have been telling us they are killing and maiming because cattle routes have been blocked.
A former IGP in a moment of excitement even asked: “Are the killers not Nigerians?” When respected former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, visited Benue after the killings and made a demand for the arrest and prosecution of the Miyetti Allah for the dastardly act which should be the duty of any responsible government, the group told General Gowon that some screws must have fallen off his brain. We expected Garba Shehu to tell the foul-mouthed group to respect the former leader.
The Presidency was mute in apparent approval of their sheer impudence. The Global Terrorism Index in 2015 rated the herdsmen as the fourth deadliest terror group in the world after ISIS, Boko Haram and al-Shabaab. The Federal Government never responded to that. It is on the contrary now meeting with the same group at the highest level of government under the guise of mobilising bandits to fight banditry. We have not forgotten how the government changed the narrative of herdsmen terror on farmers to herders-farmers clashes as if cutlass-wielding farmers and illegal AK 47-carrying herders are of equal strength.
Why is the hypocritical Federal Government not speaking with farmers on the same subject now? Prof. Banji Akintoye taught us a powerful lesson last Thursday in Ikenne after Awo’s 32nd remembrance service, having listened to an ear-tingling sermon by Archbishop M.O. Fape. We were headed for Awo’s residence after the church service to be guests of Dr Tokunbo Awolowo-Dosumu when we ran into a blockade on the normal route to the house. We quickly turned back to look for another way. When we got to the house, the professor of history did not miss the teachable moment when he said: “We met roadblock there and we turned back to look for another route. That is what is missing in our actions in Nigeria. Whenever we hit a roadblock, we do not look for another route. We will stand there making an analysis of the blockade until we get paralyzed.”
Analysis of the blockade Miyetti Allah has become a blockade mounted by those who want to keep us in this mess and we are falling for it. The violent cow herders are even leading the discussion about 2023 and we are responding to it. If the current government insists on the Miyetti Allah conversation, the rest of the country must find its equivalents to match the discourse.
We should allow the enlightened North to accept or decline the artful design of this government to make Miyetti Allah the new consultative forum of Arewa. We should continue the conversations we have had with the Ahmadu Bellos, Tafawa Balewas, Maitama Sules, Adanu Ciromas, et al; with the Ango Abdullahis and the rest, but not with the Miyetti Allah.
The North of Miyetti Allah is the festival of blood going on in Zamfara, Kaduna and on the streets of many Northern cities which have made the train and air service the only links between them and Abuja today.
For the people in the South, over the years, we have been dealing of the Tafawa Balewas, the Maitama Sules, the Adamu Ciroma as the elites of the North. And you must have observed that in the last four years, we have been hearing less and less of the elites from the North, rather it is Mieyeti Allah, we have been hearing more of cows, cattle routes, grazing reserves and all the rest.
The kind of discussions we have had about cattle in the last four years have not been had on our economy. So we are being brought down to the basest level to banner existence, which in effect Garba Shehu’s statement epitomizes. It is now open to Nigerians that we are being brought to the basest level as a country and we must reject that.
How then do you see the plans to release the sum of N100billion to Mieyetti Allah for building ranches and all as part of the recommendation of a panel set up by the then President Goodluck Jonathan?
It is so unfortunate that a group that has been accused of killing many Nigerians and no one of them have been tried and convicted is now being offered financial inducement by our government. And while this is on, about seven months ago, the Wall Street Journal published a report that the Federal Government paid over three million Euro to Boko Haram.
And that means that the government has been deceiving us by saying they have defeated Boko Haram, but you can now see that the capacity of this group increases daily. If Fulani herdsmen have not been paid by the Federal Government officially and they are carrying AK-47s all over Nigeria you can imagine what they will do if they get that money. It is the most insensitive thing to do and it is a way to promote banditry. So government should drop such idea. If it goes ahead, it will indicate that this government is not about the development of all Nigeria, but it is a sectional government that is promoting sectional interest.
Based on the alleged payment of three million Euros to the Boko Haram, how then do you describe the success in the war on terror and the competence of the Service Chiefs?
Well, that success is only in the book of deception. Because even some days ago, there was this report that Boko Haram killed eight soldiers, including a lieutenant colonel. So besides the deception by government, these service chiefs have failed woefully, and we were told that they were retained for the elections and after that they will be removed, but elections are over now yet they are still there.
I can tell you that the retention of these people have created a low morale in the Armed Forces, because there are so many officers who careers have been truncated because they are retaining these guys who should have been long retired. When you look at the level of banditry, terrorism and insecurity in Nigeria today, you will agree with me that this whole stuff is deception of the highest order for anyone to say that they have recorded any success. They have failed woefully, and that is what the facts show. There is no newspaper in Nigeria today which does not carry report of killings by Boko Haram every day. So where is the success?
How will you assess Nigeria’s 20 years of unbroken democracy since 1999?
I will call it 20 years of civil rule, because is what it is. When you look at the various indices of development, you will agree that with me that our 20 years of civil rule has been a disaster. In terms of the performance of our economy, transparency, ease of doing business, corruption perception index, we are not there yet. Nigeria ranks 144 out of 175 as reported Transparency International. The poverty level here is very high, in fact it is extreme.
Take a look at Bloomberg’s indices of development 2014 and 2018, using the baselines, it said Nigeria has failed to develop. The 2018 report says that while many countries like China and India are enjoying growth, the sub-Saharan Africa, particularly Nigeria, has failed to share in the success. According to the report, decade ago, Nigeria had far fewer people in extreme poverty than either China or India; today, according to data compiled by the World Data Lab, it has more than both combined.
The count stands at more than 90 million, and has risen both in absolute terms and as a share of the total. Nigeria’s young and fast-growing population is projected by the United Nations to double in size by 2050, making it the world’s third-biggest.
Even assuming that the proportion of Nigerians living in extreme poverty stops rising as quickly as it has in recent years, it’s on course to remain extraordinarily high for the foreseeable future.
The last four years have been a drawback for the country. In fact, I can tell you that we have a civilian government that is worse than military rule. The situation is pathetic. Which one shall we refer to? Is it the nocturnal raid of judges’ homes by security operatives or their invasion of the National Assembly? What of disregard for court order, selective prosecution of ant-graft war and many more? Also, from rigging our politicians have graduated to vote-buying, thereby compromising our electoral process.
Look at our debt profile, local and foreign? It is now in several trillions. In 2014, about 27 per cent of our budget was spent on servicing debt, but in 2019, it rose to 60 per cent. In 2014, our Foreign Direct Investment rose to five but in 2019, it has fallen to zero while unemployment rate is now at 23 per cent.
Are we saying there is nothing to celebrate in Nigeria, like some infrastructural development, like the Abuja-Kaduna Rail and perhaps, payment of Nigerian Airways pensioners?
Is that what we want to celebrate about 60 years after independence?
How can we really develop Nigeria? Is this a leadership problem?
Leadership is one of the problems, but the main solution is to return to true federalism like Mr. President said. We must return Nigeria to the part of productivity. We must restructure this country. We cannot continue to share oil and gas money every month, rather we must turn Nigeria to a huge productive centre. Look, Netherlands today is one of the largest food producers in the whole world. Niger State is larger than Netherlands in terms of land mass. What are they producing in Niger State? If we continue like this we cannot develop.
How do we address the problem of insecurity? Won’t there be improvement if the economy is buoyant?
There can never be buoyant economy when we continue to share money in the form of federal allocation. Unless and until we increase our productivity, crime rate will not come down. We have to revamp all the industries to generate employment. We should stop being a consumer nation but be very productive, have a national agenda which all the individual regions will cue into.
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