Professor Daniel Iyorkegh Saror is former Vice Chancellor of the prestigious Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, who also contested the 2007 governorship election on the platform of the defunct All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) but lost out to Gabriel Suswam. In this interview with CEPHAS IORHEMEN, the Professor of Veterinary Medicine who was also Minority Leader of the Senate, speaks on Nigeria at 60, insecurity situation in the country vis-a-vis herdsmen attacks, plot by Miyetti Allah to establish vigilante group across states and the controversial Water Resources Bill which he said is unconstitutional and could bring about instability in the country
As Nigerians celebrate 60 years of nationhood, the country is still grappling with the challenge of insecurity. Where do you think we have gotten it wrong?
I am Professor Daniel Saror and was 79 last Friday, October 9, 2020. At independence in 1960, I was in the secondary school and I was among Northern Nigerian Students that celebrated that independence at the Tafawa Balewa Square in Lagos.
I ran round the square and I was very privileged to have watched Nigeria over the last 60 years virtually uninterrupted. It was interrupted only when I went to the United States to do my studies but I think that the ideals and ideas of independence, what it portended for us in Nigeria, 60 years ago. Well, we have made some strides in some areas.
In education for example but we have failed in many other areas like industrialisation, our agriculture is not what it could have been and our manpower development particularly in Northern Nigeria is well below expectation. So we are facing challenges that are constituting a threat to our future as a nation.
The threats I am talking about have to do with the insecurity we have witnessed for decades especially with the growth of Boko Haram, the growth of ISIS and the devastating effects of herdsmen which has constituted a security threat to Nigeria and unfortunately, these areas were not mentioned by President Muhammadu Buhari in his national broadcast speech on October 1, and I feel very strongly about the herdsmen problem.
You know I was a Vice Chancellor at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and I sold the idea of the creation of National Animal Production Research Institute (NAPRI). That institute was in Shikka as a research station established in 1987 and they have done a lot work in developing different types of grass to feed livestock.
The institute also did a lot of work in trying to develop cattle that will produce more milk than the ones the Fulani people carry about that you see. All of that work has been put aside and government and some powers in the North are insisting that they (the herdsmen) should continue to move from place to place with their livestock as a means of animal husbandry. That to me is mind boggling, because you cannot develop pasture and allow cattle to be roaming all over the country.
What was the idea behind developing the NAPRI?
The idea was government, assisted by the international organisations will develop ranches and pasture land to grow grass and legumes to feed livestock. Today, Nigeria has roughly 20 million herds of cattle and we can easily rise that to 100 million if we have the grass for them to eat. The reason herdsmen move from place to place is that they are moving in search of grass and water.
Nobody is expected to walk 30 miles a day with his cows and cattle in search of food- human beings using their intellect to provide water and grass for livestock but Nigeria is not doing it and so we are so deficient in that area and to me it is almost a scandal. What are we doing with the land between Kebbi State all the way across to Sambisa Forest in Borno State?
There is so much vast land that is not used which can readily be developed into pasture to feed cattle in both the dry and wet seasons. We can build dams, provide boreholes, water these areas and really improve on our livestock development.
Nigeria cannot export one kilogramme of beef because no country can buy it from us because we have cattle and are not been raised to meet international standards. So the President keeping quiet over this situation in the last five years bothers me because I believe he knows that cattle has to prepared and fed with grass and water nothing more than that.
So what is the security implications of all these?
You have seen the effect of marauding herdsmen armed with sophisticated guns across the country it’s not just here in Benue State. In the South-West, in the South-East and all over the place why? Why can’t Nigeria at 60, develop pasture for their own livestock, increasing the population of the livestock, feed and even export and create jobs for veterinarians, for animal husbandry and so on?
So talking about insecurity, I am very worried that we have not addressed it sufficiently the threat of Boko Haram, ISIS and herdsmen and now with open borders, bandits are infiltrating the country.
A lot of people have said that the service chiefs have over stayed in office and they should go especially now. Do you also think they should go at this time?
That is a tricky question because the Service Chiefs served at the pleasure of the President of Nigeria who is the Commander- In-Chief of the Armed Forces, nobody has authority over him on that issue.
So, it is strictly his own decision and why he is not listening to the cries of Nigerians, I don’t understand. Nigerians have told him in so many ways, we are not satisfied with the performances of these chiefs. We hear stories.
The governor of Borno State is even visibly angry but the President seems to be committed to a particular band of people as his security chiefs and Nigerians are just watching but they are not happy.
The Water Resources Bill issue is causing a lot of uproar in the country… (cuts in)
The best I can say about that Bill is that it is unconstitutional. The Nigerian Constitution vests the power of control of states in the hands of governors and that includes water resources. How does the Bill take that away from the governor without amending the constitution? So I think it’s unconstitutional and it is a source of instability because when the government played dumb and not listen to the cries of the people about what Fulani herdsmen are doing all over the country and bringing that Bill after the Cattle Colony was turned down, after Ruga was turned down then you are bringing this Water Resources Bill which is really obnoxious it’s an insult. Why will state governors go and beg the Federal Government to sink a borehole in their places, because that’s part of what the Bill say it will have to do. Individuals that have no water in their places they cannot sink a borehole until they go and take permission from Abuja. Haba!
As a Professor of Veterinary Medicine, what is your take on the issue of ranching?Why is it difficult for the Federal Government to adopt ranching as a means of animal husbandry in the country?
I think it is political because the President and the Federal Government know very well, because they have all the studies available with them that, you need ranches to be able to produce and expand your livestock population; and the simple technology to produce a ranch is that you identify a place, fell down the big trees, plough, you harrow, you plant the grass that you want to plant and you water it and allow it to mature, allow it to seed, give it two or three years for the grass to grow fully so that the cattle will not finish it up. The technology is there. To get water to supply in the ranches, you can make small dams or sink boreholes it’s easy. They are using the herdsmen as a political tool. Regrettably herdsmen have become a political tool by the present APC-led government to expand Fulani settlements all over the country for what reason I don’t know. We had been very stable in Nigeria, there has been freedom of choice, freedom of religion and all the religions have been prospering depending on the appeal they make to people. You don’t have to go and impose ethnic a minority in a place that you are growing livestock, no. Let develop the land that is available for ranching that is not good enough for other things. So they are using herdsmen as a political tool at the detriment of the lives the people in these areas and because these people come for their own religion, they are also seen as a religious problem to other Nigerians. Miyetti Allah is a Fulani socio-cultural and political organisation and they have a lot of money. They have access to government at every level, both states and federal. Majority of Emirs and governors in Northern Nigeria are of Fulani extraction so they can easily support what is happening in the country; but nobody is interested in the expansionist approach they want to adopt which is unfortunate.
As an elder statesman, some Nigerians are calling for restructuring, others are saying confab and yet others are saying let’s have a Sovereign National Conference to address the country’s teething problems. What is your take on this issue?
I think Nigeria is a complex society put together by the British colonialists. Before then, you had kingdoms. We had the Benin Kingdom in the South-West, even there is the Songhai Kingdom by the time Sir Lord Lugard came here in early 20th century and put a stop to Jihad which started in 1804 and had gone up almost 100 years before Lord Lugard overpowered them in 1903.
They are those who felt that the Jihad must continue and all of Nigeria comes under their umbrella. So let us agree that we have moved on and establish a country under a new set of rules called the constitution and lets follow that constitution but it is the idea of trying to subvert the constitution to favour individuals and groups and tribes that is the root of many problems we are having today.
Would you say that the fight against corruption in this country is sincere?
No, it’s not. We have seen corruption. You can close your eyes and still see corruption in Nigeria up to very high levels of government. It is crazy. I am not just talking about federal, even in states you cannot even do a job and sit in your house expect that after been certified that you have done the job, your check will be ready and you will go and collect the money, no. You have to go round and bribe people before you get paid so that whatever you are paid cannot be what you are supposed to get. That is how bad it is.