UCHENNA INYA writes on the target by former President Olusegun Obasanjo and governors of six states of the federation to achieve food sufficiency through the Zero Hunger Programme of the Federal Government
To achieve food sufficiency in Nigeria, a team identified as Zero Hunger was constituted by the Federal Government. The team has former President Olusegun Obasanjo as its leader. Six states were chosen as pilot states. The states are Benue, Ebonyi, Borno, Sokoto, Kebbi, Ogun and Ondo.
The team had its first meeting in Benue State with a target to achieve food security by 2030. Last week, the team held its second quarterly forum in Abakaliki the Ebonyi State capital with over 1,000 participants in attendance.
At the meeting, which held at the Akanu Ibiam International Conference Centre, Abakaliki , were Obasanjo, the host governor, Engr. David Umahi; Governors Samuel Ortom (Benue), Aminu Tambuwal (Sokoto), Abubakar Bagudu (Kebbi); Deputy Governor of Borno State, Maman Usman and the Chairman, Senate Committee on Agriculture, Senator Abdullahi Adamu. Participants from donor agencies and the international community included Dr. Nteranya Sanginga, Director General of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture; Dr. Chiji Ojukwu, Director (Agriculture) of the African Development Bank; Dr. Abiodun Oladipo, World Food Program; Dr. Abraham Shaibu, AfricaRice Centre and Dr. Tawanda Muzhingi, International Potato Centre (CIP). Also present were members of Ebonyi State Executive Council, officials of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the academia, private sector players, farmers’ groups as well as traditional rulers.
Participants at the meeting listened and observed with a view to understanding the efforts being put in place by Ebonyi State towards the attainment of food security. An important component of the meeting was the baseline report on the food security situation of Ebonyi State, which was presented by Dr. Kenton Dashiell. A field visit was conducted by the Nigeria Zero Hunger Forum team to appraise efforts by the state towards achieving food security.
Places visited where the show room, government farm/mushroom site, Ezillo Farm, Dr. Sam Egwu’s farm at Umuebe, Waste to Wealth plant and bags, Hatchery, Rice Cluster Old Mill, Fertilizer plant, Ikwo Rice Mill, Ebonyi Rice Mill and the Biomass Plant at Ikwo. The team under the leadership of Chief Obasanjo also commissioned the Ebonyi State University Green House.
The former president, while speaking at the forum, called for concerted efforts to achieve food security in the country. His words: “I was approached and agreed that we should work out plans, programmes and strategies to achieve zero hunger by the year 2030 in Nigeria. We wrote a report and we said that this time around, we don’t want those typical things that used to happen with reports. Reports are beautifully written, beautifully packaged and put in the shelves and they continue to gather dust and nothing more.
“This time, we want to see implementation. So, we formed ourselves into a committee on hunger forum to see the implementation of zero hunger report. We then decided that zero hunger is for all Nigerians but we want to start to bite little by little by working on a few states to start with and Ebonyi happens to be one of the six states.
“The aim of zero hunger is to make sure that the policy that are required and programmes that will take us to promise land are implemented by all concerned – federal government, state governments, local governments, communities, farmers, private sectors, NGOs and international organisations. We are looking for agricultural programmes to implement and to help the state at every area it may need help.”
Governor Umahi, in his remarks, described agriculture as the only alternative to the dwindling oil revenue in the country. He said the Zero Hunger Programme will achieve permanent food security and called for total support. According to him, with the drastic fall in oil revenue and its consequent impact on the income of the nation, achieving Zero Hunger Status and driving the economy forward can only be possible if Nigerians change their attitude and approach, and work towards economic diversification. Umahi said zero Hunger Strategic Review as encapsulated in the Synthesis Report identifies key development and humanitarian challenges confronting the people on the path to achieving the aspirations of Sustainable Development Goal 2 (SDG2), which includes: discussing the role of the private sector in achieving Zero Hunger; proposing actionable areas as well as recommending milestones; key actions and partnership for National Road Map in achieving Zero Hunger Status.
He said: “Today, we are happy to have the forum examine our modest efforts in bringing hunger to zero in Ebonyi State in particular and Nigeria in general, achieving permanent food security, improving recommended nutritional value especially for children, and promoting sustainable agriculture in line with SDG2 aspirations. “Our psychology has for far too long been infected by the lazy dependence on the free flow of petrodollars for nearly half a century.
The negative impact that this has had on the manufacturing and agricultural sectors is visible to everyone today. The initiatives being taken through the leadership of global statesmen such as our former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, to whom we owe this current drive to bring hunger to zero in our country, is to be highly applauded.
“The leadership of the Nigeria Zero Hunger Forum has its work cut out. Anyone who underestimates the threat of hunger in our nation only needs to see the tragedy unfolding in the North-East zone of the country to pause and reflect.
My brother governors from that zone, particularly Governor Kashim Shettima, have shown extraordinary courage and resilience in meeting both the security and food crises in that region. But for their courage and relentless push, the situation would undoubtedly have been much worse than what we are dealing with today. “His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari, has paid the greatest attention and demonstrated exemplary passion for agriculture.
Regardless of political affiliations, he has taken practical steps to advance the cause of economic diversification, with positively obsessive focus on agriculture and food security – lending unprecedented support to Ebonyi State. Let me put it on record that without Mr. President’s support, our story in Ebonyi State today would not have been one of celebration and quiet optimism; instead, we would have been lamenting the current economic crunch because it would have hit us the hardest.”
He explained that his administration in collaboration with local and international partners have provided needed resources and technical know-how for accelerated agricultural programmes in the state. “We have been running a programme of youth, women and widows empowerment for two years.
Thousands of these categories of our people have benefited from grants of up to N250,000 to support their small scale enterprises. This is because we strongly believe in the philosophy that the strongest challenge you could mount against hunger in any society is to make such society’s women and young people as economically productive as possible, through self-drive and self-reliance.
“Additional N4 billion investment fund is also separately created with the Bank of Industry (BoI), specifically and exclusively dedicated to the benefit of civil servants, who are willing and able to embark on agriculture. It is designed in such a way that a small percentage of the salary of each beneficiary is deducted on a monthly basis towards repayment of the facility. What makes these facilities very attractive is that the interest rate is at a single digit, and the burdensome obligation of providing collaterals is absent.
“Last year, we borrowed the sum of N2 billion from the Central Bank of Nigeria Commercial Agriculture Credit Scheme (CACS) and disbursed to our farmers. It went a long way in driving and expanding our highly successful policy of one-manone hectare.
Unfortunately, however, recovery of the loans from farmers has been an uphill task. As at today, less than two per cent of the fund has been recovered. Currently, there are six integrated rice mills in the state, while government plans to replicate it in the 13 local government areas of the state in the months and years to come.”
The Ebonyi governor identified challenges against increased food production in the state to include lack of functional irrigation facility for all-season farming, modern combine harvesters and other mechanized equipment for large scale commercial agriculture. Umahi noted that the forum has enabled the government and farmers in the state to gain new knowledge that will improve the agricultural sector of the state.
Benue state governor, Samuel Ortom, in his remarks, commended Ebonyi State for its agricultural programmes, which he said will achieve food security “I have learnt more from Ebonyi State.
I want to appreciate Chief Obasanjo for this programme, Benue State was given the privileged to pioneer this programme and the benefits are enormous. There is new vigour, strength, determination and desire to push to ensure we achieve zero hunger.”
The forum at the end of the two-day meeting, issued a 16-point communiqué. It commended Ebonyi State government for its comprehensive agricultural programmes aimed at inclusive growth and attracting the youth, women and civil servants through the provision of special funding widows.
It also gave kudos to the federal government for its non-partisan approach in supporting agricultural programmes in the states. It called on the Federal Government to support the production of genuinely-certified seeds to farmers and to check the distribution of fake seeds.
It expressed worry over the influx of adulterated herbicides in Nigerian market and called on the Federal Government to step up the regulation of the herbicides and input market. The communiqué raised alarm over the high interest rates charged by Banks for agriculture and called on the Central Bank of Nigeria to intervene and make interest rates to be given to farmers at single-digit interest rate.
It observed the deficit in rural infrastructure and called on states to discuss the possibility of the African Development Bank and other development partners to create a special investment vehicle that would address rural infrastructure and called for deliberate implementation of pro-youth programs that will accelerate the involvement of youth in agriculture and create jobs and wealth. This according to the forum is because neglecting the youth is akin to sitting on a time bomb waiting to explode.
Bagudu’s initiative has revolutionised agric sector – Kebbi SSG
Secretary to the Kebbi State Government (SSG), Alhaji Babale Umar, speaks in this interview with Ahmed Idris on the revolution in rice farming in the state
How would you assess the three years of the All Progressives Congress (APC) government in Kebbi State?
Senator Atiku Bagudu, who is the 4th executive governor of Kebbi State, is a visionary leader whose preoccupation is to make things better. Indeed, when he assumed office, his penchant for reengineering and revitalization of the state took him to all the 21 local government areas and interacted with his people. He visited schools, health institutions and met with the farmers in their farms to assess the challenges been face in the different sectors.
What he saw in the schools were appalling. From the students’ hostels, classrooms, laboratories and even the food served was dehumanizing. The governor also accorded priority to the power sector because the epileptic power supply in the state then pitched the people against the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) because it strangled small scale businesses. But the story is different today as the state capital is enjoying regular power.
He has also addressed the issue of infrastructure. Today, all schools in the state are undergoing proper rehabilitation and furniture, computers and sports equipment have been provided for conducive learning and teaching.
To further ensure good and sound education in the state, the governor joined his counterparts in Sokoto and Zamfara states in setting-up a committee of eminent scholars led by Prof. Attahiru Jega, which recommended the establishment of Ministry of Higher Education. This led to the creation of Ministry of Higher Education in Kebbi State to take care of tertiary education.
The governor has continued with all road projects started by previous administration as exemplified by the on-going major construction of urban roads in the state capital hitherto neglected by previous regimes.
Meanwhile, new roads have been constructed to bring succor to residents, especially Aliero Quarters and Bayan-Kara areas. So, Governor Bagudu is a politician endowed with wisdom and who cherishes collective decision in the course of governance.
What about the health sector, what is the government doing to improve health institutions in the state?
Worried by the state of facilities in the general hospitals and concerned about the health and well-being of the people, Governor Bagudu has made concerted efforts to improve on facilities and personnel.
The main aim of the interventions is to reverse the ugly health indices bedeviling the state through conscious harmonization of interventions and partnership. Indeed, one bold step taken by this administration is putting in place of mechanism for actualizing the policy of healthcare under one roof.
The administration has deployed mobile health teams with support from the European Union and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to deliver services such as treatment of minor ailments, immunization, birth registration and health promotion to strengthen community linkages and uptake of integrated PHC services through outreaches to 225 hard to reach settlements as part of the state governments’ commitment towards achieving Universal Health Coverage of the Federal Government.
As part of its commitment to women and children’s health, state government sponsored free cancer screening activities as well as engaged America doctors for free treatment across the state. It also facilitated the accreditation exercise for the upgrading of the School of Health Technology, Jega, to a College of Health Sciences through the procurement of the needed facilities.
In an effort to bring health care service delivery closer to the people, the government renovated the maternity ward, labour room and the ANC unit at the Argungu General Hospital and also paid its counterpart funding for Measles, Cerebrospinal Meningitis, Maternal Newborn and Child Health Week and EU- UNICEF MNCH programme in the state.
The administration has also fulfilled the criteria set by the World Bank to access $1.5 million grant for saving One Million lives programme as well as the lunching and distribution of EU -MNCH drugs and commodities to herald the commencement of the intervention.
Kebbi State is now the leading state in agriculture. How was it able to achieve this feat?
Being a state blessed with many agricultural and agro allied potentialities, Governor Bagudu saw an opening to positively impact on the sector and put smiles on the faces of both large and small scale farmers. He came up with strategies to provide inputs and expertise as well as invite agencies and companies to partner for the overall development of the sector. For turning Kebbi to the largest rice producing state in Nigeria, the governor was aptly appointed Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Rise and Wheat Production.
The governor initiated an agricultural revitalization, transformation and diversification drive through partnership with the Bank of Agriculture, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). The sustained effort to develop the agricultural sector has attracted investors from far and near. Kebbii State has become a model and a hub in rice and wheat production and sales that attract the attention of many individuals, companies and states across the country.
A landmark is the partnership between Lagos and Kebbi states on rice value chain, which produced the LASKEB. And with the pre-commissioning of WACOT Mill recently, the investment effort of the governor has placed Kebbi second only to Kano in rice milling in the whole of the North-West.
To consolidate on the gains recorded in dry season rice farming and improve output in wet season, Governor Bagudu entered into partnership with Katsina, Kano, Jigawa, Sokoto, Zamfara states and the Moroccan government to receive the supply over 300,000 tons of fertilizer.
The administration also procured for distribution to famers, 100 tractors, 1,000 Oxdrawn ploughs, 100 rice threshers and 100 motorcycles for agricultural extension workers.
The agricultural transformation drive for income and job creation led the state government to empower several vegetable growing communities to produce more to meet the Kebbi- Lagos Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and also encouraged more than 20,000 farmers to produce soya beans, a potential the state has not harnessed. The administration is encouraging livestock production.
The Ministry of Animal Health has spent about N21 million on vaccines to guard against the spread of Anthrax and hemorrhagic septicemia to the state. The ministry has also constructed a modern artificial insemination center and procured essential equipment.
To improve provide market to fishermen in the state, the government constructed an international fish market in Yauri Local Government Area and also rehabilitated the Birnin Kebbi main abattoir, while a grant of N28 million was given to the ministry to establish and manage modern fish ponds across the state to encourage fish farming.
What has the government done to revamp the education sector in the state?
Repositioning of the sector has been the main concern of the governor. In fact, primary, secondary and tertiary Intuitions were the first places he visited upon assumption of duty. His assessment gave birth to a robust master plan for a complete overhaul of the sector.
Accordingly, he mobilized professionals from the Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto, to review educational development in Kebbi State and provide expert advice with a view to taking appropriate steps to promoting education in all ramifications.
This led to the establishment of the Ministry of Higher Education to coordinate the operations of tertiary education in the state. A blue print was developed for the ministry to cater for vocational and technical needs of students in the state, in addition to the payment of WAEC, NECO, Arabic and NABTEB examination fees for all JSS three students.
More than N4 billion was also spent by the administration for the renovation of schools, provision of furniture as well as training and retraining of secondary school teachers to enhance their performance. Additional classrooms were constructed and there was renovation of schools across the state as well as provision of furniture and instructional materials.
The sum of N5.2 billion was approved for the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) for the rehabilitation of 25 junior secondary and primary schools.
Another N100 million was also released fur the purchase of tables and chairs for pupils and students in line with the administration’s resolve to provide conducive atmosphere for teaching and learning. The state government also released N145 million for the construction of a 500- capacity female hostel at the Adamu Augie College of Education, Argungu.
The administration also ensured the payment of tuition fees and other charges for government sponsored students in various tertiary institutions at home and abroad.
How has the state government been able to tackle security issues in the state, especially those arising from herdsmen/farmers clashes?
To ensure security of lives and property of all citizens in the state, the Bagudu administration participated in a joint security operation covering the Kamuku/ Kuyambana forest involving seven states of Kebbi, Sokoto, Zamfara, Kano, Kaduna, Niger and Katsina. In an operation code name ‘’Operation Sharan Daji” involving the Nigeria Army, Police, Air Force and other security operatives in a combine operation that rid the state of cattle rustlers and halted criminal activities like kidnapping.
Through operation Sharan Daji, a number of cattle were recovered and returned to the owners with hundreds of suspected criminals arrested and cache of arms and ammunition retrieved. On the issue of Kidnapping, especially in Kebbi South Senatorial District, the present administration has through the efforts of security operatives tackled the menace.
Today, farmers in the area go about their businesses without any fear.
Realizing the importance or peace to the development and progress of the state, the administration of Governor Bagudu has resolved the age long border dispute between Benin Republic and communities in Kebbi State and also wadded into herdsmen/ farmers disputes across the state by identifying and institutionalizing the old cattle routes and grazing reserves.
APC’s support for restructuring, height of deception – Makarfi
Makarfi: PDP not threatened by third force, Obasanjo’s coalition
Senator Ahmed Makarfi is the former Chairman, National Caretaker Committee of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The former Governor of Kaduna State, here, speaks on the state of the nation and his party’s readiness for the 2019 general elections, restructuring and insecurity, among others issues. TEMITOPE OGUNBANKE reports
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was enmeshed in crisis ahead of its National Convention and there were still some skirmishes after the December convention. Can you tell us the progress the party has made so far?
Well, not many people gave us a chance before the convention. Many thought the party was going scatter from the Eagle Square, but that did not happen. But that does not mean there was no fall-out of the convention. After any convention, there must be issues arising from the conduct of such exercise. So, it is not different that PDP has some minor issues after the convention, but it is gladdening that the party remains solid, remains united and one.
Before the convention, we anticipated that some issues may arise, that was why we set up the reconciliation committee, which moved to work immediately after the convention. The current leadership also set up other two committees which consist of the Seriake Dickson committee and the other one led by former principal officers of the National Assembly to reach out to the aggrieved and to bring them back on board and to integrate them in a bid to provide a united front.
To also provide a strong and virile opposition to the All Progressives Congress (APC), which is in power, we have covered a lot of grounds, but that does not mean to say there are still no issues, but I am not in a position to know what those outstanding issues are because I am not the national chairman of the party now. I have left as chairman, but I continue to give advice in areas, where I am needed and I am also handling issues I can handle on my own just to bring unity into the party without necessarily having recourse to the current leadership.
The current leadership has been meeting with relevant organs of the party, the governors, National Assembly members, former governors, former ministers, formal and non-formal organs of the party in order to forge the way forward for the party. So, I am sure the party is set and working so hard to be a virile opposition.
It is being said in some quarters that PDP has not shown enough confidence and direction to convince Nigerians that the party is set to take over power from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in the 2019 general elections. How prepared is the party for the polls?
No serious party will want to continue to remain as an opposition party. The role of any opposition party is to take over power and that is what we have set our eyes on right now. And I want to thank APC for actually making our job easier and I continue to pray that APC continues to make our job easier as we move closer to elections. I do not pray Nigerians continue to suffer and that is why I believe Nigerians will make the right choice by voting out the party in power.
As to our preparations, all I can say is that we are doing all that is legally and politically doable to achieve our objectives. It would be inappropriate for me to give a hint of we are doing or what we are planning. It will amount to someone publishing his war plans before going to the battlefront. You have as well committed suicide before going for the war.
We keep our plans to our chest but be rest assured we are used to the politicking and we shall leave no stone unturned.
It is believed that your leadership intentionally threw away the entire South-West bloc from achieving its aim of clinching the chairmanship of the PDP, which was an agreement reached at the Port Harcourt convention. This seems to be causing disaffection in the South-West zone and the party seems not to be on the ground at the zone. How do you reconcile all these putting in mind South- West is very key come 2019?
I want to disagree with you in your assertions about states of the South-West. First, there was no intention of throwing away the South-West or any other bloc from any part of the country. And by the time we went to the convention, there was no political arrangement from the South as to where the chairman of the party should come from.
We came in May and a convention was scheduled for August in Port Harcourt, the PDP met in Port Harcourt and micro-zoned the chairmanship of the party to the South-West before August last year.
When we went to Port Harcourt, because of interference from government, that election could not take place and our tenure was extended for a year. When we were approaching the December convention, the North met and politically discussed among themselves and maintained the micro-zoning.
The South met and they could not agree on the micro-zoning.
Before every convention, you meet, discuss and also take certain decisions. The unity that existed from the South before the August convention disappeared before the December convention. When they met, they could not agree.
Then they met again and agreed on all other positions except two positions which are the chairmanship and the deputy chairmanship.
And they left that decision among themselves and even the South-East excused themselves from it, but the South-South and the South-West could not agree. And when they could not agree, the South-West and South-South decided that the convention should decide who becomes the chairman and deputy chairman. Failure of a certain part to sit down and agree should not be seen as the rest of the country heaping something on somebody.
Nobody directed the North to meet and maintain what they have done, I did not ask them, it was not in my position to do that and nobody stops the South from agreeing on certain terms. Failure to agree was what threw the race open and politics is an issue of negotiation. So, they came to the convention divided, campaigning against each other and in politics, when you are campaigning against each other and you want the rest to give you power, it becomes more difficult. So really, it was a local failure because the remaining part of the country had their agreement intact.
But I think they did not see a reason to unite before they decided that the convention should determine who emerges. It was at the venue of the convention when the election was about to start that some of them started going round to say they now have a consensus candidate, while some others started going round disclaiming there was such agreement.
So, in such confusion, who do you blame? You cannot blame anybody. Be that as it may, no part of this country should be taken for granted.
Except you don’t understand the politics of Nigeria, that is why you will expect to win elections on the convention ground.
Before you get to the convention ground, all the alliances have been formed and you will know whether you will or lose before getting to the convention ground. You may not have the leadership of the party, you may end up having what is even more than the leadership of the party.
As chairman of the party, you have limited powers even when your party is in government. Can you tell me how powerful the chairman of APC, John Odigie-Oyegun is today?
I think where people should look up to is the executive because that is where policies are formulated and executed and that is where the interest of people you represent can be taken care of.
Apart from the Dickson committee, I know there is another committee being led by Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo with Dr. Bello Haliru and David Mark. They are complementing what others are doing just to ensure peace and accommodation in the party.
When you mention that the party is absent in the South- West, I disagree with that. For me, you have to go gradually to achieve peace, anything you rush into, especially where there is sharp division, you are bound to fail.
So, the party is very conscious of these problems and we are doing all we can to harmonize. I can tell you that you will know our strength as a party when the elections come.
Nigerians should stop looking at the big picture of ceremonial things, those things don’t win elections. You don’t go by the crowd to win elections. In 2015, which crowd we did not have as a party. Did PDP not lose elections? So, don’t be carried away by the crowd that attends a rally.
Till date, many still feel the over-bearing influence of the governors in the PDP was part of the reasons why the party lost in 2015. It is also believed that such played out in deciding who emerged chairman of the party at the December convention. Being a former governor and a major player in PDP, how do you react to this?
Well, going back to the 105 elections, the North expected to have the ticket, to some, that matters. But even at that, our language was not so polite in the campaigns.
The manner and language some of our members used in campaigning for 2015 was insulting to a certain part of the country.
Also, the party structure was not used for campaigning rather an arrangement using Transformation Ambassadors of Nigeria (TAN) was used for the presidential campaign. And TAN was just a motor formulated by some people to impress those in power, it was not something structured, PDP is a structured party down to the village level.
To now abandon that asset and use something superficial, naturally there will be problems because it discouraged some people while some others became nonchalant. I can tell you that some governors were not even aware of how campaigns were going on and no governor was sitting in the campaign council. When you blame the governors, I can tell you that not even the chairman of the PDP Governors Forum was in the Presidential Campaign Council.
These factors contributed to losing the elections, not that APC won, but PDP threw away the elections. There could have been difficulties or challenges, but if we have acted differently, there was no way we could have lost the 2015 elections.
If we are talking about the states, I can say yes but on the presidential, there was no question of over-bearing influence by any governor, especially as I mentioned, no governor was in the Presidential Campaign Council.
They were basically expected to be on-lookers until you visit their states to campaign. They made a mistake. Going forward, the PDP has only 11governors, so the people are working together with the governors we have and the governors are also showing their support. I have not seen where they are showing overbearing influence on anybody.
Right now, you won’t find that in PDP because the situation is completely different, we know that and we are making use of all the assets that we have, whether governors, former governors or former ministers, we respect the views of all who can add value to our party. We are not ignoring all those who are in the position or that has the capacity to help.
Recently, the APC stated that the party is now for restructuring after it initially rejected the idea. Many believed it is because elections are approaching. Where does your party stand on the issue of restructuring?
I addressed a press conference when this matter came up. I said that the APC is now like a chameleon changing colours. All I can say is that, right from the beginning, we in PDP are for restructuring. Besides that, the Governor of Kaduna State and the Chairman of the restructuring committee of the APC, Nasir el- Rufai said on a national television that restructuring is not important.
The following day, I featured in the same television stattion and said all the conferences that were initiated for the processes were done by the PDP because it was during Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan some of the conferences were done and some of the recommendations bother on the issue of restructuring.
I also said restructuring means different things to different people, the starting point is to narrow down the understanding and proceed stage by stage because there are things you can do immediately, some on a short-term and some on a long term.
Several of this issues being raised today is because of several issues happening within the country right now and we have to be sensitive about them. I believe running away from this issue of restructuring is like running away from reality.
For a party to say because it wants to win elections, it has changed its position is the height of deception and it is for Nigerians to take them for who they are, people who will do anything just to remain in power not because they mean it.
Is PDP threatened by the political gimmicks of ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, especially with his third force?
We don’t feel threatened by the Coalition of Obasanjo. I can tell you that most of them are friends and associates. They said they are not a political party, time will tell. If they turn out to be a political party, we will see how it plays out. Obasanjo himself said anytime they turn to a political party, he will seize to be a member.
My take on it is like in the United States, where you have independent candidacy, you have the Democrats and the Republican, then you have an independent candidate who looks at a candidate and decides where to swing at the last minute. That is what I feel it is, time will tell what their aims are.
What is your take on the re-ordering of elections by the National Assembly?
The position of the law is clear on this. It is not what is passed, but what is signed that becomes law. If the President signs it, it becomes law.
We passed the same law during my time at the Senate and then a court said it was unconstitutional and that it was the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that has the power to do that. If that is the case, so be it.
But for me, I think my take is, PDP should prepare to win no matter how elections are ordered. To think that elections should be ordered this way or that way is a lazy way of approaching elections.
Whichever way it is ordered, we should campaign and work. I believe strongly that anyhow the elections come, PDP will win. So, we should concentrate on the main issues and not through any short-cut.
Worried by the way they are being treated in APC, there is speculation that some PDP members who defected prior to the 2015 elections are planning to return to the PDP…
If they don’t like those who left PDP to join them to help them win, let them throw them out. And those who want to come back to the PDP are free to come back. We also wish those who want to join PDP to come; it is a free will. They will be welcome back to the PDP. Even if Bola Tinubu will come to PDP; let him come to PDP, we will take him. PDP is open to all.
On the issues of Herdsmen ravaging the country, what do you think the APC -ed government should do to tackle the issue?
I believe this issue has assumed a dimension, which is alarming and all hands need to be on deck to address it. This is a problem that is ravaging the North-Central and southern part of the country. When I was governor, this problem was rampant in my area, but people did not know. It was similar to what is happening now; though the ferocity was quite different.
The proliferation of arms was not there, just cutlass and arrows. The influx of some of these people because of free movement of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has also made it difficult and it has complicated the matter.
Therefore, we must look at this matter critically. The Federal Government has talked about the issue of the colony, but colony as a word sounds offensive. Colonization to me means domination.
Ranching sounds business, anybody can go into ranching and you do business where it is feasible, you cannot do business where it is not feasible. So, we have to begin with the policy of modernisation of ranching, where it is most feasible at this time and re-orient and re-indoctrinate the herdsmen. It will take time but it is doable, modernize their profession, give them some level of education, give them incentives to make them change their ways and methods.
Anything to achieve peace is not a waste. I am not saying they should reward them for criminality or illegality; I am talking of domestic herdsmen who are Nigerians. They should assist them to modernize their practice.
Then, on the issue of free movement by ECOWAS, if people will be crossing our borders and killing and maiming people all in the name of ECOWAS free movement, that is absolutely wrong because every life is important and in the spirit of ECOWAS, we should not continue to waste lives.
POLITICAL NOTES: Politics and the power of religion
Should religious leaders play active role in politics or refrain from stepping into the political sphere?
This is one question that has defied a definite answer over the years, perhaps, because Nigeria is a country made up of diverse religions.
While it is the right of every citizen as provided in Section 40 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) that: “Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interests,” many have insisted that religion should be separated from politics.
But, there is a political school, which argues that if celebrities could enjoy political expression, such should not be denied of religious leaders.
This school insists that religious leaders should be entitled to political comments like any other citizen in free societies. According to its members, politics is not bigger than religion, and so, if dabbling into affairs of the state is going to make the difference for the people; religious leaders should influence it smartly.
They further argued that religion being the driving force of politics all over the world, to separate them may be the most difficult task. Examples were cited of the considerable political influence by Muslim clerics in countries like Iran as well as political dominance of the Hindu Nationalist Party in India despite the fact that the country is a secular state.
However, there is another political school, which believes that religious leaders should not dabble into politics on the conviction that doing such will amount to hypocrisy, especially as it concerns their teachings. To members of this school, the Church/Mosque and the government are two separate offices and should not be joined.
The fear of this school is the danger of allowing politicians smuggle religion into the nation’s politics. It was argued that the interest of the country and its people would be better served if religious leaders ensure that religion is taken away from politics and by ensuring that politicians do not drag politics into religion.
As the debate rages on the participation of religious leaders in partisan politics, it should however be noted that the separation of religion and state does not mean that those who are religious cannot vote or exercise their right to free speech.
To many, religion remains a driving force for the masses, as affinity exists between adherents and their leaders though the real danger is with those who choose to preach prejudice.
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