Former Nigeria’s envoy to Canada and Mexico, Prof Iyorwuese Hagher is a blunt Nigerian who tells it as it is. In this exclusive interview with Saturday Sun, the erstwhile Minister of Steel spoke on his January 5 open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari, which went viral three days after; the current herdsmen-farmers’ crises and the heating up of the polity, among others. He spoke with IHEANACHO NWOSU in Abuja.
You seem to understand the herders-farmers’ conflicts; kindly provide some insight?
I am a scholar, a professor of development theatre, in my intellectual career it is my responsibility to study communities and phenomena and I have over the years made it a point of duty to deal with issues like crises within the communities and I have been involved in observing the phenomena of ethnic crisis, communal crisis, farmers’ crisis, within the middle belt which has been subsisting for decades now. I have been a peacemaker, a peace builder, I am a total pacifist; I hate violence in any form including verbal violence. So, in observing the trend of the crisis between herdsmen and farmers within the middle-belt area from 2013; I was alarmed when I noticed that in 2015 there was a sudden jump in escalation of the incident that increased since President Buhari took over in 2015, I noticed that this escalation was based on a systematic process where it was not just all Fulani herdsmen and the farmers. There was now a new dimension to the crisis, the new entry was commando-style execution, gruesome murders of the farmers, the barbarity which showed that there was a disturbing trend towards the genocide that was now the possibility and the reality. As there was increased violence because much more than the usual struggle of the incident of cows being killed and therefore the grazers come in respect of the killing of their cows or that a cattle has been rustled and then they come pursuing revenge over the loss of cattle.
There was an upsurge in attacks in which the target communities in Southern Adamawa, Benue, Kogi, Nasarawa , Plateau, Southern Kaduna and Taraba states was where I found the phenomena that was really disturbing. The equally disturbing scenario was that in most of the places where these attacks were being unleashed, it seemed to me that they were mainly where Christians settled and when I looked at the fact that when President Buhari took over he had a very efficient approach towards the Boko Haram. So, I began to study the possibility of the Boko Haram having diffused itself to become a Plan ‘B’ because the herdsmen terrorism was no longer the usual clashes, this was terrorism at monumental scale, this was terrorism; that was a world class definition of terrorism. The herdsmen became the force classified as the 4th most deadly terrorist group on earth. I was alarmed that it was not just this area but it was a proliferation, country wide where herdsmen were conflicted and I became equally disturbed to learn that the organization had the sultanate and the emirate of Northern Nigeria which were Fulani in origin and also the President of Nigeria was even considered as a patron of the Miyetti Allah and I said wow! This is a pretty heavy stuff and I began to analyze the conversations that were going on that time and I became alarmed and disturbed because they were too few structures on ground to prevent the genocide, structures like an effective legislature, an independent judiciary, an effective national human rights institution or independent media or a neutral security force because the more I studied about the phenomena, the more I discovered that the police and the army that were supposed to be neutral security forces were recording incidents in which the arms used by the insurgents were coming from the Nigerian armoury and the corruption that began to be unveiled of politicians and the easy supply of arms across the country, with arms market all over; if you go to Niger, you buy an AK47, it is completely on display, if you go to certain parts of this country you will see arms being freely sold. I studied the motivation of the leading actors and there was considerable motivation because the issue of land in the middle-belt and the fertile land that is irrigated by the River Niger and the River Benue. The desertification has taken place in the north and global climate has affected this area and no less than 20,000 cattle looking for water sources especially in the dry season, looking for grass and then I looked at the phenomena of displaced people of Nigerian stock in Darfur, in Libya who are pushed to come back; who are herds people and if they came back, what would be means of their livelihood, these people are fighters for decades, they have been fighting in those environments and as they fight in those environments, the psychology of instability is already imbedded in them, they are insurgents and wherever they go, insurgent mentality prevails in their mind. They want to come back to Nigeria, they reach out to some Nigerian leaders, Nigerians lived for years in Darfur and now Northern Sudan doesn’t want us; they are making slaves of us, where do we go? The only place we can settle is in the Benue valley, people who are there are not even Muslims, so it makes it easy, considerable motivation for ethnic cleansing and the borders are porous. So, when I started putting all the pieces together, I saw that it was possible for genocide of unprecedented magnitude to creep in on us in a manner in which we are unprepared. We underestimated the Boko Haram and it grew up like a phantom into a reality, which we were not able to control till this moment effectively.
So, was this the reason for your recent letter to the President?
When I wrote the letter to the President, I was writing to him as a patriot, as a citizen who has experienced not just at the ordinary level as a legislator or a former minister; diplomat. I was writing to him with the eye of somebody who deeply loves this country and know the immensity of expectation for a great and glorious Nigeria by the international community. Nigeria has continued to disappoint the world, if we leave outside this country there is an enormous amount of insult the Nigerians in diaspora receive constantly on behalf of Nigeria. So, the world is impatient of a Nigeria that is still sluggishly trying to contain the most basic element of governance that is to guarantee life and security of the citizens, we are not talking of a country that has failed to provide infrastructure, failed to provide electricity, failed to provide water for the citizens. There are few state capitals in this country that are able to provide water, ordinary drinking water to the citizens not to talk of an infrastructure that has collapsed. There are no roads in this country, I love traveling by road and there are no roads. I recently travelled from Ado-Ekiti to Abuja and the roads were hell holes, I’m not talking about Benue which is on the margin of national consciousness because there is not a single road in Benue that is motorable; when you drive there, you wished you carried your car on your head instead. The rich fly in helicopters, they make use of the most expensive bulletproof SUVs; so, they don’t understand what the masses go through. I had thought that perhaps if Nigerians were provided with security of lives then they would pursue their happiness with whatever they can, struggling and smiling and being told by the leadership to have patience and they wait but all to no avail. So, I was frustrated and angry that this was so and the main reason I was upset was that when I received a letter from the Presidency, a letter which was dated 28th of September, 2016, I was so excited because as a scholar and a public intellectual, I have written to Presidents both now and in the past because that is what I love to do. If I observe a phenomenon in any African country as the President of African Leadership Institute, I’ll write to that country, sometimes I receive good replies; sometimes not and so I was very ecstatic that my country’s President wrote to me and thanked me for my valuable suggestions towards addressing some critical challenges facing Nigeria. The most critical challenge facing Nigeria in this letter was to stop the genocide which was certainly being read and which I predicted was going to take place in particularly Benue and Plateau states within the next 18 months and so when this genocide took place in the 17th month, I was very angry. I was angry because the loss of one life in a democracy through genocide is one life too many and killing as a genocidal act is different from an ordinary killing. Genocide is a deliberate plan to eliminate a hated group, whether it’s a race or ethnic group or a people identified and targeted and what happened on New Year day in Benue was not an ordinary killing, it was not a communal clash, it fully fulfilled what I had warned about ‘a horrendous genocide that will shock the world.’ I had warned about this because the killings were thoroughly shocking, people sleeping in the night were being butchered and slaughtered; even the Geneva Convention would not accept a normal combat during the war where women and children are being targeted. It is only genocide that kills women and children to stop the procreation of the hated tribe or ethnicity and to stop the future generation. So, I was angry, particularly when I saw the reaction of a country totally numb without a conscience.
We expected sympathy, sympathy for citizens who were killed in their sleep, sympathy with government of Benue state as a result of the invasion of the state, leading to the massacre of individuals, sympathy doesn’t cost anything.
But the President condemned it…
Condemnation is not sympathy; sympathy is to identify with the suffering. The President was condemning at the same time receiving Governor el-Rufai and other governors asking him to go for a second term, the second term agenda became more important than the lives of citizens that he swore to protect under the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria but it was worse because I do not remember any of the northern governors paying a courtesy visit to commiserate with their colleague for that which had happened in the state regardless of whoever Ortom is to them, he is their colleague and it is instructive that the Nigerian Governors should have reacted to this, although it is an ubiquitous phenomenon. Now, nobody cares; the lives of Nigerians are so cheap; nobody cares about Nigerians’ lives. There’s so much lives being wasted in Nigeria, so, I was horrified because I would have thought things would be done in a separate way. The President is well; he’s not sick, he could have taken 30 minutes to fly into Makurdi and pay a condolence visit to Governor Ortom or he could have sent his Deputy instead; the next thing we saw was a Government in denial, these are the things that made me very angry but my letter was not an angry letter.
That means you wrote President Buhari out of anger?
My letter did not express anger, I was deeply disappointed and I tried to give the President advice that would make him leave a legacy, I did not insult him. In my letter I never mentioned the word Fulani like in my previous letter I tried to situate him and his ethnicity and asked him to protect the Fulani. I am not just talking on behalf of Benue; I am talking on behalf of Nigeria and Africa. When Donald Trump talks bad about this country, it affects me too. How can our leaders be so clueless and visionless, so insensitive and oblivious to the fact that the masses put them there to do a job? It is like when you give a man a contract to do a job and then he does the foundation level and decides to go and build another house without finishing the first one; that is the Nigerian mentality. Go and ask people, who are given contracts, they never end, they always ask for valuation so when I see that in the leadership it worries me. If you are a leader it means that you are answerable to the citizens, democracy is a government of the people, which means those who are in power answer to the citizens of the state. Democracy is a social contract made between the chosen leaders and the citizens in order to protect the masses. If you allow the people that voted you to be killed then you have betrayed democracy.
What you mean is that the Federal Government failed in this instance?
It should never have reached the stage of genocide; the President and the Inspector General of Police and the Service Chiefs, the Minister of Internal Affairs and the Attorney General of the Federation have the security report everyday on their table, they know where arms are being moved, where tension is growing and they should be able to proactively nick crisis before it starts. Now, when an Inspector General who appears to know everything simply says that it was a communal clash, then if he knew it was a communal clash; has government now come to accept communal clashes and the killings typified by them, are communal clashes now a normal thing in the society? When the President said the IG should relocate to Benue, the people became skeptical because there is an attempt to belittle where the pain is most acute and an attempt to not honestly define the nature of the problem. The people of Benue say that each time they are attacked; it is from Nasarawa state, the authorities ought to have gone there to find and arrest those who are culpable.
But Nasarawa governor denied the allegation
The President sent the IG and if the Nasarawa governor denied and he was willing to take the assertions of the governor; why are they not taking the position of the Benue State Government? These terrorists did not drop from heaven, it is public knowledge they attacked Benue either from the Agatu region, Tiv or the Taraba region. It is a known cell of nomadic terrorists that are harboured either on the borderline of Nasarawa and Taraba states, it is the sense in which you apply a leveled system of justice, law and order on the citizens and they know that one section is not being favoured at the expense of the other or one person stands accused and you make sure that you are doing everything to justify the other person you want to find guilty, it in this circumstance that the disappointment jitters.
Do you support Unongo’s warning that Benue may raise one-million-man army to protect the state?
I am a pacifist; in 2001 when there was genocide against the Benue people, I was appointed by the Tiv people among others to find solution, I pursued peace relentlessly and we approached the Arewa Consultative Forum; we approached President Obasanjo even though he was the person we accused and held responsible for that genocide and we made him to apologise to the Benue people for the massacre, we made him to convene a national conference in Kuru. In this case, it was a genocide conducted by the government against the people that elected it; this time the evil is being perpetrated by herdsmen who are the kinsmen to the President, so it is a double jeopardy for us. That is why in my letter in 2016, I had told the President that he should be sensitive to the plight of his people, the Fulani have suffered so much in West Africa and him being Fulani, the Fulani are expecting a lot from him, one of the things they are expecting should not be for him to look the other way so that they could kill and takeover the land of those unbelievers living on the side of Benue. I told him that he should understand that he has a multiple identity as President of this country. So, he should be aware of the fact that he’s Nigeria’s President, the President of Africa’s biggest democratic nation; that he is representing all black people on earth and therefore anytime he is acting, he should be guided by this image of himself and also someone who provides an even playing field and balanced system of law and order. I tried to explain to him that in modern times it is not wise for the Fulani to be roaming on the streets with their cattle. These people deserve a better life, they are the last nomadic community yet to be settled, they deserve to go to school, they deserve to be settled, they need to be looked after and provided for. I defend the weak, the downtrodden, the voiceless.
What I am saying is that, who are we going to fight? It is a gorilla war; some people accomplice it with international terrorists that come across our porous borders and they are hidden by people in the community, so that the eyes of the security officials wouldn’t see them, which is very difficult for us to believe, they carry arms and move them from place to place, they attack in commando style, they come in groups of 200; sometimes more. It is an invasion, it is a form of progressive genocide because if you go to Benue today, there is a whole local government called Guma where the present governor comes from, the lands there have been occupied by herdsmen, those who were not killed run for their life into the city and we have seen horrid pictures of Fulani herdsmen coming into their farms and cutting farm products and feeding their cattle, they are taking over their lands and properties. Notwithstanding, I am totally against those villagers who perpetrate plans to kill the Fulani herdsmen; a country cannot permit that to happen either. It is the inefficacy of the rule of law that made me tell the President that he should concentrate on restoring law and order and the protection of lives and properties of the citizens of the nation. It will be an uphill task for him to guarantee electricity and infrastructure, the provision of security is his best bet.
Is establishment of cattle colonies solution to this perennial issue?
I think that this country is unfortunate in having leaders who look at any crisis as an opportunity to proffer a knee-jerk solution; it is even more offensive that all previous attempts by government to deal with this had failed because you’re actually now choosing words that add salt to injury. Why would you call it a colony; is it a Fulani colony or a herdsmen colony or a cow colony, are the cows going to be there themselves?
There is land involved, the land is taken from the people, when you say it’s a colony, a colony is defined as a foreign entity carrying its superior power to an inferior entity, taking away from that inferior entity the land that they do not have title to and having colonised it to administer it without the concern or any input from the parent body. So, it is offensive, it is heartless and it is reckless introduction no matter how meaningful or how well meaning that concept is, it is not well thought by the kind of nomenclature it has acquired. It is even better suited if being called a ranch.
In the last few days, there have been calls for declaration of emergency in Benue; what’s your take?
When the country has not declared a state of emergency in Borno state where there is Boko Haram, how does it declare a state of emergency in Benue? It is the final signal that Nigeria is heading towards its own demise and I say this with great caution because if you declare a state of emergency today, what stops the President from declaring a state of emergency on the whole country? This is banana republic mentality. The truth is that there are ground rules to be followed; the government knows what the right thing is. The Benue state governor from records told the President that the people are planning genocide, they have threatened that they do not like the laws that Benue state people enacted, so they are going to come and kill us and no one has denied this, they threatened and even now they are still threatening and what is so sacrosanct about arresting the leadership, charging them for genocide, putting them on trial and seeing that the due process of law is taken against them. It will be unfortunate to expect that the President will use such executive rights to establish a state of emergency on a government of his own party in which the governor has been begging him that the herdsmen are threatening to commit a crime and nothing was done about it till it came to pass.
If you were the President, what will you do?
If I were President Buhari, considering the love with which Nigerians clamoured for him to come into power, he should get back a little ovation before he exits from the stage. So far, if there is a general poll taken in the country today, the majority of the people are unhappy, the duty of the government is to make the people happy and not to ask the people to give us a little time and then accuse them of being impatient. But in this case, the President is not asking for a little more time, he is authoritatively asking us to be patient and in turn lamenting about Nigerians not being patient, so we do not know how long the patience should last because a man that comes to power and asks us to be patient for many months before he will come out with his key officers and ministers is already undermining democracy which has a specific number of years, maximum 8 years. If in 4 years the President is still blaming other people for corruption without him directing a well-structured economic policy which would aid the corruption fight because the fight against corruption needs to be backed up by a strong economic plan. The President didn’t have an economic adviser for a very long time; I still don’t know who his policy adviser is. There is an organisational structure which is embedded on top of a pre-existing political culture where the PDP of yesterday metamorphosed into the APC of today and they are not sinners whereas the others that stayed back at the PDP are the sinning people. I believe that Buhari is a great man and I know that Nigerians believe that too because they easily forgive him of all his wrong doings almost like Donald Trump is forgiven for whatever character or aberration he has. Buhari is forgiven just as much, mainly because he fought corruption in 1984 and part of ‘85 and it didn’t work because his dealings were epitomized by corruption, raiding people after the effect, meanwhile what he was meant to do is a foundational tackling of corruption through the formal educational and institutional level where the Nigerian society as we want it should be planned and the plan should be executed diligently so that Nigeria will emerge an honourable and just society. For him, it’s all about arresting people and declaring the fantastic sums that are stolen and then the court process is endless. Why can’t he get the legislature or the judiciary to establish special courts for corruption, why is he finding it difficult to jail people that he claims they stole money and why are the people beginning to accuse the people within his establishment of being beneficiaries of corruption? Every regime claims to fight corruption, it is when they leave that we know that perhaps they were corrupt or not corrupt and we will never really know. It is not a meaningful thing to pursue corruption through the system of money raised in people’s homes but by institutionalization of processes of accountability. It is very nice that certain steps have been taken like the BVN and the accounting procedure now where all of the federal government’s accounts are put in one source rather than scattered across the banks; and they were taking the liberty of doing whatever they wanted with public funds. This society needs to be restructured and it should be restructured from the very basic, the educational system needs to be restructured completely and over-hauled, we need to emphasize on it. I specifically said that he came into power on the basis of northern unity, when the minorities of the north namely, Plateau, Benue, Nasarawa and Kogi states voted for the APC and these states were predominantly PDP states but they voted for him and in that moment it showed a semblance of northern unity. An incident like this type of genocide takes place and it’s not an attempt to rally them up, it is not an attempt to identify a holistic northern policy which would have become relevant if he identified the most basic needs of northern Nigeria which is undoubtedly education. School enrolment went down during President Buhari tenure in Nigeria from having 10 million children outside school we have 13million pupils outside school and his budgetary allocation has continued to diminish year after year and while the economy has already experienced an inflation, it means that his present 7% to education is 6 or 5% compared to previous regime who at some point allocated 10% to education also. A person like this is conflicted and should not take all the problems because he cannot do everything within a year and he should not tell us to give him another four years because what we’ve seen in this 4 years leaves very much to be desired; we don’t think he can do better than what he has done.