Former Executive Secretary/ Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Prof Usman Yusuf has declared that any anti-open grazing law passed by any governor in any part of the country is illegal and unconstitutional.

In an interview with VINCENT KALU, the Professor of Haematology-Oncology and Bone Marrow Transplantation said open grazing of cattle is not Nigeria’s problem. He also explained why he went with Sheikh Gumi to have discussions with bandits across six forests.

Some months ago, you kicked against the decision of the Southern governors to ban open grazing of cattle. But some traditional rulers in the North have also come up with anti-open grazing policy in their domains. What have you to say to that?

We have 36 states. And if all the governors come out to say, we ban open grazing, they need to know that it is unconstitutional, null and void, contrary to Section 4 of the Constitution of Nigeria. The Attorney-General said that much. It is not the South or the North; the ban is unconstitutional. We went to the South-West; we went to Oyo State and then to the hinterland of Kwara, where the Fulani have lived for generations with communities. You are telling me that the insecurity in the South-East, South-West and South-South is because of open grazing? It is just politicians bringing things to cover their weakness. Open grazing is not the problem; the problem is the corruption and bad governance in the 36 states.

What solution do you proffer for the security situation in the country?

Nothing will thrive in any place without security; security is paramount, it is more than anything. All the six geo-political zones have security issues. You have to ask yourself why, and then go to the root cause of them. The root cause of the security challenges in the North-West, North-East is different from that of the South-East, South-West and South-South. I have always said that problems are local and solutions are always local.  The big plans from Abuja will never work; they’ve had a war for the last six years in the North-East. So we have to find out locally what is the problem in each of the political zone and you cannot do that from Abuja. You can only do that by involving people that are on the ground. Who are the people that are on the ground always? It is the traditional rulers, the community leaders, the clerics and the elders of the community. They are the ones with the people.

A lot of the security challenges we see in Nigeria are due to corruption and bad governance everywhere. In all the six geo-political zones, elders have lost control of their youths and we have seen it. In the North-East, Kanuri elders have lost control of their youths; that is why you have Boko Haram. In the North-West and North Central, Fulani elders have lost control of their youths; that is why you see all these bandits. In the South-East, elders are silent and they have lost control of their youths. That is why you see Nnamdi Kanu that was born in 1972 taking control and mobilising IPOB and people below 50, who never saw the suffering or what people went through during the civil war. It is the same thing in the South-West; a region that claims to be the most educated people has the likes of Igboho in charge. Where are the elders, where are the adults? We have lost control, that is why we are in this mess. We have to go back to the drawing board. Both the Federal Government and the state governments are all distant from the realities of the people.  Each of the states has a minister in the Federal Executive Council; each of the state has three senators and many House of Reps members. Not staying in Abuja, they should be the ones to go back home; like in the United States, they should go back home every week to hear from their people and come to Abuja, but they don’t go back home. Ministers representing the states are supposed to go back home and be coming to report to the president directly, not the Chief of Army Staff or Chief of Defence Staff, who has no connection with the people.

Government is disconnecting with the people and we are all militarizing what essentially is a social problem. IPOB is a social problem, likewise banditry. What I mean by social problem is that what is causing the problem is local, which we can solve.  There is a place for the military in all these conflicts, but there is no military solution in any of these conflicts. Look at this banditry; children are abducted like cattle as if there is no government and they collect ransom of hundreds of million naira. What do they do with the money? They buy more arms. Government has allowed this fester to a level where these bandits and criminals have lots of money to buy arms and attack soft targets. Government has a lot of responsibilities in all these; they have been distant from the people. They have not taken this issue seriously as they should have. There is corruption and bad governance all over from the state governments to the federal. People feel alienated and that is why they are agitating that they want to leave or secede because they have not seen the benefits of being in this country. This is the main problem.

You talk of traditional rulers, clerics getting involved in finding solutions to the problem. But now that the Federal Government is carrying out massive onslaughts against the bandits, Sheikh Gumi is protesting. What is your view on that?

I have always said there is a place for the military, but there is no military solution to these conflicts. We need to get the strategic leaders of these bandits out of the way, and only after that we settle down and say this is what we need to do. There is no way you should continue to allow these criminals to keep on kidnapping people, to continue to amass too much wealth; to continue to amass arms. There is no responsible government that will sit and allow this. Whatever that is being done needs to be strategic to avoid killing innocent people. You can only do that by involving the community. The community knows where they are; we all know where these bandits are and their names. Go and get them. Eliminate them. No government can watch and see this thing continue. Everyday in the North, villages are razed, rustled and people are killed. Sheikh Gumi and I went to the forests to listen and understand them because we are doctors and you cannot prescribe a solution without knowing what the diagnosis is. We needed to go and understand them and that is why we risked our lives into these five, six forests to hear their grievances and come back to their elected representatives to talk with them. So things have got to a breaking point and window for dialogue is closing if not closed, because government has left it for so long and these people are getting stronger and getting embolden.

What would you say about what Sheikh Gumi said?

Sheikh Gumi can answer for himself on his statement.

As the military is bombing these bandits, are we sure those they kidnapped would not be victims?

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That is why I said they have to be strategic. Who do we need to catch? Who do we need to kill and who do we need to protect? Because what people don’t realise is that 99.99 per cent of Fulani are first victims of these banditry. These criminals need to be taken out of the way for peace to return. We are all tired and government needs to step up and show there is a government. As it is now, it is the bandits that are the lords across all the rural areas in the Northwest and North Central. Government needs to take charge, but in doing that, they need to act responsibility and with caution. They need to target the right people, so that people will go back to their farms and homes.

How will government do that except what they are doing now?

I cannot go and attack the whole of South-East because of IPOB. They need to have intelligence about where these criminals are and target them. I hope and pray that they know what they are doing because no military or air force works without intelligence. I hope intelligence will guide them to do the right thing to minimise collateral damage. Enough is enough.

At what point did communication breakdown as Sheikh Gumi team was interfacing with the bandits to find a solution? Does it mean the government didn’t believe Gumi or didn’t act on the report it was given?

I don’t know what the government was doing. We went into the forests and we did not in anywhere delude ourselves that we were representing any government or any authority; we didn’t delude ourselves that our one, two or five visits would make these criminals put their guns down. We went there to open a channel of communication, create some tracks that along the way would be able to lead to peaceful disarmament, and then stop this criminality. We were not the first to engage them, all the governors in the North had engaged them before, but it broke down. It doesn’t mean that if dialogue breaks down you stop dialoguing. No one should mess with the Federal Government. The president has the mandate of the people to protect them. What mandate do bandits, IPOB or Boko Harm have? Nothing. The president has enough mandates to wake up and crush anybody that is killing people and restore security to the land and I hope he is beginning to do the right thing. I hope it is not too little too late preventing the suffering of innocent people. As we speak, our villages are under siege by bandits, our people are being kidnapped everyday, no government can stand and watch this thing go on. Government needs to involve community leaders; community leaders are not the governors or politicians; they are traditional rulers, cleric. They are the ones who can help any government not soldiers. A soldier from Kano cannot solve Katsina’s problem. It is the community leaders that can help the military. The military is deployed in 32 out of 36 states in this country. That is too much. They are doing their parts; they need everybody to come in to help.

Is it out of frustration that Bello Masari, governor of your state, Katsina, toed you former line that citizens should be armed to defend themselves?

This is not former; it is the current.

I thought you said that after weighing many options, you came to the conclusion that it was not the best option?

You come from a village and I come from a village, and our villages need to be protected. Ordinarily, there should be policemen to protect us, but there are no police anywhere in this country to protect our villages. So there has to be a very controlled way. If the Federal Government doesn’t have enough soldiers, enough policemen to control our villages, then how do you involve people in a very controlled way to do that; no chaos, no anarchy to control their homelands? It is done in the UK. In the United State, you have the home guards.

There has to be a controlled way even after these shootings and bombings, the government has to find a way to protect our villages. Maybe, one of the ways is to control, arm people to protect the villages. This should be done in a very controlled way. Soldiers are now doing enough of the police work. We have classmates who have retired as generals in the army, if you ask them they would tell you this is the worst kind of war to fight – fighting their own people. That is not what they were trained for. Communities need to be protected, but how you do that is what the Federal Government should take seriously. Villages must be protected; many people are no more in their villages. Yes, the governor is now in his sixth year in office and he is as frustrated as everybody. For a governor in the state of the president to come out to say that people should defend themselves, that shows how frustrated he is. So the Federal Government has to listen to him.

Recently, a Federal High Court in Rivers State conferred the collection of Value Added Tax (VAT) on the state. Governor Masari said it cannot stand. This is another controversy that the nation may face. What is your view on this?

We have seen the CJN calling many judges to order. All these courts that people would go and procure judgement should be more responsible than they have been. The judiciary needs to do the right thing; we are a country of laws and no governor, and even the president can do things beyond the law. I don’t have any problem at all. Let it go through the right process and it will get to Supreme Court. Politicians should stop corrupting our judiciary. I have no comment to make on it.