Jeff Amechi Agbodo, Onitsha
Traditional ruler of Atani Community in Ogbaru Local Government Area of Anambra State, Igwe Augustine Azuka Ngoddy, has given conditions upon which his kingdom and the people of the South-East would support the second term of President Muhammadu Buhari. He said the president can only enjoy their support if he corrects all the marginalization done to the region and completes the Second Niger Bridge.
Do you subscribe to the call by some Igbo leaders for President Muhammadu Buhari to run for a second term in 2019 to pave way for power to shift to the South-East in 2023?
I think 2019 is still far and also at the corner. Well, looking at the dynamics in the country now, the leadership of the country seems not to be listening to the people enough in my own observation; something like restructuring, they are lending deaf ears to the need for restructuring. We cannot make serious progress without some form of restructuring where all the components and federating units will be happy, have sense of belonging in the system; security wise, resource distribution, developments, industrialization; all these have to be equitably done in a way that everybody will be happy and feel that sense of belonging in the federal system. Frankly speaking, a lot of people are complaining and not satisfy with the present government and if you look at it thoroughly you can’t blame them. A lot of things are happening in the country, look at Benue State and other Middle Belt states where many people were killed recently by suspected herdsmen who are armed while the people they fought with were not armed. So, if you are not a secured federal system, you are totally insecure because the main purpose of a government is for the security of lives and peaceful co-existence of the people, that confidence is eroding in so many places. Even though there is caveat placed on the table that if the president goes for another term in 2019 so that he gives power to South-East zone. It sounds like good arrangement, so no northerner will come and serve another eight years. My take on it is that if good leadership emerges, it doesn’t really matter the tribe it goes to, but somebody who makes the people feel that they are part of the system, right now people don’t feel the impact of the government, most people feel highly marginalized both in federal appointments, distribution of infrastructure development, industries and other major things that make the people feel good about the presence of government. Maybe there is still time, maybe the president has not recovered very well. He needs to do a whole lot of things, look at the Second Niger Bridge which has been under discussion for so many years, it looks like they have paid the contractor, Julius Berger to go into the job full time to deliver at the right time; but whether the project is being used as carrot for political tool, nobody knows. I believe that it will take the president a whole lot to do, especially in the South-East zone. So it will take the president a whole lot of things in South-East to convince the people that they are part of the country because there is no federal presence here, it is not only that it will be an Igbo turn 2023, no. So, the president has to demonstrate that the South-East is the component of the country by showing it practically so that we can feel the impact of the government. The federating units must feel the impact of the government, the entire country must feel the impact of Buhari’s administration in terms of security, right now people are not happy, if we have really restructured federalism that people will have a say and be secured, then they can go to bed and sleep. If Buhari performs some miracle/magic between now and February next year people will support him for second term, but if the situation remains the same, especially in the South-East where we have not seen any federal presence at all, I doubt whether the electorate will support him again in the next election.
On the Second Niger Bridge, what is the stage of work so far at the site?
As you know part of our local government area, Ogbaru is heavily affected and impacted on the bridge as you can see clearance and demolition of structures where the track road will be, it’s ongoing. Much is not happening at the site of the Second Niger Bridge, they are only clearing and demolishing houses along the road of the bridge site for those they have compensated. What we are hearing is that the Federal Government is yet to fund the project as it supposed to. We learnt that the project is for N49 billion or so, but the contractor has been given only N1 billion. So, I don’t think the job will take off properly without being funded adequately and without proper funding of the project, no headway will be made on the job and I call on the federal Ministry of Works and Julius Berger to do the needful to ensure that full work will start and subsequently their completing of the project.
What is the situation in your area about the menace of Fulani herdsmen?
In the South-East, especially in Anambra State where I’m one of the traditional rulers, our governor’s body language and discussions are that let’s have a peaceful co-existence with the Fulani herdsmen. The governor instructed that no Fulani can come in the state with arms, any rifle or AK47, and every community was advised that if they come in and damage your crop, you document it. There is a committee on cow menace set up by the governor headed by the Director of State Security Service and the Commandant of Nigeria Security Civil Defense Corps in the state. Some traditional rulers are also members of the committee while Seriki Fulani and Seriki Hausa are also members. They meet once in a while and also have emergency meetings. Once a cow moves into any community and cause any damage, the people of that locality will document all damage caused and it will be presented to the Seriki Fulani who knows which particular cattle herds that entered into that community and invite the owner of the cow to pay for compensation, that is the arrangement and it has been working very well.
Do you mean that Fulani herdsmen should not come to your area?
That should be our serious preference due to the damage being caused to our farms by the cows. This is because my people are hundred per cent farmers, we produce vegetables, yams, potatoes, cassava and that is how my people make their living, I’m also a farmer myself. We live on the produce from the farms. Since the governor says they should be here, but if any damage is done to our farm they will pay, but they have are yet to pay. Some people’s livelihood were wiped out this season, I saw it where their farms were completely destroyed, some widows came to my palace crying and rolling on the ground due to the destruction caused to their farms by the cow. So, we are hoping that the committee will facilitate the payment of their compensation. I have already made the complaint because I’m also a member of the committee and pushing to make sure Ogbaru people are being compensated.
What is the solution to the Fulani herdsmen menace in the country?
You see, I have lived in the United States for 36 years before returning home. I can’t imagine somebody rearing his cow in another person’s land, it is not possible, it will turn to a war, their system doesn’t allow that. But our system here, we don’t have strong legal system, we don’t have local security, but overseas they have security, small towns and communities have security of their own. The state has its own police force and the federal has its own police and army. So, before you cause any havoc in that country people will react through their internal security, that is the situation in America. Now, I’m hearing things like cow colonies, it will be hard for you to come to tell every community to release 5,000 hectares from the South then if you take such land you have taken one tenth of the land in the country just to make some people happy whereas the Federal Government is not paying for their economic activity to survive as a people. It is difficult. When we were growing up, we were co-existing with the Fulani herdsmen, we played together, we give them water, we take pictures, we liked them that was before the civil war. But the type of people that are coming in now are armed with dangerous weapons, we don’t know whether these are real Fulani herdsmen or terrorists.
How would you assess the government of Governor Willie Obiano in the last four years and what is your advice for him?
The governor is doing well, I have not seen anytime there was an election in Anambra State that the governor will win 100 per cent in all the local government areas, towns and everywhere in the state. It shows that people are happy with his performance. We in Ogbaru totally supported him and he made a lot of promises too. The roads that take our people inside the towns he promised he will do the job that is the federal road from Onitsha to Obiekpele, he promised to do it may be after he rested from the election he will come to the road after which the federal government will refund the state. It is the major thing that bothers us most for now, and we hope and believe he will do the road. So, for the second tenure, since he was elected by the communities, he should try to carry everybody along in terms of project and always show practical example and offer good leadership so that even other states will vote APGA as a performing party because they can see their suitability, consistency and political progress. It helps other state, especially in the South-East to imbibe the APGA policy. My advice is that he should perform and take the whole state as his territory and distribute projects accordingly and fairly. He has done well in the first tenure, and he should do more and give the state good leadership.