As nationwide discussions continue following the eviction order by the Ondo State governor, Rotimi Akeredolu to Fulani herdsmen to leave the state’s forests, prominent pro-Fulani voice and former Executive Secretary of National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Professor Usman Yusuf has said, no governor has the power to evict other ethnic group from his state, and that the problem will continue until RUGA is created all over the country to settle Fulani herdsmen.
In an interview with VINCENT KALU, the professor of medicine argued that if Sabon Gari towns could be created for Igbo and others in every part of the North, nothing stops the creation of RUGA for the herdsmen in all the states of the federation.
Why is there always ethnic tension in Nigeria?
We all know that it is the selfish politicians and nothing else; it is has nothing to do with the people. All over the world you see that; we just saw one in the United States with Trump. It is few individuals with their own selfish interest. I have lived in this country for 60 years, I did my national service in Cross River State, and I attended Catholic school all through my primary education; our family was the only Muslim family there. Our people are better than our politics. It is the selfishness of the politicians; politicians that add no value to the nation, they add no value to their people. That is why they are overheating the polity. It is all over the country and all over the country you see that.
How can the tension be doused?
We have been talking and serious minded people have to come in; people that have this country at heart, people that are mature enough to come into this space and occupy it instead of allowing these politicians to break up this country or cause mayhem. They will all run away with their private jets and leave people bleeding all over the place.
It is for us to be engaged and engaged positively for the good of this nation and our people. That is the only way; nobody is going to fix Nigeria for us; every country in this world has their problems. We shouldn’t expect any country to come and save us, we must save ourselves and yes we can if we are serious and sincere about it.
You talked about ‘engagement’, what form should it take?
I’m a doctor, a physician, I see patients. I used to fold my arms and say, leave these politicians to do their own thing, but now I’m talking. People are asking ‘are you a politician’ and I say, no. Politics involves every aspect of our lives, from the teacher, from the security man, from the pharmacist, from the journalists; everybody must be involved to protect our democracy. We should not leave it in the hands of these politicians, which is why I’m speaking up essentially. Everybody should be into politics because our democracy is fragile and we should not allow these people to break this country up for their own selfish interest. All these people talking about break up of this country, how long have they lived in this country? That is my idea of engagement; everybody has to be involved in this. You are a cleric, you reach out to your people and calm them down; you are an elder, you reach out to youths and calm them down. All 200 million of us have a stake in this country and we have equal stake in this union and it is our responsibility to make it work. That is what I mean.
This engagement, is it in line with what others are asking, that is for the people to sit and sincerely talk to each other, disagree and later agree on the way forward. Others are calling it restructuring, where do you stand?
You hear people talking about restructuring when it is close to election and in their heart of hearts they are not talking of restructuring or rotation for the good of anybody but themselves. Nobody should have the impression that the North is against restructuring. Dr. Ahmed Joda of Northern Elders Forum has said it clearly that it is wrong impression of people to say that the North is against restructuring. This country has been restructured several times. We started with three regions and later Mid-West was added. Then, 12 states were created and from there to 19 states and now we are 36. This is restructuring and we are not still happy. People are even saying that we want to go back to where we were. All serious nations are looking forward, selfish people are asking us to go back 60 years, to do what? Former President Jonathan said it that restructuring won’t solve our problems. Desperate politicians just want to consolidate power. Example, if we restructure back to old regions, all these governors who are enjoying the spoils of power will never give up for one person. It is not going to happen. Nobody will restructure in the studio, on the streets, in the media, but restructuring has to be done by interrogating the constitution. We are a constitutional democracy. You have to interrogate this constitution, if you don’t want it, then you change it. The 1979 and 1999 Constitutions haven’t changed much. There is no civilian government that has ever created a state. Politicians just sit down and start screaming to be given states. What they want is to carve out this nation for themselves. If I don’t have the presidency from my side, this country must break up. Nobody ever thinks of this nation.
Why people are talking about going back to the independence Constitution is because of the over concentration of power at the centre. Don’t you think that if power is devolved, the desperation to occupy the presidency will douse the tension?
That is the real point for restructuring. There is too much power at the centre, which translates to too much money. The power of the military, the power of the police and the power of everything is at the centre. These are the things that we should look at and it is a genuine concern. Look at the revenue allocation; about 47 per cent for the federal government and about 39 per cent is given to the state. No, it is not to the states, but to 36 individuals; the governors are individuals. It’s supposed to be given to the states, but it is to the governors that do as they wish, there is no question asked. It is all across this country. The governors get away with a lot more than the president. All the state Houses of Assembly are just rubber stamps; the governors do as they wish. The president has to get National Assembly and public procurement to give him due process, but the governors do whatever they want and nobody questions them.
Yes, we have to devolve power down to the local government. The state governors are withholding the funds for local government. There are thousands of villages in this country that have never seen anything government – no water, no electricity, no school, no nothing, but the governor is building flyovers in the state capital. The state has too much power; the presidency has too much power. It should devolve down.
This insecurity everywhere tells you that policing has to be local. I’m old enough to know about native police that was guarding people in their local government then. We need to find a way for local police in a civil way without creating anarchy. There is too much power in the hands of the president; too much power in the hands of governors is not good. It needs to be devolved down. It has to be done in a very civil way through the constitution. Nobody gets to the presidency through threats, through blackmail, through arson or through violence. You get to the presidency through the ballot box in a democracy.
This shout about Yoruba nation, Biafra, this and that is nonsense and that is why I said responsible people should step in and our children should be taught History in schools. They don’t know History, they know about Ronaldo, Messi, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Awolowo, and Ahmadu Bello. If you do not teach your children History, they are likely to repeat the mistake of the past.
If the devolution of power you recommended doesn’t take place, does it mean the agitations will continue?
Definitely, it will continue until real responsible people step in. We have been through this – I must get power and if I get power everything is okay; if I don’t get power Nigeria is going to hell. Nigeria will not go to hell. People who are responsible have to step in. Nobody takes care of us but ourselves and if we don’t take care of ourselves we are in trouble. We don’t want to be Somalia, Syria, Yemen or Afghanistan. Those that have seen the war; those that have lived longer than us need to be talking to our youths. Our youths are not taught in school and at home we leave them with cables and Instagram, instead of talking to them and teaching them our history.
It is irresponsible politicians that are overheating the system; the ordinary man all over from Orlu to Zamfara to Ogbomosho, everywhere their sufferings are just the same and their aspirations are the same. They want to live; they want to take care of their families, they want to eke a living, but the politicians are in Abuja running around with siren, shouting restructuring and yet they cannot go home. We know them; we see them all over Abuja harassing us with sirens.
Some argue that the president has the power if he wants to initiate restructuring or devolution of power through the National Assembly in order to stabilise the country…….
Cuts in…I have heard people saying in the church, ‘President Buhari, restructure before 2023 or Nigeria will break up’. They don’t know what they are talking about. President Buhari has no power to restructure anything. He cannot touch the constitution; the only people that can review the constitution are the elected representatives. What are they doing? They have been touching the constitution here and there since we came in 1999, but the constitution is still 99 per cent the way it came. Recently, they allocated one billion naira for this purpose; they have spent that money for nothing. It is not the president that will interrogate the constitution and change it. The constitution as it is recognises the 36 states and the FCT, and nobody is going to bring any regional this and that.
What they argue is that through Executive Bill, the president can tell the NASS areas they may consider for amendment
He cannot say, ‘go and reduce my power.’ He cannot say go and reduce the power of a governor. We have elected representatives and they are the ones to do that and take it to him. You elected a senator and a member of House of Representatives to represent you; let those interested go to their representatives and ask them to make case for it.
Why will any president want to say, ‘please reduce my power, reduce this and that’, do you have elected representatives? They will force him to do that if they are serious; but they are not serious. Everybody is blaming the president. Members of the National Assembly are not serious; if they are serious they will sit down, the president is not the one to tell them do this and that. Go to your representatives and let them bring up the issue and debate it. All these mischievous people shouting know about this.
In your interview with Arise within the week, you urged Nigerians not to allow the herdsmen issue to destroy age long alliances, how can the issue be settled?
It is a security thing and I have been in the forefront talking about it long time ago before anyone else. What they are doing in Ondo State, they are doing one million of it in Katsina State and in the North. It is a security issue and we really need to sit down and talk seriously.
No governor in this country has the power to evict any ethnic group or through ethnic cleansing or for people to be profiling other ethnic groups. No. I’m a Fulani man, I don’t want to be profiled when I go to Yoruba land or Igbo land. For the fact that I’m a Fulani, so I’m a bandit? I have never shied away from speaking the truth. We have had times in this country where all the kidnapping, robberies were mostly people from the South, you never heard anybody in the North said, it’s Yoruba armed robber or it’s Igbo armed robber. You don’t treat people that way, it is wrong. I give you example, when you start profiling ethnic minorities like they did in Rwanda with Hutu and Tutsi and other places, then you are having problems. You are blaming others for your failure instead of facing your problems. For all the crimes committed in the Southwest, Yoruba carried out 99 percent of them. In the same way, Igbo commit 99 percent of all the crimes in the Southeast.
All of a sudden, you are profiling one ethnic group, simply because the president is a Fulani man and you hate him. I said, in June 2017, there was this youth group in the North that gave Igbo in the North ultimatum to vacate the North on October 1, because of consistent and persistent insult from IPOB and Nnamdi Kanu. The first person that opened up his mouth to call these youths to order was the Sultan of Sokoto. The Emir of Katsina where I come from and the president’s state was on the front page of Daily Trust condemning that and said he will lay down his life to protect any settler in his domain, and the Northern Elders Forum called the youths to order. The president was not in town, as he was sick and undergoing treatment in UK. When he came back, he addressed the nation. Now, Yoruba youths are asking Fulani to vacate Oyo, and a governor is asking them to vacate the forests, no Yoruba leader is speaking out; they must speak up loud and clearly because the events that will happen will not be small if they are not nipped in the bud, this is serious. Responsible voices need to be heard.
This man, Igboho is just a political thug; what is he doing for a living, thuggery, and he is the one anchoring the Southwest; he is the one calling the shot in the Southwest, while Nnamdi Kanu is the one calling the shot in the Southeast. Where are the leaders, where are the Afenifere and Ohanaeze leaders? So the youths will not listen to them, they listen to Nnamdi Kanu who is in UK. See what is happening in Orlu, IPOB fighting the military. Where are the elders who should call the youths to order? During EndSARS where were the Afenifere and the Oduduwa Republic leaders to call these boys to order.
Just as you are accusing the Yoruba and Igbo leaders of not speaking out, in the same way some people alleged that the Northern elders were backing Boko Haram because when the former Chief of Army Staff, Ihejirika was pushing to end the insurgency in the Northeast, the Northern Elders threatened to drag him before ICC for genocide against their people. Also President Buhari then told former President Jonathan who was in power to stop killing their people. Could it be said that the Northern leaders were backing Boko Haram?
Why would the Northern elders be backing Boko Haram, do you know how many thousands of Kanuri people that have been killed? There is no secret that there were extra judicial killings by the military at that time. We have the documents, pictures and videos simply for one reason that the military does not know how to fight this kind of battle. This insecurity in Nigeria is not a war you hand over to the military. Communities need to be called in. I don’t understand Boko Haram as the Kanuri who is there, but the way we fight insecurity in Nigeria is to hand over everything to the military to go and kill. Local problem usually requires local solution. I have said it over and over again that Abuja’s plan will not work.
The way it was fought at that time, is it different from the way it is being fought now?
That is why we are where we are and we are just hoping that this new team will do it differently.
So it has always been the same extra judicial killings by the military?
Yes, they are not doing the right thing. They are not involving the local communities. There were extra judicial killings during the Boko Haram in Jonathan’s time, I have seen the video. Now the military is on the defensive, they are not being offensive as they used to. These boys are killing them all over. Boko Haram is killing them, bandits are killing them, and IPOB is killing them. I feel sorry for the military. All over the place they cannot fight this kind of war. We need to involve the community. You cannot fight IPOB without involving Igbo leaders. You cannot handle this Igboho guy and the Oduduwa Republic people without involving the Yoruba leaders; you cannot handle these bandits without the Fulani elders. That is why you see Sheik Gumi doing what nobody else has done, going into the forests to meet these bandits. There has never been a dialogue between Ohanaeze and IPOB, and there has not been a dialogue between this Igboho guy and Yoruba leaders, that is why they allowed him to take over the space. It is not the military that will sit down and do dialogue; that is not what they were taught. It is the political leadership that needs to do that and we are not doing or seeing that. That is why I said that everybody must be involved.
I had asked this question earlier on how to end the herdsmen, farmers clashes, but you said that what was happening in Ondo is also happening in Katsina. How can we in the 21st century not embrace ranching, instead of choosing to trek from Maiduguri to Sokoto and to Port Harcourt and live in the forest?
How do we in the 21st century allow Nnamdi Kanu killing people; why do we in the 21st century allow Igboho killing people? It is just failure of leadership all over the country.
We need to know that from the Colonial time, there were routes that these Fulani and their cattle pass and they have now been taken over. The government is saying build RUGA for these people to settle, but the South and other places said no. We should not forget that there are Fulani that have lived in Igbo land for over 100 years. Igboho and his people want to send them away in Yoruba land. It is not only in Igbo land or Yoruba land that we have this problem. It is all over the place and that is why I say we have to sit down and talk to settle and give them a kind of structure, and even send them to school.
Ranching is eventually RUGA and RUGA is settling them in one place. States are saying get out of our forests because of insecurity, this and that. People have to be honest. These Fulani have been living with the people for over 100 years, we need to sit down and have real discussion. In the North, we have suffered from these bandits more than any other people and it is getting worse, unless we sit down and do the right thing and get them settled down at RUGA just like we have Sabon Gari all over the North to settle the Igbo. If we are not honest at saying the truth we will continue to have this problem. Everybody is blaming the Fulani for all the woes in this country just because the Fulani is occupying the Villa.