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‘Government should probe destruction of farms, killings in Benue, elsewhere’



Diamond Ojonugwa Prince is the CEO of Umuezerugo Royal Agro-Tradings Limited with headquarters in Markudi, Benue State. It is an agriculture-based company with subsidiaries like Ilechiko Trading and Diamond Agroresource Concepts and Umuezerugo Royal Farms. He spoke with Eseghene Paula on the reign of terror unleashed on farmers in the state and other parts of the country by heavily armed terrorists.

Officials of Cleaner Lagos Initiative have raised concern about the “activities of some people who have been working round the clock to sabotage the new waste management policy of the Lagos State Government.”

The officials cited instances where waste resurfaced in unnatural sequences in areas where they had just cleared. 

Some of the officials of the CLI, who preferred anonymity, said the rate at which those sabotaging the efforts were working hard to derail the process was worrisome.

A senior official of the CLI said it was unfortunate that those who felt the new arrangement would affect them adversely were working hard to sabotage it by all means, including deliberate dumping of large waste in public places.  

The official said: “Take for instance, the picture of heaps of refuse under the Idumagbo Pedestrian Bridge that was published today in a national daily. The refuse at that spot was evacuated just overnight and the team finished by 3am today (Sunday) and by 3am, the heap of refuse was back there, including a fully loaded LAWMA big refuse container that was not there previously.

“As I am talking to you, our officials have returned to the same spot to clear everything. The Commissioner of the Environment was also there to see things for himself and he has asked the Private Sector Participant (PSP) operator that dropped the container belonging to the Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) on the spot to remove it immediately.     

“That has been the challenge. When our officials clear the heaps of refuse from a spot, before one could say Jack Robinson, the heaps were back on the same spot cleared by our officials and this really has to stop because a cleaner Lagos is in our collective interest,” he said.

A source said the permutation of those behind the sabotage was that if they kept dumping tonnes of refuse in public places, they would achieve the twin objective of distracting CLI officials from paying adequate attention to other places while projecting the initiative, which is targeted at a comprehensive turn around of Lagos to become one of the cleanest cities in the world, as a failure.

Another reliable source said the situation had also been compounded by members of the public who indiscriminately dump their waste in public places and not the designated spots, saying that such was also a challenge.

Also, in a recent video that went viral on social media, an official of Visionscape Sanitation Solutions, Mr John Olawale Joseph, had lamented how people were dumping refuse on the same spots in public places, thus frustrating the efforts to rid the State of filth.  

Joseph, who is Visionscape’s Area Manager for Lagos Island West, alleged that heaps of refuse sometimes appear overnight in places already cleared by environmental officials, saying that the deliberate sabotage of the project called for concern.   

Speaking at Obalende moments after waste in the spot was evacuated by his team, Joseph said he could not understand why anyone would deliberately dump waste in large quantity just few minutes after they cleared the same spot.  

In the said video, a man wearing LAWMA uniform was seen fleeing from arrest after illegally dumping waste in the same spot.   

“We evacuated the waste from here with nine trucks just 20 minutes ago. As you can see now, people have already dumped waste on the same spot and by tomorrow morning or afternoon, you will see heaps of refuse here approximately 200 tonnes. We evacuated waste from here just 20 minutes ago and it is already pilling up; this is what we are facing here.

“What we have noticed is that some people wearing LAWMA uniform are coming to dump waste here in large quantity to make it look as if we are not working. This is bad and something urgent has to be done about it,” Joseph said in the video.

The Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila on Saturday urged residents of Lagos State who are in the habit of indiscriminately disposing waste in public places to desist from such act, and rather join hands with the state government to ensure the success of the Cleaner Lagos Initiative (CLI).    

Gbajabiamila said it had become expedient to impress it on residents who are always dumping waste on roads and public places to refrain from doing so henceforth in order to bring about a cleaner and healthier environment.

The Ambode government had also banned cart pushers from operating in Lagos State as part of the measures taken to ensure the success of CLI.

The new policy encapsulated in the CLI was introduced to address the challenges in the sector and revolutionize waste management in the state in line with international best practices.

What can you say about the Fulani herdsmen’s activities in Benue State?

The herdsman story is complicated and requires genuine investigation to identify clearly who are thess terrorists. Are they herdsmen, impersonators, foreigners as the FG through the ministers of defence and agriculture as well as the IG said? The atrocities, damage and continual threat to life by these multi-name terrorists is worth the investigation if there are no political foul play underground.

So many lives and properties have gone; the 73/74 bodies buried in Benue and the recent nine are just the number of the victims found, many corpses were not found, families are still missing, many houses, crops both in the farm, stores, barns and warehouses where burnt down and there is still daily burning of farms and killing going on in harmlets and farm settlements.

What are the security agencies doing?

They are not sincere in the discharge of their responsibilities. It is unfortunate how bad corruption has eaten deep into the blood or root of our people. I will quote Doctor Myles Munroe of blessed memory: without purpose abuse is inevitable and that is one of the deep roots of corruption.

The national constitution set up or established these different security agencies to protect lives and property but the men and women recruited or appointed to carry out this just constitutional purpose on their own are out there to carry out only what can put more money in their pocket or meet their survival. Let’s take the police for example.

Out of a hundred recruited police personnel, I can bet you that over 80% never wanted to be in the force. It is just that they have no option for survival so they join the institution with the purpose to survive.

So, on daily basis they only get up to work with this purpose, just to survive. To worsen the matter, even they said top officials are on the same course, they want to survive through their position, through their ranks and maintain the status quo. Remember, this syndrome of survivor can make man do any unthinkable stuff no matter how high or low the man’s position, it’s a spirit and a mindset or better put it’s actually a drive.

Community policing called the vigilante is most reliable but unfortunately they have the poorest of power to exercise or carry out security responsibilities. The incompetence of our security agencies requires a check. Ask them: Why are you doing what you are doing? What is your drive? And what should be your drive?

How about the Benue State Government on security matters?

He is doing great on the security of his people and their properties. If only the power at his disposal can handle it, he would have stopped this horror but it is beyond him. I know God is his hope and that of the vulnerable Benuelites.

As someone who is based in Benue and into agriculture, what do you have to say about the government’s diversification into agriculture? What is the impact or result so far in Benue as the food basket of the nation?

Unfortunately, that is now just a slogan although it was truly so from the beginning due to how blessed is their land in terms of fertility and plains. But we are just a people within a territory but when you talk of a nation it should be a people with one purpose.

Across the states of the country so much is in our land, seas, forest and above all in our people, but no ideas or purposeful drive to make use of them for our greatness. I had this sad experience in 2016. I was directly involved in the 2016 CDN anchored borrowers scheme. After all due process was observed, fund was disbursed into the farmers’ accounts, they all got the alert but were not allowed to access the fund. I made every attempt to get the reason from the commercial bank officials and there was no genuine excuse or reason. I had to call and send numerous emails to the head office of the commercial bank after so many posting till August on the fund that was supposed to have been released in March. 

I was told that the branch said the farmers did not meet the CDN requirements for the fund and when I asked why their accounts were credited in the first place, there was no answer to my question. At last the money was withdrawn back from the accounts without the signatures or awareness of the farmers.

How did the Fulani herdsmen’s attack affect you and your business in Benue State?

Oh! We are deeply and terribly affected; 70% of our business including the Umuezerugo Royal Farms as spread across Benue State. We have farms in four different locations in Benue and we buy produce in all communities of the state. For the year 2017 farming, we lost all our rice farms and other investments to these horrible Fulani herdsmen; many of our staff lost their houses from the attacks at Wadata Area in Markudi and some of our staff have to return to their villages. We lost so many of our purchasing agencies in the killings and so much more.

What are the farmers’ situations now that things have gone this way?

The situation of the farmer can be best described as terrible, pathetic and hopeless. Those who lost their crops are in danger of hunger and debts because most are owing those who invested in them and are waiting for harvest. Worst too are those who lost their crops, homes and loved ones; you can imagine the situation yourself.

The challenges are, how will they feed, tackle the debt on ground, go back to their farms and who is ready to invest in this unsafe zone for these people to start life all over again? in summary, the farmers are in apathetic situation that only God knows who will rescue them since we can’t rely on government.

Fulani herdsmen or cattle rearers should embrace the modern way called ranching which is healthier and safer for the cows and the business instead of proposing colonies and grazing routes or whatever that will cause more crises. A fair and human-minded leader like the present governor of Kano has called on the cattle rearers to come to his state, that there is enough space to accommodate even a million herdsmen with their cows to avoid the roaming about and the killings so the causing of crises can be avoided.

What do you have to say to the public?

I have to cry out on behalf of myself and my fellow farmers, we are the direct victims of the attack. For the government of the day, i am repeating it, they should be fair and sincere to identify the terrorists. As for the federal ministry of agriculture and rural development, the CBN, the commercial banks and the general public that are concerned, they should be more strategic with sincerity to reach the farmer with the funds allocated to them.

The so much funds that have been quoted or said to have been released all through the years for agriculture have not been really reaching the targeted people, the farmers especially in Benue State; more also if there could be a special funding programme for these victims, it will be encouraging.

Also other concerned organizations who can help and care to assist the farmers. The farmers are helpless and in the long run it’s affecting the economy of the nation.

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