We must make peace or we lose the North, Says ACF Chair Ogbeh
• Killings, criminality don’t build any society
• It’s time for international partnership to end insurgency
Chairman of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) and former minister of agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbeh spoke on the security challenges facing the North today and the search for solution, backwardness of the region in education, industry and agriculture. He also said the North cannot make progress in the midst of the mindless attacks and killings, which have enveloped many communities in the geographical region. He spoke with SAXONE AKHAINE in Kaduna.
Is the ACF disturbed over the killings in the country, particularly in the North?
Of course, ACF is disturbed over the incessant killings in the North. As the chairman of the forum, am equally disturbed too over the mindless killings. It is totally baffling when criminals enter a village to kill women and children, sometimes, old people. Even more worrisome, is that they carry some into captivity. What is the rationale behind this barbaric killing of women, children, widows, and old men? What is really going on? We in ACF are particularly distressed by these happenings, because it’s a gateway to destruction. Killings and destruction don’t build any society.
That is the main reason we had to wait for the easing of Convid-19 to meet today (last Thursday) and begin to ask ourselves what to do. This senseless situation, particularly here in Kaduna and in many states where the crises is going on is not in the best interest of the region. It is a disaster.
This crisis is destroying the society. We are very distressed. But you ask why are these crises happening now? I believe over the years we must have made very serious mistakes. In terms of development for instance, the North is far behind the South.
We are behind the South in education; we are behind the south in industrial growth. Looking through our records you will find that in Kano alone in the last forty years, it has lost 126 industries. We have textiles in Kaduna too, all gone. In Jos we have some industries that have gone. So you can see that slowly there was a decline.
The increasing excitement in the North on oil money, federation account and all that, a culture of depending on employed payment, employed service as a source of living, almost every body is depending on salary, particularly, in the last ten years in the North. Politics has become the major industry. This can’t make a society grow. I know every part of Nigeria has experienced economic shock because of some developments. Presently, agriculture does not even sustain most families due to some factors.
We have lost our place as the world’s second largest producer of groundnuts, after the United States and Argentina. We are still at number two in sorghum production in the world. We are doing well in some food crops, but the earnings from these agricultural products are no longer sufficient to carry out many things, particularly in education.
Many of these young ones need education. Over the years, we have allowed the two – agriculture and education, to go their separate ways. So, why should a child of five or seven years begin to roam the streets instead of being in school?
At that tender age children must begin to be built into responsible adults, today it is not so. Children of today want to be with their mummy and daddy, because they eat a lot. These mistakes had happened. And then, Boko Haram came, and the whole thing is spreading.
We are deeply worried. That is why we have started meeting and talking. We are looking for solutions and we want to join hands with our governors and legislatures to see what we can do.
People have lost hope of peace returning to the Northeast geo-political zone. What is your take?
You know Boko Haram began 2010 when (late President Umaru) Yar’Adua was the Head of State. It was at Abuja airport on his way to Brazil when the news of Boko Haram was broken to him. Immediately he gave instructions to the Army to flush the insurgents.
Let me recall that similar thing happened in Algeria too. It took them 21 years to curtail the insurgents. Once you have this kind of situation in a country, it’s extremely difficult to curtail and end it immediately. It takes time.
That is one. Two, what is the size of your army? How many divisions do you really have? A country like Nigerian should at least have 20 divisions. Do we have this number? Again, can we pay these soldiers? How many policemen do we have? These are pertinent questions to be asked.
But the size of army and police are grossly inadequate to man the territories. Look at our defence budget; it is also small. Even our National budget is small too. Nigeria’s budget is smaller than that of New York City.
Here is the dilemma: The Army, the DSS (Department of State Services), the police, the Air force are overstretched. They are operating in nearly 34 states. So, their numerical capacities are overwhelmed. In terms of equipment, these things don’t cost small money. What is the cost of Tukano fighter jet? You have to deposit huge sum of money to Americans before they start delivery of the fighter jets.
Then, in terms of landmass, Borno State is 30 times the size of Lagos. So, when people talk of Sambisa forest, it is not a tiny place, the forest is almost the size of Lagos. The North East area is vast; here we are talking about Yobe, Borno, Adamawa, Bauchi and Taraba States.
I think, as I said earlier, some mistakes were made at the beginning. Secondly, we have had some irresponsible leadership in Borno at that time. I don’t want to name names. There is a lesson for politicians, stop using thugs and some groups.
What does a governor need a gang for? Once these thugs are used for a purpose they are dumped. When you dump them, they take up arms. Having said that, it may become necessary – am not a military man, to seek partnership with one or two foreign powers to end the insurgency.
When the governor of Borno said there was sabotage, the matter was dismissed. I will advice the military to investigate the matter thoroughly before writing it off. They might find something new. They may find the truth, because Zulum was not just talking for the fun of it. Why is it when sometimes they are moving to a target, they are usually ambushed. It means someone is leaking information to the insurgents.
That’s why ACF is now serious, about growing the economy in the region. We are many. The North is 76 percent of Nigeria’s landmass. It has resources. But we are poor. Let me reveal this fact, 72 percent of the country’s currency circulates in Lagos.
What this means is in every naira 72 kobo is in Lagos. What is left is for the rest of the country, the South East, South West and South South to share, excluding the North. This is the reality on ground. Many youths in the region are jobless. They have nothing to do. These youths are tired of just watching us drive in our nice cars. The youths are in despair. Most of them have lost control of what they do. So, this is the tragedy. But we are meeting because we are now trying to deal with the current situation.
Some people are really worried about what the Forum stands for. Is ACF really a religious or tribal organization?
Some people said ACF is a religious or ethnic group. But we say, no. The North has over 300 ethnic groups and it is called Arewa. Arewa means North in Hausa. So, there is no reason any one born in any of the Northern states to claim he is not a Northerner. What is happening is affecting all of us. It has nothing to do with religion or tribe.
Today, we have a big problem confronting everyone in the region. They are of course issues like access to credit, ICT (Information Communication Technology) and education, which we must improve upon. We will start partnering governments as well as international agencies in order to get somewhere.
Kindly share the main focus of ACF under your leadership?
Our main focus now is education, industrial growth, value-addition to agriculture and promotion of peace. You ask, is the peace we are aspiring in the North possible?
It has to be. We don’t just have a choice, we just have to make peace or we lose the North. I’m too old to go on exile. There are so many of us in the region. How will the millions of people living in the North survive as refugees in foreign countries like Niger Republic, Chad, Cameroon, Benin Republic and so on. So we have to make peace.