‘After British colonisation, herdsmen can’t colonise us again’
In this interview with reporters, immediate past governor of Plateau who currently represents the state’s northern district at the Senate, Jonah David Jang, rejected the proposal of cattle colonies to solve herdsmen’s menace. He also commented on calls by former leaders on President Muhammadu Buhari not to seek reelection. ISA ABDULSALAMI AHOVI, reports. Excerpts:
Are you not worried and concerned about Fulani herdsmen going on rampage killing people everywhere?
Those of you who were here on the Plateau when I was governor knew I was very worried and concerned because it was the problem I faced as a governor for eight years. I tried to make people understand that I also inherited this problem from the previous administration. I think I went headlong to tackle it and I believed that I achieved quite a lot despite my rather disadvantaged position of being the Chief Security Officer without any means of enforcing anything which I still believe is the same situation today. We cannot continue this way.
Some of us grew up with these Fulani herdsmen and we know the quantity of cows that have always been around the Plateau. But suddenly now, we are seeing people and we don’t know where they are coming from. I have asked this question in the senate, were these people dropping from heaven? You find out that the geo-political areas that they are now operating are not border areas. So, if they are coming through our borders then why are they not doing the same thing with the Border States instead of coming into the hinterland? Which means somebody is giving them access from the border into the hinterland. And it becomes a very great area of worry.
And even if they are arrested, if at all, one or two hours, they disappear into the thin air and you don’t hear about them. We used to know herdsmen carrying sticks, but these days, herdsmen carry very sophisticated guns killing people at will. So, I believe that these people are not really herdsmen. They are coming to accomplish a purpose and I believe that that purpose is to occupy lands. Unfortunately, the present administration doesn’t seem to be up and doing in solving this problem and that gives me a lot of suspicion.
Do you think the cattle colony proposal will bring peace?
I have said that the British colonized us; the herdsmen cannot colonize us again. What do they mean by colonies? Look, cattle rearing and animal husbandry are farming. There are farmers in very diverse areas. So, why do you want to give cattle rearing such level of priority? Will you give the same priority to those who are rearing dogs or to those who are rearing pigs or to those who are rearing whatever? People now rear snakes; people rear all kinds of things. It is private business.
To me, we have seen how cow owners have been settled in the United States and other developed countries. The people should buy lands and probably settle down in some ranches. But they will have to buy on their own, not government buying for them. But I am more concerned about the ones that we know are our Fulani herdsmen in Nigeria not the ones coming across the border. Each country must contain its own herdsmen and not start using ECOWAS free movement to start throwing their own problems to our country. It is unacceptable and we cannot accept it.
What then do you think is the solution to the problem?
The government has to take some drastic actions. I have said it that these people are not Nigerians. They are trying to say that Fulani don’t have boundaries but there is nobody in this world that does not have a boundary of where he comes from. They are coming from somewhere. Where have they been before? I am 70 years plus and I didn’t see this kind of Fulani in my early days in life. So, where are they coming from? They should be sent back to where they are coming from. And let us contain the ones we have. We have our ways of settling issues with the Fulani sometimes if their cows eat some crops in the farms without having to go to court. But these ones that are carrying guns cannot be people who are coming to be part of Nigeria. They must not be allowed.
Would you suggest reintroduction of Jangeli (Cattle tax) for the creation of ranches if the Federal Government is thinking along that line?
Why should the Federal Government create ranches? It is none of their business to create ranches. If I am a farmer, I will go and look for farm and do my farming. Does government give me money to go and look for farm and buy? I will rather borrow money from the bank. They are doing their own agriculture in animal husbandry, so the government has no business with it. After all, anybody who uses government facilities is supposed to pay tax. The Fulani drink water. They are beginning to settle in cities. Every Nigerian must pay tax and the tax must not be targeted at a particular group of people.
Former Presidents Obasanjo and Babangida have advised Buhari not to contest 2019 election. Would this not heat up the polity?
Every Nigerian has a right to air his own view. After all, the president did not take himself to Aso Villa; he was elected. Maybe those saying so might have voted him in the past and they are now telling him that they cannot vote him again. That is my way of understanding the thing. So, they have the right to express their own views and opinions. It is the Nigerian voters that will decide whether they want him or they don’t want him.
But do you think Buhari has done well enough to deserve re-election?
When we were doing well, did they tell us we were doing well? We that even performed; they were pursuing us all over the place. They are not performing. Everybody knows that. Obasanjo and Babangida are part of the people. They are expressing their views. Some will not talk but to express it through voting. The other people have decided to express their own through verbal or written communication and they will also express it when it comes to vote if Buhari decides to re-contest. I hope you understand it.
This raging debate on restructuring of the federation, where are you on it?
I am a disciple of restructuring. We cannot be calling ourselves a federation and yet running a unitary system of government. The two don’t work together. So, if you want to run a federal system, then we should run it properly. It is unfortunate that the military, which I was part of, I was a military governor, believed in unitary and anytime we were in power, we ran a unitary form of government. And so when we were trying to give the nation a constitution, we really deepened into it and we ended up giving the nation a unitary constitution to be operated in a federal system. That is why nothing is working. So, I believe that this country, it is not just a matter of whether we like it or not, must be restructured.
You once said that politics is not for the poor and that the Senate is not for the youth. Can you elucidate on this?
I went abroad at the age of 19. Most of my trainings in the Air Force were done overseas. I saw elections in America, in Britain, in Europe etc. what I mean is, you need money to play politics. You are sitting down, somebody who doesn’t own even a spoke of a bicycle, will come and tell you he wants to run for a councilor for example. And you say I wish you well. The following day he will come back and tell you I have no money to buy forms, you know you told me you wished me well, so I have no money to buy forms.
We are talking of corruption in this country. By the time you give him money to buy forms and give him money for campaigns, assuming he wins the election, the next thing you will see him with is a car. Somebody who could not afford to buy forms, how does he come about suddenly owning a car within one year being in office? I believe that this nation is growing and that we must start to do politics the way it should be done.
If you look at the United States, even in the state congresses, which is like our own state assembly, there is hardly anybody there who is not a millionaire. Some of them don’t even use their salaries. When they are given their salaries, it goes to their constituencies because they have come to serve and that is why you do not hear too much of corruption. In Nigeria, people come in and want to make quick money. They say, I cannot leave this place and be poor again. So, it is like politics has become business that the little you invest, you want to make the highest possible profits. And then who suffers? It is the people who sent you there; the grassroots people. I think people should understand me.
Of course I was talking to myself also. When I was running for governorship, I had N500, 000 in my whole account. And then when people said I should run for governorship, I told them I didn’t have money to run. But people contributed willingly and assisted because they wanted me to be governor of Plateau State. That is a different thing all together. But when you will have to come and start going round begging, it is not good. There are some who are not really interested in contesting the election but they will just go round people begging for money and collecting money because they know they cannot even make it.
You talk about Senate not meant for the young people. Look at the House of Lords in Britain. Look at the Senate anywhere. We enjoy the young people in the House of Representatives. If there is anything controversial, we push it to them and you are sure they will make noises. And when it comes to the Senate, we calm it down. That is the thing I am talking about. But if you have very hot heads in the Senate, what kind of laws do you think we will come up with? So, for the people who invented this idea, the Senate or its equivalent anywhere should be for matured elderly people.
But we still have younger people there who are learning like the Dinos and the Misaus. They are learning. Sometimes, we crack jokes with them and say look, we will send you back to the House of Representatives if you talk too much. But that is the truth about it.
Looking at the circumstances that led the PDP losing power in Plateau and the centre in 2015, what steps are you taking to bounce back?
Thank God that you said losing power not that we lost election. The Buhari thing was like a hurricane. The fact that Jonathan surrendered the presidency, everything just started going haywire with other elections and that is why we are now saying that other elections should be held before the presidential election so that people will have time to select their people at the local level. After a President has been elected nobody would want to be in opposition. So, people started changing camps. Even some of the people in PDP went and joined hands with APC knowing that Goodluck had lost out.
One thing that I always have against Nigerian journalists is that you don’t do investigative journalism. You always want to ask to be given the answers to everything. I want somebody to tell me that I have gone to so, so, place and my investigation shows that PDP is doing well, or PDP is not doing well and then will tell me it seems as if the thing is 50-50 or PDP has a little advantage. How do you think we can correct this thing so that we can come to power? I cannot tell here in this interview how our plans to win power will be. I may as well go and sit down with APC and give them.
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