(A Crest Exclusive)
By Shola Oshunkeye
At the twilight of his first term as President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, especially in the run-up to the 2019 general elections, President Muhammadu Buhari and his administration were inundated with a plethora of questions. Most of them bordering on the economy and the soaring insecurity in the land.
Wherever his media team went to discuss the efforts of the administration in making life safe and secure, be it radio or television or print or virtual newspapers, they were often bombarded with questions like: What is the administration doing to make the economy work and give Nigerians bountiful dividends of democracy? Can the administration truthfully say it is winning the war against insurgency, especially the irritation of the Boko Haram terrorists?
Can the state proudly say it has motivated and, indeed, equipped our troops to such a level where Nigerians can go to bed with their two eyes firmly closed in the honest belief that they would not wake up in heaven or hell having been blown to smithereens before daybreak?
And this: What about the rash of kidnappings and mindless killings that have made many to begin to think that Nigeria may have slipped into the Hobbesian state where life is nasty, brutish and short?
No doubt, questions like these will make most government spokes- persons shiver even in the most chilling and best air-conditioned studio or office. Such questions, coming at a time like this, could even make them visibly angry.
Not Femi Adesina, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity. No matter how well armed you come with touching and pressing questions, you cannot get under his skin. The Foursquare preacher-turned-government spokesperson would remain cool as cucumber, and tackle you eyeball-to-eyeball. He betrays no emotions. He remains controlled and unaffected by your hard-hitting questions.
Just like he did when he fielded questions from The Crest during an exclusive interview he granted the online news medium recently in Abuja.
For instance, when The Crest engaged him on the roiling issue of security, especially the ceaseless clashes between cattle herders and farmers, and the widespread notion that most of the mind-boggling abductions and killings across the country were committed by ‘Fulani herdsmen’, Adesina was profoundly sympathetic with the victims and their grieving families.
But he swiftly went to work and threw back the suggestion that the kidnappings and killings were perpetrated by Fulani herdsmen.
The Special Adviser condemned the labelling, as well as the blaming of every killing and abduction on ‘Fulani herdsmen’ as an unfair assessment of the grim situation.
Adesina, a former President of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE, and ex-Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief of The Sun newspapers, described such profiling as an unjust stereotyping and finger-pointing “which is not based on facts”.
Though he agreed that there had been fatal skirmishes between cattle herders and farmers in parts of the country due to diminishing resources, the actual criminals behind the mind-boggling killings and abductions are “political herdsmen”.
Government has identified the “political herdsmen”, Adesina told The Crest, and assured that sooner than later, the administration would expose the ‘hidden hands’ behind them and bring them to account.
He concluded his submission on insecurity in Nigeria by assuring that the federal government was on top of the situation and that despite the daunting challenges the worrisome phenomenon posed, the Buhari Administration would win the war against all forms of criminality. And Nigerians would have the last laugh.
The Special Adviser also spoke on what to expect during his principal’s second term. Nigerians will definitely smile, he assured.
Please, fasten your seat belt, relax and enjoy this first tranche of the encounter.
MINSTERS? PRESIDENT BUHARI WILL GIVE NIGERIA THE BRIGHTEST AND THE BEST
In an interview with NTA, the president himself said people nick-named him Baba Go-slow, and when he won re-election, the expectation was that he would hit the ground running. But weeks after inauguration, the nation is still in suspense as to which direction this government is going.
(Cuts in…) No, the direction is clear. If some appointments have not been made, it does not indicate that you don’t know the direction. The direction in which this government is going is very clear. Direction is determined by policy. It is determined by pronouncements. It is determined by things you had done in the first term, which you are consolidating in the second term. It is not the appointment that has not been made that will determine the direction.
But it is part of the package…
On those that will run things (this second term), Mr. President has said he will appoint the brightest and the best. And that takes some careful planning and painstakingness.
One thing is to appoint the brightest and the best; another is to take care of the agitations against some members of the President’s first term team. Throughout that term, people were always complaining about lop-sidedness in appointments, about ethnicity, nepotism and stuffs like that…
(Cuts in…) Which was not quite true. If you look at the entire gamut of appointments, it is not true that there was lop-sidedness. It is not true. If you look at the totality of the appointments, you will see that there was a balance in the country. People just decided to believe there was lop-sidedness because the security apparatus was like tilted more towards a particular section of the country; and security is not something you play politics with. Security is just where you use the brightest and the best. The president has explained many times that he made the security appointments based on the career records of the people. They were the best in the different services at that time; and he appointed them.
President Obasanjo, who equally has a deep insight into the governance of this country, criticized the alleged lop-sidedness, saying that the president made things look as if there were no qualified personnel in other parts of the country. What’s your take on this?
Whatever former President Obasanjo says now cannot be taken as neutral. It cannot be taken as something from a disinterested party because he has a political position where he anchors everything he says. His opinion then cannot be taken as the gospel truth any longer.
But it can also not be wished away?
It can only be the opinion of one man and he has the right to that opinion.
This second term, are we going to see a government that will run at a faster tempo or would it still go slow?
The president has said that they used to call him Baba Go-Slow, but that now they will see whether he is slow or not.
The reason I asked that is because of the appointment which you mentioned earlier on. Like Yoruba normally say, the morning dictates how the evening would be. If you are going to hit the ground running, why is the appointment of ministers taking weeks?
Appointments are but one step; once you put that step behind, then the rest is easy.
SECURITY: DESPITE CHALLENGES, THINGS ARE STILL BETTER THAN IN 2015
Let’s talk about security. A first comer, somebody coming into this country, listening to our radio, watching our television stations, reading our newspapers, may go away with the impression that Nigeria is under siege. Do you think Nigeria is more secure now than it was 2015?
No doubt, there are security challenges in the country, but are things better than 2015? Yes, things are better than 2015. In 2015, do you know how many bombs went off daily in this country? Yes, daily! And with scores dead in different parts of the country! It happened in the north east; happened in the north west; happened in the north central. Abuja, the federal capital, was not immune from it. But, that has largely been reduced. You hardly hear of those bombs going off again because the government has made a big difference. Now, we have challenges in other areas-kidnapping, armed banditry, armed robbery, and all that. Yes, there are challenges but government exists to solve challenges. And this government is doing its best to solve the challenges.
Still, these challenges are causing Nigerians sleepless nights. The impression out there is that no part of Nigeria is safe now; with the way kidnapping, armed banditry, mindless killings etc. are escalating.
People also exaggerate things for political reasons. We are not saying those challenges are not there. Of course, they are there. But then to now say the entire country has been taken over, to say that the government is failing, is political. Nigeria is still there, it is very solid. It will remain solid. It will remain one, and the challenges will be overcome.
But why is it so difficult for government to get to the root of all these problems-killings, kidnapping and banditry, for instance? The perpetrators have their supply lines, their weapons, their backers. Why is it so difficult to cut their supplies?
Government is not the only institution responsible for security. It is a collaborative thing between the government and the governed. Government at the federal level is not the only one responsible for security. But what do we find? You find some people, they will go and cause trouble at the local government (level), and they will be calling President Buhari, who is at the centre, to come and resolve it. You have government at the federal level, you have government at the state level. And you have government at the local level. All of them-federal, states, and local governments, must collaborate to end this security challenge. The people as well as the traditional institutions have their roles to play. It is a collaborative thing.
THIS GOVERNMENT WILL GET THE UNSEEN HANDS BEHIND POLITICAL HERDSMEN
There is this persistent allegation that the president seems powerless because fingers point in the direction of that part of the country he is from. When people talk about the killings and they mention Fulani herdsmen, and all that, how do you react?
The herdsmen/farmers’ clashes are causing security challenges. There are also political Fulani herdsmen; those ones have been created by hidden hostile hands who want to de-market the government. The Fulani issue is there but it is no way near what has been trumpeted, and what has been claimed. To some people in the media, there is no other criminality in the country except Fulani herdsmen. Even when other criminals strike, it is Fulani herdsmen. It is stereotyping. It is finger-pointing which is not based on facts. I am not saying that there are no challenges about Fulani herdsmen due to climate change, dwindling resources and things like that. Yes, we have those challenges. But it is not every criminality perpetrated in the country that is done by the Fulanis.
THERE’S NO ALTERNATIVE TO RANCHING
Please educate me, what does climate change and dwindling resources have got to do with Fulani herdsmen?
We have always lived with Fulani herdsmen in this country. They drive their cattle from different parts. When the rains are here, you see them. They move southwest and they get forage for their cattle and all that. And when the rains go and the water recedes, you find them following the water as it recedes. In the process, they drive their herds into farmlands and it becomes an issue. There was a way that problem was settled in this country before. The problem was there in the first republic, even in the second republic. But it was not as bad as we have it now because climate change has affected vegetation and the water table. Lake Chad, for instance, is ten percent of its former size. That has seriously affected grazing and availability of resources because the herdsmen follow the water. They follow where there is green grass to feed their animals. This causes problems with the farmers who are located in those parts of the country. It is something that must be settled.
We have countries that have more cattle than Nigeria, like India, Brazil, China, and so on.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) which conducted the population of cattle around the world, the world had 1.002 billion heads of cattle in 2018. India led the pack with 305 million cattle (or 30.44% of world cattle) including buffalo; Brazil was second with 232.35million (or 23.19%); China ranked third with 96.85 million (or 9.67%); while the United States ranked fourth with 94.40 million (or 9.4 %). According to the inventory, India, Brazil and China control about 64% of world cattle. Do you have those crises in these countries? No.
If I remember correctly, all the cattle in Nigeria is about 18 million, but we have countries that have cattle in hundreds of millions. That is what those countries depend on. They depend on milk and beef. They do corned-beef; they export corned-beef to the world. Argentina has 53.8 million heads of cattle (or 5.37% of world cattle). But do you have crises there? No. This is because they have learned to ranch their animals.
We must get to that point in this country where we ranch animals. What you have today is, when you talk of ranching, some states will say we don’t have land for ranching. Some ethnic organizations will say there will never be a ranch in our area. Then, how will the problem be solved? Nigerians must be interested in solving the problem and living together amicably.
SOCIO-CULTURAL GROUPS FUELLING HATE
Maybe the manner of presenting the idea of ranching to Nigerians fuelled that distrust. Many thought the federal government wanted to ram it down their throats, whether they liked it or not.
No, it is not presentation, it is hate. Hate is festering in the country and some socio-cultural organizations are fuelling that hate. They have made it appear as if the Fulanis particularly are a conquering army; and they believe if they give land to Fulanis in their own areas, they will come to conquer them eventually; which does not make sense. The first cattle ranch was established in Obudu, present Cross River State, in 1951 by the colonial masters. Have Fulanis taken over in Obudu?
I’m just wondering why this Fulani herdsmen/farmers problem seems to be a hard nut for this government to crack.
Like I said, it is largely political. Consider this: Fulani themselves are in the minority in the north. So, how would the minority overcome the entire country? How can they overcome the north where they are in the minority, not to talk of coming down south and overtaking the entire country? It is largely political.
Why is it also difficult for government to apprehend the sponsors of this particular aspect of violence against the populace?
They will not always prevail. I am sure eventually government will get to unveil who the hidden hostile hands are. They are both internal and external. Nigeria has possibly the most porous borders in the world. The borders in the north alone are about 1,500 kilometres. The entire border area in the country is about 4,500 kilometres. So, people can come in at will; from anywhere-Libya, Sudan, Burkina Faso, generally; and all these places are awash with small arms which they bring into the country. So, it is a problem.
It remains a problem because we have not also tried to study and copy what bigger and better organized countries have done with their borders. There are countries that are three times bigger than Nigeria in terms of land mass, yet, they are well policed. Their borders are tightly controlled.
And they are building walls.
Not all of them are building walls. Most depend on technology, electronic surveillance and all that. But we are not making any substantial investment in that direction.
I agree. We must do it. It is a challenge for the Interior Ministry. It is a challenge for all the relevant agencies and organizations that must ensure the policing of our borders.
WE SHALL WIN AGAINST INSECURITY
Adding all these together, would you conveniently say that this government is winning the battle against insecurity?
It will win. There are challenges now, but it will win.
What about the socio-economic aspect of the problem? People attribute the root causes of kidnapping, armed robbery, cult violence, money rituals, and so on, to lack of job opportunities, shrinking opportunities, and the near-hopeless situation of things in the country.
The president said that when there is unequal distribution of resources, it breeds criminality and gangsterism. You have had 10, 20, 30 years of unequal opportunities in Nigeria, and everything has come to the head now. It is not in the past four years that these problems were created. It’s a cumulation of problems that have always existed in Nigeria and it will take a while to solve.
And it is winnable?
Sure. The president said in the Democracy Day speech that Nigeria can take 100 million people out of poverty in 10 years. That is one of the ways to win it; because how do you take people out of poverty? You create jobs. You create enabling environment for them to thrive. And you improve infrastructure. But if you do all that, and considering that 100 million is about half of the country’s population, that is a big leap. One hundred million out of poverty in 10 years is a big step forward. It will reduce crime and criminality.
(To be continued on Saturday)