In this interview by HAKEEM GBADAMOSI, the Secretary General of the pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Mr. Afenifere, Sola Ebiseni, speaks on sundry national issues.
President Muhammadu Buhari has just ordered the establishment of farm estates across the 108 senatorial districts in the country but the Afenifere appears not to trust every move of the president on agricultural development. Why is that so?
As long as President Buhari continues to demonstrate that the central point of his government’s policy is the promotion of Fulani supremacy, it is not surprising that the programmes of his government programmes are viewed with utmost suspicion, not only by the Afenifere but also other well-meaning ethnic nationalities. The so-called Integrated Farm Estates in all senatorial districts are coming after most Nigerians have rejected several other agricultural programmes like cattle colony, RUGA, grazing routes and grazing Reserves which are all doubtlessly meant to create Fulani havens in the ancient lands of other tribes. We are not deceived that the hidden aim of the Integrated Farm Estates is to create three Fulani colonies in every state. It is worse than any of the other such programmes which have been rejected by the people. It is even more preposterous that such programmes are only announced by the government after Miyetti Allah or some Fulani personalities would have made a case for it.
But the Integrated Farm Estates also include other agricultural activities.
That is exactly what you are meant to believe but we have been able to lift the veil off such facades. The thousands of hectares of land are meant to be acquired and constituted as new towns established by law with modern infrastructures which are non-existent in the neighbourhood. It is only a matter of time before the Fulani herders who have not hidden their lack of capacity to live peacefully with other Nigerians would send away other so-called farmers to realise their original intention of territorial conquest. Go and ask the original Tarok, Jukun, Basherawa and others how their territory on the Plateau became a Wase Emirate and learn about the fate of the several nationalities of southern Kaduna and others in several parts of the Middle Belt.
Are you then saying that there is no trust among Nigerians anymore? How can the citizens live together as a nation?
That is the crux of the matter and that is the question we should be asking the president as the father of the nation. To start with, how do you feel comfortable with a father that asks his bereaved children of Benue to go and seek peace with their assailants? Who will trust a government that allows Fulani terrorists to kill the people and take over their lands and homes while it shamelessly creates IDP camps for Nigerians as refugees in their own states? Who will trust a government that wants to put them in the same farm estates with people the same government cannot prevent from taking over military barracks and the defence academy, which it cannot prevent from killing and abducting very senior military officers? How do you trust and live in peace with people who openly tell state governments, as in Benue and Taraba, that the laws legitimately made by our legislators would not be obeyed and the Federal Government which has the monopoly of the police and other security forces endorsed such treasonable acts in words and deeds? We are too discerning to be deceived with such a Greek gift as farm estates. Security is what we need for prosperity.
Sheikh Ahmad Gumi and some Fulani leaders were in Igboho, Oke Ogun, on Tuesday. They said they were touring the South West for peace. What is Afenifere’s reaction to that?
Sorry, we don’t operate at the level of Gumi and those jesters in his company. They had merely thought of coming to Ibarapa to mock us, insult our intelligence or they are being hunted by the fears of their evils. A child that curses the Iroko should be told that the Oluwere is not in a hurry for its definite strike. When they toured their own territory, Gumi needed a battalion of combined security forces to move around and amidst weapon-wielding terrorists. But in Yorubaland, they were shocked by the fact that they were moving without armed guards. They were further surprised at the religious harmony and had to pose in front of the signpost of a Muslim secondary school, not knowing that in that part of Yorubaland, Islam had been in existence since the Mali empire for centuries before the Uthman Dan Fodio jihad and the destruction of the Hausa empires which were replaced by Fulani emirs in the 19th century in the name of religion. They have destroyed the fabric of modern Nigeria such that even the Hausa now assert their identity separate from the Fulani who are killing and destroying the wealth of the Hausa farmers in Sokoto, Zamfara, Katsina, part of Kebbi and all over the North West. Shouldn’t Gumi and his team have been circumspect enough that they were simply ignored in Igboho and not attended to by anyone? We are not averse to dialogue and peace but it can only be with serious minded and respectable people. We have such eminent and respectable personalities in large numbers among the Fulani of Nigeria.
What is Afenifere’s position on the ongoing controversy about Value-Added Tax?
Afenifere is not mine or anyone’s organisation. It is a common heritage of the Yoruba with progressive inclinations. Ordinarily, being sub judice at least now in the Court of Appeal, I may not want to do an analysis of the VAT issue. Suffice to say that we salute Governor [Nyesom] Wike [of Rivers State] for his courage to take up this matter as an essential ingredient of resource control and restructuring in a federation. VAT is a tax levied on goods and services but eventually borne by the ultimate consumer. So, it is a residual matter which relates to the location of the consumer. It cannot be overemphasised that it is most unjust for the Federal Government to collect taxes from the consumer of certain goods in a locality and remit same to all the states, including those where the consumption of some of the goods are prohibited, alcohol, for instance. Central collection and remittance of tax, irrespective of contributions, breed institutional laziness. Yoruba call it Ogo ta, Ogo o ta, owo alaaru a pe, which literally means that the carrier of wares in the market will get paid whether the owner of the wares made gains or not.
But there are people who argue that some of the goods on which VAT is charged in Lagos come from federal ports.
That appears to me as the ignorance of confusing import duty, which the Federal Government collects on goods at the point of entry, with VAT which is based on consumption. Are the VAT charged on breweries, bottling and pharmaceutical companies at the ports too? Besides, does the facts that the ports are located in Lagos make Apapa part of the Federal Capital Territory? You need to go into the nitty-gritty of federalism.
There are fears that the military’s onslaught against bandits in Zamfara and other northern states could lead to a mass movement of the criminals to the South. Do you think the South West is prepared for this emergency?
It actually leaves a sour taste in the mouth. The Federal Government waited too long, allowing the situation to fester. It had all the opportunities to have nipped the terrorism in the bud, but instead it kept lying about the severity of it, dishonestly giving criminality a federal character by comparing outright terrorism bordering on ethnic cleansing and territorial occupation with the case of boys buying diesel with jerry cans in the Niger Delta. While not condoning any form of criminality, I think our experience with Boko Haram should have thought us not to clothe terrorism with a deceitful garment of herders/farmers clash. God forbid that the situation in Yorubaland gets worse than it is presently.
The governor of Katsina State recently confirmed that the majority of the bandits troubling the peace of the nation are Fulani. What advice do you have for Fulani leaders on how to handle their youths?
Very interesting question. Governor Masari is an eminent Nigerian leader, a former Speaker of the House of Representatives. He wasn’t the first Fulani leader to acknowledge that fact. As a matter of fact, it was Governor [Nasir] El-Rufai [of Kaduna State] that first admitted that the killings were being done by the Fulani both in Nigeria and across Africa for which reason he travelled to Chad, Niger, Cameroon, etc, to meet with the Fulani and pay them undisclosed amount of money as ransom against further attacks in Kaduna. Later, His Eminence, the Sultan of Sokoto admitted that seven out of 10 bandits are Fulani. But in dealing with the issue, the question is, which Fulani youths are we supposed to deal with? Is it the ones said by their leaders not to have a particular country or place of identity? What exactly are their grievances? President Yar’Adua was able to get the Niger Delta leaders to rein in their militant youths because they were known and their causes were not hidden. Obasanjo, as a Yoruba himself and after own assessment of the situation, took certain measures in different parts of the country, including the Yoruba youths which OPC represented. In frustration, the leaders of the North West, including governors and emirs, have signed for anarchy, asking all to defend themselves. We are back to the Hobbesian state of nature, most unfortunately.
How would you assess the economic programmes of the Buhari government vis-a-vis the welfare of the ordinary man?
Economic programme? I can’t see any. All I see is the free fall of the Naira, impaired food security as a result of farmers abandoning their farms based on the killings by armed herdsmen and terrorists, inter-state internal economic activities greatly reduced and foreign direct investment grossly affected by domestic insecurity. We are only selling crude oil which value is determined beyond our knowledge and power. Civil servants and other workers are worst hit for being denied their wages which leads to strikes, further paralysing the economy. In all these, security is of the essence.
Going forward to 2023, what is the choice for Afenifere, restructuring or election?
Isn’t the answer located in the question itself? Of course, as democrats, Afenifere is not averse to elections. However, isn’t it common sense that we must first have a country to have elections? Isn’t it clear that we must first settle the issue of the integrity of the nation’s corporate existence before elections? And please, don’t misunderstand us, the restructuring can be achieved less than a year from now and long before 2023. Nigerians are same as human beings everywhere. Why are we so blessed in material and human resources, yet our country is ever rudderless? I don’t believe that we don’t have leaders that can turn our fortunes around. Obasanjo, an army General, almost 12 years Head of State and President of Nigeria, is a world personality, a mighty man of valour who could have been the Secretary General of the United Nations; Jonathan is a PhD holder; President Buhari, a military General, like Obasanjo, is also ruling Nigeria for the second time, yet the nation is in chaos and ungovernable. Is it not clear that if the foundation be destroyed, there is not much the righteous may do? Our leader, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, has always said he would not support his own son to rule Nigeria on the basis of the present constitution because ex nihilo nihil fit, meaning, nothing comes from nothing.
Where do we then go from here?
The mistake we often make is this silly talk that our unity is not negotiable and the union indissoluble as if we are insulated from the dialectical processes that dictate human and societal engineering. We either take steps to stem these forces, like erosion, into the direction of our mutual desires by resolving the destructive conflicts and contradictions or bow willy-nilly to the immutable force. Between 1951 and 1953, India had the problem of nationalities, structure and a new constitution. Their leader, Jawarhalal Nehru, called for national dialogue and fixed the nation with a new constitution and the nation endures. The Republic of Benin was faced with political and structural crises that left the nation almost a failed state as we now face in Nigeria. Mathew Kerekou called a national conference in 1990, had a new constitution with an election within a year that even swept him out of power in national interest. There are those who are also recommending the USSR option where Gorbachev, within less than two years, felt the centre could no longer hold and the Soviet federation peacefully dismantled.