Says no way for grazing reserves in Benue
Senator Joseph Kennedy N Waku, (JKN Waku), the stormy petrel of the Middle Belt was elected senator for the Benue North West Constituency of Benue State, on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP in 1999. Not long after she came into national renown following his controversial call for a military coup on the claim that President Olusegun Obasanjo was derailing the democracy project. Since then he has been an unrepentant critic of President Obasanjo, and a major political figure in the North. Waku is not only a chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC but also of the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF. In this interview, he speaks on current national issues. Excerpts:
By Joseph Erunke
What is your reaction to the renewed insurgency by militants in the Niger Delta?
In the first place, what were the offences committed by these people before they were pardoned? Are they not criminals? If I were the president, I would jail them.
So, are you ruling out dialogue as proposed by some people as a way of resolving the problem?
What kind of dialogue? Let them bring to table what they want. Let them do what they are doing, they will also suffer it. Are they also not suffering when they ruin the economy? Are they not facing the same problem like you and I? They are talking of marginalization today.
If you create Biafra today, is Biafra solidly Igbo’s? It’s not. When you go there, you would find a southern minority who will tell you that they don’t want to be part of it, even among the Igbo. Some Igbo will tell you that they don’t want it. If there is definitive kind of discrimination against certain segments of the country, that needs to be addressed because injustice creates dissatisfaction. If there have been injustices against one particular group in this country, let’s address it and not by taking the law into their hands.
That is criminality. We are also affected but we want to take it in a matured approach. You cannot go and begin to destroy state apparatus in order to achieve your agitation, it is against the law. I am not in a position to talk about which contract was revoked because I am not involved in that.
If those contracts were illegally awarded without going through the due process and the current administration wants to follow due process, what is bad about that? Go and do your investigation on that contract to see whether the old law that qualifies one for such contracts were made. What do you award contracts to militants for? In the first place, the name ‘militant’ is criminality. It is only this country that somebody will come back and say I am a militant and then ‘you award him contract.’ If they claim to be agitators as they are saying, then let them come out with their demands and not by holding the state to ransom.
Now, how would you want the government to handle this situation?
My advice is that you can’t take government for ransom. If their livelihoods have been damaged considerably by the pipelines and they have nowhere to go, let there be adequate compensation to them. It is not to take laws into their hands. And by the way, let me be honest with you, this is natural resources; nobody owns it and nobody farms it but by virtue of the location that you find yourself. If there is ecological diversification and you need to do something for your livelihood, then you table this issue to the federal government so that there would be amicable resolution
Giving the adverse effects of their actions, will it not be better to seek dialogue?
What do they need? Let them come out and tell government that ‘this has been our farmland, it has been devastated, we have no land to farm anymore’ and then bring a proposal to the federal government. This is how it should be done than issuing threats. If I were the president, I would have ended that thing by now.
How would you have done it?
Yes, by closing the whole thing down. Before oil came, didn’t this country exist? So, what are you talking about? We have been blindfolded and Nigeria became so lazy, a nation of cheap money. Before the oil, we had cocoa, we had palm oil, groundnut and pyramid, and those were the things that actually helped to develop the oil.
At a point, we in Benue challenged them that okay,’ let them go and drink their oil, we would eat our yams and then see who will survive.’
Do you regret the four years you spent on the platform of the PDP in the Senate especially given your assertion that the 16 years of the PDP was a waste?
You can see the difference, during my time, we averted it. We tried to stop it and that was why the powers that be at that time didn’t let us come back so that they can have a field day. We must understand that it is not everybody that is in PDP that is a corrupt person, no. Even the sharing of the cake which is being probed now, it wasn’t all PDP members that got involved in it because these people were not in good book with the powers that be.
How many PDP members are being locked up, how many of them? The membership of PDP is over 15 million but the number of them being locked is not up to one hundred.
Those being locked up are the targeted criminals in PDP, who thought that they had it all. PDP is not a bad party but the leadership was bad.
Some people are saying the war against corruption is selective, that if corrupt PDP members run to the APC, they are left off the hook but I don’t think so. If you have any allegation against anyone, come out with evidence and see if the government will not take action. If you run away from PDP to APC, wanting to take a refuge so that nothing will happen to you, you won’t survive here because I will personally expose you because APC is not a home for criminals to come and take refuge.
As a chieftain of the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, can you reveal the position of the body on the issue of the clashes allegedly stoked by herdsmen?
Well, I think the National Assembly is working on a law that would solve the problem. I can only tell you the position of my state, which is Benue. We, in Benue State are against grazing reserve. Brazil has the largest number of cows in the world and you don’t see any cow there on the street. So, we want the same practice here, we need ranches so that the cows can be in one place. That is what this country needs. It is for the good quality cow meat and milk. To get good milk out of cows, they need to be in one place. We are against grazing areas but we are encouraging ranches.
But the pending bill in the National Assembly which you talked about seems to be favourably disposed to establishment of grazing reserve rather than ranches….(cuts in)
No, no. We are against grazing reserve, that can’t work. Grazing reserve is not fashionable in Nigeria, that was about 20 to 30 years ago. Now, that can no longer work.
The ongoing administration of President Muhammadu Buhari is one year old now, could you give me your independent assessment of the administration so far?
Let me tell you, Nigeria is lucky to have Buhari as a president. I cannot claim that he is one hundred percent right. He is not, but Buhari came into government at a time Nigeria needed somebody like him.
The fact that you are aware today that an individual was given N2.5 billion to N2.6 billion to offer prayers for some persons to remain in office alone has established and brought sanity to this country. The ongoing hardship is not caused by him; the hardship has been caused by previous leaders. He just inherited it. What has been destroyed for 16 years cannot be done in one year.
The exposure that Nigerians now know how their monies were stolen by the previous administration alone, is a developmental index and progression. It instils fear into Nigerians that ‘if I get into this office, let me be careful. So, the Buhari administration has brought us sanity of governance.
Although there are still hardened criminals in offices but it is no longer business as usual. Therefore, I think Nigerians should pray for him because when you are fighting corruption, corruption fights back. So, what Buhari needs from you and I and many Nigerians is prayers, so that we get out from this mess. Let me tell you, Goodluck Jonathan was just a lazy president.
Because he took things for granted, he was not in charge of the affairs of the country as president. And because of that, people took his kindliness for granted and that was why there was this problem. Otherwise, the most corrupt presidency was that of Obasanjo.
Are you saying that the ongoing war against corruption be extended to him (Obasanjo)?
Look, Buhari has no choice if he wants Nigerians to have confidence in his fight against corrupt practices. He must probe Obasanjo’s regime, he has no choice. He has no choice than to probe Obasanjo’s regime, otherwise, probing Goodluck alone will look like witch-hunting.
The recent increase in price of fuel pump has added to the hardship of the citizens of Nigeria, do you think this action was necessary especially at the time it was done?
Let me tell you, Nigeria is one country that doesn’t respect law. Nigerians were buying the product for N300 per litre and somebody got up and said you were buying this at such amount and you were not even finding it, go and buy at N145 where you will see the product everywhere. To me, it is the best policy. ’I think the government should be praised for reducing the hardship from them.
But the Goodluck Jonathan came up with similar policy and most Nigerians including some chieftains of the ruling party now protested against it….(Cuts in)
No, it was not as worse as we witnessed under this government. Nigerians were not as disciplined as they are now.
The Labour union protested against this policy, demanding a correspondent increase in minimum wage given the hardship that followed government’s action. Are you in support of increase in minimum wage?
Yes, I support the increase in the salaries to cushion the effects of the fuel price hike but I don’t respect labour.
Where were they when petrol was being sold at over N300 a litre all over the streets? They are hypocrites, I don’t respect them. Labour has been politicized. It is no longer the labour you used to know. Look, when we were coming up as young people, there were three tiers of organizations that could bring government down. And these were student unions, media organsiation and labour.
But when the media started taking fat envelopes, and started giving state governors title like ‘executive governors’, the system started collapsing. There is nothing in the constitution like executive governor, this thing came from the press. Go and check the constitution, the constitution said there shall be a governor of a state and not executive governor but the press started the ‘executive governor’ titled because they needed some fat envelopes from some governors. And that grew up the governors’ head. So, the media organization also lost its steam.
I had the cause to criticize the speakers of state Houses of Assembly. You could imagine that a speaker would get up and address governors as executive governors! Even when the governor presents his state budget to the House of Assembly, and the speaker still gets up to respond and addresses the governor as executive governor! Would he present the budget to you if he were executive governor? He could sit in his office and do it.
Even the military governors were not addressing themselves as executive governors! And those were the governors that had no parliament. There are three arms of government- the executive , legislature and the judiciary, why is it that you are not addressing the Chief Justice of Nigeria as ‘Executive Chief Judge of Nigeria? It’s because they have no envelopes to dish to you. You media are the problem of this country.
Recently, former President Olusegun Obasanjo alleged that there was massive corruption being perpetrated in the National Assembly where you served for four years as a senator. Are assessing the legislature from the angle of Obasanjo and again, has the National Assembly deviated from where it used to be when you were there?
Did he (Obasanjo) say now or before?
When we were in the National Assembly, we took furniture allowance and Obasanjo made you journalists to say that we took money to buy furniture when we were fighting him for the right thing to be done. I have my certificate of clearance from the national Assembly on those furniture. Because they said you must pay if you needed it but to me, I said I didn’t need them because they were substandard and Obasanjo made you say that we took salary advance when there was nothing like salary advance but furniture allowance. And when we got into the Senate, there was one thing that you journalists refused to highlight, it was that we were earning N13,000 within our first eleven months in the Senate while those in the House of Representatives were spending N11,000 as our salaries until the revenue mobilization came out and started paying us N70,000 per month.