By Dapo Akinrefon
REAR Admiral Mike Onah, retd, is the National President, Ndokwa Political Leaders Forum.
Onah, an alumnus of the Nigeria Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, Jos, recently had a chat with journalists in Lagos where he bared his mind on the state of the nation. Excerpts:
What is your reaction to the current state of insecurity in the country, especially killings by herdsmen in Benue State, and other parts of the country?
The situation is very worrisome. It is very sad and very unfortunate. It is very sad that precious human lives are being wasted. These killings are despicable and condemnable.
There can be no justification for shedding human blood and wasting precious lives when we are not in a state of war, and this is why there have been global condemnations of the killings.
However, I will like Nigerians to see these killings as a national problem which requires inputs from all stakeholders on how to arrive at an amicable solution which will provide an effective panacea to the lingering crisis.
Like I said earlier, these killings by the herdsmen are bad and condemnable, and I will like our security agencies to rise up to the occasion by restoring sanity. The full weight of the law should also be brought upon those herdsmen who committed these heinous acts. Their disdainful activity does not portray Nigeria as a civilized nation. It doesn’t portray us as a nation where human lives are valued and treasured.
However, since the tragic incident occurred several people have been heaping blames on President Muhammadu Buhari, some have even been cursing him, some are even calling him all sorts of names, but I don’t think calling Buhari names is the solution.
We should not turn the herdsmen killings into Buhari’s affair. Agreed, Buhari is the country’s president, and much is expected of him in finding answers to myriads of problems confronting the nation, but what we should all realize is that Buhari is also a human being, and no human being is 100 percent perfect.
Although in some people’s views, Buhari might have been slow in reacting promptly to the killings he has since then ordered security operatives to do the needful in not only bringing the situation under control but also to ensure that peace and normalcy are restored to the affected areas.
I don’t want to believe that President Buhari would want to condone killings by herdsmen when he has sworn to defend and protect all Nigerians. As the president, he is supposed to be the father of the nation, and in that regard, all parts of Nigeria should be seen as being his constituency.
For me, this issue should be seen as a national matter which requires rational reasoning from all of us in finding an amicable solution. We should refrain from making inflammatory statements that will further heat up the polity.
Some have suggested the idea of the establishment of cattle ranches as a way of finding a lasting solution to the perennial herdsmen/farmers crisis while federal government proposed setting up of cattle colonies, what is your take on that?
We are in a digital age, and globally people blend and change with modern technology. In advance nations of the world where they even have large cattle population than Nigeria, it is ranching that is set up; I’m talking of countries like Argentina, the United States of America, and Uruguay.
Modern ranches are established where cows grazed and drink water within the same facility. So the idea of driving cattle all over the place, wherein the process these cows eat crops and destroy farms, is averted. I believe the ranch option is better. It makes cows to be secured and safe from attacks by cattle rustlers because ranches are well secured unlike movement from one place to other which exposes herdsmen and their cows to attacks by rustlers.
Do you agree with the views of those who are saying that all these crises would not go away unless we restructure, that restructuring is the only panacea for restoring peace and unity to the country?
There is no doubt restructuring will go a long way in calming frayed nerves. The clamour for restructuring has been on the ascendancy and anybody that professes his love for this country would not wish it away.
I don’t know why some people are harbouring unfounded fears about restructuring. Restructuring simply means a return to true federalism which we were practicing before the advent of military rule in 1966.
Although Nigeria is being referred to as a federal republic, in practice, we are practicing unitary system which allows over-concentration of power in the hands of the federal government. This is contrary to the principles of true federalism which enshrines devolution of power to federating units in a federation. The restructuring will do Nigeria a lot of good. It will enable each federating units to harness resources in its domain for the benefit of residents instead of the current situation where everybody depends on allocations from the sale of crude oil to survive.
The present situation where all 36 state governors go cap in hand to Abuja every month is not the solution to Nigeria’s problems.
To make matters worse, the price of crude oil has dropped leading to a single or mono product as a source of revenue for the nation, and this is why Nigeria is in problem today.
All of us rely on oil, but now that oil is in trouble, we are also in trouble. But this ugly situation could have been averted if we have diversified our economy. We need to look beyond oil – thank God, the federal government and some states are now into agricultural revival.
From my studies at the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies, NIPSS in Kuru, , every state in Nigeria has natural resources that can be harnessed to meet the state’s needs. No state is empty. So, the fear that if control of oil resources is returned to the oil-producing states, that some other states may collapse is not true. It is an unfounded fear. No state is empty.
Why did you say the discovery of oil has become a curse to Nigeria?
What has the nation got to show that we are oil producing country? The oil wealth is being stolen by a privileged few, while millions of Nigerians wallow in poverty.
People living in oil producing communities who are the primary source of this wealth are living in poverty. Oil production has destroyed their ecosystem. It has affected their livelihood. Oil has been destroying their farmlands, fish and eco system. So where has been the blessing in the so-called oil?
Let us return to the days when Nigeria’s economy was diversified. I’m talking about the glorious era of cocoa and palm oil in the Southwest, rubber in the Midwest, coal from the Southeast, and cotton and groundnut from the North. Some of us still remember the famous groundnut pyramids in Kano, but where are they now?
Some people express fears that the practice of true federalism may lead to the break-up of Nigeria, what is your take on this?
I don’t think Nigeria will break up. There is a lot of benefit in Nigeria remaining as one nation. It is only here in Nigeria that we are not using our size and population to our advantage. There are enormous benefits for us if we stay together as one nation. It is sad that we are not maximizing our population and size for social and economic benefits.
God has been so merciful to Nigeria, we should remain grateful to God. The true practice of federalism will enhance rapid socio-economic development. It will promote healthy competition among states. At independence, Nigeria adopted federalism, and it was working well for us until the military incursion of January 15, 1966.
If you are to advise the federal government on how to have enduring peace and economic prosperity, what will be your advice?
Although the federal government is trying its best; the fact can’t be denied that things are a bit tough. But our hope is that things will get much better.
Power should be accorded top priority. Power is the key to the revival of comatose industries; power revival is the key to the restoration of moribund factories including small-scale enterprises.
With stable electricity supply, things will change for better for Nigeria. Our quest for industrial and economic growth can also be a reality with stable power supply. It is a shame that countries with less population than Nigeria generate much power supply for their citizens.
There are other advantages in having stable power supply; it will help reduce crime drastically. As the saying goes, an idle hand is the devil’s workshop, but if there is steady electricity, all those youths who engage in various vices including robbery can find work to do either as barbers, hairdressers or even work in factories.
When industries become functional, jobs will be generated for unemployed youths. As at today, the unemployment situation in the country has become a source of concern. But unemployment will be drastically reduced if the federal government can take necessary measures to increase power generation to an appreciable level.
Then the issue of Niger-Delta development should be accorded a top priority because that is the region that produces most of the nation’s wealth, oil. I remember there have been a lot of promises made by the government on how to effect the rapid development of the oil producing communities such promises should be fulfilled. We should not wait until some groups start issuing ultimatums before the government will now be forced to take actions to redeem its pledges.
Some Nigerians are of the opinion that neither PDP nor APC has met the expectation of Nigerians in terms of delivery of dividends of democracy and that there is a need for formation of a mega party to bring about the desired change, what’s your take on that?
We are in a democracy, and we have about 60 registered political parties, and the possibility of registration of more political parties cannot be ruled out before the 2019 general elections. Therefore, Nigerians have a choice to vote for any party of their choice. They have a choice to vote for a political party which they feel can meet their expectation. This is one of the beauties of democracy, freedom of choice. Democracy allows you to exercise your fundamental rights including franchise according to the dictates of your inner minds.