Bitrus Kaze, a former Member representing Jos South/Jos East federal constituency in the 6th and 7th National Assembly has been in the forefront of criticizing unpopular government policies not only in his native Plateau State but also the country at large. His political party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, has not been spared in his constructive criticism. In this chat with Vanguard in Jos, he bore his mind on burning issues in the country. Excerpts.
You have been so vocal against the Ruga settlement policy of the federal government. The policy has been put on hold for now, are you pacified?
In the first place, I have said that the federal government pretends that it wants to end the crises between herdsmen and farmers but unfortunately, all its multiple policies are pro-herdsmen. Remember, the Military under Buratai started something like the Army ranching business and appointed a Brigadier-General as the General Manager. Shortly after that, we started hearing of cattle colony, ranching, but after that the name fizzled out and we started hearing of Ruga. Our quarrel with this is that the crises between farmers and herdsmen are crises between two equal stakeholders and citizens of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. What informed the federal government taking a position in favour of one against the other? Government should be a father to all and unbiased.
Governor Simon Lalong has made it clear that either ranching or Ruga, the policy would be implemented Plateau State. As a citizen, what is your view on this?
Over the years, I have observed that one of the greatest undoing of our governor is what he says. These are things I will call the Lalong gaffes. There was a time he said he gave appointment to Hausa people and there was peace; unknown to him; that was an indictment to the Hausa people. On this Ruga issue, Governor Lalong had even started drumming support for it and called opponents of it mischief makers. While he was drumming support for the policy, President Muhammadu Buhari suspended the policy. To me, he left Governor Lalong in public disgrace, even the President himself had felt the pressure and I can tell you that the governor would have felt much more pressure because we know that in our constitution, the Land Use Act says that Governor Lalong holds the land of Plateau State in trust and the reaction against Ruga policy in Plateau State would be spontaneous and you could see that the Police had started issuing statements against public demonstration because government suspected that the people would react.
This wouldn’t be the first reaction. You would recall that there had been several demonstrations against unpopular government policies. Plateau people have been forced to be accustomed to public protest against unpopular government policies. It wouldn’t need anybody to organize, sponsor, and mobilize because there is widespread antagonism against the Ruga programme in Plateau. The people have rejected it at the state level. At the federal level, it has been suspended. Governor Lalong and those who have started drumming support for it on the Plateau are left in shame. This is just a suspension not cancellation. If it is implemented in the state what would you do?
If Governor Lalong insists on implementing the Ruga policy, I can assure you that we will do everything within our power to mobilize public opinion against it and not only Ruga but also any unpopular policy in the state. I can tell you that the people of Plateau would not accept it. I believe like the people reacted previously, he will see even much more. I will suggest that he should yield to the people’s opinion and to the path of the people as far as the Ruga policy is concerned. Some people have said that he should take it to Ajikamai, his village or Shendam, his local government but I say no. Ajikamai and Shendam are parts of Plateau, he should not take it to any part of Plateau.
The point is simple: Plateau people are not interested in Ruga. If the governor wants to serve the interest of the people, why is he asking for cattle colony not pig or dog colony which are also legitimate businesses that Plateau people are involved in? What is his crave in pacifying the herdsmen and not his own people on the Plateau?
The idea of ranching was accepted, what is the difference between ranching and Ruga?
Be it Ruga, ranching or cattle colony, it is one and the same thing. All of them are pro-herdsmen and aimed at ‘Fulanization’ of the country.
The Governor said some parcels of land had been gazetted for ranching in Kanam and Wase local government areas among other places and there is a budgetary provision of N250m. Are these not justifiable reasons for the policy to be accepted?
Even if government is providing justification, there had been no time at all that government subjected this budgetary provision or allocation to public opinion via public hearing in the State Assembly to ask Plateau people if this is their wish. Wherever he wants to site it in the state, let it be tested in public domain and let it be seen that it is the people that say take this land not government using the force of law like gazetting and budgetary allocation and taking over any land, and shutting out anyone who is opposing it. We believe that even Governor Lalong himself is merely doing this budgetary trick to pacify the President.
Why I am saying so? Look at Governor Lalong, a man in his mid 50s has openly committed himself to die for the President, a man who is about 90 years old. In African tradition, that is weird, strange and unthinkable. It is for a son to bury his old father, it is for a grandson to bury a grandfather but when a son says that he is willing to die for his father, we think something is wrong. A man who is thinking in such a strange way, we will not be surprised at strange policies that he is proposing. If he believes that he is doing the wishes of Plateau people, let them subject it to public scrutiny and let’s see if it will be accepted.
Let’s talk about your party, the PDP in Plateau State. How serious do you think the party is in the face of ongoing challenges and preparedness for 2023?
I like this question but I am not sure I want to say something, I have tried to keep quiet on this matter, I know there are problems in PDP on the Plateau and I have tried to refrain from making comments on these based on the fact that I was part of the contest that brought up this Exco. I don’t want to be seen as taking the opportunity to make the bad case worse but one cannot shy away from reality. Truly, I knew there were some problems in the party but I did not imagine the magnitude of the problem, not knowing that it was as severe as what would lead to suspension and counter-suspension. I have been consistent with the PDP on the Plateau, PDP must realize that we are no more in power and it is the step before he followed. Now, we are simply seeing a replication of what is happening at the centre right here on the Plateau. We thought the governor would learn from the mistake of the President and hit the ground running in the state, but the only thing that has happened is that he has become the Chairman of the Northern Governors’ forum. I don’t think he got the Chairmanship position because he is the most popular governor in the North. Perhaps it is a reward for his loyalty to President Buhari.
If someone who has become the Governor of Plateau denies the Middle Belt ideology and says he is willing to die for the President, that because he gave the far Northerners appointment on the Plateau, there is peace and continues to make strange and anti-Plateau statements as the basis for his survival and then you see such a person become the chairman of the Northern Governors’ forum, why should one be surprised?
He is being rewarded for his blind loyalty. Some of us feel a bit frightened that he will on the excuse of Northern Governors’ forum continue to perpetrate the Northernization of Plateau. Hence our fears that despite the federal government suspending Ruga, in a bid to show he is the Chairman of Northern Governors’ forum, he might attempt to show that Plateau will carry on with Ruga. We are waiting.