•Tells FG: Keep your RUGA money, give us N/C Development Commission
By Peter Duru, Makurdi
Chief Edward Ujege is the President General of Mdzough U Tiv and the Chairman of Benue tribal leaders. In this interview, Ujege speaks on the N2.2billion purportedly budgeted by the Federal Government for RUGA implementation, why Benue will resist it, the controversial Water Resources Bill, the need to create the North Central Development Commission, the Governor Ortom and Senator Akume’s rift and more. Excerpts:
We now know that the Federal Government actually budgeted over N2.2billion to implement RUGA for herdsmen. Will Benue people key into this plan given the huge sum involved?
Well, our stand on the RUGA remains the same. We already have in existence the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law 2017 which regulates issues of animal husbandry in Benue and we stand by it.
RUGA is not part of what our law provides for. RUGA cannot override the provisions of our law in Benue. This is democracy, it is not autocracy or a military regime where whatever the government at the centre wants is implemented in the states.
The world knows that the Benue’s grazing law was properly made after it originated from the people of the state themselves and the government in place ensured its enactment. So whatever sum the Federal Government has budgeted for RUGA will go to the states that are amenable to the policy. For us in Benue we have no place or land for Ruga. Whatever we do is guided by the provisions of the Benue Grazing Law and nothing more.
But if the Federal Government makes legislation to compel states to accept the RUGA, what would the Benue people do?
We will use constitutional means to resist forceful implementation of the RUGA project in Benue. Our people have chosen the path they want to follow in the area of animal husbandry and a law was made to that effect. It is, therefore, incumbent on any government to respect that law which was an expression of the wishes of the people. That is the essence of democracy and that is why it is a government of the people, by the people and for the people. Hence anything outside of that is no more democracy. So anyone planning to subvert a substituting law in Benue in order to suit his or her own purpose is certainly not a democrat.
You are aware that Miyetti Allah recently approached the courts to seek an abrogation of the Benue ranching law but lost, they vowed to approach the appellate court on the matter. What is your take on the development?
Well, they have the right to appeal the ruling. The facts of the matter are so clear. Moreover, we did not contravene any law of the land or any section of the Constitution in making that law. Rather we were empowered by the Constitution to make the law, so we do not harbour any fears about the constitutionality of the law. Our grazing law was made in good faith; it was made to save our people from years of massacre and bloodbath. It was made to ensure peaceful coexistence between herders and our farmers. That law was made in line with the global best practice in animal husbandry. It was not targeting anybody or any ethnic group. It did not seek to send anyone away from Benue neither was it meant to stop anyone from conducting his or her business. So challenging it, for us in Benue was improper and the High Court agreed with us.
Recently, Senator George Akume was nominated for ministerial appointment by President Muhammadu Buhari. What is your reaction?
We congratulate Akume and we are very happy for his nomination. We also want to thank President Buhari for the nomination. As a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, we will give him all the support that he requires to perform his duties well and to succeed. That is a responsibility we owe him.
Are you not scared that there might be conflict between the sitting government and the Minister given that they both come from different parties and considering the bad blood that the last general elections generated in Benue?
Well, we only appeal to all the parties that we are all aiming at dividends of democracy for the people of Benue. They must realize that the people of the state cannot enjoy dividends of democracy where there are conflicts. So we appeal directly to them that we are looking forward to them as political leaders who must lead by example. Being leaders, they should lead us aright, shun all those issues that separate them and work together to see that Benue is not left behind in the scheme of things.
How do you see Benue coming out of the situation it found itself in the last two years following the herdsmen crisis and its attendant consequences on the socio-economic life of the people?
We are praying to God to help us because the situation we are in Benue would require divine intervention for the state government overcome. We still have thousands of out kith and kin stranded in the various Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, Camps situated in parts of the state and the state government is facing a herculean task catering for their daily needs in the face of scare resources.
We need the Federal Government to come to our aid to overcome these challenges because Benue requires special assistance to address the challenges. I will also stress the need for the creation of a North-Central Development Commission urgently to help ravaged states like Benue get adequate support to tackle the challenges created by the herdsmen crisis. That commission is imperative given the level of devastation our people have suffered because what we have in the North-Central is similar to what you have in the North-East if not more and the only way states like Benue can really come out of the devastating effect of that crisis and get her economic life going will be with the assistance of a commission.
Look, if you visit the communities affected by the crisis, you will weep for our people. They are battling to get their lives back on track because of lack of assistance. At the stage we have found ourselves the burden is too much for the state government to carry. People are still living in IDPs camps not knowing which homes to return to because their communities were sacked and the Federal Government is yet to fulfil its pledge of rebuilding affected communities. Schools, hospitals and clinics, churches, clinics, homes and farmlands that make for conducive living were all destroyed in the crisis and our people now live like refuges in their homeland. The education of our children have been dislocated due to the crisis. It is a pathetic situation. The scope of what has to be done in Benue at the moment is way beyond the state government.
What do you make of the proposed reintroduction of the Water Resources Bill which seeks to concentrate the control of water resources around Rivers Niger and Benue?
That move is suspect and we will not support it because the law runs against the Land Use Act to the extent that state governors are custodians of land in their respective states. And the land includes water, the shore or bank of river. So that will certainly not fly.
Anyway, if that happens, it will be contested in court because it will have an implication on the provisions of the Land Use Act. I must point out that if it is intended to foster Ruga on the people through the back door, it will be unfortunate because if a policy was rejected by the people, why try to reinvent or reintroduce it through other means, it will certainly meet a resistance?