By Ebele Orakpo
Pastor Ituah Ighodalo is the Senior Pastor, Trinity House, and Managing Partner, SIAO, an independent Nigerian professional services firm. In this interview with Vanguard, Pastor Ituah as he is fondly called speaks on the state of the nation, ruga, insecurity and way forward.
Where is Nigeria really headed?
It is alarming that the actual direction in which Nigeria is going is not very clear, no sound economic plan and nobody seems to be in control of security so you can do anything and get away with it. Our present leaders are not communicating properly or articulating what their plan is and what they want to achieve. We keep hearing anti-corruption but it’s alleged that the fight is a bit political and loaded against the opposition. Evidence abounds of people on EFCC watch list who changed party and all of a sudden, everything went quiet. There is no motivation and encouragement for Nigerians that it’s going to be all right. That attitude of ‘We are in control, we’re going to stamp out these killings. We are going to deal ruthlessly with the perpetrators,’ is not there. It’s as though people do things and nothing happens. Herdsmen raid a place and nothing happens. Somebody is kidnapped, nobody is looking for the kidnappers to smoke them out. We hear that people are negotiating so it’s almost as though you can commit a crime and get away with it.
Dapchi girls were abducted and brought back in broad daylight, nobody was arrested. So there’s a bit of laissez-faire and anarchy, that’s frightening. In any other country in the world, the whole might of government goes after the criminals; even if it’s just noise they are making to frighten the criminals but here, not even a whimper. We probably hear the IG of Police say: ‘We will go after them,’ and that’s it! My relation has been missing for about 18 months now, even the attempt by the security forces to look for him was half-hearted. It was as though we were disturbing them. No hope, no encouragement. His employers displayed the same attitude. ’We’ve tried, we can’t find him so what do you want us to do?’ It doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world. That must change.
What should be the role of the Church in all these?
Apart from praying, there are four things the Church can do: *Encourage people. *Stand as a force, it’s good to challenge government because it cannot fold its hands, sit back and watch things go wrong. Church leaders should come together and go to Aso Rock and various government houses and ask the leaders what they are doing. *The Church should put a lot more energy in teaching, training and making people think right.
I once asked whether government cannot find these criminals, and tell them to stop? The reply I got was that they didn’t know who to talk to, people are doing whatever they like. No jobs so anybody who is hungry just wakes up, captures somebody and demands for ransom because it’s the cheapest way to make money.
Those people belong to somebody, they have parents, mentors, teachers, guardians, families, so the pastors and imams need to talk to their people and tell them that this is not the right way to do things. Lastly, the Church can also provide alternatives. People are doing these things because they are jobless, hopeless and are not empowered. More churches should be doing a lot more, encouraging and empowering people. They should teach people handcraft, barbing, sewing, baking and find a way to see that they are gainfully employed.
We need to support government to reduce unemployment and illiteracy because another problem is that people are not really educated and as a result, they have no skills. In my church, Trinity House, we have a lot of empowerment initiatives for our people; we pay school fees, give them gifts; give them small money to start businesses, teach them how to start business, how to live right and encourage them. We are also going round the country, engaging our leaders, telling them we need to get things right.
What do you think about Ruga?
I saw a post the other day where the Rwandan President was dedicating an automobile company that had established a plant in Rwanda, and here, we are battling at the presidential level on Ruga? I don’t understand it. Why must there be some preferential treatment for herdsmen? Why should it be a government issue?
They said it’s to stop the incessant farmers-herders clashes and killings.
Why should people be moving cattle on foot from the north to the south in 2019? That is the most absurd way of raising cattle. It’s like travelling on foot from Lagos to Kano. Who does that? Why is that an issue? Anybody that wants to establish a ranch should look for land and establish his ranch, why should it be a government law? I want to establish my corn farm, why should government legislate where I should start my corn farm? If I go to Ibadan and buy land for my corn farm, who is to stop me? Who are these herders that they should be treated specially? Is it an emergency situation? No! If government’s business is to develop beef, what they should be doing is teaching the herdsmen new methods of developing and raising beef cattle within their locale. You know the irony? If the herders stay in the north and raise their beef cattle in the north, then people in the south would go there to buy the beef. Why must they bring the beef to the south? Or they develop the beef there, package it and move it in trailers to the south or if they need to have live cattle, they move the cattle in trailers to the south. When they get to the south, whatever piece of land they can get to store the cattle to sell, let them negotiate with the people, store the cattle and sell. Why must government be debating and discussing cattle colony and Ruga? It’s absurd; except there is a motive behind it. Nobody talks about cocoa, soybean, corn, rice, goat or chicken colony. Anyone that wants to go into poultry farming, goat herding, etc. goes to look for land for the business.
We were told that the so-called herdsmen are from Mali, Niger, Chad…
I don’t understand it; if anybody is trespassing another man’s land, he should be dealt with. If you want to move your cattle compulsorily, then move them on the highways/federal roads where you have right of way and not through people’s land without permission. I will not move my tomatoes through your land without your permission. If you want to move your cattle through my land, get my permission. If you are a Malian herding your cattle in Nigeria, you will show me your passport and the permit that allows you to stay longer than ECOWAS permitted. The whole thing is just mysterious to me. I don’t know why government is pushing aggressively in this area in spite of all the other problems facing Nigeria.
Educate the herders
The best way to deal with this is to re-orientate them, educate them on the law of the land and tell them that if they violate the laws of the land, they will face the consequences. If they want to set up colonies anywhere in Nigeria, let them buy land and set up their business, it should not be government legislation. Government may advise and encourage but should not legislate. It’s not done!
More serious issues
We should stop wasting our time on these issues; there are much bigger issues and I think what government should be asking is how do cattle rearers get AK47 rifles? Some people are making money selling these arms, there’s a big cartel out there so even Ruga or ranching will not solve the problem. Money is at the heart of the problem and that is what government should be looking at. I am an accountant and money tells a story; money cannot hide, you can follow the money and you will find out what is going on. So I think government should be doing something a bit more fundamental if they want to solve this problem and not saying that you should give land to the man who has trespassed your property.
In May 2017, Bishop Kukah offered to train the over 10m almajiris in skills acquisitions of their choice but the Muslim Rights Concern, MURIC, kicked against it saying he wants to convert them to Christianity, what do you say to that?
It’s unfortunate that this is one of the problems in Nigeria especially in the north with all due respect. I don’t know why most of the people in the north are not encouraging a lot more of their people to go to school. Knowledge is power, without education, people remain oppressed and suppressed. If they insist that they want the almajiris to go to Islamic school or Muslim school, Bishop Kukah won’t object. I wouldn’t mind sponsoring the children but it should be mixed with western education. I don’t mind as long as people are educated and enlightened. Anybody can pursue any religion they want. It’s unfortunate that MURIC thinks his whole aim is to convert them to Christianity.
They must understand that some of them actually went to Christian schools at one stage or the other and if they don’t want it and want to establish Muslim schools, we are ready to support them so that the children can learn to read, write and be better skilled and employable. There is no child in Nigeria that should not go to school. Government should have a policy of 100 per cent literacy in Nigeria. They must provide education for every child so that the children can come out of darkness. All over the place, children are going on drugs, alcohol and all sorts of things. It’s horrendous and it’s a result of frustration, fear, anxiety and joblessness.
We set up a fellowship in Obalende because I went there one day and saw youths in their thousands doing nothing, just smoking and drinking. I could imagine the level of sexual immorality going on and most of them were high on one thing or the other so I told my church, we needed to establish a fellowship there that would help to empower these people and get them off the streets. That should be done all over Nigeria, especially in the north and until we do that, we will be begging the question.
First need of man is food and this is what I am saying to our government, if I was the President of Nigeria, we will not import any edible thing, whatever we cannot grow here, we will not eat, very simple! Every person manufacturing in Nigeria must source the raw materials/local alternatives here. I may give them 3-5 years to achieve that. If you can’t source your raw materials locally within 3-5 years, then you shut down especially if it is non-essential. I might give a slightly longer time for pharmaceuticals but for alcohol, soft drinks etc, you must source your raw materials here; at least 80-90% of it. For drugs, I’ll give eight years, for automobiles, if you want to sell your cars, you set up a plant here; I’ll give you five years. We give you as much land as you want and also provide basic infrastructure and security. This is the sort of thing I want to hear our government say.