Former Governor of Akwa Ibom State and one of the leaders of the Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, Obong Victor Attah, in a recent interview speaks on the state of the nation and urged the Federal Government not to sit on the 16-point demand of the Niger Delta. He also chided ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo for calling for Igbo presidency in 2019. Excerpts:
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE STATE OF THE NATION?
Let me start with the economy because that is the one that is bothering everybody. People are shouting we are hungry, inflation is high and all of that and nobody can say no. But sometimes, I quote Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi, he made a very significant point that most people tend to either forget or ignore. Basically, he made it clear that we were all living falsely, above our means.
The other day, I was talking to a caterer who complained that business had fallen and people are not holding parties as they used to do.
STEALING AND BUILDING
If that person had read Prof. Akinyemi’s submissions, he would know that those elaborate parties were being thrown by people who were stealing money and just spending it as if money did not mean anything.
I even talked about the builder, who is complaining that there are no projects to handle; the tiler and architects who are also complaining and it is because many of those building such big houses were the ones stealing and building at the time.
Today, nobody is allowed to steal money again and so it drops off. We are now living within our means. So, this economic pain is a necessary pain that we are bearing and suffering. It is just like childbirth. After the pains and pangs of delivery, you have the joy of a newborn. So, I comfort myself that I have to bear it because it is for the better future of Nigeria.
On the issue of insecurity, we are thanking President Muhammadu Buhari and the military for what they have done to decimate Boko Haram to the point that they no longer have a meeting point. There must be total mop up now so that even these sporadic incidents that we have can stop.
What is causing me immediate concern now is kidnapping. I remember when the world used to have plane hijacks and people were afraid to travel. I believe that something very drastic has to be done to stop kidnapping because people are now taking it as a profession to earn money and they make the kind of money that people do not earn in years, just by one kidnap.
So, government must put in some determined effort. It is good that we now have technology that can retrieve text messages or conversations that people may have wiped off their phones. Whatever the government needs to do or deploy, they just have to do it to stop kidnapping.
Another issue of concern is herdsmen killings.
Herdsmen, some say they come in from Mali, wherever they come from, they must be stopped from coming and killing people. Whoever they are, they must be stopped and that is why I am happy about the meeting the northern governors had with some traditional rulers. I want to pray and hope that they will bring a solution to this, but there was an angle that must not be ignored.
Somebody who is very conversant with the Nigerian situation said what he sees happening in Nigeria is not a religious war and we cannot ignore that statement. He went on to say that the fight in Ireland, Catholics versus Protestants was a religious war and that is clear. He tells us also that the war between the Shiites and the Sunnis in Iraq/Iran was a religious war. Nobody can deny that. The ISIS thing also tend to be more religious than territorial but what is happening in Nigeria, clearly, is pogrom.
Some people want to kill others in order to take their land. If we do not begin to look at it honestly from that point of view, we may not solve this problem. So, we have to be honest with ourselves and check whether it is truly religious or a territorial issue. But whatever it is, we must find a solution because it is giving everyone a lot of concern.
HOW ABOUT THE DEBATE ABOUT THE PRESIDENT’S HEALTH, DESPITE THE FACT THAT HE MADE IT VERY CLEAR HE WAS PROCEEDING ON A MEDICAL VACATION?
Why should anybody debate the president’s health? The president said he was going for vacation and medical check up and people are talking. What should anyone be debating about that? Are they his doctors? Until it is established otherwise, I do not see why anybody should involve himself in such debates.
FOERMER PRESIDENT OLUSEGUN OBASANJO RECENC CANVASSED FOR ANNIGBO PRESIDENCY IN 2019 EVEN WHEN THE NORTH STILL FEELS THEIR HAS NOT LAPSED…..
I have had occasions to really disagree with former President Obasanjo and I made strenuous effort to make sure that I did not insult him but there are times you really have to wonder what his intentions are when he does certain things.
I am going to take you back to 2002 when we were talking about whether or not Obasanjo should have second term. People who wanted to play to the gallery said, yes that he must have a second term. Let me even digress at this point and tell you something that has been my recent view on this second term. I was in Washington in January 2008 when Obama was being sworn in for the first time as the President of the United States of America. We all listened to the commentary. He was being sworn in as the 44th President and the 56th oath-taking ceremony.
We all heard it but some people just heard it and walked away and I sat and thought about it. If you administer an oath 56 times and nobody can take that oath more than twice, and this is the 44th person to take that oath, it means of the previous 43, only 12 took that oath two times. Can you imagine a situation where only 12 out of 43 previous presidents had second term? But we come to Nigeria and make it seem like second term must be. For goodness sake, second term does not have to be.
Now let me go back to the story of 2002. It was an expanded caucus meeting of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. I asked the question and they said the decision for a second term for Obasanjo was not going to be taken through voice vote that we were going to speak one by one and I am going to name names because one person stood up and said yes, he should have a second term and many others followed suit.
I stood up and I asked, what was the hurry all about? We are a family, we are a party, why don’t we wait till then and when we get there (primaries) we would decide who was best to pick our ticket and I said that was what we should do. Why the rush to now predetermine who would be our flag-bearer? Why must we agree on this second term now?
Then, former Governor of Kaduna State, Alhaji Lawal Kaita, stood up and said, ‘if we agree that Obasanjo should have second term, when it is the time of the North, would you allow the North to have two terms?’ The whole house echoed, yes! Did it happen? No.
That was where the division in Nigerian politics came in. Why was it that when Yar’Adua died, since he was Obasanjo’s choice for the North and the North accepted him, sick as he was, why was it that when he could not even complete one term, the North was not allowed to complete that term or even go ahead to have a second term? We took it from the North. Would you be happy if it was you?
Today, the North has got the presidency since we have now decided, yes to second term before the north can even have a second term, you are suggesting Igbo. Is that not divisive? So, I do not see that thing (Obasanjo’s advocacy) as being sincere. I think it is a means of just creating further confusion in this country.
People should ask him why he wants to be divisive, but if he says he is not divisive, let him bring out the logic.
YOU TALKED ABOUT THE HERDSMEN EARLIER ON. HOW ABOUT CONTEMPLATION ABOUT BUILDING GRAZING RESERVES FOR THEM?
I do not want to get into controversies here but there is a place in Cross River called Obudu Cattle Ranch. What is that? And it is in the South-South and one of the biggest and best known cattle ranches. So, what has changed? There is a street in Lagos called Malu road, obviously meaning cattle. Cows used to be transported by trains. Why can’t we sit down and think. Cows don’t do well in the South because of Tse-Tse fly. We have to sit down and think of a way to make sure they feed well and that they are transported properly without interfering with people’s farms.
Rearing and distribution are the things we have to look at.
What I know is that it is wrong for herdsmen to trample through people’s farms and in the process raping and killing people. That cannot continue.
WHAT ABOUT CONCERNS THAT THE BUHARI ADMINISTRATION WANTS TO ISLAMISE THE COUNTRY?
I’ll like to see someone who can take away my faith. I think the people who don’t have strong faith are the people that can have that kind of fear. That is all I can tell you.