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Pogu, Middle Belt Leader: FG should create Fulani colony in Sambisa Forest, not Benue

The National President of the Middle Belt Forum (MBF), Dr Bitrus Pogu, has said the Federal Government should establish a Fulani colony in Sambisa Forest instead of creating one in Venue State. He also insisted that the core North has no reason to complain about President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s appointments.

In an interview with VINCENT KALU, the MBF leader called on the president to use the fund meant for palliatives to repair the refineries, saying the money will not make any impact in the lives of the people.

What is your view on the state of the nation?

We have been in a confused state. Many people believe that the judgment of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal was not satisfactory. Its ruling, especially on FCT, has generated a new constitutional debate. Then, of course, there is a lot of hardship because of the fuel price hike, which has led to the prices of everything going up. There is so much hardship in the land, especially for people who have to earn a living each day and then purchase what they will eat for that day.

People feel President Tinubu is doing exactly what his predecessor did, that is, to populate the place with his kith and kin, just as Buhari also did. Things are not easy, but some of his policies are good; like there was a little balancing when he started his appointments and, now, he is trying to resolve the issue of farmers-herders crisis. Though many of us don’t see the crisis as farmers-herders, because we always had clashes between herders and farmers, but farmers don’t kill herders neither do herders without cattle go to organise themselves to attack communities, killing them and sending them to IDP camps, and dispossessing them of their ancestral lands.

The so-called farmers and herders clashes, which he is trying to solve, is a good development. The banditry, insurgency and terrorism is beyond farmers and herders. We always insist that a new ball game has come into Nigeria; it is just bloody terrorism and has political dominance for the dispossession of ancestral lands and for the occupation of such lands by foreigners, because many of the herders brought into the country are not Nigerians. All the same, the policy or the attempt at addressing the issue by acquiring lands for herders is something in the right direction. There are so many people who would say, why should the government use government resources to buy lands for people who are doing their business?

What then is your position on President Tinubu’s promise to buy lands to establish ranches for the herders?

We support the establishment of ranches, but it should be community-based. It should not be just from the blues, because many of the herders in this country are not Nigerians, and we cannot accommodate them on Nigeria land just because they are Fulani. In the Middle Belt, we are not opposed to ranching; that is what we stand for. There are vast lands in the far North; the government can acquire those lands for them, but not for foreign Fulani, but Nigerian Fulani. That is why we say it should be community-based, because every community in this country knows their local Fulani.            Fulani from Mali should go back to Mali. Fulani from Burkina Faso should go back to their country. Fulani from Niger should go back to their country and the ones from Cameroun should go back to their country. We should accommodate only Nigerian Fulani, who we know and who have lived with us.

Much as the policy is a good one, communities have to be involved so that we don’t allow this criminality, which they brought into this country by importing foreigners and using non-herding Fulani as terrorists to intimidate, kill, maim and dispossess our people from their ancestral lands. They need to involve the communities, because foreign Fulani cannot be accommodated in Nigeria to ranch in Nigeria; they should go and ranch in their countries.

The federal government is proposing to establish a Fulani colony in Benue State, which the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is opposing, and has called on the governor and the citizens to reject it. What is your take on this?

Land belongs to the state and not to the Federal Government. If the Benue people said they would not sell their land for ranching cattle, let him go to the place where they would sell their lands to him. Our constitution vests the power over land in the hand of the governor, who is keeping it in trust for the people. The federal government cannot impose on Benue what the people don’t want. Let them go and buy the lands in Katsina or Sokoto, Zamfara, Kebbi or in Borno or use part of Sambisa Forest. If Benue people say no, it doesn’t happen there because land is in the hand of the governor holding it in trust for the people, and the federal government cannot impose things on them.

What is always the fear in the Middle Belt and probably in the South when Ruga, cattle colony, grazing reserve or ranching for the Fulani herders are mentioned?

We have had insurgency as a precursor to all these things, and we have heard a Fulanisation agenda as a precursor to all these things. The Buhari regime was so bad in this regard. We know that there are some other nomadic groups in this country, but they never pose any problem to anybody. In Borno, we have the Shua Arab; they have cattle; they have never left Borno to disturb or kill people in another state. So you can clearly see that this agenda or the Fulani agenda is something else. The Shua Arab didn’t go and import their brothers who have no cattle to come and kill others. It is the Fulani that have done that.

Of course, the apprehension will be there and you don’t blame Nigerians, if something is bad, you call it bad. I will not accept somebody from Burkina Faso, who is not a Nigerian just because he is a Fulani to take over my land, and that will not resolve the problem; you are just compounding the problem. That is why we insisted that everything that the government does should be community-based, where every locality knows their local Fulani. If somebody came in within the past 10 years and claimed to be from that community, they would tell him to go back, it is not where you came from. We are ready to live peaceably with our local Fulani, but not foreign Fulani.

In order to cushion the effect of the fuel subsidy removal, the federal government has shared rice to states, and the states in turn have distributed it to communities, and you see a village given one bag of rice to share. What impact will this make in the lives of the citizens? We have seen that palliative thing, and it doesn’t work. They have done so many things in the name of palliative during Buhari’s regime. It became more like a means of siphoning government funds into private pockets. This one isn’t going to be different.

Secondly, how do you resolve my fuel problem by giving me one cup of rice? It is more like a political gimmick than a solution to a problem. So, rather than palliative, we state clearly that you spend that money on fixing our refineries so that they start producing our local fuel from our crude. Then, we can argue as to whether we can subject our local production to international pricing because we own the crude; we refine the crude and then rather subjecting it to international pricing, we can say what was the cost of getting the crude from the ground, what was the cost of moving the crude to the refinery and what was the cost of refining it?  Thereafter, will the prices be fixed, which will have a human face? But to send our crude outside for others to refine and then buy it at international price is unacceptable. The governments have refused to fix the refineries or build new ones just because some people want to enjoy some benefits by extorting and tormenting Nigerians.

Palliative is a political gimmick rather than a solution. The solution is to fix the refineries and get more refineries. Let’s be exporters of refined products rather than importers of refined products when we have the crude in our backyard.

Some people argue that Tinubu didn’t calculate the cost and the effects the subsidy removal would have on the people before announcing it?

I wouldn’t know, but I know that the policy has backfired. People are crying; people are in pain and he is lucky that the tribunal judgment didn’t say go back to the drawing board; otherwise, he would have failed woefully, even those who voted for him before won’t vote for him again. It is a bad policy and very painful. If he had done his homework well, he might have come out acceptable, but as it is, it is a terrible thing. He could have rolled out transformation of vehicles using LPG instead of coming out with this kind of draconian policy, which is affecting every facet of Nigeria’s economic life. That is up to him, I’m not his adviser. But, certainly, he just jumped into it whether it was well thought of or not, it is up to him and his advisers. They have seen their mistake, let’s wait and see what happens.

But, we are told that the country is saving money from the subsidy, but some say the government is still borrowing?

If they are borrowing and say they are saving money, then the government is being deceitful. Let’s hope we have a people -friendly government in place, which will change their attitude and do the right thing. You can’t say you are assisting the people on one side by saving money and then you are punishing them on the other side by pummeling them without food, with difficulty to move around, with difficulties in meeting basic requirements of life. It is an unfortunate situation, but we are still praying that if it is not this one, maybe one day, we will have a government that will be people oriented.

Some sections of the North are accusing Tinubu of nepotism. They said he has cornered all key positions in the MDAs to his Yoruba people. What is your position on this?

That is very good; it serves them right. When we were talking about Buhari, nobody cared, and they said it was their turn. We are not saying that two wrongs make a right; Tinubu is doing the same thing they did. They are being served in their own coin. It is unfortunate that it is happening this way, but, remember, Tinubu didn’t mince words when he said that ‘it is my turn’, which can be expanded to say that it is our turn. Up till now, we don’t have a nation; we just have a nation state, and anybody who comes in belonging to one nationality tries to play his nationality card. Yesterday, it was a Fulani-Kanuri card; today, it is a Yoruba card. Tomorrow, maybe another nationality’s card.  Unfortunately, nations are not built that way; they are supposed to look for competent hands and do some balancing that Nigerians would feel they have a sense of belonging. Northerners of Fulani extraction have no reason whatsoever to complain, because they did what Tinubu is doing with impunity. Tinubu is doing his own thing; let’s hope that there is a difference. That is to say that the people he is bringing from his own nationality are competent hands to move Nigeria forward. Our problem is not the president, but our constitution. Our constitution vests so much power in the president that he can do what feels like. Apart from the issue of ministers where each state should have one, every other thing is at the discretion of the president. These constitutional issues have to be addressed so that the plurality of the country would be carried on board whichever president comes on board. That is the only solution, otherwise, anybody who comes in will just do the same thing Tinubu is doing, which Buhari has done with impunity.

You are mentioning constitutional issues, but we have gone through many conferences and no result. You always harped on restructuring as the way to go, but the APC never mentioned restructuring in the electioneering. Where do we go from here?

It is an unfortunate thing, but we will continue to cry out and just pray that Tinubu will have a rethink, because the Yoruba nation has been affected by the flawed structure of the country and we pray that he will imbibe restructuring.  Let’s devolve powers to the federating units and have a structure that everybody will have a sense of belonging to. I’m so convinced and I have not given up on Tinubu with regards to that and I believe he will rethink and restructure this country.

The British used their Indirect Rule in the North and those of us within the Middle Belt Region have paid dearly, and are still paying dearly for it. My local nationality has nothing to do with Kanuri, but the British took us and left us under the Shehu of Bornu after the British dismantled our local structure in early 1907. We are lucky that even the southern part was brought back to Borno and we are together in Borno. Otherwise, the British would have taken them to Adamawa. All these anomalies where we don’t even have our traditional institution, but  are answerable to the Shehu and there are so many areas in the Middle Belt where our traditional institutions, because of Indirect Rule, the traditional institutions are answerable to Emirs. So we are still under colonial rule by the virtue of us being controlled traditionally by alien tradition, and not by our own tradition.

Restructuring is necessary. Let this government rethink and restructure this country so that everybody will have a sense of belonging and can proudly say, ‘I am a Nigerian’, wherever he finds himself.

When restructuring is mentioned, some people are uncomfortable. Why?

Some people think that restructuring is all about resource control. Today, we know that there are some resources that are even more valuable than oil. For example, the fuel of the future is lithium, because we are all going for cleaner energy, and a lot of money is generated through such minerals.  People who are afraid before, if they have a rethink, they will find out that they have resources in their area, which, if harnessed , will give more money than the oil, which everybody depends on. Oil is a depleting resource.  Such people should have a rethink. Even in the desert, there are resources that may be more valuable than oil. It is up to us to tap into them, but let the federating units own their resources. We can use the oil to develop these resources for now so that every portion of the nation can survive on its own. Restructuring is not the devil many people fear; it is a good thing for everybody. The only thing is that those who say they don’t want restructuring are just lazy minds who don’t want to develop the resources God has given them.