Kebbi State governor, Atiku Bagudu, in this interview with State House correspondents laments the unfortunate controversies the RUGA policy has generated. He also speaks on the botched Revolution march, among other national issues.
As chairman of APC Governors’ Forum, what is your reaction on the call by some groups for a revolution in the country?
Any call for disorder in a democratic setting is condemnable because, democracy as the saying goes, is not the best form of government but it is the best that we have, because it gives opportunity periodically for the electorate to exercise their franchise in affirming or rejecting leaders.
We have just come through a general elections in this year where Nigerians embraced the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari and he has been elected for a second term with a little more votes than they did in 2015. Also, state governors were elected in different states, a lot of them for the second time and a number of them for the first time and interestingly enough, we have seen all kinds of democratic outcomes which hitherto what we had thought differently, particularly in a democratic setting.
We have first-termer governors defeating second-termers and in the case of one state, the Supreme Court exercising its rights as the highest court in the land determined what should be and it is respected by the government.
So, to celebrate the evolution of our democracy, we are progressing from one mandate to the other. In the last few years, Nigeria had faced economic downturn which has been occasioned by changes in global economy. In 2008 the world began to witness recession which affected many countries and in 2011 Nigeria had a wage increase, so you have economic downturn in the world and you have a wage increase which is commendable but the effects of the two continued to hit hard and then in 2014, we also had another economic crisis.
So, the money available to government fell dramatically. The money available for us to police our country, to provide for the welfare of our citizens reduced significantly.
The oil prices plunged from about $140 per barrel to as little as $27 per barrel. Let us all be cognizant of the fact that democracy fares in a demanding society, every elected representative whether a councilor, chairman of a local government, House of Assembly member, Federal House of Reps and Senate, Deputy Governor or Governor and Vice President or President, whenever you go round your constituency, you are going to face more demands for governmental services which in other forms of government would not be so, this also adds to the pressure to do more.
Therefore, we are doing more with little, but in spite of lower governmental revenues, Nigeria has a huge progressive policies by the government of President Muhammadu Buhari. We have recovered from recession in the shortest possible time, in spite of the lower revenue, infrastructural works are taking place in various parts of the country, even those that have been inherited by the administration are taking place.
Rail lines are being constructed, second Niger Bridge is being constructed, infrastructural works across the entire six geopolitical zones are taking place, power is improving steadily. It is very frustrating because we have a challenge in the privatization, but in terms of provision for more output or programmes that are being undertaken to ensure power availability, alot is happening. We have done very well in agriculture. Interestingly, I saw Mr President today and I was telling him happily how I witnessed the first millet crop of the season and he was very excited. Food prices have been coming down steadily over the last 18 months even though the farmers will like to see interventions that will protect their investments. So, these are all positive outcomes, social intervention programmes are expanding but part of the frustration by some people relates to the size of our economy and to illustrate that size, most economies use the example of Brazil, a country with a population of about 210 million and Nigeria with a population of about 200 million.
But the Brazilian budget of 2019 is $657 billion compared to Nigeria’s budget of under $30 billion. This is not a fault of one particular administration, this is the size of our economy. Should we be taking risks, maybe we should take the risks countries like Brazil took to get to that kind of level. Even in the West African countries, the size of our budget is small. South Africa with much less population has a budget close to $100 billion. We can see that the size of our economy matters. Secondly, our ability to get support from the rest of the world, particularly during economic downturns is limited by the fact that we are a sub-Saharan nation. A good example is Greece received support from the European Union in excess of €300 billion, that is not a sum of money any African country can get. We are a bigger population, bigger economy but we don’t receive such money. Ireland, another European nation got support from the European Union to get them out of economic crisis in excess of €200 billion. Nigeria is not so lucky, we have not received support of €10 billion but of course we have borrowed more, we have issued Eurobond. So, it’s important we contextualise our frustrations and our economic population is growing in spite of all the achievements. We remain a smaller economy than we wish to be. Rather than getting angry, it’s to embrace the measures that are being put in place to reposition the economy so that we will take our place of pride among the comity of nations.
It is very impressive that we have recovered from recession that companies are coming into Nigeria and are investing, new factories are coming up, maybe not quick enough for those who are feeling angry but in a global world we are competing with other countries. If we give the impression that we are angry with each other, that will even scare investors away. It’s for people to appreciate that, yes there have been challenges but for the credibility of Mr President, the track records of the last four years is giving confidence.
One of the biggest challenges faced by our country is security, even though pocket of it remains, but in the main, Boko Haram has been contained in terms of their ability to hold a territory. Yes, other forms of crimes have grown, these are a function of our limitation in economic size which I believe if we embrace the policies, which some states and communities have done, we will continue to record more growth and we will wait for the next circle of elections.
Is it right that protesters were scared away from doing what they believe in?
It’s wrong for people to protest in a democratic setting. Moreso, we have institutions that have been created to take care of discontent and once people take up the law into their hands rather than expressing it through the right channel, anarchy will take place. We all have elected representatives, why didn’t they go in front of the House or office of their representatives so that they can raise the point and demands, so that their representatives whether councilors, House of Assembly or National Assembly members will take it up but where people decided to take the law into their hands, other people whose peaceful conduct is affected are entitled to be protected and to the extent that it involves authority showing restraint and that did not go out of hand, it is the proper thing to do.
Do you suspect a foreign conspiracy in this call for revolution given the fact that some of the proponents were involved in the recent general elections?
Well developing countries have generally been worried about conspiracy from the western world. Historically, Walter Rodney and Mica Cabra and others have always been worried about effects of foreign actors and moreso we are not alone. There is still a raging debate in the United States which is more advanced than us as to whether the Russians have influenced their elections. We have seen the intrusion of the social media which we don’t control. So, there is a suspicion because of the way the world is evolving, one cannot dismiss such suspicion.
What approach are you applying to Kebbi which is making it devoid of security challenges?
I’m not boasting because there is a popular Hausa saying that ‘if you see the beard of your neigbour on fire, get water and keep close to you’. That we are better than other states is not even a happy thing because the security of Kebbi is linked to the security of every part of Nigeria, so what we want to see is for every part of the country to be peaceful. But the issue is how is it that some states are better than others, maybe that is the lesson. Maybe some state economic opportunities are more, some have more investment opportunities but the general message as President Muhammadu Buhari has always say is, for you to have a peaceful society, we have to focus on the need of every member of the society and that is what is being done in social investment programmes, that is what is being done to farmers, fishermen, pastoralists in Kebbi state. We have focused on security issues on a non-divisive way. For us, crime is crime. Whoever commits crime it doesn’t matter his ethnicity, he or she will be condemned as such and will be dealt with as a criminal. The media its reportage should also focus on this approach as well.
Some state governments have accepted to make lands available for RUGA policy. What is your position on this?
It is unfortunate that Ruga has generated the controversy that it did because to begin with, RUGA is not a Fulani word or Hausa word, it’s an acronym which means Rural Grazing Area. It is an acronym given to Nigeria by colonialists. We have since that time appreciated that there are users of land for economic activities that involve movement, it is better to help them. Since then, stay in one place, provide water for them, veterinary services, schools and hospitals to better their lot. Their children can attend school and benefit from government like other communities.
If you go to any state with significant Fulani population, the places where Fulani live are largely called Ruga. Like in Kebbi we have over 3,000 Rugas, they are very small settlements. I as the state governor, I am doing the bit that I can to provide water, schools, veterinary services, primary healthcare in those settlements and the more you do that, the yield per animal increases, they live better lives and you have less conflict within the state. The Federal Government did not request any state to provide land for RUGA, I am not aware of it. The Federal Government requested states that have Fulani settlements like Kebbi to indicate how much support they want so that we can have more hospitals, water, veterinary services, schools in those places.
Like I have said, I have over 3,000 Ruga settlements in Kebbi state, so the whole N12 billion that has been thought of if you give it to Kebbi state, we will use it for less than 1,000 Rugas. So, I think it is a very commendable initiative and as part of our national food security initiative and national prosperity, we should support all economic initiatives. Once we achieve less movement, some of the conflict-causing behaviours will be less and I think that is the big lesson.