Prince Benjamin Benedict Apugo, is a member of the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). In this interview with select journalists, Apugo who is usually described as the strong man of Abia politics, calls on security operatives to protect lives and property in the country. He enjoins the South-East to embrace APC to attract Federal Government presence in the area. MIKE UBANI, was there for The AUTHORITY.
Before the Federal Government suspended its plan to establish Rural Grazing Areas (RUGA) across the country, some states including states in the South-East, had vowed to resist the project. What is your reaction to this development?
Sometimes we make things that are not supposed to be a problem to look like one. In my home town Umuahia-Ibeku, we have lived with the people you call herdsmen for so many years. Everybody knows that Umuahia where I come from is the centre of cow in the former Eastern Region. So, I don’t think anybody who loves this country will make a case against the Federal Government’s plan to establish cattle ranches RUGA. If the herdsmen as you call them are able to rear their cow at a particular location where one can go and buy from them, I don’t see anything wrong with that.
Are you aware that some people allege that there is a Fulanisation/Islamisation agenda behind the proposed cattle settlements in communities across the country?
Well, I don’t know about that. All I know is that we have lived with the Fulani cattle dealers in my home town for so many years.
It is also said that wherever you find the Fulanis, they dominate that territory, and move on to create Emirates. Do you agree?
Since the Fulani cattle dealers arrived Umuahia several years ago, they have never asked for an Emirate. But if that is what they want today, I cannot say. It is better to have the ranch or settlement than taking their cows to farms to destroy crops.
At the time you were younger, the herdsmen carried sticks, but today, they are carrying arms such as AK-47. Don’t you think that this could threaten the peace of the host communities?
If they are now carrying AK-47, I don’t think it will be correct to call them herdsmen any longer. The herdsmen I knew when I was growing up carried sticks. If today’s herdsmen are truly herdsmen, they have no business carrying AK-47. The Federal Government should make sure that herdsmen do not carry arms. They should carry the normal sticks which they are known for.
Don’t you think former President Olusegun Obasanjo, was right when he alleged that there was a plan by the Federal Government to Fulanise/Islamise the country?
Nobody should take Obasanjo serious because most of his statements are inciting. We are looking for permanent peace in this country, rather than inciting statements.
Are you not worried that the Federal Government described the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) as terrorist group, and proscribed them, even when they are not violent. Also, MASSSOB members are being arrested and detained. But the same FG is negotiating with Fulani herdsmen who carry weapons, rape women, kill people, overrun villages, and destroy farmlands?
It is purely the work of security operatives to deal with this kind of situation you have just raised. The security agencies, especially the police should be able to check these incessant killings. One thing that we should understand is that these killings are taking place mainly in the North. So, there is no way one can say that the killings are limited to a particular area of the country. I believe the solution to these killings is for the security operatives to add more force to their operations so as to stop this menace of terrorism.
What of the question on IPOB and MASSOB?
Quite frankly, we don’t even know the people you call IPOB, not to talk of knowing MASSOB. But the herdsmen we know; we know them because they go to farmlands to destroy crops.
Are you now saying that Ohanaeze Ndigbo, and South-East governors who are opposed to the idea of establishing cattle settlements are ill-conceived in their thoughts?
You see, in the South East nobody knows what is called Ohanaeze. In Oduduwa land, we know the Afenifere. You can see somebody standing for Afenifere. If you come to Arewa, you can see somebody standing by that name. And they do so for the protection of their people. It is only when politics approaches that you see a group of people that will come out to say that they are Ohanaeze. They do that just to take money from politicians, and not to protect the interest of their people. Ohanaeze people speak from both sides of their mouth. And so people should not take them serious when they say they are speaking on behalf of Igbos.
Do you see the possibility of an Igbo man becoming the next President of Nigeria in 2023?
You see, that’s an imagination. But there is nothing wrong with presumptions. However, for me, it is too early to start talking about 2023 when we have not even survived 2019. It is after the government has set up itself – appointed ministers and all that – may be as we move into 2020, 2021, we can start talking about 2023. Nobody knows who will live uptil that time. We are not God.
You defected from PDP to APC; are you comfortable in APC today?
Sincerely speaking, I have a position in APC that should make me comfortable being there. Nevertheless, I am like an orphan in APC. My colleagues, who defected from the PDP to APC alongside with me, have all rejoined the PDP. I am calling on them to come back to APC. I am also calling on the South-East governors to join APC because we cannot be talking of power shift to the South-East without having allies. And the allies we have must trust us.
If you are asking the South-East governors to join APC, one may ask if the APC-led Federal Government has been fair to the South-East.
That‘s exactly why I am calling on them to join APC because if you are not there, you cannot say what you want. You have to be there to say what you want, and for people to listen to you.
What do you mean by being an orphan?
By calling myself an orphan, I mean that the South-East should join the APC so that together, we can make demands from the Federal Government. Abia state where I come from delivered more than 25 per cent votes to President Buhari during the last presidential election. Ebonyi state also did. Enugu, Anambra and Imo states, didn’t achieve that. If we are asking for something from Mr. President, and the granting of our request depends on the state that voted for Mr. President, those three states won’t get anything. And that’s why I am calling on all the South-East states to embrace APC so we’ll have development in our area. Since we are not in the APC-led Federal Government, we are losing. That’s what I mean when I said that I am an orphan.
Who are these colleagues of yours who defected from PDP to APC alongside with you?
I came into APC from PDP with Kwankwaso, Saraki, Dogara. They have all gone back to PDP because of greed. We came over to APC to deliver Buhari and we did that. Buhari had earlier contested three times and lost all. But when we joined APC, we delivered him. I see no reason why these three people should rejoin PDP having achieved our main objective of delivering Buhari.
Now talking about the appointment of ministers, don’ you think it is necessary to give the Igbos good positions including making an Igbo secretary to government of the federation?
Yes, that is why I have asked my people to join the APC. You don’t give an appointment to somebody who is not on your side. If our people are in APC, nobody will negotiate those good positions you talked about. It will be our right to get them. However, as I am talking to you, the Buhari-led Federal Government is arranging to give Igbos responsible positions. In that regard, somebody like Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, who has served this government well, and is committed to the APC, should be considered for a highly responsible position in government.
Can you suggest how the South-East can have a rallying point so that you can collectively project the image of the region?
You see, Ohanaeze should have been a rallying point, but today, I don’t want to talk about Ohanaeze again. I want all of us to join the APC, for the party to be a rallying point for Igbos within the context of one Nigeria.
You played a major role in the creation of Abia state. Is there any document called Charter of Equity which stipulates the rotation of political offices?
There is nothing like Abia Charter of Equity. In fact, I don’t want to go into that because I regard it as a small talk. This is so because since inception, Abia has never gotten a government. We have suffered as a people. Apart from the brief period Dr. Onu was there as governor, we have not seen any development in Abia state. The PDP has been in power for 20 years in Abia, yet there is no single road there. Abia state is filthy. I am saying this because I live at home. I carried the document that was used to create Abia state in my brand new mercedez benz 200 then, and delivered same to the then Supreme Military Council through Aliyu Mohammed, then secretary to the Federal Government. Those who are telling you of the existence of Charter of Equity don’t know how Abia was created.
What do you think should be done to ensure that federal government Social Intervention Programme (SIP) including the N-Power is fully implemented in the states?
I will like President Buhari to appoint Presidential Liaison Officers (PLO’s) especially in states not controlled by the APC. It will be the duty and responsibility of the PLO’s to satisfactorily implement all federal government projects and programmes in the states of the federation.