Hon Samuel Ifeanyi Onuigbo, a ranking member of the House of Representatives, representing Ikwuano/Umuahia North/South Federal Constituency of Abia state has said that reactivating the age long rail lines would end invasion of communities by suspected herders.
In this interview with IGNATIUS OKOROCHA, Hon Onuigbo, who applauded effort by the Federal Government to construct and rehabilitate rail lines across the country, noted that the completion of the project would go along way to end incessant banditry and herders/farmers clashes. He also spoke on other issues of national importance.
Hon, the nation has been faced with rising cases of banditry, kidnapping and other forms of criminality. What do you think is the root cause of this ugly situation and what are the possible solutions to it?
You know in a nation or country, the principal reason why a government exists is to provide security, so that the citizens can go about their businesses and take care of their welfare without hindrance. Where such a thing is absent, then you are moving fast to getting into a situation where it becomes difficult to take control. But for the Nigeria’s situation, there appears to be a number of factors that have combined to make the security situation so troublesome for everyone and some of these factors are very well known and some are remote. But there are so many of them that have combined to bring Nigeria to this point where you are having rising cases of kidnapping, banditry, killings, clashes between herders and famers and even in some cases forced migration. Some of these factors we know, for instance, with the number of small arms circulating in the country, there is no doubt that these arms came into the country illegally. We started having experience of rising cases of high level crimes committed by people with sophisticated arms from the Liberian, and Sierra-lone wars when arms started coming into the country through unofficial or illegal means/routes because if they were to come legally, government will know and apprehend them or control the inflow. And that also was made worse by the current situation where we have had the collapse of Lybia and then the entire Saharan region; Mali, Niger coming down to Nigeria, going down to Chad etc. These areas have also been degraded by climate change and then we have seen the rising cases of insurgency.
So, Nigeria been most sandwiched after the Liberian situation, so many negative things come into the country. The other thing is that people are still talking about the clashes between farmers and herders, those also have contributed to the serious security challenges we are having today.
But there is something that appears to be missing and that is that this government of President Muhammadu Buhari should be acknowledged for making genuine effort to address the issue of rehabilitating our railways. Government is going ahead to establish infrastructural commission because when you put that in place, it makes things ease. If we are able to fix the railways, it will eases off movement and eliminates the chances of people easily laying ambush and causing problem.
But let me talk about the railway and its contribution to solving the insecurity challenges that we are having now between the herders and the farmers. Before now the system or process by which cattles were conveyed from Maiduguri to Port Harcourt was by the rail lines and it was organized and controlled in such way that cattles were only discharged or off loaded at certain major railway stations like Enugu, Umuahia, Aba, Port Harcourt etc. why? Whenever they were off loaded at such points, they were taken by the herders and marched to towns where they were needed apart from their immediate points of discharge. When I was growing up and at school where you have Michael Okpara University Umudike, that was where I lived, these herders were moving these cows between 11:00pm to 12 midnight until 6:00am and you hear their footsteps.
At such points, cows were not going into people’s farms and there has always being movements for cattle from Maiduguri to the South South and South East, from Kano to Lagos through rail lines where they were discharged from one point to the other.
So,today the rail lines are now running, this government is working hard to rejuvenate them and having that in place and encouraging the government is a positive step to end insurgency and herders, farmers clashes. We must also mention in line with my observation, the small arms that litter the whole place that in those days herders were not carrying AK47, they just control these cattle along those routes.That was an organized way of moving cattle from point A to B without unnecessary confrontations or clashes. Not these days when people carry AK 47. We should thank Mr president for issuing a statement that people who are herders have no need of carrying AK 47.
Then the other thing that has contributed to the crisis is the volume of arms that came into the country from the neighboring countries. You will discover that not even some of our neighbours, are not stable. This is perhaps why the rate of banditry has increased. But don’t also forget that there are some mixture of economic activities in places like Zamfara that has gold and other mineral deposits. Those coming to mine the deposits, come with sophisticated weapons and are ready to kill anyone that blocks their way from taking such precious minerals. So, a combination of climate change and other factors that I have already mentioned aid the current insecurity in the country. The European Union recognizes that which is why it established the Great Green Wall initiative which is working to plant millions of trees along the stretch. The programme will create employment and save the environment because they have realized that climate change was causing a very big problem and was going to cause more problems. You know that if you come to Nigeria the major places that are affected are in some of the extreme northern states such as Sokoto Zamfara, Kano Jigawa and others. So, trees are being planted and all these are geared towards checking the devastating effects of climate change. Of course you know that Sahara desert is racing down. You also see that even the Lake Chad where millions of people previously depended on for livelihood through agriculture, animal husbandry and fishing, have more or less dried up from 25,000 to 2000 square kilometers ,making Mr President to start making proposals on how to recharge Lake Chad. So, those who previously lived there have migrated into the city. Of course some of them have just the ordinary skill with which to survive in engaging in animal husbandry,fishing and farming. Once they get into the city, they are prepared to engage in anything they can lay hands on even if it is to be engaged in banditry. These are factors that have combined to fuel the incessant insecurity we are experiencing today in parts of the country.
What is the way out of this problem?
The way out of this problem is that all hands must be on deck. Today, no one is safe and no one can go into his house and sleep with two eyes closed.The way out of this, is that all hands must be on deck. I must emphasis that the current insecurity problem in the country is not to be blamed on party A or B for the happenings. It is not about APC , PDP or APGA. This is a threat to the whole nation and like I said before, it is there in Section 14 of the nation’s constitution. The primary purpose of government is the protection and welfare of the citizens.
This is because if you are criticizing party A or B today and you are not supporting the government for this problem to be stopped, what if party B gets into leadership tomorrow and the situation gets worse?So, all hands must be on deck to fight insurgency to an end. We must encourage and empower community people to bring information and we must also ensure that whatever information they bring is treated with utmost confidentiality. This is the only way you can gain their confidence in being able to disclose information. It is not when they disclose information then either the law enforcement agency will turn round and inform the bandits that it is this person or that person that brought this information and put the person’s life in danger.
Secondly, the security agencies must share information and be very responsive. Not when they finished with destroying and killing people then shortly after that they come and start asking aha! Where them, where them. Such a thing can not restore confidence.
Then finally, talking about the importance of addressing infrastructural deficit, if the rail lines start running again just as this government is trying to get it function and you now start conveying cattle from Maiduguri to Port Harcourt, you will now begins to wonder why somebody should be trekking from Maiduguri to Port Harcourt walking into people’s farms and destroying their crops. So, addressing infrastructural deficit particularly as it affects the rail line and the control of the borders have become necessary because the borders right now appear to be under pressure. We can not say our borders are effectively under control because some of the people who are causing this problem are not the age-long herders that we know are from this country. Some of them that you see today, are strangers. So,controlling the borders and making our railway functional will help us make progress in ensuring security of our people.
The nation has been waiting on the National Assembly to review the present Electoral Act to address certain aspects of it that does not make for credible election. As a member of House of Representatives,what are your expectations on the Electoral Act amendment?
Well, election is a key segment on the legal and legitimate process of selecting and empowering a group of people to preside over the affairs of an organization; local government, state and federal that is the main thing and it is this election that further underscores conduct of a credible election. Therefore, as a nation, we have abiding responsibility to ensure that the process by which leaders are selected or empowered to preside over the affairs of others as far as deciding who gets what and where and when and how is concerned, that that process is transparent and that process also reinforces confidence in the citizens. So,that is why when people listened to the former president of the United States of America, Donald Trump when he said election was won by him, he was undermining the tenets of democratic process. So, Anambra election is upcoming and it is up to everyone to play his part because for us to have practiced democracy for almost 21 or so unbroken years,means that we are supposed to start getting better as far as election is concerned. So,we have a duty to support the government in power to ensure that INEC and other stakeholders in the conduct of election do something that will reinforce the confidence of the people. That is the way to go. It is not a question of how many laws you passed and things like that. There are several laws and even the laws that you passed yet people still try to create avenues to circumvent the laws. Even when somebody has been declared a winner, you go to court and upturn the people’s mandate and secure judgement to emerge the winner of the election. Let’s believe that our elections will be so transparent that when you lose election you will have no option than to accept the result of the electoral umpire.