Sen. Ibrahim Abu, who is the Senate Deputy Minority Whip representing Katsina South in the Senate, says that the best way to tackle the Boko Haram sect is for the states in the north to be saddled with the task of checking the menace posed by the group in the respective domains. In this interview with Soni Daniel and Ruth Choji, the CPC lawmaker, who is also a member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Solid Minerals, Communications and the Police, makes a strong case for the institution of fiscal federalism in Nigeria and an increased funding for agriculture in the country.
Many Nigerians and foreigners are saying that Nigeria is going to break up because of the security challenge being posed to the nation by Boko Haram and the Niger Delta militants. Are you worried about this?
Well, I think any reasonable person who faces insecurity in this country should be worried. It is even more worrisome for us as members of the National Assembly, who are saddled with the responsibility of making laws for the peace, prosperity and good governance of this country.
The Federal Government started negotiating with the Boko Haram sect but the talks did not yield any fruit. What do you think should be done to check this problem?
Personally I believe the different states where Boko Haram is operating have failed in checking the sect. Each state governor is the chief security officer of the respective states. If I were a governor of say Borno or anywhere there is a crisis, I would convene a stakeholders’ meeting, would also include Boko Haram members, religious and political organizations with a view to finding a lasting solution to the problem.
The solution to the problems should be sought locally as was done during the Niger Delta crisis. I think that people are unnecessarily piling pressure on the federal government on the issue of Boko Haram instead of looking at the respective state governors to find ways of ending the problem. Such pressure should be directed at the states where the sect is operating from.
The Boko Haram problem cannot be easily solved via federal committee or whatever. My thinking is that the states concerned should be the main initiators and negotiators on how to deal with the problem. They should thereafter report their progress of work to the federal government for necessary assistance, if it appears that they cannot tackle the problem at the state level.
Obviously it is a wrong thing to nationalise a trivial issue like that. I suspect that having made the issue a national one the sect may be afraid of opening up on their operations but they may be willing to speak if it is left at the local level since it involves the economic, social and well being of the state. This problem is disturbing our economy and an urgent solution is needed. Kano State for instance, which used to be a commercial city is becoming comatose.
Many have blamed the rising insecurity problem on the biting poverty in the north. Do you agree with such claim?
This problem started long ago. But what is happening is that poverty merely gives room to target group to recruit. It is easier to recruit a young man who has no food and accommodation and give him these things. You will definitely capture him and he will do anything for you. Poverty gives motivation to target groups to recruit.
Everybody knows how it started; they are just changing the history. Boko Haram is just taking a different dimension in the country now. It has been around for some time because nobody took it serious when it started. They have been having their religious activates for long, suddenly they were stopped and some of them were killed. Everybody knows how it happened.
So they think they have become endangered species in Nigeria who are jailed and killed without respect to the rule of law. Those who are claiming that it is because the north does like Jonathan, which is why they are committing these acts, are unfortunately blinding those who are supposed to find solutions to the problems.
But this insinuation was borne out of the fact that, some people in the north had threatened to make the country ungovernable should Jonathan emerge as the president of Nigeria at the time he did. So, are you saying that the north is solidly Jonathan?
Look, there is nothing like the north being against Jonathan. It is PDP running Nigeria. Jonathan and PDP have northern ministers; they have northern governors, who are working hard to protect and defend the president like any other Nigerian. The north is fully in government.
The problem is that there is poor governance by the PDP itself. We read the report by the National Bureau of Statistics that over a 100 million Nigerians are poor. I though the government would do something about this and make it a national issue to provide certain facilities that will fight poverty. It should immediately set aside a certain percentage to fight poverty in the country and another percentage given to the poorest of the poor.
What are we expecting from your committee on agriculture, would you say that government has provided enough in the budget for the production of food for the country?
Well, most of us in the committee on agriculture are not satisfied with the provision made for agriculture this year. The ministry has drawn up a wonderful blueprint, would boost agriculture, if well implemented: it intends to give food security, create employment and to fight poverty. Agriculture is the key to these elements of our economic growth.
The ministry has indicated that in the next four years, it can revive the production of rice, cocoa and cassava with every state indicating what they can produce maximally within the period. With this, I thought that agriculture would get at least 30 percent of our national budget because it can bring a number of solutions to our problems. If it is followed duly in the next four years, over three million jobs can be created.
The issue of food is very germane to the development of any nation and if we are not careful, the prices of food will escalate and the nation will not be able to feed itself. So we must make ourselves self-sufficient in terms of food production. It is a matter of investing in that area.
The United Nations has said that ten percent of developing nations’ Gross Domestic Product, GDP, should be ploughed to agriculture but Nigeria does not spend even one percent when countries like Chad, Niger are trying to beat that benchmark. If we can set aside ten percent of our GDP, we can revamp the agricultural sector.
The Federal Government is soon to pay 13% Derivation to solid mineral producing states in Nigeria. Are you happy with this, since it is going to benefit many states in the north?
Not at all. I am now a member of the school of thought that we need federalism in this country. One is that, states have become lukewarm in revenue drive and depend solely on federal allocations. The proper thing should be that every state should take whatever is generated in those states while they pay appropriate taxes to the federal government.
I don’t see the reason why my state governor cannot invite investors to come exploit the minerals in the state. If that kind of provision is made, every state would be working hard to harness the resources in their respective areas so as to survive and the level of development would change in this country.
But I think that the Nigerian system is not helping matters. By merely collecting allocations form the federal government on a monthly basis, the states and local government lose the capacity to think and take initiative for development. But Lagos appears to have seized the momentum and it's making progress. Its internally generated revenue is soaring from N600 million to N15 billion. Some other states are also trying to learn from Lagos and they are making progress as well.
Such states can survive on their own financially. That is why fiscal federalism is very important to national development. Many of the states have abandoned tax collection because they want to continue collecting money from the federal allocation. If they collect taxes, they will be accountable to the people.