Dr Adamu Bello served as minister of Agriculture during the tenure of former President Olusegun Obasanjo. In this interview with RUTH CHOJI, he spoke on the difference between the President Muhammadu Buhari administration and that of Obasanjo. He also examines herdsmen and farmers clashes and other national issues.
Are you worried about the state of the Nigerian Economy?
I am not worried because every economy has its challenges…
But the Buhari administration has consistently blamed the PDP for the state of the economy?
When I was the minister of Agriculture, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Nigeria was gotten from Agriculture. I was in charge so I know what I am saying. We were controlling 40 percent of the GDP when we were in office, and crude was sold for less than $10pb then. The economy was not that bad. Oil was producing just 25 percent of our GDP then. Yet, the economy was strong and buoyant. Now people have lost sight of this and keep emphasizing on oil but we were not living on oil then. Even though the oil sector now contributes about 80 percent of our foreign exchange, it still does not control the economy…
But we are running a system where everything is hinged on oil?
During our time, people used to say that when you give a contract to build a road, you have to import half of the things you will use and it was paid in dollars. But now most of the raw materials are gotten in Nigeria, locally. So importation has reduced to an extent. Things started changing from successive administration and although certain things started to do well too, the emphasis on oil came up later after we had left the stage. Other fundamental areas started to soar. For instance, the entertainment industry picked up, sectors like Nollywood, Kannywood and the music industry took off but it was not impacting on the real economy. Agriculture started to decline from there.
The Buhari administration has been hammering on agriculture and the need for Nigerians to go back to farming, how will you assess its performance in this sector so far?
I was in government for over six years. Before I joined then, the Agricultural sector was running at the rate of 2.9 percent. I was lucky because there was no draught or any natural disaster that used to wipe out Agricultural produce. We worked round the clock and mobilized the state governors and commissioned various committees that bother on Agriculture; because we know that it is a sector that affects all the sectors in the country. Agricultural was never funded properly. We never had up to 5 percent budget funding from government. It is always 2 percent or less. The only time they increased funding was when they merged ministries of Agriculture and water resources. Water and Agriculture are two different things, but we carried people along including local government chairmen. There was a committee made up of deputy governors which worked tirelessly to bring out good result. Then Deputy Governor Goodluck Jonathan was a chairman of one of our sub-committees and when he became president, we met and he said I was the one that made him to know every nook and cranny of Nigeria because of the work of that committee.
As one who spent over six years as a minister, what would you say are the major differences between this administration and Obasanjo’s government?
The main difference between Obasanjo and others that came behind him was that he was always available for his ministers. It was an open government. He relates with us directly and got involved in whatever we were working on. The involvement of people, inside and outside government helped us to succeed. We can see him four or five times a day. There was a time we quarrelled because he called me and asked me when the last time I spoke with him that day was? Meanwhile, I had informed him that he gave me permission to go to Columbia. He then shouted and asked me if they don’t have phone in Colombia. So that was how he used to always keep in contact with us. There was another time we were pursing something with the World Bank. President Obasanjo will call me every day, just to ask me if it was out. That was supposed take three weeks to come out but he called me for about seven times until I assured him that I was on top of it. But he said he will continue calling me until it’s done. So that was the type of leader Obasanjo was. He put you under so much pressure until you do what he has assigned you to do. But this government is different.
I was surprise to hear that, an Inspector General of Police, refused to obey the president’s directive to move to Benue State and the president said he didn’t even know his order was not obeyed. That couldn’t happen under Obasanjo. There was a time Obasanjo travelled to Japan and I thought it was time for me to relax because he was out of the country but I got a call from him in the middle of the night asking me for an update and for somebody’s name. One time a committee that was set up brought over a 500 page bulky report with their summary. So I thought as a minister, I could just read the summary and skip the bulky part and gave the president the material. But to my surprise the president returned it to me a week later with notes in different pages. Which means he read the bulky material that was over 500 pages. That is to tell you that he knows everything happening and goes through any material that comes to him. Since that day, I started reading every material that came to my table. By the time I left, Agriculture had grown to 7.5 percent per annum while the other sectors were growing at 6.5 percent or thereabout. But agriculture surpassed them. It declined after we left. The growth declined but I think it is picking up now because this government seems to be focusing on it. But to achieve the kind of growth we had, they need to work with the state governors and local government chairmen.
Anti-graft agencies like EFCC and ICPC were created during the Obasanjo era, how will you compare the fight against corruption then and what this government is doing now?
By establishing the ICPC and the EFCC, it was a sign that Obasanjo was committed. Even then people were still saying that the agencies were used to victimize opponents like it is being said now. But I can say that Buhari is trying in that regard. For the fact that they are putting fear into the lives of people shows it is working. They can only indict people, it is the judiciary that can convict. And we know how that works here. So both of them have tried…
But the PDP, which you belong to, has repeatedly said the fight against corruption is targeted at its members only?
My point is that even if it is targeted at one side, next time it could be APC on the other side. The most important thing is that we are scaring people from participating in corruption. We need to know that our votes count and we chose the right people to lead us. Now there is no hiding place for corruption. It is not about party because it could be another person’s turn tomorrow.
Some states in Nigeria have been under herdsmen attack for a while, what is your perception of this situation?
It is most unfortunate that this is taking place at this time in Nigeria. I remember when this government came to power, I was made to write a paper as a contribution on the way forward. In 2015, I wrote and emphasised the urgent need for them to do something about herdsmen and farmers clashes before it will gets worse. I warned that if nothing was done urgently, it was going to be worse than boko haram. This was before APC took over power. They had just won elections at the time. I specifically told them to establish a commission that will be solely for farmers and herdsmen and that the vice president should head that committee while leaders of farmers association, herdsmen and all paramount chiefs and governor be part of it. The commission would have been in charge of the herdsmen complains and issues. I also said the states should replicate the same with all their local chiefs as part of the commission. Look at what is happening in Benue State now, the government cannot arrest anybody because nobody knows their leaders. If this commission was operational, then all the leaders of farmers and Miyatti Allah would have been part of the commission and if anything happens in any state, their leaders will be arrested. But we also need to look at the cattle routes that were gazette in the past. When I was growing up, there were cattle routes marked with beacons for cattle’s. I was surprised when Governor Samuel Ortom said cattle cannot graze openly when there was a law that allowed them to pass freely through every community but development and population has already overtaken these routes.
The federal government suggested the creation of ranches or colonies but most states rejected the idea, what is the way out?
As a Fulani man, I don’t like the idea of Fulani running their cows north and south, year in, year out. The Fulani man who roams around with cattle doesnt get the best out of the cattle. President Obasanjo created a livestock committee where we established forest reserve all over the country. He said any state that was interested in creating the forest reserve will be given 50 percent government support. The first state that indicated interest was Ebonyi State. But now I am sure Ebonyi State will never agree to that idea again because the whole issue has been polarised.
But some Nigerians are afraid that if this issue is not tackled now, it could lead to another civil war. Do you harbour such fear?
It will be tackled. The federal government is doing something about it. It is important for the government to establish committees that will work out a solution to the problem. Government must create policies that will change the situation. A lot needs to be done. We also need knowledgeable people in the committees, people who are intelligent and patriotic.
Would you say that this government has the right people in place to tackle it, because recently Obasanjo berated it and further said he will not endorse failure?
I don’t believe that this government is a failure, they have done well in certain areas, although they could have done better if they had brought in professionals. Once people are in government, they see it as their own. But governance is not a personal thing. We must stop being sentimental when it comes to governance. Some see it as a ‘come and let’s eat thing’ but it is wrong. There are some people that are really patriotic and can even use their resources to do things for the nation. When I was chairing many committee, a friend told me he was ready to serve faithfully and contribute his quota to nation building, not because he wanted to make money but because he knows what it will take to make it work.
Looking at Adamawa State, what is happening to the IDPs there?
I believe the government is doing its best. The federal government has also tried because they created the North/East Development Commission and also other committees who are looking into the IDPs issue.
What is the state of the PDP in Adamawa?
PDP is still strong in Adamawa. We are also re-strategizing and soon, things will change because even the governor was once a PDP man. People are not satisfied with this government and I can say that those who crossed over because they were not happy with what has happened will return. I hope that we will be a strong opposition and form government in due course.
When you say form a government, are you thinking of contesting any position?
It depends on the situation on ground but for now, we are still strategizing. In 2006, some colleagues of mine then met Obasanjo and asked him to make me the president because I will continue his policies. I didn’t know until he told me. I insist he told me the people and he mentioned their names. I was really touched that some of my colleagues, ministers saw my dedication and passion for Nigeria and rooted for me. So sometime later, we were with some foreign dignitaries when he told them I was the next president. Nenadi Usman was there and I begged her not to tell anybody but others got to know and you won’t believe that it was my northern colleagues that worked against it. They wanted one of them to be made the president. We all lost out. For me, that experience shows that, I served well and others saw that too. I won’t struggle for any position because I think I have done well in all my given tasks.
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