A former governor of Plateau State, who is the current lawmaker representing Plateau Central Senatorial District in the National Assembly, Senator Joshua Dariye, in this interview with SUNDAY ABORISADE, speaks on the current crisis in the state among other issues
What is your reaction to the bloody attacks on the people of Bassa Local Government Area of Plateau State by some Fulani herdsmen?
I gathered that it started from a disagreement over a farmland and the poor handling of the situation made it to degenerate, leading to series of reprisals. Two wrongs do not make a right. We must work for a ceasefire; the killings must stop. We are all Nigerians irrespective of our religion. I am happy that the government and the security agencies have swung into action in order to ensure a restoration of peace in the area.
The residents are saying the continuous massacre was as a result of the herdsmen’s refusal to observe the curfew imposed on the area.
I do not have details of the crisis but I know there are lots of rumours. I will be glad if journalists could carry out a thorough investigation into the crisis in the council area and publish what is actually happening based on their findings. The reporters will be able to report what they gathered from the residents, the herdsmen, and the military and give us a balanced report. We cannot continue to rely on rumours.
Only investigative journalism can actually throw more lights on the situation in Bassa I cannot stay in Abuja and start talking about an issue that I don’t have sufficient information on.
But the residents are insisting that the army and other security agencies sent to the area were not neutral.
That is part of what a thorough investigative journalism will uncover. The reporter will confront the Commander of the Army operation in the area, the Commissioner of Police in the state and the State Director of the Department of State Services with what the people are saying and demand to know what is happening since they are supposed to maintain a neutral position. However, I don’t think a responsible security organisation will choose to play a partisan role in a situation like this.
What steps are the leaders of the state, including you, taking on the issue?
The governor has told me that he would convene a stakeholders’ forum where the community leaders and the leaders of the Fulani herdsmen will be engaged in a dialogue and once the meeting agrees to a ceasefire, the issue of reprisals will stop and we would move forward.
Don’t you think that the absence of the anti-grazing bill is a major cause of the clashes?
That is not true. We never had that as a challenge. The issue of grazing bill is a new phenomenon. Farmers and the Fulani have always existed side by side. The Fulani know where to take their cattle to for grazing and areas where they should not go. Even when cow strayed and destroy farmlands, there are mechanisms on the ground on how to resolve it without involving the police. I think the problem is that some strange elements had infiltrated the camps of the Fulani. We don’t know where they are coming from. If anybody comes newly into a community, there should be a proper documentation on him so that they will co-exist with the people they meet on the ground peacefully.
The farmers are now afraid to go to farms. Won’t the situation affect food security?
The governor has a big role to play in this matter in order to ensure that everybody is safe either on the farm or in the town. The governor is on the ground; he is in a better position to restore normalcy. He should insist that enough is enough. There is apprehension, so, the governor should do everything he can to initiate a meaningful dialogue without further delay. If the fighting continues, the farmers won’t be able to go to the farm and the herdsmen won’t be able to move their cattle around for grazing.
What are the current challenges that you are facing in your constituency?
One big challenge is youth unemployment. We have an army of unemployed youths in my constituency. I am currently looking for every available opportunity to engage them either in the public or private sector. The Senate is currently working on a bill sponsored by Senator Abiodun Olujimi on the need for all Ministries, Departments, and Agencies of government to advertise vacancies. The idea of silent recruitment is counter-productive and against the Federal Character. Heads of MDAs are just employing their cousins, their in-laws, boyfriends and girlfriends into the system. If there are 200 vacancies and they make it competitive, every part of the country will compete for it. What leads to lopsidedness in employment is when people within the system try to tinker with the process. People in my constituency see knowledge as something precious. We have many higher institutions producing graduates every year in hundreds and they are looking for jobs. It is our responsibility as leaders to assist them. I have attracted about N1.5bn road project to my constituency. When the project is executed, the people of Plateau, Bauchi, Gombe, and Nasarawa will benefit. My people believe that as a former governor, I should perform magic but we have limitations.
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project has asked the Federal Government to recover all pensions so far collected by former governors who are currently collecting salaries as public office holders. What is your reaction to this?
People are just raising ‘a hue and cry’ over nothing really. If somebody retires from the Army and his people said he should go and represent them in an elective office, are you saying he should abandon his pension? I served as governor of Plateau State and they said I am entitled to a pension of N600,000 per month that is if the money is there anyway. It is part of the condition of service. People who retired from the civil service, who are now National Assembly members, have not been asked to stop collecting pensions just because they have been elected into public offices. If they (civil servants) are not going to refund their pensions and gratuities, why should we ask the governors to refund their own? There are several areas of wastes that people are not even looking at.
Mention some of the areas
Inadequate funding of the annual budget is one of them. When budgets are not adequately funded, it leads to abandoned projects all over the place.
Did you owe salaries when you served as governor?
Of course I did. Let me give the background. My state was in the opposition between 1979 and 1983; we were not in the National Party of Nigeria. As of that time, the state government had the challenge of paying salaries and executing projects; so, they started taking both external and domestic loans to finance projects in the state, which also included the current Nasarawa State.
When I became governor in 1999, my first subvention was N170m because the Federal Government was deducting N700m from my allocation every month to pay back the accumulated loans taken by successive governments over the years. So, I decided to borrow too in order to meet my obligations to the people. At a point, we borrowed up to N3bn. The civil servants embarked on strike 13 times because we couldn’t pay salaries due to the shortfall in revenue. It was not deliberate, it wasn’t that I don’t want to pay salaries but we were financially handicapped. We resolved the issue when I started inviting the labour union leaders to have access to the accounts of the state whenever we received the monthly subventions from Abuja. I also ensured that salaries took first line charge. I preferred to borrow in order to finance projects. That is how we stopped the incessant strikes. Consequently, it was later discovered that we exceeded the payment by N10bn. You can imagine what I would have done for my people with the money if it was not deducted from our monthly subventions.