Mr. Waheed Ishola is the Director, National Orientation Agency, Lagos State Directorate. In this interview, he shared his thoughts on the challenges facing the country, the causes and the way out.

TNE: Briefly, what are the responsibilities of the National Orientation Agency?

National Orientation Agency is an agency of the Federal Government saddled with the responsibility of publicising government’s policies, programmes and activities and providing feedback to the government on the response of the public on the various government policies, programmes and activities. We are like a bridge between the government and the governed.

TNE: How would you assess the relationship between the government and the governed at this point in time?

The relationship between the government and the people at this present time is, cordial with some and with others, not so cordial. It all depends on the side of the divide one is looking at it from. If you look at it from the perspective of those who are charlatans, who have stolen our common wealth over a long period of time, the relationship will not be cordial. If you look at it from the perspective of the downtrodden Nigerians whose common wealth that were stolen have been retrieved from those who had stolen them, you would see that at least to some extent the relationship is cordial.

However, because of some emerging situations that we are having in the country; the insecurity which we are having, which I would say was inherited by this administration, and some other things that predate this administration; some people are saying this government needs to do more to protect the citizenry.
The tripod that this administration rests its governance is fight against corruption, the economy and security and I’m sure that in terms of the fight against corruption the government is making headway. In terms of the economy the government is trying and has successfully taken Nigeria out of recession which we went into some years back. As for security, in terms of Boko Haram threat, they have been degraded, they are now going after soft targets like churches, market places and the likes, they are not as aggressive as they were prior to this administration. The robbery, insecurity, kidnapping that we’re having on the highways and in some villages, I can say predate this administration, however Nigerians are quick to stigmatise ethnic groups on this issue.

Nowadays when you hear of kidnapping, highway robbery and all of that, people are quick to blame the Fulani herdsmen. Have we forgotten that before the advent of the Fulani crisis we have had kidnappings and robbery on the highways and have all of these robbers and kidnappers laid their arms down? Are they no longer doing what they used to do? I remember before this administration, before the advent of Fulani herdsmen and all of that, for you to pass through Benin bypass, you know what it took; kidnapping and robbery all around Edo state, along the rivers and we had the militants and also kidnapping. Kidnap kingpin, Evans, who is in police custody predates the Fulani herdsmen crisis, so we as a people should not be too quick to stigmatise ethnic groups for these things.

TNE: Notwithstanding all you have said, do you think the government has handled the issue of the herdsmen properly?

Well, government is trying and still consulting because whatever you try to do, if the interest of the generality of people are not put into consideration, the tendency for the people to be against such decisions would be there. Recall that in trying to tackle this menace the government came out with the RUGA option of which a lot of people are saying would lead to Fulanization of Nigeria, having forgotten the fact that the issue of RUGA farm settlement and cattle ranching predates this administration. We had the first cattle ranch in Nigeria before our independence, the Obudu Cattle Ranch is there, we had cattle ranches in Oyo state. But because some of our people, especially some political gladiators, want to continue to fan the embers of discord, they saw it as an opportunity for them to raise questions and issues, and decided to kick against the RUGA option, which, of course, is voluntary.
Government had come out and said the programme was voluntary for any state that wanted to partake in it. A lot of people did not take into cognisance the benefits which this RUGA option will bring because in the developed world, there is nothing like cattle rearing on the road. What you have are ranches where the necessary value chain that comes out of animal husbandry are situated in the same place.

TNE: You have talked about ranching in civilised places, should ranching be a private business or government business?

Let me say this, one of the places where people get it wrong is that they fail to understand that in trying to settle an emergency situation, it doesn’t matter if government comes in. Government built motor parks, and transporters operate them, is it not a way of investing in transportation; people didn’t complain. When the banks were in distress the Central Bank bailed them with funds, is it not Nigerian funds? So what are we saying, why all the fuss about RUGA, where government will build schools, ranches and other things for people and they pay taxes to the government? It’s a win-win situation.

TNE: Would you agree with me that there is so much disunity in the country today?

Disunity in the sense that some of the people who lost out during elections continue to fan the embers of discord and what we’re saying at National Orientation Agency is that all of us must think first of us being Nigerians before thinking about ethnic groupings or ethnic divide that we belong to. It is unfortunate that at this time in our history when we have a government in place that has shown commitment to taking back all our common wealth that has been stolen by not even up to one percent of the population, that we are having this kind of disunity.

Look at all those that have been affected by the corruption fight by this government, it covers all sectors of Nigeria, all ethnic groups. It is not that one ethnic group has been targetted against the other. But we now have people who in trying to make the country ungovernable for government, are trying to use other means to take over power by sponsoring clandestine activities. Some of these people who engage in kidnapping are sponsored by disgruntled elements. We talked about arms and ammunitions that purportedly are being used by cattle rearers and even armed robbers; who purchased guns for these people? Most of the politicians purchased guns for their touts while trying to contest for power and win electoral positions.

After winning positions, these people are no longer useful to them and these people already have guns. So, who are these touts going to turn the guns to, then but the citizenry. So we need to talk to our political class.

TNE: If I understand you correctly, you are saying that the politicians are our problem.

Yes, they are our problem. Most of the problems that we have, they created them. This is the monster most of them created because when you arm a people and they go out and cause havoc during elections because you want to win election at all cost and after elections these people have no other business, but they are in possession of arms that the politicians have bought for them, they will eventually turn them on the citizenry.

TNE: You talked about the benefits of RUGA, can you tell us some of these benefits?

One, once all of these people that are moving around the roads are settled in a place and it doesn’t matter where they are settled, the conflict between them and the farmers will reduce. Two, we will have like one stop shop for everything that has to do with the production of meat, and the value chain will be improved upon. We will have those that will be rearing the cows, those that will be killing the cows for the meat, those processing the hide for shoe factories are there, those milking the cows for dairy products will be there, in the same place and schools will be provided, health care facilities will be provided for them. So these incessant clashes will be a thing of the past, but then like I said it’s an option given to each state. Government is not forcing anybody.

However after the agitation that followed the announcement of the programme, government has decided to suspend the implementation of RUGA, to re-strategise and enter into wide consultation to let people appreciate the benefits that will accrue to our people from these ranching businesses.

Some states have already keyed into the programme and are going into it by themselves. We are now having that sense of a fact that ranching is the way to go.

TNE: Okay, we are where we are and you’ve said the politicians are our problem, what’s the way forward?

Well, the way forward is for all critical stakeholders to come back together and think first as Nigerians; we have no other place that we can call our own. Most of these people causing this conflict have a second address. They have the passports of other countries, once there is a problem, the next available flight and they are out of Nigeria.

Unfortunately, most of those who are being used as their foot soldiers do not have even Nigerian passport talk less of having another passport or being able to get visa or buy ticket to get out of Nigeria. We should think twice because when there’s conflagration, only God knows where and when it will end and African Union and even the United Nations, UN, cannot afford a refugee situation arising from Nigeria.

I can tell you for a fact that if the population of Alimosho local government alone in Lagos State moves towards Benin Republic they will take over government there, so Africa and the UN cannot afford a refugee situation coming out of Nigeria. So we need to sort ourselves out, to believe in ourselves, not to allow some of these wounded leaches on our commonwealth whose source of wealth has been taken from them and agitating for division, to divide us as a people.

TNE: Part of the NOA’s duties is to promote patriotism, national unity and development of Nigeria. Does the agency have any programmes that deliberately target the youth in order to properly orientate them to grow up to be patriotic Nigerians?

National Orientation Agency engages with all strata of the society, the youth inclusive; we do not leave them out. When we talk about problems that we have had in governance, we say the politicians are responsible, but when we are talking about problems that we are having within the community and society, the youths are partly responsible.
When I have opportunities to discuss with the youth, which I’ve had on several occasions because we have several programmes pertaining to the youth; and I relate with the Nigerian Youth Council and several youth organisations, I always tell them the truth that our youth themselves are not united. They don’t have a united front. The Nigerian Youth Council has three or more factions. So when they are not united as youth, how do they want to have a say in what happens in the country? They allow self seeking politicians to divide them. I have often told them that they must come as one because as one, they have a block vote and can use their strength to make demands from those that seek positions.

We have had series of programmes with the youth on drug abuse, we have had programmes on economic sabotage, because when you talk about ‘Yahoo Yahoo or Yahoo Yahoo plus,’ it is the youth you find there. We have had series of programmes where we talked to them on these things that have the tendency of destroying their future.
I also tell the youth that if anybody should say that they are the leaders of tomorrow, they should tell the person to go and sleep and wake up again because the youth are the leaders of today but they must take their destiny in their own hands. However, taking your destiny in your own hands does not mean you have to be violent about it, but when you come as a group, a bloc, you can make demands from government and government will listen to you because they know you are coming from a divide that can make them win or lose an election.

TNE: After all the conversations with the youth, what is the sense that you take away from them? Are you encouraged that the messages are sinking in?

As you know, we cannot have it hundred percent, but I can tell you that the message is sinking in. I’ve been able to talk to them, let them know that they should move away from the era of copying what is trending out there without knowing the cause of it, for them to begin to ask questions, for them to behave properly so that they would be given positions of responsibilities. There is a saying that ‘you’re addressed the way you are dressed,’ if you comport yourself very well, there is a tendency for someone to want to listen to you, but if you act in such a way that deviate from the norms of the society, the tendency of you not to be carried along or not to be taken seriously is there. But I’m sure that the youth are changing, seeing that they are now trying to come out to seek for elective positions.
However, I always tell the youth that if they want to seek for elective position, they must have a second address, a second address meaning that they must have an occupation, they must not just come out to take politics as a source of livelihood. If one has a source of livelihood and then takes politics as a vocation, if it fails the individual can go back to his or her occupation, but if they don’t have any other source of livelihood, they will become useless to themselves and the community.

TNE: Look into the crystal ball, in five or ten years where do you see Nigeria. Would we still have a country called Nigeria?

Yes, we are going to have Nigeria, but where we are going to be is dependent on the conclusion of this four year term of Mr. President. The first four years were not enough to cure the worm of corruption that has eaten into the fabric of the Nigerian society, but the moment everybody begins to do the right things, the moment our leaders decide to be servers and not leaches on our economy, Nigeria would be one of the best countries in the world.

Nigeria is a blessed country and this present administration is taking us back to the basis by ensuring that first we improve in our agricultural sector. Now Nigeria boasts of locally made rice; factories in Thailand where we imported rice from are now shutting down because Abakaliki Rice, Ofada Rice, Lake rice and Kebbi rice are making waves and these are rice that are not polished, but have complete nutrients.

I see the future being very bright, a future of abundance, but we need to persevere. I think we’re on the verge of getting to the promised land.