Alhaji Mohammed Kabir Shittu was the Advanced Peoples Democratic Alliance (APDA) presidential candidate in this year’s general elections. He is also the chairman of the Forum of Presidential Candidates. In this interview with TOPE SUNDAY, he talks on the RUGA saga as well as other national issues
As a politician and farmer, what is your take on RUGA settlement?
If you remove the name, Ruga settlement, it is a concept that would have promoted the Nigerian animal husbandry system. It is a concept that our leaders, like Awolowo, Azikiwe and Sardauna, embraced even before now. It is this same concept that we want to revive, but the name given to it was wrong and it was killed on arrival.
It’s a concept that would improve Nigeria’s economy, but Nigerians are not well- enlightened on it. You can’t tell me that the American cowboys were Fulani.
The white men or the South African ranchers or the Namibian ranchers are Fulani? The answer is no.
Do you want to talk of exportation of meat? Do you want to talk of the blood or the dung, which is manure, or the bone, which is good for pharmaceutical purposes? Therefore, my appeal to Nigeria is to do away with the name, Ruga. Don’t throw the bath water with the baby, look at the derived advantages in the concept by government, which is a concept given. The richest people in the United States are cattle ranchers.
Don’t forget that we have signed the African Continental Free Trade Agreement and if we don’t join hands, in few years from now, other Africans may take over our economy and then we would be backward.
So, whatever would put money in our pocket and food on our table should not be joked with. We should look at the economic scale of cattle ranch and then its disadvantages. There is a misconception about Ruga; therefore, let’s re-name it to ranch. You probably know I am not part of the policy or government, but I think they want to promote local area of ranching, but it’s misunderstood.
What should be done to enlighten Nigerians on this?
The National Orientation Agency (NOA) should start a programme to enlighten Nigerians. We have the ministry of information and a minister, and broadcasting firms like NTA that can enlighten the nation.
Some governors do not welcome the idea while some are in support. What is your reaction?
Everyone has his right. One man’s food is another’s poison. Probably, those states that accepted it, by the time they start manifesting the benefit of it, it would be embraced by the others. We are in this country where people openly call for military intervention. We believe that those states wanting to go into ranching should be encouraged so that in the future others would see the benefits and embrace it. The majority don’t know what ranching really means. It entails other things, not only cows. I can rear pig which gives more money than cow, ostrich and birds. Most people prefer to drink good milk, which is nutritious. Ranching does not entail until I carry cow and keep in a place. I can go for fibre which is to say I can plant corn, elephant grass and export it. That is ranching. Where do we buy our horses from? It’s from the ranch in Argentina. We ride horses in Nigeria, but in Argentina it is reared. One can even ranch rats.
In the interest of economic diversification, would you say that the NOA is not doing enough?
It’s a national orientation; you orient the mind of people. Let them see reasons ranching is necessary. We know that the oil is dropping. We are importing milk with hard earned money, that’s foreign exchange. Our oil is going down drastically. The rush to Nigeria to get oil has stopped, as America now produces oil. The diversion has shifted to the US. Ranching is a concept we must buy into. Very soon, there won’t be foreign exchange to export.
What’s your advice to the new minister of agriculture on the best ways to manage and promote forex and to make agriculture to singlehandedly sustain Nigeria?
Foreign exchange is beyond usual petroleum if the minister can channel the potential that awaits him in the ministry of agriculture. We have other resources such as flour, rice that is more expensive than the oil we are crazy about. He should make efforts to promote those resources. Fishery should be promoted. The best cotton is in Oyo state. We can promote our garment industry. Go to Funtua, what are we doing with the cottons there? It’s a wake-up call. He must work in partnership with the CBN governor who has seen the future. Promoting gum Arabic should be in his plans on ranching, which other African countries have started.
You said ethnicity is a challenge even as you also noted how Americans call it cash cow as established by past leaders. How do you want Nigerians to understand ranching?
What we need to do is to promote processing. That’s why when economists tell us that government does not drive economic activities, I laugh because government has to drive the policy and they must be patriotic in driving the policy and programme.
As the chairman of ex-presidential candidates, how will react to Sowore’s arrest?
For us, we believe in the rule of law and I am certain that democracy and governance have no alternative to enjoy democratic setting. There are certain policies that must be in place and must be observed to get to our destination until the best is followed. You are toiling with the future of the nation; therefore, the law will take its precedence.
CBN has been doing a lot in terms of reviving the nation’s economy. Could you throw more light on what it has done specifically. What else should the apex bank do to move the economy forward?
If you look at the CBN, they have been pro-active. If you take a look at the achievements and check in 2006, this is what has propagated Nigerians. We must stop the importation of any kind of crude. In fact, if you let me, I would close the country in a situation where you don’t bring in anything available here in the country. I would negotiate with that pro-organisation in 2006. Check Gbenga Arulegba. I have the CD with me, what are we doing with tooth pick importation, what type of leadership example are we exhibiting to other African countries?
Now, the CBN has given incentives for people to establish businesses, which helps in promoting herself out of the woods. In the 1960s, Nigeria gave China a grant worth millions. Today, we go to China and borrow money.