19 June 2017

Nigeria: Politicians Must Stop Using the Poor for Selfish Gains - General Akpa

interview

Major General Patrick Adamu Akpa (Rtd) is the National Leader of Ukomu Igala, a socio-cultural group in Kogi East. In this interview, General Akpa discusses several contemporary issues, among them the Biafra agitation, continuous voters’ registration, national identity card, 2018 census, among others. Excerpts:

The map produced by the IPOB hypothetically includes Kogi East, Igala land, as part of the proposed Biafra. What is your reaction to this?

Biafra is all about access to resources, relevance and interest. Remember, Governor Sam Mbakwe (May his soul rest in peace). He was a governor who wanted the Federal Government to pay more attention to his state and the South East in general. Given the situation at the time, he wept publicly and he was called the 'weeping governor'. He got about N2m which by today's Naira runs into several hundreds of millions of naira. That was the strategy Mbakwe used and it worked. Today, that strategy may not work; so it is now Biafra.

Biafra seems not to be working and the South East Development Commission is being brought in. Will the South East Development Commission work? Only time will tell. Obviously, legislators from that region have the interest of their people at heart.

What the South East wants is attention from the Federal Government. They perceived that the Federal Government had not done much for them in terms of strategic appointments commensurate with their status in Nigeria. This has to be addressed somehow and Biafra will disappear.

What of the lawmakers from the North Central Zone? I have not heard a word from anybody. To answer your question, Biafra only exists in the imagination of a few persons. There is no need wasting time on something that does not exist, not to talk of Igala land being considered as part of it. Those peddling the idea of Biafra are pressurising government concerning the development of the South East.

Biafra and the likes are symptoms of perceived injustice and we should not react to systems but take measures to solve the underlying problems. In our own case, we should be talking about how best to cater for the security and development of Kogi and the North Central Zone and Nigeria as a whole.

What's your take on such agitations across the country?

The country is going through hard times: the economy is in recession and there is massive youth unemployment. These represent major challenges for any government, not to talk of the ongoing war on insurgency in the North East. Yet, if you do a content analysis of the major newspapers in this country, you will read the following headlines in main: 'Biafra, IPOB, MASSOB give FG six months ultimatum to conduct referendum in Biafra'; 'Northern groups restate call for Igbos to return to Biafra'; Arrest Biafra agitators; 'Igbo quit Notice': FG, northern governors slam Arewa youths'.

There is also a view from the Middle Belt youths on this matter. All these are security threats that attack the very foundation of the country and are sponsored by politicians for political and economic advantages. These politicians will run out of the country and will not be around to put out the fire they created. I would request that these politicians should find other ways to resolve problems rather than using ordinary people to fight their selfish battles.

We understand that Ukomu Igala is sponsoring identity card registration in Kogi East. Why?

We have so far covered three local government areas and now we are in the fourth under the National Identity Card Project. But before answering your question, let me talk briefly about security and human development in Nigeria.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has done some work in this area. In their 2016 Nigeria Human Security and Human Development Report, let me show you the life expectancy at birth in the 30 states of Nigeria and the FCT. You can see from the table that Kogi State has a life expectancy of 47 years; in the same group as Adamawa, Bauchi, Gombe and Jigawa, Borno (43), Kaduna (45), Yobe (45), Plateau (46).

Another study shows that the poverty level in Kogi East is worse than the other zones in the state, and by implication although you have the life expectancy of Kogi State as 47, if a study of Kogi East is done you will find that it would be in the region of about 43 and 45 years, similar to what the insurgency-ravaged areas of the North East have.

The roads are bad, especially rural roads; health facilities continue to decline and the standard of education continues to go down. Lack of water adds to the woes of the people. Unemployment rate is very high and this adds to the security problem of the people. We know that the state government cannot do everything. Indeed, there is a limit to what they can do. What Ukomu Igala did was to discuss the plight of the people and to see what strategies could be put in place to reduce poverty and alleviate their suffering. It was in the course of our discussion that the decision to embark on the ID card project was taken. The plan was to assist the National Identity Management Commission to enrol our people. It is the responsibility of the Federal Government to capture everyone, but we are helping our people so that they can be accorded recognition by the authorities and other stakeholders in terms of their location, number and other demographics so that they can access programmes, projects and developmental issues necessary to alleviate their plight as rural people.

Are you a political organisation?

No, we are not a political organisation. We are a socio-cultural organisation. Within the group, there are people of diverse political inclination but who realise the need for the development of Kogi East. The development and security of that part of Nigeria are values that go beyond individual interests.

There are reports that the Continuous Voters' Registration by INEC is experiencing hitches in Kogi State. What are the issues?

The continuous registration of voters in Kogi East is going on smoothly. Reports reaching us indicate that there has been massive turnout of people at the registration centres. This situation is as a result of the sensitisation of the people by our organisation. INEC is doing a good job if reports from the local government areas are anything to go by. Our confidence in INEC is gradually being restored. The major problem and challenges in the Continuous Voter Registration exercise are with the personnel and the machines. The machines being used are old and as a result are slow and the staff cannot cope.

Regarding the personnel, they are few. No ad-hoc staff are used in the registration, probably to save cost, but it has consequences as you can imagine. We would appeal to INEC to consider deploying at least two machines to the larger local government areas like Dekina, Ankpa, Ibaji, etc

Kogi East keeps complaining about being under-counted after the recent census. How are you preparing for the next?

We are told the census would hold in 2018, but the trial or pilot census by way of the Enumeration Area Demarcation has started. We are aware that phases 1, 2 and 3 of the EAD have been completed. We expect that Kogi East will feature in subsequent phases; if the National Assembly and the National Population Commission decide to follow the agreed programme. Our people will also require sensitisation. We are usually undercounted. The first evidence is that the population figures of Kogi East keep reducing in percentage terms from one census exercise to the other. Does this mean that our people do not marry and even if they marry do they not give birth to children? We have neither been afflicted by any natural disaster nor ravaged by a disease epidemic. How comes that the population of Kogi East keeps dwindling over the years. It can be proven that the population of Kogi East has been dwarfed and I will prove it. It is on record that the population of the Igala Native Authority, now Kogi East, was 684,880 in 1963. That population figure was regarded by all as very credible.

In 1991, another population figure was taken and Kogi East came in at 949,435. The next population census exercise was done in 2006 and Kogi East was 1, 479,144.

The United Nations has set the standard population growth rate at three per cent. This has been the acceptable growth rate globally and it is used in all projections for the purpose of planning. Perhaps I should mention here that population only grows exponentially and not arithmetically. Using the exponential equation with the widely accepted 1963 census, the population of Kogi East should have been 1,566,956 in 1991 and 2,441,266 by 2006 as against the published figures. From this analysis, you can see why Kogi East complained that it was under-counted.

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