Recently, in some quarters, staff of the Nasarawa State Emergency Management Agency known as NASEMA were reported to be idling away.
Eggonnews therefore confronted the Executive Secretary of the Agency, Barrister Z. Z. Alumaga to respond to that observation and he had the following in defence even as he gave a rundown of the activities of the Agency since he assumed the position.
We want to thank God that everything has been good enough. I think if I have any complaint to give, it may be minimal. However, the explanation I am going to give may get people to even appreciate. First and foremost, a lot of people have the impression that all that we do here is to intervene. When there is crisis, we will run into the areas and give relief materials. Talking about this farmers-herders crisis, ethnic nationalities disagreeing with themselves and then burning houses and displacing people and creating a situation of IDPs here and there. And so, all that the agency does is to bring in relief materials to try to bring in some succour to get people to probably resettle and get back to wherever they are domiciling in.
I will want to make a little explanation. We are a humanitarian agency and we are concerned about human security, educational security, social security – social security includes even unemployed applicants, jobs and so on. Life security including something like the wars arising from ethnic distrust, farmers-herders crisis and some kind of other disaster sometimes manmade and sometimes natural disasters. These are the kinds of insecurities. And you know once there is this kind of insecurity children don’t go to school because they are displaced. That kind of security is also of concern to this agency. All those forms of security are those ones that we have and we try to take care of from time to time.
In this direction therefore, sensitization for the purposes of making sure that some things do not take place at all so that it is not only an idea of waiting for it to happen first before we come. I am going to give you an example. The plan that we have for now to maybe the end of next year or even as long as we remain a humanitarian agency. Now we are in the rainy season and we are talking about flood. So this flood issue is being handled. We have gone into sensitization. What we will proceed to do from Monday is to go back and look at all those areas that are of concern, for instance the areas that have been taken over by flood. Some places are being submerged, some have been cut off from the rest of the communities and so on and so forth. So you go and look for it and you see where and where such people can be relocated to and then you will be in a position to create make-shift camps, in some cases recommend for permanent camps like the one the Federal Government had given some money last year. Just before the election the Federal Government released about 10 Billion Naira to Nasarawa and Benue States to be able to build some houses that were destroyed in the crisis arising from anti-open grazing law that was implemented by the Benue State Government.
Now, sensitization to what? In the case of flood disaster, gully erosion and the rest of them, you will go and tell the people, ‘don’t be farming here again’. Some of them farm on the main road. Some of them farm blocking water ways. Some of them farm in areas that are well known to be to be flood-prone. But just because they want some space or something, they will just go and farm there and in the process block water ways. And if you do that, you know water will always find its way. It is natural. So in finding its way it usually goes to the wrong places. Sometimes it ends up in the communities, in your houses thereby causing all the confusion.
We want to sensitize people that it is wrong. Blockage of water ways by dumping of refuse, we have to sensitize them that this type of thing is going to cause a lot of problems. If you are building and you don’t create space between you and others – all these types of buildings that are jumbled without permission or approvals, some of them facing each other, some of them backing each other and some siding each other. When you build these houses like that, you will block the ways of this water so when it is falling, it will keep entering the ground and staying there. When the ground is saturated with water, the rest of it will enter your house.
That is the problem. So we’ve been sensitizing people on that. Also the use of chemicals and also the cutting down of trees and clearing of bushes particularly around the riverine areas, make the environment fragile. The consequence of this fragility is that the water will just push off the land there and create new roads and then water will follow to the wrong places. Most of these wrong places are our houses or our communities.
So we tell the people, stop felling trees unnecessarily. Stop putting chemicals unnecessarily and try to go natural in some of the things that we do. And then from the agric sector too, they will be told ‘this area, you should not plant this type of crop’. There are those ones that are tap roots and the others, so you will know what to do here and there. This will help reduce the occurrence of flooding and these disasters.
Immediately after this, we are going to go into the dry season. We are going to begin with the winter. And when you get into this winter, you know it comes with its consequences. For instance, you begin to hear the issues of bush-burning. And this bush-burning may take the fire to somebody’s guinea corn that he has not harvested. You destroy somebody’s crop and even destroy their houses. The fire will go into town and you cause humanitarian disasters that are man-made. We will go into sensitization for that purpose.
And for those of them who even burn the bush, they will now follow immediately with hunting and then you begin to chase and kill all the rats and eat the rats, then there will be cases of Lassa fever and so on and so forth. These are humanitarian crises that this agency is responsible for ensuring that they do not happen since they are not natural.
After that, you will find a situation where as soon as the earth begins to be warm, too much mosquitoes begin to come up. When these mosquitoes come up and with the pouring of water around the house, creating water dumps that will become a home for the incubation of mosquitoes. Cholera will follow. Other diseases will also follow. We are lucky we do not have Ebola but that is also a mosquito-borne disease. For those ones, again we will go into sensitization to tell people if you don’t want to have this type of thing.
In the process of going round, we have also discovered that people are not sure whether they want fresh air, because you see the kind of houses they build sometimes with windows that don’t even bring the air. You will go into that and tell them what to do so that they can make bigger ones.
So you will find us all round the year running and trying to make sure preventive measures are put in place. It is one of the mandates of the agency and we are in it. For the whole of last year (2018), I have been on radio and other media organizations trying to tell people. I remember very well that some people are already giving me some names. When I was passing I heard some people calling me Makiyayi da Manoma, farmers-herders, because I am always talking about how they can live in peace. The crisis we hear of is always between farmers and herders and this leads to death and so on particularly in the village areas. So you sensitize them into living in peace and then you give a panacea. You keep telling the people how it is.
I was a Magistrate and I was also hearing all these cases relating to mischief, entering somebody’s land and destroying things, so you know the parameter within which they operate. You try to tell them so that they can curtail it or to totally keep away from those types of acts because they cause humanitarian crises. Those areas are on the ground with respect to sensitization.
Now, I think it will be too much for anybody to say that we are not performing. The crisis in Benue as a result of the creation of that law, I don’t think I was up to a month in office when that crisis erupted in January of 2017. And what happened was that immediately the crisis came up – it was around January 1st or so – I don’t know precisely when. But immediately it came up, we had to go down. If people remember very well, the first visit we undertook was with the then Deputy Governor, His Excellency Silas Agara.
We went round. We went to Awe, we went to Keana and Doma to try to see what was happening and the kind of IDPs that were said to have been chased out of their communities around the riverine areas of these Local Governments that border us with Benue. We are sharing River Benue together; from this side it is Nasarawa and from the other side southwards is Benue. So we had a flush over of the crisis from Benue and then it affected our people.
Immediately as we were going round, I was also taking stock of what it was we were going to do as an immediate mitigation measure for those people. That is, these people have run away from their homes. They don’t have food, they don’t have water, they don’t have shelter.
So those were the immediate needs. What do we do? Then I remember the government released quite a substantial amount of money; so we went into the market, purchased some items and then we took them. There were mobile hospitals that were moved to those camps at the instance of the agency. That is what we met on ground and that was our recommendation to the government. Government acted immediately.
The next day, the then Minister of Interior, General Abdulrahaman Danbazzau (Rtd) was also here. We again went round.
So the thing is not like we sat in the office here and we were sending people to go and make details of this one and bring. It was face to face. And then we had all those ones and we tried to make sure that we intervened.
As a matter of fact, we want to give serious thanks to the then Governor now Senator Umaru Tanko Almakura because he was very proactive in all these situations. Nasarawa State, we must concede that either by nature or by design is prone to disaster whether human or natural. Now we have floods in 2012 and 2018, we had the gas explosion at that filling station here in Lafia, we had the humanitarian crisis of, let me say, the Fulani and Mada in Akwanga, we had the Igbira and Bassa in Toto and then we had the Fulani and Tiv around the riverine area here. We even had the Fulani and Agatu and even Aho in Nasarawa. All these places we visited and we made sure that Governor Almakura released items and then we distributed and distributed and distributed. I think we have done that severally.
We are however a little lucky in Nasarawa State, our people are not used to or they don’t like the idea of this camp arrangement. They don’t stay in camps. They prefer to go into the host communities; ‘my brother’, ‘my sister’. So when it happens you see them going into the community to meet their relations and live there.
So it is not an issue of there is a camp and then nobody is seeing food coming or nobody is seeing relief materials or medical materials coming. No, they are living in the host community but we know how to get to them and so we have been sending these things to them. I have all the names. Supposing the situation arises now for which I don’t want it to arise anyway, but we have the leadership. And as we sit here, I could pull out all the files that I know the names of people from village to village, community leaders that if something happens now, the humanitarian materials are around to be distributed, I will call them here and they will come and collect. Even the transport to take some of these materials to them is being given by the government.
At one instance, the then Governor, Alhaji Umaru Tanko Almakura said look, one of the things we will do to ameliorate the sufferings of these people is to ensure that they go back to their communities. The idea of them coming to stay in the host community or with their brothers in the town or city is not palatable.
Accordingly, he worked out a plan. On one occasion we carried materials in 18 lorries – not buses, lorries. These ones that have 16 tyres or so that carry the same load with trailers. We carried items in lorries to 18 communities; 18 Tiv communities right in the interior. We gave them not by proxy. The people in small villages around Kadarko cannot come to Kadarko. We took it to those villages. And the Governor said if the people are not going back to the villages to go and collect and there is no one there, just drop it in the market place in the village there and come back. So if you go and collect your mattress, your blanket, your rice, your sugar in that village and you want to carry it back to town where you are squatting, I think it will be wrong.
Now, which are the villages? Keto for instance, on the road here to Awe or Mahanga, those were places that were deserted to the extent that I was looking for a chicken that was still living there and there was none. The only person I saw there was one mad man who was lying under one mango tree at that time and eating the mangoes. He was the only one that was in that community. The whole of that road beginning from Agwatashi to Mahanga was deserted. But now, I was there just last week for a sensitization exercise and it looked as if nothing has ever happened. Houses are back, people are just roaming. I think we came back around the night time. And as we were coming it was a beehive of activities. People who were doing the normal dancing of discos along the road were all doing their thing. So I think that was a good strategy to get the people back to their villages.
I was in a United Nations seminar on humanitarian activities in Makurdi last month (August 2019). I opined there – even though I knew it was going to cause some little crisis – but I congratulated Tanko Almakura and then threw the blame on the Benue State Government. They still have over 40,000 IDPs spread from around Wadata to wherever the IDP camp stops around the toll gate in Makurdi. And I was wondering what the hell was happening. Is it that the government didn’t get this strategy to send these people back? Now the farming season is almost over and they are still in the camp. So what are they going to eat next year?
This is the big problem. But in Nasarawa State we have been able to solve this part of the crisis and I think most of the people are at home now. If there is anything, the humanitarian agencies come here and ask that they want to go and intervene, what is the area of intervention?
So you give them the areas of intervention. If you discover that some primary schools were destroyed. The ICRC – what we know here as the Red Cross Society – have been here severally and we told them go and build some boreholes. I think that is what is better. Go and build some boreholes in those communities where the people ran away from so they can have some potable water to drink. I think those are the major things you can now do. And then some of those primary schools that got dilapidated as a result of non-use, you can fix some of them. And I think this is what is happening.
We also give advice to foreign donors that come here represented by various UN agencies and their like. We give advice as to what to do and then go with them to show them where they can find the IDPs and where we think they should intervene. These are the kind of things we are doing. I think it will not be fair to say that we are not doing anything.
When it was clear that the IDPs had gone back, and we still had substantial… because everybody knew. I think we gave every Local Government Area three trailer loads each – that is about 360 bags – of maize, sorghum and garri to go and distribute to whom the Governor referred to as indigent persons in their communities. Even as we went just last week for sensitization, people were so happy because they were thinking we came to take stock again so that this kind of relief materials will again be brought to them because every household got at least a bag or two. I am not talking about the Local Government headquarters. I am talking about going to the interior. We were at Umaisha, we were at Agbashi, we were at Loko and we were at Tunga. So nobody will talk to us about going to the Local Government headquarters. We go into the interiors. That is where it is happening. The people were very happy. What did I say? Indigent persons. And it is part of the mandate of this agency as I have said because humanitarian crisis includes food. So if we intervened in the area of food crisis, I think it is only the person who does not know that will say we were not functioning.
Now other agencies also brought their items through us. The International Committee of the Red Cross have done marvellously well. After the gas crisis, the NNPC brought drugs worth over a Billion Naira. Unfortunately, you know we don’t have the facilities to deal with victims of fire disaster. They were moved mostly to Abuja and then some of them to Benin. This is what I am saying that even at that time when the gas incident happened, we recommended and we had a meeting with the Governor. The first thing he did was he gave three hundred and fifty thousand naira per head because as he said, it is possible that a man who is a victim does not have even 500 naira to buy a hospital card. So he pledged and released three hundred and fifty thousand naira for each of the victims which I collected and delivered to Dalhatu Araf Specialist Hospital. Now after that, it was recommended that they be taken to the National Hospital Abuja where you have specialist that deal with this type of thing. Some of them were moved to Benin and they were to be taken to South Africa.
So the Governor said the amount is immaterial, just get everything ready and then come and collect the money so we can take them there. Unfortunately – this point has to be made – the law is that whoever is to be taken, even if he is sick, must have a passport. And some of these people were burnt beyond recognition so how do you get the international passport? These were some of the difficulties that were faced at that time. All the same, government made the monies available that all of them could be taken out.
These interventions were made through the agency and we were all there even with all the other crisis taking place. I have talked about the humanitarian crisis, tribal conflicts, ethnic disagreements, Fulani herders and then the floods. As a matter of fact, I am in the position of the keys to the presidential hostels that were built in Shabu. Any person can go to Shabu to see them. They are capable of accommodating over 4,000 IDPs with all the facilities present. There is a solar borehole that supplies water there now. There is light and everything. It is very complete. It is just very near what used to be the Almajiri hostels that was built during the Taraba crisis. I was not in the agency then but when I took over I saw it.
We have been all over whether it is in sensitization or mitigation, in case some of those things happen. We have just started again with the warning with the warning given by NiMet and NEMA and so on, that the water level has risen and Nasarawa State is prone to flood for 2019 and it will certainly happen. Now that it has not even gone so haywire, I think we are just thanking God. But from what I know I think we are sitting on a time bomb. It is likely to happen and so we had to rush to go all round to tell people not to sleep completely. You have to sleep with one eye open because water is going to come under your bed.
What we are doing now is to stock the store with items. His Excellency, Engr. Sule said give them all the money so that they can buy all they can. So for the first time in Nasarawa State we don’t have items dealing with flood. We don’t have boats. We don’t have engines for the boats, you just put air there and it floats. Even those other things that could be needed in the event of flood such as jackets for people to put on to remain afloat until help comes. Now we have never had such but by the grace of His Excellency the Governor we now have them. Even the mattresses we bought, the Deputy Governor has said that if there is no flood and no one is given the mattresses, we will send them to secondary schools, they cannot be wasted. For the food items, I know we can always redistribute like we did before to indigent persons.
We cannot claim that the society is perfect. Certainly we have people who cannot feed. So we will go back and give to the indigent people across the Local Government Areas so that they don’t spoil. It is just like saying you are piling up some food items that some drought will happen. When it does, you begin to distribute the ones the government has kept.
Maybe somebody wants us to come to his house and tell him that this is actually what we are doing. But if you come across the victims, they will tell you that these people are active. Like I told you, I have the list of the leaders of almost all the communities affected by crisis. And not that somebody gave me. No, I went and collected it myself. When we have some meetings with the communities, they appoint people who will represent them.
For instance, when we were distributing some of the items, the then governor, Senator Umaru Tanko Almakura came to the store when we were distributing. And incidentally he came with George Akume and they met us in the store. And unfortunately for me and fortunately for Tanko Almakura, it was an opportunity for him to play serious politics. Because what happened was that I called the heads of the villages and told them to bring five, five people. I told them we are going to take relief materials to your village and we want those five people to enter the vehicle as it is leaving here so that it is not redirected or stolen on the road. It must get there.
Our security too, we may not believe them so much. Our own staff that we will put in the vehicle, we may not believe them so much. But if the people who are affected by the crisis are in the vehicle and they allow the vehicle to disappear, then I don’t have any hand in it. Instead of bringing five, five people, we had up to fifteen, fifteen or twenty, twenty people. So it was like a party rally at the Government House. The Governor that did not know something like that was happening, came to see how well we were faring in trying to distribute the relief materials and then whether the vehicles are going to leave. When he got to that place he now found a readymade campaign ground for him to climb the podium which he easily did on one of the Jeeps with Akume and they were raising hands and shouting everywhere.
Consequently again, right there, instead of just the relief materials, he now gave every other community five hundred thousand naira. So they carried cash along with whatever item they were carrying to their villages.
So I think we were not docile at all. The agency has done its best. And truly speaking we are doing more. I think on a monthly basis, one form of seminar or the other from one organization or the other – the UN alone has about seven different organizations. They keep organizing seminars here, today, tomorrow and you get there and you begin to acquaint yourself with so much knowledge as to how to deal with issues of humanitarian affairs or disaster. Then the NEMA itself also has various aspects of it and they continue to give the seminar information and the rest of them. What we are thinking of doing now – and I think my memo will be going forward by next week – we are supposed to have LEMA. That is, the Local Government Emergency Management Agency here to be coordinated by SEMA. We are going to have our own seminar with them so that it doesn’t remain difficult. We have appreciated that there is a little difficulty. They don’t seem to know the channel of communication and when they should communicate. You see I had a little problem that I now went round to talk to the people directly so sensitize them on this flood. And I told them also that I will be coming back for the others and humanitarian interventions. And so you will give room for people to ask questions.
They asked questions and I got properly informed that some of these Local Governments need these seminars. For instance, you know when it happens they don’t even tell you. Some of them will write letter to the Governor’s office. I met with one chairman and said so you have humanitarian crisis and you didn’t write. He said no, the Governor came here and he told him. Is the Governor the agency? The Governor has already appointed agents and assistants including myself to do specific work.
So if you go directly to him, and every other person goes he will forget. And I don’t see how the Governor will carry biro and say ‘ES NASEMA, there is a problem in this place. Go and intervene.’ It will be too much. It is for me to tell the Governor that there is a report here that there is a problem in this place and I wish to be directed to go and intervene. As a matter of fact I don’t want to run into places and begin to intervene. If people are thinking like that then I think they are right. I don’t because you have to take permission before you begin to get into places.
We are in humanitarian business and the very first people that these kidnappers find very palatable to kidnap are people in the humanitarian business. So when they see you wearing some form of uniform they say ‘yes, this one is a government agent or is a UN agent or is a NEMA agent. These ones should be kidnapped.’ We have seen what is happening in the North-East and in other places so we are making sure that if we have to go out, we will get permission from the government. We don’t just go out because we want to go out. We don’t have that kind of clean slate ticket. So if somebody comes and I tell him, go and write. Some of them think that I am just being unnecessary. Since they know me or since they have come with a genuine complaint we should just begin to act. It is not done like that. Yes, we know that there is an emergency but due process must be followed. Otherwise, I will go and cook a story that my late father’s house is burnt so that I will take some food items to them and we take to the market to sell. No, you will write, we will tell the Governor that there is a problem here and the Governor is going to tell us to – well the Chairman of this agency is the Deputy Governor so it is easier to get there and get some directives to go and check what is happening. When you check and you are coming back to tell them what is happening, it includes your recommendation. For instance, immediately after the sensitization – I think just two days – on flood, there was a report that the bridge connecting Keana and the other parts of the State was cut-off and so people from Keana could not move except they were going to go through the water under the bridge. And then in Obi it was threatened. In Daddare, about 35 houses collapsed. Floods destroyed them there and they collapsed. And so I had to get permission to go there. The Deputy Governor himself went to Keana and came back. I waited for him to come back and I said well, I wanted permission to go to Keana. He said no, I should have gone. I said no sir, if I am kidnapped there what am I going to say? Who sent me there? That is the rule so give me permission sir. He said look, you’re on your own. By the time I got to Daddare 35 houses and we got to Obi.
Some of them the crises are natural to the extent that – for instance what happened in Daddare. There is a small river as you are going into Daddare from here, when you get to the primary school, between the primary school and the community there is a small river that is crossing the road. You will have to take your time to note it. But now the river has over flown. Like we said, water level has risen so the river has over flown. And then what was created there before – just a bit bigger than a culvert – could not contain. And so the water did not flow freely through. It remained on this other side of the town, went back into the communities and the consequence was the demolition of the houses and even animals. It was very pathetic. Go and see how goats and chickens died from it. Some of the chickens, the water just went down with them. But goats that were a bit stronger were still hanging around the water and they were recovered or so. Fortunately there were no deaths but we have both visual and hard copy records of the.
Now in Keana what happened was, I will just write it off as a bad work by the company on the bridge. The water just washed the bridge away. Fortunately when the Deputy Governor went there instructions were given and they were now doing a better job. So as at the time I went, you could go into Keana and come out because they were now putting stones. What they did earlier was to put fragile laterite so the water coming was able to wash including the tar that was put there.
We will write recommendations. The first one as we saw there is that there is no drainage in Daddare especially from the tar to the town. So there is need to put one from the market right down to this primary school, the river that I am talking about. There is need for a wide drainage there. Then the bridge which is just a little bigger than a culvert should now be expanded. Water level has risen. Meanwhile, we told members of the communities too to make sure they create water passages behind their houses or in front or wherever to make sure there is free flow of water. We also made recommendations for what the government will give us to go and give them as an interim measure. I think we are really proactive. We are really in action. It is not as if we are docile.
I think from your long explanation you have touched quite a number of questions I would want to ask. I will still have some few more questions. From all your interventions so far in Nasarawa State, between disaster or crisis prevention and disaster or crisis management, which has been more demanding for you?
I think prevention is more demanding. Let me put it this way, that some people have been taught a lesson. Some people have been taught a lesson so they are not really interested in the disaster anymore so you have to do some work in trying to prevent them. You add to what they already know. The people have burnt houses all around. There are still grave yards all around from the ones they lost. That is already some preventive measure because just thinking about it, you are already worried. We try to play on that and remind them that if you try to let loose, there will be a repeat episode, a recurrence of what happened and then all of us will cry. So why don’t you just keep it aside?
In management the government is there, public spirited persons and donor agencies are there. They can always assist in the management. For example, when we had the crisis here, we had donations coming from the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, the Federal Ministry of Water Resources that came to try to dig boreholes and so on. We had NNPC coming in. We had the National Commission for Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons coming in. And they are not just coming to see. They are coming with loads and goods and so on. I think it is fascinating their passion. They are so disturbed when they hear that crisis has taken place. Everybody wants to see how they can help.
Just like when the gas explosion took place, everybody went in and they were trying to help even with the fact that there was likelihood of another one. Because as we were standing there another tank exploded and everybody was just running helter skelter. But all the same there was this zeal to go and assist.
So to manage is easy. It is very easy to manage because everybody will come and put his hand there and try to see what they can do about it. It has been done. But to prevent is more difficult. It is more tasking because some people claim they don’t know the consequences. You will want to tell people build drainages around your houses, receive permission before you build, don’t dump in water ways and they think you are joking. When houses begin to collapse it is then that they begin to cry and some of them may not even want to tell you.
Even today as we are talking I was in Adogi to see some houses that collapsed there. And then you go to the back of the houses and see. What is this kind of problem? The water coming from your house is just coming and pouring behind some rooms. And those rooms have collapsed. The water is not passing. It is stagnant. Then the rains will come and get stagnant there too and then soak into the building. What are you expecting? Some of the buildings are thirty years old but the man is living in the house. Like what I saw in one 12-rooms house in Daddare. What are you doing with 12 rooms sir? Three of his children are living there and they are all married. So all of them are just living there and they are not taking care of their surroundings. I am talking of just the immediate surroundings. I mean, just to put drainage around their house to ensure that this waters flow out. They are not ready to do so.
So it is more difficult to prevent but we had to go into this one to make sure that the people are educated. Some of them is not as a result of illiteracy though. Because some of them who go to build upstairs inside the river – not by the riverside – inside the river. I saw that kind of thing in Karu when I went to look at some disaster that took place there. The poor man has no money to get cement into the river. There is this dam that was built for FCT communities. They didn’t complete the dam. They abandoned it so it stored a lot of water. Then activities of those who went to build around there opened it up and then the dam overflowed. It broke up and came into Karu town, created a lot of destructions there and so we were invited. This happened last year. It was there that I saw this kind of thing. I then found out that even one architect was living there. He also built inside the river there. So it is not about illiteracy, it is just about some degree of stubbornness. It is just nonchalance and so you will have to take some time to do some education. So it is much difficult that way. But if it happens, well, you are just going to let the dead bury themselves. But you wouldn’t want them to die anyway so you will do more work then.
One issue that over the years you keep hearing and perhaps you being the head of this agency you may have heard allegations by people that people who are saddled with the responsibility of disaster management at times don’t utilize the resources given them to assist those in crisis. To the extent that they say people divert either money or items given to them. I don’t know if you have heard such in the course of your stay here, if people have accused you of also diverting either money or materials meant for those who have been hit by one crisis or the other.
If I claim that I didn’t hear or it didn’t happen to me, I must be telling a lie. Let the truth be told. But before then I will want to tell you that most of the allegations they are making is even true. For instance, when we were in Makurdi last month for a seminar there was a report we were discussing that the Benue State Government got about 20 lorry loads of items to take from the Government House in Makurdi to take to the IDP centres. Between this distance, seven Lorries got missing.
So if you make that kind of allegation, no, it is not a wild goose chase. It is a fact. But the question is whether everybody is involved. It is very important that you understand that this is a humanitarian duty and that nobody will deliberately cause problem for himself because he wants to benefit. Nobody will want to do so. Permit me to put it this way that except God allows it nobody will say ‘ok, I am going to leave my ramshackle or dilapidated house to go and stay in a primary school or in tents or shops or something somewhere.’ Nobody will want to do that and so it is a pathetic situation on its own. You will be given some items and you now want to divert it, I think it is ungodly. But this is a national issue. Can you discuss anything like that in Nigeria today when we are not fighting corruption in all ramification? It is staring at us in the face so when they make that kind of allegation you don’t run away.
I remember that the very first distribution of materials we did here – because of this question you have asked I am going to be very frank about something. When the crisis busted out in Logo Local Government Area here and the Tiv people ran out for which I said His Excellency Silas Agara and myself went to Awe and other places, His Excellency the then Governor Umaru Tanko Al-Makura was in Germany. He was contacted and he now said we should go and make proposals. And we made proposals to purchase items for 12 million naira which he cut down to 8. And then items were bought and brought here to Lafia Hotel, an open place. The whole press came here. These items were distributed from here Lafia Hotel and for three says vehicles were going out of Lafia Hotel under my direct supervision to those places that the items should go with the instructions as to how they should go and who they should go to. One man in the social media just went there. Somebody called my attention and asked whether I had seen this. I said no because I have been busy and have had no time going into social media. And he said the then Deputy Governor, Honourable Silas Ali Agara and myself – he quoted my name properly – Barrister Zachary Zamani Allumaga, Executive Secretary of NASEMA, swindled 50 million naira that was approved for the purchase of relief materials for the IDPs. What kind of story is this one? You get the idea? But what baffled me is not that those type of stories don’t go round, but the author of that story knows me and I know him. So I don’t know where the difficulty was for him to come around and ask what is the position even though I never disclosed to anybody how much I proposed and how much the government approved. But he could always come so that I can give a guide even if I’m not going to disclose. But the man went and said we swindled 50 million naira with Honourable Silas Ali Agara from the money meant for this one. I was wondering what was happening.
Now since then, as a matter of fact, I don’t give heed to those kinds of talk. I was almost thinking that every other thing is just accusation, maybe somebody doesn’t like you or something. You shouldn’t make such frivolous accusations. I have said it severally that you don’t play politics with human lives. These people are disadvantaged.
When we go to distribute relief materials we usually have one problem. The Tiv people are divided into two. There is one that is TIDA and there is another one that is Mseugh Tiv. So one group will come and say they are the ones responsible for taking the relief materials to the people and another group will still come. And I went out – I think when I was addressing the press at Government House before they carried the things – I said we don’t care where you come from in Tiv land. We don’t care whether you are APC, PDP, PRP or whatever, provided that you are affected by this crisis, you are a beneficiary. So let nobody come and begin to tell us that this man is Mseugh Tiv so he cannot benefit, this man is from TIDA and so he cannot benefit. No, government is not about TIDA or Mseugh Tiv. Government is for the people and in this case, indigent ones that have suffered some form of disaster.
Yes, I agree with you. This issue of diversion and the rest of them is there. And it is a national question. When you talk Nigeria, you know about corruption. And it is not restricted to particular areas or that it cannot affect some areas. But I can assure you that as much as possible – for a personality such as myself, I was once a magistrate and my job was just to send people to prison and bring them out and then I am paid salaries for it. That is a hard job. Now I am told to go into humanitarian service where I have to go in to assist people whether they have criminal tendencies or not. So I have to now put on a compassionate heart. Then you now go there and begin to steal from the same people that you are supposed to be compassionate about. I think it is a very bad thing to do. On my own yes, it is a very bad thing to do.
But I think most of the allegations are not unfounded. I wouldn’t want to give details but if I were allowed to stay from outside and watch the agency as it was operating before, maybe I will be in a position to tell you this story. But now I am on the seat, there are several crises that took place since the agency was created, and I tried to get the history of the performance of the agency. And you are not far from the truth. From the history of the performance of this agency, yes a lot of things like that are there. But certainly we will be calling on our colleagues, staff and anyone who is in the humanitarian business. In fact I did not mince words when I went to the UN building in Abuja at another seminar. I opened my mouth and said ‘you people should do something more aggressive than just calling people for seminar. You people want to do some meat pie so that you will get some balance from it. You want to buy some minerals so you will get balance from it. I think that it is better; whether we like it or not we still have IDPs around here. Just come with what you have, and when you come we will point you in the direction and you will go yourself.’
For instance I will tell you, when the National Commission for Refugees brought some items for distribution, we took them to the store in Keana to keep them in the store. I can assure you that IDPs are living there. With the items, as they are kept in the store, they are also sleeping in that store. So who wants to tell me that there is no cause for giving some relief to the IDPs? Let people try to be open. But some of them are just being mischievous because they probably also want to get into such a position. Let me tell you this – and this is cardinal – that the difference between one Nigerian and another is the opportunity. And so if they have the mind to go and do this corrupt thing they believe every other person too is in that kind of a thing. No one can be good.
Finally, you may wish to use this opportunity to address the people of Nasarawa State on issues pertaining to crisis, disaster and the likes. Perhaps what you’ve been telling them as you go on sensitization drive. What is your message to the people of Nasarawa State?
In fact this is a most glorious question. I can only say that I am most grateful because today, tomorrow, you may get used to a particular kind of behaviour and issues. You are sympathetic to a particular cause. You read it, you understand it, you go by it, you eat it, you sleep it. Then you discover that a lot of these things are things that people have taken for granted over time. There is this communal crisis that people keep committing here and there. Like I said, our agency is involved in humanitarian activities and it cuts across the various strata. I don’t think that any government agency or any government ministry in this State is having the kind of responsibility that this agency is supposed to have. For instance the stakeholders in this agency and from about twelve out of the ministries we have in this State we have desk officers in each one of them. And then we have from the police, from the civil defence, the ICRC and some other NGOs and humanitarian organisations. So you are far in-depth into the social strata of what is happening.
Now, I have also been part of the community. I have seen crises. I have seen people joking about life and the rest of them as if it is an opportunity.
I have told you earlier that this sensitization is going to be in phases particularly in areas that I think humanitarian activities are involved. And so we want to ask people to please and please, first of all you must be alive to tell your story. But if you decide to be negative to the advices, to the statements, to the sensitization, to the education, to the awareness campaign that is being made by both this agency and other agencies. Because for instance, the Ministry of Environment has now got the Governor to kick-start the environmental sanitation. And some people are thinking it is just a governmental activity. No, it is more than that. It is much more than just a governmental activity. It is in the interest of humanity. Then very soon also, in conjunction with the Ministry of Environment we will be getting the government to give money to all those agric centres to nurture trees which we will distribute for planting across the State because all the trees are no longer there. I have said it in the course of my discussion at the Emir’s Palace, when we came to Lafia when the State was created it was cashew trees everywhere. There is no where you will sit without sitting under a cashew tree. But today they’ve all been cut down and no tree has been planted in substitute thereof. We are in serious kind of trouble.
Now we have to sensitize the people with particular reference to communal crisis; mutual distrust. I think we have to look at it again. We don’t have any reason to disagree with the other person or the other person. All of them are made by God. We appreciate it is political. I appreciate that most of them is political, more than what I was able to say at the commission of inquiry. That is, that the people are complaining of molestation specifically. That they have been molested and they want to stand up to fight. But the other ones are mostly political. And then this idea of somebody trying to fend a crisis for the purposes of benefitting from same. Otherwise when I am told or when you hear the stories everywhere that some villagers have AK-47 or some other weapons kept under their beds, or they are hanging around with them. And these weapons cost about two hundred and fifty thousand, far more than the salaries some of us collect here, then you will begin to wonder what the hell is happening. What is the man wanting to do with it? And then you go and you see the same person complaining that he doesn’t have food, there is no money to buy fertilizer and the rest. They come back to us to buy food and fertilizer for them. I think it is not correct. It is uncultured.
Our youths are handmaids of crisis. And I think I will direct this advice to them. We have farmlands. We have how to survive. In the morning, go to any village. There is usually one place that they will come and sit down and one woman will bring food and they will buy 50 naira or so. And they will eat and go and sit under some tree. In the night they will come and organize some crises or some will bolt into the road. This is a big problem. It is a menace. We should be able to have something.
Like I have said I just toured the State. And fortunately I was touring for the second time in one year. The first one was when I was on campaign with His Excellency the Governor and director of the campaign. We went to all the Local Government and Development Areas. Now I am on my own via my agency as the head. So I have gone from village to village.
It is said that when you see people beginning to cause some crises probably they have not witnessed one. Maybe the people on one side who will want to talk too much, maybe it’s because they have not crossed to the other side. If someone went to Shendam Road and somebody just came from Umaisha and has the benefit of see what it is between Umaisha itself… and Toto, I think it will take some time for some people to say they want to start a crisis.
There is so much disagreement and new problems are coming on. You advise some people, don’t sell all your land. All those village areas between Keffi and Abuja are living on borrowed land. They have sold everything. They have sold even where they are. I know for instance in this village called Gemade or something like that, that even the burial ground was sold. So where do you bury the dead? This presupposes that all the lands around there have been sold. Of course that is the position. I know that as a fact. I wrote an agreement for the sale of one of the lands. So I know about it. Now, this thing that happened in South Africa, it is this type of situation. Gradually we will be getting there. Then we will say some other people came and seized our land and this one and that one. It is not fair. We better begin to take care of it.
In one of the seminars – and this is a very serious one. In one of the seminars that we held, I stood up and said all the crises that are taking place is with the knowledge of traditional rulers. And I remember that one traditional ruler stood up and said I was being sarcastic in my manner of speech. I kept quiet and I was listening to him. Another traditional ruler – a second class chief – stood up and said I was a hundred percent correct. It is impossible to say that something keeps occurring or it is recurring in a particular community or that members of your community agreed to go to war with another community and you the traditional ruler didn’t know. It is a lie. It is a fantastic lie. The traditional leaders know it but they need people like us to open it. They know it so what is there to hide? What are their colleagues running away from? Is it not true? If he doesn’t know that his community is brewing trouble – now in a community it is possible to say that one woman was in the farm and saw some five strange fellows going down that way with some sticks that look like guns but they didn’t see her. She came back to town, told her husband or her colleagues and they also told somebody and told the chief. You should go and find out. We are expecting you to go and find out.
Now for instance, you are hearing that after the attack on His Excellency the Deputy Governor Dr. Emma Akabe, some people were abducted and they asked for ransom.
So some of these crises I think we need to put our belt properly. The government of Nasarawa State has been very good. They put in place some mechanism. I don’t know if you are aware but there is community settlement committees from the Ward Head who is a leader to Village Head to District Head to the traditional ruler to the staff chief and then to the paramount rulers in the Local Government and up to the Chairman of the Council of Chiefs. Those committees are there; the Peace and Reconciliation Committee for the purpose of settling these things. The one funny thing is to now set up these committees but the implementation is another thing entirely.
My call generally is that people should be careful. They should be proactive. You have to be alive to even listen to what I am saying. Whether you agree with me or you criticize me, you have to first of all be alive. And you shouldn’t be in a rush to die. Don’t be in a rush to die because anybody who calls for war is already 70% committing suicide. No one is going to be identified as a victim and another identified as not being a victim. So he himself will be a victim. So we will urge the people to try to live in peace, keep a good environment so that we can even harvest our crops.
Now let me also mention something about these traditional rulers. Probably it is about the corruption everywhere. People will want to run away from the courts and claim the courts are corrupt. But even the traditional rulers. I want to give you an example. Just recently somebody cried to me. He said that they raped his daughter. And I took him to the police station and they were taking him to CID. And when they were taking him to the CID some traditional rulers intervened. They said I shouldn’t be taking this matter somewhere. I should be the one to resolve this matter. I should collect this matter and bring back to them. You see they were already intimidating me.
So what I told them was that since they are here, DPO let them go and sort themselves out first. And if they can’t do it they should come back. Then they went and said the man who committed the offence should pay N50,000 fine. The man paid the fine and the traditional rulers took N20,000 and said it was their share for trying to mediate in the crisis and gave the man whose daughter was raped N30,000. Tell me, what kind of story is that one? Should it be told?
But before anybody thinks of raising his mind I have said it already that I was intimidating by them. They said I am the one who wants to create crisis. I don’t intend to create crisis and that was why I behaved the way I behaved. But I am lamenting the outcome because it is not fair.
We will beg people to live together. We are all one. Nobody knows where his destiny is and no one knows who is carrying his destiny. We have heard the story of what happened between Dangote and Benson Idahosa. I think we will just continue to pray fervently and agree wholeheartedly that God has answered your prayer. It is only a matter of time. But I always tell people – especially those who say we claim to be a Christian society and so on – we pray because we have hope. And we have hope because there is God. That is the essence. Most of these things we are talking about can be solved by prayers. Every religion – traditional worship, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, all of them claim they pray. And all of them, I can say very assertively that they pray because they have hope that they are going to get. They are going to get because there is God. So why don’t we resort to prayers instead of taking matters into our hands?