Monday Column by Emmanuel Yawe
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The Arewa Consultative Forum, established in March 2000, held a General Assembly in March 2020 at which Chief Audu was elected to lead the organization.
The emergence of Chief Audu Ogbe as the leader of the Forum is significant in many ways. First, he is a household name in the public life of Nigeria. Elected into the Benue state House of Assembly in 1979, he emerged as the Deputy Speaker of the House. He was still in that office in 1982 when he caught the attention of President Shehu Shagari, who was so impressed with his debates and interventions in the House that he appointed him a Minister in his cabinet.
Reappointed in 1983 when Shehu Shagari himself was reelected – one of the few Ministers to be so favored – he remained a Minister until the military terminated the second republic on December 31 1983. That did not eclipse his public service career as it did many other young up-coming politicians in his class. He continued offering his services when called on to do so during the period of military intervention. As the military prepared to hand over power in 1999, he and other patriots came together to found the People’s Democratic Party, the PDP.
He later emerged as the National Chairman of the then ruling party, an office he left in controversial and unsettling circumstances. Later still, he left the party all together and played a key role in the formation of the current ruling All Progressive Congress, APC.
Second, his appointment made the point that the ACF is not an ethnic organization. All you need to be a member of Afenifere or Ohanazendigbo is to prove that you are a Yoruba man or an Igbo man. And so while other such groups in Nigeria reduce membership to biology and genetics, the ACF is decidedly multi-ethnic. The man they have elected as a leader today comes from the minority Idoma ethnic group of Benue in a region that accommodates more than three hundred ethnic groups.
Unfortunately, immediately after his emergence in March 2020 the country and in fact the whole world was gripped by the coronavirus pandemic which forced all of us into a lockdown. In such situation, meetings became impossible and the new chairman and his executive committee could not even be inaugurated. Fortunately, the lockdown has been relaxed and this has enabled the National Working Committee to be inaugurated at a solemn occasion by Lt General MI Wushishi, GCON, the Chairman of the leadership selection Committee that supervised the election.
Chief Audu Ogbeh, who presided over the first meeting of the newly elected National Working Committee did not waste time in dispelling misgivings about the ACF saying “some Nigerians mistake the ACF to be an ethnic, tribal, religious or a political organization. It is none of these. We have over 300 tribes in the north, and we cannot afford to be an ethnic organisation.”
As to be expected, Chief Audu Ogbe who has great passion for Agriculture and was President Buhari’s Minister of Agriculture in is first tenure is giving serious thought to revamping the sector in the north. He wants northerners to take advantage of the fact that 78% of Nigerian land mass is in the north and that this should be harnessed for rapid agricultural development.
He has consistently lamented the dwindling fortune of the northern region particularly in agriculture pointing out that it had lost its place as the third largest producer of groundnuts in the world, after the United States and Argentina.
However, he noted that the region had struggled to maintain its position as the second largest producer of sorghum in the world. “And we are doing well in some food crops too but the earnings from these agricultural products are no longer sufficient to do many things, particularly in education. Many of these young ones need education. Over the years, we have allowed agriculture and education to go their separate ways. So why should a child of five or seven years begin to roam the streets, instead of being in school?”
Next to agriculture and education, Ogbe is worried about insecurity in the north. “We are faced with the problems of killings day and night which are greater than ever, except during the civil war.
“Our responsibility now is greater than before. If we do not save the north now, we will lose the north.”
On restoring peace to the north Chief Ogbe does not mince words. “It has to be. We don’t just have a choice. I’m too old to go on exile. There are so many of us in the region. How will the millions of people living in the North survive as refugees in foreign countries like Niger Republic, Chad, Cameroon, Benin Republic and so on. So we have to make peace.”
Apart from restoring peace to the north, the ACF chairman is equally passionate about education, industrial growth and value-addition to agriculture.
“This crisis is destroying the society. We are very distressed. But you ask why are these crises happening now? I believe over the years we must have made very serious mistakes. In terms of development for instance, the North is far behind the South.
“We are behind the South in education; we are behind the south in industrial growth. Looking through our records you will find that in Kano alone in the last forty years, it has lost 126 industries. We have textiles in Kaduna too, all gone. In Jos we have some industries that have gone. So you can see that slowly there was a decline.
“The increasing excitement in the North on oil money, federation account and all that, a culture of depending on employed payment, employed service as a source of living. Almost everybody is depending on salary, particularly, in the last ten years in the North. Politics has become the major industry. This can’t make a society grow. I know every part of Nigeria has experienced economic shock because of some developments. Presently, agriculture does not even sustain most families due to some factors. This senseless situation, particularly here in Kaduna and in many states where the crises is going on is not in the best interest of the region. It is a disaster.”
These are the issues agitating Chief Audu Ogbeh’s fertile mind as he takes full responsibility of the affairs of Nigeria;s biggest and most cosmopolitan socio cultural group, the ACF.