Monday Column by Emmanuel Yawe
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One thing you cannot take away from Chief Audu Ogbe, the Minister of Agriculture is his oratorical skills. He speaks with the conviction and vehemence of a salesman – reeling out suspicious statistics which cannot be crosschecked by his mesmerized ill equipped audience.
Often when I listen to him speak in public, I go away blaming whoever convinced him to go into academics and later politics for ruining the career of a successful street salesman.
My first close but brief encounter with the Minister was in 1983 when he was President Shehu Shagari’s Minister of Communications. I was a reporter with the New Nigerian at the time and Abba Dabo my Editor enjoyed giving me the toughest assignments he faced. He it was who sent me to Maiduguri in 1982 when the Maitatsine killer squad started an insurrection at the Bulunkutu quarters of the town. I saw holy hell there.
In 1983 when General Buhari, the GOC of 3rd Armored Division in Jos launched an onslaught in Chad in hot pursuit of some renegade Chadian troops that had attacked and killed Nigerian soldiers, Abba Dabo tipped me to follow him. I did – the only Nigerian reporter on his trail. I was later told it was my report, lavishly carried on the front page of the New Nigerian and repeatedly relayed by the BBC Hausa and Africa service that alerted Shehu Shagari, the Commander in Chief that his troops were deep in Chad – fighting a war.
Back to Audu Ogbe in 1983, my brief was simple. There was a great controversy then involving a contract that was given by Gen Murtala Mohammed when he was Head of State. Known as the Aerostat Balloon communication project, it had consumed hundreds of millions of dollars without a single improvement of Nigeria’s telephone services. Abba Dabo delegated me to investigate the story. In Lagos, I met the Minister who referred me to one Engineer Mohammed, a director in the ministry.
It was Engineer Mohammed who gave me the details of the deal. He brought a huge file and let me peruse the details. Going through, I saw a Supreme Military Council document which revealed that Murtala Mohammed signed the contract on 12th February 1976, a day before the whisky besotted Bukar Suka Dimka pummeled him to death in broad daylight on a Lagos Street. That was the biggest privilege I enjoyed as a New Nigerian reporter – having unfettered access to classified documents of the Supreme Military Council of Nigeria. I will always be grateful to the newspaper.
Audu Ogbe started his political career when he left his job as a French teacher at the Murtala College of Arts and Science Makurdi to contest elections into the Benue State House of Assembly. He won and was in the House before President Shehu Shagari appointed him a Minister. Since then, I do not have any record of his contesting a direct election where ordinary folks vote. He has been in public service though, mostly through appointments. Under the Obasanjo presidency, he even got as high as the National Chairman of the ‘biggest political party in Africa’.
While these appointments may put him in public glare, they rob him of an essential ingredient of a successful politician: high up there without feeling the pulse of the people he is supposed to lead. Audu Ogbe was one of the prominent leaders of the APC from Benue at the time of the last general elections in 2015. But his performance in that election did not impress anybody except himself. Those close to him said he did not vote because he did not even register to vote.
The results of the elections in his own ward, Local Government and Senatorial Zone did not speak well of him as a leader of the APC. The party was thoroughly thrashed by the PDP, with David Mark as the Supreme leader in that part of Benue State.
It was President Buhari who came to his rescue by nominating him as Minister. It was a hard pill for the leaders of the APC in the two zones of the state who delivered victory to the party to swallow but they did. Still, in a frightening demonstration of human and political insensitivity, President Buhari again ignored the two APC senatorial zones in his next round of appointments. This time he did not only go for somebody in a PDP dominated zone, his choice for Ambassadorial appointment was an active PDP card carrying member.
If the President had gone ahead with sending the PDP hot head as an Ambassadorial nominee as he was insisting, he would have been disgraced by the Senate. The two Benue APC Senators who gave the party victory were determined to shoot the nominee down. Wise counsel prevailed and the President reluctantly found an APC man for the appointment.
The APC style of handling matters in Benue is that neither the party at the National level nor the President is sensitive to the true feelings of the people. Chief Audu Ogbe represents Benue in Buhari’s cabinet. But it is doubtful if he understands how his people feel especially on the controversy between sedentary farmers and the wandering criminal cattle men.
Benue is a state where all issues and politics are often split along ethnic lines. But the rampaging herdsmen who have killed the Tiv, Idoma and Igede indiscriminately have brought unity to the squabbling ethnic men. Benue is united irrespective of tribe behind the anti-open grazing law passed by the State House of Assembly and signed by Governor Samual Ortom.
Benue people today are under a frightening onslaught from criminal herdsmen and many meanings are being read – wrongly or rightly – into the new found strength of their attackers. Audu Ogbe’s strange solution to this is ‘cattle colonies’.
Who is Audu Ogbe working for in Buhari’s cabinet with his queer theory of cattle colony?
Maybe he is working for President Buhari who against all odds appointed him Minister. But as an itinerant reporter, I often go to Daura where the President has a small ranch. If the President who employed Audu Ogbe believes so much in cattle colonies he should have established one and not a ranch that I know and have visited on several occasions. So, evidently Audu Ogbe is not even working for his employer.
At a point, I thought Audu Ogbe was working for cattle breeders whose leaders stunned the civilized world by rationalizing in a BBC interview the brutal murder of 73 innocent women and children on new year’s day in Benue; they said it was a reaction to their 1000 cattle that were stolen. But on 2nd February 2018, Jibril Ibrahim reported in his back page column in Daily Trust a revealing meeting between the Nigerian Bar Association and the Benue State Branch of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association in its Abuja Headquarters on January 27th 2018. He wrote:
“One of the highpoints of the meeting was the Associations passionate appeal on the Minister of Agriculture, Mr Audu Ogbe to drop the idea of cattle colonies. They explained that they are being falsely accused of being colonisers and the use of the term colony by government is being used to victimize them as agents of the said plan. They added that they are not colonisers and government should stop associating them with the concept.”
So if Audu Ogbe is not working for the Benue people he represents in Buhari’s cabinet; is not working for President Buhari himself and is not even working for cattle breeders in his energetic crusade for cattle colonies, who is he working for?