Arc Kabir Ibrahim, president of the All Farmers’ Association of Nigeria (AFAN) in this exclusive interview with JOSEPH CHIBUEZE, speaks on why Nigeria has not been able to achieve food security among other issues
Why is it that we are still struggling to feed ourselves despite the large arable land available to us?
Our major challenge is that our government do not have a consistent policy on agriculture, especially since oil was discovered in commercial quantity. So many things were just left like that. Every government that comes, introduces its own policy and jettisons that of its predecessor. You can’t develop that way. Again we place too much emphasis on oil money and abandoned what used to be the mainstay of our economy before the discovery of oil. It was only until the last 20 years when it became obvious that we can no longer just rely on oil that we started seeing a semblance of seriousness in the area of agricultural policies. Even at that, we are still not there. As long as we continue to have policy somersault, we cannot get anywhere, we would just be running in circles.
What is the role of farmers’ groups like AFAN in agricultural development?
It is basically to coordinate the farmers and help in shaping policy direction, helping government get farmers’ perspectives whenever they are designing any policy that borders on agriculture. The major duty of the national officers of a farmers’ group like AFAN is to help to shape policy to create a favourable environment for farmers to operate in. of course you know that real agriculture happens in the states. What I am doing here is to help shape policy for Nigeria.
For instance I am on the national steering committee of the development plan 2021 to 2025; 2026 to 2030 and 2030 to 2050. I met the minister himself at the public hearing where I represented AFAN.
Your association has been engulfed in some sort of crisis and we are even hearing that you are no longer the president and that it was the Board of Trustees (BOT) that removed you, was there a sitting of the BOT and who are the people that make up the BOT?
Before our election, we had a registered BOT, three of them- Muritala Nyako, Shetima and the late Femi Coker. But after the election, as contained in our constitution, the national president, the two deputies and six members, one from each of the geo-political zones will constitute the BOT. I came through an election, therefore, I am a member of the BOT, my two deputies, six of our members are, then Abdullahi Adamu was added in Kano and then Ike Ubaka, who is now late would no longer be there.
Those that would now constitute the BOT are Nyako, Shetima, Abdullahi Adamu, myself, my two deputies and six officials from each of the six geo-political zones. These are the people that would constitute the BOT.
That meeting of that BOT was never held. Nyako unilaterally in his house did whatever he did.
When that happened, what steps did you take?
We wrote to him telling him that he did not give us any query on why our tenure ended and we had not done election. He didn’t reply. Then Farouk took us to court because we continued to function as the national executive because nobody gave us any letter in writing and they were not appointed in writing.
They went to court asking the court to stop us but because of COVID-19, the court did not sit. We were served and we countered the allegations they raised against us noting that the constitution of AFAN does not recognise a caretaker committee and that we have started elections and have done up to 33 states as at the time, remaining four before the national election. Before we even got the notice of what they are saying, we had planned on the national election committee which the national executive council (NEC) of our association approved. Our NEC meets twice in a year. The national working committee sat down and nominated six people, one from each of the geo-political zones and a chairman. The proposed chairman is our former chairman of Nasarawa State, he is a member of the National Institute, a former head of service, we thought he has a clear mind. So he would have conducted the elections, but for this imbroglio.
When we countered their claims at the court, we instituted our own, insisting that they have no locus to do what they did and that as far as we were concerned, our constitution has no provision for a caretaker committee.
That is the position now, the case would have been heard on the 29th of September but on the 25, they said they were going to amend their charges, the relieves they sought, we countered it and said it was late in the day for them to amend their charges because it was just four days to the hearing of the substantive suit. On the day for the hearing, the judge was said to be ill, he didn’t sit, so we left. However, our councils sat down and agreed that the hearing date shall be on the 4th of November.
Your constitution said five years single term, does it provide for an extension of tenure assuming there are issues like the one you have now?
It does not provide for tenure elongation, but the conditions are this, election in AFAN begin from the ward level, it is those elected at the ward level that will elect the local government executives, the local government executives are the ones to elect the state officials while the state officials are the ones that elect the national officers. In each case, you have a chairman of the ward, the secretary of the ward, the treasurer of the ward, the women leader of the ward and the youth leader of the ward. These are the electorate and two members of commodity associations who are really participating in all AFAN activities, like I came to AFAN from poultry association, I was president of poultry association. I used to attend AFAN meetings and I got noticed and eventually elected, I am the first person to be elected AFAN president. Nyako, when he was president was not elected, he was appointed by Obasanjo.
After the election, it is very clear that certain things would have to change, Nyako doesn’t know this. I’ve sat with him for over two hours in a meeting, but because of his condition now, he cannot understand. Shetima, another member of the BOT is telling us that he is not aware they were appointed, Abdullahi Adamu who is the chairman, Senate committee on Agriculture, completely denied any knowledge of the said appointment. He even said he met Nyako who said he was sorry for what happened that he didn’t know what was happening.
But the fact here is, if they were appointed caretaker, they should have a letter and we should also have a copy, we don’t have any.
When they took us to court, their lawyer wrote to our bank to freeze our account, the bank said there was no need, the court has not sat and there was no ruling therefore the account could not be frozen. What they did was to go and forge the signature of Nyako and pretended that he was introducing two people as signatories to the account, the purported acting national secretary and the treasurer, the bank rebuffed it. We are still operating our account.
But why were you unable to conduct elections?
We actually began these elections in the states since July 2018 hoping to finish it and do the national election. The letters we wrote to the chapters are there to show that we have done our best but the people are not forthcoming and that is why we have that delay, and like I said earlier, we had actually conducted elections in 33 states and just remaining four, even the day that they did what they did, we were actually meeting to appoint national electoral committee members and suddenly somebody came to tell us what was going on at Nyako’s house.
We understand there is another AFAN registered at the CAC?
That was something that Farouk Mudi did in Kano. In 2016, he lost election to be chairman Kano state, he then connived with the then commissioner for agriculture in Kano, who is now the state deputy governor to float this AFAN Kano State chapter, which is illegal. In fact as I am talking to you, the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) has removed from its record that there was AFAN Kano State chapter where Farouk Mudi is captured to be a member of the board of trustees among six others.
There is only one All Farmers Association of Nigeria. We are waiting for the minister to call us and apologise for his actions. We have letters where he referred to Farouk as the president of AFAN, how? We are ready to take this matter to any level. We have written an open letter to the president. We will pursue this case even up to the Supreme Court because it is the institution of AFAN not Kabir.
It was alleged that you were extorting money from state chapters, how correct is that?
I want the state chapters to write and show evidence of exploitation or extortion. What I met was that every farmer will register with N2,000 every year to obtain an identity card. When I assumed office, I said the ID card should last for five years not every year and that the cost would be N1,000 for a copy of the ID card and the constitution.
The response has been very poor, essentially because over the years, they have been paying N2,000 and they never saw the ID card. The small money that we have there come from this registration. I am not a signatory to the account, our balance would have been N10 million but because of this case, we now have about N6 million.
When I assumed office as AFAN president what I inherited was only N170,000, now we have over N6 million, it would have been N10 million but for this case we have.
Throughut the tenure of Audu Ogbe as minister of agriculture, we didn’t get anything, the present minister has not given us anything, I just heard that he gave them something, at the right time he would have to explain because they are not representing AFAN.
Is it that the state and local government officers are not coordinating their members?
The truth is that lethargy set in from the previous administration of Nyako. The members feel ripped off. How can someone be paying N2000 every year for ID card and at the end of the day, no ID card is given him?
Do you have any issue with the current minister of agriculture?
Not at all. When he was made minister, we visited him, gave him a large compendium, telling him how to succeed. I could do that because I have had the privilege of dealing with five other ministers of agriculture, from Adamu Bello to Audu Ogbe, he is the sixth one. I have never had problem with any of them. With him, I had no quarrel whatsoever, we gave him all the support and we have been working together until this issue of Farouk came. I think they are together because they are both from Kano, now he has seen fire.