Caleb Mutfwang is the governor-elect of Plateau State. In this interview monitored on Channels, he spoke on his readiness for the task ahead, security challenge in the state, plans to tackle poverty in Plateau, among other issues. INIOBONG IWOK brings excerpts:
How ready are you for the task ahead?
You asked for the job, didn’t you?
I asked for it, like they say on easy lies the head that wears a crown. Since the declaration we’ve been thinking of strategizing and putting our plans together.
The weight of the assignment is beginning to dawn, but we asked for it and we have to give it a go.
Are you up to the task?
By God’s grace we are.
What gives you the impression that in a state like Plateau you have the capacity to run the affairs?
I come in with empathy, my trajectory has been one that has prepared me for service, I have been a people-oriented person all my life and I have been able to be in a position to bear the burdens of people and therefore, I think nothing prepares you in life than to know that people know that they can trust you that you will be there for them.
At this point in my life, I am not looking at anything other than the opportunity to serve humanity.
A curfew was declared in a local government due to an attack, it looks like a reprisal but these are common issues in your state. Do you have an idea of what the problem is in Plateau State?
Yes thank you, unfortunately it’s my local government, a lot of the people that have been killed are my people, even though everybody on the plateau is my people, but certainly, we knew all along that this was not going to be a walk in the park. This was not going to be an easy task and by the grace of God we are determined.
One of the things we promised our people when we were campaigning is that we are going to demonstrate leadership and by that I mean we’re going to take some very tough decisions.
We are going to look into the issues dispassionately and we are going to be able to confront the issues and come up with solutions.
Of course, I do not have a magic wand but by the grace of God and together with the people we are going to think through our issues and be able to come up with home grown solutions to the challenges that confront us. But we’re going to give leadership, we are going to show the people that we have the political will to take the decisions that are necessary to move the state forward.
You have been there as a local government chairman before; why the killings and who are the people killing your people?
What has happened today, yesterday into today, it will be an injustice to the people that were killed to call it a clash or reprisal, this is pure genocide and I want to address it from the criminal angle of it, because one of the things we promised our people is to be strong on the rule of law. It doesn’t matter whoever commits crime, irrespective of where you belong, we would have to deal with it headlong.
When you say genocide, it is a deliberate clearing out a group of people, who are these people planning genocide on your people because this is a very strong language?
Very well I can tell you that there’s been a lot of banditry around the Plateau, it did not start today, it’s been going on for years and a lot of communities today have been wiped out. I can tell you that at the last count; we had about 64 communities that have been displaced in my state alone.
They no longer exist absolutely; they are now in IDP camps. I had the privilege (Wednesday) at the governor’s induction forum to talk with Her Excellency the deputy General Secretary of the United Nations and I told her; look the IDPs you’re focusing on in the North East do not only exist there, they also exist in the North Central and you need to turn your attention to the IDPs in the North Central.
We have quite a number of them, they have been in camps for years, and we need to escalate that conversation so that these people can go back to their ancestral lands.
You need to explain to us who are these people behind this genocide act, like you’ve described?
Well, at this point in time you know I need to be careful because I’m not the chief executive of the state, there’s a sitting government and I would want to respect the government in power to be able to disseminate the right information.
I do not have yet the authority to be able to disclose a lot of security issues at the moment because the rightful person to receive or disclose them is the Governor. So, let me respect that. But I can assure you that these people are people that were brought in from outside those communities, outside the streams.
I do not have exact details to give you at the moment, but all the years down the line a lot of their identities have been revealed that these are not Nigerians and they have been brought in as foreign machineries and they overrun these territories.
Sometimes, of course, it is difficult to disabuse the minds of people that it is not in collusion with some of the people that are residents in those communities on within or around those communities, but largely there is a large influx of foreigners, who are not residents in the state per se what they do a lot of the times; they come in and attack and they go back to wherever they came from. It’s difficult to really be able to place identity.
What could be their target; what could be their grievance and purpose of wanting to clean out a group of people?
The purpose of those who perpetrate the attack may just be because they are mercenaries and hirelings. I want to ask; who is the person sponsoring them? Who is instigating them? What is his aim? And if you want to look at it sometimes it’s difficult to disabuse your mind that this is not about land grabbing, you know if the communities that have been displaced as I’m talking to you now, it’s not as if they’ve been left vacant, some people are occupying them.
So, it’s difficult not to begin to ask those questions: what is the motive of these invaders or the sponsors of the invaders? We think it has a lot to do with land grabbing. It has a lot to do with demarketing of the state, because again I can tell you that the security situation of the Plateau has not been the worst in the North but there has been a lot of demarketing of the Plateau.
Sometimes, I find it quite deliberate, a lot of narratives that try to make people to be scared of coming into Plateau, but the truth is yes; there have been attacks, but perhaps, not even as bad as you have in Kaduna State, but you find that businesses are still thriving in Kaduna while a lot of people have the perception that Jos for example is a no-go area which is not true.
But do you think that this has any kind of ethnic or religious connotation?
Of course, you have to look at it from a multifaceted dimension. There are lots of economic benefits, people start to gain, because even criminality itself has an economic dividend.
You have to look at it from the political point of view to try to subjugate. I do not want to celebrate religion, because I do not think that those who maim and kill only use religion as a pretext but it’s not that they want to advance their religion.
A lot of the times when people are looking for political oxygen, you find that they now fan these embers of hatred around religion and ethnicity to be able to find space within the polity. I don’t want to glorify it with those, but certainly what we are seeing is that there is a deliberate plan to be able to dislocate the people and then to be able to take over the land for other purposes.
You promised that you will return those people in the IDPs camps to their ancestral homes. How soon do you plan to do that and how do you hope to achieve that?
You know Plateau State has been Christian, the home of peace and tourism and it’s not far from reality. Our biggest asset on the Plateau, I believe, is our climate which is God-given, apart from the natural resources in the ground and the weather is clement for medical tourism, it’s clement even for hospitality and so on.
Like I said, there has been a deliberate plan over the years, it would appear to be able to demarket Jos for example, but what we are going to be doing in the course of the days is to engage the populace, engage the citizenry, engage the media to be able to situate us our real situation as it is that Plateau is still a destination for everybody.
You can still come to Plateau and you can still live on the plateau and you can still thrive on the plateau.
But the issue of IDPs particularly is not going to be just, there’s no magic wand about it; it’s going to be a multi-stakeholder approach to resolving the issue, so that the people can return to their ancestral lands.
It’s difficult to place time frames but we want to get to work as soon as we get sworn in and see how we can bring all the critical stakeholders to the discussion table and see what are the issues that we need to tackle in order to move forward.
How soon do you think this can be, do you have a timeline you want your people to get back to the ancestral lands?
As soon as yesterday if it were possible; but I can’t place a timeline on this.
But what are the mechanisms you hope to put in place to make these happen?
We’re going to create a standing committee that will handle this issue. So far, it has been an ad-hoc approach; but we’re going to have a standing robust desk that will handle this issue and we are going to engage the security agencies.
We are going to engage the International Development Partners, we’re going to engage the communities that surround those communities and see how we can have a multi-stakeholders approach to discussing all the issues.
My hope is that from swearing in and before the year runs out, we would have given significant mileage in this direction.
Read also: My appetite for greed has been trimmed — Plateau State Governor-elect
The last figure released by NBC shows that multi-dimensionally 153 million people are in abject property in this country. How do you hope to take your people out of poverty considering the huge number of people who cannot even feed?
Interestingly, Plateau is about number 26 on that index and so we really have a good share of the poverty situation. What we need to do as soon as we get sworn in, is to come up with pragmatic and practical steps that will ensure that the people trust us; that we are going to be able to walk the talk. Of course, what do we need to address those issues beyond hangouts?
Apart from dealing with the security challenges which would allow our people to go back to the farms and to engage in meaningful economic activity, of course, one of the key economic activities which would drive our economies is agriculture. Over the years due to the Insurgency there has been a state decline in productivity in that sector. We want to be able to address that drift and make sure that people can go back to their farms and of course as they go back to their farms, we need to also empower them.
I believe in the philosophy that; it is better to teach a man how to fish than giving him handouts of fish to eat. If we get our people back to the farms, we give them the necessary implements to farm, the necessary support of the farm but in terms of subsidized fertilizer and other farming inputs that we can be sure that at the end of the farming season people can feed themselves.
Food security is a key target for us and our aim is that every family on the Plateau by the grace of God in the next four years should be able to feed themselves.