Alhaji Abdulsalam Mohammed is the Madaki of Ohikwo Community in Ganaja, Ajaokuta Local Government Area of Kogi State. The former member of National Guard, in this interview with YINKA OLADOYINBO, talks about the security situation in the area and the culture of the people.
Your installation last year was greeted with some crises, what do you think was responsible?
You know for sure that anything that is good attracts lots of people. What happened that day was that some people from the neighbouring Gadumo village were opposed to my installation, however the matter was quickly resolved.
How have you been able to put your experience as a security expert to bear in your new role as a traditional ruler?
With my little experience in security, immediately I was installed, I organised vigilante group in conjunction with the Vigilante Group of Nigeria, Kogi State chapter. So far, I have recruited and trained over 150 personnel to man every part of our community. I have set up committees comprising vigilante and heads of various tribes in the community. With this arrangement, I have been able to reduce cattle rustling and kidnapping which used to be a daily occurrence. We organised regular security meetings. Our people now know who to call when there is a security breach. For instance, there was a boy in our community who went to a woman with the intention to buy recharge card, but the moment the woman went inside to bring the card, he pulled out a gun and started to rob the woman of her belongings. The matter was reported to me, we swung into action and the boy was arrested. We wanted to hand him over to the police, but the parents came to plead for clemency, we disciplined him and warned him to leave the village, and since he left, the place has been peaceful.
Another problem that is prominent in your community is land grabbing, what is the situation now?
Yes, it used to be a problem. Before I was turbanned, I was the chairman of Land Allocation Committee in Ganaja. We signed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the state government on the sharing formula. We came up with an approach to solve the problem and this was after we constructed the layout on the community land, the state government will take 65 per cent while we retain the remaining 35 per cent and that solved the problems.
How have you been relating with other ethnic groups and tribes living with you?
We have created a forum to maintain peace. Every tribe has a leader. We have Igala, Yoruba, Ibo, Ebira chiefs who coordinate their people on how to maintain cordial relationship with their neighbours and to ensure security of the area.What we are also doing is making sure that every transformer point is manned by a leader.
As a traditional leader in this community, how do you view the agitation of some ethnic groups to leave the country?
The agitation is not possible, we have many things in common. For instance, the people of the Eastern Nigeria rely on the North for their agricultural needs, while the north and other zones also need the Ibos for commerce. In fact, there is no unity among the agitators. with the hardship across the land, what took place in the past could not happen again and I said God should forbid.
There is the campaign across communities in the country that young people should be made to ascend traditional stools, what is your view on this raging issue?
There is a popular saying of my people that what elder sees when he is lying down, even if a child climbs the mountain, he will not see it. This is apt here. We encourage our young people to learn from elders. They should be brought up properly. In my palace, we observe our dos and don’ts, my people know what to do when they are in the palace. We play down on some cultural practices that cause troubles. When my people enter the palace, they prostrate thrice, but some religious people are kicking against it. You can’t separate religion from culture. Unfortunately our society has abandoned our culture completely which is responsible for the social unrest across the country.
In those days in the village, before a girl would be given in marriage, certain rites would be performed on her for cleansing. These rites will cleanse her from her bad behaviours. You see that every tribe has its unique ways of paying homage to their rulers.Before I assumed this stool , I was the president of Kwararafa Youths. Kwararafa comprises communities in Taraba, Benue, Kogi and Nassarawa states . I have the full knowledge of the culture of the people in these states. When I was still serving as the youth president of the old Kwararafa kingdom, when a thief was caught, his ear would be sliced to serve as a deterrent to others, if you saw a man with a sliced ear you knew that he was a thief and thus helped to reduce crimes tremendously. There is no way we can live without culture, both Christianity and Islam preach peaceful coexistence.
How have your people benefitted from the present administration in the state and what are your expectations?
Leadership is not a tea party. The present governor has his style. Good leadership is a function of good lieutenants. So, if he is performing, then, he has a good team, and if he does not perform, then, his cabinet is populated by inept officials. He can’t work alone , he works with his team and if there are challenges, they shall all be blamed. He has his concept and style which may be different from that of his predecessors. I must commend him for appointing youths to the highest positions in the state, which has not happened before, which is a motivation for the youth to properly organise themselves.While he is taking care of the youths, traditional rulers were not left behind. He has smooth relationship with the royal fathers. He pays them regularly.
He has performed brilliantly in the area of security as kidnappings and armed robberies have reduced since he assumed office. In the past, kidnappings was a serious concern to the state and the nation in general, but he has turned the tide against criminals even Fulani/ farmers clash has equally dropped.
What is your advice to the people of Kogi State in this critical period of nation building?
I urged our people to remain calm and be law abiding. We encourage ourselves to preach peace instead of hate speeches. It is when the society is peaceful that development can thrive. I advise our people to live within their means and work for peace for our state to prosper. In politics we should allow choices, we should discourage thuggery. People should be allowed to exercise their franchise without fear of intimidation or molestation. We should encourage our people to vote for credible candidate and not only on party lines. In the country today, membership of a political party is not static, people move easily from party A to party B, so, we should not create enmity based on party affiliations.
I also want to plead with our leaders to avoid using money to breed thugs instead, they should use their wealth to grow the economy. They should use their resources to make farming attractive to our youth as an alternative to oil.
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