By Dirisu Yakubu
Hon. Amos Gwamna Magaji is a member of the House of Representatives, representing Zangon Kataf/ Jaba Federal Constituency of Kaduna state, on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. A medical doctor by training, Magaji is the Vice chairman, House Committee on Health and a vocal member of the 9th Assembly. In this interview with Saturday Vanguard, the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria alumnus speaks on the challenges of legislative representation, the incessant crisis in Southern Kaduna, politics of religion amongst sundry issues.
You’ve spent over a year now in office. How will you describe the journey thus far?
The one year has been challenging in the sense that we started not long ago and in the midst of it, we started having a lot of issues. Coming to a place like this for the first time, you needed time to learn and adjust. While this was going on, COVID-19 came and affected legislative man-hour. In a way, it also affected the execution of projects. It got to a point that by the time we resumed, we were sitting once a week and apart from sitting once a week, there was a time, we could no longer sit at all and that affected the passage of bills, number of motions. In a nutshell, legislative activities went down. I know the constituency I come from. When we came in, we organized a peace symposium which had in attendance different stakeholders including religious and traditional rulers. We had men, women, old and young as well as civil society organization. At the symposium, we encouraged one another to live in peace. The challenges are quite enormous because today, some people think it is the duty of a legislator to construct roads. You live with the burden of financial demands and calls for assistance here and there. The requests are either for medical assistance or money to pay school fees but how many can you treat?
However it is not completely their fault because if the health sector was working well, it would have been difficult for someone to call you asking for medical bills for his children. If the educational sector was functional with loans available for students, people will not be having difficulty paying school fees for their children and wards. .
What are you doing at present to attract development to Southern Kaduna which you represent at the Assembly?
We are engaging with other arms of government to ensure that we attract the right development. But permit me to say that Southern Kaduna is highly marginalized. When you go to Southern Kaduna now and my constituency especially, you can’t find federal institutions and that was why I thought when Kaduna state established a university, in the spirit of fair play and brotherhood; it ought to have been cited there. In life generally, the way we relate with friends and brothers should also be the same way we relate with others in different parts of the country. Even when you are strong politically and economically than others, you should in the spirit of fair play and brotherhood, help the area not as powerful as you are. In my opinion, no federal institutions should go to zone one and zone two, until we start having a very good federal presence in zone three which is Southern Kaduna which is where my constituency is also. Whether you like it or not, some of these things have a way of raising tension and pressure groups because when certain people feel marginalized, they come together and that has a way of enhancing their ability to fight.
A few years ago, Governor Nasir El-Rufai said that perpetrators of the killings in some parts of the state had been identified and compensated. He claimed they were from African countries such as Niger, Mali, Chad and others. But he has again blamed some Southern Kaduna leaders for fueling the crisis, accusing them of looking for brown envelopes. What have you to say on this?
It is good to pay every price for peace and if you feel peace is expensive, then try crisis. I wouldn’t say never pay a kidnapper but honestly, it doesn’t help it to stop. I want to be as human as I can be. If you say don’t pay a kidnapper, when your relative is abducted, you would want to do everything to bring him or her home unhurt. As good as that may be, it also enhances crime rather than stop it.
Governor El-Rufai did not give details of the people that he feels are behind these killings. I don’t know how somebody from Southern Kaduna will now mastermind the killing of his own people. I am not saying people don’t do that but then the same way that the governor identified the people that killed and paid them; I think he should also identify the people that are killing their brothers and prosecute them if the assertions are right.
And my concern about that one is that, we never heard how the transaction took place, whether the governor was directly involved or he used his security vote as governor. I believe that if they are paying killers like this, we should also ask them to drop their weapons. Are they foreigners, are they staying near, do they have their collaborators within? Maybe, there is a difference between the killings then and the killings now. Maybe those ones were the ones that killed before and they paid them and they are no longer killing and now we have fresh killers who are the people of Southern Kaduna.
Former military governor of Rivers state, General Zamani Lekwot who incidentally is from Southern Kaduna recently joined the conversation. He believes the military has not done enough in bringing the situation under control. Do you agree with him?
Doing enough is relative. I wouldn’t say they have not done well or they have done enough because I don’t have the kind of information that the general has. I have seen reports where some of these attacks took place near military formations. Basically, I think the men on ground are not enough. However, more men (soldiers) were brought in last week. We need to embrace peace. Part of the problem is politics and unguarded utterances. Marginalization is another factor. We have had several reports even of military men saying they have lost interest and so on. So, I wouldn’t hold a brief for the military and say they have done excellently well. I wouldn’t also say that they have not tried because what resources do the men on ground have?
Don’t you think insinuation of religious divisions in Southern Kaduna is partly to blame for this crisis?
I have heard people say that Southern Kaduna people are angry that Governor El Rufai picked a Muslim woman to become deputy governor. If they are, I don’t blame them sincerely speaking. We have Christians in Borno, Zaria, but what is bad for A should also be bad for B. If I come out tomorrow to say I want to be the governor of Kaduna state and I pick a Christian from Zaria, will they accept it? I would love a Nigeria where we don’t look at religion. I would love a Nigeria where we look at competency, the ability to deliver but I don’t think we are there yet. Now that he picked a Muslim, the narrative among some Muslims is that it is okay while others say it is not. So if we have a governor from Southern Kaduna and he goes to Zaria and picks a Christian who is competent, will they say it is okay? As a leader, there is need to be sensitive in the choices you make.
How would the Southern Kaduna leaders close rank amongst themselves to achieve lasting peace?
I wouldn’t say Southern Kaduna is divided. Even in a family of two or three people, their opinions may not always be the same not to talk of when you gather together different tribes. Some of those divisions are even caused politically. We should be fair and sincere in all our dealings because whether you like or not, if I pick you against the will of your people and make you a commissioner, your family members and your village that are benefiting from it will not see the bigger picture because the system is favouring them. So one of the ways of causing division is to pick a few and favour them.
The government of Ahmed Makarfi has been singled out as one administration that did well to curtail and contain this menace of crisis. What can this government learn from it?
The truth about it is that Makarfi was very sensitive to the needs of the people and he was not arrogant in his dealing with people. He listened to people very well. Makarfi came and discovered that at that point, there were communities without chiefdoms and he created chiefdoms for them. The people were very happy. Many of the roads in Southern Kaduna today that people are still plying were done by Makarfi; so there was inclusion. Southern Kaduna people never felt left out, whether they were right or wrong, whether they criticized him or not; Makarfi saw himself as governor of the entire state. So I don’t think they needed to go and lobby before they got anything. I can’t tell you that there is any road in my local government that has been done in the past six years. The only road they are doing now was initiated by the past administration. Not much is going on in Southern Kaduna as we speak apart from the road in Kachia which is within the town only.