By Tony Akowe, Abuja

Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) is working out an economic blueprint that will take the North out of its present economic woes, it National Chairman Chief Audu Ogbe said on Sunday

Unless such blueprint is designed, the region will remain in perpetual poverty, the former Agriculture minister said, warning that no amount of political power held by northerners would liberate the region from the shackles of poverty.

Ogbe said the problem of the North was not how many organisations are formed out of the ACF, adding that the pan-North organisation was not in conflict with any group over the control of the region.

He the ACF under his watch would not only play politics but show interest in region’s economic growth.

“In another two weeks, we will come out with our agenda and the ACF agenda under my leadership will not only be politics. I want us to concentrate on economic problem and talk politics once a while,” Ogbe said.

Speaking when the leadership of the North Central Peoples Forum visited him in Abuja, he said the ACF has no problem with the formation of as many groups from the north as possible as long as the objective is to help drive the regions.

He said: “We do not have problem with you. Our goal is the same and we are heading towards the same direction. If the Northeast comes today and say they have identified one issue they want to come together to tackle, we will have no problem with that.”

He added that the formation of the Forum came to him as a surprise, saying: “This development has created unnecessary tension and that happened because I was not hinted in the first place. It put me in a dilemma because I belong to this zone and by coincidence, I am Chairman of ACF.

“I didn’t even know that I was going to be Chairman because I was not in Kaduna when they met and decided that I should become the Chairman of ACF. My initial reaction was to say no because I just finished trying to do something in the Ministry of Agriculture and you know my passion for agriculture. Right now, I am busy on the farm where I am busy planting palm trees and my target is to plant 50,000 palm trees”.

According to him, despite the region’s huge agricultural potentials, it has remained backward.

He insisted the region must refocus and restrategise to curb the rising crime wave, saying political power alone will not solve its problems.

Ogbe said: “When the media came and asked me if this was not a break up of ACF under me, I said no because the North is large. We occupy 76 per cent of Nigerian landmass. Kogi State alone is bigger than the whole of the Southeast in land mass. Niger State is three times the size of the Southsouth, Borno State is two and half times the size of the Southeast and 25 times the size of Lagos.

“We have wealth, but we are still poor. I told the press that there was no crisis. The place is large and there is a lot to do. So, when there are organisations to face particular assignments, everybody should come on board. I do not see any conflict between the zonal arrangement and the ACF because we are all heading the same direction.

“In 2005, I was invited by the late Chief Sunday Awoniyi, Adamu Ciroma and Abubakar Rimi to deliver a lecture to the ACF in Kaduna. There were about 2,000 people in the hall and the topic was the North and the future of Nigeria. I gave warnings about things happening now. I told them there was going to violence in the North on a scale we have never imagined driven by anger, alienation and hopelessness.

“Five years later, the late President Shehu Yar’adua ordered troops to go and quell Boko Haram and since then, we have not known peace. It is spreading. There are so many young people that have graduated, but no job. They are angry with us because they cannot understand why you cannot get them a job.

“Make no mistake because even your children may be angry with you. When we graduated, there were three or four jobs waiting for us. The anger is particularly bad in the North now where these youths are going round villages, shooting and killing.

“The ACF is designing a programme to see how we can tackle these problems. The Northcentral is supposed to be the richest zone in the country.

“I am also of the theory that politics alone does not help us either. Somebody must become the head of state. Gowon was there for nine years, Babangida was there for eight years and Abdulsalami Abubakar was there for one year. So, this zone has had 18 years in power, but the dynamics of federal power is that you cannot just go there and work for your people alone. It does not happen that way.

“The appeal I want to make is that we should tell Nigerians through the media that there is no war between us. Tomorrow, if the North east says they want to come together under an umbrella to solve one problem in collaboration with the ACF, we have no problem with that.

Recalling the agricultural revolution initiative of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, he said:   ”We were spending $5 million per day importing rice before we stopped it one and half year ago. Imagine if $3 million of that come to this zone per day. The Chinese is looking for soya beans today as well as white sorghum.

“We spend $650 million every year importing cassava bye products. We are the world’s largest producer of cassava, but the largest importer of cassava bye products. The list is endless”.

Chairman of the Forum and former Minister of State for Health, Chief Gabriel Aduku, said the forum was formed as part of the desire for equitable and fair political and developmental engagement with the National Assembly and other zones of the Federation in the distribution of our national commonwealth of opportunities and resources.

Aduku said the forum was not in competition with the ACF, or any other socio-cultural and non-political group, rather as a micro platform of partnership to address the matters, needs and challenges which are peculiar and micro to the Zone.

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