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JEGA OR NOT, 2011 ELECTION 'LL FAIL – YERIMA

By NBF News

Alhaji Shettima Yerima is the president, Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF) and youth leader of Pro-National Conference (PRONACO). For those who are conversant with his antecedents, he is one man who does not sit on the fence when it comes to issues of national importance. In this interview, he takes the northern elite especially the governors to the cleaners over the raging controversy on zoning among others. Excerpts…

Ahead of 2011, what is your feeling about the state of the nation?

The issue at hand is that the polity is overheated. The implication is that the way things are going, we might end up witnessing instability in the nation. The major issue now is the zoning of the seat of number one man in the country.

As Nigerians, I think this is one of our most challenging periods. We should make sure that we come together and speak with one voice. We should emphasise the unity of the country and think about what would be the fate of the generation yet unborn. This is a moment of reflections and it calls for our sense of patriotism. I think this is the time to take decision as a nation.

From your vantage position, are you optimistic about the future of Nigeria?

My worries and fears are that if measures are not taken immediately to arrest this situation, there are possibilities that the prediction by America that Nigeria would break up would come to pass. It is either we accept it or we don't. What I am trying to say is that if we still go on zoning, there is the possibility that because of the suspicion among the ethnic nationalities, Nigeria may still disintegrate and if we do not sustain zoning, there is also the possibility that some people may begin to think otherwise.

Some would say, Oh! the presidency has become a birthright for some people, how do we do it? But I think the whole thing still boils down to the issue of constitution. If we can address the issue of constitution, the problems would be naturally taken care of. If we think that zoning can give people a sense of belonging, why don't we make it a constitutional issue in order to make it legal and legitimate?

Legally, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) may have agreed on certain issues and it becomes binding on them but where some who are not of the PDP feel they are not part of it and that they would not respect the agreement, there is nothing you can do. There is a need for us to have a sound constitution. So, the issue is far more than who becomes what. We should reflect that the issue we have been calling for several years, this is the time to address it. This is to save the country from running into a dilemma.

We need to have a country where everybody believes he is a Nigerian and not as a man from the South, East or North. The suspicion among the ethnic regions keeps overheating the polity and I think we should address it now.

But are you not surprised that nearly 50 years of Nigeria's existence as a nation that we are still grappling with such a mundane issue like ethnicity?

If you have forgotten, it is also to make you reflect that our 50 years is nothing to write home about. If you have a child who at age 50 is still crawling and not able to walk, under normal circumstances, you should be advised to visit the oracle. It depends on your faith. About 50 years ago, a child was born and up till now, the child is not yet ready to walk but crawling, then there is a serious problem.

I do not know whether such a child wants to go back to its mother's womb and that is where the American prediction comes in. My worry is that 50 years, we have nothing to show for it. Since Nigeria became a Republic, she had never had peace. The long stay of military governments compounded the problem. As I speak with you, we only believe we have democracy but I do not think it is working. This is mere civil rule. And I can tell you that the military are still in control. Major parts of our lives as a nation have been influenced by some of those officers in the military, some of whom are retired and some serving.

The products are the IBBs, Obasanjos who have metamorphosed from military to civilian dictatorship. Even the umbrella body, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) which I represent has been hijacked by these military characters. There is a case where you have a Board of Trustees of ACF headed by a General and the chairman is a General and you have a case where the Secretary General is a Colonel. You have other executive officers as Generals, colonel, Majors etc. So, you can now see what I am saying.

My worry is that rather than wasting this energy on doing nothing and on issues that do not really matter, why don't we do it right? Nigerian politicians have a way of doing things always in a hurry to eat the national cake. Everybody is now thinking of how to be relevant and get something out of the unfolding politics. In the course of doing that, they jeopardize the future of this country and hand it over to rascals. They know nothing and have nothing to offer anybody in this country.

Some of them have done nothing to deserve where they are today. They have not sacrificed anything and they know nothing about struggle. Some of us who were at loggerheads with the military in the dark days of military regimes are still suffering today. We are not even in the system. We fought for democracy and when it came we left it for the rascals to take over. I think it is not over until we have a Sovereign National Conference (SNG) where every Nigerian would sit down and table his anger. At that level, we would agree on issues and go to a referendum and pass it. That is the only way I think Nigeria would survive.

The northern governors have tacitly thrown their weight behind the presidential ambition of Goodluck Jonathan. What is your take on this?

There were two views on that Governors' meeting. Those who would have completed their eight years tenure were saying, no, we support zoning and those who have just completed one tenure and seeking a second term are saying, no, we do not support zoning. This second group believes that the zoning arrangement should be killed so that they can have their second term.

They want the support of the incumbent, Goodluck Jonathan to get a second term. But if you look at the whole thing you would observe that these people are not even sincere. These governors are not speaking in the interest of an average northern man but they are thinking of what they would gain. For those who have completed their eight years, they have nothing to lose. They just want to be relevant and to be seen as if they are fighting for the interest of the North. And those who are saying you must go ahead are those who want to save their heads because they want to also go back for their second term.

They want to still remain in power so that President Jonathan would not use the hammer especially now that he walks alongside with Obasanjo who guides him on what to do. So, based on the tactics, if any of the governors say, no, we do not agree, then Obasanjo would say you would not have a second tenure. For those who may have completed eight years, if the idea sails through, they would be seen as heroes of that cause and they will be considered for another job.

You know that most of our politicians do not have jobs. Once they leave office, they would not have any source of income again. And let me tell you, by the time Jonathan declares and is given the PDP ticket, all the governors including the ones who have been kicking against it would fall in line. That is where we lack culture of consistency, resistance and commitment to the common good. We have lost our values and people talk from all sides of their mouth and these are the same people we call our leaders.

With all the obvious challenges before the new chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof Attahiru Jega, do you think that he will be able to conduct a credible election in 2011?

I do not want to pre-empt Jega but then I should use the example of common examples of things I see. Based on my experience of elections in Nigeria, honestly Jega is a human being. There is a limit to what he can do as the INEC boss. It is unfortunate when people come and begin to clap hands even when he has not started job. You know we live on the figment of imagination. For the past 50 years, we have been living on this imagination and going from one rubbish to another.

We have been hoping that tomorrow this thing would change until we are wiped out completely. But the beautiful thing about Nigeria is that we have a lot of hopes. Surprisingly, we are the most faithful people that believe in God. Other countries are believed not to believe in God but they have got what they want. We believe we are the holiest people and I do not know how long this would continue. But without a proper electoral reform in place, nobody should expect a credible election in 2011.

Nobody should think that Jega just as the head of that electoral body could have done any magic. As I speak with you, most of the newly appointed INEC Commissioners are card carrying members of the PDP. It is just one or two people that I have no doubt that are not members of the PDP. It is really unfortunate if we expect so much from Jega. But I do not want to become a prophet of doom. Jega as a person has a good record and I have no doubt about his ability but there is a limit to what he can do.

But do you think the January timetable for the 2011 election is feasible considering that questions are already being asked about the validity of the current voter's register?

In any election, you begin to see whether it would succeed or not from the voter's register. But if we fail on the voter's register, you can be rest assured that nothing would come out of it. It is a clear indication of what to expect because once we miss the beginning, nothing else would work. I expect that if there is sincerity and political will to put things right, the voter's register would be seen as one of the challenges because in 2007 election, we had such names like Mike Tyson, Mandela, Saddam Hussein etc in our register.

One person could use one vote to vote 10 times or different names to vote 100 times. So, the problem with the voter's register is already telling you that we are beginning to lose the credibility of the coming election. I talk with all my conscience and I do not pretend. I want to say that nothing good would come out of 2011 election. In fact, I can tell you that the coming election is going to be worse than others before it. This is because, the machinery in place is a clear indication that this election would fail.

If it is the Jega I know, I have no doubt in his ability but you can never tell with human beings. Of course, he has a good track record but him alone as a human being, there is a limit to what he can do. This is a government that rubbishes people with more integrity than Jega. People like Tai Solarin were in one way or the other framed up and rubbished. Late Bola Ige is one of those we looked up to but he was destroyed.

The Nigerian government, you can be rest assured that they can do anything. When they brought Jega, I said that the government wanted to do something but at a point I realized that honestly, the government lacks the political will to conduct a free and fair election.

Your constituency is the civil society, what are you people doing to change the status quo in terms of conducting elections in Nigeria?

In Nigeria, we have the civil society and we have the civil societies. Like today in the dailies, I saw some groups of people saying they are making protest to retain zoning and they are called Arewa youths. I laughed. Now ask yourself, who are those people called Arewa youths? What are their names, who are those faceless leaders? They have no credibility and they have not done anything in the country, nobody knows them but today they parade themselves as Arewa youths.