NORTH PAYING FOR THE SINS OF ITS LEADERS-YERIMA
The President, Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF), Alhaji Shettima Yerima is one man that does not sit on the fence on any topical issue in the country. He does not hesitate to say his mind and when Sunday Sun engaged him recently, he was in his usual element. He bared his mind on various issues including moves to unite the northern power bloc. Excerpts…
How do you feel about the insecurity situation in the country?
It is really disturbing and very unfortunate that this whole thing is happening in the northern part of the country and by extension Nigeria at large. We are all worried and if you look at the situation of things in Nigeria, you would know that our generation is in trouble.
Even the yet unborn generation of Nigeria is going to inherit a lot of trouble. One would have expected that in the 21st century Nigeria that we would have gone further than the security challenge the nation is facing. By now, we ought to have been thinking of things that are more developmental. We should now be thinking of a Nigeria that is free for everybody where things work and people can go about their business without fear. But with the way things are in Nigeria, it is obvious that the doom's day is ahead. It gives a lot of us sleepless nights and it keeps us thinking. We are not only thinking but making a lot of consultations to bring about peace.
The way it is in Nigeria today, it seems there is no end to the crisis bedevilling the nation? Any hope for the country?
There is nothing in life that has a beginning that does not have an ending. I know that the crisis has come a long way and a lot of people are getting worried that it has not come to an end but we should continue to hope that one day, it would be over. The most unfortunate development is that now people commit all sorts of crime in the name of the Boko Haram sect.
Armed robbers go to banks today in the North and claim to be members of Boko Haram. A politician who fails to achieve a particular interest uses the same structure to commit crime in the name of Boko Haram. Two political opponents, maybe from opposing political parties attack each other and they say it is Boko Haram. You have a situation where some people feel injustice has been meted to them directly or indirectly by government, and they express their anger in the name of Boko Haram.
So, we have a situation where if you are trying to deal with the problem, you are only dealing with one of the problems. So, dealing with the problem is not easy and I think that all hands must now be on deck to tackle the situation. The fact of the matter is that most people see the crisis with narrow eyes that it is a northern problem but I do not see the problem from that perspective.
To me, it is a Nigerian problem because we had the same experience during the insurgence of the Niger Delta militants. At the peak of the crisis, some of us felt that if the Niger Delta crisis was not addressed, it had the capability of consuming everybody and we came spoke out until God brought an open-minded leader, late Umaru Yara'A dua who addressed the problem frontally. It was through the effort of Yar'Adua that people began to see results. I also think that President Goodluck Jonathan should tackle the Boko Haram issue headlong and not looking at it as a northern problem. He needs to evolve holistic approaches where everybody must be involved. I do not also think that violence can be used to achieve any meaningful end whether you are on the government side or the aggrieved side.
This is because the way it is, the situation is getting out of hands. It is important for people to sit down and talk so that people would begin to see light at the end of the tunnel. At the end of the day, we would also be able to find out the criminal elements among the aggrieved and know how to deal with them. We need to identify those behind all these before we begin to do anything. Let us look at this issue beyond that of religion because it is beyond that. Let us also look at it beyond the issue of ethnicity because it is beyond that.
The issue is a Nigerian problem. Once we are able to approach that from a broader perspective, the problem would be on the way to getting solved. It has gone beyond saying it does not concern me and that it is a northern problem or it is an Islamic problem. It does not have any religious colouration. No religion allows perpetration of violence. No religion allows you to kill a human being like you. The truth of the matter is that people have been left for a long time without jobs and there is poverty in the land.
An idle mind, they say, is a devil's workshop and would start to think evil. The government we have today has not addressed the issue of unemployment. You have a situation where those who are even working are being sacked because of job insecurity. Nothing is working in Nigeria because of the failure of the power sector. Every year, graduates are churned out of various tertiary institutions without any hope for employment. If you have this kind of situation in a country, you are bound to experience the crisis we have in Nigeria. Imagine somebody leaving the University and coming out without any hope of getting a job.
Do you share the view of those who insist that the Boko Haram insurgency is a cumulative effect of the failure of leadership in the North?
To a large extent it is correct. I have said many times that yes, a lot of things have happened in the North. Recently, I made a comment in that direction that one would expect that those who have failed the North should come out openly and apologise to the northern people.
This is because where we find ourselves is a deliberate attempt by some people to keep others down. Some of them were ignorant of what they did and today, they are paying for it. This is because the insecurity in the North would not only consume the poor man but even the rich ones because the mansions they have built for themselves, a time would come when they would not be able to enter those houses. You come out from your mansion and you have a community of beggars in front of your house. One day, they would not only sit down in front of your house but come inside to know what you and your family are eating.
And the moment they get to know what you are eating, they would also want to eat instead of allowing you to throw N200 at them as alms. At that point, your house would no longer be yours. You had opportunity to be in power for over 30 years and you had opportunity to better your place and you did not. Look at Awolowo who was the Premier of the Western Region and he used the opportunity he had to develop his place. Today, Yoruba are the most educated in Nigeria because of the free education policy of the western region government then. There is no doubt that the Yoruba are ahead in terms of western education.
In the South West today, you have professors who are less than 30 years in age. In the olden days, we had a leader like the Sarduana who did wonderful things for people of the North. In his days, he was able to unite the northern part of the country. It was through Sarduana we had the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria and many other legacies but after that nobody could follow his footsteps. In the olden days, when a Hausa man spoke, people believed him because the sincerity was there.
Now, our people have become very fraudulent. We have lost our values. Now you see the opposite of what our founding fathers left for us to copy from. All the legacies they left for us have been destroyed by selfish politicians. Those who are hungry for power always fight for their selfish interests and today, we have nothing to write home about. The decay is worrisome and that gave birth to the Boko Haram sect and I think that the group has also been hijacked by some self-centred people who are using it to further their political, selfish interests and so many purposes.
Today, the group has lost direction and every body now is taking advantages of many innocent people in the name of Boko Haram. This is terrible and this is why some of us said no, this cannot be allowed to continue. And that we do not have a better place than Nigeria, our country. We must ensure that the North remains peaceful and united as an indivisible entity.
There cannot be development in an atmosphere of crisis and those who are causing the crisis should also be mindful of the fact that if you throw a stone to the market, you do not know where it is going to land. So, Boko Haram activities must be condemned by all meaningful Nigerians and not only the northern people. Everybody must see it as a Nigerian problem. We need to look at the situation more objectively and constructively to marshal out a new course that will move not only the North but Nigeria forward.
What is your take on the impression that the whole issue of Boko Haram is a subtle strategy by the northern power elite to recapture power?
I do not agree with that. If the target were to recapture power in 2015, why would the victims be their fellow brothers? That cannot be the reality because the truth of the situation is that some people felt certain injustices have been meted to them by their leaders and they believe that this system must change. But from what we heard, the idea was not radical from the beginning.
They were diplomatic until government unleashed violence on them and certain injustice meted to their leader. As a result of that they became more radical. It also became an opportunity for bad people to unleash violence on innocent victims. So, I do not think that this whole issue has anything to do with whether power would go to the North or not. And that is one of the challenges we are having in the North. If we want the power to come back to the North in 2015, we must try as much as possible to enlighten Nigerians and especially our brothers in the North that violence will not allow us to get it right.
Our major challenge now is how we can unite the North to be able to speak with one voice. That is why I agree when the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) came up with a meeting for two days on how we can unite the North. We are working on identifying our religious and language differences. We are trying to unite our people and this issue of non-Hausa Fulani would be a thing of the past. We want to make sure that every northerner sees himself as equal to the other. These are the factors we put before the committee and the committee is now going round the northern parts of the country to bring everybody on board.
That is the only way the north can survive because whether we will produce the next president or not, the unity of the North is very critical. We want to sensitise our people ahead of the challenges of 2015. So, anybody telling you that the Boko Haram issue is because of the intention by the North to recapture power in 2015 has a myopic view of the whole issue. We saw the danger coming and we had been talking about it. You cannot subject people to hardship for so long and you expect them not to react. They sit down and see you living in mansions and going about in posh cars and you think they would keep quiet perpetually. They cannot continue to watch you enjoy your life with your family at their expense.
You talked about effort to unite the North and the South West is also talking about economic integration of the zone and such consciousness is also not absent in the South East and South South. Is Nigeria gradually tending towards regionalism and possibly disintegration?
If you recall what has happened in the past few years, you would discover that the issue of regional groupings has become so glaring.
Now, some of the regions have made it clear that this administration for instance is our own. This language of our own has become the order of the day. The people of South South see Goodluck Jonathan as their president and they do not consider what other people feel any longer. I do not blame the government for the development but I blame the stakeholders from that part of the country. Such people do not know that as a people, we have come a long way. Some of us who were with them since their struggle almost do not have sympathy for them again.
During their struggle, I was one of the chieftains who fought for the derivation principle. We are beginning to see that things are no more working according to the Nigerian of our dream. The issue of power must not be seen as a birthright of anybody. The power must be that everybody could have the opportunity to come on board to give everybody a sense of belonging. During the Niger Delta struggle, some of us said what is wrong if a man from the South South even if he is the only man from his community becomes the president of Nigeria. We were doing that during late Yar'Adua's sickness before the Senate came up with the doctrine of necessity.
We worked hard and at the end of the day Jonathan became the president. But the unfortunate aspect is that some people now begin to make a mockery of us who participated in the struggle for the Niger Delta without even thinking of those they are insulting. It means we did not know what we were doing. To that extent, the issue of regionalism has become so strong now. The South West now thinks about our own son and the same with the North. The Niger Delta already has their own son and the Igbos are also talking about their own son.
But by extension, I would say the Igbos have no reason to complain because the president has made it clear that he is part of them and that is why his name is Ebele Azikiwe. So, I do not know what the Igbos are really fighting for but then there is nothing wrong with a full blooded Igbo man becoming the president of the country if we say we are together as one. Jonathan is partly Igbo and partly of the Niger Delta. I am worried and I am not comfortable the way things are in the country.
For me I do not see myself more as a northerner but as a Nigerian. But with the way things are happening, it is obvious that maybe I am getting it wrong. I advise some of these characters who are fanning the embers of regionalism that they should retrace their steps, otherwise, 2015 would be a different ball game. The Yoruba and the North were the champions of the struggle for the emancipation of the Niger Delta and if some people do not know, they should go back to the history of the struggle to verify who did what. A typical example was when the Save Nigeria Group was formed. It was an idea between the North, Yoruba people and some people from the South East.
During that time I stood against my own brother. I was the first northern man who made a speech against the government then under late Yar'Adua when he was ill. I spoke against it that some people had hijacked the situation and stopped the government from functioning. It was obvious that there was no presence of government at that time and I said no, it couldn't continue. That was before the National Assembly came up with the doctrine of necessity. It is terrible for some people to start talking any how unless they have another motive and think that may be, Jonathan would be the last president of Nigeria. But we have come a long way that I do not even see Nigeria breaking and even if we want to disintegrate, we should not have casualty.
We can sit down and discuss it so that everybody can go his way but I do not want to see that kind of country. I enjoy the way Nigeria is and I want us to remain together because we have had a lot of things in common. Our strength lies in our unity. But if we neglect all those values, the implication is that we are all going to suffer and pay for it. Let us look at other countries that disintegrated and appreciate the challenges they are facing. Let us look at other countries that engaged in civil war and appraise how they are fairing. Let us not try to destroy what we have built and suffered for. Yes, there are certain misgivings on how we came together but it was the wish of God because it could not have materialised if God did not approve it.
All we need to do is to sit down and discuss the issue. We are proposing the Sovereign National Conference but the government is not comfortable with it. Let us have a conference where the government would not bring any secret motive of tenure elongation or putting the interest of some people ahead of that of the masses. So many of us have suffered detention and we do not pray to go through the same experience again. I did not go into that struggle because I just wanted my only my family to be comfortable. By the grace of God, even if I do not go out, my family would see what they would eat. I live fine as an average man. But what happens when I see my brother begging on the streets everyday. It gives me sleepless nights.
For how long would this kind of situation continue. But if we make a society of our dream, it means that many people who would come after us would enjoy.
You are craving for changes in Nigeria but how do you feel with the emergence of Tukur as the chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) even though you are not of that party?
I feel very worried that if at this level of our political development, we could bring a man that is almost 80 to lead us despite the fact that he may have cancelled some of his years on earth to appear young. What do you expect from a man of 77 years? But as far as I am concerned, it was a calculated attempt to subvert the will of the people. The only thing they did to destroy this generation is to bring a man who has no stake in this generation. As far as I am concerned, he is a dead horse.