The battle over which section of the country should produce the next president has continued to fester. But Emmanuel Yawe, the National Publicity Secretary of the pan-Northern Nigeria socio-cultural group, the Arewa Consultative Forum, (ACF), in this interview with BABA NEGEDU says the issue is beyond the purview of Northern Elders Forum, Afenifere and Ohanaeze. He speaks on other issues
In spite of the efforts by the Federal and state governments, there seems not to be an end to the continued killings in the North. What is the way out?
We are facing a difficult crisis, made more difficult by the fact that we have never faced this kind of crisis before. We have faced a civil war before which was more or less a conventional war and Maitatsine which was an urban insurrection.
This one also started as an urban insurrection which started in Maiduguri and when they were chased out of the town, they became a bush guerilla fighting force spreading to the rural areas of Borno, Yobe, Adamawa, Bauchi Gombe and the other states in the North-East. The state governments and security forces have been caught pants down.
Even the civil society is caught unprepared. We therefore need to sit down and reevaluate our response now. It is easy to blame the government, especially the Federal Government that controls all security forces. Such a holier than through attitude will however be unhelpful.
We all must accept the collective blame for the mess we are in. We must therefore sit down and fashion a solution together.
The Federal Government has refused to declare bandits as terrorists. What is the take of ACF on the stand of the Buhari administration?
State governors affected by the current malady, members of the National Assembly: the House of Representatives and the Senate have called these people terrorists. They have urged the Federal Government to call them terrorists. We see no reason why the Federal government should not do the needful.
In spite of the objection of some Nigerians to it, the Senate still approved Buhari’s new loan request. What is your view about the Senate’s failure to say no to the President?
The Senate should listen to the outcry of Nigerians. We were heavily indebted before we walked out of it. Nigeria is again going that way. We must make sure the future of our children is not mortgaged by reckless borrowing squander mania that will plunge us into a choking debt trap.
The Northern Elders Forum (NEF) and Afenifere had been at war over the issue of presidency, zoning and the 2023 election. Are you for zoning, where should Nigerians’ President come from in 2023?
We have kept away from that argument. We have a good reason. The 1999 Constitution as amended does not make provision for zoning. We have no reason to flex muscles over an issue that has no constitutional foundation. In fact the Constitution has given political parties exclusive rights over how candidates should be chosen.
The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) is not a political party but a socio-cultural organisation. We will be going beyond our self-imposed mandate if we start appropriating roles that are reserved for political parties by the ground norm. Political parties in choosing candidates consider many factors that will give them an advantage over their competitors.
These include competence, experience, where the candidates come from, their general acceptability etc. We think the framers of the Constitution thought about all these before giving political parties exclusive rights over candidates at elections.
The Northern Elders Forum and Afenifere can argue about zoning and where the 2023 President should come from till the second coming of Jesus. In the end, they will discover that they were struggling over an empty bag that does not belong to any of them. We do not engage in such futile struggles.
Our leaders are experienced and sober enough to avoid useless and unhelpful squabbles. The political parties must step forward and enforce their rights. Some of them have zoning provided for in their constitutions, some do not have it. It is all within options and their rights. The ACF has nothing to say about it.
What is your take on the controversy about amnesty for bandits?
We do not support a general amnesty for those who took up arms against our motherland and in the process caused a lot of destruction of life and property, anguish and pain. Some did it willingly while others were conscripted with threats of elimination. A careful individual study must be conducted. Those adults who voluntarily visited havoc on their country and countrymen do not deserve amnesty. Those who were forcefully recruited deserve sympathy and amnesty.
Do you think the Federal Government should adopt political solution to the issues of Nnamdi Kanu, and Sunday Igboho?
The cases against the leader of the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB), Mazi Nnamdi Kanu and the Oduduwa agitator, Chief Sunday Igboho, are not ordinarily political in nature. These are people who openly advocated the use of arms to dislocate our constitutional order. Politics should have its limits. Using political acrobatics to resolve complex issues of anarchy, murder, arson and kidnappings will not be helpful.
These two people are not little children. They knew the consequences of their actions before they embarked on their adventures. They played the music and they should be given the freedom to exercise and enjoy their footsteps.
The bandits have imposed taxes on some communities in the north and the Federal Government seems helpless. What should be the way out of this problem?
It is entirely the fault of the Federal Government if it says it is helpless when poor villagers are being yoked with illegal taxes. If that happens, the government has no business to exist at all.
Why do you think Nigeria has been factionalized along ethnic lines? How can this be resolved?
Historically, we should blame our colonial masters, the British. After they created a nation of very diverse people, they never wanted them united. It was easier to rule Nigeria as a divided country than a united one. There was an option of divide and rule which was very attractive and they opted for it.
They never made conscious efforts to develop Nigerians to believe that they were Nigerians and not members of an ethnic group. Sadly even the struggle for independence was carried out by ethnic based political parties. At independence Nigeria was divided along those lines.
And as they say, the beat goes on. Our leaders tended and still tend to believe in the principle of divide and rule. This problem can only be resolved if Nigerians see themselves as Nigerians first and not members of ethnic groups. It is a difficult psychological hangover and problem.
The current political class seems to have no solution to Nigeria’s problems. What is the way out, 2023 is around the corner? Do you think the young generation can do it?
We have a political class with this problem ingrained in their brains and as long as this is the case, the problem will be there. The only way out is for a new political class to emerge which will break this cocoon and see themselves more as Nigerians than anything else.
What role do you think regional groups like NEF, Afenifere and Ohanaeze and your organization should be playing in nation building?
I can only speak for the ACF and not the others because we differ in our approaches. The ACF is conscious of the fact that the former Northern Region was the most cosmopolitan of the regions because of its ethnic diversity. When during the Second Republic I was involved in running my state – Gongola State then – we did a census of ethnic groups then and discovered we had 104 ethnic groups.
When the military took over in 1984, one of the military governors posted to run the state, Col Yohana Madaki said he “discovered” a new ethnic group called the ‘Koma’ making the figure 105.
That was in just one state of the North. This diversity dictates our conception, identity and mode of operation. Everybody from the old Northern Region is welcome to the ACF and has an opportunity to rise to whatever position that is there. I have heard that our counterparts elsewhere embarrass their prospective members by subjecting them to some DNA tests to prove their ethnic purity. This is not done in the ACF.
We want to prove to Nigerians that ‘the more the merrier’ and ethnic diversity can be a source of strength. We wish Afenifere and Ohanaeze will be more accommodating of other ethnic groups like us.
The ACF was formed with active support of Yorubas of the North who played and still play active roles in our affairs. This we believe is the best way to go in building a united Nigeria.
How should the Federal Government address the gradual closure of industries in the country?
The closure of industries in the country is not gradual but aggressive. This is a complex economic problem. The North has suffered most from these closures than any other part of Nigeria. Look at the textile industrial complex in Kaduna and Kano. What has happened to these huge industries? Where have they all gone?
The Northern Regional government under our great leader created them. The groundout pyramids of Kano.
These were things that were done in our life time. As recently as the 1980s when I was a newspaper Editor in Kano, the place was a booming industrial hub. When I go to Kano now and visit Sharrada and Bompai and see all the carcasses of the industries, I weep for the North and Nigeria.
These places can be revived. It is not rocket science. The Sardauna was not a scientist, let alone a rocket scientist. If he could do it, President Buhari can do it. All that is required is a political will. That is all.
The North is still educationally and economically disadvantaged. How can this be addressed by all stakeholders?
Education is one area in which we have failed our people in the North. The educational gap has always been there since colonial times. Education in the South gained great advantages by the activities of Christian missionary groups. Sadly the same groups could not under colonial rule operate in the north as freely as they did in the South.
This aggravated the disparity. When we gained independence, the northern regional government invested heavily in education. We do not see such huge investments again.
Northern state governors need to pay proper attention to this. For instance we at ACF are aware that the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) has been going about begging state governments and local entrepreneurs in the north to invest in polytechnics, Innovation Enterprise Institutions (IEIs), Vocational Enterprise Institutions (VEIs).
These are arrears in which the south is far ahead and we in the north are still begging our governments and people to invest in. Even in arrears where we have made some modest progress, terrorism is reversing everything.
What is the meaning of invading schools, stealing pupils and teachers and herding them into the forest as if they are some wild beasts. Then the terrorist will kill some and ask for ransom to be paid, if not many in captivity will be mowed down. Is this the way to promote education in the north?
The north is in deep slumber and we have to wake up if not we shall continue to be an embarrassment to ourselves, our next generation of northerners and a laughing stock of Nigeria
Kaduna state government said over 888 people were killed in the state in the first 9 months of this year. How do you see the impact of this bloodshed?
I hope the government that is doling out these figures is keeping adequate records. Reliable records are a scarce commodity in Nigeria. The casualty figure could be much higher. This is a complete human waste that should not be allowed. We at the ACF are very sad and alarmed with this catastrophic development.
Sheik Gumi said recently that bandits would surrender if given education. What is your view about this?
The ACF was established and is being run by experienced and sober people who love Northern Nigeria and the Nigerian people. We have a very serious national security crisis at hand and it appears some people would want it to continue.
The man Shiek Gumi in particular makes some frightening statements every day. Somebody suggested the other day that he is the biggest security risk in Nigeria today and he should be made a prisoner.
We in the ACF will not make such a call. When the other day he sought to ignite religious differences in our armed forces by telling Muslims that it was Christian soldiers who were killing Muslims involved in terrorism and banditry we felt concerned. Does Gumi weigh his statements before going public? Is he a friend or foe to this government and country?
We are really worried about his agenda given the outrageous statements coming from him. We are also worried that as an ex security man, there is no attempt to call his attention to some of the statements he makes which are capable of setting Nigeria on the slippery road to war