Alhaji Yerima Shettima is the President of the Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF). In this interview with ANAYO EZUGWU, he speaks on the debate over direct primary elections, youth determination to take over power in 2023 and appeal for the unconditional release of the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) Nnamdi Kanu, among others
Developments in the last few weeks seem to indicate that insecurity in the North is escalating again, what do you think is the cause of this?
The lack of political will by the political actors to constructively engage and get the result is the major cause of the struggle and they are not honest to the country. To them, most of those that are behind some of this nonsense are doing it for their selfish interest and that is why a lot of them do not have the political will. I’m not generalizing it but some of them do not have the political will, especially those saddled with the responsibility to tackle the issue of insecurity and that is the reason why we are here. One cannot imagine that the entire Nigerian Armed Forces are being overwhelmed by a few individuals. You know it is not realistic. But to that extent, the best you can say in a sentence is just lack of political will to address the issue.
There is a school of thought that believes that the military is getting tired of the fight against insurgency; is it possible that the military is tired of the war?
It is not about being tired or being overwhelmed but it has to do with the lack of political will on part of those saddled with the responsibility. I cannot imagine that the armed forces that are known globally is being overshadowed by a few people in the name of so-called bandits or terrorists. You know it is not true but certainly along the line because money has been dished out for security issues and that money is not remittable and accountable. So, ordinarily, you should expect that even if there is no Boko Haram, somebody who has ill-motive can artificially create Boko Haram, so that the money will not stop coming into his pocket.
What is the implication of this development; does it mean that the country will continue to fight this war?
The implication is that until Nigeria rises to the occasion or God brings somebody who will address the issue once and for all. Certainly, I have no doubt in my mind that we will overcome the challenge. Nothing is permanent, so someday it will be a story. There is no country in this world that has not gone through challenges and ours cannot be different from others. But I’m also saying that a time will come that this issue would be phased off if we are still alive. But certainly, if it doesn’t happen during our time, the next generation will save us from this quagmire.
The National Assembly recently passed the Electoral Act Amendment Bill and there is ongoing debate over the provision that mandates political parties to nominate candidates for elections through direct primaries. What do you think about this debate?
On the issue of direct primaries, I am one of those who also canvassed for it. I am one of the advocates of that and I did that because it will bring about a sense of belonging to the electorate. They will have access to some of those things just like those involved in the indirect primaries. I think the direct primaries will pave the away for the Nigerian people to elect their leaders on their own and queue behind whoever they believe will lead them well. So, I believe in it.
But the concern of many Nigerians is that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) may not have the capacity to monitor direct primaries across the country?
The best they can do is to recruit more foot soldiers to do the needful. Let them recruit more people because of the kind of money that is being dished out to INEC, which is in billions. They should also put up a proposal that will also accommodate some of these foot soldiers, who will do the needful. All we need is something that will be more transparent than the way it was done in the past.
With the inclusion of new clauses into the Act from what we have seen so far, are you expectant that 2023 general election would be better?
If the Electoral Act can be assent to by the President, I have no doubt in my mind that we will have credible elections in the nearest future.
Ahead of the 2023 elections, has AYCF decided on any presidential candidate?
We only set up a standard on what we are looking at. One, we are looking at experience. Two, we are looking at capacity. Third, we will no longer queue behind the old brigade. We will ensure that we have people of our generation. What that means is a new order, a new generation and a paradigm shift that will bring about the desired change we are demanding for. We cannot continue to keep putting our destiny in the hands of the old brigade that has been there since the 60s and are still there managing the affairs of this country. We have come of age and we are stakeholders and citizens of this country. So, I’m of the view that we must take our destiny into our hands to ensure that we have credible people within our contemporaries, within our generation and who can do better. And of course, I have no doubt in my mind that we have people who are competent enough within our generation. I also have no doubt in my mind that Nigerian youths that constitute over 70 per cent of the populace will ensure that they queue behind their own.
In the new order you are looking at, do you have an age bracket or age limit?
The new order we are looking at is between the range of 40 and 50. This is what I’m looking at. After all, most of the characters in the First Republic were in their 30s. We had governors and ministers at the age of 25, why is it impossible now. Don’t forget that the younger generation of today has come of age with very sound-minded people and very productive people. What is so impossible that we cannot be trusted to govern this country? What is so impossible to govern Nigeria? What does it take to put one plus one together and get the result? That is why today we have a crop of people within the system in the name of senators and governors, who are not productive and when they speak to you, you begin to see that they are empty upstairs and have nothing to offer in governance.
They are not fit to occupy the political space. Why is it so impossible that we cannot be allowed? In fact, we are not asking them to allow us, we will take it come 2023. We are not begging anybody.
What do you make of the visit of South-East leaders to the President during which they asked for the unconditional release of the leader of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu?
They have the right to go and see the President and demand that their own be released but I’m also of the view that this is a country and this country is governed by law. We are not in a banana republic, where people will just wake up and say that all the atrocities being committed singlehandedly by an individual or a group of people in certain areas of the country should be released unconditionally because of sentiment.
What is unconditional? This same character came out openly and demanded that security forces be killed. Those security forces are human beings and they have been killed by his instructions whether by proxy or directly. His pronouncement has actually impacted those evil-minded people who executed this genocide against humanity and kill a lot of security forces. That did not end, to add more insult to the injury, ordinary civilians, who travel on a daily basis from the northern part of the country to the eastern part, carrying their legitimate businesses, were killed under his instruction and their vehicles burnt. Apart from any other thing, if the South-East does not see a problem with him, we in other parts of the country have a problem with that. Our people are being killed with no compensation whatsoever and there is no remorse on his part even when he was arrested.
After he defied court order and everything, some people in this country are asking that this man should be allowed to go because of sentiment. The day this man is allowed to go, it would be clear that we are going to run a country where there is no rule of law. What that means is that the younger generation will decide to go into the same thing he has been doing and they will continue to unleash terror on innocent Nigerians because they will believe that if they are arrested, they will always cite this as an example. They will say that ‘when Nnamdi Kanu was arrested, he was released, so why should the law punish us, what is the difference from what we did.’
Nnamdi Kanu must face the music, he must be prosecuted and in fact, he must serve as a deterrent to other people who have the same views or who think the way he thinks, so that we don’t have such people in our midst because this is uncalled for and we must not accept this as a nation.
Since that visit, some people are equally calling for Yoruba leaders to engage the President for the release of Sunday Igboho…
That is what will happen and if that happens, it means all of us would be encouraged to continue to do the same thing as these people. Why should the President make that kind of statement? If he releases Kanu, that will be the trouble of this country because so many people will run into this nonsense. Already, we have problems of insecurity at hand. Look at the case of Boko Haram, Why are we so beclouded by sentiment? It is not new to us; we know that some of these politicians in the South-East are some of those encouraging this man.
Some of the politicians we know queue behind him with the hope that he is going to work for them to get the presidency. Do you think the presidency is child’s play? They think that we will trust you with power to lead this country with that attitude of intimidation. Even when you don’t have power, look at the way you are behaving, so what happens if you have power? It means all of us will perish. Why should we fold our hands and allow one loose dog to continue to unleash terror on eastern Nigeria and we are being beclouded by sentiment and allow things to happen this way.