In this interview with the President of Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, Alhaji Shettima Yerima, he spoke on the prevailing security challenges of Nigeria and the 2023 presidential election; as well as the suspended NDDC probe by the National Assembly.
What is your assessment of the security situation in Nigeria?
The recurrent case of insurgency has become disturbing for those of us in the Northern part of the country and it is alarming. We are very disturbed that insurgency, poverty and banditry have become a norm under the watch of a Northern president. The Northern people are for no just reason killed on daily basis either as a result of insurgency, kidnap, rape and bomb attack. So, it’s a bit confusing as it is today. Before 2015, we were faced with only Boko Haram and few incidents of pipeline vandalization in the Niger Delta region, but today, almost all the crimes you can mention are currently going on repeatedly in all parts of the country, most especially in the Northern parts of Nigeria. I have always said that you cannot continue to do the same thing and expect a different result. It can never be different from the previous results until you change the pattern. The method and approach of this government has been the same from 2015 till date, especially when it comes to the issue of strategy. Rather they are so relaxed and comfortable with the old pattern of leadership. Today, they tell you they funded the Nigerian armed forces to do their job, tomorrow they tell you they were not funded enough. The ethics of Nigerian Armed forces by military or training, is that they hardly come forward to complain that things are not going the right direction because it’s not part of their ethics. The truth of the matter is that security agencies are underfunded. With the increasing rate of insurgency, banditry and kidnap, that is if we can sustain this pressure till the next one year, will bring untold hardship to the people and increase the level of internally displaced people in the country. The government should consider the lives and properties of innocent and defenseless Nigerians who are killed on a daily basis. The attitude of this government to security challenges is not satisfactory at all. They must change their strategy to security if really, they want to combat insurgency to a standstill. They must cooperate with communities and engage them with proper ways of becoming vigilant. If the government continues to use the old strategy, definitely, the result will remain the same and will continue to grow worse every day.
What is the implication of the attack on Borno State governor by Boko Haram terrorists?
The implication of the attack on the Borno State governor is that no one is practically safe in the state if a governor who is the chief security officer of the state could be possibly attacked in broad daylight. That is what it simply implies. Even though to an extent I understand that there is conflict of interests where the governor is saying one thing and the army is saying another thing. That also implies that there is no synergy between the state governor and the Nigerian armed forces, specifically the army. And when there is no synergy between a state governor and the security forces, definitely, incidents like the recent attack would occur. We hope that there will be a resolution of misunderstanding between both parties to prevent such disappointing attacks.
It is obvious that the Northern leaders have failed their people, hence they have the Almajirai. What is your view on that?
It is a very sad thing, sad in the sense that the Northern leaders have been in the reign of power and today we are faced with nothing despite our long-time stewardship and diligence. The level of abject poverty in the North and the country at large, lack of employment, continuous banditry, Almajiri, have all become an order of the day. We expected that with the resources we had, and the opportunities we have got so far, to an extent I am one of those who feel we have not got our fair share of democracy in Nigeria and when I raise the issue of democracy, I am confronted with a lot of problems. We expected something better than what was obtained in the past and from what we see today with the promises and propaganda the president Buhari government came with, it is nothing but a shameful disappointment to say the least. The rate of deaths, insecurity and poverty has increased by triple. The economic policy does not favour the country at all. It is not in the best interest of Nigerians. The “so called” anti-corruption fight is neither here nor there. As a matter of fact, this regime is the worst ever anti-corruption fight we have seen so far. The EFCC that is meant to fight corruption and persecute corrupt public office holders, is now in a shameful mess of alleged corrupt practices. The NDDC is undergoing a probe because of corrupt practices. All this is happening under the watch of this administration.
So, I totally agree that Northern leaders have failed woefully with their inability to completely eradicate insurgency, alleviate poverty and hunger and create free skills acquisition for the general wellbeing of their citizens.
The president Buhari-led-administration has borrowed a huge amount of money. In your opinion, what will be the nation’s future as it seems she may not be able to pay back the loan?
That is where I personally have serious problems. And this is why we have decided to say you cannot continue to pile debts on this country knowing full well that these debts are unable to pay back and you are just piling up debts for the next government and you are still borrowing more. The big question is how much have they borrowed so far and what exactly have they used the loans for? We demand to see what these loans have been used for. I think it is time we inform the international organization who gives them these loans that it is high time they stopped giving Nigeria loans and any further loan given is at their own expense because the fact remains that this country is unable to pay back these loans collected. We must go through any means possible to ensure that we stop any further collection of loans. It is a huge burden that will cripple the country’s economy and become a curse to our youths who have no jobs, and our sovereignty would be likely compromised. Therefore, we say no to any further loans.
For the purpose of equity and justice, don’t you think it is time power goes to the South East?
We have to admit the fact that this is democracy. And we run a constitutional democracy where people have the civic right to vote their choice of candidate. So, I have no problem if power goes to the South East. We must know that it is all about acceptability and choice of candidate. I differ when it comes to zoning power to a particular region. I recently made a statement to caution political parties on the case of zoning presidency to any region. Henceforth, zonal arrangements will not work anymore in Nigeria. We have come of age to where we need to stand up for our rights because at the end of the day, we will still suffer the aftermath of the failures of the government. We will ensure we resist zoning of presidency vehemently. The president of Nigeria should be seen as a Nigerian president and not an Igbo, Yoruba or Hausa president. That we don’t like and will not accept. So, on the issue of power going to the South East, I say if the people choose an Igbo candidate as president, so be it. They have the right to vote for their preferred candidate irrespective of tribe and religion. And I always wonder what the problem is with the South East. Do they not have competent candidates? I strongly believe they do. If they present a candidate that possesses the best leadership skills and potentials, be rest assured that I will be at the forefront championing my support.
There are speculations that you have hatred for the Igbo, especially with the statement credited to you saying that power will remain in the North for as long as ever. Can you confirm the statement?
First of all, I must correct that false impression. I have no personal grudges against the Igbo. I have no problem if a South East candidate emerges the president. I have never said that the presidency cannot come from the South East. Most of my friends are from the South East and South West. My life, education, struggle and mentorship have been in the South-West, Lagos precisely. I received mentorship from the likes of Wole Soyinka, Anthony Enahoro and others. Of course, I made the statement which went viral on the issue of power remaining in the North. But on a second thought, I withdrew and changed the statement for the best interest of the country because I knew Nigeria is already divided by tribe and religion and such a statement might not augur well for the best interest of the country. Sometimes, you don’t do things or make utterances for your own interest, but for the overall interest of the country and the question I asked myself was, will this divide or unite the country? And I just realized that probably it might cause some division and incite negative reactions among Nigerians if I had stood my ground on the statement. So, I withdrew the statement so that I would not be remembered in history as someone who at some point contributed negatively to the wellbeing of the country. I was attacked and bashed by Nigerians for that statement. I take responsibility and have long corrected it.
What is your perspective of the agitation for sovereignty by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB)? Do you see the agitation becoming a reality?
To be honest with you, I have never regarded that group as a group seriously agitating. Rather, I have always seen them as some group of fraudsters led by another fraudster doing what they are doing all in the name of struggle. The group lacks focus and purpose for their agitation. Today you hear them talk about referendum, tomorrow you hear them talk about sovereign national conferences, the next moment they are talking about break out. Arms struggle is not an agitation. I just sympathise with those who are still gullible and blindly following Nnamdi Kanu aimlessly. That is not a struggle as far as I know. Struggles are built on ideology. A clear and objective ideology. They should follow the recognized procedure by going to the United Nations and file their petitions. It is wickedness to put the lives of innocent Nigerians at risk in the name of agitation. My analysis and conclusion of this group are based on the fact that the agitation of Biafra did not begin with Nnamdi Kanu. It began with the likes of Ojukwu and his team of agitators who fought the civil war. After the Biafran war in early 1990s and 2000s, another struggle came up of MASSOB led by Ralph Uwazuruike. Almost at the same time, we also came up with our own struggle as young students on the fight against military dictatorship, and NADECO which was led by the late Gani Fawhenmi, late Ransome Kuti, and Wole Soyinka, and other freedom fighters were all at the forefront, while we supported behind as foot soldiers. The MASSOB group have clearly defined what they were agitating for because they felt marginalized, they felt things were not done the right way for the good interest of the people. They also stated that they were not ready to go into any arms struggle. And till today, they have been existing for over twenty years as I speak. Despite their agitations, they are still peaceful. The only recognized group agitating through constitutional procedure is MASSOB under the leadership of Ralph Uwazuruike. My perspective on the IPOB agitation is that we have one thing in common with every tribe in Nigeria, and that is the right to freedom to settle down in any part of the country so long as you are a Nigerian. We have many Igbosresiding in the North, the Hausa residing in the East, the Yorubas residing in the South South. And it goes on and on. If the IPOB agitation will be, so be it. If it will never be a reality, so be it, but I pray it will never be because I enjoy seeing all Nigerians living together in peace. I desire a one Nigeria that is united. It will work if we agree to make it work. All I advocate for is peace and unity amongst Nigerians.
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