ALHAJI Yerima Shetima is the national president of Arewa Youth Consultative Forum. In this interview, Shetima maintains that there is division in the north owing to divergent interests in the region. On the proposed national conference, Shetima posits that there should be no no-go areas if the conference is to succeed. Excerpts:
BY DAPO AKINREFON
What is your position on the proposed national conference?
I have always been part of those clamouring for Sovereign National Conference (SNC) since the dark days of military rule. I was also part of those into the agitation when I was a young student. We formed PRONACO then to continue to agitate for SNC until we had the PRONACO conference.
It is not for those in power to decide how Nigeria should be. So, to some extent, we feel we need a SNC but we are also mindful of the fact that no nation of the world allows for SNC but that the people forced it on governments or they come up and do it against the government. But no sitting government will allow for that.
So if you look at this call for National Dialogue or whatever nomenclature the federal government calls it, some of us have our reservations.
Yes, it is a welcome development but to me, I see it more of buying time by the incumbent government to say since there is this clamouring going on, there is tension everywhere and the issue of insecurity is gradually becoming overwhelming let us engage Nigerians with activities because Nigeria government has a way of buying time.
Let us organise a conference where people will sit down and discuss so that by the time we take one year three months, already we will be at the electioneering time so that nobody will be talking about anything, rather, everyone will be looking at which way to secure power, so at the end of the day it becomes a total diversionary calculation.
Otherwise, for the president to look at the faces of Nigerians and say boldly that whatever you discuss will be subjected to the National Assembly, this is not the kind of conference we are looking for and it is really not fair.
The fear among some people is that an SNC may lead to the disintegration of the country, don’t you think so?
I do not think so. Rather, the way the government is going, one day we would wake up and there are those possibilities that we might end up falling into the prediction by America that by 2015 there might be no Nigeria because people need to talk. But the moment you silence the people and deprive them from talking about issues relating to Nigeria itself; I do not think anybody in any section of the country truly wants to go out of the country.
But if this question of second class citizen is being addressed too, certainly these agitation will go down drastically and other people who are also yearning for breaking out – once there is that spirit of justice, fairness and equity where all Nigerians are given that sense of belonging – where everybody are being treated equally nobody wants to leave a country because this is one beautiful country I have seen in all my travels all over the world. However, one of the major problems we have is with leadership and also style of leadership.
Some Yoruba groups have said that if there is a national dialogue, they would rather push for a regional autonomy, how would you see it?
I agree with that. That is my opinion too. Because if we do not decentralise the central government; if we allow them to hold on to power the way they do – where a criminal will come from nowhere; that is not even popular within his constituency, would just go to Abuja and receive the blessing of one godfather and suddenly becomes a local government chairman, House of Representatives member, senator or governor then something is wrong somewhere. But if we have regional autonomy where people decide who goes to represent that region at the central government cannot do that when you have a parliamentary system of government in place.
Do you agree that the famed unity once associated with the north is gone?
It is true that the north is divided, the north no longer speaks with one voice simply because a lot of things have actually happened.
In the north, do not forget that we have people who are Christians and if you look very well, you will discover that a northern Christian will prefer a southern Christian to a northern Muslim. That is how God wants it.
If you say the north will speak with one voice at the conference, it is really not going to work. You have a situation where there is that suspicion between the Hausa-Fulani speaking person from the north and other tribes in the region. There is that division and that division is very obvious because an average northerner does not see others from the region as a northerner.
It is either on political party differences or tribal differences. Those are major issues that nobody will pretend are not visible.
This was not what obtained during the likes of Ahmadu Bello and early northern leaders. During the days of the Sarduana, Sir Ahmadu Bello, you do not see a Christian northerner, a non Fulani or non Hausa speaking person from the north as an outcast.
Perhaps, if he had alienated people, the present crop of northern leaders would not have been able to come on board and become prominent. The Sarduana carried everybody along, he never cared whether you were a Muslim or Christian. You would not have had the Awoniyis of this world. Now how many of the present crop of northern leaders think that way?
If we are going to have a president who would only take care of the interest if the north, I do not want to be part of that. I look forward to a president who has the interest of Nigerians at heart.
But the moment we begin to have this agitation for northern or southern presidency, we will fall into more problem and then, it will be obvious that the country will break up. I do not want to live in a society where one day I will wake up and there will be no Nigeria.