By Bashir Adefaka
…Says disunity in the North threatens Nigeria
Captain Mohammed Joji, a former Managing Director of the defunct Nigeria Airways and Secretary-General, Airline Operators in Nigeria (AON), is the newly appointed Arewa Consultative Forum’s (ACF) Strategy Committee Chairman. He spoke with Sunday Vanguard at his Kaduna office on why no religious group should be blamed for the security challenges currently faced by the country but recommended that the two major religious groups in the North should unite and provide solution. Excerpts:
What role are you supposed to play as Chairman, ACF’s Strategy Committee?
In ACF, we have sub-committees. Strategy Committee is one of them and I was appointed as the Chairman. What we are charged to do is to see how we can make the North to live together whether you are Christian or Muslim. We are to work it out how we can make other Nigerians to live together in one Nigeria. In Strategy Committee, we are to find out what our problems are and what we can do to solve those problems. It is in our interest that we live together in harmony within ourselves and in the rest of the country.
The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) President, Ayo Oritshajefor, insinuated the Boko Haram as Northern agenda to wipe out Christians in Nigeria. Isn’t the time ripe for you, the Northern leaders, to speak out on this matter: I mean what is your reaction to that?
It is wrong because this problem is our general problem. They are killing both Muslims and Christians. Isn’t it? So, we Muslims too in the North are affected by the Boko Haram situation. The last bombing in Kaduna, which killed many Okada riders, affected Muslims largely because majority of Okada riders in Kaduna are Muslims. In Yobe market this morning (Thursday 3/5/2012), sixteen people were killed.
Is Yobe a Christian dominated state? 95 percent of Yobe people are Muslims and so it means many of the attacks that, that state has suffered affected Muslims the more even though we don’t cry out like the Christians do. But there are others who are neither Muslims nor Christians who have also been badly affected. So it would be unfair for one religious group to blame another for a problem that affects all of us as a people. Let us be careful.
It was gathered that Boko Haram was the result of bad leadership in a particular state of the North. Do you agree and, if you agree, why has that led to the serious security situation that we have had and what is the way out?
That is why I am asking people who are using religion to divide the North to stop it. Politicians always use religion to divide the people. It is those who cannot win elections that always try to create problems under the disguise of religion whereas we never had religious problem in this country. What we have had has always been political problem. Did you read what Okah, the independence day bombing suspect, said and it was reported in the papers yesterday (2/5/2012), he was even blaming the government for the bombings in the country? The independence day bombing that killed both Christians and Muslims, was that Boko Haram? The bombings, maiming, killings and kidnapping in the Niger Delta, are they Boko Haram? So let us stop giving prominence to religion as responsible for the problems.
I have been hearing this CAN president always trying to cause war in Nigeria. Let him be assured that if the war starts in the country, he himself cannot survive it. All the time you are drumming war, but, if it comes, you cannot survive it. That is not what we need to help this country as a people and as a system. Whatever the situation, our duty as religious or regional leaders, is to find way of dousing the fire not to add fuel to it. If our government doesn’t have rest of mind to administer our affairs, we too cannot live well and, so, the earlier we changed our attitude to crisis management in this country the better. We have a common problem in Nigeria today and that problem is the problem of insecurity.
Let’s solve this problem collectively because both Christians and Muslims are being killed every day; even more Muslims are killed than Christians. Go and find out. Look at Jos where even the flesh of human beings are eaten; many things happen that you don’t even know. Whose flesh are they eating there? They are not eating the flesh of Christians; of course it is the flesh of Muslims they are eating there! Go and find out.
So, where is that hatred coming from? For somebody or some people to sit down and blame one religion for this problem is pure nonsense. What we need to do is for both of us, the two major religious groups in the North, to sit down and provide solution. I can tell you that, if both of us sit down together in the North today and talk these things over, the security problem in the North will vanish.
But people themselves are not helping matters because even armed robbery situation has been linked with Boko Haram and, if we want our government to really succeed in their efforts to tackle the security problems, we should feed them with correct information. If you have incident of political assassination, they say Boko Haram. That is what we have seen. So, why don’t we sit down to look at the issue and find out who are the people using this issue (Boko Haram) to divide this country? We can get to the root of the problem if we want to.
The reason it drags, as it has become, is because people, instead of facing the reality are just beating about the bush taking joy in blaming Islam or the North whereas the problem is far beyond that. We should therefore be careful about the unwarranted utterances like that of the CAN president.
How do you view the Federal Government efforts at solving the insecurity problem?
I have no comment on that. You should go back and ask General Azazi, the National Security Adviser (NSA). He may have a solution to that problem going by what he said in the papers. It is beyond our reasoning. If the NSA could come out to say what he said, it means that the problem can even be solved by the NSA himself (if allowed to do so).
If the government listens to him, that means we are coming near the solution because he was accusing even the security agencies. Do you remember they said why should the State Security Service (SSS) report to the NSA and why the police should report to the Police Service Commission? Were they not reporting to the Ministry of Interior before? Anywhere you go in the world, the police and other security agencies are under the Ministry of Interior. Isn’t it?
This political divide in order to create jobs for some people and cause problems for the other is very wrong. Why should you pitcht one security agency against another? True, all the road blocks mounted by the police never worked except that they were causing hardship for the people; even at that, what you can do is surcharge the police if it is not performing up to standard, not to bring it down completely. The military has been brought into the situation as a last resort. Now that you have brought them at this point, if the whole system collapses, who will you blame?
So, we got everything wrong and so we have to sit down and review our security in this country. Let’s sit down together and see what is going on, instead of some people trying to claim to be heroes as a result of the problem which leads to no positive change. People should look at themselves as Nigerians: whether you are a Christian, Muslim, Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa or whatever, we are Nigerians and that is it. Non-believers are being killed, Christians and Muslims too are being killed.
So, this problem is not problem of Christian alone, it is also problem greatly shared by Muslims and, on the long run, the problem of Nigeria. For anybody to think the way of approaching it is to whip religious sentiment into it; that person will, rather than achieving good result, add more to the problems. And that is why I said we should be careful because if Nigeria disintegrates; the whole of West Africa sub-region is gone.
What effort is the ACF making at getting to solution or, going by your submission, are you automatically saying that dialogue will be the smoothest path to solution?
First, to have a straight move to proffering solution, you need a united front. That is why I always blame the division of this Northern group by the so-called elders and so on. My question is; who is supporting that division? Who is benefiting from it? People should not be looking for recognition unnecessarily. ACF is here in the North, Afenifere is there in South West, Ohanaeze is there in the South East.
Most of these elders (in the North) are also members or the patrons and so, if you have any issue with the leaderships, come to the ACF and say ‘I don’t like the way the ACF is doing and so let’s change the leadership’. If any former president wants to become the chairman of ACF, he is welcome and he should be ready to go through election. He can be elected. If any person wants to become Secretary-General of ACF or something, you don’t have excuse. Come to ACF, it’s for the whole North and together we can change things for better under the banner of the body. So, why the problem; why dividing ourselves; who is misleading who?
That is why I say disunity in the North is a threat to Nigeria. I can tell you that if the North disintegrates, that is the beginning of Nigeria’s disintegration. So, those who are thinking that they want to disintegrate the North because it is too powerful are joking. Yes! They are joking because they themselves, their children and children’s children will suffer for it. They should know that.
I have always said that the North can survive on its own. We have the land; the water; we have the agriculture; everything in the North. Give us three, four years, River Niger is there, one year, dredge it for irrigation, shipping and so on. Niger can use it. Create refinery between Niger and Sokoto, create refinery between Maiduguri and Chad, bring a railway line between Chad and Maiduguri, you know, Trans-Sahara routes, we have finished!
So those clamouring for disintegration don’t know the implication. They shouldn’t make mistake if that is the way they are thinking because, nobody can blackmail the North for anything. I’m a Nigerian and I want to remain a Nigerian. If it comes to blackmail and Christians blackmail me because I’m a Muslim or a Northerner, they are wasting their time because, whether they like it or not, the Christian North and Muslim North must sit together instead of looking for alliance somewhere against one another.
Generally, we should take caution and work for a more united Nigeria where everybody sees himself as brother to the other and where you can live anywhere without fear. Only then we can have peace and it is only in situation of peace we can talk or hope for economic successes and political excellence.