By Ishola Balogun
…says ‘we will make amends’, calls for Arewa Ministry
Alhaji Shettima Yerima, an activist and president of the Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, wonders why the Federal Government is yet to arrest politicians believed to be involved in the Boko Haram insurgency. The youth leader, who describes the president’s new initiative, the Almajiri School as crazy, canvasses the establishment of Arewa Ministry in order to tackle the myriad of problems confronting the North. Excerpts:
You were in Kaduna and some parts of the North recently. What was the level of destruction?
The problem of northern Nigeria did not start today, that is why I disagree with those saying that it was because Jonathan was President hence some people were making it difficult for him to govern the country. It started after independence. The situation has always been going from bad to worse and now it is indescribable.
It has come to a point for people to be recruited by any kind of group to foment trouble in order to survive. Nobody could have imagined that, at 52, Nigeria would have suicide bombers. It is a clear indication that something went wrong. These people did not just wake up one day to become what they are. They have been there since the days of Obasanjo.
We have been told that when the leader of this group was arrested, prominent politicians were among those who bailed him saying they were not from this country. This said leader of the group was used to achieve political gains. But at a point he became a problem between government and these politicians. We now have a situation where an average armed robber goes to the bank and now calls himself Boko Haram.
Somebody killed his political opponent and it is called Boko Haram. People take advantage of this situation because there is an existing group calling itself Boko Haram who were aggrieved because certain injustice had been meted out on their leader. So, the situation has gone beyond Boko Haram. Some of those arrested are not even Muslims, like the case of Bauchi, Damaturu that a security officer was involved in.
There was a situation in Yenagoa where somebody was dressed like a Muslim to bomb a church, only to find out that he was not from the North, he was not a Muslim but did so just because he had a disagreement with his pastor. If you put all these together, you will discover that a lot of things are happening. When I look at people, bringing sentiment into it and accusing the North, I feel bad.
I get worried that people don’t see beyond what is happening. Nobody is witch-hunting the southerners in the northern part of the country. The bomb does not know an Hausa man or a southerner. Once they put it in a public place, people will die not minding whether he is an Hausa or Ibo man.
But there were cases of church bombings?
Even the mosques were affected. In Jos, over 300 people were killed in a mosque. Was there any propaganda about that? It was an Eid-el-Maolud day, when the gunmen killed about 300 people in a mosque.Which religion supports violence? None, Islam does not allow violence. The Prophet does not declare war on Christians. They are called ‘People of the Book’. In the North, we know how many die daily.
Recently, there was a bomb in a mosque in Fagge Central Mosque, Kano, but, for the grace of God, it was found before it went off by security agents, suspects were arrested. Just because somebody was bent on fanning the embers of religious violence and declaring war! An Imam was killed at a Friday prayer in Kano, nobody talked about that. How many Imams have they killed now? We must learn to be just to stories.
What are the leaders in the North doing to assist government in bringing this to an end?
If you follow the issue, you will see that a lot of elders have condemned the violence on several occasions. The Elders Forum, ACF, condemned it. The Elders Forum as a body that comprises other organisations is working under the leadership of Maitama Sule to ensure that this issue of violence is brought to an end.
They have raised a fundamental issues, only God knows why the government has not arrested those believed to be involved. They said the best way to solve this issue is to show sincerity in treating this issue. If Yusuf was alive today, he would have told us a lot of stories about this group. An instruction must have been passed; the police could not have pulled the trigger after the Army handed him over to them; somebody must have given the instruction either from Abuja or from the state.
You think followers will fold their hands when their leader was killed. Of course they will react. If I am killed today as a leader of an organisation, there are tendencies that people will react. We are not saying Yusuf was right or wrong, but they would have allowed justice to prevail.
So, government should have been more proactive except they have any other thing they are hiding or perhaps like Jonathan said that the Boko Haram members are in his government. Then who will be held responsible if government is involved? I agree with his statement, the former NSA also said it, unfortunately, they sacked him unceremoniously after what he had done for this nation.
If not for anything, he should be commended for sustaining the unity of the country. He inherited the problem. The problem started from Muktar time as NSA, during Yar’Adua government; so it has nothing to do with a Niger Delta man. This is a problem that affects Nigeria as a whole and not only the northern part of the country.
The media are witnesses to the high rate of beggars on the streets, how does begging become part of Islam or a culture of a Hausa man. No! People were forced into it because they have no means of livelihood. We have had opportunities to make Nigeria a better place to live through our leaders.
But today the leaders deserve to be stoned in public because they are part and parcel of this problem in the North. The same media celebrate them. This is not right! We cannot move further until we tell ourselves the truth. We cannot do anything until we are able to reflect on the past, present and champion a new course for a better Nigeria.
So, what in your own view is the short and long term solution?
The government is not ready for the short term but a long term by opening Almajiri school. That is crazy. Yes. Tell me one person that is not an Almajiri in Nigeria. Today, the constitution has made the Federal Government stronger and the states weaker. Anything you want to do, you have to go to Abuja and lobby for it.
In fact, if you want to be your local government chairman, you have to lobby for it in Abuja, no matter your credibility or acceptability. So, who is not an Almajiri? The Vice President himself will have to lobby. The day he falls in the black book of the First Lady, he is finished. If they don’t remove his security, they make sure he doesn’t do any major job.
They make him redundant. The system has succeeded in making everybody a beggar to survive. The day they discover you are a threat to them, they will destroy you and make you subservient to them. That is why you see people often times compromise because they want power. Even those who call themselves progressives change tunes the moment they get into power. Look at Obasanjo and Atiku after the 2003 elections.
The latter was more of a spare tyre that could not function simply because the president did not want to see his face. So, the problem in the northern part of the country requires a total overhaul and you can’t do it all at once, there are short measures to take rather than creating Almajiri school.
The concept of the Almajiri is the children of poor people, beggars and the less privileged of the society. You cannot compound the problem by carving them out of the society. What they would have done is to integrate them into the existing public schools; give them free education at primary and secondary school levels and enact a law to make it compulsory for every child to go to school and make the parents liable for keeping them away.
You are doing it to protect our future. When the Niger Delta case came up, we thought it was only Niger Delta until it spread to other parts of the country in form of kidnapping, rape and terrorism. Today, by extension, that was what gave birth to what we are seeing.
The belief is that if the language of violence is only what the government understands, if you take up guns, they respect you, honour you, then they will fester on it. Boko Haram will come and go someday but what will happen in other regions? Nigeria has a way of creating trouble without knowing how to get out of it. Maybe government will one day think about it.
We also need Arewa Ministry to address the major problems. In fact, that is our focus now, we will demand for it and we will achieve it. That will take care of our own affairs just like we have the Ministry of Niger Delta. Who knows, maybe, someday the Yoruba will decide to have Odua Ministry and the South East will declare for Ibo or Ohaeneze Ministry, Massob and so on.
But I think the regional government would have been better with the situation we now find ourselves. People are not happy with the system. The system is not working for Nigeria. The president said in his last media chat that he could declare his assets.
That takes us to 2015. What is your take on whether or not Jonathan should contest in 2015?
It is too early to talk about 2015, but what we are seeing, he does not deserve a second chance and I don’t think the vote of the South-South alone can make Jonathan president in 2015; unless they want to do that to break the country to impose him on Nigerians.
Every section of this country is tired and disappointed with this government. We were part of the struggle that made this government. The Niger Deltans were never in the forefront of Jonathan realising this dream. When the Save Nigeria Group was formed, they were just few that came.
We were more in number than them. The South West mooted the idea and some of us came and we insisted that he must be an acting president. If he hadn’t been acting president, perhaps, it would have been a different story today. We pushed, under the leadership of Tunde Bakare, I was one of the strongest voices in the North.
Despite my relationship with the government, and my background as a northerner, I stood behind him demanding that due process be followed. The constitution must be respected no matter how lopsided it is. Of course I have my reservation about the constitution.
That is our legal document but it lacks legitimacy. We stood, we fought and we marched, mobilised people to Abuja and Lagos. That was what gave birth to ‘the doctrine of necessity’ that brought Jonathan as acting president. Election came and people mobilised from all parts of the country for Jonathan.
We believe that he had a different background compared to the old crooks and we said, ‘let us try a new thing’. But if this is how people who went to school without slippers suffer and become leader only to produce this kind of government, then we will never go for people who go to school without slippers.
It is not worth it. We thought he was part of the society, he had seen poverty; he came like every other average Nigerian being somebody who had a dose of it, he would made an impact in the lives of common Nigerians. But now the situation has degenerated from bad to worse.
Then somebody will tell me that it is either he becomes president or they break Nigeria, to hell with that threat. We can no longer be threatened but the right thing must be done. Nobody is afraid of anybody and nobody must use anything to blackmail or threaten anybody.
Time will tell, 2015 is at hand. We have learnt our lessons, we have seen the government of the Ijaws by the Ijaws and for the Ijaws. And when they see us, they abuse us, abuse our elders without respecting the fact that we were part of the struggle that made Jonathan. Nobody is afraid of death, death comes but once. A man in you dies the moment you saw tyranny and you could not speak. We must speak and if we die in the course of speaking, so be it.
How is the North preparing for 2015 then?
We are mending fences with our Christian brothers in the northern part of the country, the Hausa Fulanis. We are trying as much as we can to unite and speak with one voice, like the legacies left behind by our founding fathers. Sir Ahmadu Bello never castigated anybody, no matter the religious or tribal differences. He was able to bring every body on board. That is what we are doing.
You said the constitution lacks legitimacy. How do you mean?
The 1999 constitution lacks legitimacy in the sense that the making of that constitution was totally wrong. There was no time Nigerians sat at any conference to produce that document. Few people sat down during the military era under Abdulsalami Abubakar to produce it, even his number two man, Mike Akhigbe, was not part of it. Abdulsalami is alive today, if that is not true, I challenge him to speak.
They rushed it up and bogged it with so many decrees to protect their interests and that of their cronies; imposed it on Nigerians and called it 1999 Constitution. It lacks legitimacy because there was no input of all Nigerians. I am not a lawyer but I know the difference between legitimacy and legal document. All Nigerians must be seen to have representative who will come to make their position clear in it. Less than 15 military officers and few civilian cronies sat down to produce it.
That is not done, no constitution in the whole world was made like that. We challenge that legitimacy and we are still challenging it in the Federal High Court Abuja. We are not saying it is not a legal document, but its legitimacy is what we are challenging. The National Assembly can make laws but they cannot make constitution. There is difference between the two. The legitimacy makes it un-amendable.