By Chioma Gabriel, Editor Special Features
Alhaji Shettima Yerima, an activist, is the President of the Arewa Youth Consultative Forum. In this encounter, Yerima answers questions on alleged criminality of herdsmen and the general insecurity across the nation. He speaks on the move by the Federal Government to ban the Almajiri system to stem insecurity and the controversial decision of Miyetti Allah to establish what it calls the Fulani vigilante services in the South-East (Igboland) among other issues in the polity.
When you look around and hear the lamentations of citizens over the activities of alleged killer herdsmen operating in different cells across Nigeria, how do you feel?
Indeed, every Nigerian is worried about the general insecurity in the country and the activities of killer herdsmen. Herdsmen have always been there but many are challenged on the issue of criminality. In fact, northerners are the most victims of the crimes going on in the country. We have suffered it the most despite the fact that we have one of our own heading the country. We have the issue of banditry, kidnapping, insurgency and so on and so forth.
Today, we have taken a major part of it. Don’t forget that the rate of unemployment is high in the northern part of the country. The rate of children being out of school is high in the northern part of the country and, at the same time, poverty is even higher in the North than in any part of this country. So, today, one would begin to wonder what is really happening despite the fact that one of our own is in power.
What we have come to realize is that it has been so clear is that the people we have today in sensitive positions that are supposed to govern the country are not serious or can be best described as lacking the political will to address some of these fundamental issues. You don’t just expect people to be roaming the streets with hunger and you expect crime rates to be low. You do not expect them to be jobless and you expect to have peace. You don’t expect not to put something that will reduce the effect of poverty in the northern part of the country and expect any meaningful result and when you look at the policy of the government and what they think, it is the opposite of what they should do.
Certainly, you can also be in line with the realities on ground. You can be rest assured that we are going to see more trouble on the way because I have not seen the government having the will, I have not seen them determined to look at the issue critically and accept that responsibility of their failure and be open to take advice to move forward.
Yes, but you know in the past regime, Jonathan’s regime, he had this kind of Almajiri system of education but they didn’t follow it up. The whole thing was a waste and just recently, the government spoke about abolishing the Almajiri system. Do you think it will help in any way to make things right?
It will not make things better. Even the Almajiri idea, some of us was opposed to it at the beginning. We opposed it in the sense that what the government would have done was not just to carve an enclave and call it the Almajiri school or whatever, isolating the children. What I thought was that the government would come up with a brilliant idea to empower the children at that time. Remove them from the streets and take them back to school. That idea was brilliant but in a situation where you tag it the ‘Almajiri School’, it will not go well. What we were thinking the government would do is to put up a programme, to put up public schools where these Almajiri children, because they are children of other human beings, would be integrated into the educational system and to put a law that every parent that is found wanting, not sending the children to school and the children are found on the streets during school hours should be penalised. If it is possible in the South, it is also possible in every part of the country.
I know that in Lagos there is a law. A child will not be seen on the streets moving on a normal school day until it is 4 o’clock. So it is possible. That is law. So the government should have made it in a much uniformed way by stating that a child must go to school and that if a child is found on the street, roaming, hawking or begging, the parent would be responsible, arrested and will be prosecuted. With that law, though people are bound to resist it, at the end of the day, we will excel because the people will comply. Some of us had our reservation at that time but when government was busy doing it, we felt that it was better to do it than not to do anything at all, even if some of us saw this mistake coming. But if this government says it will abolish the system, then you know there is a problem. It is either they do not have good advisers or they are confused.
I think the President means well on this because you said that instead of Jonathan establishing Almajiri schools, the children should have been integrated into the educational system. You know that these people are always on the move, they do not stay in one place. So now, if the President decides to do it the way Jonathan would have wanted it done, perhaps that would have been a problem also. Don’t you think the President meant well?
I don’t think the President means well. If he means well, what did he put in place to convince us that what was there before is not as good and your new idea is better than what was brought in the past?
Maybe he wants them to mix with the normal school system like you are saying.
Was there any pronouncement to that effect after abolishing what was there before? Was there any law that was enacted? Not to my knowledge though.
Some of these children are in the cities of Lagos. I mean, in places like Yaba or Oyingbo, there are public schools around them and in other places. If they are registered in such schools, will they integrate?
What is the effort of the government with regards to that? Can you take a child to school without making provision for feeding? What does it take to feed the children?
The Federal Government is already feeding school children
Yes, the programme is dead already, dead on arrival. But the parents are to be blamed even though the government did not put any measures on ground that will manage and engage the parents?
I will tell you something that happened many years ago. There was a maiguard in my house who has some little children. Sometimes, these children would come to my house, watch television and even play and will later go back to their father. So one day, I went to meet their father and asked him if I could register his children in school. His answer was no. I told him that his children’s friends go to school and that there is even a school close to the compound. He still refused, stating that what they teach in school is what he sees in reality because they usually travel from place to place. So I think it is the mentality of the people.
So do you think what your maiguard feels is what every other parent feels? I suppose your maiguard has a mental problem and so, the problem of the maiguard cannot be seen to be the general problem of northerners. This is where we are missing the point. One idiot who is not exposed to the ways of the Western world should not be used to show that the same problem happens to every northerner. Maybe he is not even a Nigerian but somebody from Chad or something. So how can you now assume that this is what other northerners think?
But the parents in for example, Yaba and Oyingbo see other children going to school. Don’t they aspire for the children to be like those?
I’m not in a position to answer what they think but I’m just telling you as a leader what I feel. You cannot tackle insecurity in the midst of unemployment. You cannot tackle insecurity in the midst of high level of poverty in the land. You cannot tackle insecurity with hunger and there is a common saying that a hungry man is an angry man. So, crime will continue to increase because the government has lost direction. There is no clear policy introduced by this government that is clearly defined and that is not for the betterment of tomorrow. Let us be very honest with it. So to an extent, all of us have to rise up to fight it. As I speak to you today, the major part of the problem is even in the northern part of the country despite the fact that it is presumed that one of our own is leading the country.
The issue is creeping into the South-West where the governors and traditional rulers are collaborating with the OPC to dispatch people into the forests where those causing insecurity are hiding. Some people have perceived that we are living in a failed state where nothing is working.
Nigeria has failed already.
Buhari is believed to have favoured the North more than the South, so how come these issues are happening more on that side of the divide?
I am surprised at the way you are talking. We are talking about a crime here where it is obvious that those saddled with the responsibility of tackling it have failed. The system is not working. North, south, east or west, the system has failed. When people sit down and they are so angry and hungry and they look at a man, who today is just a councillor, buying houses everywhere, you expect them to keep silent? A man who is just a local government chairman is buying houses and marrying different wives everywhere. Just recently, we have a governor who got married to two wives before his swearing-in while people are hungry. And you think those people are who are hungry will fold their arms and allow them to do it? Let me tell you something, even I, cannot exonerate myself in times to come if measures are not taken because it is obvious that the voices on the streets are very angry. The troubles we are faced with today, I may survive it probably for one reason or the other but we are going to leave a serious burden to the children unborn. The children will have to suffer from the mistakes we are committing today.
So, worrying isn’t even about me because I have done my best for the society. I have paid my dues but my worry is that in what condition am I going to leave my family? What will happen to my children if I am not alive today because I foresee danger ahead of time?
I worry for my children not myself right now. Yes, because I see a threat. I see a disposition, whereby those children who are being ignored out there, who in one way or the other government has refused to put policies on ground to touch their lives positively, are going to turn against my children and hold my children to ransom. This is what I see coming.
Now, the house I built to stay with my family, my family would at the end of the day run out and leave those bandits to take over. I foresee this coming. The issue is for all hands to be on deck. We have to wake up because this is a clarion call to face the realities of the danger we are in already. It is a ticking time bomb and it is better we wake up to face the reality of things, not minding where anybody comes from, look at the evil against the society and fight it that way. Perhaps if we do that, we can be rest assured that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. But we do not do that. We just fold our arms and look at it as a problem of one individual or the other. You can be rest assured that this will consume the whole country. We may wake up one day and see that there is no Nigeria, God forbid. No Nigeria if measures are not taken.
There is something about the youths. You are one of their leaders. The youths are always asking for power but the young ones given the opportunity have succeeded in failing with the way they went about things. Like Governor Yahaya Bello.
We have brilliant and sound minded youths all over. Don’t forget that Yahaya Bello became a governor accidentally because of the death of the other man. At the end of the day, the arrangement favours him to become the governor not because he was elected by the people. We have an election in months to come and you will see whether Yahaya Bello is popular or not.
But you are aware that the traditional rulers from Kogi followed him to Aso Rock to beg Buhari to give him another chance?
What do you expect? With the way they humiliate traditional rulers now and subject them to nothing, it is bound to happen. Look at the case of Kano where a first class traditional ruler and one governor who has just a life span of his tenure suddenly messing up an institution. What happens to Kano matters to me because that is an institution and has been there for over 500 years and all of sudden, someone comes from nowhere, simple because he has become a governor and for his selfish interest is trying to destroy that institution. It matters to me. And with that, ordinarily you should expect that Yahaya Bello would have also made a statement and out of fear, they came down to the villa but the fact of the matter is that it does not control the vote of Kogi state. The people decide. They will decide when the time comes.
This Kano issue now involving Sanusi Sanusi, it’s like the grandfather had a similar experience in his time.
I was not alive when the father was on the throne but I am alive now that the grandson is on the throne. And what matters to me is that we are proud to have a man who is willing to reform and change the system and make it work. That is the man I am proud of and I love him so much. So for that of course, we expect that definitely if you come, you come up with an idea that is very superior. People felt it is valiant and so those in the corridor of power will definitely fight but we will support him. We’ll continue to support him and we’ll stand by him. He is a reformer, he is intelligent. So he is not fighting for himself but he is fighting for the system to work. Gone are those days when you make mockery of people and make them look stupid. We need more radical revolutionists to come into the system either as traditional rulers or politicians or whatever they are. Let us see how we can radicalize the system and make it work.
You know I used to think this Almajiri system represents the Islamic doctrine of learning or something.
Islamic learning is totally against it. No version of Islam or the Quran allows or permits anyone to go out and beg. It is not Islamic. Quote me anywhere. There is no version of the Quran that supports begging. Islam is totally against begging. Those are self-centered people doing it for their selfish interests, going about begging because they are weak, they are lazy and don’t want to work to earn a living.
The South-East is against Fulani vigilante services being proposed by Miyetti Allah
It is for the South-East to decide and the state governments also. The governors should say “no, we don’t want your vigilante”. It is a simple issue and not one to generate a controversy. No constitution states that you must force vigilantes on people if they refuse. There is no drama about it. Even if it is out goodwill, if you feel that, that goodwill is not okay for you, tell them you do not want their services. It is as simple as that.