In this interview, the National Secretary of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Anthony Sani, speaks on the state of the nation against the backdrop of former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari. Excerpts:
By Ben Agande
The North seems to be the most insecure place in the country now with Boko Haram, kidnapping and banditry. Is ACF worried?
ACF has been worried over insecurity across the country and would wish an end is put to the problem posed by not only Boko Haram, kidnappers and bandits but also armed robbers, cattle rustlers and cultists. The upsurge in banditry and kidnapping in the North after the elections is particularly worrisome because one has to ask why now?
But given the resolve by the regime that it would go as far as effort can go to exterminate the challenges to security in the manner it has weakened Boko Haram and consigned the activities of the sect to fringes of North East, we are hopeful that the desired results would come to pass as soon as possible. What is required is for Nigerians to come together and unleash their synergistic potential against the collective challenges for common good, since no economy can thrive amid insecurity. A situation where some groups gloat when some of our security agents suffer some setback from criminals conveys an impression of lack of national solidarity against our collective challenges.
Nigeria is going through bad times. Yes. But bad moments should bring about national grandeur, purposeful leadership and the best in everyone. This is because we can make the most of our diversity by working hard to overcome what divides our people. No nation thrives on the victory of its faction but through ultimate reconciliation. Victory and defeat are never final.
The North is more divided now ever than before. Is this an indication that ACF has failed in its unifying role?
I do not know the basis for your conclusion that the North is divided now more than ever before. Is it because of the security challenges across the North or partisan differences? I have said it over and over again that when it comes to partisanship, the North has never been one. That is why during the First Republic, there was the NPC led by the Sardauna of Sokoto, NEPU led by Mallam Aminu Kano and UMBC led by Tarka, all of which were northern based political parties. There were several smaller political parties across the North. In the Second Republic, there was NPN with Alhaji Shehu Shagari as presidential candidate, GNPP with Alhaji Ibrahim Waziri as presidential candidate and PRP with Mallam Aminu Kano as presidential candidate while Plateau aligned with NPP which had Zik as presidential candidate. During the current dispensation, we have witnessed when General Buhari contested with Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua from the same Katsina State and a fellow Fulani Muslim. We have also seen recently how President Buhari slugged it out with a fellow Fulani Muslim from the North, Alhaji Abubakar Atiku.
All these can happen because the North knows that while there may be national consensus on the problems of the nation, there may be no similar consensus on methods of solution; and that multiparty democracy allows each political party to represent distinct methods of solution as contained in the manifesto that is used for canvassing electoral mandates needed for implementation. But there are many political issues which most northerners share and which ACF tries to promote. So, anybody who posits that the North is divided more than before does not know what ACF and the North stand for and promote as a collective. It used to be said the North is no more one due to the activities of few people under the platform of Middle Belt Forum.
Those who thought so do not know the origin of Middle Belt agitations, to wit, it was meant for a Middle Belt region reminiscent of Mid-West which was created for the minority from the former Western Region in response to the recommendations of the Wilink Commission. But now that states and local governments have been created to allay the fears of domination of minorities by the majorities, one can reasonably posit that the agitations by Middle Belt Forum are rooted in what no longer exists. That may explain why the North Central zone delivered five states to APC that is dominated by the majority Hausa-Fulani and the South-South delivered five states to PDP that is dominated by the majority Igbo ethnic extraction in the immediate past elections. Majority ethnic groups no longer dictate to the minorities on who should govern their states and local governments.
How can ACF claim to be representing the North when it endorsed one northern candidate in the last elections against the other?
ACF exists to promote and protect interests of the North in the context of one united and peaceful Nigeria. This includes advocacy on what is best for the North and the nation, and how best northerners can go about pursuing the collective aspirations in a particular circumstance. Being non-partisan does not suggest ACF should not advise on what it considers to be the best option for the North, or being non-partisan does not mean the forum is amoral. In fact, ACF looks forward to a situation where politics, economics and morality will intersect for healthy and speedy socioeconomic development of not only the North but also of the whole nation.
That explains why the forum in its advocacies strives to help shape events instead of allowing events to shape the polity. So, the endorsement of a presidential candidate of a northern extraction over another presidential candidate of the same North does not necessarily contradict what the ACF stands for but is in furtherance of what the forum believes is the best for most northerners in a given circumstance.
A group of Northern youths recently warned states opposed to Ruga settlement to support the initiative within 30 days or risk their anger. Does ACF support the stand of this group?
ACF has been worried that those who have opposed open grazing by nomads, out of fear that such open grazing is a predisposing factor to trespasses that bring about clashes between herdsmen and farmers, are the same ones opposed to government’s interventions in establishment of ranches that are currently beyond the capacity of individual nomads.
They are also opposed to the concept of RUGA which was meant to encourage sedentary habit away from nomadic practices that are not amenable to surveillance and monitoring for security purposes. But now that government has been sensitive enough to suspend RUGA in order to calm frayed nerves, we expect the critics to proffer viable alternatives that are realistically practical and acceptable to majority of stakeholders. And in doing so, they should note that government has intervened in many private ventures like river basins and dams as well as subsidy on tractors and fertilizers. Government has also bailed out private ventures that are too important or too big to fail when they privatize profits and socialize losses. I believe herds men who are farmers of life stock are also entitled to some form of support from government reminiscent of support extended to farmers of crops and trees. Threats and ultimatum do not arise in the circumstances.
Arewa Elders have called on herdsmen in South to return to the North. What does this portend for national unity?
The advice by Northern Elders Forum to herdsmen that, if they do not believe the host governors and people of their states of abode would guarantee their safety, they are at liberty to leave is not an order. This is because the decision is by the herdsmen who are in better positions to assess their environment and determine what to do. But we must caution against giving ethnic, religious and regional coloration to all actions under the sun. This is because we cannot afford to provide such platforms to criminals to hide and perpetrate crimes, knowing it is not possible to prosecute ethnicity, religion and region. Also, we cannot afford to stigmatize a whole ethnic group, a religious group and a whole region for the sins of few members lest such coloration degenerate to conflagration. We must identify criminals and treat them as such for larger interest.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo wrote an open letter to President Buhari warning of Rwanda like situation if the security and other challenges in the country are not properly handled. What do you make of this letter?
ACF has already said the forum is studying the letter.