Nastura Ashir Shariff, the man behind Katsina protest explains why they are fighting for the north.
It’s no longer news that the leader of the peaceful protest in Katsina on Tuesday, the 16th of June 2020, Nastura Ashir Shariff, has been released after he was arrested in Katsina and taken to Abuja.
Shariff and many others were unhappy with the activities of bandits and general insecurity in the North and decided to do something about it.
The callous killings in Katsina state, which had continued unabated, triggered the massive protest in which hundreds of youths took to the street against incessant killings in seven front line local Government Areas in Katsina state.
Though a peaceful protest, Shariff was taken to Force Headquarters in Abuja, where he was interrogated.
Shariff’s freedom was made possible about 74 hours later, by the enormous pressure exerted by the Coalition of Northern Groups, CNG, the Northern Elders Forum, patriotic leaders, and elders of the North, among others.
Nastura Ashir Shariff has become a name in northern Nigeria. He commands respect in many quarters.
He was born to an Islamic scholar in Sudawa of Gwale Local Government Area, Kano State on January 01, 1970. As a child, he lived with his father from whom he received a rudimentary Islamic education.
He had all his education in Kano and started work with the Kano State Ministry of Education in 1988 and was transferred to Dala Local Government Secretariat in 1989 as sports secretary.
Later he was seconded to the Social Democratic Party as deputy administrative secretary in 1993 and became Personal Assistant to the vice-chairman of Dala Local Government Council in 1995 before retiring to start a private business and to serve as Personal Assistant to the late Danmasanin Kano, Ambassador Yusuf Maitama Sule until his death.
He is now the Chief Executive Officer of Thanira Global Investment. He is married and blessed with two sons and two daughters.
In this interview with Ibrahim HassanWuyo, Shariff speaks on his encounter with the police, the real motive behind the protest and other sundry issues pertaining to the North and Nigeria in general. It’s an exciting encounter.
Why the struggle against rights violations and banditry, instead of enjoying a peaceful career in government or in a political office?
My career in activism has its roots in history. At a very early age, I was exposed to the Danmasani school of thought where I received insightful knowledge of the political dynamics of Africa and Nigeria with a special bias for northern Nigeria.
I was trained in contemporary political history, philosophical oratory, and diplomatic communication. It was during this apprenticeship with the Danmasani that I would find my true calling as an activist and rights crusader.
Through Danmasani’s guidance and mentorship, I acquired the skills to run his own youth organizations.
Would you say democracy has been good for the North?
Ordinarily, I wouldn’t want to assess development in terms of regionalism or sectional preference. I would rather after all these years of our independent existence Nigeria had blended into one solidly united and prosperous nation.
Unfortunately, it has not been so and here we are, having to assess governments on the basis of our individual regions, sections, ethnicity, and even religion.
One cannot, therefore, fail to note that since the inception of the current dispensation, the Northern region had virtually been taken for a rough ride in the tide. In the first eight years from 1999 to 2007 (when President Obasanjo was in power), the North had all its flourishing industries collapsed deliberately, its people removed from top government positions, and its economy and social cohesion generally disrupted.
The period between 2007 and 2015 (When Presidents Yar’Adua and Jonathan held sway) saw the setting in of the most devastating security situation in the North and a seeming determination to bring the region down on its knees and then achieve some form of disintegration of the country while northerners might have been rendered hopelessly vulnerable.
And with the coming of this administration which the Northern people actively and collectively made possible in the hope for a fairer and just deal, things got worse for the region.
From its maiden budget in 2016, the administration had set a trend of grossly shortchanging the North which subsists to date. The North had been shortchanged over infrastructure distribution and key government appointments.
And to make matters worse, it is having to live with a whole new brand of criminality in addition to a deepening level of poverty.
Your group, the CNG, what led to its formation?
Essentially, the birth of the Coalition of Northern Groups was informed by the urgency of the need for a unified front from which the northern position on issues would be articulated and presented.
Initially, what we had was the Arewa Students Forum (ASF) which mutated into the Arewa Youths Development Foundation (AYDF). As we acquired more vibrancy, we aimed for the mainstream by merging the ASF and the AYDF to create the Arewa Citizens Action for Change (ACAC).
Since its creation in 2010, the ACAC strove to leave an impressive legacy of social and political heroism. With writings, speeches, and protests, we fought against prejudice against the North and misgovernance across the country, no matter what potential dangers we faced.
We protested massively for instance, to expose the cover-up in the Halliburton financial scandal among other struggles for accountability of government.
ACAC single-handedly spearheaded the mobilization for the northern chapter of the #Occupynigeria protests against the oil subsidy removal attempt by government in 2014.
In 2017, at the peak of the violent secessionist agitation by the Nnamdi Kanu’s Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, we met with about 26 like-minded northern groups and agreed on the formation of the Coalition of Northern Groups which effectively deflated the IPOB momentum and stabilized the country.
This is in addition to the setting up of the Initiative for Community Action against Drug Abuse and the establishment of mentorship programmes targeting northern students of high institutions of learning.
It also initiated the Shege ka FASA regional security outfit for securing the region against banditry and other forms of criminal activities.
Your proposed security outfit, Shege Ka FASA, what’s the update?
Shege Ka FASA as a concept is still on course and shall be actualized. Before the Covid-19 lockdown, we were far into the process of seeking legal redress against the rejection of our application for registration by the Corporate Affairs Commission. But with the prevailing circumstances, I believe it’s the right time to revisit the matter.
Were you able to address the seeming disagreement on Shege Ka FASA with the Sultan of Sokoto who took exception to its formation?
There was no disagreement per se. Perhaps difference of understanding and perhaps the usual elite optimism that things would be sorted out ordinarily without minding that these are extraordinary situations that require extraordinary solutions. It is cheering that the Sultan has finally come to terms with the reality of the situation as seen in his recent hard stance on the killings.
How close is your CNG with the Prof Ango led NEF?
We are very much affiliated to the Northern Elders Forum by virtue of our shared values and concerns for the interest of the North and the prosperity of Nigeria in a just and fair circumstance.
In fact we were material to the creation of the Northern Elders Forum which along with ACAC and other groups launched the massive campaign that culminated in the defeat of the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan for its failure to effectively check the escalation of the insurgency that threatened the survival of the entire country.
We enjoy a cordial relationship based on mutual trust and respect. I am even a director in the NEF and the NEF Secretariat is manned by members of the CNG
How can you precisely trace your role in the history of the creation of NEF seeing that it’s membership is of elder statesmen while you’re youths?
It was at the peak of the Boko Haram insurgency when almost the entire North was turning into a war front that we thought of getting additional backup to speak against it. At that time, the ACAC was the only northern outfit that was speaking daily on the deadly situation in the Northeast.
We then approached the late Danmasanin Kano on the need to put up another front to backup our activities as well as provide us with additional wisdom and guidance.
The Danmasanin Kano agreed and invited all former Nigerian leaders of northern origin including heads of state and presidents and all major stakeholders in the North to the maiden meeting, an inauguration of the Northern Elders Forum at the Transcorp Hilton, Abuja on February 9, 2012.
I recall that all the former leaders were present at the event held to salvage the North except the then opposition presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari who turned down the invitation via a very uncomplimentary letter to the convener. You can now see that we actually sold the idea for NEF to Danmasani.
NEF was very outspoken when you were quizzed by the police recently, what really happened that led to your arrest when you were taken to Force HQ?
The police could not give satisfactory grounds of what informed their decision to detain me for two days.
“What really transpired was that following the success of the katsina protest which was universally acknowledged as most peaceful, I led a team of the CNG leaders to give the letter of our demands to the Commissioner of Police for onward transmission to the state government because he was the one who officially received the protesters on behalf of government.
“While in his office and after giving him the letter and thanking him for the professional conduct of his boys, he told us that the Inspector General of Police wanted to see me in Abuja. Three officials and I willingly went to the Force Headquarters in Abuja, arriving late in the night. That was how it started.”
What did the IG or the police tell you in Abuja?
The police told me that I was accused of insulting Mr Femi Adesina and organizing protests. I was asked to make a statement which I did.
I explained that the protests were not unlawful but in exercise of the people’s fundamental right to freedom of association and assembly. I also explained that it was Adesina who first insulted Professor Ango Abdullahi, a respected northern elder, and statesman which provoked a reaction in kind from the CNG. After the formalities, I was allowed to go in the afternoon of the second day.
Before the Katsina protest, may we know the extent of damage that prompted you to react?
Within that period, the cyclical violence and massacre of innocent citizens by bandits, insurgents, armed militia, kidnappers were so regular and free that Nigerians were losing count of the casualty figure.
For instance, within six days – between Monday, June 8, and Saturday, June 13, 2020, over 240 lives were lost in several attacks in the northern part of the country.
According to the Nigeria Security Tracker, 114 persons lost their lives in Borno State within this period. Katsina State was next on the list of fatalities, as 75 people were killed. In Adamawa, 24 were killed, nine lost their lives in Kogi State, seven were killed in Benue, and Taraba state recorded one death.
In the previous period of one week preceding Monday, June 8, and Saturday, June 13, 2020, deaths caused by violent events stood at 183, while between Monday, May 25, and Sunday, May 31, the number of violent deaths reported by the Tracker stood at 149.
This was how bad the situation was becoming before the CNG protests and the authorities at that time, could not go beyond the usual rhetoric of being on top of the matter.
It was reported that the Government had a peaceful deal with the bandits in Katsina, did it fail?
The deals were not working. They all failed to the point where Katsina state Governor Aminu Masari had to openly admit failure to protect the people of Katsina and pleaded for forgiveness. There is no wisdom in negotiating with criminals whose only motive is to kill and pillage.
What’s is the situation now, especially in hard hit rural parts of the state?
It’s too early in the day to accurately access the situation after the President’s new directives for action. What is important is that reports of the regularity and spread of the attacks appear to have reduced. We should hope and pray that the problems are brought to an end and the process for the resettlement of the affected communities begins.
Why are you suddenly rising up because of Katsina, or the situation in the Northwest, is the Northeast not of much concern to you?
It is gross misrepresentation to assume that our scope is limited to the Northwest alone. As a matter of fact, we participate fully in all matters that affect any zone in the North and to a large extent, Nigeria as a whole. For instance, the ACAC was the first to take the bold step of publicly exposing the dividing line between the real Boko Haram insurgency from political Boko Haram and
Criminal Boko Haram which later formed the basis of the fight against the insurgency in the Northeast.
If you go through the media archives, you’ll discover that we’ve held more than 50 conferences and press briefings on the Boko Haram including representations at various fora in the United States of America.
Among several other national and northern interest protection activities, the CNG carried out interventions for the effective resolution of conflicts involving the Mambila communities of Taraba and the Jukun/Tiv crisis.
Even the current protests were held simultaneously on the same day in Katsina and Niger states and could have held all over the North on the 20th June but for the intervening circumstances.
The President was reported to have chided the Service Chiefs for not doing enough, what’s your take on this?
Yes. The President’s reaction is one of the immediate successes of the protests. The aim of our protest was to call the attention of government to the deterioration of the security situation in view of the regularity and audacity with which the bandits were attacking the defenceless and helpless communities. That aim was achieved with the President’s renewed commitment. For the first time he admitted publicly that the excuses for the failure of the security systems were acceptable.
How, in your view, do you think insurgency and banditry would be eradicated?
Most importantly, there has to be a synergy between the Armed Forces of Nigeria and other security agencies as opposed to what obtains at present. A situation where there is no cooperation between the army and the Office of the National Security Adviser is certainly counterproductive.
There has to be a dedicated commitment to the welfare of troops deployed for operations across Nigeria so they can remain committed and resolute in achieving the operational mandate.
This can come in the form of prompt payment of troops salaries and allowances. Special welfare packages should also be provided and made readily and easily accessible to families of fallen personnel. This should include free education and health packages for their children.
The branches of government involved must also ensure that all budgetary allocations for defence are duly and fully released to the security agencies concerned and there must be strict monitoring of how these resources are utilized.
The public must be encouraged not to relent in providing the military and other security agencies with timely, accurate and credible information on the activities of terrorists, bandits, kidnappers, and the likes.
Although Policing and military might may be indispensable theirs are not the only actions that are required. More public outreach programmes and public enlightenment campaigns are needed to reinforce any governmental actions that might be taken to address the situation.
Civil society organizations can both support and complement government efforts in tackling the situation. Advocacy is necessary in this regard and CSOs can play a significant role in this.
2023, the unfolding drama appears to be taking a toll on the ruling party. How do you, see it?
The CNG as a group is not really into partisan politics. Our main concern at the moment is to position the Northern people in a comfortable position for competition with other parts of the country.
This we’re doing through our comprehensive programme against the influx and intake of hard drugs and other harmful substances. We’re also engaging the youth and mentoring them for higher responsibilities.
Still one cannot run from agreeing that not only the ruling APC but all the existing major parties are not responsibly and reasonably operating true democratic ethics. They have all been turned into mere platforms for contesting elections.
How about the Emirate system in the North, do you’ve any reservation?
At the moment traditional rulers have no roles in the society and they will first need to be re-empowered before they can play any meaningful role in the present circumstances.
Right now they have no statutory role in anything in the country. Unless this glaring default or oversight is corrected, they can only play a marginal role in the fight against crime and insecurity.
They have no powers of arrest, arraignment, or prosecution. They have no roles in the courts of law and have no budgets of their own to undertake any public or civic duties in their domains.
Their emasculation has to be ended and their empowerment assured before we can call upon them to do anything meaningful in the community.