November 23, 2020

EndSARS protesters sponsored by politicians — Tanko Yakassai

Northern youths flooding South are not Almajirai — Tanko Yakassai

Tanko Yakassai

Tanko Yakassai

By Chioma Gabriel, Editor Special Features

What’s your take on the recent EndSARS protests across many states in Nigeria and even outside Nigeria?

I saw what happened and I saw it coming and I know some people incited the youths to do what they did. At this stage, I think it is not proper to engage in activities as inciting people against their motherland. If there is anything that is not going the way it should, the youths should be educated about it so they can agitate but not to revolt.

I don’t know if you read a pamphlet State and Revolution, a meaningful revolution is one that is based on ideology, which is on an objective, a practical objective. Even that is useless if it is led by a political party.

A political party should be committed to transforming the society for the better, not a meaningless objective that will end up with nobody winning anything. We have seen this kind of thing happen in the Arab Springs.

It started with Tunisia and went round the whole Arab world. In the end, Egypt which was moving towards democracy ended up bringing back military rule and sacked the democratically elected government in that country. I know how long it took to get back again.

So, I feel strange about what happened in Nigeria. I was once a young man, I’m 95 years now and I know what I can do correctly or not. But when I was 19, 20, 22, I was really ready to do anything.

Now, what I find strange is that the people who are inciting the youths are around my age. One day, all of us will die and leave the country in the hands of our children, who are probably better than us. We should not be inciting our children and grandchildren to do what they are not clear about. It is wrong.

So, you believe the youths were incited?

How can you ask this question? I saw the handwriting on the wall a long time ago. I believe you were not around at the time around 1965 in the South-West during an election when something similar happened. People who were travelling on the road were stopped and massacred.

I knew somebody who was thoroughly beaten and they thought he was dead and they left him but he was discovered to be alive later and taken to hospital for treatment. It was around 1965 and it happened in Lagos and the South-West. I was quite young then.

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It is believed the protesters acted independently, they had no leaders

They had leaders. In any case, what was the complaint of the youths? They started with #EndSARS and police brutality. Immediately they started the protest, marching on the streets, Buhari said he has dissolved that arm of the police, which means the demands of the protesters had been achieved and he brought in a new one, SWAT. There must be police in Nigeria as they have all over the world.

We cannot live without the police. That would be dangerous. The government listened to the protest against police brutality and took action. But the leaders who were using the youths continued to incite them and the youths started changing from one thing to another.

I was a revolutionist but I realised there is a limit to what you can do, otherwise, it would be counter-productive. If people are in their 90s, then the best they can hope for is to live for another 10 years. Even if you survive over 100 years, you can hardly get up by or do things by yourself.

University students have been home because of ASUU strike and COVID-19. Those that have graduated have no jobs. Don’t you think something should be done for the youths?

That is true. I have heard that some of them who completed their education have no jobs. I have over 60 grandchildren and most of them had no jobs. There was a programme they did for one year that empowered them. My son who is in London saw the programme and liaised with this American company. He sold the idea to his own company who bought the idea. They got the equipment for the training and the company pumped money into the project.

He sold the idea to his brother who told me and I said, I have 60 grandchildren, 20 of which had completed their university education then. I asked that they be trained. The training was something one could do from home, office or from anywhere. I now advised my grandchildren and they participated in the programme and got jobs.

There were lots of programmes like this. The government should get some of these empowerment programmes and involve the youths to keep them busy. Idleness exposes youths to those who incite them into doing things they ordinarily would not do. The government should settle its issues with ASUU so that students will go back to school.

The aftermath of the protest is it right to prosecute the protesters and freeze their accounts?

What do you want the government to do? People were killed, houses were burnt, and the properties of people were destroyed. Should the government keep silent over these? What then is the use of law and order?

If people go and destroy the properties of people and there are no consequences, that will be an invitation to chaos. There will be insanity in society. So, there must be consequences for bad manners. Looting and destroying properties is not good. The government shouldn’t keep quiet.

The youths also talked about reforming the police

The police need to be reformed. But my thinking is that whatever reform should include more allocation of funds and more policemen to be recruited. If you look at the time of independence, the number of policemen per individual and the number now, you’d find that we are far behind and if you compare Nigerian police with that of developed countries, you’d see that we are not anywhere.

We can use public money to do roads and other infrastructure but if we do nothing about the police, then we would be wasting time. We will need the police to protect lives and protect the infrastructure being constructed. I’m in support of reforming the police to be able to maintain peace and order but you cannot do it with few policemen. You have to double the number of policemen or even triple their number.

If you examine the number and the duties of the police in Nigeria and compare it with the others, you’d find that Nigeria is far behind in terms of equipment and performance. So, the police in Nigeria needs to be better trained and better equipped and more recruitment is needed to shore up their number for them to be able to maintain peace and order.

You cannot do this with few policemen. They should also increase their salaries, allowances and improve their living conditions. We should pay attention to the police. We spend money on other things and at the end of the day, some of these monies are looted and they end up in the hands of corrupt politicians.

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On calls that service chiefs should be retired as a solution to the problems of insecurity

It should be part of the solutions. I made my position known a long time ago. People in the forces need to build up their career and reach the pinnacle of their career. But if those at the top stay put and never go, you are undermining the system because those following you will not be able to reach their pinnacle. Those at the top should always be changed. If you retain them, then people under them will lose hope and will not commit themselves to the good of the service.

The President should retire the service chiefs and make some of them ministers or whatever. Those under them should be given room to grow and reach the pinnacle of their career. There is nothing personal about my opinion. I don’t know any of the service chiefs personally.

My worry is about the system and I’m saying, don’t destroy the system. Those who are upcoming and hoping to get to the pinnacle are being demoralised by the system. And if you demoralise them, they will not give you their best and that is what we have been seeing in the security agencies.

You know the same thing is happening in governance. People who were in power when we were children are still in power today.

The numbers of those you are talking about are few. It is also happening in other places even the United States of America. I use to think that their democracy is the best but see what is happening now. The way things are in Nigeria, we have no choice than to help the government achieve its purpose of rebuilding Nigeria.

Even in the United States, we can see that people can manipulate the political system. Democracy is the government of the people, by the people and for the people. So we are all stakeholders in governance. But I know democracy keeps revolving until we get it right.

How do we build this country to become one? Why can’t an Igbo be the president of Nigeria?

I was one of those who started the campaign that an Igbo man should be given the chance to be the president of Nigeria but I told them also that you don’t stay in your end to achieve that. You have to go round to convince people. This is the reason people join political parties.

Before Buhari, PDP was in power for 16 years. South-East is predominantly PDP but they didn’t benefit much from the party. That is changing. They now have APC governors. There is an APGA governor and the South-East should fight for the presidency. It is their right.

But in all this, I know and can tell you categorically that Nigerians don’t go into politics to serve. They are there for making money and satisfying their personal interests. And until we find a way out of this predicament, things will not change.

A man like Balarabe Musa lived a simple and selfless life; built himself a three-bedroom bungalow where he lived with only one wife. He was a governor. It doesn’t necessarily mean that when one is a governor, he should live large. He died at the age of 84. He built his three bed-room bungalow with a housing loan from the government and he lived there with his children and grandchildren and his one wife.

I understand they started paying him a pension of N197,000 per month. I’m not earning up to that as pension. My children are the ones sustaining me. The little I’m getting is enough. When I need more, I ask my children. They are contributing to my upkeep at the end of every month. I’m not getting up to what Balarabe Musa was getting as pension but I’m comfortable. I don’t complain.

How is life treating you generally?

Like I told you, I’m 95 years old. I spend so much time alone and go to the sitting room around 5pm where I stay till 8pm to go back to my room. In the whole of this area where I live in Kano, I have no age group; I have no friend of mine. I have nobody to talk to.


All my age group members and friends are dead. The best I have are all my juniors. I have over sixty grandchildren. I have twenty-three children but four died and they are remaining 19 alive.

The graduates amongst my grandchildren are now about fifty-three. I thank God for good health and long life. If I want to talk to people near my age, they are all my juniors, people like Edwin Clark, Ayo Adebanjo, Mbazulike Amechi. Those are aged between 90, 91, 93 and I’m 95. I spend more time alone in my room.

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