•Calls pro-South President northern govs traitors
•Says northern leaders opposed Shekau but South supports Kanu, Igboho
•’South employing prejudice in matters affecting Arewa’
*•On Nigeria’s problems: It’s wrong to blame North
•Grazing routes: FG should seize land where owners kick
•‘Bayelsa gov desperately trying to compare Kanu, Ighoho to Gumi’
•States separatist agitations aimed at destroying northern region
By Charles Kumolu, Deputy Editor
Amid growing dichotomy between the North and South on how to resolve key existential problems in Nigeria, spokesman for Coalition of Northern Groups(CNG), a leading pro-northern body, Abdul-Azeez Sulaiman, gives reasons the North and the South haven’t found a common ground on restructuring, zoning of 2023 presidency, farmers/herders crisis, open grazing and self-determination agitations.
Lately, we have seen the North taking a contrary position with the South on restructuring, justifying notions that it is afraid of restructuring. Is the North actually afraid of restructuring and what are its fears?
There is no fear whatsoever. And I don’t agree that it is only the North that is taking a different stand on restructuring. It is rather an issue that is yet to be clearly defined and uniformly understood and agreed upon by all the blocks. The points of divergence mainly are on details- the format, form, terms and conditions. It is an unfair judgement to assume the North, which has continued to bear the brunt of the southern agitations for secession and the clamours for restructuring as the obvious target of all the complaints about virtually everything that is seen as wrong in the system, would be the one to fear to participate in any process for improving the structure, operations and utility of the Nigerian state in the context of a genuine dialogue without hidden agenda or preconditions.
On the contrary, the North has and will welcome any opportunity to engage all parts of Nigeria in honest and open-ended discussions on constitutional reforms, the operations of our federal structure and national economy, and all issues which represent major sources of grievance.
But we are concerned that while the North too has many issues with the operations of the Nigerian state, and does not routinely insult and blame elites from other regions for them, its self-appointed enemies and antagonists, have willy-nilly, made it the target of accusations and abuse for everything that is wrong with Nigeria since independence, with history being shamefully and blatantly reviewed, rewritten and falsified to suit certain agenda that aims to portray the North in a bad light. The loudest advocates of the twin agitations of restructuring and secession have accused the North of committing every sin under the sun excepting perhaps natural disasters or Force Majeure. They have vilified the North in the process, killed its leaders at some point, continue to scandalize its institutions and ridicule its traditions and customs. They have under various guises tried to bring down the North by suggesting and insisting on warped reforms aimed at destroying its institutions, undermining its economic and social fabrics, and encouraging rampant poverty, and the current social problems like armed robbery, kidnapping, prostitution, drug and substance abuse.
The fact that the North has faced these difficulties with equanimity, stoical calm and resignation, and continue to bear the brunt of the agitations for secession and the clamours for restructuring makes it the most legitimate and natural claimant to the call for re-visiting the philosophy, structures and operations of the Nigerian state, and to join in support of any enquiry and change in the manner we live that will improve our security and the quality of our lives. Like all Nigerians, we have questions about the manner our nation operates. We want to work with others to establish a basis for identifying what is priority, what is essential, what is fair, what is avoidable and what we need to do as a nation to isolate violence from its central position in our lives. The North, therefore, has nothing to fear from any restructuring process, provided we are involved not as a problem but as partners who have a stake in a Nigeria that works for all.
On open grazing, do you think the President’s determination to recover grazing routes for herders is the appropriate response to herders/farmers clashes?
We most certainly see the initiative by government to reclaim the grazing routes lost to urbanization and harmful policies as an appropriate response if the people of the South would be willing to put away their pent-up prejudices.
To complement that effort, it would also not be out of place to demand the proclamation of a National Policy on Grazing and Livestock Development (NPGLD) to cater to the needs of all the pastoral communities everywhere in the country. Going forward, government should also consider the immediate setting up of a National Pastoralist Commission (NPC) to act on all matters affecting the wellbeing and interests of all citizens whose livelihoods depend on livestock rearing.
This should be complemented by a further proclamation of a Special Intervention Initiative through the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the Ministries of Finance, National Planning, Agriculture and Water Resources, for supporting special livestock development policies and the establishment of special funds to support pastoral communities along the lines of the Anchor Borrowers Programme and other types of interventions. It is important to place on record that successive governments have found it expeditious to establish structures like OMPADEC, NDDC, Ministry of Niger Delta and Amnesty Programme, among others aimed at resolving a specific set of challenges affecting specific communities in the South. There is therefore no justification whatsoever to resist or even question the creation of special initiatives to address the needs of herdsmen if these will lead to lasting peace and stability.
The President’s directive on the recovery of grazing routes has been widely described as an action capable of worsening killings and instability across the country…
As we all know, prejudices die hard which is perhaps why the Southern elites rejoice in deploying pent-up tribal, regional and even religious jealousies to define any matter coming from, or affecting the North at the slightest of pretexts. This is simply an affair that has its roots in history and one that has hitherto been managed in such a way that we have for this long lived together and prospered, as a testimony to how far we have come in accommodating our differences and agitations. Like many communities across the world, our history is replete with disputes and isolated incidents over land, but there is today a growing population that comes with growing demand from grazing and farming. Added to this is the effect of climate change and desertification in the far North.
These natural phenomena mostly brought about by the short-sightedness of our leaders who allowed the destruction of areas duly demarcated and gazetted well before independence, in order to ensure convenience of herders, while allowing sufficient allocation for farmers, are among the known causes of the current stretch over space. In the context of the current deterioration of the situation deliberately exacerbated by self-serving political interests, the federal government needs to act to identify suitable lands across the country and create grazing reserves and cattle routes, and where resistance is shown, to expropriate such land as may be required for the purpose, through resort to extant provisions of the Land Use Act and other related laws.
Since the northern governors had earlier said open grazing is no more suitable for today’s Nigeria, one would have expected that the southern governors’ position on it would be accepted by the North but the reverse is the case…
What that handful of northern traitors that pose as northern political leaders do, does not affect the fact that the insistence by the southern governors on the retrogressive anti-grazing law deliberately aims to selectively destroy the business of cattle herding and threaten the legitimate presence of pastoral communities in the South, irrespective of whether they are part of a crime committed or not. They are part of wider strategies aimed at diminishing the viability of the North and rendering it incapable of standing on its own two feet and competing favourably with other parts of the country.
Irrespective of what any governor in the North would feel about it, the consensus across the cultured North is one that emphatically repudiates the insistence on the passing of the anti-grazing law by the southern governors that potentially jeopardizes the lives and property of pastoral communities in the South. We at the CNG will not relent in warning that the right of pastoralists anywhere in the country to freedom of movement must not be impeded by any legislation or obstacle imposed by a state or a community.
Your group supported the clampdown on secessionist leaders, Sunday Igboho and Nnamdi Kanu, but the generality of opinion is that they do not pose threats to the nation like bandits and “killer herders”. What do you make of that?
That is another unbelievable insinuation in line with the southern prejudices against the North and anything that comes from the North or affects the North. Our group in particular and indeed the entire cultured northerners have never condoned or endorsed the criminal activities of the insurgents in the North-East and the banditry in North-West from which we are all bleeding, quite unlike the southern governors and elites that openly embrace gangsters and support the violent agitations by their people and even encourage them. Unlike the South that desperately wants to pick holes in the arrest of such violent separatism championed by Nnamdi Kanu which amounts to criminal felony in any law anywhere in the world, the North has no record of having impliedly or expressly attempt to shield Abubakar Shekau, for instance. We can all see the way the governor of Bayelsa State is desperately trying to compare Kanu and Ighoho to Sheikh Ahmed Gumi who merely sacrificed everything and risked everything to reach out to the bandits and offer peace. This is indeed ridiculous.
Our concerns about the brand of violent agitations by Kanu and Ighoho stem from their violent nature and the risk of bringing about another civil war in Nigeria. But the truth is that the North celebrated the killing of Shekau as much as they are celebrating the arrest of Kanu in the hope that both would form the cornerstone for the restoration of peace and public order across the country. Certainly, the present stand taken by southern leaders has justified our fears that led to the Kaduna Declaration of June 6, 2017, when we took the bold and necessary step to call attention to the unfolding developments in Nigeria with the resurgence of the Biafra agitation and the new face it assumed. A similar communication was addressed to major foreign diplomatic missions represented in Nigeria, in which we drew attention to the emerging trends in the country that are pregnant with complications and unforeseen consequences all of which have played out and probably playing out as buildup to the 2023 elections.
Our truly patriotic representations then aimed to forestall what we rightly perceived as an inevitable drift toward anarchy and bloodshed in Nigeria, and also to alert the international community as to where responsibility would ultimately lie if such momentous and terrible events ever came to pass.
We take particular interest in the resurgence of separatist agitations, especially by IPoB and its ilk in the South-East because they represent a much wider conspiracy to divide Nigeria and bring the North down on its knees by incapacitation and balkanization.
This is just as we see the current brand of other agitations for “restructuring”, “true federalism” and “resource control” as strategies employed to achieve the results that the coupists of the First Republic failed to realise. It aims to increase the weight and relevance of the regions to the detriment and expense of the central government, thereby gradually paving the way for complete separation from Nigeria.
Everyone can see that when the ultimate objectives of the South were not met through agitation, propaganda and clamour, resort is being made to more violent means starting with instigation to more unrest and fanning the embers of religious and ethnic discontent across the country. Within this period, unrests have been instigated in volatile parts of the country such as Lagos, Osun and Ekiti where attacks on northerners were organized by Yoruba militias such as the Ighoho gang, and in places like Benin and parts of Rivers State by an assortment of militant groups. And in the South-East, the agitations for separation and the cry for Biafra became louder, and the agitators supported by their politicians became emboldened to act more radically and violently, designed to spark off retaliation in the North with subsequent attacks to be perpetrated against northerners in the South-East, thus making it even more likely to insist on dividing the country. This is why the movements represented by Kanu and Ighoho are potentially more dangerous threats to the country than anything else. To the average southerner, there is selective application of the law on criminal elements by federal government.
The belief is that government pampers bandits and “killer herders” in the North while it goes after “lesser evil” in the South…
It is certainly funny to define violent agitations for the break-up of a country and open calls for war and actual declaration that have gone beyond rhetoric as “lesser evil “.
Why is the North opposed to power shift as proposed by southern governors when power shift is embedded in Nigeria’s political culture for ages and the North has also benefited from it?
The reason is obvious. The gang-up against the North, in particular, is to force a regional shift of the presidency in 2023 by whatever means and tactics, including those that are clearly undemocratic. The agenda was exposed by the open support of the southern governors for treasonable felony, committed by separatist forces led by the likes of Sunday Igboho and Nnamdi Kanu, which sent dangerous signals to the world and forced the North, in particular, to rethink its options in the context of the current alliances and realignments. It gives no one any relief for such leaders of a society that delight in unleashing mayhem against fellow citizens of other regions at the slightest of pretexts, to expect the other sections of the country to trust them or any of their proteges with presidential powers.
The southern governors’ resolutions that attempt to impose a contentious system of rotational presidency that turns all democratic norms and accepted indices of our national demography on their heads, a rotation system that is clearly aimed at achieving dubious political goals, and one clearly designed to weaken the North has awakened the consciousness of all northerners.
The new thinking in the North is, therefore, to refuse to be stampeded or blackmailed into taking major decisions around rotating the presidency and to insist that only a candidate who is competent and able to unite and secure Nigeria should be President in 2023.
While the North may not be opposed to the democratic and credible transfer of power to any competent person from any section of the country, the North will, for the avoidance of doubt, not support such power moving to the zones of those that are using threats, violence and falsehood as a means for political ascendancy. Our demands are further justifiable on the grounds that if there was any rotation agreement in the All Progressives Congress (APC) in particular, that agreement had been invalidated when Chief Rochas Okorocha contested against Buhari at the 2015 APC presidential primary.
The North is represented by 250 ethnic groups whose right to aspire to the presidency would be circumvented by a delusional rotational principle and these include people of Yoruba ancestry who belong to the geopolitical North.
The North Central Zone has not had any representation in top executive positions of President/Vice president since return to democracy in 1999 and so has even legitimate basis to aspire for the presidency in 2023.
If the North is strongly opposed to power shift, what do you make of the fact that at least six northern governors want power shift to the South?
We have warned several times of a conspiracy actively perpetrated with the connivance of some northerners and accommodated by the personal ambition of a few of those that present themselves as northern political leaders.
This North has seen through the scheme by southern governors and their northern collaborators riding on the back of the most gratuitous insults to democratic fair play and crass political opportunism, to hoist incompetent leadership on the nation in the name of rotation and is being resisted. And the few governors and other northern collaborators, must note the futility of pursuing their exploits for the vice presidency through this impossible battle to hand over our future and the entire North to interests that see a united and numerically superior North as a major political obstacle.
Do you agree with those who said insurgents and bandits in the North-East and North-West pose a more threatening challenge to Nigeria’s existence?
Certainly not. We at the CNG have taken stock of events unfolding in Nigeria, and can with every degree of certainty prove that the unrelenting disturbances created by certain interest groups in the South-East and South-West, in the form of the agitation for separate states of Biafra and Oduduwa Republic. As the representatives of various interests groups from Northern Nigeria, the CNG has watched and studied events in Nigeria carefully and with considerable restraint and maturity, to the point of condoning and accommodating several unreasonable and unacceptable actions that have been perpetrated against Nigerians collectively, and northerners in particular. Everyone can by now see that matters that involve unprovoked evictions, attacks and killings of northerners in various parts of the South resulting from the hate campaigns and propaganda being conducted by regional and ethnic agitators, aimed mainly at instigating reprisals by northerners have intensified.
The perpetrators of this violence that have relentlessly pursued this agenda of destruction and collective mayhem, fervently hoping it will engulf the entire country and bring about another civil war and mass killings and suffering of innocent people are certainly more of a threat to national cohesion than all other forms of crimes and criminalities going on in other places. We can see how, after failing to achieve this nefarious objective through the #EndSARS agitations and the violence and destruction that followed in its wake, long-practiced tactics are now being played out in the form of attacks against northerners and against agents and symbols of the federal government of Nigeria in the South-East and South-South which are more of existential threats. The mindless violence and extremist terrorist actions perpetrated by IPoB and its followers in the South-East and the South-South and the recent boost it is receiving from Ighoho and the southern governors have now manifested into an insistent drive towards civil strife in the country.
Nigeria has now been driven towards the precipice more by those authors of mindless violence and separatism who see it as their duty to actualise what their fathers started in 1966, through the force of arms and terroristic tactics than by any other threat elsewhere.
Are you not scared that the increasing North/South dichotomy on many national issues is speedily leading Nigeria to the brink?
The current agitations and disturbances that have been ongoing ceaselessly since around 2015, aimed at rendering the country practically ungovernable, and ushering in anarchy and instability thereby occasioning a change of government by whatever means and tactics, are certainly matters of concern to all well-meaning Nigerians and friends alike. That the general and pervasive insecurity being experienced across the country that has left untold numbers of dead and displaced persons are symptoms of the disquiet in the country that has been exacerbated by political opportunism and corruption.
That the forces of reaction aim to halt the war against corruption, and reverse the populist tendencies of this government, is not in doubt.
Your group keeps talking about a referendum on the Biafra question. Is it out of love for the country or something else?
We are genuinely supporting the referendum for the actualization of an independent state of Biafra and for any other component that feels strongly about self-determination out of decent patriotism and love of our country and fellow citizens particularly those of us who have not made it a point to call for the break-up of the country at the slightest of pretexts. Realising the diabolical scheme and seeing through the planned secessionist tendencies now exhibited in the actions and clamours of groups from the South, supported morally and politically by the vast majority of their pliant and affrighted elites, politicians, traditional rulers, business persons, and the larger population of the region, we became convinced that the determination to see through the secession of parts of the South from Nigeria is real and cannot be avoided or deferred any longer without terrible consequences.
To avoid such mishaps and unnecessary devastation on all sides particularly the South-East whose leaders and agitators are now bent on driving the region over the brink into a catastrophe, we formed the view that peaceful means of actualising the separation should be agreed upon immediately within the boundaries established by international law.
Consequent upon this conviction, and to prevent a descent into another civil war at this day and age, and to forestall mass killings, untold sufferings and atrocities, we support the call for a referendum to take place that will settle the self-determination question once for all. In this connection, we propose the following frameworks to be agreed upon in the course of the referendum and its final implementation in the South-East or any enclave that wishes to secede from Nigeria: A referendum be organised, administered and supervised by the United Nations, the African Union and ECOWAS in the South-East from which a separate state of Biafra could be derived. Such a referendum can only take place in the enclaves that call for secession with only its indigenes taking part in the process and all identified indigenes of such enclaves or entities that called for secession must leave the territory of Nigeria and assemble in their designated enclave for the exercise.
During the period allotted for the holding of the referendum and announcement of the results of the exercise, no further contacts should be experienced between the enclave that is intending to break away and the rest of Nigeria so as not to lead to any interference in the process of the referendum. The outcome of the referendum shall be final, irreversible and shall not be reviewed or reconsidered for any other reasons and citizens of the break-away enclave shall be deprived of any automatic rights to return to the territory of the rump Nigeria, or to be admitted to live in any of its parts.