The Secretary General of the Arewa Consultative Forum, Anthony Sani, in this interview, speaks on the state of the nation, saying the North is not afraid of Nigeria breaking up but prefers a strong, united country.
According to him, those who accuse President Muhammadu Buhari of lack of performance are not being truthful because if Nigerians had adjudged him as a failure in his first term, they would not have voted him for second term.
Let’s start with the issue of security on which many Nigerians think government hasn’t done much because kidnapping and banditry have continued to fester across the country despite the measures taken by the authorities. Where do you stand?
For proper assessment of efforts by government, it is important to do fact checking on what was inherited and what obtains now.
There was a time when people feared to gather in churches, in markets and in any ceremonies out of fear of attacks which transcended northern states and FCT. As a result, sense of helplessness and hopelessness overwhelmed the people, including residents of FCT.
The security challenges were so widespread that the United States made a forecast that Nigeria was at tipping point and would fall off the cliff by 2015.That did not happen. Thanks to the emergence of this regime. Today, the country is still one because Boko Haram has been tamed and the activities of the sect have been limited to the fringes of the North-East by the current regime.
But because corruption has stolen our patrimony, our opportunity and our future for many decades as well as the introduction of cashless economy which has made armed robbery to be unattractive, there has been recent resurgence of banditry, kidnapping and cattle rustling as business for some people. The UN Resolution 1966 of 2010 is specific that affected states must address the underlying causes, which this regime has been trying to address by way of fighting insurgence and corruption in order to create the enabling environment for the economy to be diversified away from oil to the exploitation of natural resources. The government has been trying to deliver on its promises. And it seems there is improvement.
For banditry, kidnapping and cattle rustling to give way, government must enlist the support of citizens not only in the use of military might but also of the citizens who should exercise patience and help government overcome the challenges.
The efforts of government alone against the insecurity posed by insurgents, bandits, cattle rustlers, herders and farmers conflicts, militants activism, cultism, ritual killings and even baby factories are not enough. One way citizens can support government is through the community policing and to avoid giving ethnic and religious coloration to purely criminal activities lest such coloration provide criminals with platform to hide and perpetrate crimes, knowing it is not possible to prosecute ethnicity and religion.
The fight against corruption should not be left to the Federal Government alone. States and local governments and the citizens must join the fight against corruption and stigmatize it in such a way as to discourage the practice of cash-for-peerage in our national life. Those arraigned for corruption should defend themselves instead of insisting that all corrupt people must be arraigned at the same time. I say so because the fight against corruption is work in progress that is expected to outlive the current regime.
Negotiating with bandits and kidnappers is ongoing in Katsina after the exercise proved successful in Zamfara. But critics say this is amoral. What does ACF think?
I am not the official spokesman for ACF which has a spokesman. I only complement his efforts. Most of your questions should be directed to the National Publicity Secretary whose job is to address your concerns please.
As far as I am concerned, negotiation to save lives is not out of place. You will recall that the Israeli government released 1, 000 members of Hamas held in custody in exchange for the release of one Israeli soldier held captive by Hamas in 2006. Also in 2014, then-President Obama negotiated the release of one American soldier held captive by the Taliban in exchange for five Taliban soldiers held by America in Guantanamo. Also note why the UN often invites warring parties to Geneva for peace talks. The aim is to avoid further killings in wars and not because the UN approves killings in wars.
That is why there is an adage that says if you kill one person, you would be charged for murder; if you kill ten persons, you would be examined for insanity, but if you kill 1,000 people, you would be invited for peace talks in Geneva not because the world likes your killings but because the world wants to stop further killings. That is the way I see the spirit of the negotiation by the governors of Katsina and Zamfara states, to wit, stop further killings in their states by bandits. So those who use Danegeld’s theory of rewarding bad behaviours and attack the two governors should have realistic appreciation of the situations.
One of the measures being taken by the police to stem insecurity is community policing under which 40, 000 non-police officers are to be recruited across the country (50 per local government area).Is it the right step in the right direction?
I understand community policing to mean the involvement of communities to police their precinct. I do not think those involved have to be recruited formally to become another security outfit. While not condemning community policing, it is my honest suggestion that the Federal Government should recruit adequate number of trained and well equipped police personnel. It is only then we can know whether the Nigeria Police can deliver on the promise of its mandate or cannot deliver. Multiplication of security outfits may not be helpful.
So, being a regional body, you are not carried along on the initiative. Right?
I said I do not know the details. But my take has always been that there should be enough number of trained and well equipped police personnel for the nation. A situation where so many villages do not have police outposts is never helpful. Therefore, it is unthinking to conclude that state police will be the magic wand.
Many organisations and individuals, including state governors, Afenifere and Ohanaeze, have canvassed state police as solution to the issue of insecurity in the country. Where does community policing leave state police?
I do not have the details of community policing which is not one and the same thing with the police. I am not for state police because I do not believe in multiplication of security outfits. If the number of trained and equipped state police personnel are not adequate, state police would not be the magic wand. What is more, given the way state governors have used State Electoral Commissions to kill democracy at the local government level, governors are most likely to abuse state police for wrong purposes. There is another challenge that state police personnel can take sides during conflicts in those states with diverse citizens.
The question of one monolithic North has been an issue as the Middle Belt says they are not part of the North. Are they right?
The agitations by the Middle Belt was more or less the response to the Willink Commission which brought about Mid Western Region. The late J.S.Tarka wanted Middle Belt Region reminiscent of the Mid-Western Region. Now that states have been created to allay the fear of the minorities of domination by the majority in the country, it stands to reason to submit that the agitation by the Middle Belt Forum is rooted in what no longer exists. If you consider Benue State where the Tiv have been in power since 1999 to the chagrin of the Idoma; if you consider what happens in Kogi State where the Igala hold sway against other minorities; if you consider Borno State where the Kanuri would not allow southern Borno to produce the governor; and if you consider Plateau State where Muslims cannot produce a deputy governor and get appointed as VC of UNIJOS and JUTH; and compare same with what happens in Kaduna and Kebbi states where the Hausa-Fulani hold sway against other ethnic nationalities, then you can hardly avoid the conclusion that the challenges of marginalization is not an exclusive preserve of the big three. All groups in Nigeria abuse their advantages. Furthermore, the Chairman of the Northern States’ Governors Forum is from Plateau State and a non-Muslim. Generals Gowon, Babangida and Abubakar who are among the patrons of ACF are from the North-Central geopolitical zone.
The 2023 presidency is already generating controversy even if it is several years away. Zoning is especially a contentious issue as the South fears power may not go back there after the North would have done eight years. Do you think this fear is justified? To be clear, what is the North’s game plan?
I am of the view that it is too early to start the politics of 2023 when the sitting regime is not up to six months in office. I also do not believe the North has any game plan in a multiparty democracy.
You will recall that in the first republic, (Alhaji Ahmadu Bello) Sardauna’s NPC contested not only with (the late Obafemi) Awolowo’s Action Group and (the late Nnamdi Azikiwe) Zik’s NCNC from the South but also with Aminu Kano’s NEPU and Tarka’s UMBC from the North.
Under the current dispensation when politics of rotation, power shift and zoning is being bandied about, Buhari contested against President Obasanjo from the South in 2003 and President Jonathan in 2011 and 2015. Also in 2019, 76 presidential candidates came from both the North and the South. This at once suggests that there has been no national consensus on rotation or zoning that is accepted and binding on political parties which enjoys the exclusive preserve of presenting candidates for elections.
Southern leaders recently warned against power remaining in the North in 2023 against the backdrop of statements credited to northern leaders like Governor El-Rufai suggesting that power may not shift to the South. How do you respond?
That is their personal opinion and not the position of their political parties. All those who talk of politics of rotation and zoning are not political parties which will present candidates for election. It is only political parties that can present candidates for elections.
The Federal Government has replaced RUGA with the National Livestock Transformation Programme. But southerners say they don’t know the difference between the two concepts and are therefore opposed to any of them. Can you enlighten us?
The same groups opposed to open grazing as panacea to trespasses by nomadic practices are the ones opposed to any intervention by the Federal Government on ranches despite knowing that nomads are landless and limited by both expertise and capacity to establish ranches that can improve security and livestock. They are the same groups who opposed RUGA and now opposed to the National Livestock Transformation Programme. Since the banning of nomads in favour of sedentary practice can improve not only security but also the quality and volume of livestock in the polity and economy, the critics should suggest how best the management of livestock should be that is acceptable to majority of stakeholders. It is not enough to condemn by mere declaration laced with threats and intimidation without any suggestions.
The Fulani have been painted as a difficult race going by the activities of killer herdsmen. What is ACF doing to address the issue?
Difficult in what ways? Though landless, I have not heard the Fulani talking that farmers should fence their farms. Mind you, there are Fulani herdsmen and farmers. What ACF does is to appeal to both herders and farmers not to take the law into their hands and stifle security which both need for livestock and farming to flourish.
President Buhari is a northerner. But there is this perception that his government hasn’t performed over the past four and a half years. Is ACF worried?
If his regime did not perform in the last tenure as suggested by you, how come his regime was not rejected but re-elected in 2019 with larger margin of 3.9m votes compared to the margin of 3m votes in 2015?
Nigeria at 59, many southerners believe northerners are slowing the country down. How do you respond?
How is the North slowing them down? Does the North determine how state governments are run? Does the Federal Government under President Buhari determine the usage of allocations to their states? It may be fact of history that education arrived in the South a century earlier than when it reached the North amid stiff resistance by perhaps Islam, a resistance which Boko Haram sect still echoes. But that has not affected the South in any way. A man from the South once accused the North of killing agriculture because of oil. But I told him that Malaysia did not collect the palm oil seedlings from the North. Yet southerners are the major importers of palm oil from Malaysia.
How has North fared in 59 years given the thinking that northern leaders have ruled for the most part and that section has been more backward than the South?
But the South has ruled for more years under the nascent democracy. The military junta who ruled did not do so on behalf of the North. And if we compare the socio-economic status of the North by way of number of universities, schools, roads, etc with what obtains today, however, the pace, majority of northerners count their blessings one-by-one. The only regret is the insecurity posed by insurgency, banditry, kidnapping, armed robbery, etc, most of which have been exported to the North from the South but which we hope to overcome. After all, we know that over the long history of nations and long lives of individuals, the powerful and the powerless, the rich and the poor often switch places. Our situation is not beyond redemption given purposeful leadership and the best of every northerner.
What does the North think about the Igbo separatist group IPoB?
The IPOB has the right to agitate for separation. Many nations go through such agitations. Examples include the state of Alaska where some people want to leave America to join Russia. We have some people in Xinjiang Province in China who do not want to be part of China. Some people in Aceh in Indonesia are separatists just like in Quebec in Canada. You heard what happened in Catalonia in Spain and Scotland in Britain.
So there is nothing exotic or quixotic in hankering for separation by some groups. After all, the good things of life are not natural order of things but attained through ceaseless hard work by not only the leaders but also by everyone. But majority in the North do not fear separation, though are of the view that the certain benefits for one united big Nigeria are more than the uncertain gains in separation. More so for the Igbo who settle and invest in other climes than the reverse.