By Ishola Balogun
Alhaji Shettima Yerima, a activist and president of the Arewa Youth Consultative Forum has been a strong voice on issues affecting the North. In this interview with Saturday Vanguard, he wonders why government has not arrested ex-governor Ali Modu Sherriff who he considers a suspect in the Boko Haram insurgency.
The youth leader opines that the Almajiri School initiative is crazy arguing that the target youths should have been integrated in the existing public schools, making education free and compulsory at all levels while also calling for the establishment of Arewa Ministry to tackle the problems facing the North just as he remains blunt on several other issues. Excerpts.
You were in Kaduna and some parts of the north recently, what was the level of destruction?
The problem of northern Nigeria did not start today, that is why I differ with people saying that it was because Jonathan was President and that some people were making it difficult for him to govern the country or to make it impossible for him to make impact in the lives of Nigerians as a whole. It started a after independence.
The situation has always been going from bad to worse and now it is indescribable. It has come to a point that it is easy for people to be recruited by any kind of group to foment trouble in order to get means of survival. Nobody could have imagined that at 52 and a few years to the 100 years of amalgamation, Nigeria would have a case of suicide bombers. It is a clear indication that something went wrong.
These people did not just wake up one day and become what they are. They have been there since the days of Obasanjo. We have been told that when the leader of this group was arrested, prominent politicians were among those who bailed him saying they were not from this country.
This said leader of the group was used for political gains and at a point when he realised he could not be used, he became a problem between government and these politicians. We now have a situation where an average armed robber goes to the bank and rob now calls himself Boko Haram.
Somebody killed his political opponent and enemies and it is called Boko Haram. People take advantage of this situation because there is an existing group calling itself Boko Haram who were aggrieved because certain injustice had been meted out on their leader. So, the situation has gone beyond Boko Haram. Some of those arrested are not even Muslims, like the case of Bauchi, Damaturu that even a security officer was involved. There was a situation in Yenagoha where somebody was dressed like a Muslim to bomb a church, only to find out that he was not from the north, he was not a Muslim just because he had a disagreement with his Pastor.
If you put all these together, you will discover that a lot of things are happening in the country. On the part of the security, they could on their own have triggered these explosives because the amount of money that goes into security is not accounted for. But I will say this has nothing to do with religion, and has absolutely nothing to do with ethnicity.
When I look at people, bringing sentiment into it and accusing the north, I feel bad. I get worried that people don’t see beyound what is happening. Nobody is witch-hunting the southerners in the northern part of the country. The bomb does not know an Hausa man or a southerner. Once they put it in a public place or open fire there, people will die not minding whether he is an Hausa or Ibo man.
But there were cases of church bombings?
Even the mosques were affected. Sometimes in Jos, over 300 people were killed in a Mosque. Was there any propaganda about that? It was an eid-il-Maolud day, when the gunmen killed about 300 people on the floor of a mosque.
Or is it because we are not good in doing propaganda? When one or two non-Muslims die it becomes a story and somebody will be accusing the Muslims for that. Which religion supports violence? None, Islam does not allow for violence. The Prophet does not declare war on the Christians.
They are called ‘People of the Book’. In the north, we know how may die daily. Recently there was a bomb in a Mosque in Fagge Central Mosque, Kano, but for the grace of God, it was found before it went off by security agents, suspects were arrested.
Is that no news until it is a church issue? Just because somebody is bent on fanning the embers of religious violence and declare war! An Imam was killed on a Friday Prayer in Kano, nobody talked about that. How many Imams have they killed now? We must learn to be just to stories.
The problem has so far remain intractable, what are the leaders and elders in the north doing to assist government in bringing this to an end?
If you follow the issue, you will see that a lot of elders have condemned this act on several occasions. The Elders forum, ACF condemned it. The Elders Forum as a body that complements other organisations is working under the leadership of Maitama Sule to ensure that this issue of violence is brought to an end. They have raised a fundamental issue, only God knows why the government cannot arrest Ali Modu Sheriff.
They said the best way to solve this issue is to show sincerity in treating this issue. Government should have arrested the prime suspect of that incident who was the Chief Security Officer of that state, who could have instructed the killing of the leader of that group.
If Yusuf was alive today, he would have told us a lot of stories about this group. An instruction must have been passed; the police could not on their have pulled the trigger after the Army handed him over to them; somebody must have given the instruction either from Abuja or from the State. You think followers will fold their hands when their leader is killed. Of course they will react.
If I am killed today as a leader of an organisation, there are tendencies that people will react. We are not saying Yusuf was right or wrong, but they would have allowed justice to prevail. So, government should have arrested Sherriff except they have any other thing they are hiding or perhaps like Jonathan said that the Boko Haram members are in his government.
Then who will be held responsible if government is involved. I agree with his statement, the former NSA also said it, unfortunately, they sacked him unceremoniously after what he had done for this nation. If not for anything, he should be commented for sustaining the unity of the country.
He inherited the problem. The problem started from Muktar, during Yar’Adua government, so it has nothing to do with a Niger Delta man. This is a problem that affects Nigeria as a whole an not only the norther part of the country. In a spirit of unity you don’t do that, a problem that affects part of the country affects all. It has nothing to do with religious colouration or sentiment.
The media are witnesses to high rate of beggars on the streets, how does begging become part of Islam or a culture of a Hausa man. No! People were forced into it because they have no means of livelihood. We have had opportunities to make Nigeria a better place to live through our leaders but we bloated it and these same characters responsible are walking the streets freely today.
They deserve to be stoned in public because they are part and parcel of this problem in the north. The same you media celebrate them. This is not right! We cannot move further until we tell ourselves the truth. We cannot do anything, until we are able to reflect on the past, present and champion a new cause for a better Nigeria.
So, what in your own view are the short and long term solution?
The government is not ready for the short term solution rather looking for a long term by opening Almajiri school. That is crazy. Yes. Tell me one person that is not an Almagiri in Nigeria. Today the constitution has made the Federal government stronger and the states weaker.
Anything you want to do, you have to go to Abuja and lobby for it. In fact, if you want to be your local government chairman, you have to lobby for it in Abuja, no matter your credibility or acceptability. So, who is not an Almajiri. The Vice President himself will have to lobby. The day he falls in the black book of the first lady, he is finished. If they don’t remove his security, they make sure he doesn’t do any major job. They make him redundant. The system has succeeded in making everybody a beggar to survive.
The day they discover you are a threat to them, they will destroy you and make you subservient to them. That is why you see people often times compromise because they want power. Even those who call themselves progressives change tunes the moment they get into power.
Look at Obasanjo and Atiku after 2003 election. The latter was more of a spare tyre that does not function simply because the president does not want to see his face. He was victimised up to the end of that tenure and even till now because Obasanjo remains prominent in Nigeria politics. So, the problem in the northern part of the country requires a total overhaul and you cant do it all at once, there are short measures to take rather than creating Almajiri school.
We are thinking of how government can integrate the people into the society. The concept of the Almajiri is that they are children of poor people, beggars and less privileged of the society. You cannot compound the problem by carving them out of the society.
What they would have done is to integrate them into the existing public schools; give them free education at primary and secondary school levels and enact a law to make it compulsory for every child to go to school and make the parents liable for it. You are doing it to protect our future. When the Niger Delta case came up, we thought it was only Niger Delta until it spread to other parts of the country in form of kidnapping, rape and terrorism. Today, by extension that was what gave birth to what we are seeing today.
The belief is that if the language of violence is only what the government understands, if you take up guns, they respect you, honour you, then they will fester in it. Look at the militants today, they are respected, they are put in charge of things. In fact, a militant in the Niger Delta can nominate you as Minister in Abuja.
So, you now see a minister running after militants begging for a favour; then you can see the kind of society we are in. So, what do they expect of other people in other part of the country, of course they will do the same.
Boko Haram will come and go someday but what will happen in other regions. Nigeria has a way of creating trouble without knowing how to get out of it. May be the government will one day think it is better will dialogue with Boko Haram and they will come out one day and become part of the society. We also need Arewa Ministry to address the major problems. In fact that is our focus now, we will demand for it and we will achieve it.
That will take care of our own affairs just like we have the ministry of Niger Delta. Who knows maybe someday the Yoruba will decide to have Oodudua Ministry and the South East will declare for Ibo or Ohaeneze Ministry, Massob and so on.
But I think the regional government would have been better with the situation we now find ourselves. People are not happy with the system, the system is not working for Nigeria. The president said in his last Media chat that he cannot declare his assets. Is that a leader? And Nigerians are looking not insisting that Jonathan must be fired? Is this a government. Anyway time will tell.
That takes us to 2015, what is your take about whether or not Jonathan should contest in 2015, although the President has chosen to avoid the issue for now?
It is too early to talk about 2015, but we what we are seeing and the situation, he does not deserve to go back if this country will move forward; and I dont think the vote of the South-South alone can make Jonathan President in 2015. Unless they want to do that to break the country to impose him on Nigerians. Every section of this country is tired and disappointed with this government. We were part of the struggle that made this government.
The Niger Deltans were never in the forefront for Jonathan realising this dream. When the Save Nigeria Group was formed, they were just few that came. We were more in number than them. The South West moved the idea and some of us came and we insisted that he must be an acting President.
If he hadn’t been the acting President, perhaps, it would have been a different story today. We pushed, under the leadership of Tunde Bakare, I was one of the strongest voices in the North. Despite my relationship with the government, and my background as a northerner, I stood behind him demanding that due process must be followed.
The constitution must be respected no matter how lopsided it is. Of course I have my reservation with the constitution. That is our legal document but it lacks legitimacy. We stood, we fought and we matched, mobilised people to Abuja and Lagos. That was what gave birth to doctrine of necessity that brought Jonathan as an acting president. Election came and people mobilised from all parts of the country for Jonathan.
We believe that he had a different background compared to the old crooks and we said, let us try a new thing. But if this is how people who went to school without slippers suffer and become leader only to produce this kind of government, then we will never go for people who go school without slippers. It does not worth it. We thought, he was part of the society, he had seen poverty; he came like every other average Nigerian being somebody who had a dose of it, he would made an impact in the lives of common Nigerians.
But now the situation has degenerated from bad to worse. See how Nigerians are disappointed, then somebody will tell me that it is either he becomes president or they break Nigeria, to hell with that threat. We can no longer be threatened but the right thing must be done. Nobody is afraid of anybody and nobody must used anything to blackmail or threaten anybody. Time will tell, we are approaching, 2015 is at hand. We have learned our lessons, we have seen the government of the Ijaws, by the Ijaws and for the Ijaws.
And when they see us, they abuse us, abuse our elders without respecting the fact that we were part of the struggle that made Jonathan. To hell with them, but that is a mistake. We will get there. Nobody is afraid of death, death comes but once. A man in you dies the moment you saw tyranny and you could not speak. We must speak and if we die in the course of speaking, so be it.
How is the north preparing for 2015 then?
We are mending fences with our christian brothers in the northern part of the country, the Hausa Fulanis. We are trying as much as we can to unite ourselves and speak with one voice, like the legacies left behind by our founding fathers. Sir Ahmadu Bello never castigated anybody, no matter the religious or tribal differences. He was able to bring every body on board. That is what we are doing.
You said earlier on that the constitution lacks legitimacy, how do you mean?
The 1999 constitution lacks legitimacy in the sense that the making of that constitution was totally wrong. There was no time Nigerians sit at any conference to produce that document. Few people sat down during the Military era under AbdulSalami Abubakar to arrive at it, even his number two man, Mike Akhigbe was not part of it. He is alive today, if that is not true, I challenge him to speak.
They rushed it up and bogged it with so many decrees to protect their interests and that of their cronies; impose it on Nigerians and called 1999 Constitution. It lacks legitimacy because there was no input of all Nigerians in it. I am not a lawyer but I know the difference between legitimacy and legal document. All Nigerians must be seen to have representative who will come to make their position clear in it.
Less than 15 military officers and few civilian cronies sat down to produce it. That is not done, no constitution in the whole world was made like that. We challenge that legitimacy and we are still challenging it in the Federal High Court Abuja. We are not saying it is not a legal document, but its legitimacy is what we are challenging.
The National Assembly can make laws but they cannot make constitution. There is difference between the two. The legitimacy makes it un-amendable.