By Daniel Kanu
President General, Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF), Yerima Shettima, is known for his strong views on issues no matter how controversial they are.
When recently he was cornered at an event in Lagos by Sunday Sun, he spoke on some critical national issues, including security challenge, Asari Dokubo’s declaration for Biafra, Southeast agitation for presidency in 2023, restructuring agenda, negotiation with bandits, among others. Excerpt:
Niger Delta activist and former militant leader, Asari Dokubo, has declared for a new Biafra. How will you react to the development?
Well, I have heard about it, but you know that these days there are certain things that happen in social media that turn out not to be the truth or different from the way it is presented. Sometimes individuals just sit down, imagine and concoct a story, and at the end, you find out it’s not true or perhaps a fake story. On this issue I have not confirmed from him, I have not spoken to him, so it may amount to one being too much in a hurry to make a conclusion and pass judgment in that regard.
I have it on good authority that he made such declaration…?
(Cuts in) I do not think such action is necessary now because I strongly believe that the time has come for us to be very proactive to issues, we must realise that we are in a very wrong time or trying season to embark on such a mission. The challenge before us is so overwhelming, so we must be seen to be very positive in our thinking, reasoning, and action. So for me, I think that it is not such a mindset that is needed now, we should drop such a mindset so that all of us can come together to save and salvage the country. The responsibility before us now, I think is for all of us to come together and save Nigeria because all of us are already in a very tight situation. Life, our humanity has been threatened, so it’s not about where you come from, it’s not about what you think of, but it’s about how do we save the lives of our people? That is what the problem is right now, nobody is safe and that is what we should be thinking about. I also believe strongly that, that is what he (Asari) should be thinking on and if he is not thinking in that direction, I advise he should do so, so that we can build the country rather than thinking on anything that will bring disunity. Any attempt to undermine what is going on in the land now will be very expensive and will be vehemently resisted by some of us.
But before you think of building the country as you are suggesting now, the government, many believe, ought to be providing the leadership and platform for such…?
(Cuts in) Well, on the part of the government is one thing, but I believe that even if the government is not thinking in that direction we as a people must not join such a destructive tendency. I say this because government comes and goes, the government is like “Soldier come soldier go, the barracsk remains.” Those people controlling power, I mean the government has a time frame, duration of operation; they will definitely leave office once their mandate is over or expires, but the country must remain for us to continue to see who will do the rescue operation for the country, who will come to put things right. So, even if we are not getting it right under this administration that does not warrant splitting the country or disuniting the country or calling for any kind of war. I think we need to save the country now so that we can sit down to negotiate our union as a people and also decide how we want to be governed. If there is no country there won’t be any opportunity to think of how you can be governed, you will be thinking of how to survive. Some of us do not have experience of war and I do not also want to live my life as a refugee outside Nigeria. I want to die peacefully as a Nigerian when the time comes, so I am of the view that people must have a rethink, those drumming for war should think if it is the best way to go? Those elements who are warmongers must have a re-think.
So, what do you think is the best way forward bearing in mind that many Nigerians over the years have been calling for restructuring, crying over injustice projected in the system?
I have always been an advocate of restructuring; the centre as it is today needs to be decentralized. There is so much power in the centre and from all indications, the centre cannot hold again. I am of the view that, let us decentralize the central government so that regions can begin to work again and use their resources to do what is needful, develop the area, do what they want within themselves and the centre can supervise and do other things. That is what is done in other parts of the world successfully and we have practiced it here in Nigeria in the ‘50s and ‘60s and we saw the massive development that was witnessed at the time we had the parliamentary government. What is so impossible that we cannot go back to revisit such an arrangement since the one that we are doing now is not working?
What is your take on government negotiations with bandits?
The government is still saying that they are not negotiating with any bandit, but for me, with the present circumstances every other country in the world even America; sometimes you apply carrot and stick approach. There are those who are willing to repent, the government must allow them to repent, and those of them who remain adamant and refused to change, the hard, criminal-minded ones, the government must act decisively and ensure you bring them to book. That is how it is done everywhere in the world. We saw this coming, when it happened in the Niger Delta, some of us saw it and we did not see any reason the government should negotiate by giving them amnesty and we saw what happened. So, the case today that we are facing, any act of crime is criminal and there is no other way you can paint it or fine-tune it. All are crimes and for me, I am of the view that for those of them who are willing to repent, if they repent government must find a way to accommodate them and rehabilitate them and those of them who are criminally-minded and unrepentant should be strongly dealt with by the government. I do not want to agree or believe that they have overwhelmed the government, it is not possible. Government is one of the strongest institutions in the world that you cannot overwhelm. No matter how small it may look, the government is government and it has the monopoly of power and the use of force where and when it becomes necessary.
What is your disposition to the clamour for a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction by the Southeast geo-political zone in 2023?
Did any Nigerian stop any part of the country from aspiring or going for the presidency? It is not an issue of shouting on the top of the roof, that is not what will solve their problem. Come out and showcase what you have, come out and sell yourself. It is your action that will determine whether Nigeria will go with you or not. Shouting will not solve such a problem. Constitutionally, everybody with the requirement, any zone is allowed to agitate and take a shot at the presidential position, so let everybody that is interested come forward and showcase what he or she can do, then we look at competency and consider, no matter where the person is coming from. But as it is today, you cannot use propaganda or blackmail to think that any region will succumb, no, it doesn’t work that way. Do your homework well, build the right bridges and play your politics well. Simple.
What do you think is the best way to approach this issue of herders/farmers clashes that have witnessed waste of innocent lives?
The government must be decisive on the issue. Stakeholders, civil societies, NGOs, religious leaders, etc must be brought on board. We need to sit down with the stakeholders and every person that has a say or voice in this country, let us have a security summit without further delay, it’s an emergency. It will provide a unique opportunity that will enable the people to come up and vent their anger at the summit so that at the end of the day, we get to the root of the matter, and then getting the solution will be easy. In the end, there will be fairness and justice to all that felt cheated. But you cannot block everywhere, people have not come forward to say their anger/complaints, coupled with the fact that all of us know that as at today things are not working normally, and you will not proffer a solution and you think there will be peace? No, there can hardly be peace if you don’t properly address the issues and ensure there is justice. You need to discuss the genesis of the problem and at that level, you begin to proffer solutions that will calm nerves down. We are tired of stories of claims that forests have been invaded. Who invades who? How? Where? There are occasional misunderstandings sometimes between the herders and farmers and these have been going on before now, but some criminals now come and commit crimes like in banditry. This banditry is not just an inheritance of any tribe, it’s a thing that some useless criminal-minded people in the society decide to do it, they decide to be criminals and they come from every tribe. I don’t think there is any society or any particular tribe that is completely free of crime, not on this earth. So, for me, let us drop this issue of sentiment, let us also consider that this is the only home we have and we must be keen to build not to destroy. If we have criminal elements in our families, communities, in our societies then we must be seen to say no to such activities, we should expose them and ensure they are put where they belong, but not to harbour them or defend them or you say your own does not commit crime, but because the other person is not from your zone, region or place, you tag him or them criminals. If we continue this way, we will never get it right. People should not be identified by their religion, tribe or ethnicity, but should be treated as criminals.
How will you assess the President Buhari-led APC government so far?
Nobody will ever say he is satisfied, even a lot of them in power have admitted that certain things are not right, there are certain areas where they miscalculated, but some of us are of the view that this is not the period to continue waiting on the government, every citizen should take responsibility of every action and inaction, so that all of us can come together to work side by side with those we feel are in the corridors of power, advise them where and when necessary, give them direction and ask them to do what they are supposed to do. This is no longer a period when we put blames, blames are okay, but let us proffer solutions now, let us come out with ideas that will build the country, let us not continue the mistake of leaving everything in the hands of the government, let all of us be seen to be doing something in a direction that will show that we are determined to save our country. Governments come and go, today it is Buhari, and tomorrow it will be another person. In the past we cried over President Obasanjo, we complained over President Yar’Adua as well as that of President Jonathan. They have come and gone and Buhari will still go. We just need to come together, all of us to salvage this country. I do not want to believe that the government is overwhelmed as some critics want us to believe, but I think that our security forces have been overstretched. If you put all the security forces in the country together they are less than 10 per cent of the population of this country. We have major crimes going on in this country: insurgency, banditry, militancy, kidnapping, armed robbery, etc all these issues have not been resolved and they are major crimes, so you simply overstretch the security operatives. No society survives and thrives under such circumstances. So, it means that all hands must be on deck. The government must begin to consider adding more manpower to the Nigerian Armed Forces. We must ensure we adequately equip our forces and we take good care of their welfare. They are making huge sacrifices and you must give them the confidence that you care and committed to their welfare and that of their family.