By Willy Eya
President, Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, Shettima Yerima has said that all hands must be on deck to save Nigeria from disintegration. He believes that so many things are going wrong in the country because President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration is indifferent to the plight of the citizens. In this interview, he speaks on various issues including the 2015 general election.
From what happened last year, what are your reflections on the New Year?
There was nothing to write home about the year that just ended. Last year, there was no doubt that we had a lot of challenges. There was so much of insecurity in the country. The problem was because of negligence on the part of government. In fact, before now, the government would have known that the insecurity situation would one day come to be in Nigeria. From my intelligence gathering both in the pre and post election period, there were clear indications that the insecurity challenge would come. The situation came principally because the government lacked the political will to address the issues at stake. I foresee disaster in 2015 when Nigeria would conduct her general elections. It would be worse than what we had in 2011 general elections. It is obvious that government lacks the ability to address the insecurity issue in the country. Things are running out of hand. Today, most of those in government are part of the Boko Haram sect. To some extent, some of them are part of the sect because the government is not paying any attention to security issues.
It is really disturbing and very unfortunate that this whole thing is happening in the northern part of the country and by extension Nigeria at large. We are all worried and if you look at the situation of things in Nigeria, you would know that our generation is in trouble. Even the yet unborn generation of Nigeria is going to inherit a lot of trouble. One would have expected that in the 21st century Nigeria that we would have gone further than the security challenge the nation is facing. By now, we ought to have been thinking of things that are more developmental. We should now be thinking of a Nigeria that is free for everybody where things work and people can go about their business without fear. But with the way things are in Nigeria, it is obvious that the doom’s day is ahead. It gives a lot of us sleepless nights and it keeps us thinking.
One can imagine the kind of money going into security. Most of the government officials have taken their own part of the cake. They believe that the more deaths and crisis, the more government votes money to security and the more they would get their own share. Nobody cares about the roots of the issue so that it can be addressed once and for all. To that extent, even President Goodluck Jonathan who happens to be a witness to the whole issue admitted that really, there are Boko Haram members in his government. It is no longer news that he said it himself. And if there are Boko Haram members in your government, what then are you doing as a government and President of the country? Is that a joke when it is threatening the lives of over 150 million Nigerians? Is it funny that people are dying everyday in the country? I feel that the way we are going, if care is not taken, we might wake up one day and the story that Nigeria would disintegrate may come to pass. This is because apart from insecurity in the country, there is also the issue of religion and ethnicity coming into play. This is because the more you have casualty in the southern part of the country, the more you also have casualty in the northern part of the country. It is only God that is helping us, if not, what is happening in the northern part of the country is enough to break the country. If it happens in some other countries in Africa, the whole place would have been ablaze by now.
So, do we continue to fold our hands and think that God would come down to provide solutions to our problems as a country? One day, God too would be tired and say my children, I am tired; you are not the only children I have. If it happens, before you know it, everybody would have been six feet down. Last year was nothing to write home about and I do not want to pre-empt this year but it appears from all indications too, there is more danger ahead. Politicians now make all sorts of utterances and get away with it. Yes, we are in a democracy but democracy is not about madness. If you want to say something, be constructive in what you say. You do not say things to overheat the polity or simply because you want to make a point which in most cases are for selfish interests. Now we have a lot of challenges.
The issue of ethnicity has become so obvious today that people do not see themselves as Nigerians any longer. The issue of religion also has become more challenging despite our efforts for people to play low on it. It is very glaring that the issue of religion is glaringly becoming stronger by the day. This is coupled with the threats we are getting from other countries in Africa. I am afraid that if Nigeria falls into that calamity, we would not survive it. If what is happening in Mali today happens in Nigeria, there would be trouble. It should open our eyes to what could happen because if rebels in Mali are attracting this kind of attention from the whole world, you can imagine what would happen if it were Nigeria. Mali is a very small country but look at how they held the whole world to ransom. Everybody is busy looking for water to put out that fire because if not, even the entire West Africa may be consumed. If that happens, it would become a serious challenge to developed nations because managing the refugees would be too much for them and the economy would begin to crash.
Do you think that some people are making profit from the insecurity situation in the country? I ask this question because you earlier said that some people do not want the insecurity situation particularly in the North to stop.
That is exactly what I am saying. How do you justify the security votes to some state governors? They make so much money from the vote without accounting for it. Some of them want the situation to continue so that they can claim to be spending the money to fight insecurity in their states. I am afraid that some of them can even send their thugs to mastermind insecurity somewhere and they would claim to spend huge sums of money there. Their main allocation is what attracts the attention of the people but in the case of security vote, they spend it any how they like. Even those at the federal level also see the security votes as an avenue to make money. Recently, Boko Haram said they want to have dialogue in Saudi Arabia and they made mention of names but when I heard that, I said it was a fraud and I have been justified. People would just sit down and form a story and tell the government to dish out money in the name of somebody mediating. Between them and Boko Haram, over $400 million was given out last time. At some occasions, even $20,000 to $200,000 was given out simply because somebody wants to mediate and the same time nobody has come out openly at any time to say he is Boko Haram. People would just be talking on the internet and government would just be dishing out money.
Government would be squandering Nigerian taxpayers money. The issue of poverty is no more news even with the resources that we have. People are dying in Nigeria of poverty and hunger daily. Opportunities are not there for people to work. The political class has subjected the people to unimaginable poverty and hardship. And for how long would this continue. Over and over, we keep talking about the past, we do not talk about the present.
I thought the past would have been a lesson to us to forge ahead. Now, we make references to the past as better days. I never supported military administration but I must confess that today I feel that the military is far better than what we are seeing today. After all our struggles including some of us putting our lives on the line to chase the military away, today, some rascals that were never part of the struggle have acquired so much power. The progressives and socialists who fought to entrench democracy were not interested in power then and some rascals just came and hijacked power to oppress the people. The people who are enjoying political power in Nigeria today never knew how democracy came to the nation. They never made any sacrifice and as a result, even with the power they have today, they do not add value to the lives of the people. The life of an ordinary person is nothing to them. If a hundred people die, they say it is only just one hundred people. In other developed countries, they cannot afford to lose one person. They know the value of lives. In Nigeria today, we do not attach value to our human resources and lives of the people. All over the world, human resources are considered paramount but in Nigeria, they look at it as a secondary issue.
As a youth leader in the northern part of the country, what is your take on the recent attack on the Emir of Kano, one of the most revered royal fathers in the country?
The attack on the Emir is a clear indication that we are in danger in the country. It is shocking that such a first class royal father was attacked in broad daylight. For the great Ado Bayero to be attacked just like that, it means all hands must be on deck in this country. Often times, the story has always been that a son of nobody has died but now the threat has gone to our leaders. Going to attack a man like Ado Bayero means that nobody is safe any longer. But the attack was condemnable and one begins to wonder how the emir was attacked. It is confusing. Who is masterminding such an attack or whose interest was such an attack? Was that attack meant to send more chaos in the country? God forbid, if something has happened to the Emir of Kano, perhaps Nigeria would have been burning by now. Everybody would have been consumed in it.
The tension in the northern part of the country would have been very high and what would have happened in the South? Do you think people in the south would just fold their hands? This means that after going to mosques and churches to put bomb to cause religious crises and it did not work, the attack of very prominent people is now the new strategy. If not that God intervened, the Emir was their target. If you look at all the scenario, you would notice that even those who claim to have power and protection of the police and other security agencies are not safe. It is either everybody including the high and mighty comes low for us to find a solution to it or all of us would be consumed by the crisis of insecurity in the country. When we talk, people assume that we are too sentimental or too hard in our positions but the fact is that we feel that Nigeria is home for all.
If Nigeria is the home for all, we cannot keep quiet because there is no better place like Nigeria. There is no place to show our patriotism and say this is the nation called our own. This is why some of us are so passionate about Nigeria. Some people do not think that what is happening to a common man could happen to anybody. The way the country is going, if you think you can steal money and go abroad, you must be joking because the moment they discover that you do not have money again, they would chase you away and if you come home, you would be lynched. Measures must be taken now. Corruption is so high in the country and it is worse now than during the era of former President Olusegun Obasanjo. This is because few people now corner the public’s money and squander it with all impunity. It is only in Nigeria that people do things with all impunity and nobody cares to ask questions.
In President Jonathan’s administration, money has been cornered to few local politicians that do not even know what to do with the money or what the problems of the nation are about. Some of them, if you ask them of their constituencies, they do not even know. And if you bring somebody who do not know anything about a place, you do not expect him to perform. What the political class does now is to support somebody who does not know anything so that he would not know what they are doing. If not, there are genuine people in this country but the political class would not allow them to come up. I am talking about people who can move the country to the next level.
If you bring somebody who does not see beyond his nose, then there is a problem. Look at Jonathan’s cabinet, how many intelligent people have you seen there? Some of them, if you listen to their English or their attitude, one would almost run mad and one begins to wonder what kind of school they went to. I think the National Assembly should rise up to an occasion where if somebody says I went to this and that school, they should be able to go and ascertain the veracity of his claim.
We should not assume that everything a politician in authority says is true. When you sit down with some of them one on one, you would discover they are empty. These are people who did not suffer during the period of dictatorship and they are imposed on the people as leaders whereas some of them are common rascals. They do not have respect for the people. The primary responsibility of any government is the provision of welfare and security of lives and property of the people. But in the case of Nigeria, the reverse is the case. It is not about the welfare of the people but about the interest of those who found themselves in power.
An average Nigerian does not really count to the political class and for how long would this continue? Do we continue to fold our hands and allow the country to be consumed? We rather talk because silence is a crime in an unjust society. Often times I do not talk about where I come from but Nigeria as my primary constituency.
If we see ourselves as Nigerians, then we must be patriotic. About one year ago, there was the issue of fuel subsidy and we thought that it was the end of it but before we knew it, we dabbled into trouble. Nigerians are still paying more than what they were paying in the past for fuel and they are still suffering. Despite the sacrifices of Nigerians during that subsidy crisis, they still did not respect the views of the people. A committee was put in place and it came up with very powerful recommendations but till today, nobody has heard anything about the report of that committee again. All these going about arranging Farouk Lawan on one hand and Femi Otedola on the other is a joke. I understand that Otedola is their agent because it seems government is trying to protect him. The magic was to make sure that they sabotage the report by that committee. It is not about Otedola or Farouk Lawan but simply because they wanted to sabotage that effort, they brought Otedola on board to frame up and do all that magic for Lawan who eventually fall as a victim. But now if you are talking about prosecuting the receiver, what about the giver? All of them committed the same offence. The way they are going, it is obvious that they want to kill the report of that Farouk Lawan committee. The noise about arresting Lawan now is not the issue but implementing the details of the report. We would not allow the government to kill the report. We are ready to mobilize over 10 million Nigerians to ensure that the report is not killed as they are planning. So, we cannot be distracted by the talk about arresting or prosecuting Lawan. The report is the key to us.
What is your take on the increasing tension over the 2015 general election?
I have my fears. I was surprised yesterday going through the internet and I saw a story about El-Rufai, a senior brother and somebody I respect so much. He was quoted as making blasphemous statements by even mentioning Jesus Christ. If the story is true, it is very disappointing of him. Such a statement can cause a big damage to the country. It is only that we have a government that does not care about anything, if not, El-Rufai could have been called to order. If he were a Christian that made that statement, it would have been a different thing but this is a Muslim making such an inflammatory statement. It is disappointing of a man in the caliber of El-Rufai. I am a Muslim but I do not think that anybody has a right to talk about any other person’s religion.
If leaders begin to talk that way and governments keep quiet, then there is a problem. I do not have any sympathy for this government but I differ with El-Rufai on that. Is he trying to create more tension in Nigeria? Before the election, some leaders made such a statement that if they do not come to power, there would be problem and you saw what happened. It is not good for leaders to make such inflammatory statements. Nobody is above the law. I pray that all these kind of statements would not lead to more instability in the country.