By Kenny Ashaka
Barely one week after the National Assembly gave consent to the request of youths in Nigeria for a lowering of the age limit to participate in elections into political offices in the country, the National President of the Arewa Youths Consultative Forum, AYCF, Yerima Shettima has asked politicians who are above 60 years of age to perish the idea of seeking elective offices in 2019.
According to Yerima, politicians above 60 years who have occupied political offices should give way for the younger ones since they have failed Nigerians. “You have your yesterday and you failed your yesterday you cannot fail today again and you think of doing a great damage to our yet unborn children and you expect us to fold our hands. Now we are building for our own children too. So you cannot fail your yesterday and come and champion my today. It is impossible. This cannot happen again,” he said.
In this interview, the Arewa youth leader explained why the North is against the outcome of the 2014 National Conference, saying delegates from the North went to the conference without an agenda.
Let me draw your attention to one statement you made in October 2013. You said “the problem of the average Northern man is not where the president comes from, whether from the North or South…
(Cuts in) And I maintain it.
“What they want is a government that will provide dividends of governance, give them free education, ensure that they have food on their table. It doesn’t matter if the person is a Christian or a Muslim or Pagan or Idol worshipper…
(Cuts in) For as long as he would do justice.
“Nobody cares. If we find a better alternative somewhere other than the North we will mobilize and support the person. This was in the year 2013…
(Cuts in) And I have never changed from that…
Are you still standing on that statement at a time your people are clamouring for a president of northern extraction?
Well, at this point in time we seek for good governance from any angle it comes. But time and events have also clearly shown that even the North we are talking about have not enjoyed anything out of all these arrangements. Now, let me give you an example. We had the government of Yar’Adua who came from the North, thinking that that government would appease a lot of things in the northern part of the country. Look at the situation in the northern part of the country. Today, you are in Kaduna. If you go to the core North, Sokoto, Maiduguri, Jigawa, Katsina states and other places, you will ask yourself where are all these northern governors? And what are they doing with all the powers that we are talking about that we have acquired over time? Where did the government miss the point? There is simply a missing link between the ruling class and the average northerner. This is why there is hardship all over the northern part of the country. The issues of Almajirai, poverty, backwardness, lack of proper education in the northern part of the country are things giving us sleepless nights all the time.
Now you begin to ask yourself where are we missing the point? To us there are so many views to all these. Some of us are thinking if it was a military regime that would have been a different thing but this is a democracy. We had Yar’Adua in place; he stayed for only two years and he died. Jonathan took over for six years we couldn’t get the eight years we sought for and now again Buhari from the same Katsina State in the North-west who came and in less than two years he is sick.
Clearly you could see that we have not enjoyed anything in all of these arrangements. We have not gotten exactly what we wanted. A lot of things are not normal. So now we are praying that the president gets well and comes back because at least we will be relaxed and say, ok 2019, probably he might not contest and we will look for a vibrant young man…
You told me earlier that people of the age of above 70…
(Cuts in) I am talking…haba will I take him off his tenure? But I am saying we should manage him till 2019 because we can’t take that constitutional right away. That’s what I am saying. But definitely in 2019, never again will we allow anybody up to 60 years and above to be at the helms of affairs in the country, anywhere. We will no longer be looking up to any old man of 60 and above again and be hoping that something good will come out of him.
Are you working towards that?
We are working on that. That’s about the new order and consciousness we are talking about. We will definitely produce a young man who we believe will form a team with the southern people to move the country forward where there will be justice and equity to all, where everybody will be treated equally; where marginalization story will be a thing of the past, where clamour or agitations will be history and will never surface, where I as Arewa Youth leader, will no longer exist anymore, where the Igbo organization can no longer exist.
It will be a just society where everybody will get anything he or she wants easily. There will be justice and equity, fair play to all. Some of us will not have any business going into the trenches, where OPC, MASSOB, Arewa Youths, Niger Delta Avengers and other groups will not have business any more. Rather, we will be talking about Nigeria, Nigeria and Nigeria all the time. That’s the type of Nigeria I am talking about.
That leads me on to the next question, restructuring. Do you think restructuring can help fix the kind of Nigeria you are looking at?
You can only have a peaceful country and then think of how to restructure. What do you have to restructure at this particular time. I am an advocate of restructuring but right now as it is I think there are times when you do the right thing… the atmosphere for now may not be proper for restructuring. I am an advocate of restructuring but I think for now let’s see how we can save the country from agitations and build a united Nigeria from now till 2019 so that by the time we finish the election the next government will think of how to do that one. Perhaps those who are campaigning will even put it as part of their manifestoes.
The restructuring I am talking about might be different from the one you are talking about because it appears a complex concept. We must all sit down and define it because as it is, it is beyond mere devolution of powers. Do you think there is something in the 2014 National Conference report that we can leverage on to achieve the kind of restructuring…
(Cuts in) I will not support the 2014 National Conference because, one, our people who attended the conference did not have a northern agenda they presented at that conference. So for us we are never part of that conference.
Must they have a Northern agenda?
Every zone went there with their agenda. The South-west, South-east, South-south all went with their agenda. But the North did not have an agenda.
Well, it is unfortunate. Some of us saw it coming with this same style of old order where some few people will just sit down and foist their thinking rather than going back to seek for opinion from stakeholders. All the youths and elders should have sat down and come up with an agenda that would have been productive to our people. Instead of doing that they just went with some few individuals who now went to represent us without proper agenda and that is why you see the North totally opposed to many things that were raised at the national conference because we did not come up with a clear picture of what we want. That’s why we had that meeting in Kaduna, All Northern Youth Leadership Summit for two days.
We made our position very clear to the Federal Government then that just get it into your head that those that have come to represent us do not have our mandate to represent us there. We made it very clear. So anything you say there and agree on when you come back home we will not accept it. It will not work. And we have been vindicated. If people like us at this level you think that our views are not important you can just sit down in the comfort zone of your room and office and a few of your people who are retirees, may be from civil service with your thinking, the North is not that same North again. We look at issues and we agree before you go ahead. In the past you can do that. But we have come of age. We have very sound, intelligent young men now that can shape not only our region but the country to the next level. We have competent hands now to move the country forward. So you can never do this business-as-usual thing that has never taken us anywhere. You keep repeating the same old style.
If you keep doing the same old style over and over and you are not achieving results why don’t you change and do another thing. Why must it be the same old style? So we said this cannot continue. So anything you think of doing now in the northern part of this country you must ensure that the youths are fully in the picture. The consequence is that It will unite us because we are the engine room where machinery will be put in place to ensure that we work with our energy to ensure that that thing gets life. But if you are thinking with your style of old order and you think you can bring it to this digital age and you think you can foist it on us, the brain does not carry this analogue style anymore. So it cannot work. As you talk we don’t even understand what you are saying. So we are in tune with the realities of today. And anybody who wants meaningful progress must be in tune with the realities on ground today. Things have changed. Events have changed a lot of things. So we must accept the reality that these young men have come of age. They should be allowed to pilot the affairs of this country.
As I speak I am not just talking as a northerner but I am thinking as a Nigerian where all of us must come on board to build the nation of our dreams. Never again should we allow any old person to come and decide our fate. You have your yesterday and you failed your yesterday you cannot fail today again and you think of doing a great damage to our yet unborn children and you expect us to fold our hands. Now we are building for our own children too. So you cannot fail your yesterday and come and champion my today. It is impossible. This cannot happen again.