Kano-born Second Republic politician, Alhaji Tanko Yakassai, watched the trend of repatriation of Almajiri as part of the efforts to enforce the interstate lockdown with dismay and warned that it could lead to a show down between Northern governors and their counterparts in the South.
What is your opinion about the deportation of Almajirai to their states of origin?
According to Kano State governor, Abdulahi Ganduje, the decision about taking Almajiri to their states of origin was taken at the level of Northern Governors Forum (NGF) and they are committed to it. Nobody denied the fact that the decision was taken at their meeting. Secondly, I can understand the concern of governors from the South. But what I do not believe is that these Almajirai were actually transported by organized conspiracy between some governors and transporters because putting about 50 people in a lorry can only be done in the open. While I understand the concern of the people complaining, I don’t like the politicization of the matter. I think governors-to-governors communication is easier and better. At any time a governor can pick his phone to call his colleague to discuss issues. To me, make it press publicity does not encourage cordial relationship among governors. Every governor has the right to deny people going coming into his state through suspicious circumstances. But there is a constitution in Nigeria that guarantees the freedom of movement of every Nigerian. Where the movement is against the position of the constitution, every governor has every right to stop it. I am concerned about the trend because I don’t like us to reach a stage where there will be warfare between Southern governors and their counterparts in the North. If a governor stops a lorry from passing through his state, what stops another governor stopping luxury buses from passing through his territory? And that will be against the constitution of Nigeria.
What if any of those people caught trying to cross state boundaries happens to be a career of the Coronavirus disease?
If people are suspected to be carrier of a particular disease, they should be checked and whoever is found to be carrying disease should be repatriated to his state of origin or put on quarantine. That will make us behave as civilized people.
Why is the Northern governors’ resolve to repatriate Almajiri to their respective states coming at this period of COVID-19 pandemic?
Go to Kano and ask the governor. Don’t ask me; I am not an official of Kano State government. But the governor said it that the decision was taken a long time ago. Go and ask him if these Almajirai have tested positive or negative to COVID-19, he will answer you.
The intent of the interstate lock down is to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus disease. Are the people so suspected of moving to other states not guilty of violation of the directive?
The Federal Government did not order any state to enforce restriction on citizens. The order of the Federal Government is for the lockdown of Lagos, Ogun and the Federal Capital Territory. And the president said it that the rest of the states are free to take whatever decision they deem appropriate.
The Nigeria Governors’ Forum consisting of all the governors of the 36 states of the federation met and wrote a proposal to the Federal Government for approval for interstate lockdown so that there would be no further transmission of the disease from one state to another. That directive is still in force up till now.
(Cuts in)… You are wasting your time. Go and ask the governors.
In a nutshell, are you saying that those people caught crossing state boundaries have not run foul of the directive?
You are a journalist. Why can’t you put that question to the president? Why should you put it to me? I am not a law enforcement agent. The governors have the right to complain about any violation of the order. But it is not my business. So, don’t put it to me. Talk to somebody in Kano. I have nothing to do with it. I am not an employee of any of the state governments. Direct your question to either state government or Federal Government.
Then, what do you have to say about the probable cause of the strange deaths recently recorded in some states of the North?
I didn’t hear about that. Ask somebody who knows about it, I have no knowledge of it, I have not read it anywhere. Ask people who know about it, they will answer you. It is unfair to ask somebody who is ignorant of an issue.
How would you assess the response of the Federal Government to the Coronavirus pandemic containment in Kano?
Lagos records higher number of cases than Kano. Don’t ask me question that is not within my competence to answer. I can’t answer your question on behalf of any government because I am not working for any government. Ask me questions that are relevant to me. Any matter that concerns state government, go and ask their officials, they will answer you.
You do know, of course, that there are times when opinions of elder statesman like you help to shape policy direction of the government. And it is on this note that the question is put to you.
I will tell you the truth; I don’t know what is happening in Kano State. I have been in Abuja since the lockdown started in the last two months. Since then, I have not visited Kano; I don’t know what they are doing. Anything about policy of government in Kano, ask the officials. Don’t over burden me with something that does not concern me. I have my son who is adviser to the governor. I am not an adviser to anybody in Nigeria today. I held public office as a commissioner in my state some 50-something years ago. I also held a position of adviser to the president of Nigeria during the Second Republic over 30 years now. Since then I have never held any public office till today. I am on my own as a free citizen of this country.
What is the permanent solution to the issue of Almajiri in the North?
I know the late Umar Yar’Adua tried to address the problem when he was the president, but unfortunately, he did not live long enough to see the policy through. After him, former President Goodluck Jonathan started it again, and he had been succeeding, but unfortunately too, he couldn’t win his second term. Now, direct your question to President Muhammadu Buhari or any of his officials why they abandoned the initiative. If we had continued, by now, we would have gone far in resolving this problem.