…Demands reversal by government
National Leader of Arewa Consultative Youth Forum (ACYF,) Alhaji Yerima Shettima, has been critical on happenings in the country. In this encounter with Sunday Sun, he barred his mind on contending national issues, including 2023 politics, review of the constitution by the National Assembly, the controversial National Water Resources Bill 2020 and his assessment of the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration. Excerpt:
What is your take on the move by the National Assembly to review the constitution?
My take on this is that we cannot continue to do one thing the same way and expect a different result. Over and over this issue of constitutional review has always been raised with so much talk on it by the various National Assembly since 1999 to date and as I speak with you they have not made any useful input into it. Now, at the expense of the little funds that we have they have started again and with all impunity, they will quash the money and at the end of the day they will come out with confusion. They will not do any of such review without a huge sum voted into it and you ask yourself, what for? We should borrow a leaf on how other democratic countries do their own constitution review and get the result. Does their own review gulp the kind of money as done here? Why do we spend so much and in the end we will come out with what will not be acceptable or what is not in the best interest of Nigerians? That is my worry. Some of us are not against the review of the constitution although we have our reservations. But often time, our concern is that, what they want to bring out will it be genuine and in the best interest of Nigerians? If it will be, it is welcomed, but in a case where people will just wake up and because they want to make more money, get more allowances, or in a bid to acquire more wealth they will come up with such ideas for selfish reasons. That is my worry and I don’t think it is justifiable. In fact, some of us have our reservations, and some of us also believe truly that the issue is far beyond the issue of just reviewing the constitution. On the legitimacy of the constitution, we believe it should not be compromised. Some of us have gone further to challenge the legitimacy of the constitution in the court. As I speak with you, we have gone to challenge the legitimacy of the 1999 Constitution itself, but if they want to do it a shortcut and as far as it is going to yield good results, let it be. But this idea of them (National Assembly) coming up with the initiative just to line up their pockets is what we do not want and we will resist it if we finally discover it is their motive. If the review is genuine, sincere, and in the best interest of moving the country forward there is nothing bad.
When you talk about the legitimacy of the constitution, do you mean it should go through a national conference where the people are involved?
Even if it is going to be a national conference it must not be arranged as we had in the previous government under President Jonathan, and even President Obasanjo did it where they were teleguiding the outcome of the conference. It should not be that way. What they needed to do is to provide an atmosphere for Nigerians. Let Nigerians decide who represents them. Already we have different zones, let the people in those zones decide who will represent them. We don’t want a government selection arrangement where they bring those they like and refuse those they don’t want and in most cases, those they refuse are the peoples’ choices, those that will speak truth to power. You must allow the people to send their representatives. The people know those who will represent them better. I don’t like this government arrangement where they pick the people they want to pick and behind it, they have a hidden agenda, then push for it, it will not go anywhere. This is our concern. If it is going to be a conference it is welcomed, but let all the existing units come up with their best 11 forward, their genuine representatives. They can recommend one or two or three persons to come forward and discuss the country itself, our existence as a people, how we can live together in peace, then at the end of the day, we arrive at a referendum. what matters is the sincerity of those doing it. Is what is coming out of it in the best interest of Nigerians? There is a need for a constitution to have the legitimacy of the people.
How would you react to the latest hike in fuel pump price? Already the National Consultative Forum, a group you belong to, is kicking and threatening for a protest?
We demand the total reverse in the price of fuel, it is ill-timed and inhuman. Everywhere in the world now, every country is looking for ways to subsidize things for their citizens, every country the world over is looking for ways to help the citizens, to cushion the painful effect of the COVID-19 pandemic and help citizens, but in the case of Nigeria it becomes a reverse case as if it is a curse, it’s not done anywhere. Even if there is a need you should hold on for now, afterall there was a time fuel was less than N1 before we got to where we are now. We know it may someday go higher, but we are saying that the government must be mindful of timing. Today, people have suffered a lot, no cash (money) in the hands of the people, people have lost their jobs and businesses, many cannot afford to eat, so it is a wrong calculation for the government to push for this increment now no matter any reason. It shows insensitivity and, of course, you know that if the fuel is hiked every other thing will be affected in terms of increase in price because it is one common thing that help/hold the common man together in terms of moving around and for other things, so immediately you make any increase it will have a ripple effect on every other thing. The issue of tariff (in electricity) is another issue of concern to me. Already we have not been getting enough services and this one too is coming at a very wrong time. The government of the day must be seen to be very sensitive to the plight of Nigerians, so this display of insensitivity is worrisome.
Are you worried about the killings in your state, especially in Southern Kaduna?
Of course, I feel bitter about it. It is bad and an issue that concerns everybody, but not just Kaduna because everywhere now there is one uprising or the other: killings, kidnapping, banditry, cattle rustling, etc. Look let me tell you, you people in the Southern part of the country are living in paradise because you don’t have any threat of Boko Haram, banditry, and kidnapping as much as it is in the Northern part of the country. It is a serious problem and I am worried. And also to an extent to those people who strongly believe that the governor (El-Rufai) is not doing enough, inasmuch as there are issues, I don’t agree with him, but on this, it is an issue of concern that I know he is worried himself about it. It is an issue that the Federal Government must have to collaborate with the state government to build synergy so that they can have more capacity to tackle the issues, killings, banditry, and kidnapping, etc in the Northwest; it is increasing by the day. It is not only an issue of Southern Kaduna, but it is an issue that involves every part of Northwest. Kaduna, of course, is my state, I am very worried.
But the government has continued to say that they are on top of the security challenge in the country, but the majority of Nigerians blame the Security Chiefs and even demanding their sack?
Even if they are sacked because I have said it earlier that they should be sacked, but when we came to review the issue more critically you will find out that even if they are sacked and the government still doesn’t put things in place you won’t get a different result. You cannot ask soldiers to go to war or for an attack without equipping them. You cannot ask men, soldiers who are human beings like any other person, you ask them to go to the war front without giving them their welfare packages, or equipping them well. You cannot ask them to go to war and when they lose their lives as martyr, shortly after their death nothing is put in place for their family to fall back on. Worst still in most cases within a short period you chase their family out of the barracks or send them to one camp and you abandon them. Things are not done that way. You need to boast our soldiers’ morale, encourage them, and give them all that they may need to prosecute their assignment. It is not easy for anybody to sacrifice his life in defense of the fatherland.
What is your take on the killing of Gana in Benue State…?
(Cuts in) I don’t have all the details, but although Gana was a bad product to the society his case should have been handled with more caution since peace is needed in that area. I am not aware if he had declared that he was going for amnesty, even if he did, it was not publicized for all to know, but, however, if it is true that he has declared that he was going for the peace initiative, it is wrong killing him by the military. His death may compound the problem over there, it may warrant others not coming out for the amnesty initiative. If somebody no matter how notorious at the end of the day decides to embrace peace, embrace the amnesty programme that was initiated by the state governor/government or by the Federal Government the person/people should be protected not to be killed in such a controversial manner so that others can be free to come out and embrace the peace, but with what has happened there is a clear indication that even those who were willing to accept the amnesty initiative and leave arms struggle will be scared and may not show up again. This will stall the expected peace.
2023 is gradually getting closer and you have continued to insist at different fora that the North will retain power in 2023…?
(Cuts in) I have changed my position on that. Of course, sometimes when facts change you change with the facts so as to remain current on issues. This political issue is about give and take and with the way the country is today we are more deeply divided than we were before and we need to be sensitive about that. If anybody is holding any strong position that: his or their position must be sustained at all costs, that may not be the best approach and it may create more problems for the country. However, I am of the view that this is democracy, let competency prevail at the end of the day. We need people who can do the job, competent individuals to run the affairs of this country, people of my generation, there is a need for a new order in the country. Competency can come from anywhere, it could be Southeast, North-central, Northeast, Southwest, etc. but in all, I still believe there is a need for total generation change despite that some were given the responsibility who belonged to my generation messed up, but that does not rubbish the call for a generational shift. We have so many competent individuals in my generation that can do the job. All we need do is provide the right atmosphere, fair play, level playing field and they will show up in the political stage. Vibrant individuals who can compete internationally are waiting, we have them, and they are not in short supply in this country. They are doing great things in leadership positions in different parts of the world and many are with us here.
When you talk of competence there are very competent individuals from every political zone in this country…?
(Cuts in) So, let them come out and compete. Let the zones put forward their first 11 and we chose from there?
Many believe that the word competence is the latest ploy by the North to remain in power because they will still vote for their own, given its numerical strength even if the person is less competent when compared to his other competitors?
Well, if that is the provision of democracy what again do we do? What is wrong in practicing the provision of democracy? It is the beauty of democracy, democracy is about number, the majority will have their way, and the minority will have their say. it has always been like that. For God’s sake I don’t know if we are much in number than the entire South, but however, let us go to the trenches, let us cast our votes and let our votes decide, let the votes count, that is the most important thing. Let the South produce their best 11 and let the North produce theirs too, let Nigerians decide. It is just as simple as ABCD, but it is we that are compounding it. Let me tell you if you mobilise Nigerians properly competence will count and Nigerians are becoming wiser today politically. For me, if I found out that the person coming from the Southeast, for instance, is the most qualified that can deliver, believe me, I will vote for that person, I will be the vanguard of that struggle, I will be at the top of it, clamouring for president of Igbo extraction, I will lead the struggle to ensure that the person is accepted by the majority and elected if the need arises. We owe no personal grudges against anybody or any tribe in this country; it is that some people seem to be misinterpreting issues. I will vote for an Igbo president if I find out he is a better candidate, competent enough to take this country to the next level.
How will you frankly assess the President Buhari APC-led government?
The government has not done enough good for the country and expectations have been dashed because what we as Nigerians expected is not what we are getting. Look at what the government promised Nigerians that they will do, the issue of tackling corruption, their claim of having zero tolerance to corruption, and what we have today. Their promise to fix the economy and the issue of insecurity, can we in all sincerity say we are faring well? Now, look at those critical three points that are the major focus of government and you find that they are nothing to write home about. Even in the world index where you consider or rate countries you see that the report is really bad in terms of security, in terms of the economy, it is really bad and the way they are fighting corruption is really not good at all. You ask yourself: have we had any genuine change since the inception of this government? The facts on the ground do not seem to reflect that government is doing what they promised Nigerians and what they claim that they are doing.