From Noah Ebije, Kaduna
The outgoing Secretary General of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Mr Anthony Sani, had on March 5, attended debates organised in Abuja by the Igbo leadership worldwide on 2023 presidency, restructuring, amongst others.
The event code-named, the Great Debates, were organised by Igbo Leadership Development Foundation and Gregory University, Uturu and World Igbo Summit Group.
In this interview with Sunday Sun, Mr Sani shared his experience at the debates, saying that the Igbo are confusing the race for 2023 presidency with the issue of restructuring the country.
The ACF outgoing scribe also spoke on other national issues. Excerpts:
You participated in the great debates by Igbo on Federal Character, restructuring, rotational presidency and national unity, which took place in Abuja recently. May we share your experience?
Yes, I honoured the invitation and participated in the conversations, which was a healthy development. I was about the last to speak after listening to most contributions. Not everybody had the same opinion. Some were very cocky by saying it is either the country is restructured and Igbo given presidency or they go their separate ways. There were others who even said Nigerians should beg Igbo to be president and apply their superior attributes in providing good governance. Yet we had those who posited that Igbo should come to terms with the reality that power is never secured through threats and intimidation and not given out of affirmative action of pity. More so in a multi-party democracy, which has not developed national consensus or law that are binding on all political parties in so far as politics of identity is concerned. To this group, Igbo should develop a winning game plan and reach out persuasively to all sections of the country, since only a pan-Nigerian platform can produce a president of any ethnic extraction. As to the calls for restructuring, some speakers said there is no clear understanding of the term restructuring. This is because there are those clamouring for fiscal federalism, others hanker for resource control and still there are those agitating for resource ownership, whatever that means. Still some of us called the attention to the fact that Nigeria has been restructured severally, be it geopolitical, by forms of government and by way of economic models, all of which work in other climes. For examples, the presidential and parliamentary systems are working well in America and Britain respectively while a combination of the two works well in France. State capitalism is working well in China. All these make one shudder to think the problems of the nation may not be with the structure of the country, with forms of government or with economic models, but may lie on the door step of our distorted values that have affected our sense of what is right and what is evil. But if we must restructure at all, it should be done democratically. This is because it is the absence of national consensus on solution of national problems that has provided for multi-party democracy which allows political parties to represent distinct methods of addressing national challenges as contained in the party manifesto, which the party uses to canvass for electoral mandate needed for implementation. That is how multi-party democracy works.
Some Nigerians have asked President Muhammadu Buhari to resign over increasing issues of insecurity in the country, just the way he (Buhari) told the then President Goodluck Jonathan to resign over insecurity. Would you say what goes around, comes around?
When Buhari told President Jonathan to resign, it was in response to observations that insecurity was always on the increase and the then President Jonathan appeared helpless at that time. The situation now is not the same precisely because the regime has tamed activities of Boko Haram and has consigned them to fringes of Northeast. No single attack claims over a hundred people let alone thousands (anymore) reminiscent of the past where some single attacks could claim a thousand people. No more high profile killings. In short, there have been progressive reduction of number of people being killed since the emergence of the current regime under the watch of President Buhari. The recent setback is not enough for anybody to call on the president to resign, given the fact that the president is making consciously directed effort to put a permanent end to the security challenges. I do not think the situation is beyond redemption despite paucity of enough resources to prosecute the campaigns and address the underlying causes at the same time.
The Federal Government recently admitted that the Boko Haram insurgency is targeting Christians in order to cause war in the country. And the Christians under the banner of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) have expressed gratitude to the government for confirming the alarm they have been raising over killings of Christians in the country. What is your reaction?
Anybody who says Boko Haram targets Christians in order to cause sectarian war is not wrong, yet it is tantamount of playing to the gallery. I say this because the sect has made it public that it is a Jihadist, which makes it enemy of Christians. But because of the manner they kill people and desecrate Islam, informed minds have since put a lie to their claims that it is jihadist to further the cause of Islam. Most people and moderate Muslims have come to accept the fact that Boko Haram is not a religious sect, but making a feint of Islamic religion as strategy to recruit canon fodders and put a crimp between Muslims and other faith in the hope of engendering sectarian conflict. That explains why President Obama had to deliver a speech to Arab league in which he made a clear distinction between Islam and terrorism that earned him the Nobel Prize. That singular action enabled the formation of coalition of 66 countries of different faiths which resulted in taming the activities of IS in Iraq and Syria. I believe Boko Haram is seeking to engender sectarian war, and we must not help them achieve their aim by pandering to what they say or claim to be.
The Federal Government is also looking at the possibility of rehabilitating and even sending to overseas repentant Boko Haram members. Many Nigerians have condemned this move. Do you also condemn the move?
We must know that many members of Boko Haram are recruited by force and radicalized into the sect. And given the number of youths so recruited, I believe those who repent and surrender their arms should be rehabilitated and reintegrated to society by some form of process of de-radicalization. And I do not see anything wrong if an agency is given the responsibility and task to de-radicalize, rehabilitate and reintegrate into society members of the sect who repent and surrender their arms. We must not lose sight of the import of this fact that when comity of nations invites warring factions for peace talks in Geneva, it is not that the world likes the killings in the war and encourages the parties, but to stop further killings.
Some prominent Nigerians, including northerners, have said that the North has no business holding unto the presidency beyond 2023, and that power should shift to another region of the country. What is your advice here?
I am honestly tired of answering this question from the media. We are in multi-party democracy, which allows only political parties to field candidates for elective offices. And in the absence of national consensus or law that is binding on the political parties, one wonders how those hankering for politics of identity symbolized by rotation and zoning hope to enforce it.
The Chairman of Northern Elders’ Council (NEC), Alhaji Tanko Yakassai, who is also a member of the ACF has said that it is Southwest and the North that have put Nigerians into suffering because of the age-long educational disparity. Do you agree with him?
I do not know how the Southwest and the North have used education to put Nigerians into suffering, considering when and how Western education reached the South and the North were not influenced by both the Southwest and the North. Education reached Southwest a century earlier than it reached the North. And because missionaries were the vehicle through which education reached the country and the North, Muslims resisted it in the belief that it was a tacit way of converting Muslims to Christians. I, therefore, see the wide gap in education between the North and the South as due to circumstances of history and of birth that were not determined by both regions. I think there should be consciously directed effort to bridge the gab in education that is instrument of empowerment. This should be by both the national and state governments. This is because reduction of inequality is not only good economics, but good politics as well.
Many Nigerians are saying that the North is delaying in coming up with its own security outfit like Amotekun in Southwest since insecurity is very high in the North. What is your take here?
Is there anything that suggests Amotekun is a success in the Southwest worthy of emulation? I still believe the problems of the Nigerian police lie in the dearth of enough number of trained and adequately equipped personnel. If the personnel of Amotekun are not enough, not well trained and equipped adequately, they would still not be the magic wand. I do not believe in multiplication of geopolitical zonal or regional security outfits.
Do you support Shege Ka Fasa security outfit unveiled recently by a Coalition of Northern Group for the region?
I told you I do not believe in multiplication of security outfits, but in a Nigerian police, which personnel are enough and well trained and adequately equipped to deliver on the promise of their mandate.
What about the call for a brand new constitution on the grounds that the 1999 Constitution has not been sired by the people, but by the military?
I differ with those who make such submissions precisely because the 1999 Constitution is a clone of that of 1979 which processes of its emergence was fashioned after America’s. You would recall in 1978, a 50-member Constitution Drafting Committee was put in place to draft a constitution under the Chairmanship of Justice Udo Udoma. Chief Awolowo declined to serve in the committee. Hence the epithet of the “49 wise men”. The draft constitution was debated by an elected constituent assembly under the chairman of Chief Rotimi Williams. The outcomes of the debates became the 1979 Constitution under which many people who participated contested elections. Such people included Shagari, Aminu Kano, Bola Ige, Akande, Ajasin, Solomon Lar, as well as Chief Awolowo, Zik and Mbakwe. After the military interventions, General Abacha convened a constitutional conference, which produced the 1995 Constitution that was never used. And when General Abdulsalami Abubakar wanted a constitution with which to hand over power, he appointed Justice Nicki Tobi to chair a committee for a new constitution using that of 1979 and 1995 as inputs. The Tobi’s Committee went round the country and came out with the people’s verdict that he should adopt the 1979 as the constitution. Hence the cliche that the 1979 is a clone of 1999. So, how is the 1999 Constitution not sired by the people? If we believe the constitution is not perfect, there is no qualms in tempering with it. But it is not right and fair of anybody to suggest it is a military constitution. It is instructive to note that the American constitution is just a few pages and Britain does not have a written constitution while Nigeria has a whole book called the constitution that is observed more in the breach. J. P Morgan was he who said however good the constitution, its usefulness to the society has to do with the judgment of the implementers.