By Ismail Omipidan
Mukhtar Sirajo, Vice President of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations, was Special Adviser, media, to six governors, at different times in Kaduna state, the last being Senator Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi. As one who witnessed several of the crises in Kaduna state, from the inside, he believes that the Mallam Nasir Ahmed El-Rufai-led administration needs to do more to win the confidence of the citizens of the state, if the government must put the current crisis in the southern part of the state, behind it, once for all.
What is your assessment of the crisis in Kaduna so far?
At a point I believed we had nipped in the bud this kind of crisis in Kaduna. I never believed that a time would come when the same type of crisis will resurface. Of course, there is no way that you can run away from crisis; it is part of the evolution of the human society. But by and large, the handling of the current crisis leaves much to be desired, as far as I am concerned, because of the fact that those that are handling it seemed to find it difficult to operate above the frame.
How do you mean?
They join issues with people, there is lack of empathy and there is a tendency to see politics in whatever people are doing even as they express their grievances. I think those in authority owe all of us a duty to operate above the frame, operate as a government that looks at the entire state as its constituency without politicizing issues. Politicization of issues is part of the problem. There is mistrust between the government and the people from a part of the state. What the government needs to do is to activate all its machineries towards inspiring confidence in the minds of everyone, and in particular those areas they are having problem with, to show that ‘we are your government, we don’t consider you as adversaries, we do not hold any grudges against you, we believe, whether you voted for us or not, now we are the government and you are the people and we are responsible for your welfare.’ But a situation whereby people see or perceive politics in everything from the government, and the government in turn perceives politics in the way and manner the people vent their grievances does not bode well for all of us. The people can be excused or forgiven for doing that, but the government cannot in any way afford to look at issues from that kind of viewpoint.
During the Makarfi administration, Kaduna state had two major crises that threatened the survival of the state, specifically the Sharia and the Miss World crisis. What were the things the government did to overcome those major crises?
The most significant thing was that people of the state trusted that government. That was one important factor that nobody should discountenance. There was trust between that government and the people of Kaduna state, irrespective of political differences. Firstly, the government was working, and had inspired confidence in the people, and the head of the government was trusted across the board. He was not somebody that was trusted only by the Muslim part of the state or by the Christian part of the state. There was a convergence of agreement that he was providing purposeful leadership. Majority of the people of the state were not looking at him as a politician. He had already evolved as a leader. Give it to him; he was consulting widely, listening to advice. I mean, he was accessible to people. He knew the state inside out, knew what buttons to touch and who to call on. Whatever programme he reeled out, people saw sincerity in it, and they saw that he meant business. So, everybody fell in line. It was just about confidence building.
Are you insinuating that these ingredients are now absent because Southern Kaduna has refused to trust the current government?
I am not insinuating anything. I am telling you what we did to resolve issues. Whether the other people are doing the same thing, is another thing. Human beings are different. There was a government when those crises happened. It deployed the mechanism of inspiring confidence in the people. It deployed the mechanism of listening to the people. It did not shut itself in the government house and believed that it knew what it took to resolve the crisis. It believed then and behaved in a manner that everybody knew the government was not thinking that it knows it all. It reached out to all manners of people, not necessarily political friends. Everybody genuinely interested in the return of peace in Kaduna was allowed to have his say. At the end of the day, the government sieved the chaff from the grains and came up with programmes and policies that people welcomed across the board. I am not saying certain ingredients are lacking in any government. What I am saying is what we deployed to achieve our purposes of reconciling the people of Kaduna state at that point in time. Whether the same thing is happening today, I don’t know. I just told you what we did, not what other people failed to do.
For example, the tripartite legal system that was introduced after the Sharia Riot, we just didn’t sit down and came up with it. We called all stakeholders. Muslims were yearning for Sharia and the Christians were afraid. We said: let’s all come together and see how we are going to do it. We didn’t claim any monopoly of wisdom or knowledge. If there were sensitive issues that we wanted to address, we would invite them and ask, how do we get out of this from the point of view of both the Christians and Muslims? We would get their texts and try to marry them as government with what we felt was the best for the state. Nobody would tell you he was left in the dark or that he just woke up and heard on the radio that government was going to ban or regulate preaching. We didn’t do things that way. We first of all engaged stakeholders about what we wanted to do, crave their indulgence as to how to go about it in a way that would not hurt their sensibility. I will give you an example. The Miss World riot in 2002 which happened at the tail end of the Ramadan when Muslims are not supposed to be angered, it got so bad that the security agencies advised that the entire Kaduna metropolis and some local governments be shut down. The implication was that people were not going to do their Tahajud and Tarawi if curfew was imposed. The decision to impose a curfew in Kaduna during the Miss World riot was taken with the full advice of the Muslim clergy. Before we imposed the curfew, we called them and told them this was what was going on and they all agreed, citing authorities from Islamic perspectives to the effect that protection of lives and properties was more important than congregational prayers. So the government was rightly advised by the clergy to declare the curfew. We could have sat down and just shut down the town but we said we needed to carry the people along.
In the Yoruba parlance, it is said that elders cannot be in the market, and watch a nursing mother back her child wrongly. Why is it difficult for past governors to come together to tackle this Kaduna challenge?
Even if there are elders in the market, it is up to a mother when corrected to back her child correctly. It is up to her to listen or not. Perhaps she knows how to back her child better than the onlooker. I have no idea why other governors don’t want to come together; but in any case, there is a government in Kaduna state, and it is its responsibility, not past governors’, to ensure that the welfare and security of the people of Kaduna State are serviced. That is the way I see it. I am not speaking for any one of the governors. I have served about six of them. I am speaking as a citizen of Kaduna state, as someone who is not happy with the security situation of the state and as someone who is prepared to play a role to see that the trajectory of this state is diverted from the current precarious path where peace seems to be eluding us. We want peace to return to all parts of Kaduna state. We want people to return to the old glorious days where when we were growing up and nobody was talking about tribal or religious inclinations of his friends or neighbours. When we were going to school, we were going with our friends who were Christians, Fulanis, Hausas and nobody was asking questions about faith or tribe. We were eating, sleeping and doing our escapades together. I cannot understand where those things vanished into. I don’t understand what is going on. So when I talk, I speak with a lot of frustrations and questions that I can’t even answer. I don’t think it is for the governors to come together and decide for the current government because they don’t have the power and authority. If the government feels there are one or two things it can find out from a particular governor, it is up to the government to reach out to that governor or governors as the case maybe, to ask the questions. If it believes it can do without the help of anybody, we will pray to God to help it succeed because we do not pray for the government to fail. If it fails, we will be in for it.
I am not losing hope because I believe God will intervene in whatever way He deems fit to ensure that Kaduna state does not go back to those terrible days of violence.