Immediate past Secretary General of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Mr Anthony Sani has dismissed the view in some quarters that kidnappers and bandits have overrun the country.
While admitting that insecurity is a very serious source of concern for most Nigerians, Sani insisted that the Nigerian media have been exaggerating the country’s security challenges.
Speaking with SATURDAY SUN, he explained that the coronavirus pandemic is partly responsible for the escalating insecurity in the country. He also noted that Nigeria might have no choice than to negotiate with bandits unless there are enough resources and manpower to face the criminals head-on. He also insisted that calls for secession or self-determination are not popular among the majority of Igbo and Yoruba people.
Sani, a prominent pharmacist, told NOAH EBIJE that every Nigerian should get the COVID-19 vaccine, noting that no Nigerian is free from the infection until everyone gets the vaccine.
What’s your take on this unending banditry, which seems to have taken over the country?
When the media engage in hyperbole by saying banditry has taken over the country, it calls into question your public intelligence. It is true that insecurity is a very serious source of concern for most Nigerians, more so when schools are targeted by the bandits. But to say they have taken over the country reeks of hyperbole on your part.
As a president or governor, not every citizen is happy with all your actions. That is why there have been assassinations of Presidents like Abraham Lincoln, Kennedy, PM Rabin of Israel in 1995 and PM Ghandi in India. While the attack on Governor Ortom’s convoy is condemnable, it is not to suggest that bandits have overrun the country.
I was reading an editorial in one of the newspapers recently that America loses an average of 35,000 people to gunmen, and that in 2017 alone, 40,000 Americans lost their lives to gunmen. Recently, there were attacks in Atlanta that claimed eight lives, and another in Colorado that claimed the lives of 10 Americans. Yet you do not hear Americans saying it is a failed state and so must split. Nigeria is passing through hard times due to coronavirus pandemic, which has affected lives and livelihoods, thereby hyping insecurity. But difficult times should bring about purposeful leadership and the best in everyone in order to put the challenges astern. It is not for us to give every action, including crimes, ethnic and religious colouration. We must see crimes for what they are and treat them as such. Those Nigerians promoting ethnic and religious lines are not more than elbow-throwing grievance groups clamouring for government preferment. They must note that no society thrives on the victory of its faction but through ultimate reconciliation. Our situation is never final.
Nigerians leaders are divided over the need to or not to negotiate with bandits as part of measures to end kidnapping and other form of criminalities. As a Northern elder statesman, what is your advice?
I have made it clear severally that negotiation with insurgents or terrorists is never a matter of choice; it takes place during extenuating circumstances. Let the leaders understand the import of the old adage that when you kill one person, you are charged for murder; when you kill ten people, you are examined for insanity. But when you kill thousands of people, you would be invited for peace talks, not because the killings are good but to put an end to further killings. When a comity of nations invites warring factions to Geneva for peace talks, it is to stop further killings and not to encourage the killings.
If Nigeria wishes to avoid Danegeld theory of rewarding bad behaviour through negotiation with criminals, then let there be enough number of trained and equipped and well-motivated security personnel capable of taking the fight to the doorsteps of the criminal gangs in the forests. One way of achieving that is to keep some government projects and programmes on hold and free money for the recruitment, training, equipment and motivation of security personnel. The $1.5b earmarked for refineries could be used for better advantage for security. I do not believe the state police can be the magic wand, especially if they suffer the disadvantage of number, training, equipment and motivation often suffered by the Nigerian Police Force.
Many Nigerians seem to be opposed to the 1.5 billion dollars budgeted for the rehabilitation of the Port Harcourt refinery. What is your reaction to this?
I think Nigerians are concerned about the money being spent on refineries with nothing to show for it. And since Dangote’s refinery about being completed can serve the nation’s domestic demands, most Nigerians think the $1.5 billion can be put to better use in other aspects of our socio-economic development.
Some Nigerians are saying that the 2023 general election could be bloody. Do you agree with them?
Why must such Nigerians be negative in interpretation of everything under the sun? Why not do some facts check and know what caused the violence in the Ekiti election, for instance, with a view to putting mechanism against a repeat? We seem to be obsessed with a sense of déjà vu. We should note that the good things of life are never inevitable but are often attained by ceaseless hard work of both leaders and the led.
Some Northern leaders have stated that power should shift to the South-East in 2023. Some others have said no. What’s your take on that?
I have said it over and over again that in the absence of a national consensus on politics of zoning, every group should devise its winning game plan and canvass for the electoral mandate, considering that politics is a matter of group interest, group goal, group cohesion, group coherence and even group conspiracy. I have said it over and over again that when it comes to partisan politics, northerners go by their preferred separate political parties. That was why Alhaji Shehu Shagari contested not only against Chief Awolowo and Dr Azikiwe from the South but also against Mallam Aminu Kano and Alhaji Ibrahim Wazirin from the North In 1979. We have had such experiences in the current republic. Therefore, the observed differences about whether the presidency should be in the South, and to Igbo in particular, is natural concomitant of the practice of party democracy in the North. Nothing exotic or quixotic about it.
What do you make of the calls for an Oduduwa Republic by some Yoruba groups?
Those calling for Oduduwa Republic have the right to express their opinions. But the good news is that they do not do so in representative capacity of the Yoruba nation. Most Yoruba have curtly dismissed the calls for the split of the country, just like most Igbo have done to IPOB. Governor Wike and Chief Edwin Clark have also dissociated their people from Asari Dokubo’s position on the split of Nigeria. This shows that majority of Nigerians are not for the split of the country and are resolved to overcome the current challenges that are not beyond redemption.
As a pharmacist, what is your assessment of COVID-19 vaccination so far in Nigeria?
I think the vaccination exercise is on course. This is because the country is no stranger to transportation, storage and distribution of vaccines through cold chains, considering that immunisation has taken place in Nigeria so many times. It is the experiences that have helped in no small measure in informing the current exercise and management practices. The order of vaccination is to inoculate the front line health workers who are more at risk of being infested in the course of treating and caring for the infected patients first. This would be followed by the vulnerable groups who are old and with pre-existing medical challenges. Then there will follow all Nigerians who wish to be vaccinated when the opportunity comes. I think the draw back will be dearth in availability of the vaccines due to massive order by the developed nations who can afford it to near exclusion of the poor countries who do not have the require resources and have to depend on COVAX for their supplies of the vaccines. I hope the developed world would realise the danger of delayed vaccination in the third world that can inspire emergence of mutation leading to variants capable of rendering the vaccines ineffective when transmitted to the developed countries.
In order to avoid such prospects, the world should come together under the watch of WHO and ensure vaccination of all. That way, herd immunity would be universal and make the transmission of the coronavirus thing of the past. This is because unless everybody is free, nobody is free.
There are conflicting reports coming from different quarters, which appear to be discouraging Nigerians not to go for the vaccination. What is your advice here?
Anybody discouraging Nigerians from vaccination does not know the damage such COVID-19 can inflict on the country. Nigerians should note that God has been kind to us by slowing both the rate of transmission and of death. We should not take our luck too far by refusing to take the vaccine. More so, that there is no basis for any hesitation to take the vaccines. We have been watching world leaders, including our own leaders, being vaccinated in the full glare of the people as a means to assure people that the vaccines are safe. Even the AstraZeneca thought to have effects on blood clotting has been subjected to trials again and found to be safe. So, let Nigerians take the vaccines during their turns and help exterminate the COVID-19 and its effects on lives and livelihoods. The benefits of taking the vaccines are by far more than the risk of any untoward effects, if any.