Leader of a coalition of Northern Groups, Abdul-Azeez Suleiman has said that the political alliance between the North and South West is not working, hence, the tension in the country. In this interview with WILLY EYA, he said that the North is indeed very angry with President Muhammadu Buhari’s government because they have not benefitted anything from him.
Today, nothing bothers the average Nigerian like the worsening state of insecurity in the country. Looking at the situation, how do you feel?
The level of insecurity in the country is actually alarming and the government seems not to be prepared to do anything even though there was the feeling that when the new cabinet is ready, they will swing into action. All over the country, the security situation is bad and alarming. The issue here is that Nigerians ought to come together, rather than looking at the situation from the ethnic or religious prism. We need to come together and confront the situation, otherwise, we are not going to find it easy. Look at the Sowore protest, instead of us to come together and look at it as a nationwide issue, they were excluding the North, an entire bloc. They were asking for people to embark on a nationwide protest and at the same time cutting out the North. We need people who have focus and people who really believe in Nigeria. The first time we were having problems in Borno State with Boko Haram, even the people in Yobe State were under the impression that it was a Borno problem. You can see now that the South is under the impression that the Fulani problem is being arranged from the North while the Northerners are the ones that are suffering the most from the Fulani issue. So, forget about ethnicity, regionalism, religion, we need to come together. Let us think Nigeria. That is why the ruling elite finds it easy to manipulate the country. Look at it now, Buhari is a Northerner and a Fulani Muslim and if the South attacks the Fulani in the guise of attacking Buhari, the President will simply get sympathy from the North. If the North were to attack former President Jonathan for the simple reason that he is from the South and an Ijaw, he would get sympathy from the South even if they were not enjoying his government. Now, the North happens to be the most shortchanged and affected by the insecurity situation but as soon as you join Buhari’s issues with that of his Fulani origin or Islam, he will get sympathy from the North. That is what we should learn to do. If we have a common issue like the case of insecurity, it should be a thing of concern for all Nigerians but if the South keeps saying it is a problem by the Fulani, we will fight them back. Instead of fighting the government, we will fight them back.
You have been harping on coming together of Nigerians irrespective of religion or ethnicity but how do we do that considering that all the conferences held in the past to address these challenges had never yielded any result?
We all know how to come together. It is by telling the truth and not keeping to personal egos. There was a peace summit called by former Head of State, Abdulsalami Abubakar but the Afenifere, Ohanaeze and others said they were not coming because the Miyetti Allah was invited. That was not wise. You were accusing the Fulani of fomenting trouble and this was an opportunity for you to talk to them and you said you were not coming. Ironically, the same Miyetti Allah was invited by former President Olusegun Obasanjo and the spokesperson of Afenifere, Yinka Odumakin was there. Why did he not tell Obasanjo that he would not attend that conference because he invited Miyetti Allah. The truth is that there are few people who would not tell the truth for the country to move forward. Forget about the old guys; they are finished and managing their remaining days on earth. I know I have a little influence in the North and if I will not tell my people the truth and if people like Odumakin and Fani-Kayode will not tell their people the truth but be inciting hatred, I do not think we can come together. We have to be honest to ourselves. If after all these years of our independence, we are not thinking Nigeria but East, West, North and so on, I do not think there will ever be unity in this country. I am sure only very few people will tell you where the United States president, Donald Trump is from. He is just an American. But look at us here; we have a Southern president; we have a Northern president and so on and this is how our children are going to grow up. So, we need to now start telling ourselves the truth. If we keep dragging ourselves backwards, let us find a way out of the problem. The issue of insecurity for instance, everybody is suffering it but if for the next 100 years the South continues to say it is the Fulani, we would continue to fight them back. You do not attribute crime to a particular religion or ethnicity. So, the best thing is for us to come together and face the policies of the government.
What would you say to the fact that many of the criminals being arrested in several parts of the country have Fulani origin?
It is a long history. Nobody will be happy that his son is wayward but if you do not help me fight my son who is wayward, and you start accusing my whole family, I will resist it. Take that boy to the police station and tell me that this is what my son is doing and I have punished him, I will be happy with you but if you continue to accuse my family, I will resist it. Somebody said something and I found it logical that the criminals would now be having an easy ride because as soon as you talk about them, their people would say no. Look at what is happening in Taraba between the Tivs and the Jukuns. We need to just come out collectively and say no, we do not like this. But maybe, the Fulani would now be saying, look at them fighting. Before we know it, if we are not careful, the next generation will be scattered and they will burn the country down.
Why did your group kick against the Revolution Now protest by Sowore, the Publisher of Sahara Reporters? Is it because he is a Southerner?
We are not being sectional per se; what we are saying is that before you embark on something like this that is supposed to be national, sit down with all stakeholders and present your grievances; let everybody add his own and then we think of how to go about it. You do not expect that you just go online and call people out on the streets. Everybody knows that there are concerns in the country but we must find the right way to address it. Do you think that as the spokesman of the Coalition of Northern Groups that if I come out tomorrow and call people of the South East to come out, they will listen to me no matter the good message I may have? Again, we do not have that standing and staying power. In fact, as soon as the police shoot their tear gas and probably kill one person, everybody will run away. We do not have a staying power to sustain a struggle for one month.
There was a time I advised our people here in Zaria and I said look, if you want to protest against the government or any institution, Sallah is coming, when you go to your Mosques, pray, carry your carpets and go home gently. When you do that, the Emir will ride his horse alone and he will know that something is wrong. But when you pray and join him again to celebrate Sallah, how will he know that something is wrong. When you go home after prayers, you have not committed any offence by allowing the Emir alone to ride his horse. If a governor is coming to a village in Ado Ekiti, let him come but you stay indoors. Let him go round without seeing anybody. You do not need to come out and stone his convoy. I think that is the simplest way to go about it. We can mobilize people to understand first the powers that they have. If I come out now to mobilize people of the South for us to talk, they will tell me, it is your people, go and talk to your people. Let us think Nigeria and change this attitude of always accusing the other person instead of looking for a lasting solution to the problem.
Another issue that will certainly heat up the polity in time to come is the position by some prominent Northerners that power should remain in the North in 2023. What is your take on that?
What needs to be done by the North is not to insist that power must remain in the region which in any case, does not even serve the interest of the larger population of northerners. What is important at this point is for the northern political leadership to renegotiate its current alliance with the South West which has never been North’s political ally. The alliance is already turning out to be unhealthy. We are already calling on the northern elders and leaders to review the region’s position by realigning with our traditional political friends which are the South East and South South.
This has become necessary with the way the South West is going about the current friendship by being more openly antagonistic to northern interests even while they are the major beneficiaries of the Buhari administration. Look at the way the entire Yoruba traditional, cultural, religious, and political leadership has come out strongly in support of Sowore’s call for insurrection just because he is their son, not minding that he categorically declared that with the takeoff of the protests, all the nation’s security organization would cease to exist which is certainly scary. We dissociated from the protests primarily due to its inherent violent concept.
What is happening to us in the North now, are we happy that we have a Northerner as a president? We are not getting anything. So, the North will be better off with a Southern president who would provide services to everybody. It is the elite who have not allowed us to think Nigeria by making us think in terms of ethnicity and religion so that they can control us. What is the point of having an Igbo president when you do not have anything in the South East? What is the point of having a Northern president when all these killings are going on in the North? It is even bad for us now because when we talk, they will say we are fighting our brother but if it is a Southerner, we can talk and shout. In 2014, I cited an example and people agreed with me that if having a president from an area is the yardstick for development, then the North would have been the most developed. This is because the Northerners have held power for most of Nigeria’s existence. Why are we the most backward then? The South East has just held power just nominally during the First Republic but why then are they the most developed? So, all this noise about where the president comes from is just an elitist way of manipulating our thinking. Don’t we have governors from our localities? What are they doing for us? We even have local government chairmen. Are they working for us? No, because we are not asking them to do what is right. People think that this division is only at the national level. It is even there locally. I am from Zaria and if they make me commissioner now, some people would say, it is Zaria people.
Recently, the Middle Belt Forum addressed a press conference where they said the Miyetti Allah is carrying out genocide against their people; what is your view on that?
I have an issue with that thing called Middle Belt. They have not defined it. Is it Middle Belt religion, geography or ethnicity? So long as that is not recognized by law of the land, it is just confusion.
There is no confusion because the Middle Belt is the same thing as North Central now
Then let them call it North Central because if you call it Middle Belt, you raise suspicion. Let them call it North Central, the one that is recognised and one that nobody can challenge. We even had a quarrel with the Miyetti Allah as an organization when they challenged us for saying that the Fulani should return home. Then, we said look, who is being reasonable? Is it those who said the Fulani should remain in the South and fight it out or those who said no, come back home, do not fight? We had that misunderstanding with them and as a group, we cannot talk for the Miyetti Allah. But if the North Central is saying that the Fulani is carrying out a genocide against them, I will not agree with them because the genocide happening between the Jukun and the Tivs is not caused by the Fulani.
The truth is that we have these divisions and misunderstanding. We should not allow ourselves to be fooled by the elite. The major fight in Taraba is between Jukuns and Tivs. Who is doing the genocide in Zamfara? Who is doing the genocide in Katsina? Who is doing the genocide in Birni Gwari? Fulani killing Fulani, is that genocide? We have a bunch of criminals that we are covering up with our ethnic gowns. People who we are supposed to come out collectively and challenge, we allow them to cover us with ethnic gowns. If it is jihad or genocide, it is being waged on all of us. So, why should you blame me for it? We need to honestly sit down and discuss how we can live together or not. Simple, if we can live together, let us forget all these differences. Let us put up a constitution for ourselves and agree to live together. Till now, no Nigerian ever sat and said, yes, I have agreed to be a Nigerian.
There are insinuations again that there are plans to present the Inland Waterway Bill which many think is a subtle replacement for the Ruga settlement Policy. What would you say to that and is it President Buhari’s leadership style that is causing the mistrust among the people?
I do not think it is only Buhari but the system of leadership in the country. Remember that when Obasanjo was in power, we said that he has sacked all Northerners from the Army and that he created the Middle Belt problem. Even the Ruga issue, if it had come in a manner that the Igbo man would feel he would benefit more, there would not be a problem. He would say the Fulani may have the cows but I have the entrepreunial skills. The policy came out in a warped sense so that we are thinking of colonization and all that. It is not about who is there but about us not agreeing with ourselves. Like I told you, I swear to almighty God that the North is more aggrieved with Buhari than you people in the South. This is because we are not getting anything for the past four years he has been in power. We have been shortchanged budget-wise and appointment-wise. Those Northerners they say are in charge of security and all that, they are only serving themselves and not the North. If they are serving the North, why is it that we have all the security chiefs and yet people are dying in tens and hundreds in Zamfara, Kano and Katsina? I think the earlier you and I understand that we are not being served by the elite, the better for us. I do not see any reason why a policy would come, maybe it will benefit you and me, and we just look at it from the ethnic perspective. I have no quarrels with the Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo as a competent person or Peter Obi as a competent person but if they should appoint them now, I will tell my people that it is an Igbo man or Yoruba man. Some people will be talking about amending the laws but I always say that we have all the laws in this country. It is a question of implementation.
What is your view on ranching as the modern way to go in Nigeria to avoid all the crises with herding cattle in the country?
It is actually shocking that Nigeria, with an estimated 30 million cattle population still imports milk, rather than being a major exporter of milk if we have been serious with harnessing our natural resources potential. Ranching of livestock can create 250,000 jobs within the right size and allow agriculture to thrive as massive milk, beef and cheese production will earn us foreign exchange like other milk exporting countries of New Zealand, France, Russia, Germany, Brazil, China, and India with direct annual estimated revenue of about $3 billion including other incomes from organic fertilizer and 200 MW net power export.
A ranch, or Ruga in Hausa language, simply put, is a space of land dedicated for raising grazing livestock such as cows, goats, and sheep including horses and donkeys for commercial purposes. It is usually large with accompanied structures to service the value chain of the ranch. In short, it is the restriction of nomadic lifestyle as we know it, the modern way of doing cattle business, not a Nigerian idea, but what is practiced in advanced countries today. Obudu cattle ranch is Ruga, late Sardauna of Sokoto and late Chief Obafemi Awolowo set ranches in Mokwa and Akuno respectively. Late Nnamdi Azikiwe also once had a ranch. A colony is a set of ranches that share many amenities; wherever there is a large concentration of animals, we call them colony.
Adopting Ruga would allow the use of advance technology, cross breeding, new gadgets for milking and opportunity for every Nigerian to join the business to become a herdsman or herdswoman and have a part of the colony.
A ranch would allow the herdsmen to have access to education and opportunity to socialize, including industrialization and economic diversification leading to new chain of businesses like leather industries, shoe industries, furniture making and cow feeds production etc., will all thrive under a ranching system with economic boom and prosperity.
The world has moved past open grazing where cattle roam the streets, airport and rural markets. With ranching, there will be better yields, cleaner environment and engagements of nomads in other economic activities; teaching, tailoring, artisans etc. and reduce crime since all herders will have traceable addresses.
Ranching will make cow business a worthwhile business for Nigerians and foreign investors thereby increasing exports/foreign exchanges with less dependence on oil. This will be a great boost on the diversification policy of the Federal Government to agriculture and creation of several employment opportunities