By Chukwudi Nweje
Yerima Shettima is the leader of Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF). In this interview, he stressed the need for equity and justice in the polity and makes a case for devolution of powers.
Fifty one years after the Nigerian civil war, some people fear another conflict may erupt because of the situation of things in the country. What is your take?
Some of us were not born at the time of the civil war, but from what we read, those things that happened that led to the war were uncalled for and we shouldn’t have lost those souls that were lost.
That is why some of us of this generation continue to insist that the right things should be done so that we avoid plunging the country into another war. If Nigeria should fall back into the same experiences of 51 years ago, the country may not survive it again. Fifty one years ago is a very long time and as we speak today, it is still very difficult to let go. The level of suspicion and division among us is getting worse by the day despite the forgiveness and other things. I pray that God should not allow us to experience again what happened 51 years ago. But for that to happen, we must embrace two things; we must apply equity and we must ensure justice for all; that is the only way to avert another conflict.
The South-East geopolitical zone still feels marginalised in the Nigerian polity, when would they feel a sense of equity and justice in Nigeria?
First is that the South-East geopolitical zone must be determined and more focused. I have said several times that they cannot allow one person to continue threatening our unity in a country where we are still struggling to build a nation. I believe the South East has very credible people among them, but they allow this man to talk anyhow and be their mouthpiece and the South East people do not in any way caution him. We can’t be threatened; Nigeria cannot be threatened. The annoying thing is that he is not even in the country, and even when he was in the country, he did not make any impact. We are all witnesses to the militant group he formed and armed them; naturally, you don’t expect people to fold their hands and continue to watch. I have very close friends in the South East. How do we explain to our people that it is not what they are thinking? The South-East must begin to demonstrate that because this Nnamdi Kanu is working to scuttle their hopes and ambition.
But all Nnamdi Kanu did was to launch a regional security outfit just like it exists in other parts of the country?
Are you saying that Nnamdi Kanu has the constitutional right to form a security outfit? What he formed is a militant group, who gave him the right to do that? He is the leader of a group that has been constitutionally proscribed; are they supposed to be talking? We should not be sentimental about this.
What do you think of the current security situation of the country under President Muhammadu Buhari?
It is sad that today, our own is in-charge of almost all the security agencies, our own is the number one man, yet we are the most backward and the worst victims of the incessant and senseless killings, banditry and terrorism. Today, the North is more at war than ever imagined; some people in the South have no idea of what the North is going through. More has to be done and we need to sit up and look at the security architecture of the country. We all as Nigerians must understand that the security of the country is collectively our business. If security is our collective business, it means the government has to be open, people have to come together and discuss so that we can build capacity and synergy with the leaders of the communities; those in-charge of the security architecture and the government at large must come together.
What is the best way to go about building this synergy?
It is simple, we cannot over centralise power at so that everybody will have a stake in the country. It must be a thing that has to be seen that it is not only the Federal Government security that works. In developed countries of the world, they don’t rely on only the central security. They have community policing. We must decentralise power security-wise, economic-wise and even politically. When we restructure the country, everybody will take responsibility. But if you make it over attractive and leave everything in Abuja, the centre cannot hold because there is a limit to what Abuja can do. It is obvious and clear that security-wise, economically and politically, it cannot hold. But if you decentralise and everybody is working at his pace, it will encourage competition because everybody will want to live fine. This agitation of who will be president will not be there because the centre will be less attractive; until we decentralize, we won’t get it right.
January 15 was also the Armed Forces Remembrance Day. How have the Nigerian armed forces fared?
No matter how you look at it, we must commend the Nigerian armed forces because it is not easy for them and they put their lives on the line to keep us safe. They suffer on daily basis; things are not as we expect, but what is the number of the entire Nigerian armed forces compared to the population of the country? They are less than one million and we are more than 200 million Nigerians, so how many people will they protect? Already, there is insecurity almost everywhere in the country; people are redundant, nothing is working, no employment, the schools are shut, the children are at home. The entire armed forces are over-stretched -the Army, Navy, Air force, the Police and the Civil defence, they are all over-stretched. In as much as we are not getting good results, we must also, to an extent commend them because they are trying. I am not holding brief for them, but we must find other means to complement them.
What is your take on the calls for the replacement of the Service chiefs?
I have said over and over that the Service chiefs have run out of ideas; they have done their best and we should not make the mistake of saying that without these Service chiefs, we cannot move forward. Other fresh people may even do better than these. The pride of every father is to give birth to a child that will do better than him. I am sure these Service chiefs will be happy to be replaced by their younger subordinates who may even do better than them. But it is a great mistake for somebody to think that we cannot do without these Service chiefs and it is an insult to the country. I am sure that if not for whoever approved the extension of their stay in office, they would have preferred to retire.
What is your take on Bishop Hassan Kukah’s statement that there would have been an uprising if a non- Northern president had done what President Buhari is doing?
It is unfair for him to say that. Non-Muslims have toppled governments in Nigeria more than the Muslims did. Look at history! Where is Gideon Okar, where is Mamman Vasta, are they not non-Muslims? Have you seen a Muslim topple a Christian? Buhari was toppled by a Muslim; Muritala Mohammed was toppled by a non-Muslim. It is unfair for him to say that because it would not bring about unity, we are looking for how to bring us together and not what will divide us.
What advice would you offer on how to move Nigeria forward?
We have to look at issues critically, address them the way they are and agree that we have challenges; once we agree on that, all of us must come together to address the issues so that we can fix Nigeria once and for all.