Gyang Bere, Jos
Reverend Yakubu Pam is the chairman, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in Northern Nigeria. In this interview with Sunday Sun, he urged former Heads of State, Generals Yakubu Gowon (Rtd), Ibrahim Babagida, and Abdulsalami Abubakar to join hands with President Muhammadu Buhari in finding ways to ending kidnapping, Boko Haram, farmers-herders clashes and other forms of insecurity in the North. He noted that history would not forgive them if they have solutions to the current problems, but refused to offer them.
In the last three years when you came on board as Northern CAN Chairman, kidnapping was not common in Northern Nigeria, so what do you think has made the menace a lucrative business in the region today?
It is true that when I came on board there was no issue of kidnapping; there was, but not in Northern Nigeria, we hear of it from the Southern part of the country, it was very strange to us, but there were factors that things like that could begin to come immediately after the 2015 election. This was because there was lack of employment for the younger generation and that in itself was already a problem. The second aspect of it was lack of discipline, everybody wants to be rice quickly, young people will be sitting down and seeing people graduating from the university and think they are doing nothing because there is no work for them, but those who are not in schools are driving different cars and playing with money, and that is a very big problem. Another aspect was lack of justice, those who are perpetrating criminality, even when they are arrested, are also freed, they believe that they can do anything and go free with it. There is no fear that if I do this, this will be the result of what will happen. The security personnel have not been that good, they are trying, but they need to wake up to there responsibility, there are areas that the security apparatus are very loose to the extent that criminals are hijacking the system, there is no intelligence information, people are living with criminals as their next door neighbours, but they don’t know. It is the security is that supposed to know, I think it is based on this factors that kidnapping became an issue to the extent that the amount of money they will be asking for indicated that this is purely poverty. There are incidents they will be asking for N10,000. A human being is kidnapped and they are demanding for ransom of N10,000 to N20,000 and you could bargain up to N5,000 so you could know that it is poverty. Poverty is eating our people, but we must put the system well, it is a very big challenge for our leaders to sit down and look at these problems and then find the solutions. I must commend again that this few days, the government is rising to the challenge and it should sustain the tempo, we must get answers to these problems.
We have different forms of insecurity in the North, herdsmen, Boko Haram and kidnapping. As Northern CAN Chairman, what measures have you taken with the Presidency in a bid to halt these?
We are working to checkmate all these problems and I will say we have done a lot. When we came on board, we began to talk for the freedom of those who are in captivity, freedom for religion, freedom to worship, freedom for the rights of citizens, anywhere you are living in any part of the North, these were the issues we were facing. Our major problem apart from Boko Haram is that people because of their faith were being given some kind of maltreatment as second-class citizens. This is because they live in a place they don’t have equal rights to education, they don’t have equal rights to owing plots of land, they don’t have equal right to worship in any religion of their choice, these are the issues and we took them on very seriously for the minority Christians in some of the far Northern states, where they do not have a say in anything that the government does. While we were on this, we also let the government to know that there is a very big danger ahead, which was the issue of Boko Haram, termed that time as terrorists organisation. It was not all about a particularly religion, everybody was affected and insecurity became generally an issue. If they were only killing Christian minority, or some statesmen, it might have made the government not to wake up, but after dome time, they were dealing with everybody, almost hijacking the government system. As we are still talking, the footsteps of Boko Haram are still there, they can convert into kidnapping, into herdsmen, into different forms to perpetrate insecurity. Although there are different dimensions to herdsmen issues, we have the political aspect and the criminal aspect. We also have the religious aspect, but we must reconcile all these to know how we can tackle each aspect of the problem, that was what we have been focusing on since I came on board during my first tenure. We make sure that there is freedom of worship, freedom of religion and that was why we raised the issue of Chibok girls to the Presidency, CAN said the Chibok girls should be released. We also raised the issue of forced marriages, child abuse, somebody who is a teenager is forced into marriage or into a religion against her wish. There were some girls that were forced into marriage and they said they were in one Emir’s house or the other, all are the issues we took up with the president and we had genuine reports.
Leah Sharibu has been in captivity for a long period of time and her birthday is being celebrated in her absence, does it mean that she has been abandoned to her fate?
Yes, one will say she has been abandoned and the other side of it is that, both community leaders, faith leaders, religious leaders are really talking on her issue, we believe that the government and security agencies should be able to hear the cry of the people and the request from the church. The issue of Leah Sharibu is not just for Christians alone, we have teamed up with Muslims in Abuja, CAN and JNI have made a joint press conference. I was glad that the Nigeria Muslim lady was released in Saudi Arabia because of what they wanted to do against her, she didn’t commit the crime she was accused of and judgment was passed against her, but the Nigerian government stood its ground and this girl is back, you could see the celebration that followed her arrival, you could see the mother was so happy. We are equally saying that Sharibu is our daughter, a teenager, the parents are in pains, let me put myself in their shoes, let the president put himself in their shoes, let the government put herself in their shoes and make sure that this lady is back. It is not only her, the Chibok girls are still in captivity, if there is anyway the government will rise up so that we will have that same sense of belonging in our country like Americans. Nigeria is the strongest black country in the world that we should be proud of, our system should protect our children anywhere they are, whatever will happen to them, we should rise up to protect them, I think it is time for the authorities to do something about the issue of Leah Sharibu even when we tell her happy birthday. People are telling her happy birthday because we believe that she is still alive, she may be passing through agony somewhere and we believe that the government and security agencies are doing something about it to bring the situation under control.
We understand that when the country is faced with this kind of difficulties and challenges, church leaders usually come together to fast and pray to God to solve the problem, why is this issue of insecurity prolonging, does it means that God doesn’t hear us again?
No, God hears prayers, sometimes he answers it in a different way, we have not yet known, but a day will come that based on human understanding, we will appreciate him more. I believe that prayers are offered everyday in the case of Leah Sharibu and I believe that God has heard the prayers, and He is in one way or the other answering the prayers. Again God could also reveal the nature of our country through her case, its like God is really speaking to us through this scenario to say this is how the nature of the country is, if not this issue should have been dealt with for quite a long time. Nigerian nature is that until something gets worse before actions will begin to come up, which is not good, in fact, we are not even prepared for prevention, we rather stay until things get worse, then we push to the wall to take measures which is not good for our leadership. Since we know that we have this issue on ground, I think preventive measures should be taken more seriously now. It is not as if God is not answering our prayers.
The North is faced with poverty and we have governors, senators and the president coming from the region, what do you think can be done to salvage the situation?
I think it was the last leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo that says if you ignore the children of the poor without giving them education, without taking care of them, they will grow worse and you may have destroyed your own children, that is what is happening. Some think that they can take their own children abroad for studies, but there are terrible boys here at home, we will look at them and we are not concerned, we are not planning for them, the government is planning without taking into consideration the people on the streets, these ones that are less privileged, what is happening to them, it is the duty of the government to take care of them, but when we fail, the effect comes back to the same elite. You could hear some Senators crying that they can’t go home, I can’t go to my village, I can’t sleep in my village, the same thing if we are not careful, one day we can’t sleep in Abuja, Abuja that we think is a safe haven, if we don’t give them the needed training. We must sit down and draw an agenda, a driven programme that collectively say this is what our education should be, this is what we will do to reduce unemployment, this is what we need to do to create an environment for investors to come. We need to have industries coming to Nigeria, we have a lot of minerals resources and other things, the youths will be there to be employed and we will begin to grow naturally. Crisis today has become a business to some people so that they can earn money, we must deliberately sit down to plan with our Northern governors and our elite in Northern Nigeria. Most of our past presidents are still alive, I wish there will be a day they will all come together to sit down and say we must arrest all these things so that our future generation will forgive us. Some of them know where we missed it, some of the past presidents and Heads of State know from which point this country missed it that got us to this point, they knew it and if they want their glory back, as they are still alive, they should call themselves together and do something to save the region, most of these governors are their boys, they can sit down and correct all these ills that are going on, we have Ibrahim Babagida, Yakubu Gowon, Abdulsalami Abubakar; they are still here alive, what will stop them from coming together and say let’s take a course for Northern Nigeria and I believe people will listen to them.
Are you advocating for their intervention in resolving security and other challenges in the North?
Why not, because this time is for everybody to intervene, we the religious leaders have a role to play, let’s stick out our neck and make sure things are right. But I am talking more to them because they knew where we got it wrong and they will gain their glory back as leaders, let them be the Nelson Mandela of our generation so that we can continue to mention their names when they are no more, we should rise up and put things well.
Do you think President Muhammadu Buhari administration has been fair to all religions in the country?
There are areas that the government has not been fair, but there are areas that they have been fair, we must give them credit for what they have done well. The areas that Christians were only raising eyebrows was the area of appointment of security chiefs, it is a sensitive thing that we felt there should have been a mix, Christians should head some aspects of the security apparatus, but to be fair to President Buhari, the appointment of ministers, I don’t think he was considering Islam or Christians, he did his best in terms of selecting people who will work for the country. The only problem we had was on the issue of appointments of security chiefs, that is the only area that Christians have been talking and I believe Mr President will be able to do something different in his second tenure to diffuse the narrative that was on ground. He is a good man, a man of integrity, I think it was because of his integrity that he does some things and goes away with them.
The president will dissolve his cabinet any moment from now to make new appointments for his second tenure, what will you want him to amend?
First, the president should run away from selfish people who only work for their stomach and their families, those people are not going to make Nigeria grow, he should bring people who will not be there to share money, but they will be able to share concern and listen to the cry of the people. Secondly, he should bring people that are professionals in their field, he should bring technocrats, not just because he is my friend, my relation in terms of the state or other things, he should bring people who can add value to the growth and development of the country. We have a lot of manpower in the country, we have qualified people to do the job, he should go for the best this time around. Thirdly, Mr President should consider the Federal Character in the appointments his going to make and I believe that what we need now as a country is peace and anything that will unite us more.
Which area of the economy will you want him to focus more?
First, I will like him to focus on security. Secondly, he should focus on economy, the economy is going down gradually, but some people are saying that Nigeria is becoming a failed nation if care is not taken and I think he must do everything possible to destroy the element of criminality that is eating almost every state, not just in the northern part of the country.
Plateau, your home state has had its fair share of security challenges, and Governor Lalong has been re-elected for a second tenure, what must he do to consolidate on the peace so far?
Governor Lalong has done fairly well, but he needs to put more effort. Yes, the people re-elected him, but it was a very big struggle, he has done so much in the area of creating good relationship among the citizens, he took his time to dialogue with the citizens and every ethnic nationality in the state, I know most governors are learning from him. Also, he has been fair on issues of appointments, he wasn’t doing all the appointments for political reason, some of them have helped him to move on. But the area that he needs to rise up and do something urgently is the issue of younger people, the issue of employment, the issue of job creation, the issue of giving opportunity for young people because Plateau is growing with greater population. If these people are not engaged, you will see a lot of violence that will come put again. The governor should do everything possible to get investors to come back to Plateau, he should do his best to make sure that the IDPs are given the best of settlement. There are people who are traumatized in several ways, their parents were killed in barbaric ways, he should do everything possible to make sure that he accommodates these people in his plan to make Plateau good and better. I will encourage him to look at the aspect of agriculture, we are blessed with fertile land, the governor should encourage young people to go into agriculture.
How will you advise Northern governors against social vices that have swallowed the region?
Northern governors must live above religious sentiment, as a leader, whether you are a Christian or Muslim, you need to look at your citizens first, the moment the governor in his own highly exalted seat begins to think sentimentally in one religion, he is bound to fail, they must overcome the issue of religion, which is very sensitive in our region. I must say Lalong did well, to some extent he protected the minority religion within Plateau and I think other governors should borrow from him. The ability of a governor to protect the minority religion within the state shows the quality of a good leader. They should also do everything possible to update their security plan, some of them are using the same strategy other governors left, we know that criminals change their tactics almost every day. A governor should sit down in his closet and ensure that he updates his security plan.
You talked about the retired Generals in the North stepping in to help salvage some of the problems in the region, how will you advise IBB, Gowon, and General Abdulsalami Abubakar to come in?
It is very simple, borrow a clue from the past President of America, each of them did people’s project. They are either doing health care that has to do with certain kind of diseases. For us here, our disease is poverty, particularly in the North, it not for just one past president to do it, what they need is unity of purpose, they should have a place for them to sit down and discuss, let them look at the North; history will not forgive them if they do not correct the ills of the past. This time around, they can go and meet the president, sit down with him, apart from the president being the president of Nigeria, he is born son of the North. They should discuss what they can do to help the people and other Nigerians in terms of security. The North is passing through big trying time, people are dying in hundreds everyday, we are losing our kids, some group of people take our children to exile and do whatever they like with them. If these past leaders could not come up with solution, we can invite people from the South, there is nothing wrong with that, we are from the same country, let’s call our other brothers to come and help us. There is need for IBB, Abdulsalami, Gowon and others to sit down and help the citizens out of the security challenges.