Former Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Prof Usman Yusuf has described the resolution passed by the 17 Southern governors as “nonsense.” He asserted that the order was a quit notice to Fulani to leave the South. In an interview with VINCENT KALU, the Professor of Haematology-Oncology and Bone Marrow Transplantation, said agitations for restructuring and secession are blackmail tools being employed by the Igbo and Yoruba to force their way into the Presidential Villa in Abuja in 2023. He alleged that most kidnappers and robbers in the North are Southerners, saying that Northerners do not label the entire Igbo and Yoruba ethnic groups as criminals.
After the Asaba declaration by the 17 Southern governors, you said the governors were supposed to have consulted the Fulani groups before banning open grazing. Why did you say that? Kano and some other states banned the consumption of alcohol without carrying along other stakeholders.
I said and I’m repeating it that the Asaba declaration is unconstitutional based on Section 4 of the Nigerian Constitution, which guarantees every Nigerian the right to live and earn a living in any part of the country regardless of ethnicity, politics or religion. What they did was unconstitutional, null and void. Secondly, making a particular law that is specific against an ethnic group is dangerous. I also said that Asaba declaration is nothing but a premeditated quit order for all Fulani to leave the South. It is just like the governor of Kano or any state in the North saying, ‘do not sell spare parts’ and does not provide an alternative place for Igbo traders to sell their wares. Many of these Fulani in the South have lived there for generations; many don’t even speak Hausa. So, if I’m governor of a state in the North and say, do not sell spare parts in this place, but I did not provide an alternative place for you to sell spare parts, it is just like saying Igbo spare parts dealers should leave my place. Asaba declaration was nothing but a quit order for all Fulani to leave the South. Fulani herders have started leaving the South-East, which is very dangerous. Leadership matters. Those 17 governors didn’t think through the national security implications of their political gerrymandering in Asaba. Those herders are citizens of the South; you don’t make laws without consulting them. They have lived there for generations more than many of these governors. All of a sudden, you tell them not to do what they have done for generations. You vilify them for all the crimes in the South. What of the Eastern Security Network and IPOB that are killing police and everybody there? Let’s see if these killings will stop as Fulani are leaving the South.
Southern governors need to be sensible. They are saying all the security problems in the South are because of Fulani herders who have lived there for generations. They are just trying to find an ethnic group to vilify and I warned that they should be very careful. There are over 15 million Igbo living peacefully in the North. We elders and all our traditional rulers, as well as clerics have been trying to keep things down. We have seen seven Hausa Suya sellers killed in Imo; we have seen pictures posted online by ESN IPOB of Fulani families, women and children they killed. I have personally interacted with these families. Nobody is saying anything. I blamed Igbo leaders for their silence. If anything happens to the Igbo in the North, the first people that will come out are traditional rulers and the clerics will be calming down the situation. But in the South-East, Nnamdi Kanu and ESN are doing that rascality specifically targeting another ethnic group, but I do not hear a word from any Igbo elder. They are in Abuja looking for Igbo presidency. The way they are going, South-East will be worse than the North-East. These Igbo leaders that are shouting Igbo presidency will run to Abuja or Lagos. They are afraid of Nnamdi Kanu and are trying to appease him. In the South-West, Igboho, who is nothing but an illiterate, a political thug is doing all this nonsense and now calling the shots in the region that claims to be very educated, but everybody is keeping silent. The North is looking and watching quietly. All of a sudden, the South-West leaders ran to Lagos to say, they are not for secession. You cannot have your cake and eat it. You can’t gather 17 of you in Asaba and give people quit notice and came to Lagos and say, we are not together with them. No, you are together. Asaba declaration is unconstitutional, null and void and they need to be very careful. Politics is not threat, it is not blackmail. It is reaching out to people.
You talked about Section 4 of the Constitution, but lawyers have analysed it that, while there is freedom of movement, you cannot use your business to destroy mine. I cannot use my cows to destroy your crops.
I’m 60 years old and I have lived in this country long enough. All they are saying is bullshit and they know that. All thee SANs, many of them are my juniors and interact with them and they call me. They are telling us that the Fulani are the cause of the security problem in the whole of the South. The Fulani have left the South-East now and it is scary. They can do all their talks. These SANs you are talking about are in Abuja, they should be in the South-East engaging IPOB, just as we go inside the forests to engage the bandits.
You are parrying the question. I asked, can I use my cows to destroy your crops? This is the underlying issue.
If I use my cows to destroy your farm, isn’t there a law against it? Why should they paint the whole of the Fulani in the South in bad light? The Igbo brought drugs in the North and they are also into robbery. The 19 governors have never tainted the Igbo. The biggest armed robbers in the North have been Igbo, Yoruba and Edo people and they are also the biggest kidnappers. Go to Kano, the drugs are brought from the East. We are warning the South against profiling, vilifying, dehumanising an ethnic group, as this will not get us anywhere. So they can do all the nonsense, we are very educated too. The constitution is clear; Section 4 protects every citizens. There are a lot more Yoruba, Igbo and other Southerners in the North living very well and peacefully. The Southern governors need to be very careful. Ondo State governor, Akeredolu, who is spearheading this, did his NYSC in Yola and stayed in Yola to practise as a young lawyer. The hospitality of the Fulani in Yola is what made him what he is today. He is married to an Igbo woman and so, is supposed to be a better Nigerian that any other person. People need to be very careful; these politicians will mess this country and run away. This country we call Nigeria was brought by the blood and sweat of people, not this opportunistic politicians. If they continue making laws vilifying an ethnic group, Igbo will be the losers. That is why we elders in the North are raising our voices to say that the Asaba nonsense must stop. The killing of Northerners in the East by the so-called unknown gunmen who you all know are IPOB/ ESN must stop. Igbo have far real estate and financial investments in the North, courtesy of the goodwill, the kindness and the generosity of our people across the North. If a governor decides to revoke or do any law to revoke their real estate or their financial investments, Igbo will be losers. Igbo need to be very careful; they have so much investments and so many of them are living in the North. The North hasn’t anybody in the South, as they have now kicked out all the Fulani herdsmen in the South-East.
I don’t think herdsmen have left the South-East
They have left the South-East and that is why we are alerting this country that this Asaba declaration nonsense must stop. I have reached out to the governors and everybody to stop this nonsense. What are they going to do to enforce it- to kill their cattle as they are doing in Abia, Ebonyi States?
What efforts have you made to challenge the Asaba declaration in court?
Now that we are talking and you are writing about it, it is alerting the nation that trouble is ahead if this nonsense continues. Whatever they do is illegal. The thing that will come out of this nonsense will force these governors to run away. The ESN will kill the Fulani and their cattle and you expect the North to be quiet? That is why leaders need to be careful of what they say and do. Their gathering there is not for the people, but for themselves. You gathered in Asaba, you didn’t talk of IPOB and ESN because all the governors in the South-East are afraid of Nnamdi Kanu. Instead they talk about Fulani herdsmen. What kind of nonsense is this?
You still have not told us the efforts you have made to challenge the Asaba declaration, which you described as nonsense, in court.
First, the Attorney General of the Federation came on television to tell them that what they did was unconstitutional. He is the chief law officer of this country. They know it; Akeredolu is a SAN. What are you doing in the South-East, where ESN are killing people, breaking prisons? They killed Fulani herdsmen’s families in the forests and you are not seeing anything wrong with that?
In April, herdsmen allegedly slaughtered 27 people in Ebonyi. Some days ago, about 30 Ebonyi people were reportedly killed by suspected Fulani herdsmen. What do you say to this?
You are talking about what happened there. As we speak, one third of Katsina State is under siege by bandits; they are killing people even in the forests. I was involved; I went to the forests to talk to these bandits. We were involved in getting those 27 students out and those undergraduates of Greenfield University. Their parents had to pay N185 million ransom. You are telling me of what happened in Ebonyi. Just one, but we have been through this for the last 12 years. We have been talking and we are the greatest critics of this government. The elites in the South-East are quiet about the atrocities of IPOB /ESN. We have been talking and writing.We are victims.
But past and present leaders of Ohanaeze have always said Nnamdi Kanu does not in any way represent the Igbo.
They are not doing anything. None of them is living in the South-East. They are all in Abuja or Lagos. Let them go back and live with their people and engage them; put their lives in danger, just like we are putting our lives in danger. Nobody in the North will address IPOB issue, and nobody in the South will address Boko Haram or bandits issue. People locally must do that. All across the nation, elders have lost control of their youth; that is why you have all this nonsense. Nnamdi Kanu is in the UK telling the people in the South-East to burn the place down, kill policemen, burn prison and the press in the South is tagging them unknown gunmen. But if anything happens, then it is Fulani herdsmen. Fulani herdsmen have left; let us see if there is going to be security in the South-East and the South-West.
The security agencies say they don’t know where the bandits are, but you and some others know and are meeting with them. Is that not a contradiction?
It is just like you guys calling IPOB ESN unknown; you know where they are. If you want to know, you will know. They are calling Igboho in the South-West an activist; they are calling ESN unknown. We say, for all this nonsense, we must take responsibility ourselves and put our lives at risk by going inside the forest to engage them. I’m not going to speak for the government or security agencies. You know where to find them. So, go and ask them the same question. On the day of judgment, everyone will answer for his words and deeds. I’m not here to answer for the security agents or the government. We are doing our part; everybody in this country must do his part.
One other resolution of the Southern governors is restructuring of the country to make it equitable for everyone. What is your take on this?
It is not equitable for us in the North. I’m from Katsina, the same state with the president. How many votes did the entire South-East give him? We gave him 1.2 million votes. What do we have to show for it? We have nothing to show but death and destruction. You guys say that Buhari is nepotistic. Is there any state that a president has fired four chief executives of key agencies from his state during his administration? Which state is that? It is Katsina. Lawal Daura, DSS; myself, Prof Usman Yusuf, NSIF; Prof Naimek Ahmed, and Hadija Bala Usman, NPA. These are four key agencies in this country that the president fired. Has he done that in any state? He is nepotistic when it comes to appointment and also nepotistic when it comes to firing.
But Daura was fired for committing what could have caused a crisis in the country, while for Hadija, there were allegations of some financial sleaze. You had a running battle with the then Minister of Health.
All this is nonsense. I can speak for myself and I know those that wanted me out. It’s a lot more than having a running a battle with the minister. It’s interest groups all over. I’m giving you an example that four chief executives of strategic agencies from Katsina State, the same state with the President and Commander-in-Chief were fired, but nobody talks about his being nepotistic when it comes to firing.
Which other state has up to four of its people occupying such key strategic agencies?
I don’t know; it is your job to find out.
My advice to my Igbo brothers and sisters, Nigeria is our country. Politics is about networking and reaching out to people. It is not about insulting, expelling, profiling, or trying to blackmail other people. There are over 200 ethnic groups in this country. When you hear ethnicity, it is always the Igbo in the South-East or the Yoruba in the South-West. For us in the North, we have a lot of ethnic groups that have lived peacefully together. It is in the South- South too. Nobody in the North says it must be Hausa Fulani president or it must be Kanuri president. Presidency is not for any particular ethnic group, and nobody will give anybody any presidency based on ethnicity, based on blackmail, based on shouting. My grandmother in Katsina will not be forced to vote for anybody that she doesn’t like. People will line to vote for who they wish. This ethnic nonsense coming from the South must be extinguished. If Goodluck Jonathan could become president from the smallest state in this country, Bayelsa that has only eight local governments, everybody in this country can aspire to the highest office in this country. In the North, we are not going to tolerate anybody telling us that it must be our ethnic group. In the constitution, everyone has the right to aspire to the highest office. Igbo and Yoruba, my message to you is to stop this ethnic nonsense and reach out and sell yourselves to the rest of the country.
What is your position on restructuring?
Who is afraid of restructuring. People in the South think that the North is afraid of restructuring, and they are absolutely wrong. Our lives in the North were better than it was with all these states. All these people gathering themselves as Middle Belt Forum and this forum are not representing anybody; they are just representing themselves and trying to be relevant for 2023.
Nobody in the North is afraid of restructuring. Secondly, all those asking for restructuring don’t even know what they want. Thirdly, there are people who wrongfully believe that restructuring will change their electoral equation that will make their ethnic group to be the next president in 2023 and there are those who are using restructuring and secession, Biafra and Oduduwa Republic as blackmail tool, thinking that they will blackmail themselves into the Villa in 2023.
Restructuring can never happen without interrogating the 1999 Constitution as amended because it recognises 36 states. For you to do anything you must interrogate that constitution. I’m talking about going back to true federalism, where we were. Serious nations are charting the way forward, but selfish politicians want to take us backward where they will be the premier. These warlords that call themselves governors, can they relinquish their offices? They won’t. You want restructuring, go and interrogate the constitution. You can’t do it in the street of Orlu, in Sambisa Forest, in the forest of Niger, or in Igboho land. You can only do it in the House of Assembly through your elected representatives. All members of House of Representatives and Senators got their tickets through these governors who gathered in Asaba. They should assemble and tell them to push for the interrogation of the constitution to give way for restructuring. This is how politics is done.
The North has more numbers in the National Assembly. How can the Southern governors push restructuring when the North will shout it down?
Democracy is about number. How did Hope Uzodimma become Imo State governor? How did Wike become governor? Is it not because of the majority of the votes? That is democracy; a minority cannot impose its wish on the majority. If the minority wants its way, it reaches out. You gather 17 governors in Asaba and Igbo that are only about 15 per cent of the population want to intimidate a group with a larger population?
Do you see why the agitations are everywhere? the Yoruba will say that Kano and Lagos had the same number of local governments before. Now, Lagos has 20, while Kano has 44, excluding 22 in Jigawa that was created out of Kano?
I know, but I cannot answer for this. Ask me questions that I can answer.
Is it not what the restructuring is all about, to address injustice, inequity etc?
I don’t know the time you became the spokesman of Aare Onakakanfo of Yoruba land. You know it is all bullshit. Yoruba have louder mouths than other people; they have the media, etc. The number two in this government is a Yoruba man. The number four is Yoruba. Fashola, a Yoruba was given three ministries. The South-West has benefited far more in this government than the North-West, and nobody from the North is making noise. They have been making noise and their position is nonsense. The South-West governors, after they went and romanced with the South-East and South-South governors, came back to Lagos to say we are not for secession. They should know that 17 governors or 17 states cannot make up the president. They need to learn politics. If you have a problem with the 1999 Constitution, go to the Senate and the House of Representatives. It wasn’t made in Katsina; wherever it was made, we need to sit down and sort it out.
A constitution that the military made?
We civilians have enjoyed it for 22 years and we cannot change it in the church, in the mosque. We have a place where our elected representatives gather and that is where the constitution will be interrogated.