Elder statesman and member, Board of Trustees of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Ambassador Yahaya Kwande has given reasons that could make the North retain power in 2023. In this interview, he gave his perspectives on the security situation in the country among other issues.
In every public discourse today in Nigeria, the talking point is about the deteriorating security situation in the country. What are your perspectives to the gloomy picture?
I will tell you that something is wrong with our system. We are too much in a hurry to copy other people’s idea of security without going back and looking at the peculiarities of Nigeria about security. Let me tell you one of the many that I have in my head. In my younger days, this ordinary village where I am as an example used to have a hamlet head. This hamlet head used to be in charge of about 200 to 400 people and up to 500 if it is a big hamlet. They were all taxed and the tax was just a question of two or three Shillings but people were so proud of paying it and the payment was the responsibility of the hamlet head to know who was within his area of authority. It was to such an extent that if a stranger or somebody wanted to come and settle within his own area of authority, he reported to him. And he went straight to the next district head and to the next person in authority until they had him recorded. It was to know whether you had brought in those who were entitled to pay communal tax. They would come and they would tax every home; they counted the number of women, children and even animals; how many children have you got, how old are they? It is even better than the census because it was a reality. Now, where I am taking you to is that if one of the citizens within the authority of the hamlet is tired and old, and the Chief said he should go home and rest, believe you me sincerely, it was like telling him that he was going to die. It was more like he was now an irrelevant citizen. People would now troop to his house because they have now stopped him from paying taxes and he would feel so bad that he was no more a relevant citizen of the country. But because you were paying tax, you could go into the streets and say, these people are spending our money or that they are not spending our money well; you owned the government. It was because you were contributing to the running of the government. Today, nobody is paying tax; they only wait to share the wealth that has been produced from oil. So, there is now a big gap between the Nigerian citizen and the government. Now, you talk about recovering N2 billion from a woman, N10 billion from this person and that. This thing is historical my brother. You cannot run an organization without the lower people owning you. They would not respect you and you would not respect them. That is why the leaders are doing what they are doing with the ordinary citizens and the ordinary citizens are also adamant and they do not even care who are their leaders. That is why they go for you and make demands when you are trying to get elected into a position of authority. They say give us our own now. All these things, the government is not taking care of it. They are far away from the people and the gap is getting wider between the government and the citizens. That is one aspect that is creating insecurity in this country. Another thing that is happening is that you can imagine the impression people have that the government is talking about corruption and corruption just in the mouth. The ordinary citizens of Nigeria will leave here in a bus carrying about 30 people and between Kaduna to Kano or Lagos to Ibadan, the driver would meet about 20 road blocks, and in each of them, the 30 citizens would see physically how the driver is bribing the police and the police is equally collecting the bribe. And then he goes to his house and lies down and hears the government talking about zero tolerance for corruption. What does it mean? The message would not go into his head because he has seen it several times. Such a citizen would go with the understanding that these people are talking nonsense. What is going on in his mind when he is seeing bribery being committed? Believe me, Nigerian citizens are very obedient and loyal people. If the ordinary man knows the government is serious, he obeys. If you see Nigerians in London, US, Saudi Arabia and other parts of the world, they are very loyal and obedient people. When they come here, the driver who deliberately committed a traffic offence and already knows he committed the offence would lie down on his stomach before the police officer and says sorry sir, sorry sir and laughing; after that he gives the officer something and he goes.
One of the shocking developments in Nigeria today is the attribution of every crime to the Fulani herders; they are demonized as if they are the only cause of insecurity in the country. Are you not worried about the ugly narrative with regards to profiling of the Fulani in terms of increasing rate of crime in the country?
Don’t underestimate the intelligence of a Nigerian. If they want something, they know how to study it and get it. The question of Fulani herdsmen and things like that is a preliminary plan to get something bigger in the end. You can imagine a genuine Fulani with 200 or 300 cattle being associated with all these crimes, how would he feel; and you could even see a child of five herding the cattle; I am not exaggerating, you see the child leading these animals and even if he is a young man of 20, you do not usually see them in twos or threes unless they are moving from A to B. This is the type of person that has nothing in his mind than to go and kill somebody and then he comes back and continues to herd his 500 animals. If there is insecurity, where does he take those animals to? Would he put all those animals in his pocket so that he can run and hide? You know that something is wrong. There was demarcated area for grazing but there isn’t today because there is no authority. The Fulani man in our days, every herd of a cattle, you are to pay a fee on it. If you have ten, you would pay fees for the 10. You pay N20 for every cattle you have. They were not asking you for electricity, water and so on. Dams were being created for their cattle to drink. These are just innocent human beings that happened to be roaming about by their nature. The question of tussle between a farmer and a herder had been there before anything. Then if your cattle destroyed a man’s crops, the man took you to court and if he proved it, you paid. That was what we were doing; I was an administrative officer and that was what we were doing. If a herd of Fulani was moving their cattle from A to B, there was an understanding of why he was leaving and where he was going because of the tax payment on the cattle. Now, people just think of billions of Naira, beautiful cars, houses and forget the rudimentary issues of administration. People do not care anymore. You do not even care whether the dispensary in your village has panadol. We used to be forced out to go and see whether the elementary schools were running, whether the dispensary was working, whether the forestry was being destroyed and things like that but I do not know what has happened. They underestimated the intelligence of the British that left the country’s leadership for them. They think independence means leaving everything in the hands of God to do what was required.
There is a growing dichotomy between the Northern and Southern part of the country today. In an ethnic-sensitive nation like ours, what is the hope that we will ever become united in the real sense of it?
We can get out of the dichotomy if the authority is genuine in its disposition and they are ready to maintain justice. That is the most important. If a leader does not know the meaning of justice, things will never go right. You choose people to be punished and choose others so that you can cover them up, and you think people do not see you? It is like an ostrich hiding its head in the sand. Nigerians are intelligent people. They know what is happening. I am one of those that have of recent been making pronouncements on the question of the Middle Belt, an area of which I belong. This country is either North and South or North East, North West and North Central; the South includes the South West, South East and South South. There is nothing called Middle Belt. The Middle Belt is not a political party and it is neither a recognized zone of the country. Where does the Middle Belt come into? If it is a political party, it would have been registered. My quarrel with that organization is that we ask them, where is the demarcation of the area the Middle Belt is supposed to control and they tell you, they go across to Zuru where Christians are predominant in Sokoto and they go to Chibok; even the president of the Middle Belt Forum is from there in the North East. I want them to explain what they are talking about because if it is a question of religion, then there is what you call the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN). It covers every part of Nigeria and then you have Jamat Nasri Islam and Supreme Islamic Council of Nigeria that covers everywhere. They have been abusing me in the media because I said there is no Middle Belt. Of course, there may be Middle Belt; we know the Middle Belt to be North Central zone but if it is an organization or pressure group, it is good. However, it should not extend beyond what we know as Plateau, Benue, Niger, Nasarawa, Kwara and Kogi.
Between you and I, we know that the reasons the Middle Belt is dissociating from the North is because they feel marginalized by the North East and North West. Don’t you think so?
You think it is the South that would not oppress them. When we go to the South, they call us Hausa but I am not Hausa. I have my tribe but I am a Northerner. That is the geographical location God has placed us. You can change your name and have another association but do not call it the Middle Belt. The Middle Belt means it is a belt between the North and South. The people who created the geo-political zone could have called it the Middle Belt zone but they called it the North Central zone.
Even when President Buhari is yet to settle down for his second term, some prominent Northerners are already projecting that Power should not come down South in 2023. Do you think it is fair to the Southern region?
I do not want to get involved into something that is so complicated. It was supposed to be the responsibility of a political party. It was a game and a tactic that you can use to win the election but it is not in our constitution. If the PDP for instance zones their presidential slot to the East, they must have a reason for that. They would not even like the ruling party to zone it to the East because that would defeat the purpose for which they wanted it zoned to the East. Now, how many political parties do we have? Somebody can even say let us zone it to his village so that he can win. In that case, you cannot stop him if his political party would go with his idea. But it is not something that somebody should worry about. The people you see saying let it remain in the North are doing that because they feel you can use it to get more votes. If immediately something changes and they think that only a candidate from Delta would win for their party, believe me they would say, let us zone it to the South South. This is the idea; it is not something legal; it is politics.
The IMN leader, Ibrahim El Zazaky is back to the country following his rejection of the conditions for his medical treatment in India. How do you feel about the development?
The situation is beyond my thinking; I would not comment on this because I do not know the in and out of it. I do not know what is happening and I should not say anything that would create controversy to my life.
With the gloomy picture of the nation today, what do you think the future holds for the country especially in view of the mood of hopelessness among the people?
My son, let me tell you; Nigerians are funny in that aspect. I was a member of the Constitutional Conference Commission where we were to prepare agenda for discussion by the bigger body called Constitutional Conference. When we were listing the sequence of discussion, items in the agenda, we were afraid to talk about the indivisibility of Nigeria. So, we left that agenda to the end because we thought it would bring a lot of controversies. So, we listed sharing of this and that and we left that aspect to the end during our plenary. When we eventually reached to that aspect, to my surprise, no Nigerian alive wants to go away. The reason why I am telling you this history is that no part of Nigeria is actually wanting to go away. They want to use the threat of breaking away to negotiate so that they would have a bigger chunk of what is being shared. I actually believe that no Nigerian wants to go away. When we reached there, it took five minutes for us to know that nobody wants to break away from the country. Initially, we thought many would support it and say we do not want to be part of Nigeria anymore and all that. If you hear a Nigerian talking about the division of the country, you would be surprised that when it gets to the reality of taking the knife to cut it, everybody would withdraw his support.
From information released by the government, the portfolios of the newly appointed ministers would be released on August 21, all things being equal. Looking at the caliber of people that would constitute the incoming cabinet, what are your expectations. Are you optimistic that things would get better?
That I do not know. You do not know whether there would be a change of method, so we should not interfere with the prerogative given to the president of this country by the constitution.
Are you comfortable with what seems to be the slow pace of government in taking actions? I ask this question because, more than three months after President Buhari’s inauguration for a second term, he is yet to constitute a cabinet.
I do not want to go too much into something that I have no source and do not have sufficient information about. I do not know what criteria the president used in his selection. We are in a presidential system; the president has his inner council, the kitchen cabinet and he has people who are advising him and they are in a better position to know what is happening. This is because if Nigeria has truly given the president the right to do what is good for the country, he should be allowed to do just that.
The Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka recently suggested that the Federal Government should declare a state of emergency on security in the South West region. What is your reaction to that and don’t you think it should rather be for the whole nation?
Security is a profession. I do not have the level of knowledge of what system is being practised in Nigeria. I told you my own level in assisting in the security of the nation down to the level of hamlet head, traditional rulers and all that but the present security system is beyond the level of my knowledge. I am a retired civil servant and our system of dealing with a problem, we know it but it appears the system we practise now is beyond people like me. So, I do not think I would be right to say something about that.
As an elder statesman, if you sit back and reflect on the challenges facing this nation at the moment, what would be your message and advice to the people of this country?
My message to the people of Nigeria is that our country is a wonderful country. It is a country of pride; it is a country that you cannot compare with anything; we have been endowed with unbelievable resources and things to assist our lives and give us peace. So, I am asking Nigerians to please, not be selfish and greedy individually to destroy the country. We should look at Nigeria as a bigger calabash; we should not break the calabash; we should go into the calabash and take morsels of what we can put into our mouth. It is better for all of us. People are jealous of Nigeria. Nigerians should be aware of those who are so jealous of our nation that they want to break it.