Last week, scores of elders of northern extraction, under the auspice of the Northern Elders Forum (NEF), were in Kano State for a visit. They also took time to unveil their positions on a number of contemporary national issues. Aside the read text which was widely reported by the media, a lot of their feelings and persuasions as articulated in the background explanation by the deputy leader of the Forum, Wantaregh Paul Unongo were unreported. Desmond Mgboh, who attended the press briefing, provides a run down of the discourse by Unongo at the event.
What is NEF’s relationship with Arewa Consultative Forum?
If you remember, all of us are members of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF). We didn’t break away from them, but they stressed something different. They said that they are a cultural organization and we are tired of watching people dance while the North is suffering and burning. And so, we chose to be a political wing. We are more concerned with the politics that has very dire consequences for our people. We were bleeding and every day, a minimum of about a hundred of our people were dying in the North. How could you be talking about culture and dancing in this kind of situation? And we felt that we should confront politics and we saw the disadvantages of political players that occupied power for the last 16 years. We saw what we felt that they had done to the North. And we felt we should do something about bringing power back to the North.
How did you move against the Jonathan government to return power to the North?
From the onset, we made it clear that we are a political organization concerned with global politics, and we articulated our views on the politics that had gone on and the one that had to go on. We felt that if a Northerner was made the President of the Republic, he would know our pains, he would feel our pains and he would take actions and stop the murderous campaign that was decimating the population of the North. So, we said that in the next elections, we would lead Nigeria, particularly the North, not to consider any other party except a political party that chose a northerner as its presidential candidate. We resolved that we would all work to have that candidate elected and we did so. We carried our campaigns across the whole of Nigeria. We carried our campaign without fear or intimidation to the international community. We went to the United States and confronted the United States Administration and explained our position to them. And all these were done in the context of our firm belief that when the North is united, Nigeria becomes united. That when Nigeria has a crisis and the North is together, the Nigerian crisis can be better solved. And this Kano was the very place we came and issued out that document called “the Kano Declaration”
Why are you visiting states in the North this time again?
In addition to coming to perform the function of encouraging administrations and watching what they are doing, we also felt that in Kano, we should make a statement on what is going on in the country. But let me also say that we came to Kano in our usual way of touring the states of the North to see if the intentions of the Northern Elders Forum(NEF) , articulated in “the Kano Declaration” were being faithfully pursued and achieved so that we could criticize our selves – because we said that if we won elections and our own people were in charge of their places and then at the federal level we have a president that is from the North, he would treat us like others did not do to us, resulting in the fact that we are the most under developed and not the developed part of the country, becoming more underdeveloped. So we took a decision that we would be going round after the elections to check what is going on in the North.
What did you see in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states that you’ve visited?
We went first to the most troubled places. We went to Borno State and we saw what the great, gallant governor of Borno State was trying to do amidst tremendous encumbrances. Borno , Yobe and Adamawa States, as you know, were virtually left for Boko Haram to do whatever they wanted to do during the administration that we refused to vote for (Jonathan administration). We saw Mr. President, (Jonathan), we told him that we were pained and we gave him our recommendation to do this and get relief and ‘if you don’t do, you will kill all our people.’ He didn’t. So we switched and voted for a person that would hear us. And we would like to say without fear and it is not because we are Northerners, the Presidency of General Muhammadu Buhari confronted the issue that was disturbing us and the massive killings by the insurgency known as Boko Haram frontally. He degraded Boko Haram so that today Boko Haram is not contesting one inch of Nigeria’s territory. We give credit to this administration to have heard our cries.
Are you concerned about children orphaned by Boko Haram?
The Boko Haram insurgency, because it was left virtually alone and unattended to run riot on our people, to contest Nigeria’s territory; they caused a lot of havoc across Nigeria. These three states, particularly Borno State is in a shocking state. So we decided to go there and see and what we saw? – We saw tremendous need for more actions to help our brothers and sisters and our land that had been devastated. But what frightened us the most was the number of young men and women that were devastated and without hope. We saw small children whose parents – both of them, mother and father- had been killed and there are hundreds and thousands of them. As leaders and elders, we worry for these children. We worry for Nigeria. Even the Almajir phenomenon in the North alone, plus the huge number of children that are now orphaned from the theatre of this needless war that people thought was a joke, if we do not do anything about this, then we are in trouble. Let us give ourselves just one decade, we would not need a Boko haram to overrun Nigeria. With these children, added to the young men from the North who have graduated and are without jobs, this country would be overrun by an insurgency that would be more devastating than Boko Haram. So it was our duty to bring to the attention of the government of Nigeria and the government of Nigeria responded well. We saw the efforts of the governor; we were impressed that in spite of this, there was progress.
What have you seen in Kano State so far?
We also decided to come to our center point, Kano. We spent sometime going round to see the efforts of the administration. We were particularly impressed by the style and maturity of the administration in Kano, in terms of the Nigerian reality. When people come into power as governors, they are eager to start their own projects. Not other peoples project. And consequently, most Nigerian governors do not go and complete the projects of their predecessors. But what we saw in Kano, even projects that were started almost 20 years ago by Alhaji Abubakar Rimi… we went and saw that the blending plant that was built by Abubakar Rimi had been resurrected and we were shocked that Kano can produce enough fertilizer for the whole country and we feel we should give thanks and glory to God, that honestly, the person who leads the government of Kano State today has shown maturity that we cannot fault. We then went to the hospitals that were started by previous governors. We saw a specialist hospital completed, we saw a children’s hospital completed. We saw roads and we became very happy. This is what we felt should be done. Government is continuity. It is not a matter of politics; it is service to the people. When you come and meet a project, whether it is your political party or not that started the project, if the project is good, you complete it. This is what is happening in Kano State and this is what we want all the governors of the 19 northern states to take to. If they can take a leaf from Kano, it would be well.
Why are you speaking out at this moment?
Northern Elders Forum has followed national issues very closely particularly in the past few months when our democracy, political unity and national security have come under serious scrutiny. As a tradition of the Forum, we have restrained from idle and unproductive engagements which only divert attention and decapitate energy of leadership at all levels and create tension where there is none. At this moment, it has become necessary to speak on the following positions of the forum.
Buhari ‘s health: Like millions of Nigerians, Northern Elders Forum prays for the return of the full health of President Muhammadu Buhari. We commend the steadfast respect for the constitution in the manner the president assigns responsibility to Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo whenever it has become necessary for him to travel to seek medical treatment. We pray for the return of President Buhari in good health so that he can continue to exercise the mandate given to him by the people. The Forum expresses its full support and encouragement to Acting President Osinbanjo and urges him to exercise responsibility as he did in the past with commitment, sensitivity and respect for the constitution.
We urge him to ignore mischief makers which seek to pitch him against the President or the Nigerian people whose mandate they both exercise. The Forum expects that the task of governing the nation will continue uninterrupted until the return of President Buhari. We therefore appeal to all persons with responsibility to cooperate fully to sustain a united, focused and committed administration. While commending the sterling contributions of the Senate President, Abubakar Bukola Saraki and the Speaker, House of Representatives Yakubu Dogara in providing the necessary leadership to stabilize the polity, we appeal to the executive and legislative arms of government to work together to pass the 2017 budget without further delay. We also expect that the war against corruption will not suffer a setback and current investigations and activities will not be stalled due to the absence of the President.
We are aware that attempts are being made to exploit the absence of President Muhammadu Buhari to achieve dubious political goals and we warn those seeking undeserved political advantage to desist. The North is conscious of its obligations and rights and will discharge and defend them without reservations.
On restructuring, the Forum has noted a renewed interest in the clamor for political restructuring of the nation and the sentiments which tend to create tensions around our coexistence as a nation that is diverse and united. For the record, the Forum wishes to state that the North welcomes honest and sincere discussions on all aspects of our coexistence, and remains available to engage any group to discuss and advance the nature of our union.
We will resist the attempts to create the false impression that the North is hostile to enquiries into the basics of the nation’s structure and operations. We would also join other Nigerians in resisting any attempt to seek sectional and parochial goals outside the constitution and the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
On Chibok girls, the Forum welcomes the release of more of our daughters abducted from Chibok and appeals to the administration to intensify efforts to free all other abducted persons from Boko Haram.