National President of the Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF), Alhaji Yerima Shettima, who has consistently presented himself as a detribalised Nigerian, has been on the hot seat since the June 6 ‘Kaduna Declaration’, where his group and other youth organisations from the North gave the Igbo 90-day ultimatum to leave the region.
In this interview with VINCENT KALU, Alhaji Shetima said his coalition will abide by the order of the Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo, who has threatened to deal with any person promoting hate speeches or doing anything that undermines peaceful coexistence of Nigerians.
Why were you not part of the Northern leaders that met with acting President Osinbajo on Tuesday?
It is amazing and funny, and I don’t understand that. This is where we are always having problems. This is an issue that has to do with us and nobody cared to invite us and the government didn’t deem it fit to invite us or to send our own representatives if any. Rather some people were invited or selected by the government.
I just hope somebody is not going to claim that he was there on our behalf. I think it is important now that we are talking about building a nation, and we, the younger generation that constitutes over 50 per cent of the population, would be drawn to discuss with the government at other levels so that there would be understanding between us and other people across the side of the country, but unfortunately we are not invited.
This issue is about us and no elders are involved; it is about us, to say this is how we feel and make our own contributions towards the unity and progress of the country.
What we told the Igbo was that, you said you wanted to leave, come and go. If the truth must be told, let us know that you are part of us and not when you are divided.
I give you an example, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, being the number two person in the Senate played a major role in the release of Nnamdi Kanu. Is he supposed to show his loyalty to Biafra or Nigeria completely?
Those are the issues that gave us a lot of headache. What we said was in good faith, we didn’t mean to unleash any terror or violence. We believe strongly in Nigeria, but we cannot encourage people who say, they want to go and they continue to threaten us, and making inciting statements that are capable of breaking up the country.
This is what we acted upon and said, please come and go. Since you want to go, we will draw the attention of the international community to conduct a referendum that you are looking for because you cannot go without a referendum.
You cannot rule out the fact that we are aware that some Igbo don’t believe in IPOB. So, definitely, we want to make it very clear that if there is a referendum, those who want to go should go, and those who want to stay, there is no problem. There was no time that we said we were going to forcefully move anybody away from the North. No, we are learned, we are intelligent and mature.
You argue that the acting President was supposed to meet with the youths, who are the issue and not with the elders?
We were not part of the meeting, but we are watching with keen interest. We expect government to also use their senses to know that we are not kids, and it is important that in anything you are initiating, nobody would come and say he is talking for us there. It is also good for the government to speak with the elders, but it should look directly from our own angle and give us the opportunity to sit and talk, that would make more sense.
By the time they discuss with the elders and talk with us they would be able to find a lasting solution to the trouble.
Now the acting President has read the riot act to deal with anybody who threatens the peaceful coexistence of Nigeria, what is your position on this vis a vis your earlier declaration?
It’s okay for me. It means that the government is a responsible one. Government will not tolerate anybody causing trouble. The acting president’s position is very clear and well defined.
We are not violent and we don’t intend to be one. Rather, the message has to be very strong to let the IPOB know very clearly that the government will not tolerate anybody inciting or making any citizen uncomfortable in the country. It is a good statement, and I concur.
You said you concur, what happens to the 90-day quit notice given the Igbo?
For now, everything just hangs on, because government has issued a statement. The issue of ultimatum is a different thing, as negotiations and discussions are going on, and we don’t intend to do anything violently and we don’t intend to do anything that will heat up the system because we are law-abiding citizens.
Our position is simple: We want those who want Biafra to be allowed to go and fulfill their wish. Since Nnamdi Kanu-led IPOB is threatening that if they are not allowed to secede from Nigeria, they will rain down fire, we don’t want that to happen. We don’t want Biafra struggle to breed violence or civil war. We want peaceful solution to the issue. That’s the simple and summary of our position. But, many took our position on the matter out of context, to mean that we were planning to sack or eject the Igbo from the North. That’s not the truth. There is nowhere in that declaration that says ‘we are forcefully going to remove the Igbo from the north’. People misinterpreted our position.
Unfortunately, many people will always find ways to misinterpret whatever anybody with genuine intention of this country says or does for the betterment of everybody, because of the usual ‘mutual suspicion’. Our position is that since the Igbo led by IPOB says they want to secede from Nigeria, let them be allowed to go without any violence. I believe in self-determination and so, I see no reason the Igbo should be stopped from pursuing that dream.
Part of your grouse was the May 30 sit-at-home in the Southeast, some people argue that it was the expression of their freedom as enshrined in the constitution; just as public holiday was observed in some states in the Southwest in memory of June 12
No, those are two different things. That of Lagos was a genuine struggle for the June 12, 1993 presidential election won by the late Chief M. K. O. Abiola that was annulled by the military government.
The governors declared the public holiday. It is seen as a rallying point for the progressive movement. Are you telling me that the Southeast governors declared the one by IPOB and MASSOB?
These are just a group of people who are not law abiding, and are not patriotic and they wanted everybody to stay at home. If the governors declared it, then it would have earned legitimacy. It cannot be compared to June 12.
Another argument is that if that was a problem to you, you could have as well called your people to observe a sit-at-home in memory of one thing or the other
We are not trying to hold people to ransom, we are law-abiding citizens. Our declaration was not what people perceived it to be and, we shall be making clarifications. We didn’t say we were going to unleash terror or violence on anybody, but we are saying that within the 90 days, we shall draw the attention of the international community to ensure that legitimately, the Igbo get their freedom since it is what they wanted.
You say, you want to go and we say, come and go, is there any threat in that?
How will the ripples of your declaration be managed when the militants of the Niger Delta also issued a threat asking the Northerners to leave their place?
I don’t hold brief for any of the groups you mentioned. Our case is that we remain in Nigeria and we want to be Nigerians and we want to ensure that Nigeria remains peaceful. That is our position.
Already, there are agitations from all angles even before now; statements have been coming up from all sorts of people. Our case is different from those ones because we want to remain and carry along those who want to remain.
Even if at the end of the day, some Igbo come out loudly and say we are not part of IPOB and we want to remain, we will gladly remain with them. So, we don’t have problem with any Igbo or south easterner who wants to remain. This is the area that the government will look into so that this issue will be resolved once and for all.