‘North Won’t Succumb To Blackmail On 2023’ – Yerima Shettima

Political leaders in the southern part of the country have been urged to stop canvassing rotation of power to the region at the end of President Muhammadu Buhari’s second term in 2023. 

President, Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, Comrade Yerima Shettima who gave the advice warned southern leaders to stop dissipating their energies on such calls adding that it is the North’s turn to produce Buhari’s successor. He also spoke further on this and other national issues with TUNDE THOMAS.

What has become of the ultimatum you and your group, the Arewa Youth Consultative Forum gave to northern governors over the suspended RUGA project, have you been settled as it is being rumoured?

How can anybody say that I have been settled? Settled for what? The fact that we have been keeping quiet doesn’t mean that we have jettisoned our ultimatum to the northern governors, we’ve only suspended our ultimatum to the governors in order to allow them work out a solution which will be acceptable to us.

If you remember, after we gave the ultimatum to the governors, the chairman of the Northern Governors Forum who is also the Plateau State governor, Mr Simon Lalong invited members of the Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, which I lead to a meeting and we went there.

During that meeting with Governor Lalong, Adamawa State governor, Mr Umaru Fintiri was also in attendance and both of them appealed to us to allow the National Livestock Transforma- tion Plan(NLTP) which the Federal Government has brought up to replace the suspended RUGA project to work. We had extensive discussion with the two governors over the issue.

Governor Lalong told us the advantages of the new NLTP. He added that the new project will bring a lot of benefits not only to the herdsmen but also to farmers and other Nigerians.

With his extensive explanations, we then decided to suspend our ultimatum to the governors. We suspended our ultimatum for now because we want to give the governors, and the Federal Government benefit of doubt. 

What we are doing now is to watch the government to see whether it will keep faith with its promises. We don’t want to be seen as being antagonistic. We are also interested in peace and unity of Nigeria. 

What we are against is injustice and oppression. So, for know, we are watching. We will give Federal Government and the state governors enough time to see whether they will keep their promise or not.

On the issue of 2023, some Nigerians have accused the North of being greedy as a result of the recent insistence by some groups and individuals that the region will not relinquish power after President Buhari, a northerner must have completed his second term in 2023–

(Cuts in) It is unfortunate that many Nigerians are not being fair to the North. The North is presently seriously marginalized. Forget that President Buhari, a northerner is in power. Although Buhari is in power but under him, North is being marginalized. North is really suffering under Buhari leadership.

Today in Nigeria, a northerner is in power, but the truth is this, it is the southerners that are enjoying. Buhari’s government is a government of the southerners, especially the Southwest. Everything in Nigeria today favours the Southwest, the economy, the infrastructure, just mention anything, it is only the Southwest that it favours.

For us in the North, we can’t continue to fold our hands, and that’s one of the reasons we believe that after Buhari, the next President should also come from the North.

Then apart from that, between 1999 and now, the South has ruled for 15 years, but by the time Buhari would finish his second term in 2023, the North would have just about nine years. Let me break it down to make it easy for Nigerians to understand my logic. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, a southerner and Yoruba man spent eight years, former President Goodluck Jonathan spent six years plus. Before he became President, he was first Acting President of Nigeria So in the spirit of justice, equity and fairness, is it not clear that it is supposed to be the turn of the North in 2023? By insisting on 2023,the North is not asking for too much.

Other Nigerians should be fair to the North. It is the North’s turn in 2023, and any political party that fails to have a northerner as its presidential candidate in 2023 will fail. Any party that presents any presidential candidate that is not from the North is doomed. Enough is enough. The North is suffering already under Buhari, we should not again be denied 2023 ticket.

Those Nigerians that are saying that the North is greedy are actually the greedy ones. They are the ones that don’t believe in equity and justice. After the South has spent 15 years with Obasanjo and Jonathan, and the North only nine years by the time Buhari would have completed his second term in 2023, it is fair and logical that the North should produce the president in 2023. The North is taking this issue seriously, and the North is not asking for anything extraordinary by insisting that it is our turn in 2023. Any political party that fails to pick a northerner as its presidential candidate in 2023 will fail.

Are you not contradicting the zoning arrangement by what you are saying because the expectation is that under the arrangement that power will return to the South in 2023?

Is zoning in the Nigerian constitution? No. Nigerian constitution doesn’t recognize or recommend zoning. And if anybody is talking about any gentleman agreement, that is not to my knowledge.

North will field a presidential candidate in 2023 and I have no apology for saying that. If some people are talking about equity and justice, it is the North that is being denied justice. Since 1999, the South has been having it. They have spent 15 years and the North only nine years––and where is the justice in that? If Nigerians truly believe in equity, then it is the turn of the North to produce the next president after Buhari must have completed his tenure in 2023, and the northern candidate will be there between 2023 and 2027, then power can now rotate to the South. To me that is what is equity and justice. It is unfortunate that some people criticize and condemn the North without being fair-minded.

Nothing will stop the North from fielding a presidential candidate in 2023. It is the turn of the North going by all the facts I earlier stated. What can only prevent that is if we have proper debates and discussions over the issue. But left to me, I believe it will be very unfair to deny North 2023 presidential ticket.

Many prominent Nigerians including elder statesmen Chief Edwin Clark, and Chief Ayo Adebanjo are saying that it should be the turn of Igbo in 2023 since it is only the Southeast that is yet to have it since 1999, what’s your take on that?

I have no quarrel with that but my position still remains the same. It is the North’s turn in 2023.The Igbos can wait till 2027. Igbos should wait till 2027 after the North must have had its turn between 2023 and 2027.

This issue is not about sentiments, and I also strongly believe that Igbo should stop threatening Nigeria’s unity over this issue. Igbo leaders should call Nnamdi Kanu and members of his IPOB group to order. Kanu and his group should stop undermining the government. Kanu and his IPOB through their unpatriotic actions are hurting Igbo interests. Kanu is doing more harm than good to Igbo interests. Kanu is not a patriot. He should show more patriotism and commitment to Nigeria. He should stop all these madness. If Kanu and IPOB continue like this, other Nigerians will not trust Igbo. Nnamdi Kanu has become a loose dog, Igbo leaders must restrain him. A lot of Nigerians have sympathy for Igbos on the issue but people like Kanu and his IPOB members are causing trouble, and doing more damage to Igbo interests. Igbo elders and leaders should find ways to call him to order.

What’s your reaction to recent declaration by Chief Ayo Adebanjo that there is nothing wrong with Nigeria breaking up since the North is not allowing the country to work?

I was shocked when I read that interview by Papa Adebanjo. I have a lot of respect for him. I’ve worked with him before, and ordinarily, I will not like to join issues with him. But my own position is that breaking up Nigeria is not the best.

Adebanjo has had his good time in Nigeria, he enjoyed Nigeria, and it was during his time that he and others didn’t do it very well. If they had done the needful that time, nobody will have reason to be complaining today.

Adebanjo should not be shifting blames. He should let Nigeria be. I believe that there is no problem without a solution. I even see silver lining in the cloud for Nigeria – all hope is not lost. Nigeria will still be great – I believe that we should remain together as one nation. Break-up will have negative consequences, it will be catastrophic, and no nation survives two civil wars.

But if those who insist on breaking up of Nigeria still persist, then we can have a referendum over the matter. The North is not afraid of a break-up. Nobody can blackmail the North. If we have the referendum, I believe that those who want Nigeria to stay together as one nation will be in majority. Those people clamouring for break-up are in the minority. The North can’t be put in a tight corner. Some people should not think that they can use break-up as a weapon to intimidate or threaten the North. I believe in one Nigeria, and I also believe that it is our collective responsibility as patriotic citizens to make Nigeria work.

You were saying earlier that President Buhari’s government is that of the South, especially the Southwest, and that the North has not in any way benefitted from his government, but some Nigerians–

(Cuts in) Except we want to run away from saying the truth, the North is suffering under Buhari. The North has been seriously marginalized by Buhari’s administration and this is very painful. This is why some of us are not keeping quiet. The North will not keep quiet in order to please others. We won’t please others to hurt ourselves. Buhari’s government has failed North.

What is the North enjoying under Buhari? We are enjoying nothing but hardship, hunger and suffering. That is what Buhari is giving the North. Under Buhari’s leadership, what is thriving in the North is banditry, kidnapping, and abductions. Hundreds of people are dying daily in the North due to banditry, kidnappings and insurgency. In the North, people are now afraid of travelling by road. People now, including big men, army generals and even police officers, now travel using train. You see army generals and top police officers in railway stations with their escorts ready to board train for their trips. They are also afraid of bandits and kidnappers. If army generals and top police officers are afraid of bandits and kidnappers, then what is the hope of ordinary citizens? It is these generals and top police officers that people look up to for protection but these uniformed men now are themselves afraid for their own lives.

This is what Buhari’s administration has turned the North into.The North is really feeling the brunt of Buhari’s administration & everybody in the North is tired. We are all worried.

You need to travel to the North to really see that people are suffering. Nobody feels secure and safe again in the North. Is this what some people call enjoyment by the North under Buhari?

Let those people saying that the Buhari’s administration favours the North endeavour to come down to North to have an experience of what northerners are passing through.

Some prominent Nigerians have canvassed the need to organize a national conference to discuss how to move Nigeria forward, what’s your take on that?

Well, it is not a bad idea, and it won’t be out of place if we organize another national conference. But my position is that we should not just be organizing national conferences just for the sake of organizing it. 

For instance, when former President Olusegun Obasanjo was there, he organized one. When Goodluck Jonathan was in office, he also organized another national conference. 

That was in 2014, but that conference was nothing but a political jamboree. It was a charade. It was seriously flawed, and this is why some Nigerians have been kicking against its implementation.

Those clamouring for the implementation of 2014 Jonathan confab are those that I consider as beneficiaries of that conference. They were the people that took allowances and collected millions of naira for participating in that sham called national conference.

Patriotic Nigerians will continue to resist the implementation of 2014 confab reports and recommendations. That was not a confab but a caricature. 

Those people from the North that attended the conference were not genuine representatives of the North.They attended the conference on their own because of the allowances they were to collect. 

The North wasnt represented at that conference by our best eleven.Rhe confab on its own was a charade and that’s why its reports and recommendations will never see the light of the day. 

It will continue to gather dust. Even if Goodluck Jonathan came back as President of Nigeria, 2014 confab reports and recommendations will never be implemented.

The 2014 confab report should be considered dead. That conference is not in the best interest of Nigeria. So if we are going to organize a national conference, it must be purposeful. Not only that, it must accommodate the interests of every section in Nigeria.

We even advised the northern delegates that attended the conference to stay away from it, but they ignored us. Some of us were not even consulted before they left for Abuja to attend the conference. Anybody talking about the implementation of 2014 confab is wasting his time.

Some state governors in the North including Governor Aminu Masari of Katsina State, and his counterpart in Zamfara State, Bello Matawalle have been negotiating with bandits as part of efforts to tackle insecurity but their action

That is foolishness. It is not only foolishness but also counter-productive. It is not the best approach.This is very shameful.It is even embarrassing that these governors are making fanfare of their negotiation with bandits.

They invite television stations and other media organisations to cover the event. What are they celebrating? Celebrating criminality? This is a big shame.

Instead of negotiating with bandits, the governors should have provided police with the necessary logistics & equipment which help the police to tackle crime.The governors should stop it, and take the right step which is for them to equip the police.

What’s your take on the recent declaration by the leaders of the Middle Belt Forum that the region is no longer part of the North?

Middle Belt remains an integral part of the North. Those Middle Belt Forum leaders including Dogo Isuwa and Bitrus Pogbu are rabble-rousers. They are noisemakers who should be ignored. These people don’t have knowledge of history.

They are speaking for themselves.Who even know them? They are creation of the media.They are looking for cheap publicity.They have no followers. We need to examine Isuwa and Pogbu if they are psychologically alright because they are talking as if they are confused. 

I laugh when I see Isuwa, Pogbu and others who parade themselves as Middle Belt leaders when they attend meetings with Southern leaders. What they should realize is that when the chips are down, they will be on their own.Neither the Southeast, nor South-south, or Southwest will ever accept them.

I even blame the media for giving them attention the Middle Belt will ever remain an integral part of the North.Dogo Isuwa, Pogbu and others are having illusions.They are going nowhere.

Some Nigerians claim that whenever calls for restructuring of Nigeria comes up, the North is always opposed to it, why?

That’s a wrong assertion or declaration. North is not against restructuring. I’m a northerner and I’ve always been an advocate of restructuring of Nigeria. I have been clamouring for restructuring of Nigeria since over 15 years ago.

However, North will always oppose any hidden agenda against the interest of the region. I believe in restructuring because restructuring will lead to devolution of power which in a way will reduce struggle for power at the centre. 

Devolution of power will make state governors to look inward to explore ways to harness resource in their domain instead of depending on the monthly allocations from Abuja. 

Our dependence on oil revenue is not helping. We need to revert to a true practice of federalism like it was done in the First Republic.

In the First Republic,there was healthy competition among the regions as each region was harnessing mineral resources in its domain to develop its area.That was the golden era of groundnut pyramid in Kano.That time groundnut, and cotton export was fetching the North a lot of money. 

The Southwest and the Southeast were also making money from cocoa, rubber, coal & other mineral resources. Nobody then depended on revenue from crude oil sale because sale of crude oil in large quantity has not started that time. 

It was the discovery of oil that made everybody to become lazy.At a time, North was sustaining the entire country with its resources. It is sad that today some of us from the North are being called all sorts of names because of overdependence and reliance on oil revenues. 

Every state in the country is richly blessed. What we need to do is to harness those resources for the well-being of the people, and this will be made possible if we restructure. We need to embrace true federalism for Nigeria to move forward.

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