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Buhari, Fashola have marginalised North —Shettima, AYCF leader

President of the Arewa Youths Consultative Forum (AYCF), a coalition of youth groups in the 19 Northern states, Alhaji Yerima Shettima, in this interview by KUNLE ODEREMI, sheds light on why he is angry with President Muhammadu Buhari, some of his ministers as well as the unfolding events surrounding the law made by Kano State government whittling down the powers of the Emir of Kano, Ahaji Muhammadu Sanusi. Excerpts:

By now, Nigerians should be counting the gains and losses of the 2019 general election recently held. What would you consider as the gains and lessons, especially against the backdrop of previous polls?

Let me be honest with you, there is nothing like gains in it; rather, we should be talking about the setback it brought, setback, because it was not what we expected from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The election was massively rigged. In the history of this country, I have never witnessed an election that was openly rigged, where an incumbent government and the ruling party used state apparatus against the opposition to rig an election. It was brazenly done in the presence of the international election monitors and their local counterparts. The best adjective to describe the 2019 general election is ‘sham’.  And as far as I am concerned, it was not an election at all. Instead, it was one of those jokes that have ever happened in the history of Nigeria. It is very unfortunate that it is going to become part of the history of this nation. It’s really sad and bad.

 

The international community, especially the European Union (EU) and United States (US) congratulated the leadership of the country, despite those perceived lapses you mentioned, which means they have passed a vote of confidence in the election. Why should you still be insisting the election was not free and fair and hence lacks credibility?

Is there any country where election is seen to have been characterised by irregularities that some countries of the international community would not congratulate the authorities? Can you tell me a country where there was an overthrow of a government, be it through a coup or whatever, and the international community openly rejected it? Those countries have their interests and procedures.

So, they can wish Nigeria well and the only way they believe they can wish Nigeria well is to say ‘ok, those aggrieved should seek constitutional means to seek redress or justice,’ while congratulating the sitting government.

 

Didn’t most of the countries and international organisations send observers to monitor the polls?

And the observers spoke against the irregularities. It is not their responsibility to declare the result, but that of INEC. If the commission, in its own wisdom, decided to say the election had been conducted and that a particular candidate won, whether it is the sitting government or the opposition, naturally, the international community would congratulate whoever was announced by INEC as the winner of the poll. If there were areas of irregularities, what they expected the opposition to do was to go to court to challenge the victory of the ruling party and that is exactly what has happened.

So, the day, by God’s grace, the tribunal rules in favour of the opposition, the same international community, including the US and EU countries, would turn around to congratulate the new government.

 

Are you saying the interests of those countries often override the outcome or credibility of a poll?

It is natural. They have their interests, based on their own terms, regardless of what is happening in your country, as long as it is not in conflict with their national interest. Their interests remains and they will always play along with anybody. And what is their major interest: economy. There are bilateral understanding and agreements between the Nigerian government and the international community. International relations and foreign policies are involved.

 

The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) believes the outcome of the election was an affirmation by Nigerians of the success its government recorded in about four years of being in the saddle. Is that not so?

Was the election free and fair? The answer is no! Was the election not rigged? It was rigged! Is it not known to everybody that the election was rigged? Everyone knows. We have limitations as to what we can do. If you mean well for the country, all you need to do is to go to court and challenge the victory; you cannot take the laws into your own hands and that’s exactly what the opposition has done. Everybody knows that the election was not free and fair.

In the 2007 general election conducted in this country, (former President) Olusegun Obasanjo rigged that poll, though that election cannot be described as worse than the one conducted in 2019. The winner of the 2007 election, the late Umaru Yar’Adua, was humble enough to admit that the election that brought him into power was massively rigged, that the poll was characterised by a lot of irregularities and that because Nigeria came first, he promised to carry out an electoral reform and that was what he did before he died. That was a man of honour; that’s part of what the man will always be remembered for. There cannot be a vacuum in government; somebody must take responsibility. Yar’Adua took responsibility that we should have the electoral reform and that exercise was what produced Buhari today, as former President Goodluck Jonathan stood by the reform.

He (Jonathan) is a gentleman who believed it was unnecessary for people to lose their lives because he wanted to remain in power. He did not see the whole thing as do-or-die. He bowed out quietly. Ordinarily, he had the opportunity to manoeuvre things and say, ‘you can go to court, if you have anything to prove that the election of 2015 had issues, but I remain the president. The election has been in my favour.’ But he didn’t do that. Even before the final announcement of the results, he had put a call through to the present president to congratulate him on the outcome of the election and conceded defeat. That is one of the things for which he will be remembered forever.

 

APC leaders are insisting that their government has delivered on its tripod promise of guaranteeing security of lives and properties, revamping the economy and fighting corruption. How do you see this?

If you would be honest with yourself, is any of those promises fulfilled? Do they actually tackle corruption? Does fighting corruption mean that you should only go after those who are not close to you, that those who are your friends and cronies should be exempted or even encouraged to commit crimes as we are witnessing now? Does fighting corruption mean those who are in the opposition or who do not agree with you be treated as villains or enemies, simply because they share different political views and beliefs? Is that what they mean by fighting corruption? And if you talk about conviction, how many people have been convicted by the administration over corruption charges? Probably one; the case involving former governor of Plateau State, Joshua Dariye, was started by the Obasanjo-led government; ditto that of Jolly Nyame. The APC government inherited those cases.

Therefore, nobody should take the glory of another person. Their war against corruption is meaningless. Today, if you loot the central bank and become a member of the APC and have total access to the powers-that-be, your slate is clean.

So, a lot of the few of such individuals that are talking today were smart enough to understand the body language of the APC-led government and declared for the party and their sins were washed away.

On the economic front, I thank God you are not only a Nigerian, but also one who lives and plies your trade in the country. If the economy is doing well, you should know and be proud of the boom. Nigerians know that nothing is happening, as far as the economy is concerned. I believe there is no family in the country today that is not groaning because of the worsening state of the economy and the attendant excruciating pain and frustration. The economy is in ruins, as the gains and progress that were achieved before the APC came to power have been frittered away. Nigerians are worse off today than ever.

So, the question I keep asking everyone is: Have we been treated well by the APC-led government in any sphere of life? The answer is no. Nigerians have become poorer and more despondent.

 

Aren’t you being unfair to the government, given the fact that it is working hard, for instance, to fix the transport sector in such critical areas like rail and road infrastructure?

Were they the ones that initiated those projects? The railway project was a Jonathan-led government’s. He executed almost all; it was only at the inauguration of the projects that he left office. The APC-led government inherited it. Nobody should take us for fools. They should not ride roughshod over us. Tell me one policy or projects that this government has introduced since it came to office in 2015; the project it has succeeded in executing and inaugurated. There is none at all. Tell me the road project it initiated, completed and where it is located? Is it the project it used to milk the country; the ones it is doing in favour of the South-West? You talk about the road between Lagos and Ibadan; the road that is being worked on from Lagos through Ijebu-Ode, Sagamu, Ore and Benin to Onitsha? Tell me, which road project is being constructed in the Northern part of the country? Tell me one place you have a good road network in the entire North.

All they have succeeded in doing is the wayo wayo that our brother is there (in power). They are just short-changing the North in terms of the provision of roads and infrastructure. They do more in the southern part of the country at the expense of the North. You don’t care. You put your bother in some positions to give the wrong impression that you are taking care of the interest of the North, whereas the so-called super minister is favouring his people and going about campaigning everywhere that their people must remain steadfast and that power will come back to them, that is, the people of the South-West, in 2023.

More than 70 per cent of the resources of the country has been cornered for the South-West even in the federal budget. You are taking a substantial part of the resources to service your area and still telling us that after the eight years of Buhari, you want to take over power; you think we are fools, that we don’t know what we are doing. We are no fools.

 

Are you saying the government has been unfair to the North, but favoured the South-West than any other part of the federation in the last four years of the Buhari-led administration?

It is exactly so.

 

Beyond the road project you have talked about, what are the other indices and evidence you have to buttress your claim?

The evidence is everywhere; it cuts across everything; in all fronts, including the economic. Everything is working over there (South-West). Nothing is working in the North. What you have here (North) is all forms of criminality, poverty and neglect; even in major political appointments.

But most of Nigerians think otherwise, they say other sections of the country have been marginalised in key federal appointments, as a majority of the political appointees that surround the president are from the North. Do you see that differently?

Tell me one super appointment that he has given to the North. You have ministries of interior, defence, water resources. Are they the ones you regard as super ministries? You are talking about security. That is not economic. Is that economic?

 

But there is a correlation, as peace and stability are the pillars of economic growth and development. Don’t you think so?

There is nothing like correlation there. Today, we (the North) are facing terrible security challenges you can imagine. Today, the North is a war zone, as far as I am concerned. Indeed, the North is in a war against banditry, insurgency, kidnapping, poverty and collapsed infrastructure, despite the so-called people you identified as holding choice portfolios under the APC-led government; whereas, the South-West is the most peaceful place. The South-West in terms of virtually everything. Business is going on smoothly there because you have security of lives and properties. The situation in the North is such that most people now find it increasingly difficult to go out because of insecurity. Economic activities are at the lowest ebb in most places.

 

Northern leaders cannot be absolved from the crisis facing their geographical portion of the federation, as they appear to have taken a lot of issues concerning youth unemployment, job creation and general empowerment for granted. Or is it the president that should take the blame majorly?

Is it the governors that appointed those ministers or the president? A governor has a lot of limitations; he does not control the security agencies, particularly the police; he has no control of a General Officer Commanding a military formation. All of them take instructions, orders and directives from the central government, which is Abuja.

So, what do you expect? The governor is helpless, though you cannot rule out their shirking of responsibilities in certain areas. You cannot completely rule out the governors contributing to the major problems and challenges confronting the North. They are too lazy; they are doing virtually nothing to bring about change; all they do is to acquire wealth at the expense of the collective interest of the people.

 

That’s a grave allegation. Can you substantiate it?

Don’t worry. You think it will be difficult to prove? Don’t they receive their own share of revenue from the federal pool? If they do, tell me one major thing or project that they are doing or have done that has benefited their people, none. At least, we can look at Lagos and say that the state is working; you can see what the state government is doing with its resources from time to time. With the support of the super minister, they are working for the interest of the South-West. Tell me one thing that is happening in other parts of the country than the issue of insurgency, where some of the governors have unashamedly openly declared that their states are under siege by criminals and insurgents. Yet, they keep looting the treasury. They even capitalise on the issue of insurgency to appropriate public funds under the false claim that they cannot execute meaningful projects because of insecurity.

 

There seems to be a total collapse of security in the North, going by the wave of killings at the hands of insurgents and bandits, coupled with the incidence of kidnapping. Isn’t this an indictment of the Northern elite, establishment and the traditional institution that ought to keep the society in check on behalf of the country?

Does the traditional institution provide jobs? Does it provide the conducive atmosphere for the wellbeing of the general society? Are we not supposed to have an open system, where governance is inclusive; where the traditional rulers are allowed to make inputs into government policies and programmes? Has this government been doing that? Do we have a cordial relationship between the Nigerian government and the traditional institution? Are we not aware that the governor of Kano State is now trying to downgrade a traditional ruler over certain disagreements?

He has succeeded in facilitating a law that will reduce the powers of a first class traditional ruler like the Emir of Kano? Are you not aware of what is going on? Are you not aware that the constitution of the country has been so distorted that a local government chairman is far more powerful than a first-class traditional ruler? Are you not aware that a local government chairman can just wake up and make a mockery of a first-class traditional ruler?

So, how do you expect them to perform? Are security agencies not supposed to work with traditional rulers or regularly interface with them? How can you have a central security system where states and other stakeholders only take directives from Abuja, where you take Emeka from Arochukwu to Kaura Namoda and you expect him to perform effectively, efficiently and dutifully? You take Mallam Muhammadu from Daura to Osogbo and expect him to perform optimally. How feasible is that?

That’s why some of us think that we need to decentralise the government so that the powers will be devolved to states so that we can have internal security. That’s what obtains in other developed countries. The US does not rely on the central police. They collaborate with those at the state and other levels of government in a coordinated arrangement. You should not expect something different from what we are experiencing in Nigeria today, given the kind of defects in the existing structure. The governors will always run to Abuja; they are never creative. They lack ideas and vision that can create wealth and reshape the society for good. Rather, they are preoccupied with personal interest; they always await Abuja for allocation, whereas, each state has abundant resources that could take it to greater heights and ensure happiness of the citizens. Why do we have to rely on crude oil as the sole foreign exchange earner? Why do we have restiveness in the Niger Delta? It is because most of the governors are lazy and bereft of ideas on how things can be done differently to make the system work.

So, if you decentralise the government and every region controls its resources, there would be a paradigm shift in attitude and things would work; there would be less friction and acrimony as we currently have in our hands. It would reduce the existing nonsense in the country.

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