With the country in the grip of the Coronavirus pandemic, Mr Anthony Sani, the immediate past secretary general of the influential northern group, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), in this interview by KUNLE ODEREMI, examines the general implications of the current situation on the country.
Majority of the countries across the world are battling with the Coronavirus pandemic, with some countries like China, Spain, Italy and Korea recording higher death tool. Though a few countries on the African Continent have not been infected by the disease, are you surprised about the current situation Nigeria has found itself as a result of the incursion of the scourge in the country?
Why should anybody be surprised at the presence of Coronavirus in Nigeria when it is pandemic and Nigerians are found in all the countries in the world that is globalised. As long as Nigeria is part of the world, nobody should be surprised that COVID-19 has reached the country. We should also know that overcoming the pandemic requires coordinated efforts, not only at level of the affected individual countries, but also globally. For example, most of the reported cases in Nigeria have come from the people coming from other countries to the country.
There are arguments for and against the effort of the authorities before the country became afflicted with the pandemic. Some claim that certain things were left undone to avert the current level of problem posed by the scourge. What do you believe that ought to have been done by the various authorities to avoid the current predicament of the nation in the first place?
Given the nature of the transmission of the virus by person-to-person contact, I expected the whole country would have started the lock down at the same time and with same duration, and not for every state to declare lock down on its own terms, independent of the other states across the country. A situation where states are declaring lock down at different time and for different period from other states reeks of lack of coordination at the centre. To me, this is not the best approach, especially when regard is paid to the fact that there would always be interstate travels and contacts among people from different states.
There is panic in most quarters due to the rising cases of COVID-19 in the country. Coupled with that is the various panic measures that the authorities at different levels of government and their agencies have embarked upon to contain the spread? What do you think are the immediate and long-term implications of the current situation, especially the socio-economic and political consequences for Nigerians and the country at large?
The short and long term effects of COVID 19 is fear and the fact that the lockdown has shutdown economic activities which accounts for the low demand for oil and the resultant low price. This can bring about economic recession, if not economic depression, especially in those countries which economies are dependent on primary commodities. Here in Nigeria, Coronavirus can prolong the expected diversification of the economy away from oil wealth that is not result of hard work.
All the same, I believe that the challenges of COVID-19 will force Nigeria to come to terms with reality and make the country to make allowance for freak that comes with narcissism. This, I believe, will bring about purposeful leadership, considering the fact that great leaders are defined by great challenges. This is because such leaders seek to pursue causes that are higher than themselves and as worthy impulse.
Both the federal and state governments are already reviewing their budgets for the current year. Many economic measures designed to streamline expenses are also being contemplated, just as various degrees of lockdown in different sectors of the economy have been witnessed in the past few days. What are the measures you will want to the authorities to initiate to salvage the country, especially with the shrinking foreign revenues for the country due to the uncontrollably tumbling in the price of crude oil in the international market?
First thing first, we have challenges posed by pandemic Coronavirus which threaten lives and not just comfort of accouterments of life. It is after we have conquered the coronavirus and our lives are secured before we can start talking of any comfort. As a developing country, we are vulnerable to what happens to the rest of the world. For examples, we have closed all our borders; have banned all international flights as responses to such plague. And if we do not overcome soon, we may contemplate closure of our ports with far-reaching implications on our mechanism of community living. Mind you, Nigeria is an import-dependent economy. And since most countries are in the same shoe with us, we cannot look for support anywhere. We just have to come to terms with the reality and be ready for the needed sacrifices that can take, not only Nigeria out of the problem, but assist the entire world out of the global malaise.
You will agree that whatever is happening to the economic sector has some serious consequences for the political space in the country because of the interdependence and interplay of forces in governance. Some pundits say that by now, the main stakeholders in the country should be weighing options that can ensure only minimal domino effects of the present situation on the political life of the country. What sort of political reforms will you suggest to avert possible severe backlash on the prevailing condition of Nigerians owing to the COVID-19 scourge?
This has nothing to do with political reforms, but for Nigerians to come together and unleash their synergistic potential against the collective challenges for the common good. I say this because most countries, be they developed or developing, are afflicted with COVID-19. No country has been spared of the virus, based on its professed status of political advancement and socio-economic development.
Lastly, you and other members of the ACF executives have just completed your tenure, with a new leadership already put in place. How would you summarise the tenure of the out-gone executive, especially its impact, challenges and plans while in office? What are some of the lessons learnt and what is your advice for the new executive, political elite and the country at large?
You may wish to know that ACF is more or less a non-governmental organisation (NGO), an umbrella body for the majority of northerners who believe in one United North in the context of one United Nigeria. Its aim is to provide a platform upon which northerners can consult among themselves, with view to impelling progress from changes arising from the interactions.
This is because the North comprises over 300 ethnic nationalities and also of different religions or creeds. Without such a platform in the North for people to vent their feelings, unity in that part of the country could be far-fetched. That is to say, having abiding faith by the northerners in a region that is socially diverse, economically empowered and politically active may not be easy without the platform, amid existence of 19 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
ACF is not an interventionist agency but more or less a pressure group on the prime movers who are the northern governors and local government chairmen. As a pressure group, the forum seeks to mould opinions and projects what most northerners share as well as tries to make good things happen and prevents unsavory ones from happening. To that end, the forum visits areas where there are conflicts and where there are flash points with a view to brokering peaceful coexistence that is sine qua non for socio-economic development in the North.
The ACF also visits sister organisations across the Niger with view to breaking barriers and building bridges needed for strengthening of national unity. This is because the forum believes the certain benefits of one United Nigeria are more than the uncertain gains in split of the country. You saw me in Lagos recently as Special Guest of honor during the memorial lectures where former President Olusegun Obasanjo was the speaker. I also participated in an independent lecture last year organised by a group, The Change We Need, and also participated in the great debates by Igbo leaders on restructuring, Federal Character, rotation of presidency and national unity. All these are testaments to the fact that ACF is within popular consciousness.
But to decide on whether the forum’s activities are rated as good enough by the public, especially northerners, is not for me to do. I do not have the marking scheme. I was the national publicity secretary of the ACF for two terms of three years each. I then participated in the National Confab of 2014 where I became the spokesman for the northern delegates after which I was made the Secretary General of the ACF. If I was not making useful contributions, I believe the North would not entrust responsibility of its public outing on me.
My suggestion to the incoming leaders is for them to know that order, justice, liberty, common decency and prosperity for all are never natural order of things. They are attained through ceaseless hard work by both the leaders and the led. The new ACF executives should therefore expect to meet challenges in the course of their assignment and rise up to them as they arise. The responsibility and tasks for the ACF are work in progress. They should approach them with courage and in hope.
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