Yarima Shettima is the President of the Coalition of Northern Groups, (CNG) the umbrella group that gave Igbo ultimatum to leave the North , again the CNG last week came out hard against the Federal government’s failure to address the lingering killings in the North. The Arewa youths organised a protest in Katsina to apparently send a signal to the government to sit up. He spoke with Northern Bureau Chief, MUHAMMAD SABIU about the strike, insecurity, almajiri, presidential system and 2023. Read excerpts :
THERE seems to be a crack in the CNG. What is the cause of the division among Northern youths?
The truth of the matter is that at the level of the CNG, of which I am one of the leaders, there is no crack. On the protest in Kaduna, when the CNG, the umbrella body, issued a statement suspending the protest, most of the organisers were not aware. The statement came at about 12 midnight. Some of them did not get the information and so they moblised for the protest. That was why it went that way. It was not because there was a crack among the organisations that are affiliated to the CNG. There is no crack whatsoever. We have our ways if we want to do things.
Even those who held the protest that day, at the end of the day, we had a meeting with them. That day, most of us were in Abuja. Besides, there was an intervention by the Northern Elders Forum (NEF). They said intelligence report at their disposal indicated that some thugs had been mobilised to disrupt the protest. NEF made a statement on Friday but the statement came late. We had to reconvene to take our time to analyse the whole thing because it is a coalition and every stakeholder must be involved. We had a meeting in Abuja. We also agreed to the point raised because we are so disciplined and responsible. We listen to elders and give advice where necessary. We did exactly what was expected of us and that is all.
The essence of the protest, in the first place, was to draw the intention of the government, to ask them to be conscious if they are not aware of the fact that because of insecurity, we lose lives on a daily basis. Since the president came on board in 2015, he had never made a bold statement to caution the security chiefs until that protest was held in Katsina. After he made that statement, some of us relaxed. We decided to give him the benefit of the doubt because our intention is not to disrupt the country but to put the government on its toes. Anytime we criticise the government on something, we do so objectively so that they would also know the right thing to do. If they do the right thing, we will definitely commend them. If they are wrong, we will definitely draw their attention so they can do the right thing, because we are always in touch with the people.
What is your view on the management of security in the country? Are you satisfied with the way the federal and state governments are going about it?
If we are satisfied, we wouldn’t have held a protest. We are not satisfied. So, we demand that they do it well. We want the government to equip the security agencies well. Give them what is appropriate. Let them have enough equipment. Let their arms be superior to the arms of the insurgents and bandits. Make enough provision for their welfare. Let them work. They are also human beings so, is not about order. If you give them an order to go and fight and they don’t have the right weapons, what do you except them to do? Certainly, I would avoid the fight because I need something worthwhile to fight the enemies. So, beyond the presidential statement, the government must see to their welfare. We are aware that they are not being adequately taken care of. You can’t ask somebody to go to war after you gave them N2 when they demanded that they needed N10. It doesn’t make sense. That cannot help them to do anything good. That is the situation on the ground.
Do you subscribe to the call for the sacking of the service chiefs?
Yes. If they do not change, the president should dismiss them because Nigeria is greater than any one of them.
Do you think sacking them will solve the problem of insecurity in the country? The second issue, from my findings, is that they are not well equipped. These are the two challenges. If they can have cohesion and work together and they are well equipped, I bet you, this issue of insecurity will be a thing of the past. The security agents will be willing to fight. Only a madman will see somebody with a gun and he will confront him with a cutlass. It is not possible. The right thing should be done. Fund them and give them the necessary support. Nigerians will stand behind them, praise them and give them the courage to face any enemy.
Let us look at the Almajiri system vis-a-vis the current move by governors to end it. Are you satisfied with the way the issue is being handled?
I have not got any written document on the modalities for the handling of the issue of Almajiri. Whatever is it, it has to be a collective approach because the Almajiris are children of people. They are like any other citizens of the country. I want to totally disagree with the idea of moving them from one state to another. They are Nigerians and that move contravenes the constitution of the country. They are bona fide citizens so, any place they found themselves is home and they should be allowed to stay. The state governments must, in collaboration with the Federal Government, come up with a plan to address this issue once and for all. The difference between the Almajiris and the children of the privileged is the fact that the latter have rich parents.
So, you are against the abolition of the Almajiri system?
How can you abolish it? If you abolish it, how will you find a home for them? Who is an Almajiri? Is there any leader in the North who is not a product of Almajiri? That includes me. At one point, I was an almajiri, although I was privileged and I didn’t go begging for food or roam the streets. What we did was to attend Islamic classes and then go back home. My parents didn’t take me to any town or any state to go and acquire Islamic knowledge. The teachers were even asked to come and give us private lessons at home during holidays. We can integrate the Almajiri into the public schools. Let the Federal Government change the present curriculum so that those children can have the privilege of getting western education. Let the people’s rights to education and religious beliefs be guaranteed. Even in Islam, there is no room for allowing children to go on the streets begging. The Almajiri syndrome is un-Islamic but since we have them now and they are Nigerians, we should have a way to integrate them.
Southern states are blocking and turning Northern youths away, is that the right way to fight insecurity or coronavirus?
Why did the Northern governors start what they are doing? If the Southern governors are behaving the way they are behaving, they have probably seen where [Governor Abdullahi] Ganduje was sending children from Kano to Kaduna and where [Governor Nasir] el-Rufai was doing the same. This is not right. There is a rule against movement of people from one state to another, as announced by the president. So, if the Southern governors realised that there are certain people coming into their states which contradicts the law, certainly, they will sit up. Basically, the problem started from the North. There is no reason for any governor to move the so-called Almajiri children to another state. They should be allowed to stay wherever they are living. All they [governments] need to do is to formulate a policy which would ensure that these people are well taken care of, rehabilitated and reintegrated into the system. [Former President Goodluck] Jonathan’s policy on Almajiri was far better than what we have now. If we cannot improve on that policy, we shouldn’t dump it.
You supported President Muhammadu Buhari for the 2015 elections but now you are one of his critics. Why are you criticising him?
I am not criticising him because I don’t like him. We supported him because many of us thought his coming would bring about the changes that we were looking for. When we realised that we were not getting the desired results and that he is not doing it right, it would not be out of place to criticise him and demand that the right thing should be done because we are stakeholders in our own capacity. This is just the reason. The criticism is not personal but about principle.
Can you mention some of the specific areas you feel he is not doing well?
In the area of security, he is not doing well. What is the essence of government if there is no security or social amenities for the benefit of the people? If there is security, which is even more fundamental than all other things, then what good is the government? If the people you are governing are being killed on a daily basis, a day will come when there will be nobody left. So, who are you going to govern? There were three cardinal promises made by this government: corruption fight, security and economy. You and I are Nigerians. The truth is that this government has failed to fulfill any of the promises. Security is nothing to write home about. There is nothing about the economy more than the debts they are incurring which our unborn children will not be able to pay. That is the truth. It is a burden that all of us must live with and even die with. The third one, the issue of corruption, their approach to fighting corruption is selective. You don’t need to be told that some people in this government are more corrupt than the previous ones.
Where do you think the next president should come from in 2023, North, East, West or South?
I had always asserted that power should remain in the North but today, things have changed. Let me be very honest with you, in recent times, it dawned on me that we are more divided today than we ever were in the past. So, I would rather make a U-turn.
I had held my opinion against all odds. Even among the Northerners, there were some who were opposed to my position, not to talk of the South which sees me as an enemy. I had been consistent over time. But now I am of the view that we should go for competency. We should never mind where the next president comes from, we should consider competency this time around.
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