North unhappy with Buhari’s silence on killings –ACF
In this interview with GODWIN ISENYO, the Secretary-General of the Arewa Consultative Forum, Dr. Anthony Sani, X-rays the President Muhammadu Buhari-led All Progressives Congress government and other burning national issues
President Muhammad Buhari has expressed his intention to contest the 2019 presidential election on the platform of APC. How did the ACF receive this news?
President Buhari has expressed his constitutional right to vie for the Presidency of this country for a second term. It is left to his political party to decide whether to endorse him or not. If the party endorses him, it will be left for Nigerians to decide on Election Day whether to return him or not, based on his performance in four years. It is, therefore, not for ACF to decide for any individual or political party. The ACF is not also in a position to decide for Nigerians, all of whom can express their democratic rights. ACF has a list of qualities which voters should look for in good leaders at all levels that seek to guide voters during elections. It is in pamphlets which are distributed to the voters across the region. We do this because in a democracy, both the voters and the elected leaders are expected not only to be accountable but also blame themselves when things go awry.
But this is coming on the heels of a vote of no confidence passed in Buhari by the ACF and 17 other northern groups. What do you think?
ACF did not take part in the summit which you claim passed a vote of no confidence in President Buhari. Those who organised the summit exercised their democratic right to association and opinion.
You have included ACF as part of those who passed the vote of no confidence in the President just because two members wrote their status as coming from ACF, but they did not attend the summit as representatives of ACF. They did so in their individual capacity. That explains why ACF had to put the record straight to the effect that ACF did not participate in the summit and so cannot be expected to own the outcome.
But your members, like Prof. Ango Abdullahi (Chairman, Political Committee of ACF) and one other ACF member, signed the document passing a vote of no confidence in the President on behalf of the ACF.
Please note that ACF is an umbrella platform for most northerners who belong to other groups claiming to speak for the North. Those members who attended the summit exercised their constitutional right of association and opinion which cannot be denied them, and merely indicated their place in ACF. But that cannot vitiate the fact that they did not attend the summit in representative capacity for the ACF.
Has the northern body endorsed Buhari’s presidential bid for the 2019 election?
I have told you that it is not the place of ACF to endorse candidates on behalf of political parties considering the fact that the platform is not partisan; it comprises members from different political parties.
I hope you do not want ACF to play the roles of political parties whose briefs include presentation of candidates for elections. What is more, there is still one more year to go for a fair and realistic assessment of performance of the (incumbent) regime.
Will the ACF endorse Buhari as the northern candidate for the 2019 presidential elections?
ACF cannot be expected to be ahead of political parties whose constitutional roles include presentation of presidential candidates. To do otherwise is not how the platform, which comprises members from different political parties, operates. We normally present a list of qualities which voters should look out for in good leaders in order to help them to make informed decisions on the day of elections. That has been our approach since ACF is not partisan group.
A former Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. TY Danjuma, raised the alarm that the Nigerian Armed Forces are colluding with suspected killer herdsmen to kill innocent Nigerians and asked the people to defend themselves. What is your reaction?
The respected general may have his own reasons for saying so, but I do not think it is right for the general to ask Nigerians to lose faith in the military as an institution for the sins of a few bad elements. I say this because the military comprises officers from different ethnic groups which make it difficult for the military to take side with any ethnic group. That kind of scenario would kill the institution that protects Nigeria as a territory.
I think if the general has observed any challenge in the military as an institution, which made him to say what he said, he should have contacted the President and offer him necessary advice on how best to improve on the number and quality of the military personnel rather than go public with what he is reported to have said.
What is the position of the ACF on the planned amnesty by the Federal Government for Boko Haram insurgents?
I find it hard to make out the concern that some of you have about the offer of amnesty. Amnesty is often a result of consultations leading to agreement that there would be permanent lying down of arms in favour of peace needed for socio-economic development. It is often in the letter and spirit of the Geneva Convention. When the comity of nations invites warring factions to Geneva for peace talks, it is not to endorse the killings in the war but to stop further killings. So, if after extensive consultations with the insurgents leading to agreement to lay down arms permanently, amnesty becomes naturally concomitant; this would be how it can be done since we cannot demand that all the terrorists must be killed after they have surrendered and have agreed to lay down their arms.
But many Nigerians seem to oppose the idea of granting amnesty to the sect that had over the years wreaked havoc on people of the north-eastern states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe especially. What’s your take on this?
Those who oppose granting of amnesty to Boko Haram, are those who do not want the killings to end for whatever reason. I say this because such a posturing is against the letter and spirit of peace talks which are often aimed at putting an end to further killings. Or are they saying the government should not do anything that can stop further killings? And if the sects agree to permanently lay down their arms, what do those opposed to amnesty want the government to do, to kill all of them? That is not done.
The Nigerian Army prosecuting the war against the Boko Haram sect claimed that the insurgents had been ‘technically defeated’, but the insurgents are still wreaking havoc. What is your reaction to this?
When the military says the insurgents have been technically defeated, it is because their capacities to organise attacks and claim territories have been weakened. As a result, the activities have been localised to the North-East, if not the fringes of the North-East. This is against what happened in the past when the attacks transcended the entire northern states and the FCT to the extent of overwhelming the North with fear. Such a situation has given way to confidence and hope.
Don’t you think there is the need for the Nigerian Army to change its strategy and its operational architecture to finally defeat the insurgents?
This is one area Nigerians had expected the respected elder statesman, Gen. Danjuma, to bring his expertise and experiences to bear. He should tell us how best to improve on the strategies and operations of the military. We must note that terrorism cannot be wiped out permanently with hard power of military might alone; and that is why the UN says affected countries should address the underlying causes of insurgence. It is therefore an over-expectation to imagine that the military alone can permanently put an end to terrorism.
Leah Sharibu, the only remaining Dapchi schoolgirl, and other Chibok girls are still in the net of the Boko Haram insurgents. Is the ACF not concerned about this development?
It is most unfair if not unkind to imagine that the ACF would not be concerned about the insurgence and the unsavoury effects on the region. The insurgency is dragging the (northern) region back by many years. ACF wishes the insurgency never started let alone talking about ending it. ACF wants all those abducted, not only the remaining Chibok girls and Leah, to be released forthwith.
Nigerians in some quarters blame the Buhari government for the downturn in the nation’s economy. How do you feel about this?
While I admit there is economic hardship in the land, which should be reversed by government as quickly as possible, it is not correct to say the economic downturn was caused by this regime. No, this regime came when all the economic indices were heading towards recession despite the warnings of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Charles Soludo and Sanusi Lamido. So, the President inherited an economy that was already going down, and what he had to do was to put a wedge against the downward movements. Today, the recession has been exited and all the economic parameters are positive to the extent that the GDP is forecast by the Breton institutions to improve substantially in 2018. I understand the concern of many Nigerians which comes with high expectations for immediate improvement of their standard of life, but we must note that no economy beset by insurgency and corruption can be revamped without reducing the level of insecurity and corruption substantially. Hence, the priority given to the fight against Boko Haram and corruption, which some people view as misplaced priority. But I think the President is not wrong in trying to defeat the insurgency and corruption as sandbags on the path of socio-economic development.
Is the ACF comfortable with the leadership style of the APC government of Buhari?
I am not sure if ACF is satisfied with all aspects of style of governance by this government. As a person, I do not share the culture of silence by the regime on matters of national importance particularly the killings going on in many parts of the country. This is because such reticence tends to give room for rumours to hold sway and speculations which are unhelpful. I also do not like the idea of government functionaries being at cross purposes and convey an impression of a divided Presidency which must stop.
Also, the ruling party has the majority in the legislature and yet, the altercations between the legislature and the executive arms of government give an avoidable impression of the government at war with itself. This should also stop in favour of finding an appropriate balance between the principles of separation of powers and roles of political parties in a multiparty democracy. Another area is the fact that Mr. President puts undue premium on loyalty forgetting that loyal people can also disappoint, albeit, this is from his profession which puts loyalty over and above any other considerations for obvious reasons. I also do not share in the habit of being unduly slow in delivering on promises even in areas that have no visible constraints. For example, even though I did not (like) his sentiment when the President announced he would add more ministers a few months ago, I do not like the long time it is taking for the announcement to find expression. Yet, I dare say despite these shortcomings, which come with personality traits, I believe in the President as someone who can help the nation to navigate the turbulent weather and make the nation feel young again with the promise of glory days ahead.
Is the ACF planning to raise a delegation to let President Buhari know that Nigerians (including northerners) are hungry under his government?
The President does not need a delegation to know the challenges that the nation is facing. He inherited them and has been trying to reverse the trends. I hope you know the work of government of a nation is to provide an enabling environment needed for able-bodied Nigerians to thrive. That much the regime has been trying to do. But the problems is that most Nigerians are used to easy money and facile wealth from oil which is not a result of hard work, and to slough off bad habits is not easy. But I believe just as the white man brought slave trade and the white man stopped slave trade, the oil, which brought laziness and corruption, will also bring about hard work and honesty when its relevance is no more. Nigeria should note that any ailment which requires surgical intervention would not be without pain. If the economy had been diversified by past regimes, this government would be talking about improvement and not of diversification away from oil which is not a result of hard work. It is only in Nigeria where those with oil blocks are worshipped as successful businessmen.
The issue of restructuring is still on the ground. What is the position of the North now on the matter?
The Northern State Governors Forum has constituted a forum to collate the views of the stakeholders on position which most northerners share. ACF is a critical stakeholder which will give its own contributions to the forum as our elected leaders. When the forum is ready, it will give the position of the North.
One of the recommendations of the APC committee on restructuring is the creation of state police. What do you think of this?
We do not share the position of APC as far as the issue of restructuring is concerned precisely because it is wrong of the party to be intimidated into pandering to a vociferous elite group from a section of the country. The party should not allow itself to be led from behind. If APC has a clear vision on how it wants to restructure the country, it should articulate it in its manifesto and use it to canvass the electoral mandate needed for implementation, and not to be bulldozed into pandering to vested interest and expect acceptance.
As regards the state police, our opposition to state police is that the state police could be abused by state governors reminiscent of how state electoral commissions have been used to kill multi-party democracy at local government level. What is more, state police could be divisive along ethnic and religious lines to our collective peril.
We believe improvement on the number and quality of the police is what the nation requires and not too many security outfits.
The attacks by suspected herdsmen have continued unabated. Aside the usual condemnations, what is the way out?
The way out is for the Federal Government to meet with all state governors and stakeholders in order to agree on how best to go about putting an end to the killings. The last meeting of the National Economic Council, chaired by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, is in the right direction. This is because nobody is opposed to ranches as the best approach to rearing livestock that can improve the industry and prevent the clashes, but the implementation should be gradual because of paucity of funds.
The Federal Government recently released the list of alleged ‘looters’ of the nation’s treasury. Those on the list are mainly members of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party. Nigerians are wondering if members of the opposition party are the only looters of the treasury. What do you think?
The minister said the list was not exhaustive, and that more lists would be released. It is only natural to start with those in the opposition party which ruled for 16 years. Maybe the additional list will include those of the ruling party which has been on the seat for only three years.
Is the ACF not concerned about how the anti-corruption war of the Buhari-led government is being fought?
What is the problem with the fight against corruption? Is it the complaint that it is selective against the opposition party or the complaint that there are no convictions? You would note the opposition ruled for 16 years, which is accused of the pillage. It is natural to have more names from the opposition than those from the ruling party which has ruled for only three years when there has not been much money to steal. And when you consider it is impossible to arraign all corrupt Nigerians at the same time and the fact that the fight against corruption is in progress, then, you can have a realistic appreciation of the situation. I also hear this regime has decided against renewal of licences for oil blocks when they expire. I believe the owners of oil blocks are most likely not to rest on their oars. They will have their plans too. But my take is that anyone charged with corruption should defend himself or herself instead of being shielded under political motivation. As to the delay in securing convictions, Nigerians should hanker for speedy trial and for substantive justice instead of technical justice from the judiciary.
President Muhammadu Buhari, during his trip to the UK recentl;y said Nigerian youths don’t want to work, yet expect free health care and education. What’s your reaction to this?
The President talked of a lot of youths and not all the youth are lazy due to oil wealth. In addition, the President did not exclude anybody’s children given that we all have youths. To me, what the President said is not more than inconvenient or wicked truth. And instead of taking up the challenge, some of the youth are taking it out on the President that he embarrassed the youth globally. Nigerians have forgotten the fact of history that this same Buhari introduced War Against Indiscipline which implied most Nigerians were not disciplined, and people did not condemn him. This regime made campaign against corruption its mantra and won the elections to enable it to implement the electoral mandate. The implication is that many Nigerians agreed that most Nigerians are corrupt. And that is why they voted him to help fight the menace. Why didn’t people condemn him for embarrassing Nigerians? Also, failure of leadership at all levels has been alleged to be the bane of our development. Are the leaders at all levels being accused not Nigerians?
I think the youth should take up the challenge and prove the President wrong instead of lamenting. One way of doing this is for them to make judicious use of their democratic rights and ensure that the ensuing leaders are accountable to the people, and not to moneybags.
Was the President fair in the assessment of the youth?
I have told you the President merely stated inconvenient or wicked truth. And I want the youth to take up the challenge because they are more in number and have more energy to make good things happen and prevent bad ones in a democracy.
What is your take on the statement by the White House that there is abuse of human rights in Nigeria?
I do not know what informed the statement. But I guess it has to do with the inability to put an end to killings which deprive the right to life in Nigeria. The government may have its shortcomings but it must be rated against the resources at its disposal and those needed to overcome the challenges.
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