In this interview with Ben Agande, Yerima Shettima, the president of Arewa Youths Consultative Forum speaks on the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, the herdsmen/ farmers crisis and the recent developments in the polity.
Former president Olusegun Obasanjo in a recent letter to President Muhammadu Buhari asked the president not to contest because of his perceived failure on several fronts. What is your reaction to this?
Even before the former president wrote that letter, we have always known and we have said so strongly that the hope of Nigerians have been dashed. Government policies have not shown any sign of bringing the country out of the wood. Rather than going forward, we are retrogressing with the government blaming everybody except itself. It is obvious that the last three years is nothing to write home about. The expectations of Nigerians have not been met. With the look of things and the age of the present government, it is clear that we do not see any positive thing coming up that will be better than what we had in the past. As northerners, we feel disappointed because his failure will be seen as the failure of the north.
I had said it long time ago that President Muhammadu Buhari has done his best. He is a man who actually means well for this country but with the collection of people he has around him, there is no proper coordination. It is clear that at the end of the day, we might not get any good result. We will also not make the same mistake of voting people in the age bracket of 70 to 80 years. Our target is to seek opinion of Nigerians to build capacity, consult our southern counterparts to ensure that we come up with a candidate that is younger than the age of Buhari so that at the end of the day, with the support of the youths, I am sure that at the end of the day, we will come to realize the Nigeria of our dream. I took that position long before now.
On Obasanjo’s letter, he is a product of same calamity that has befallen this country and we hope that people like him should not advise us because when we need advise on some areas, we will consult him . We don’t need his advise now. I don’t care about the messenger but I care about the message and that is the most important thing for now.
Some people have argued that, perhaps if the president rejigs his team, there may be a change.
We cannot be patient for him to look for another team because the one he gave us has not yielded any result. I am afraid if we have this collection of ministers after six months, and none of them is functional, they are self centered people who do not care about the country, I do not think it is proper for us to sit down and allow this government to take another six months to select another team. It has always taken this government time to take decisions. Look at the case of the former Secretary to the government of the federation, the whole country was not happy with the way the issue was handled. Yet it took former president Olusegun Obasanjo’s letter for the government to act. Even at that he was kept in the private guest house of the Economic and Financial Crimes commission and was allowed to leave in the name of bail. I do not think that we will be patient again with this government to take another long time to come up with another team. If he brings in new people now, they will say they are studying the situation which might take another one year.
How do you reconcile this with the argument that this government is doing well in fighting corruption?
I do not think they are fighting corruption in the right way. What is before the public, and every body knows this, is that people who were accused of stealing public funds, decamp from the People’s Democratic Party to the All Progressive Congress. That is why you have a lot of these guys with skeleton today in the APC. They are not joining the APC because they believe in the party but because they believe they will be shielded. I think it is part of the agreement for them to come to the APC. This is not the way to fight corruption.
The north as it is now is deeply divided because of the crisis between herdsmen and farmers. As one of the youth leaders in the north, what do you think is the way out of this crisis?
The issue of herdsmen and farmers has always been there. It has always been there for over five hundred years. It is not an issue to be seen from the prism if religion or tribe. I think some people are using the issue to cause more disharmony for them to achieve certain things. As far as I am concerned, the on going killings have nothing to do with herdsmen or Fulani. It is purely a criminal act and the government should treat it as such. Some people were arrested in Benue State as suspects. But do you know that more than forty of them, they were well armed and none of them is a Fulani man. So why do we ascribe these killings to Fulani? Let us analyze these issues very well. If we bring in the issues of religion or tribe, enemies of this country will succeed in disuniting us.
Do you think the federal government has handled the issue well?
The government has not handled it well. They must be decisive and have the will to look at the issues critically and deal with the criminals because as far as I am concerned, those are criminals. It has nothing to do with religion or tribe. No religion allows anybody to kill innocent people and no tribe encourages the killing of innocent people.
Don’t forget that every government comes with its challenges. During the Obasanjo’s government, we had the serious challenge of dichotomy between the north and the south. If not because some of us insisted on looking at issues objectively, the country would have collapsed under Obasanjo. When Umaru Yaradua came, the issue of Boko Haram became very glaring. We also had the issues of militancy in the Niger Delta. But because the government was focused and had direction, it was able to look at the issues and addressed them and they got result. That was the challenge of Yaradua and Goodluck Jonathan.
With this government, the so called herdsmen issue is on. Don’t forget that herding cattle’s is business. The herdsmen move around and that is how they survive. They move round to survive.
The moment you begin to restrict their movements, you are demonstrating that they are no longer Nigerians. To me, rather than forbidding people from moving round, the best the government can do is to fish out the bad herdsmen and deal with them decisively. If you begin to look at it as problem of Fulani herdsmen only, you will not be doing the country any good because if you restrict movement in one part, another person may also come up with same measure. Should we now assume that because the issue of kidnapping started from the south east and the south south, everybody from that part of the country is a kidnapper? Are we saying that because a minority of the herdsmen are perpetrating this madness, every herdsman is a criminal? That won’t be fair to the Fulani people. Crime can be committed by any tribe. Let us not tag it to a particular tribe. The government must buckle up and deal with criminals without bias or sentiment.
The former president Olusegun Obasanjo recently launched the third force. . .
The hope of Nigerians have been dashed. We just came out of the PDP government with a change mantra campaign with the hope that our problem s would have been solved but we are worse off. There is nothing wrong with having a third force. I am not talking about force of an Obasanjo agenda. I am talking about a force that will come with an idea that is different from the PDP and the APC that will bring about good candidates and policies that will put smile on the face of Nigerians rather than the people that will make Nigerians die from hunger. I think we should encourage that.
As we move towards 2019, what kind of leader do you think Nigeria deserves?
We need a leader that has the interest of the country at hear. We need a leader who will look at the country as his constituency without bias or sentiment. We need a leader who will appoint people based on merit. People will come into power because they have the people at heart. We are not going to compromise on the north producing the next president of this country in 2019. We will feel a sense of belonging and feel that Nigerians love us. From 2023, we see which part of the country will produce the president.