Mallam Shehu Sani is the president, Civil Rights Congress of Nigeria (CRCN). His activism earned him a death sentence during the regime of the late maximum ruler, Gen. Sani Abacha. Not long ago, he facilitated the visit of former President Olusegun Obasanjo to the Boko Haram enclave in Maiduguri, to broker peace. In this interview with AZA MSUE in Kaduna, Sani x-rays Nigeria at 52, insurgency in the North, among other salient issues. Excerpts:
What is your assessment of Nigeria at 52?
Nigeria is one of the many other African countries that could be regarded as peers, who got their independence at around the same time. What we can say is that, we have seen our good, bad and ugly days. The journey of Nigeria is full of pains, sorrow, disappointment, missed opportunities, crisis and dashed hopes. We have come a long way that we should have a long way to go. Within these periods of our nationhood, we have experienced military dictatorship, civil war, religious crises, militancy, abrupt change of leadership and all sorts of violations of our democratic rights.
What we can say as far as Nigeria is concerned, is that it is more of wasted opportunities. By this time, we should not be talking about laying any foundation, rather we should be talking about putting all the final touches or even furnishing the house. However, from one government to the other, we have seen that it has always been the issue of laying a foundation. If you look at the political manifesto of the First Republic, they were talking about water, electricity, roads, schools, and provision of houses and during the 2011 election campaigns, it was still the same thing.
We have moved from a nation that was full of hopes and expectations to one that has the human and material resources to realise its own good to also one that has wasted such opportunities. Therefore, you can see the twist here. We have had changes of government from military to civilian, but it is very clear that the ruling political establishment and the system has been the same. Nigerians has consistently over the years been exploited and plundered by a very rapacious and monstrous gang of members of the Nigerian elites that have made public service to be selfserving. We have seen how nepotism and tribalism has taken us to the lowest ebb.
Nigerians from the North are more passionate about their religion than they are conscious of the entity called Nigeria. Nigerians from the South are more conscious about their ethnic grouping than they are about the entity called Nigeria. However, it is all by act of divine will that the Nigerian project continue to survive. The nation has seen the extremist and fundamentalist from the North and the chauvinists and ethnic retentive from the Southern part of Nigeria, yet we have moved on through good and bad times. At this time, we ought to have said we have solved the problems of infrastructure, addressed the problems of corruption. Our people ought to have been enjoying the benefits of democracy and good governance; our nation ought to have been competing with other countries like Malaysia, Singapore, and South Korea. But we have seen how we have regressed, we have seen how we have sunk, we have seen how our leaders have failed us. The 52 years was a total swap, it was momentous swap; it was a period that we could have done better.
The North has ruled this country for almost 32 years, so who would you blame for the nation’s woes?
You see, many people use to have a wrong impression of what Nigeria is all about. The very fact that a leader comes from a part of the country and he performed badly does not means that the people of that part of the country should also be held guilty for what he has done. If President Goodluck Jonathan is mismanaging the economy of the country, and aiding and abetting corruption, and pay ing billions of naira to former militant leaders, shielding the oil subsidy thieves, that does not mean that the common man in the Niger Delta is part of that. If the Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration for eight years wasted opportunities and have been said to have entrenched corruption, it does not mean that whoever comes from the South-West must also share the blame. The very fact that over 80 per cent of Nigeria’s foreign earnings come from oil and it has been said that there were Northerners who have been in power does not mean that the money has come to Northern Nigeria.
The masses of the North have never benefited much from the massive amount of money that Nigeria has made from crude oil. If you have a military or civilian ruler who has performed badly he is a representative of the ruling political elite spread across the country. Whoever that is the president of Nigeria as long as he comes from that class, his first mission is to protect and preserve the class interest of his own elite colleagues and this could be from Yoruba, Hausa, Ijaw, or Igbo ethnic stock. We should look at it from this viewpoint: that a ruling class that is spread along all geographical regions has exploited the masses in Nigeria and we can see it continuously. Even if you are going to blame the North for the rots in the country, at least you should have stopped blaming them from when it was not a Northerner that is in power again. At least if we should be blaming regions and not leaders, then we should blame whichever region is in power. So, we can say it clearly that those regimes of the past, especially the military, have contributed a lot in terms of destroying the morality, discipline and the future of Nigeria as a country. We know it very well that there were countries where dictators have contributed a lot in terms of transforming the economy of the countries and even given it some hope over other nations that are not democratic. The military regime in South Korea and the dictatorship of Mahatin Mohammed in Indonesia and Malaysia played strategic roles in building the economic transition that led to the advancement of those nations, which our own military failed to do.
What is your take on the security situation in the country?
First, I want you to understand that in the history of every country, there are always experiences of peace, violence and war. Moreover, in the history of humanity, we are always at alternation between times of relative peace and times of crisis. The terrorism and insurgency we are facing today is part of our history as a country. What matters most is the role we all play to see to it that we stand up to the challenge of our own time.
The violence that is going on today in all parts of Nigeria is not much different from other experience that we have had in the history of this country. I have heard people say that Boko Haram is worse than the Nigerian civil war, but it is not. We were not too young to know much about the Nigerian civil war, but from what we also have read, I am of the firm believe that the Nigerian civil war was the worst period in the history of our country.
In addition, a nation like Nigeria was able to overcome the bloodshed and violence of the civil war; it can still endure and overcome the insurgence of Boko Haram. We have had series of challenges in the history of our country. We have had the period of military coups, we have had period of assassinations of our presidents or prime ministers, we have seasons of massive student and labour uprisings; we have had periods of riots, religious violence. We have period of militancy violence in the Niger Delta, we have had period of Bakassi boys and other periods in other part, of the country. So the Boko Haram insurgency is also a passing history of our country.
However, what I always want people to understand is that, when a country is faced with challenges of any nature, you do not run away from it, rather you rally round to find solution to it. If there is an epidemic in Sokoto State, you do not say you want to remove Sokoto State and give them as gift to Niger Republic, because that part of the country is sick. If you have an outbreak of another epidemic in Cross River State or Akwa Ibom State, you do not say because such states have an epidemic, we must ostracise them and then move on. If any part of your body is sick, you will find a solution to it and not amputate that part of the body and think that is the solution, except if all that need to be done to find a solution has been done and it is not possible then you amputate.
The insurgency is not capable of breaking Nigeria, because breaking a country is not simply an exclusive decision of those people living in that country. It has regional and international perspective, like will the world recognise secession? What will come out of it and all that? Therefore, what I am saying is that we should take the insurgency as a phase in our history and it should be a lesson and an experience, which we will should learn from, and to also make sure that it does not happen again. In addition, we should make sure that it would help us to come up and face any other challenge that might come up in the future. Nevertheless, what we should also understand is that, there is never a time in the history of a country that it is free from crisis. It is just like marriage, there is never a perfect marriage, there will always be problems but how we strive to always understand each other and to stand up together to end the problems is what is going to keep the marriage.
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