Anthony Sani is the National Publicity secretary of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF). In this interview with AZA MSUE, he speaks on the challenges confronting the North and other national issues. Excerpts:
The security challenges across the country are serious cause of concern to not only Nigeria but to other countries. Would you say there is something to celebrate as Nigeria clocks 52?
Yes, there is something to celebrate: our co-existence and interdependence however challenged, more so, because a united large Nigeria holds a lot of promise for Nigerians. All that is required is for Nigerians to come together and unleash their synergy by working hard to overcome the differences that divide the people in order to make the most of our diversity. Other countries have done it, and so Nigeria can do it, since the situation is not beyond redemption. I would not get tired of saying adversity can be cathartic and constructive as well. What does not kill us can only make us stronger.
Why is the North not favourably disposed to the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference?
Let me make it clear that the North is open to any discussions that can strengthen the unity of the country. And since there is a government in place, such discussions cannot be through a Sovereign National Conference (SNC). To do it through a SNC amounts to passing vote of no confidence on our democracy and its institutions, which no group has the right to do.
More distressing is that the proponents of the SNC cast ethnic nationalism in the mould of agitations for true federalism. The Ijaw National Congress and Yoruba National Assembly are examples of struggles for ethnic nationalism, not true federalism.
The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) organised the Arewa Conference on Peace and Unity, last year, yet the security challenges in the North continue unabated. Would you say the conference delivered on its promise?
I believe it was a success because it truly brought the issues into popular consciousness for effect. And that is why most people in the North are beginning to discard the notion that the Boko Haram has something to do with religion. Most northerners now see the security problems as a collective challenge and not that of government alone.
What is this talk about Roadmap by ACF?
When we finished the conference, we articulated the resolutions and issued a communiqué. We also constituted several committees, including the Appraisal Committee headed by General Wushishi and Agenda Committee headed by Leman Jibril, who both articulated the papers and reduced them into resolutions that were in turn looked into by the Implementation and Monitoring Committee, headed by former Inspector General of Police, Alhaji Ibrahim Coomasie. The Coomasie committee produced the Executive Summary of all the reports on the conference which we now call the Roadmap. The aim is to sell the Roadmap to all those in position of authority and those with influence for implementation.
But Gen. J. T. Useni has berated Vice-President Namadi Sambo, the Northern governors and the Northern Leaders Political Forum as not having the clout needed to bring about peace and unity in the North. How then would the Roadmap be implemented?
Somehow, I doubt whether the General was reported correctly. And this is because in the extant case, Namadi Sambo led Northern governors to help morally, financially and organisationally to ensure the Arewa Conference on Peace and Unity succeeded. Others who equally contributed were former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, some ministers and some members of the National Assembly. The ACF appreciated such effort, especially by Sambo, who has been supportive of the ACF since he was governor of Kaduna state.
It is such support by the VP that encourages the belief in the ACF that he is most likely to lead the Northern leaders in positions of authority or influence to help in the implementations of the Roadmap.
But if General Useni said what he was reported to have said about the VP and the Northern governors, then he may have his personal reasons, since we must concede to him the right of personal views.
There is no love lost between Ibrahim Babangida and Muhammadu Buhari; Atiku prefers restructuring of the polity while the ACF prefers the retention of the status quo and the altercation between Useni and Tanko Yakassai. What does that portend for the unity and peace in the North?
Your observations are in order because Northern leaders need to have common positions on issues of national importance for effect. For example, while the ACF and the Northern governors are opposed to recognising the six geo-political zones as federating units, Atiku canvassed for their recognition. And if Northern leaders take it out on each other publicly, then they convey an impression of a divided North, incapable of engendering peaceful coexistence and security, which is unhelpful. That is why the ACF often reminds our leaders of the need for decorum in their conduct. We always remind them that great men pursue causes higher than themselves as worthy impulse. After all, they are all members of the ACF, which is a deliberative forum, and so they should go by the spirit of democracy, which says majority have both their say and way, while minority can only have their say.
For examples, the altercations between Generals Babangida and Buhari, the comments made by Useni on the person of Sambo, Northern governors and NPLF, as well as exchanges between Yakasai and Useni, are, in my view, unhelpful, especially when regard is paid to the fact that Northern leaders, both past and serving, need to close ranks and confront common challenges across the region.
What is the position of ACF on the creation of new states and state police?
There is no doubt that creation of states have brought some level of socio-economic development and have helped to stem movements to urban centres, as witnessed in the past. But the country has reached a level where states are becoming mere cost or effort centres at the expense of the development they were created to inspire. And that is why the ACF has suggested that further creation exercise of states be put on hold.
Concerning state police, we agreed with Chief Edwin Clark that Nigeria is not mature for state police, considering what happens across states where state governors use State Independent Electoral Commissions (SIECs) to deny opposition parties single seat in the local councils. For example, in Nasarawa State, the opposition parties did not win a single seat during the last elections conducted by the SIEC, yet they won the governorship conducted by INEC. The experiences during the First Republic do not recommend state police. In any case, most states are not financially viable to fund state police. So, the clamour should be on how to improve the Nigerian Police Force for performance.
But the South-East insists that there was an agreement at the last National Conference that an additional state be created in the zone for purpose of equity.
I have read the interview by former Vice President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, to that effect, and have this to say: Decision is a function of situation, and so if the situation is no more favourable for additional states, the decision should change. Also, if land mass and population are not criteria for creation of states, then one begins to wonder what else can be used to create states for socioeconomic development.
North West which they often use for comparison has landmass that is more than that of the former Eastern Region. The population of North West is 35 million while that of South-East and South-South put together is 37 million.
Ekwueme’s submission that since the population of former Kano State was at par with Lagos State in the past, the population of the present Kano State without Jigawa State cannot reasonably be like that of Lagos State, ignores the relative fecundity of the two states, considering the effect of polygamy on growth of population.
We just feel that the nation cannot take more states, given the economic profile of the country currently. The exercise should be put on hold.