Northerners Paying Huge Price Because Of President Buhari
Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed is the Director of Publicity and Advocacy for the Northern Elders Forum. He is a retired federal permanent secretary (NEF). He discusses the use of restructuring as a political weapon to pressure the North against 2023, the security challenges in the North, and why negotiation and amnesty could be a viable option to end insurgency and banditry in this interview.
What is restructuring from the standpoint of NEF, and how do you feel about the demand for it?
Restructuring has, in my opinion, been abused and used as a political weapon. It has been used as a shorthand for the need to address the Nigerian federal system’s inadequacies, limitations, and flaws. One of the flaws in our federal system is that we place an excessive amount of emphasis on the centre. The second worst thing is that it is governed by a constitution that makes it difficult to make changes.
Those who advocate for restructuring do so primarily because they see it as a means to achieve short-term political goals, such as 2023, rather than a major change.
In simple terms, restructuring is a genuine, popular, and legitimate demand by a large number of Nigerians to address the federation’s current state. Restructuring is a very good thing for Nigeria, and it must happen before 2023 when it is removed from its current context of being used to settle scores against groups or achieve political goals.
We accept at NEF that it must be about the Nigerian federation; it must be an inclusive process that takes into account the views and opinions of the majority of Nigerians. What we don’t accept is the notion that people can use the restructuring argument to gain an advantage over certain sections or to fight a retaliatory administration, and in the process lose sight of the importance of creating an environment that allows us to restructure.
You can restructure Nigeria, but if the political process and politicians remain the same, the country will continue to deteriorate. Why do we keep churning out low-level, low-quality leaders?
Is it possible that zoning is to blame?
Zoning made sense as a principle in 2019, but we don’t need to fight and kill each other over it; it’s a political decision. This is a diverse country; inclusivity must be emphasised, but we should leave it up to politicians to decide where to zone. Fortunately, only the PDP included zoning in their constitution, but even so, they’ve abused it so much that I don’t think even the PDP understands it.
Under the circumstances, it doesn’t matter who governs Nigeria; what matters is what the person does with the power he has. Even those of us from the North who voted twice for the current president has paid a higher price than the rest of the country.
So, if you say that all Northerners own Buhari and that we must pay the price for Buhari and that we have no right to field a candidate, we must ask, “What will a Southern candidate do for the North?” What is the fate of the North in the hands of a candidate who emerges from the country’s south using threats and intimidation?” We have paid a high price for President Buhari’s inept administration, and if the South says it doesn’t want any Northerner to lead the country after 2023, we ask, “Doesn’t an election decide who becomes president?” We have a legitimate interest in who becomes president, but most importantly, whoever does so must not do so because their ethnic group claims it is their turn.
Do you believe there is a link between secessionist agendas, insecurity, and the year 2023?
Under the current circumstances, there is nothing that isn’t connected to 2023. If you consider secessionists, some of whom have existed for some time but have recently become more vocal, it appears that a demand exists for the southeast to produce the president in 2023.
Secessionist tendencies are emerging in the South West, including Oduduwa Republic, Igboho, and Gani Adams. There are threats of the uprising in the South-South, and there are crimes all over the country aimed at weakening the Nigerian state’s foundation. Some of these issues came up during a very interesting meeting with Ohanaeze Ndigbo in Abuja.
NEF had previously issued a statement in which we stated that, based on our assessment, the Igbo people appear to have made up their minds to leave Nigeria, and that the country should not go to war over it if all Igbo people agree to leave. After that, there was a huge uproar, and a few days later, the Igbo leadership came out and said they denounced secession and recommitted themselves to the country’s unity. Then we met in Abuja, and the Igbo elite said that some parts of Nigeria want to drive them out, and we reminded them that a segment of the Igbo community, including IPOB and ESN, has been saying that the Igbo must leave, and we didn’t hear the Igbo elite say they are not going anywhere.
They claimed they couldn’t leave the country they built, even though Igbo are found throughout the country.
What would you say to the president if you had the chance to speak with him?
I’ll say this: open your eyes and realise the scope of the problem; it’s enormous. Thousands of criminals are armed to the teeth in our forests, cities, and highways, making Nigeria insecure daily. The second thing I’ll tell him is to think outside the box and find people who can tell you how we ended up in 2021 with such a massive problem. Banditry and kidnapping were virtually unknown when you came to power, sir. Something happened, and a large part of the insecurity we’re seeing now has deep roots in history and society, as well as the way the government has been conducted in recent years. You need to hear those stories about large numbers of cattle rustled, injustice, state agents using strong-arm tactics, and pushing more and more Fulani into criminality.
We are not making excuses for criminal bandits and kidnappers, but you must understand how these people went from herding cattle to controlling vast swaths of land and posing a threat to the Nigerian state.
So, I’ll say to him, shouldn’t you sit down with these bandits…and ask them to lay down their weapons and reintegrate? Because it appears that the military option isn’t entirely viable. This is a mutating problem, and they have the terrain, while we lack the military or police to protect every school, town, or village. As a result, you’ll have to try other options, and those options will have to make some concessions to other methods that have been tried and tested in many parts of the country and the world.
Are you advocating for amnesty and negotiations?
Absolutely! If the evidence on the ground indicates that people are willing to leave the bushes, negotiate with those who are willing to negotiate. Negotiation and amnesty are not dirty words, but they must be based on a realistic assessment that can significantly reduce the problem. This is done to isolate the hardcore who are only interested in banditry and violence, and then impose the state’s will on them. Nobody will ever tell you that fighting bandits and kidnappers is a bad idea.
Nigeria’s crude exports had dropped to 600,000 barrels when President Umaru Yar’Adua took office, and he came with a seven-point agenda, one of which was to end the insurgency in the Niger Delta, which was crippling the country’s economy. I was in government at the time, and we signed the amnesty within six months, at great cost to the country, but it worked. So why don’t you think about these issues from a political standpoint? Whatever we do, we must not continue to believe that simply launching military strikes against bandits, kidnappers, and Boko Haram will solve the problem.
Would you agree with Sheik Ahmed Gumi’s approach?
President Buhari, to be honest, should have sat with Gumi. Gumi is a respected sheikh who served in the military, and when he began saying, “I’ve gone to the bush,” he did so with the knowledge of security agencies. The president should have sat with him when he said he had information on the root of the problem, its dimensions, and possible solutions. It was possible that some of the information he had was highly sensitive and involved the very people tasked with keeping this country safe.
Gumi speaks to the press; he is a clergyman, not a politician, and I’m not sure he can change his ways. However, he is aware of the military’s failures and corruption. People like Gumi are not enemies; they are the kind of people you should cultivate, and he may be saying all of this because he doesn’t have a way to get this very sensitive, important information to you through another channel.
What role do governors play in all of this?
Engage the governors, and they will tell you that they are powerless because the issue is one of security, and they lack the necessary police and soldiers. Governors cannot control the security situation, but they can reduce the likelihood of more Fulani joining the banditry. The governors have intelligence sources and can mitigate the situation if they are serious, but they sit back and say, “What can I do?” For example, instead of destroying traditional institutions, they can rebuild them and reintroduce tried-and-true community efforts. They can also spot vulnerable Fulani herders with few cattle who are at risk of being rustled. Relocate them; the land belongs to the governors; create safe zones for the Fulani.
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