National Publicity Secretary of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Mr. Emmanuel Yawe has said that Northerners might repeat their political preferences of June 1993 when they rejected a Northern candidate, Alhaji Bashir Tofa, and voted for a Southerner, Bashorun Moshood Abiola.
Speaking in an interview with TheSun, Yawe regretted that the region has not enjoyed the dividends of democracy under the current dispensation even though their own son, President Muhammadu Buhari has been at the helm of affairs in the country since 2015.
The ACF Spokesman also spoke on other burning national issues.
At the recent Northern People’s Summit held recently in Kaduna, the Chairman, Northern Elders Forum (NEF) Prof Ango Abdullahi said the North won’t vote along ethno-religious line in 2023. What is your reaction to this?
This will not be strange. In the election of Chief MKO Abiola in 1993, the North rejected their own son, Bashir Tofa, and voted a Yoruba man from the South West. In 1999, the North voted another Yoruba man and a Christian this time, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. If the North repeats the same pattern of voting on merit and not ethno-religious lines in 2023, it will be nothing new.
The North says it is for restructuring of the country but against rotational presidency. Don’t you think the region is now against the Igbo who are saying that other parts of the country should support them in 2023 to produce the president?
In the ACF, we do not choose presidential candidates. The simple reason is that the constitution says only the registered political parties have the powers to choose and sponsor political parties for elections. We are not a political party but a law abiding group and will not go against the provisions of the constitution. When the parties decide on who should be their presidential candidates, we hope to interact with the candidates and ask them what they have for the North. We are in no way against an Igbo man becoming the President of Nigeria. They should work their way through the political parties. That is what the Constitution says. We have our members in all the political parties and when they succeed and come to us, we shall surely support them. But we cannot impose an Igbo man as a presidential candidate on any registered political party.
Some political stakeholders in the South-West said the North cannot be trusted over its stance on restructuring. What is your take on this?
At the ACF, we are men and women of honour. When we make a promise, our word is our bond. We do not waver.
The communiqué issued at the end of the conference says the North is sinking in all indices of human existence under the watchful eyes of President Muhammadu Buhari and the 19 Northern governors. Is this a vote of no confidence in the president and the governors?
We in the north are worried that the so called ‘dividends of democracy’ are slow in coming our way. We are crying out to our democratically elected leaders to fulfil their campaign promises. It is a call for accountability and not a vote of no confidence.
Banditry, kidnapping and insecurity generally are issues that are really bedevilling the north and other parts of the country. As a Northerner, how worried are you?
I am very worried as an individual northerner. Our worry in the ACF was comprehensively stated in the communiqué which was given after our NEC meeting in October last year. I am sure your newspaper got a copy. In that communiqué we said some of the areas that stand in dire need for urgent reforms should include but not limited to the following:
“Security architecture, management of law and order: Outcome required is expansion in the quantity and quality of the armed forces and the police; tackling corruption and nepotism as being perpetrated by political office holders.
The forum noted that in view of the fact that the vast majority of young people cannot find jobs, it is going to be difficult to achieve good governance or even maintain law and order in Nigeria.
“We recommend that a judicial commission of enquiry be set up to examine the nature and scale of the money politicians at all levels pay themselves.
“It is necessary to restore sanity in these matters by bringing their payments within acceptable limits, taking into cognisance the economic reality of the country.
“The current Presidential system of government we are running is expensive. In view of our economic and infrastructural demands, the current system should be reviewed through referendum from the double chamber parliament to unicameral legislature among others.”
There is a debate for and against payment of ransom and granting amnesty to bandits. What is the position of ACF?
We are totally against the payment of ransom. Such payment normally empowers the bandits to carry out more kidnappings. On amnesty, we feel this should be treated on a case to case basis. Some bandits are actually victims who were kidnapped and conscripted into a world of crime. If they can prove so, they deserve amnesty.
Some northern governors have made inflammatory statements about alleged attacks and killings of some Northerners in the southern part of the country. What is your advice to Northern leaders on words that could fuel reprisals?
We have advised against such statements. I spoke to a national newspaper on this after our last NEC meeting in Kaduna. This is our country and we are still one country. We the ACF believe in Nigeria and we have told them that the easiest way to destroy Nigeria is to go out on the revenge missions as we did in 1966. It led us to an avoidable war. We do not want a war in Nigeria again.
Considering the level of killings and kidnapping almost on a daily basis of innocent citizens by bandits as well as the economic hardship most Nigerians are going through, some people have concluded that Nigeria is now a failed state. What is your reaction?
We believe that Nigeria can be better run than the way it is run now. The current security and economic situation in Nigeria is rather pathetic. But we do not believe that Nigeria is a failed state. A failed state is a country where all hope has collapsed and people are desperate. Nigeria is a resilient country. So many things have happened here that if they happened in other countries, they would cease to exist on the surface of the earth. But they happen in Nigeria and yet here we are. It is part of the reasons the ACF came into existence after the return of democracy in 1999. Our leaders like General Gowon, Shehu Shagari, General Ibrahim Babangida, Atiku Abubakar observed the trend of events and set up the ACF to save the north and save Nigeria. They are still behind us. Recently they sent another patriot, General Muhammed Inuwa Wushishi (GCON) to come and preside over the leadership selection process at the ACF. The current leadership of the ACF led by Chief Audu Ogbe who has an exemplary record of leadership in Nigeria came as a result of a committee led by General Wushishi.
You do not expect this current leadership of ACF to go back and tell these our respected leaders who gave their lives to save Nigeria that we have failed. When all others lose their heads and start yelling on the streets that Nigeria is a failed state, we keep our own because we are carrying out the assignment given to us by our fathers who love Nigeria and who have given their all for her survival.
We believe in the words of the famous Igbo patriot, artiste, and world-class intellectual, Dr. Sonny Oti who sang that wonderful song that ‘Nigeria go survive.’ We advise those who describe Nigeria as a failed state to go and listen to that song.
You are about one year in office as the National Publicity Secretary of ACF. What is your experience so far on the seat?
It has been a pleasant and educative experience. You know the Northern Region occupies 78 per cent of the landmass of Nigeria. It is also the most diverse region in terms of ethnicity. The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) is the apex socio-cultural group in this region. We admit everybody who shares our ideals for a united North and by extension a united Nigeria.
It is indeed a unique opportunity, given my background as an ethnic minority man, to serve as the spokesman of this vast community of humanity. I was humbled the day I was appointed and I promised those who made it possible that I would never forget this honour for the rest of my life. I will also not disappoint them, but it is unfortunate I cannot mention their names here because they know themselves.
The founding fathers of ACF are also the founding fathers of Nigeria. We have General Yakubu Gowon who led and won the war to keep Nigeria one at a very youthful age, as a bachelor. He is the Chairman of, Board of Patrons. Other patrons are patriots and former Heads of States like General Ibrahim Babangida, General Muhammadu Buhari, Alhaji Abubakar Atiku, etc. When you are led by people of such vast experience, you know you have nothing to lose but everything to gain in terms of experience.
In ACF, we are trying to show Nigerians that ethnic diversity as we have in the North should be a source of strength and not weakness. Our detractors say we are for the Hausa Fulani what the Ohanaeze Ndigbo is for the Igbo and the Afenifere is for the Yorubas. Nothing could be further from the truth. They forget that Chief Sunday Awoniyi, a Yoruba man, was one of those who founded the ACF and led it for many years as chairman. Our current chairman, Chief Audu Ogbe, is not a Hausa or Fulani man. He is Idoma. We try to accommodate everybody once you are a Northerner – ethnic background regardless.
It is an honour and great education to belong to this group. I must not forget to mention the media that has cooperated very much in publicizing us accurately since I came to office.