Anthony NZ Sani is the Secretary General of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), a mouthpiece for the North. In this interview with NOAH EBIJE in Kaduna, Sani said the region has no consensus candidate for the 2019 presidential race, explaining that it is not the tradition of the north to whirl around a particular candidate in the midst of many from the region.
He added that President Muhammadu Buhari does not need the political support of former President Olusegun Obasanjo to be re-elected for a second term in office. He dismissed the letter Obasanjo wrote, asking Buhari to take a bow from the presidential race and assured that the former leader would soon be demystified by Buhari.
The ACF scribe noted that unlike in 2015 when Obasanjo wrote similar letter to the then President Goodluck Jonathan and influenced his defeat at the polls, the letter to Buhari was already a misfire as it was received with mixed reactions across the country.
What is your take on the letter by former President Obasanjo to President Buhari to return home and forget second term bid?
Because past letters by Obasanjo yielded the desired results by helping to change government, it has gotten into the head of the former president that he is the conscience of the nation and the country’s rain maker. Hence, his penchant for letter writing to sitting presidents.
While I know that the former president is relevant politically, I do believe President Buhari can win election without the support of Obasanjo. And I guess that is why President Buhari wants to prove Obasanjo wrong by vying for president in 2019.That is to say, President Buhari wants to break the jinx by being the Achilles heels of letter writing by the former president to sitting president to seek their downfall. And there are signs to that effect. For example, past letters to former Heads of state and presidents by Obasanjo reflected national consensus and were devoid of controversies. But today, the story is different. Instead of reflecting national consensus, the current letter by OBJ has generated more controversies that he, OBJ, expected. Anyway, it is still democracy in action and the former president has expressed his views. But whether such views are vatic as was in the past is what many Nigerians doubt.
What is your take on the sit-at-home order by IPOB on May 30 when it has been declared not just illegal but a terrorist group by the Federal Government?
My position is that IPOB is for mischief. Otherwise, it should know that it is illegal. And since the court has not reversed its decision that IPOB is a terrorist group, one expects the platform to be law abiding. By declaring a public holiday amid its illegal status suggests IPOB is lawless. I therefore advise IPOB to be law abiding and allow due process of law to take its course lest its test of government’s will becomes some thing else.
What about the allegations leveled by Genera T Y Danjuma, that the military is out for ethnic cleansing?
I do not share the sentiments expressed by the respected General Danjuma precisely because the military as an institution has officers from across ethnic groups in Nigeria. As a result, it is not possible for the institution of the military to embark on ethnic cleansing. It just cannot add up.
It may well be that some few officers have been observed by the General to engage in untoward activities by not respecting rules of engagements, but the sins of a few cannot be allowed to destroy the military as an institution.
The good news is that President Buhari has told the world that any allegation of abuse of human rights would be investigated and perpetrators would be brought to book. That is very hearty.
What is your assessment of Buhari’s visit to the American President where Trump warned him to stop herdsmen from killing Christians in Nigeria?
I think the visit was very helpful because it enabled the two leaders to have realistic appreciation of the situations and the need for them to live up their synergy against the security concerns. Some of you in the media are very mischievous when you help to promote cleavages of the nation along religious and ethnic lines. Make no mistake to imagine that President Trump favored
Christians and never bothered about Muslims killed. Trump never talked on behalf of Christians alone. He showed concerns about lives of both Christians and Muslims being lost in Nigeria, which must stop. And that is why America sold the Tucano fighter planes to Nigeria in order to help fight the insecurity posed by not only the insurgents but also by the clashes and kidnapping.
Many people believe that northern presidential aspirants like Atiku Abubakar, Sule Lamido, Rabiu Kwankwaso, Ibrahim Shekarau, among others have divided ACF. How worried are you over this division that you can no longer speak with one voice?
The North has never been one in matters of partisan politics. That is why ACF is not a political party and does not field candidates, which is the exclusive preserve of political parties. As mentioned earlier, that is why Alhaji Shehu Shagari contested not only against candidates from the South but also with candidates from the North. The North is aware of its ethnic and religious diversity, which inform democratic attitudes of northerners.
It is believed that because of this division in ACF, the Arewa youth organisations have taken the shine off ACF. Are you in touch with the youths?
How has the youths taken the shine out of ACF? Only the ignorant media reporters would fault ACF’s approach. If the Arewa youths want to be politically partisan, they can as well convert into a political party or join any of the existing political parties and field candidates for elections. There is no way ACF can be politically partisan and survive it. This is precisely because the forum comprises members from different political parties, different ethnicity and different religions, while ACF seeks to promote one North that is people who are socially diverse, politically active and economically empowered. We know we are yet to reach there, but with time and God’s willing we shall reach the promised land.
ACF set up various committees, including political committee. What political agenda is the Forum setting for the north to present a consensus candidate for 2019 general election?
The committees were set up to help ACF make informed judgement and decisions in its management practices for the express purpose of helping the authorities and leaders at all levels of governance to shape events rather than allow events to shape the polity. The North has not indicated any desire to field a consensus candidate. This is because ACF is aware of the fact we practice multi-party democracy which allows different political parties to field their own candidates for purpose of canvassing for electoral mandate needed for implementation of the party manifesto that represent distinct method of addressing national concerns.
Please recall when the Northern Leaders Forum talked of Northern Consensus in 2010, it was for party primaries of PDP which was independent of other political parties also found in the North. The other political parties were not party to the Northern Consensus program, that was internal affair of the then ruling party, PDP. The North has never been one when it comes to partisan politics. T
hat explains why Alhaji Shehu Shagari contested not only against Dr Azikiwe and Awolowo from the South but also with Mallam Aminu Kano and Alhaji Ibrahim Waziri from the North. ACF is not a political party. As a result, it cannot influence the emergence of a consensus candidate from the North. What is more, ACF comprises members across party lines which make it impossible for adoption of a consensus candidate for all the political parties. What ACF does is to educate voters on what to look for in good leaders during elections for the purpose of electing good leaders at all levels of governance. ACF also helps voters to know about the political parties and what promise they offer to the North by way of socioeconomic development. All these are intended to help voters make informed decisions during elections.
Ijaw nation led by elder statesman, Edwin Clark visited ACF in Kaduna on many occasions to drum support for their kinsman, Goodluck Jonathan, who was the President at that time. Why is ACF not doing similar thing for Buhari by reaching out to Eastern leaders for their support?
I told you, that is not how ACF operates. The forum has said it would make its position known at the appropriate time. I wonder why the hurry when the tenure has one more year to go. I suggest you wait for the forum which hopes to make you know its position. It is too early to forget that ACF visited both Afenifere and Ohanaeze for purpose of breaking barriers and building bridges across the Niger in order to promote unity and harmony in the country. This is how ACF operates. The forum is more or less a pressure platform, which gives voice to the aspirations of the North by helping to shape events instead of being shaped by events.
And by so doing the forum supports the president when the regime delivers on her campaign promises to the North. We praise the president when he does well and offer constructive criticism in those areas there are observed shortcomings. Chief Edwin Clark could campaign for President Jonathan because Jonathan was about the only candidate from Ijaw ethnic extraction. But in the case of ACF and the North which thrive on diversity and there are many political parties and candidates begging for attention, the approach by Chief Edwin Clark may differ from that of ACF which members are diverse by political parties, candidates, ethnicity and religion.
There is this allegation that those sponsoring ACF as a pressure group have withdrawn their sponsorship for fear of whistle blowers and EFCC, and as a result the group is broke. How broke is ACF?
I am not aware of that. It seems you are new in Jerusalem. Please note the recession has just been exited and the economy has just started to pick up. As a result, those public spirited individuals and companies who support the forum out of passion have not been having money to spare. This is also true of northern governments who have been the main support of ACF’s activities. That accounts for paucity of funds in ACF.
Furthermore, all those who support ACF tie their support to projects being undertaken by ACF. There has never been any time that ACF was deliberately sponsored by any group or groups in the absence of a project on the table. But when ACF has a project like the 10th year anniversary of 2010 or Peace and Development Conference of 2011,the forum would ask for some form of donations or support from public spirited individuals and governors who make free-will donations for the specific projects. The forum does not just ask for donations until it has a project to execute. That is the position.
Other ethnic organisations would place newspaper adverts to congratulate Mr. President on his three years in office, why is ACF not doing same?
ACF has not considered that in its activities. Also note that ACF does not have to imitate other ethnic organizations. This is because the forum is not an ethnic organization like Afenifere and Ohanaeze. As a result, it cannot be expected to be same with other ethnic groups in its style of management practices.
Sir, what is your view on the State of the nation, putting into consideration the bombings, killings and kidnappings across the country?
There is no doubt that security challenges posed by insurgency, kidnapping and clashes between herdsmen and farmers are serious security concerns to most Nigerians. But we should not lose sight of fact of history that these challenges were inherited by this regime which promised to tame them if voted into power. Any fair minded and objective assessment cannot deny the fact that attacks by the insurgents which were frequent and ubiquitous across the Northern states, including FCT, have been reduced substantially and limited to the fringes of North East zone by this regime. The fear and hopelessness, which pervaded the politics under the watch of past regime have been replaced by sense of hope and confidence.
Of course, we know that to overcome insurgency and wipe out the terrorists completely with hard power of military might is not feasible. Complete extirpation of terrorism is often achieved through anti-terrorism strategies aimed at addressing the underlying causes of the insurgency. If you listened to President Trump during the last visit by President Buhari to America, you would hardly avoid the conclusion that America and the international community have taken note of the efforts by President Buhari, and are determined to support his fight against the insurgents. That is why President Trump applauded the effort of this regime in fighting both the security challenges and corruption in order to clear the way for the revamping of the economy away from undue dependence on oil wealth. As to the kidnapping, there has been concerns, considering the spread across the country, since kidnapping is now reported in many parts of the North which never experienced the phenomenon in the past. Somehow, I think that the introduction of cashless economy has come with limited amount of cash people carry for business transactions, thereby reducing armed robbery in favour of kidnapping by men of the under world. And just like the attacks by Boko Haram are being weakened by this regime, the kidnapping would also ebb. Talking about the clashes between herders and farmers, which some people attribute to transmutation of insurgents while some others attribute them to predisposing factors such as increased population, desert encroachment and migration due to conflicts in other countries such as Libya, I believe this regime will give them the same treatment meted to Boko Haram, especially when the ordered fighter Tucano jets arrive. Yet, I dare say Nigerians should come to terms with the reality that the good things of life such as order, justice, liberty, common decency, peace and prosperity for all, are never natural order of things but attained by ceaseless hard work by purposeful leadership at all levels and the led in order to make desires possible and then actual.
Most Nigerians are saying that the Boko Haram issue that did not allow them to re-elect Jonathan in 2015 is a child play to the magnitude of insecurity being witnessed under Buhari. Do you see Buhari being re-elected in view of this situation?
How could killings by clashes between pastoralists and farmers be a child’s play compared to the havoc meted to Nigerians under the last regime when about 20,000 people lost their lives and multitudes were displaced into IDP camps? The two cannot be compared. While the clashes are truly devastating, they cannot be compared to what occurred when Boko Haram held sway and many people were killed, many others feared to worship in both mosques and churches and even to go to market places and garages. If the insecurity posed by insurgents where thousands of Nigerians lost their lives is more than those posed by the clashes between herders and farmers, most Nigerians would know. But as for me, I do not think so. And I believe the regime would give the clashes the same treatment meted to Boko Haram as time goes on. I say as time goes on because the clashes are reminiscent of guerrilla warfare which requires time for overcoming them through deployment of not only increase in number and quality of the security personnel, but also of high quality fighting equipment. The good news is that President Trump has promised to help, precisely because terrorism transcends international boundaries. Hence, the resolve by comity of nations to make insurgency history globally.