President of Arewa Youths Consultative Forum, Alhaji Shetima Yerima has urged the relevant authorities to deal with anybody who violates the suspension of the quit notice to the Igbo residing in the northern parts of the country. In this interview with WILLY EYA, he said the quit order belongs to the past as the objective…
President of Arewa Youths Consultative Forum, Alhaji Shetima Yerima has urged the relevant authorities to deal with anybody who violates the suspension of the quit notice to the Igbo residing in the northern parts of the country. In this interview with WILLY EYA, he said the quit order belongs to the past as the objective has been achieved by Arewa youths. He spoke on other issues.
The Indigenous People of Biafra(IPOB) led by Nnamdi Kanu has rejected the suspension of the quit notice to the Igbo residing in the North; what is your reaction to that?
How is that my problem? Did I do it for him or in the interest of the country? His rejection of the suspension of the quit notice is not important to me. What we did was to demonstrate that we have a culture. We give respect to our elders and it was to ensure that the country remains together. The country is above anybody. On that basis, his acceptance or not is not important but I know that he also is not speaking for the Igbo. It is a minority view of few people making all sorts of noise. It is not really important to me and I do not want to join issues with them. Nigeria is above everybody and I stand on the path of one united country. We have to build a nation that we can call our own.
Even after the suspension of the quit notice, there are still fears that you cannot rule out pockets of harassment of the Igbo at the expiration of the October 1 deadline to them. Are the Arewa youths doing anything to ensure compliance to the suspension?
Nobody would do anything. Anybody who does anything, we make sure that the authorities arrest the person. We are in charge. Nobody should be scared of anything. Our youths are reasonable; they are known to respect one another; we listen to our leaders unlike some other parts of the country. But having said that, you can be rest assured that there is no cause for alarm. So, let Nigerians be rest assured that nothing would befall anybody by God’s grace and we are working towards that and we would give the government the maximum support. Our brothers across board, we would make sure that no evil would befall them. That is the position of things.
It is unfortunate and I would not hesitate to condemn hate speeches among the people because it would not do the nation any good. We must ensure there is a law to guide the people against it and not only a law that would merely be pronounced but that would catch up with anybody that contravenes that law. So, the National Assembly must move fast to ensure that such a law is really enshrined in our constitution. It is so that at the end of the day, nobody would have used the sensibilities of anybody in a nation that we claim belongs to all of us. In as much as everybody has the right for self-determination under the international law that Nigeria is part of, we are also saying that whatever you do would be within the limits of the law. This is so, so that you do not abuse or drag anybody, advocate a war, malign any section of the country and you can go about doing your things lawfully without witch-hunting anybody and calling for war. That is the genesis of the quit order.
There is an increasing momentum on the call for restructuring, are you for or against it?
I am an advocate of restructuring any day and time but we have to be mindful that time and events change things. The heart of the matter is that in as much as I believe in restructuring, we also need to be cautious and mindful of the time we are speaking to that restructuring. As we speak today, the definition of restructuring is neither here nor there. There are a lot of problems in Nigeria today. My suggestion is that we should wait for 2019 after a new government would have been installed to carry out the restructuring that we want to do. I believe that when a new government is in place, we can begin to advocate for restructuring. The next government, whoever wants power, can begin to campaign for restructuring and accept that there is an agreement between him and Nigerians before they can vote him into office. That means that the moment the government comes into place, we can begin to talk about restructuring. The whole idea about restructuring is about give and take.
But many believe that Buhari has the capacity to ensure Nigeria is restructured if he is favourably disposed to it and that delaying it is like postponing the evil day. What do you think?
Do not forget that Nigeria has never had this kind of period where her unity is threatened and such issues are so fundamental that if we do not take measures to manage them, we would be in very big trouble. So, we need to save the country before we begin to talk about restructuring and what to share or not.
What is your position to the allegation that the North is resisting restructuring because her people had been the greatest beneficiaries of the present contentious structure of Nigeria?
What is the North benefitting? The poverty, backwardness or the system that has marginalized the generality of our people? Certainly, we are not benefitting from what is going on in the country. We are also saying that if the country is not safe, there would not be anything to share. We are saying that there is always long and short term approaches to issues. We are saying nobody is afraid of restructuring but that it is secondary; let us face the reality on ground which is what we are doing now. We must first of all save the country. We are faced with a lot of challenges and particularly the unity of this country is being threatened. We must be sure that we do away with the bad side of it. Once there is a strong system in place and we all agree that we all belong to this country, then we can be rest assured that people can now face restructuring. For instance, we are working towards having a national peace summit in the middle of September. At that level, we would all reaffirm our allegiance to the country and we can begin to build the nation. Then after this government, the next one can come up with the issue of restructuring and we can look at it. I am an advocate of restructuring and I am not denying it.
People who know you were surprised that you championed the quit notice considering that virtually all your life, you have lived outside your region and specifically in the Southern part of the country.
I do not want to dabble again into the quit notice because it is a forgotten issue. It has been overtaken by events. Let us not go back to it. Some madness came from some angle by somebody who believes that he can undermine our elders and leaders and at a point, somebody had to make a statement to bring him to order. That has been achieved and so far, so good. I am happy we are no more hearing those languages of we are going for war, we would make what happened in Sudan a child’s play and all that. I think those languages are over. Honestly, I do not want to be involved in the quit notice any more because I have gone beyond that and it has got behind me. We are just looking for a way to build the nation.
But in building the nation, what is the way forward considering the level of ethnic division in Nigeria today?
The way forward is that we must insist on equity, justice and fairness to all. If you do that and we now have a country where nobody is marginalized and where everything is well put in place, you can be rest assured that the agitation would naturally die. I believe in this generation and I insist that things must be done right and we must begin to build the Nigeria of our dreams.
On the road to 2019, what is your advice to politicians?
The politicians must know that it is when you have a country that you can begin to play politics. This is because once Nigeria is into chaos, nobody would be talking about going to occupy any office. So, what is before all of us now is to join hands and build the nation. And we would resist any politician from any part of the country that tries to instigate anybody. The issue is about equity and fairness to all. That is the only way we can build a nation of our own. I believe strongly that at the end of the day, we would arrive there and have a nation of our own that all of us would be proud.
What are your greatest fears about Nigeria?
My greatest fear is to wake up one morning and find out that there is no country called Nigeria. That was why we took steps toward the right direction; we are ready to make sacrifice so that Nigeria remains together. I am sure that our founding fathers who fought tooth and nail to sustain the unity of the country, wherever they are even in their graves, they would not be comfortable. They would be saying that this is not what they bargained for the country. So, we are going to ensure that the unity of the country they fought for is being sustained.
What are your regrets about events in Nigeria today?
Honestly, I have a lot of regrets and reservations. This is not the country we dreamt of. I remember at the time I came into limelight in the struggle, that was about 18 years ago when I was a young student; this is not the kind of Nigeria we all envisaged. Why we put our lives on the line during the dark days of the military and even at the expense of our families, enjoyment and all that, is to have a better Nigeria. I am not happy that after all these years, I am still in the trenches. I wish we have come to a stage where I can relax comfortably with my family. I wish we have a country where we can look back and say yes, this is the result of the sacrifice we have made. But now, I look at the situation, I look at myself and I begin to sympathise with myself. Sometimes I share tears and I cry in my heart. After we fought and took the military back to the barracks, I thought that we would have been enjoying this democracy. But today, I keep talking and I do not know when it would end. I am tired and my family is also tired.
But do you think that there would be a time in Nigeria when people of different ethnic regions would sit down around a table and see one another as one like it used to be in the good old days?
I have no doubt in my mind that we would get there someday but it requires collective sacrifice by all.
How did you become an activist? Was it by choice or happenstance?
I went into activism because of my passion for humanity. If I went into activism for money, I could have got what I wanted. If you look at my contemporaries, I am the poorest because I have been fighting for the public. Go and look at the records among all the people I started the struggle with. I would not mention names. As popular as I am, if I wanted money, I would have made money long ago but against all odds, I stood by my principle. I feel that injustice to one is injustice to all. I fight injustice anywhere I am.
Why I asked this question is that at the heat of the recent tension over the quit notice by the Arewa youths to the Igbo, there were insinuations that you were paid to do a hatchet job. How true is that?
People should know that I have an identity. There is no successful activist who did not emmerge from Lagos. This state has shaped my life to fight against injustice. But the fact of the matter is that I have an identity. If you go to my records, you would see that when an issue comes up, no matter who is involved irrespective of where he comes from, I fight for fairness. I have never woken up one day and abuse anybody from the South West, South East or South South. If anybody does anything against my people, I fight against it whether the person is from the North or South. People talk about me now because of the current issues but they should go to my records about two decades ago. I feel bad when that young man, Kanu abuses my entire people. Where was he when we joined the struggle? If he does not know what struggle means, we should tell him what it means. So, people should know me that I would never compromise. If I wanted to get money in the struggle, I would have made millions. I am from Zaria and no matter how long I stay in the South, it does not change the fact that I have an identity and I lead my people.
Do you have phobia for the Igbo or you are just fighting this cause based on your conviction?
A lot of my friends are Igbo people. I have nothing against the Igbo. It did not end there, let me also demonstrate that to you; my first wife is from Calabar, the old South Eastern region. We have two kids. I have a good relationship with the Igbo. I have attended an event organized in memory of Odumegwu Ojukwu in Owerri under the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) led by Ralph Uwazuruike. For the past five years, I have been going to Owerri. How best would I describe my relationship with the Igbo? During my school days in Lagos State University, Igbo people are my best friends. I am not against the Igbo but I am against any tribe that abuses the sensibilities of my leaders. And this is what prompted the action but thank God, it has come to an end. I still maintain my relationship with my Igbo brothers. All the ethnic groups in this country, I want to appeal to them, let us come together and build a nation of our own. We should know that all of us are being marginalized and what we should do is to come together and build the nation we can call our own. We are all human beings and we are bound to make things right or wrong.