BEVERLY HILLS, April 05, (THEWILL) – Alhaji Yerima Shettima is the President, Arewa Youth Consultative Forum. In this interview with AYO ESAN, he speaks on the current insecurity that has enveloped the nation, the 2023 general election, the human rights community, among others. Excerpts:
The current insecurity in the northern part of the country has taken a new dimension which involves kidnapping of students and governments at various level negotiating for their release through payment of huge money as ransom. What do you see to this?
It is not what is expected in this critical period, the level of insecurity in the northern part of the country is really so high, so disturbing, so alarming also. We never envisaged this, we never expected this, but however it is a thing that must be seen to be collectively tackled, it must be seen as a national disaster. All hands must be on deck, today it is in the north, we don’t know where next it will be. So let us jointly put hands together and ensure that this thing comes to a level that people can sleep with their two eyes closed.
It has also spread to the South especially South West where some Fulani herdsmen have resorted to kidnapping, killing, maiming and raping of women. This situation has led to a frosty relationship between the Northerners especially the Fulani and the people of the South West. Somebody like you who is very close to the South West people , what are you doing to restore the normal relation between the northerners and the Yoruba people?
Well so far we have been working with other South West Comrades and contemporaries.We have been in very talking terms with the likes of the Aare Ona Kakanfo, Iba Gani Adams and few individuals as well as few organisations. We have been talking on how we can rectify the situation. So we are rubbing mind. We are still on it and soon we are going to make it open by talking with other major stakeholders on ground to discuss the issue and we are going to come out with the solutions after the resolution of the meetings,
What do you think the Federal government can do to stop the kidnapping of students which is now becoming rampant in the north and to stem it from spreading to other parts of the country?
What the government should do now is to be very proactive and work side by side with the communities for intelligence gathering and they need to also meet with the stakeholders to rub minds with them so that everybody will be committed to the project. This is a very critical period and we need to be very careful, while we go along with striking those who are criminally minded among us, dialogue can also be another way of resolving the crisis.
Some people are of the view that the creation of state police could help curb the insurgency. What is your take on this?
Yes I have always been an advocate of creation of state police or community policing. This is going to go along with the Federal Police at the centre and I think what the Federal Government can do is to also let us have community policing . In other developed countries you have the Federal, State Police and even local government police. So there is the need to have local government police. These was what we have in the 50s and 60s in the country and we could see how we can overcome our challenges of insecurity. So it won’t be a bad idea if we introduce this and put it right so that at the end of the day, we get it right.
Looking back in the last five to six years, how will you assess President Muhammadu Buhari’s fight against corruption?
Well in term of fighting corruption, the government has not done well enough. We expect to see something different, but incidentally , in fact this is the most terrible situation we found ourselves, where people take a lot of advantages of the situation at the centre and also steal money with impunity and get away with it without been brought out and dealt with decisively. So I think the government has to do more on its anti-corruption programme. To our surprise the level of corruption is getting worse and in the next two or three years, only God know where we would be in term of corruption. The government needs to deal with those who are found wanting one way or the other.
You have been a leading advocate of youth in government positions. The new EFCC Chairman is in his 40s, what is your advice to him in the task ahead?
I have said it over and over again, Bawa is not just there for himself, he is there for some of us who believe that we need to correct the notion by the elders that we cannot do without them. I am of the view that we can and we can do better than what is obtaining in the past. Some of us are going to watch Bawa closely, we will ensure that we guide him, bite him when necessary and ensure that he succeeds and we pray he will do exactly what we advise him to do .
One thing we can assure him is that, once he stood his ground to do the right thing, he can rest assured of getting our support and our closeness to him to ensure he succeeds . This is because his success is our collective success
Despite the insecurity that pervades the nation, people are still talking of the 2023 election, and many youths are now clamouring that one of them should be the president come 2023, what is your stand on this?
I am 100 per cent in support of youth taking over as the president, youth must take over the political space. I am saying it, I will continue to say it over and over again, and the youth must occupy the political space come 2023. We will ensure that one of our own, our contemporary come 2023 emerges as the president. We will give him all the support and protection to ensure he won. Never again would we allow these older generation to joke with our destiny . We can’t allow that to continue because afterall we constitute over 65 per cent of the voters in an election. Rather than using that population advantage for any older person, we will use it for ourselves and we will use our support for a younger person who will emerge eventually. We will ensure we get it right this time around.
This thing is easy to say like you are saying it. How prepared are the youth for that challenge?
We are more than prepared, just wait and see.
The issue of zoning also came to the fore recently when the committee set up by the PDP to review the 2019 elections recommended that the 2023 presidency should be made open to aspirants from all the six geo political zonse. This attracted wide condemnation, what is your stand on zoning of the 2023 presidency?
I don’t believe in zoning because it is not constitutional. So since it is not constitutional it cannot be binding on anybody. Everybody should come up and we would decide who we think is the best for us and we would work for him and we hope to get it right .But zoning does not count and will not count, zoning will amount to illegality.
But some people said for equity and fairness, South East should be given the chance to produce, others are mentioning North East, cant we allow the two Zones to compete for it?
Those who are saying that are also unfair, what about North Central? So let us go for merit and forget this zoning issue. If you talk of South east, what of North East and North Central. You can see that those clamouring for South East are also biased. What of the North East and North Central. Why don’t we follow the constitution and pick the best from any angle in Nigeria. I think that is the way out. Doing the right thing is important now.
We have also read in newspapers that you said you will not support Asiwaju Bola Tinubu’s ambition to be president in 2023. How true is this and why?
It is just because he belongs to the old generation. That is the only issue I have with his ambition. He belongs to the old generation, so for now the likes of him and others of his age should not be taking us for granted anymore. He should be at the background and when we need his advice, he should be ready to give us. He and his contemporaries will definitely find it difficult contesting against the youth in 2023.
The National Assembly is about carrying out electoral reform before the 2023 general elections, which areas would you suggest they should amend or adjust?
We should adopt the Justice Mohammed Uwais’ report. That is already before us, we don’t need to waste another resources. The Uwais Committee has done wonderfully well and so we should commend that committee and adopts its report. Doing that is better than to constitute an electoral reform committee and start wasting resources , unfortunately for us, the resources are not even there for us now to waste
Some are of the view that we should go for a brand new constitution and jettison the 1999 constitution in its entirety. How will you respond to this?
Yeah, the truth of the matter is that some of the people saying this are right. I also believe it is the right thing to do .Personally from what I know, from my experience in the struggle, I know the constitution lacks legitimacy but how do we go about it and how are we going to get there is the problem . I know it can only be through referendum and if we are going to go through referendum, it means the constitution has to be amended to pave way for that referendum, to see if we can adopt it or go for a new constitution.
The issue of restructuring is vibrating across the length and breadth of the country, do you believe in restructuring?
I am an advocate of restructuring because we cannot continue this way and allowing the Centre to control so much power. The way things are run at the centre is unbearable. We need to decentralise, the centre is choked up and cannot hold any longer. If we restructure the system, economically, politically, security and so on everything will fall in to place and things will begin to work just as it was obtained in the 50s and early 60s before the first military coup. Things were working in the country then, we should ask ourselves why things are not working now. It is because we over centralized the system of governance, too much resources and power are left in the hands of the Federal Government. That is not done then and it will take us to nowhere.
Some people are of the opinion that if the insecurity is not stopped, we may not have election in 2023, how will you react to this ?
With the way it is going certainly, if we don’t take good measures to curtail insecurity, certainly there won’t be election. You can’t have election in the middle of unchecked insecurity. I hope before then, the government would have come up with a master plan, working together with prominent Nigerians to know that this is the problem that affect everybody and checkmate it. If you want to be president and there is no conducive atmosphere, there is no way you can be what you want to become. If we allow this social devices to go on as it is, it falls on everybody irrespective of political parties, religious platform tribes and so we must all unite to ensure there is peace in the land. We must jointly attack the major threat to peaceful conduct of election among other things which is insecurity
Will you support the call for another constitutional conference to determine the way forward for the county?
It may not be necessary. How many conferences have he had? Which of their reports have been implemented? There is no fund and time for that now. I won’t fall for that.
Would you then suggest we adopt the reports of the past constitutional conferences or how do we move forward as a nation?
We can’t completely say that, but there should be something that will come out to the public domain. Let everybody know what is on, what is not on, so that amendment can be made. And if we agree collectively it can be adopted. This is in spite the fact that some of us have reservations on the Jonathan’s conference and Obasanjo’s conference. That notwithstanding, out of nothing, we can still hold on to something.
The human right community of which you are a member seemed to have dozed off, they aren’t as active as before Are you worried about this development?
If some of the human right groups have gone to sleep, some of us are still active and we are in the trenches. Some of them have been crippled by successive governments. Some of them at the end of the day were consumed by the governments. However, some of us remained resolute and committed to the project Nigeria and we remain very firm doing what we can do to salvage the country.
Nigerians look desolate, the economy is bad, the problem of insecurity is there for all to see, and things are so terrible. What is your advice to the people of Nigeria?
We must remain optimistic. We must have hope that this country can still come up. Also, we have option under democracy, we have to define our destiny by ensuring that we occupy the political space, consider our contemporaries and work side by side with them.
All of us the youth must ensure we occupy the political space beyond talking outside the government. We must partake to bring a good government that will bring the desired results to Nigerians.
What is your advice to the politicians in the country?
To the politicians, they should be mindful of the fact that no matter what they think and no matter what they do , in as much as we are concerned as a nation, they must think and take Nigeria first . They must think of Nigeria first in all their dealings. They must think of Nigeria before thinking of their personal interest. So they must ensure that in their dealings, they must ensure that Nigeria remains in peace.