Mr. Anthony Sani is the national secretary of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF). In this interview with SUNDAY ISUWA, Sani said the Northern part of Nigeria is not divided and will soon overcome its challenges. He spoke on other national issues.
As the ACF scribe, is Northern Nigeria still one entity?
The North has always been one on issues most northerners share. And this has been so because most of the cultures and traditions in the North are about the same. There is relative pluralism that comes with inter-ethnic marriages and urbanization as well as trading. Moreso, the North was a protectorate before amalgamation with the Southern protectorates in 1914.
Some people said there seems to be more divisions in the North now than ever before. What is your take on this?
Those who think so may be looking at the security challenges posed by recent advent of insurgence, banditry, cattle rustling, clashes between herders and farmers, most of which have to do with the harsh economic challenges that comes with climate change and the unbridled growth in population that is over and above the growth in GDP. But the
challenges are caused mostly by criminal elements of the society who are in the minority and being given ethnic and religious pigmentation by those who do not wish the regime well.
I think these challenges are surmountable, given purposeful leadership and the commitment of every Nigerian to bring his or her best. So that cannot reasonably be the basis of the conclusion that the North is more divided now than ever before. We must note that there would always be challenges in all societies.
Hence the significance of government, which exists to address challenges as they arise. This regime inherited most of these challenges and has been making conscious dedicated efforts to overcome them across the nation.
And given the taming of the insurgents’ activities to the fringes of North-east away from their past transcending of the whole North and ongoing frequent arrests of kidnappers and bandits, there is hope that the North will soon overcome its challenges and regain its pride of place as far as peaceful mechanism of living is concerned.
Over the years, what has been the contribution of the ACF toward the peaceful co-existence of the region?
What are you expecting ACF to do beyond appealing to the people to be peaceful with one another in order to provide enabling environment for socio-economic development? The forum also intercedes between communities, which are not at peace with one another for express purpose of bringing about peace. ACF does this by either inviting the warring factions for peace talks or the forum sends teams to visit the problem areas.
ACF also organizes peace or security summit for interactions in order to promote Northern society that is socially diverse, politically active and economically empowered. We believe the situations could be worst were there no complementary efforts of ACF to those of governments at both federal and state levels.
Some leaders from the Middlebelt said they are not part of the North. They further formed a group with their Southern counterparts known as Southern and Middlebelt leaders forum. How do you view this?
Please note that Middle Belt Forum existed way back before states were created. Chief Tarka wanted a region for the Middle Belt reminiscent of Midwest region in order to allay the fears of minorities of domination by the majority.
But now that states and local governments have been created and the minorities have their states, which they govern, it is my humble submissions that the agitations by Middle Belt Forum is rooted in what no longer exists.
What is more, we do not know whether the agitations by the Middle Belt Forum is for ethnic minorities in the North, some of which are in North-east, North-west; Kaduna and Kebbi states or it is religious. And if it is religious, they must note the import of producing three governors who are Christians among 19 Northern states governors.
The cry of marginalisation of the Middle Belt cannot be supported by facts of history. This is because Generals Yakubu Gowon, Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalami Abubakar are from the so-called Middle Belt, which has also produced many service chiefs, Senate presidents and party chairmen of a political party that ruled for 16 years.
Those leaders from the Middle Belt who claim to have decoupled from the North do not seem to follow events. For example, Governor Lalong of Plateau State is now the chairman of Northern States Governors Forum, while Jukun of Taraba State are at daggers drawn with Tiv of Benue State.
I therefore believe that the leaders who have dissociated from the North do not know that despite their depiction of APC as of the core North, Kwara, Kogi, Nasarawa and Niger states delivered votes to the party in the last presidential and governorship elections. It seems they are still groping in the political cockpit without a compass.
What do you think still binds the North together?
Culture, tradition, history and propinquity as well as trade and inter-ethnic marriages and urbanization are some of the factors, which bind Northerners together. There is no way Northerners would agree to split along ethnic and religious lines, considering there are over 200 ethnic groups in the North and many families have members in both religions.
Insecurity is now ravaging the North and other parts of the country especially Kidnapping and banditry. Many have been kidnapped others killed or sold out as slaves. Why has the North whose sons are heading very important security offices in the government not been able to tackle these issues?
Please note that there have also been security challenges across the nation under the watch of Southerners. Consider the security challenges during Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan when Southerners were service chiefs and yet there were killing of high profile politicians like Bola Ige, Funsho Williams, Harry Marshall, Alfred Rewane, etc.
Also, note in 2012 one attack in Plateau State by gunmen claimed hundreds of people including a serving senator, and within the next one week another attack claimed hundreds of people.
Would you say all these took place under the watch of only Northerners either as president or service chiefs? Would you say it was Northerners, as leaders, who caused America to predict that the insecurity would make Nigeria disintegrate by 2015?
I think the media would serve the nation more and better if they use fact checks to back their assertions rather than bandying declaratory statements about that do not help matters. I say so because our interactions are expected to bring about progress that comes with change.
What should the government and Nigerians do at this critical time?
The government should deliver on the promise of its mandate for the next level at a greater pace than in the past, which was considered as slow. Given the myriad of security challenges, there is the need for the government to increase the number of trained security personnel and equip them adequately.
This is because the security personnel are presently not adequate and are over stretched. The judiciary should be reformed in order to dispense substantive justice, and not technical justice, at greater pace than is currently obtained.
The pace of diversification should be pursued with greater vigor while the needed sacrifices for socio-economic development should be spread evenly among all Nigerians, including public officers.
As for what Nigerians should do, it is important for the citizens to come to terms with the reality that government cannot win the fight against insecurity alone but through the efforts of all citizens who are expected to exercise more patience.
This is because any ailment that requires surgical interventions cannot be without pains. Northerners should know that they are being mocked by the South for carting home gold medals in Misery Indices and bringing up the rear in Human Development Index.
They should take up the change and make conscious direct efforts and reverse the trends as soon as possible. This is because the situation is not beyond redemption, given purposeful leadership and the best in every one.