Musa Saidu: Northern Leaders Are the Region’s Greatest Problem

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Alhaji Musa Saidu is chairman, South-south/South-east chapter of Arewa Consultative Forum; coordinator, Arewa Initiative for Peaceful Coexistence, South-south and South-east, and president of New Nigeria Initiative. In this interview with Femi Durojaiye, Saidu, who also holds the title of Dan Buran of Port Harcourt, speaks on political problems confronting the North, including disagreements within the ACF and the ethno-religious killings in the country. Excerpts:

What is the main purpose of the Arewa Consultative Forum? And do you think ACF is serving this purpose?
No, ACF has not been able to meet up with the purpose for which it was set up. I am a pioneer member of ACF, when it was established by our leaders in 1999. There was a forum before called the Ghamji Forum in Kaduna. Some leaders in the South-south were invited to that forum, which also coincided with the lunch of a book written by late Sunday Awoniyi about the Sultan of Sokoto and the fifth annual lecture of Sir Ahmadu Bello. After the programme, I was the one that approached our northern leaders, which were headed by Alhaji Sule Gambari and Justice Nasir, that now the South-south people are here, why can’t we sit down and form an alliance with them, though, the alliance existed even before independence, there is need to further cement the alliance.

How did you emerge South-south/South-east leader of ACF?
At the forum I was told by leaders from the North and the South-south to explain how Hausas were treated by the people of the South-south, which I did. Then the leader of the northern delegation asked me which organisation we had at that time and I told him the South-south Northern Forum. Justice Nasir then said, as from today, you are a member of ACF and I want you to be the coordinator both in the South-south and South-east. Initially, I was reluctant because I felt the task was enormous and there was no way I could fund it. But I gave him an assurance that I will think over it.

Then we agreed there that South-south people’s congress and ACF should renew their alliance and work together. Then ACF was formed by statutory groups. These groups were scrapped because they couldn’t work together to unite the northerners and we needed a body to unite the North regardless of their religious affiliation and political interest. I was handed two copies of the constitution to go and study to know the workings of ACF. When we got back to Port Harcourt, one of the South-south delegates called me and asked how I could run this organisation and where I will get the money.

What is your take on the current disagreements within ACF?
MD Yusuf started sabotaging the ACF by forming a political party because he was a leader in the ACF and I told him that he was going against the constitution of ACF. Musa Shehu’s tenure as the national chairman of ACF was the beginning of the downfall of the association. The first thing he did was that he wrote me a letter saying he wanted to see the governor of Rivers State.

Before he left Rivers State, he had already created confusion and that was what polarised the North till today. He later wrote me a letter that I was no longer recognised as South-south/South-east chairman of ACF. When this happened people that encouraged me to lead the ACF in the South-south had to back out, too, and stop going for meetings called by Musa Shehu. Alhaji Maitama Sule came to meet in Port Harcourt, begging that since I stopped taking active part in the activities of ACF things had not been moving on fine with the association.

During the governorship election in 2011 we in the ACF played a prominent role for justice to be done to Amaechi, to the point that I was made an official in the campaign committee because I was the leader of the northerners in the region. I helped him mobilise my people for his re-election that year. He promised that the 37 northerners that were killed by stray bullet in the region will be compensated, but that was not done.

The only burial ground we have in the area since colonial time was not big enough and the local government chairman then said we should start paying N30, 000 before we could bury our dead and we protested against that. In 2012 I took the matter to ACF but they did not do anything about it. Instead, Shehu Musa came to Rivers State to meet Amaechi without even coming to see how we were faring. When we asked him why he did that, he said we were a failure. These things that our leaders are doing is what is actually making the North to be backward, we cannot grow if this continues.

So it will not be wrong to say northern leaders are the problem of the region?
You are very correct, they are the problem. We have written a letter to Mr. President that ACF should be investigated. The last time we had an annual general meeting a man stood up saying he is the chairman of ACF in Rivers State. I had to challenge him that I did not know him, people were shocked. This is the kind of problem that we face; somebody will just come, because he has some powerful people behind him, and start looking down on others because they are not up to their standard. That is the kind of problem we northerners face from our leaders.

What do you see as the problem with ACF?
ACF has never been democratic since inception. Before now they were PDP, now they are APC. The reason why ACF was established is to unite the North, but you can see now that they are more politically oriented, deviating from the purpose for which it was established. ACF has never solved any problem since they came in. Today all the founding fathers have stopped coming for meetings. ACF was formed due to the scrapping of some associations. But those associations are coming back now due to the inactiveness of ACF, like the Northern Elders Forum is back.

The Musa Shehu-led ACF has messed up the association; he is just using the office to amass wealth for himself and his gang. My prayer now is that ACF should be investigated. When ACF celebrated their second anniversary, so much money was collected from governors and some rich men but I can tell you that with those monies collected, they don’t have an office; they are politically active now, which is not the purpose the association was established.

When Aminu Tambuwa became the speaker of the House of Representative, I led a delegation to Abuja as the chairman of the northerners in the South-south and South-east. We were received by the Hon. Speaker and he appreciated the good works that we were doing in the South-south region. Two weeks after, Musa Shehu took his own team to visit Namadi Sambo, the vice president. The problem I am having with ACF leadership is that whenever they meet with the northern politicians to discuss how to unite the people of the North and solve problems confronting the people they go to them for their own personal gains, which negates the purpose which the association was founded.

What can you say about the ethno-religious killings that have been going on in the country in recent times?
The ethno-religious killings happening in Nigeria, to me, could be ascribed to economic problems. We don’t have religious crisis in this country and I have said this time without number. Politicians are the problems we are having in Nigeria. Religion has become part of government, which is not supposed to be. We should separate government from religious affairs, let the Muslim go and call Allah in their mosques and do their works there and let politicians face the reason why they are voted into office.

Some of those political office holders are criminals and what do you expect that kind of person to do with the power given to him? They are the ones instigating our children by brainwashing them to carry out all these dastardly acts. Again we have lost our parental values. If not, how can a child move away from under his parents and start killing fellow human beings under the guise of one religion. To me, our politicians and parents need to be reoriented so that moral and the true religious values can be inculcated into our children.

What would you say about the resurgent militancy in the Niger Delta?
Before President Buhari came to power, did you hear anything about the Niger Delta Avengers? The whole thing about Avengers is a scam. It is some disgruntled politicians that are using those boys to destroy those pipelines while they are in Abuja lobbying and negotiating with the presidency to give them money and amnesty. These politicians are doing this because of the monetary gain that is involved.

Some people are calling for the restructuring of Nigeria, do you support this move?
There is nothing wrong with the way Nigeria is structured now; the problem is the people and the political actors. Those who are calling for restructuring are those that want to dismember this country, they want this country to divide. But if they say that we should sit down and discuss how the federal government is taking the bigger share of the money while the states are poor, then that is good because most states now cannot even pay the salaries of their workers.

President Buhari’s anti-corruption crusade has been criticised as targeted against the opposition. Do you agree with this view?
Yes, it is true because those that left PDP to APC are also corrupt. But I can tell you that the pendulum will soon swing to their side. The war against corruption now is selective but I know that a time is coming for those that defected to APC. Many of those governors and politicians in APC today were PDP members. If Buhari wants to be even with the anti-corruption crusade he should beam his searchlight on those that surround him in APC. It is not only Jonathan administration that should be investigated. The present APC governors and senators should also be investigated. But we support the president and we praise him for what he is doing.