• Buhari’s Culture of Silence Suggests Divided Presidency, Government at War
• Northerners Opposed to Split of Country Because of Benefits of United Nigeria
At a time President Muhammadu Buhari seem to be getting a lot of battering; a dissenting voice sees him as providing effective leadership though he insists more could be done to ameliorate situations. To Secretary General of Arewa Consultative Forum, Anthony Sani, rather than tar him as clueless, he could be said to need adjustments in certain areas and that taken where he met the country and the present situation, he is delivering on his campaign promises. He blames bleak economic indices that might not reflect reality in other theaters for the gloomy perception people have of him. He spoke to Bayo Akinloye on the anti-corruption fight, seemingly stagnant economy, wanton killings by Boko Haram, killer herdsmen and other bandits across the land while dismissing ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo as talking out of point in his criticisms of the government…excerpts
What is your position on claims by the opposition and some northern leaders, some in the ACF, that Nigeria has never been more divided than under President Muhammadu Buhari?
The cleavages of the nation along ethnic and religious lines predates this regime, considering the ethno-religious clashes in Plateau and Kaduna states which claimed many lives and properties in the early life of this nascent democracy. Recall crises by OPC in the West, the Ife-Modakeke, the Andoni-Ogoni clashes, the Aguleri-Umuleri, clashes, etc. It was all these crises that made some groups in America to predict that Nigeria would be a failed state by 2015. And so whatever you are observing now was foretold when Gen. Buhari was not the president. And so, for anybody to submit that our experiences are a result of President Buhari’s regime’s actions or inaction is most unfair –if not unkind. Rather, President Buhari should be credited for preventing the situation from becoming worse.
As regards the clashes between herders and farmers that are given ethnic and religious colouration, I wish to say this is not correct and it is misguided. I say this because pastoralism is not an exclusive preserve of the Fulani ethnic extraction. Some of them are also farmers. The clashes have predisposing factors of increase in population which have reduced land for grazing. Other factors include movements of herders from other countries to Nigeria due to desert encroachment and conflicts which the government must grapple with. And if you consider these clashes between herders and farmers also take place in North-West states that are predominantly Fulani and Muslims, then it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the clashes are purely criminal that are stoked by economic considerations.
Yet, they are being given religious and ethnic colouration, thereby unwittingly providing criminals platforms upon which they can stand and perpetrate criminal activities, knowing full well that it is not possible to arraign and prosecute ethnicity and religion. And so, while the current increase in clashes between herders and farmers across the country may give an impression that President Buhari is presiding over a divided nation, it must be noted that his regime inherited them and he is struggling to put an end to them. That the regime has not been able to put a complete stop to them at the time we want is not to suggest a lack of effort on the part of the government in this regard.
A coalition of northern groups recently passed a vote of no confidence in most of the northern public officeholders for backwardness in the North. The ACF has distanced itself from that position especially as it concerns President Muhammadu Buhari. Will you hold northern leaders responsible for the pitiable socio-economic situation in the North?
The Arewa Consultative Forum distanced itself because it did not participate in the preparation of the summit and in the summit despite its status of being an umbrella platform for most northerners. Those members who attended exercised their constitutional right of association which no one can reasonably deny them. There is no country which underdevelopment is not attributed to a failure of its leadership at all levels. Nigeria’s inability to compete with its peers like South Korea, Singapore, and Malaysia is attributed to the failure of its leadership across the nation, and not in the North alone. The South has an edge over the North in socio-economic development because the difference between when Western education reached the South and when it reached the North is almost a century. What is more, there has been resistance to Western education by Islam which northern leaders have been struggling to overcome. So, the edge which the South has over the North in socio-economic development has its root in history, location, and culture –and not so much that the quality of leaders in the South is better than those of the North –albeit the leaders in the North could have done better. Mind you, those who attended the summit have been part and parcel of leaders from the North at all the levels of leadership.
Do you agree, as some have claimed, that the federal government under the All Progressives Congress is mishandling or mismanaging the farmers-herders crisis?
To the extent that the federal government did not take prompt actions by meeting with the state governors for the express purpose of finding the best common way of overcoming the challenges posed by the clashes, one can say the federal government did not do enough. But it appears the federal government is now poised to confront the challenges in unison with state governments, considering the series of meetings by council of state on this important issue of national importance, which have culminated in the decision by the state governors that $1 billion could be taken out of the Excess Crude Account for use in overcoming security challenges across the country.
The Boko Haram insurgency, many have said, remains an open wound that keeps festering. It will appear the government is desperate to end the bloodletting by offering the insurgents amnesty. Do you think that’s a right step in the right direction?
Any responsible government should be desperate in finding ways to put an end to an insurgency that costs lives and properties. Amnesty is often the last resort to prevent further (further) killings. I always tell those opposed to amnesty on the ground of Dane geld that rewards bad behaviour to consider the letter and spirit of the Geneva Convention. When warring parties are invited for peace talks in Geneva, it is not to endorse the killings in the war but to put an end to further killings. Recall the import of the old saying that: ‘If you kill one person, you would be charged with murder; if you kill 10 persons you would be examined for insanity. But if you kill one thousand people, you would be invited for peace talks in Geneva’ in order to stop further killings. Also, note that there is no amnesty without discussions leading to permanent lay down of arms and forswear violence. And if you read United Nations’ resolution (1966) of 2010, which enjoins affected states to address the underlying causes of insurgency. Since the raw power of military might cannot wipe out terrorism completely and permanently, then you can hardly avoid the conclusion that a well-discussed and well-executed amnesty cannot be out of place as a way of a permanent solution.
When people talk about the farmers-herders conflict that has claimed hundreds of lives, they talk about the herders knowing no other way than allowing their cattle to roam freely and graze anywhere they want; that it’s impossible to keep herders in closed spaces. Another argument is that the herders don’t have the money to establish cattle ranches. Does it mean that the farmers should turn a blind eye to the destruction visited on them and their farms so that herders’ cattle can be fed?
I have not come across any group that is opposed to ranches as the best and modern method for rearing livestock. What is at stake is the capacity of both herders and the governments to establish and manage modern ranches effectively. It requires consciously directed efforts at the short-term, medium-term and long-term solution to a serious issue of national importance. I once asked my professor friend to consider why we allow over 10 million pupils out of school in the North. It is not a matter of choice but due to the paucity of funds. Why is it taking so long to resuscitate our railway? It is due to lack of funds. What about our poor state of roads? Our agriculture is still subsistent while our industries are rudimentary, thereby leaving us at the level of production of primary commodities that include crude oil that is not refined in the country. With all these challenges, it is unrealistic for us to single out only one aspect of our national life and expect it to modernise overnight. Herein lies the challenges in establishing ranches. It is a matter of capacity and not a mere expression of a wish. The federal government should sit down with all the state governments and stakeholders with a view to coming out with how best to overcome the challenges posed by the clashes in the hope of establishing ranches in due course that will benefit both the herders and the farmers.
Or you think the crisis is not about grazing routes and encroachments on farmlands?
There are predisposing factors such as the increase in population, decrease in areas for grazing, migration due to the encroachment of the desert, unemployment, and conflicts in other countries. It has to do more about economy and criminality than ethnicity or religion.
Is it true that the ACF is considering other northern presidential candidates apart from Buhari?
I am not aware of that. The ACF is not a political party and so it is not in a position to present political candidates. What is more, the ACF comprises northerners irrespective of their political parties or affiliations. That is why the forum tries to educate voters about qualities to look for in good leaders during elections.
In your estimation, has President Buhari performed well? Does he deserve a second term?
I am not former President Olusegun Obasanjo who can decide for Nigerians. I do not think I am qualified to speak for Nigerians who will vote this time on the basis of the president’s performance and no more on the basis of hope. The ACF has said it will give its position at an appropriate time. Wait for the forum. But as a person, I can say the president has done creditably well on his campaign promises, which were to fight the insurgency and corruption in order to pave the way for the economy to take root and thrive. Consider the fact that the regime has weakened Boko Haram by localising them to the North-East and limiting their attacks to soft targets as against in the past when the attacks transcended the whole North. Today, hope and confidence have replaced fear and hopelessness. As to the fight against corruption, even though corruption is fighting back furiously, the fight has crept into popular consciousness and there is an appreciation of the fact that corruption has stolen our empowerment, has stolen our opportunity and has stolen our future. As a result, there is no more cash-for-peerage which can make it possible for democracy, premised on the triple foundation of justice, liberty, and common decency, to supplant plutocracy and kleptocracy.
On the economic front, please note that no economy can thrive in the atmosphere of terrorism and corruption. But if we consider the GDP, the foreign reserve, the Excess Crude Account, oil price, the value of the naira to the dollar and other economic indices in 2010 and compare them with those in 2015, we can hardly avoid the conclusion that they were going down towards the recession against which Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Lamido Sanusi, and Charles Soludo warned. It stands to reason that this regime inherited the unhealthy economic situation and has been able to wedge the downward slide of the economic indices which are now looking up and inspiring hope and confidence in the economy.
I, therefore, submit that despite his shortcomings which go with human frailty, the president has done creditably well. And since no democracy is without challenges, considering order, justice, liberty, peace, common decency and prosperity for all are never the natural order of things, it stands to reason for him to continuously work hard in order to overcome the challenges as they arise.
Some northern leaders have described the president as either being ‘clueless’ or ‘playing second fiddle’ to a cabal in his cabinet. Is that the way you see the president too?
I do not see the president through that prism. More so that the charges were of general terms which anybody can do. A president who is clueless cannot weaken the insurgency and fight corruption to the level which he has done. You may wish to note that some of the charges in the letter by former President Obasanjo are misinformed. For example, Obasanjo accused President Buhari of passing the buck and used the devaluation of the naira to buttress his point. But we all know that President Buhari has consistently said he remains not persuaded that devaluation of the currency of an import-dependent economy could be a panacea, considering the level of devaluation of the naira which the nation has gone through since the 1980s to no avail. When the president returned from the (medical) trip and found the experts had devalued the naira, he was honest enough to tell Nigerians that he remains unconvinced but would work with it because it had come from the experts. How then is the president guilty of passing the buck to the Central Bank of Nigeria? Another allegation that borders on misinformation was the one in Obasanjo’s letter that President Buhari encouraged round-tripping with multiple forex markets. But we can all remember that President Buhari listed 41 items for an outright ban for importation. The so-called experts cried foul that it would go against standard practice in world trade. This forced the president to allow their importation with a proviso that importation of such items would have no access to official foreign exchange but through their own sources of forex. Hence, the multiple forexes which unscrupulous Nigerians take advantage of and engage in round-tripping. Is the president to be blamed for that? Yes, the president’s culture of silence, the public altercations between government functionaries and also between the executive and the legislature where the ruling party has majority suggests a divided presidency and of government at war with itself which are unhelpful and should not be allowed to continue. But this cannot qualify the president’s depiction as clueless. We can only say they are shortcomings that come with human frailty. But I believe the regime has tried, albeit there is room for improvement. Anybody can say what suits his fancy. But it may be helpful to assess the president against the challenges he inherited and the resources needed to overcome them. Given the enormous challenges which the president has inherited and the available resources to him, it would not be fair of me to say he has not tried.
Despite all the criticisms President Buhari faces day in, day out, it will appear he’s focused on a mission that remains yet unclear to many citizens he governs. What can he do to win the trust of the people even of those who criticise him so often?
The criticisms come from the opposition because democracy without viable opposition is a sham. For you to regard such opposition as coming from the majority of Nigerians may not reflect the reality. Take, for instance, the criticisms in some quarters that because there are more service chiefs from the North who are Muslims, then he must have hidden agenda to Islamise Nigeria. If that makes sense to you, then you can as well unwittingly suggest that because the ministries responsible for the development of infrastructure and finance are all under the watch of the South, then it means President Buhari plans to develop the South at the expense of the North. Would that make sense to you? For the development of human capital, the ministries of education and health are not all under the watch of northerners. The education ministry is manned by a northerner and the health ministry by a southerner. I, therefore, do not regard the criticisms of the regime as a reflection of positions by the majority of Nigerians. Please, note that all governments make new friends and lose some old ones. But the most important consideration is for the government to make more new friends than the old ones it loses. At the moment, we are not in a position to know the exact situation until during elections. When people accuse the president of Islamic agenda, they forget Gen. Buhari put down the Maitatsine (uprising) in the early 1980s and is now fighting Islamic extremism with commanders –many of whom are not Muslims. People should also note that the chiefs of defence staff and naval staff are not Muslims.
The PDP said they’re ‘sorry’ for their 16-year rule. Is that apology enough?
What more do you want the party to do, considering some of those who were in the gravy train of that regime during the 16-year-rule of PDP are now in the new party (APC)? I read somewhere where PDP was reported as saying that if PDP is to refund all the looted funds in 16 years, then all those who were in the party at that time must equally be responsible and, thus, must also join and do the refund. And if it is said the party should not rule anymore due to its malfeasance, then everybody would leave the party. So, I have no idea of how best to manage such a scenario.
How much negative impact do you think Buhari’s ill health has had on him and his administration?
There is no doubt that the agility of President Buhari has reduced significantly due to his health challenges. He has said that much himself. He would have done better with reduced health challenges. But he is human and vulnerable to being sick. We, therefore, thank God for making it possible for him to get over the health challenges towards being as fit as fiddle for the challenges ahead.
Regarding the Dapchi schoolgirls’ abduction and release by Boko Haram, some have accused the Buhari administration of pre-arranging the whole episode. Isn’t that possible? Do you think the APC administration could have arranged that?
Those who proffer such conspiracy theory feign ignorance of the fact that activities of the Boko Haram transcend national boundaries –and the whole world is determined to exterminate the sect in the larger interest of peace in the world. To that end, there is no way Nigeria can pre-arrange the kidnapping of the Dapchi girls without the knowledge of the world that is equally concerned. I, therefore, do not think the Nigerian government can take such a risk. I regard the conspiracy theory not to be based on public intelligence. Anyway, if it was pre-arranged, time will tell.
It’s not often heard of other religions forcing Muslims to change their religion. The reality is that sometimes Muslims, especially in the North, are said to use force in religious conversion as the case of the Dapchi schoolgirl, Leah Sharibu, still in Boko Haram captivity will demonstrate. What do you think?
There is no compulsion in the matter of religion, be it Islam or Christianity. But some misguided adherents try to use force. That is what Boko Haram tries to do when it uses force in its attempt to create the caliphate. That is what the Lord Resistance Army tried to do in Uganda. As for my thinking, it is either such approach borders on ignorance or they use the theocracy purely for a strategy to recruit the gullible cannon fodders for their mundane pursuit.
Some northern pastors are said to be working against Buhari’s government, according to the Arewa Pastors Non-denominational Initiative for Peace in Nigeria, who visited the president recently. What do you think about that?
That is democracy in action and it is preferable to using violence that is reminiscent of Boko Haram or the LRA.
Pastor Tunde Bakare, once an ally of Buhari, has been speaking vehemently against the APC administration and the president –even Father Mbaka. Don’t you think Buhari is heading in the wrong direction as regards running the affairs of the country?
I have told you that governments make new friends and lose some old ones. President Buhari would be heading towards the wrong direction only if he loses more old friends than he makes new friends.
With the economic and security crisis the country is in, will you say Buhari is a victim of circumstance? I mean, will you consider him as the right president for Nigeria at the wrong time because people say a lot has changed about the country but nothing has changed about Buhari?
Yes, the challenges appear overwhelming. But despite his shortcomings, I think he is the best in the circumstance. All he needs to do is to improve his management practices. Motivation is the instrument and social skill is the requirement.
In view of troubling insecurity and seeming inability of the security agencies to cope with its magnitude, do you support Lt. Gen. TY Danjuma’s call for self-defence?
I do not support Gen. T.Y. Danjuma’s call for self-defence. This is because such calls pass a vote of no confidence in the military as an institution for the sins of few bad eggs. Worst of all, the alternative he gave is anarchy. One would expect such a highly respected elder statesman to use his vast experience and advise the regime on how best to improve the number of adequately trained and equipped soldiers needed to confront the myriad of security challenges across the country instead of encouraging people to lose faith in the military as an institution –that is no solution.
Some have said northerners, including President Buhari, are afraid of the country being restructured or its existence and unity negotiated. Isn’t that correct?
Make no mistake; none of the northerners is afraid of any restructuring of the country especially at the time of whiff of mistrust and suspicion hovering over the polity. More so that most northerners believe the problems of Nigeria have more to do with fall in national ideals and moral values, fall in the social contract between groups and between individuals and fall in sense of what is right and what is evil, and not in the structure of the country or form of government. The term ‘restructure’ means different thing to different people. To some groups, it means true federalism –whatever that means. For some people, it means fiscal federalism. Yet, we hear resource control or resource ownership. Still, other groups clamour for the return to the 1963 constitution. It is against such backdrop that northern states governors decided to put up a committee for the express purpose of collating positions on restructuring which most northerners share. As an umbrella platform for most people in the North, the ACF has positions which it hopes to give to the Northern Governors Forum as its contribution to informed positions shared by most northerners on the restructuring of the country.
So, why do you think people, especially southerners, are calling for restructuring?
Those who hanker for a structure that would enable each section of the country to develop at its own pace are those who wish Nigerians to live as if they are in different countries where some are on the cutting-edge and some others are on the knife-edge of survival. Some of us oppose any arrangement that does not promote equality through balanced development that comes with social justice. Unbridled inequality is a recipe to split of the country. Nigeria, like America, tried the confederate arrangement with a weak centre which predisposed the country to split and jettisoned it by supplanting it with a unitary system with a strong centre that stifled all elements of self-determination. The current federal system is a compromise between the two extremes and it is just strong enough to keep the country under one roof. But it is not too strong as to tilt it towards the unitary system. Presently, the federal government takes 52 per cent of the revenue which can be adjusted to reflect any new exclusive list that comes with the devolution of powers through adjustment of the exclusive list. Yet, such 52 per cent cannot be said to be too much for a country like Nigeria. We are opposed to the split of the country not out of fear that the North cannot survive but because the certain benefits of togetherness in a united and big Nigeria are by far more than the uncertain gains of the split. As I mentioned earlier, the nation can take a second look at the exclusive list in the constitution with a view to removing those items that are best performed by states to the concurrent list. You may wish to note that those who clamour for jettisoning of the 1999 constitution on the ground that it was sired by the military are those asking for implementation of reports of the National Conference of 2014 which comprises unelected delegates. They profess jaunty face of democratic values but hanker for undemocratic actions –double standard galore.
Former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration has been described as corrupt and permissive. How will you describe Buhari’s stance on corruption?
The fight against corruption by President Buhari is on course but has a lot of challenges –precisely because corruption is fighting back ferociously. What is more, some of those who were in PDP are now in the ruling APC and capable of serving as sandbags on the path of the fight. But I think the president is aware of such challenges and would handle them appropriately despite the complexity. I would, however, prefer those arraigned for corruption to defend themselves instead of saying since they are not alone who are corrupt and so all corrupt people must be arraigned at the same time. The fight against corruption is work in progress and should be seen as such by all Nigerians. I have heard the opposition questioning APC’s sources of funds for campaigns in 2015. That is a valid question and is democracy in action. But they must note that the import of moneybags choosing not to sponsor one of their own and instead chose to sponsor a sandal-wearing general. That in itself is a disincentive for corruption and is capable of supplanting plutocracy and kleptocracy with democracy.
How did you feel that President Buhari went to the party in Kano in the wake of the abduction of the Dapchi schoolgirls?
The President and the Vice President (Yemi Osinbajo) have said that when disasters occur, they delegate people to the scenes and take their time to think through what could be done to ameliorate the effect of such disasters and to prevent re-occurrence. The VP even wondered why the undue premium being placed on condolence visits as to what the government does to ameliorate the effects of any misfortunes. That might be why the president went to Kano before visiting Dapchi. You may wish to know that purposeful and effective leaders are those who impel progress by multiplying their strength through others. Again, I say to you: motivation is the instrument and social skill is the requirement.