During a recent interview, the leader of Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, Yerima Shettima, tells LAWRENCE MIKE that the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), should be succeeded by another northerner in 2023, adding that the region would find a consensus candidate for the next presidential election.
You said constitutional democracy was about people and numbers and that a northerner should succeed the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), in 2023, when Buhari, a northerner would have spent two terms of eight years, how do you think Nigerians will react to your statement?
What I said in the video was the reality. I know we need to work together as a country, but you also know that anything about democracy has to do with the number of people as the majority vote carries the resolution.
Some people felt your statement was borne from a belief in the North that the region was more relevant than others…
That’s not true. If there’s any region that has sacrificed more for the country, it’s the North. The North has done more than any other region. There was no time when northerners felt it was only about them and did everything in favour of the North. If you look at this administration, you will see that the South is more favoured. It is unlike when Goodluck Jonathan was the President and people from the Niger Delta and the minority tribes benefitted more. During the Chief Olusegun Obasanjo administration, it was almost like that.
You said the North would produce a competent candidate in the 2023 presidential election unlike who is there now, are you saying that Major General Buhari (retd.), is not competent?
It is the team he is working with. Government is about inclusiveness and once you have a team that does not have competence in many areas and only believe in themselves – just few of them to run the country – then, there is a problem.
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So you are saying that the present regime is not really competent …
The President cannot work alone without having teams to work with him, but some self-centered individuals satisfy their interest without thinking of the overall interest of the country.
Don’t you think the clamour by some people like you that the North should retain presidency beyond 2023 will further threaten the peace of the country?
That’s not true. Why should justice become a threat to the unity of the country? From 1999 till date, how many years have we (northerners) been in power? Southerners have been in power for almost 16 years, from 1999 till date. We’ll have only about nine years if Buhari successfully finishes his tenure, so where is justice in that? We only demand justice; we are not asking for too much.
The southeasterners feel they have been marginalised and want the presidency to come to them in 2023, are you saying they do not have genuine claims?
They can’t claim to be marginalised; after all by extension, Jonathan is from South-East as his name is also Azikiwe. The fact that he adopted Edwin Clark as his father does not make him a complete Ijaw man. The South-East even benefited more from his regime than any other region so they can’t claim to be marginalised. However, I’m sure they are saying they need someone directly from the South-East. If that’s what they are asking for, can they have it? Yes, with time, they can have it. I will be one of those who will support and also work to have a President from the South-East when the time comes but it’s not yet time; they must be able to put their house in order first and control the excesses of some of their children who go about abusing the sensibilities of Nigerians by threatening the unity of the country.
When that is done, they will be trusted and when there’s trust, people will support them. You cannot threaten people over and over and think it can be done by threatening and blackmailing them.
How do you think the southeasterners will react to your statement?
You cannot be making threats as if people scared of you and think you will just be given power. People are civilised. You think people will just fold their hands and give you power because you are threatening to break the country up; it’s not done anywhere.
They should control the excesses of the person making the threats or is he above that? They should be bold enough to come out and say, ‘This man does not speak for us.’ They should condemn him.
Many people believe your recent comments insult the sensibilities of other regions and that you appear to think they are fools…
I don’t know what they think about that but nobody thinks they are fools. We are Nigerians; it’s about politics. It’s about interests and politics is about interests.
Some people will tell you that President Jonathan represented the South-South while Obasanjo represented the South-West, but no southeasterner has been President since Nigeria returned to democracy. What do you think about that?
That’s their opinion; our opinion is that Jonathan, to an extent, was an Igbo candidate and he served the interest of Igbo and the South-South.
Some people believe you are working for the Kaduna State Governor, Nasir el-Rufai, as they think the North is preparing him to succeed Buhari in 2023, how would you react to that?
El-Rufai has never been my friend. Despite the fact that he’s my governor, I have never met him for once in my life. Anybody who thinks I work for him, it is their opinion. I don’t work for anyone. The decision (about presidential candidate) will be made by the North; we will have consultations and agree on who will be presented as our candidate when the time comes. It is not going to be about parties or the All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party. It will go beyond that. We will look for the best candidate that will serve the interest of the country and competence will also be considered.
You said the North did not benefit from the administrations of Jonathan and Obasanjo…
If they have done well for the North, perhaps we wouldn’t have been where we are today. They did their best but it was not enough compared to what they did in their regions.
But you said Buhari isn’t meeting the needs of the North too…
He has not met them; in fact, he serves the interests of the South-West more than the interests of the North. The South-West is a direct beneficiary of this administration because they occupy strategic positions while the North is left with nothing other than the Presidency.
You said President Goodluck Jonathan shouldn’t have contested the 2011 presidential election…
If the spirit of rotational presidency existed during the Jonathan era, he wouldn’t have contested in 2011; he would have allowed the North to continue and finish their tenure. At least, he had spent three years out of Umaru Yar’Adua’s administration. He should have allowed another northerner to run and let his party understand that. That would have been equity, fairness and justice.
Don’t you think ethnicity is one of the biggest problems we have in Nigeria?
One day we shall overcome the issue of ethnicity but as it is today, it is the major issue before us. Someday, I pray and hope that we overcome the issue of regionalism, but the reality is that currently, we cannot put the cart before the horse. The reality is that we are divided and a lot of things are not right in the country, so everybody thinks about where they come from. Although I represent a particular interest from the northern part of the country, that does not mean I don’t believe in this country.
For the sake of argument, if a northerner becomes the President in 2023, what will stop the person from seeking another term in office in 2027, and another northerner from coming in 2031?
You can trust us; we are a people with integrity and principles. Our orientation and belief help us to stand by our word, so you can be sure that after one term, we will support any candidate that the South will produce and ensure that they get into office, by God’s grace.
And you think people will actually believe that such a person will not want to go for another term in office?
I doubt it very much. If he goes for a second term in office, we will fight him.
Are you saying the next presidential candidate must be from the North even if an obviously more suitable candidate emerges from the South?
Time and event will clearly define all of this when the time comes but as it is today; this is what we think and how we feel.
Is this view coming from the mindset some northerners have that they are born to rule?
I’m not aware of the ‘born to rule’ mindset. Whoever said it is in a better position to explain it. I don’t know anyone who said that.
What is your opinion of the Buhari regime?
Well, expectations are high and they have not been met. We are worried and concerned that a lot of things are not being properly done. Every Nigerian is worried that all is not well; the level of abject poverty and backwardness is high. Our economy is in a bad shape and we are heavily indebted. There is insecurity in the entire country, but we cannot say that there is no hope. But as at today, there are reasons to be concerned. Every meaningful Nigerian should be worried and concerned about this nation.
If someone from a region other than the North wins the 2023 presidential election, do you think northerners will accept the person?
Why not, if the election is free and fair?