Amid growing dichotomy between the North and South on how to resolve key existential problems in Nigeria, spokesman for Coalition of Northern Groups(CNG), a leading pro-northern body, Abdul-Azeez Sulaiman, gives reasons the North and the South haven’t found a common ground on restructuring, zoning of 2023 presidency, farmers/herders crisis, open grazing and self-determination agitations.
Lately, we have seen the North taking a contrary position with the South on restructuring, justifying notions that it is afraid of restructuring. Is the North actually afraid of restructuring and what are its fears?
There is no fear whatsoever. And I don’t agree that it is only the North that is taking a different stand on restructuring. It is rather an issue that is yet to be clearly defined and uniformly understood and agreed upon by all the blocks. The points of divergence mainly are on details- the format, form, terms and conditions. It is an unfair judgement to assume the North, which has continued to bear the brunt of the southern agitations for secession and the clamours for restructuring as the obvious target of all the complaints about virtually everything that is seen as wrong in the system, would be the one to fear to participate in any process for improving the structure, operations and utility of the Nigerian state in the context of a genuine dialogue without hidden agenda or preconditions.
On the contrary, the North has and will welcome any opportunity to engage all parts of Nigeria in honest and open-ended discussions on constitutional reforms, the operations of our federal structure and national economy, and all issues which represent major sources of grievance.
But we are concerned that while the North too has many issues with the operations of the Nigerian state, and does not routinely insult and blame elites from other regions for them, its self-appointed enemies and antagonists, have willy-nilly, made it the target of accusations and abuse for everything that is wrong with Nigeria since independence, with history being shamefully and blatantly reviewed, rewritten and falsified to suit certain agenda that aims to portray the North in a bad light. The loudest advocates of the twin agitations of restructuring and secession have accused the North of committing every sin under the sun excepting perhaps natural disasters or Force Majeure. They have vilified the North in the process, killed its leaders at some point, continue to scandalize its institutions and ridicule its traditions and customs. They have under various guises tried to bring down the North by suggesting and insisting on warped reforms aimed at destroying its institutions, undermining its economic and social fabrics, and encouraging rampant poverty, and the current social problems like armed robbery, kidnapping, prostitution, drug and substance abuse.
The fact that the North has faced these difficulties with equanimity, stoical calm and resignation, and continue to bear the brunt of the agitations for secession and the clamours for restructuring makes it the most legitimate and natural claimant to the call for re-visiting the philosophy, structures and operations of the Nigerian state, and to join in support of any enquiry and change in the manner we live that will improve our security and the quality of our lives. Like all Nigerians, we have questions about the manner our nation operates. We want to work with others to establish a basis for identifying what is priority, what is essential, what is fair, what is avoidable and what we need to do as a nation to isolate violence from its central position in our lives. The North, therefore, has nothing to fear from any restructuring process, provided we are involved not as a problem but as partners who have a stake in a Nigeria that works for all.
On open grazing, do you think the President’s determination to recover grazing routes for herders is the appropriate response to herders/farmers clashes?
We most certainly see the initiative by government to reclaim the grazing routes lost to urbanization and harmful policies as an appropriate response if the people of the South would be willing to put away their pent-up prejudices.
To complement that effort, it would also not be out of place to demand the proclamation of a National Policy on Grazing and Livestock Development (NPGLD) to cater to the needs of all the pastoral communities everywhere in the country. Going forward, government should also consider the immediate setting up of a National Pastoralist Commission (NPC) to act on all matters affecting the wellbeing and interests of all citizens whose livelihoods depend on livestock rearing.
This should be complemented by a further proclamation of a Special Intervention Initiative through the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the Ministries of Finance, National Planning, Agriculture and Water Resources, for supporting special livestock development policies and the establishment of special funds to support pastoral communities along the lines of the Anchor Borrowers Programme and other types of interventions. It is important to place on record that successive governments have found it expeditious to establish structures like OMPADEC, NDDC, Ministry of Niger Delta and Amnesty Programme, among others aimed at resolving a specific set of challenges affecting specific communities in the South. There is therefore no justification whatsoever to resist or even question the creation of special initiatives to address the needs of herdsmen if these will lead to lasting peace and stability.
The President’s directive on the recovery of grazing routes has been widely described as an action capable of worsening killings and instability across the country…
As we all know, prejudices die hard which is perhaps why the Southern elites rejoice in deploying pent-up tribal, regional and even religious jealousies to define any matter coming from, or affecting the North at the slightest of pretexts. This is simply an affair that has its roots in history and one that has hitherto been managed in such a way that we have for this long lived together and prospered, as a testimony to how far we have come in accommodating our differences and agitations. Like many communities across the world, our history is replete with disputes and isolated incidents over land, but there is today a growing population that comes with growing demand from grazing and farming. Added to this is the effect of climate change and desertification in the far North.
These natural phenomena mostly brought about by the short-sightedness of our leaders who allowed the destruction of areas duly demarcated and gazetted well before independence, in order to ensure convenience of herders, while allowing sufficient allocation for farmers, are among the known causes of the current stretch over space. In the context of the current deterioration of the situation deliberately exacerbated by self-serving political interests, the federal government needs to act to identify suitable lands across the country and create grazing reserves and cattle routes, and where resistance is shown, to expropriate such land as may be required for the purpose, through resort to extant provisions of the Land Use Act and other related laws.
Since the northern governors had earlier said open grazing is no more suitable for today’s Nigeria, one would have expected that the southern governors’ position on it would be accepted by the North but the reverse is the case…
What that handful of northern traitors that pose as northern political leaders do, does not affect the fact that the insistence by the southern governors on the retrogressive anti-grazing law deliberately aims to selectively destroy the business of cattle herding and threaten the legitimate presence of pastoral communities in the South, irrespective of whether they are part of a crime committed or not. They are part of wider strategies aimed at diminishing the viability of the North and rendering it incapable of standing on its own two feet and competing favourably with other parts of the country.
Irrespective of what any governor in the North would feel about it, the consensus across the cultured North is one that emphatically repudiates the insistence on the passing of the anti-grazing law by the southern governors that potentially jeopardizes the lives and property of pastoral communities in the South. We at the CNG will not relent in warning that the right of pastoralists anywhere in the country to freedom of movement must not be impeded by any legislation or obstacle imposed by a state or a community.
Your group supported the clampdown on secessionist leaders, Sunday Igboho and Nnamdi Kanu, but the generality of opinion is that they do not pose threats to the nation like bandits and “killer herders”. What do you make of that?
That is another unbelievable insinuation in line with the southern prejudices against the North and anything that comes from the North or affects the North. Our group in particular and indeed the entire cultured northerners have never condoned or endorsed the criminal activities of the insurgents in the North-East and the banditry in North-West from which we are all bleeding, quite unlike the southern governors and elites that openly embrace gangsters and support the violent agitations by their people and even encourage them. Unlike the South that desperately wants to pick holes in the arrest of such violent separatism championed by Nnamdi Kanu which amounts to criminal felony in any law anywhere in the world, the North has no record of having impliedly or expressly attempt to shield Abubakar Shekau, for instance. We can all see the way the governor of Bayelsa State is desperately trying to compare Kanu and Ighoho to Sheikh Ahmed Gumi who merely sacrificed everything and risked everything to reach out to the bandits and offer peace. This is indeed ridiculous.
Our concerns about the brand of violent agitations by Kanu and Ighoho stem from their violent nature and the risk of bringing about another civil war in Nigeria. But the truth is that the North celebrated the killing of Shekau as much as they are celebrating the arrest of Kanu in the hope that both would form the cornerstone for the restoration of peace and public order across the country. Certainly, the present stand taken by southern leaders has justified our fears that led to the Kaduna Declaration of June 6, 2017, when we took the bold and necessary step to call attention to the unfolding developments in Nigeria with the resurgence of the Biafra agitation and the new face it assumed. A similar communication was addressed to major foreign diplomatic missions represented in Nigeria, in which we drew attention to the emerging trends in the country that are pregnant with complications and unforeseen consequences all of which have played out and probably playing out as buildup to the 2023 elections.
Our truly patriotic representations then aimed to forestall what we rightly perceived as an inevitable drift toward anarchy and bloodshed in Nigeria, and also to alert the international community as to where responsibility would ultimately lie if such momentous and terrible events ever came to pass.
We take particular interest in the resurgence of separatist agitations, especially by IPoB and its ilk in the South-East because they represent a much wider conspiracy to divide Nigeria and bring the North down on its knees by incapacitation and balkanization.
This is just as we see the current brand of other agitations for “restructuring”, “true federalism” and “resource control” as strategies employed to achieve the results that the coupists of the First Republic failed to realise. It aims to increase the weight and relevance of the regions to the detriment and expense of the central government, thereby gradually paving the way for complete separation from Nigeria.