National President of Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF), Alhaji Yerima Shettima, in this interview, speaks on the 2019 general elections, the Muhammadu Buhari administration and North’s quest to stay in power beyond 2023.
What is your assessment of the 2019 general elections?
There was an election and expectations were high, but it is very unfortunate that what happened was not what we expected and I am sure Nigerians were disappointed. We thought that the All Progressives Congress (APC) will conduct a more credible election than what we had in the past, but what we saw was an election, where security agencies were used against innocent Nigerians. The election was more or less a battle between the voters and soldiers, who were deployed to aid the ruling party. If you ask me if there was an election, I would say there was an attempt to conduct an election, but we cannot certainly call what we just had an election.
But some international and local observers, who monitored theelections, described the exercise as free and fair…
I am glad that you said some observers and not all. The international observers have their own modus operandi and you do not expect them to start crying for you. If there is an issue and they see it, they will not be in a hurry to make any judgement. Again, when they notice that Nigerians are very docile and no one is raising any fundamental issue, they will remain mute. On the part of the local observers, it is very easy for anyone to compromise them, which has more or less become a tradition in the country. What was the national mood of the country after the presidential election? Was there any celebration? No. Were majority of people happy about the outcome? Certainly the answer is no. So, it means that something went wrong fundamentally.
The margin between the APC and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the North during the presidential election seems to be incomparable given what happened during the governorship polls, which led people to allege that figures were cooked up. Do you believe that allegation?
Of course, I believe that figures were written and that was why you can see that the voting pattern changed during the governorship elections, which took place two weeks after the presidential election. As we speak, there is confusion in the North, especially in states where there was no reason to call for inconclusive elections. In Kano, Adamawa, Benue and Sokoto for instance, there were inconclusive elections, which clearly showed that the outcome of the presidential election was not what people expected. It is very obvious that the electoral commission worked to ensure that the ruling party returned to power. In my over 20 years of activism, I have never seen an electoral commission so bad that it basically became an arm of the ruling party. The 2019 elections is the worst election that has been conducted for as long as I can remember. A clear indication of this anomaly is that the state where PDP won elections in the North were declared inconclusive and where APC won with a small margin and was supposed to be declared inconclusive was not so.
You said election was rigged in favour of President Muhammadu Buhari in the North. Do you have any evidence to back up you claim?
The PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar went to court because he also believes that the election was rigged and he believes that he will get justice. I believe his decision to go to court was the right decision, but it is one thing for him to go to court and it is another thing for justice to be served. What is constant is that he has made a decision, with which he would be judged. This is why it is very important that whatever decision that you are going to take, especially when it has to do with national interest, you must ensure that you take the action that will make you to be remembered on the positive side of history. Also, for us, who are northerners, we had a case in 2015, where we had to chose between a southern Christian and a northern Muslim, who is Fulani, yet the difference in their votes was about two million plus. Former President Goodluck Jonathan’s stronghold was the South-South and South-East at that time because the North was totally against him. In the South-West, Jonathan got the required 25 per cent in each of the six states. This time, we had to choose between two northern Fulani Muslims, yet they are telling us that the difference in their votes is four million. How possible is that? Buhari’s stronghold has always been North-West, while North-East has been a war zone for a long time. But, look at the votes that came out of North-East in this year’s presidential election; even when it was obvious there is war going on there. In fact, there was a bomb blast on the day of the election in Maiduguri, yet millions of votes came out of war torn states like Borno and Yobe. We had expected that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will strictly adhere to its own guidelines by ensuring the use of card readers nationwide. Why did the commission ignore the use of card readers in some states and insisted on its use in other states? These are all clear indications that there were irregularities and that is why I believe Atiku did the right thing by going to court. I believe that issues will come up as the trial commences for the world to see and at the end of the day, you will not be able to defend the indefensible.
Your statements seem to indicate that Buhari doesn’t have the total support of the North. Is this not the time the North should put their differences aside and support this administration?
There can be no peace in the absence ofjustice and we cannot pretend about it. If the government has integrity, they should demonstrate it. You cannot foist your interest on people and expect to enjoy total support. Buhari’s administration has not really benefited the North because we are yet to see meaningful development. What most northerners know is that they have a brother, who is the president, but that has not translated to anything meaningful to those down there. Most of those who are supposed to spearhead the execution of landmark projects in this administration are from the South-West. As far as we are concerned, President Buhari’s administration is a government of the South-West because almost all the goodies were given to them.
What goodies are you referring to?
The South-West has the super minister who is in charge of the three most important ministries – Housing, Works and Power and that is why Mr. Babatunde Fashola has focused on constructing roads mainly in the South-West. Name one major road that Fashola has constructed in the North from start to finish, but you can name many that are in the South-West. Tell me one important ministry that is occupied by a northerner.
But almost all the security chiefs are from the North. The Group Managing Director (GMD) of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), is from the North and the Minister of Petroleum, who is President Buhari is also from the North. So, why is the North still feeling marginalised?
The security chiefs were appointed because of the crisis in the North. As far as we in the North are concerned, this governmentfavours only the South-West and that is why some of us are beginning to have a rethink that probably, after this tenure, we would demand for a northern presidency in 2023.
Are you insinuating that the North will take another shot at the presidency after eight years of President Buhari?
You can be rest assured that it will definitely happen. I am a leader and an opinion moulder in the North and when I tell you that we are considering supporting a northern presidency in 2023, you better believe it because it is not just my personal opinion. The North has not benefitted anything from Buhari’s presidency because many northern states are still impoverished and under developed. The rate of poverty in the North has become worse than it was in 2015. We cannot beat our chest and say thisgovernment has favoured the North. The first four years of Buhari was a waste and we cannot expect any magic to happen in his second tenure; it is not possible. Already some south westerners are raising their heads to claim that it is their turn in 2023, but for us in the North, we will plead with the South to bear with us for another 12 years because we need to feel the impact of governance.
But it would be an injustice to other regions for the North to take a shot at the presidency again in 2023 after Buhari’s eight years in power?
Was justice meted to the North with the level of unemployment and physical infrastructure you find there; with the bad roads and almajiris everywhere and no any serious policy by the government to tackle that? Here, you are living comfortable in Lagos, enjoying the federal allocations and everything and you expect us to fold our hands and look at you and after the eight years, you will still take us again for another eight years.
But many believe that the North havebenefitted from the present government, considering that majority of the appointees are from the region?
What kind of appointments are we talking about? Tell me one super appointment that was given to the Nort?
Is the North not supposed to be blamed for its predicament and why are you are not blaming Northern leaders who have been presidents for the problems of the region?
All we are saying is that in the last four years, we have not seen anything and with the way the polity is being run and we do not also expect anything reasonably to come in. At first, there was a government under a northern son, but after two years, we lost that son. Jonathan took over for six years and that favoured only the South.
What about the Almajiri schools built by the Jonathan administration and other laudable projects the administration did in the North?
Even with that, it was not enough.
But it was the North that voted against Jonathan and brought in their brother, a Fulani in the person of President Buhari…
They did that thinking that things will be normal.
So, whose fault is it that a Fulani is not meeting the expectation of the North?
The government has been hijacked by some interests.
Who are these interests?
They hardly give name of these cabals, but it is obvious that they took advantage of the gentleman, who really didn’t put eyes into everything in the person of President Buhari. And they are now milking everything under him without him even knowing that anything is happening. A lot of people can also attest to that, even not quite long, the wife of the President came out to say, where are men in Nigeria? Things are happening.
But some members of Buhari’s cabinet from South-West like Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and Fashola told their people to support President Buhari so that power can go to the South-West.
Was there any agreement?
But it was assumed that because of the caliber of people who were speaking that this was the agreement of the party and neither the presidency nor APC came out to say they don’t have such agreement
Is the party the nation’s constitution or party arrangement more superior to the constitution of the country?
So, you believe the North will produce the president in 2023?
There is no going back. In 2023, we will ensure that we bring a credible northern son to contest and we will also expect the southern people to have understanding why they should support us.
Why should they have an understanding with you, when the North is expected to have completed its eight years of presidency by 2023?
The southerners are our friends and brothers, they will understand with us.
Are you pushing for the presidency again because of North’s voting strength given the outcome of the recent general election.
The recent elections have actually shown it and it has clearly proved it that in terms of numbers and voting population, the North has the highest. In fairness to Nigeria, we are not saying that because of the number, we are using it to intimidate them, but we are saying that they have to understand that this last administration for four years has not done anything for the North and we don’t also expect them to be too myopic in their reasoning. They have always been our brothers and we carry ourselves together. We have no problem about anything, but we are saying they should please allow us to ensure that we put certain things right in our region, so that at the end of the day, everybody will live comfortable and we will move the country forward, together.