Alhaji Shetima Yerima, the National President, Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, is a member of the coalition that wanted Igbo people sent packing from the North in 2017.
He is also a member of the coalition that just established Operation Shege Ka Fasa, the northern version of the regional security outfit that was raised by the South-West, Amotekun. In this interview, the activist bares his mind on many issues of national importance including northern youths’ position on the 2023 president.
What is your take on the establishment of Amotekun and the idea itself? Do you think it should be allowed?
Yes, it is worth doing because the situation in which we have found ourselves is such that people must begin to see how they can survive, protect themselves. I am an advocate of restructuring and, within that context, I don’t really think it is right for us to over-concentrate at the centre. The way the country is right now, the centre cannot hold anymore; it is clear unless we choose to deceive ourselves. The major issues are security, economy and infrastructure.
On security, there is the need for state police to complement the efforts at the centre. You cannot just be waiting for IG’s instruction to protect your people. If you have community policing and state police, the governor will oversee insecurity unlike the situation now whereby a governor, according to the Constitution is in charge of his own state but when he instructs the Commissioner of Police to do something, the commissioner needs approval from the IG. So you can see he’s overbearing at the centre. So, for me, Amotekun is welcome. In fact, the region that needed Amotekun most is the North. It needed it more than even the South-West because the South-West is living in peace.
The rate of crime in the South-West is nothing compared to what we have in the North. But, probably, they initiated Amotekun as a proactive measure unlike our place that we are reactionary because we are only reacting now, we are being consumed already by banditry, kidnapping, insurgency and all forms of social vices, robbery on a daily basis and we count casualties, deaths on a daily basis in every part of the northern states. I do not think there is a particular state that you will mention today that has no problem. So, for me, we need Amotekun than even the South-West.
Northern youths just came up with their own version of Amotekun called Shege Ka Fasa. Do you also welcome that?
Like I said, it is a thing we should do even before the South-West. We are into the advocacy but good enough the South-West have their way of doing their own thing. They are faster, more proactive in thinking and doing things. Their governors brought up the idea; they united unlike us in the North where the governors are not active.
So we felt strongly that there is the need for us to also have community policing to complement the central police and I am happy that the IG came out recently after their meeting with the Presidency with the same idea that there is the need for community policing. So, we only set the template and unveiled it and also seek the support of the governors. If they cannot initiate anything, let us set a template for them to see reason why it is important. They should move because, in our case, we must push them unlike the South-West who are the ones initiating it, calling their people because they value lives in the South-West compared to the governors in the North. On a daily basis, they see people dying but they don’t care. So we put it for them so that they can also take the advantage and do the needful like it has been done in the South-West.
The Sultan of Sokoto doesn’t like the idea. In fact, he advised the elites in the North to rise against it and 「stop that nonsense」. Are you at home with that reaction?
Ordinarily, one would have expected him to support the idea and, if he suggests that what the coalition did was wrong, one would have expected him to come out with a solution because the situation is beyond somebody sitting at home and be talking without an alternative. So if the Sultan is saying that what the coalition of northern youths did was wrong, then he should give a way out because this issue of killing and kidnapping is going on rampantly.
So, I don’t think it is proper for him to have said that. Let him suggest something different. But if actually that is what he said, where was he when the North was burning and people are dying on a daily basis, what efforts has he made? What has he brought to the table? Where was he when our people were rendered useless in the South-West? Where was he when our people were left stranded because they had no means of livelihood in the North and they ran down to the South to do Okada and, today, Okada has been banned? So it is easy for him to just wake up and condemn what we do but he cannot do same when it affects the South. Whose interest does he represent?
Miyetti Allah is opposed to Amotekun. Why do you think so?
I don’t hold brief for them. It is their opinion.
President Muhammadu Buhari, at the induction of new helicopter fighters, said he had decimated Boko Haram. And the Chief of the Air Staff, Sadiq Abubakar, confirmed that. Do you think the present government has actually fought Boko Haram to a standstill?
No, they have not. If they have actually got it right in the last five years nobody would have begun to think of self-help. But they have failed and that is what has brought about what we are witnessing today, it is sad and very unfortunate that the architecture is not put in place in the best interest of the people. People are not longer sleeping with their two eyes closed.
And it is sad and very unfortunate that the Sultan will come out to condemn this initiative; often times, some of our leaders don’t believe in whatever initiative no matter how good it is. If it is coming from them, they don’t appreciate it but they appreciate other people doing it. So one would not be surprised because I have never seen anything that the North initiates that the Sultan and the likes of him appreciate and that is why we are backward. Ordinarily, if they are doing well, we wouldn’t have found ourselves where are today. So, the time has come for some of us to not just sit down and fold our arms and begin to wait for manna to fall from heaven and posterity will judge when the time comes.
How close is your organization to the government of the day to advise the President on what is happening in the North?
There is no time we don’t advise but, unfortunately, the government of the day, to an extent, does not appreciate our advice. Ordinarily, we are stakeholders and we are always in touch with the people. On daily basis, the people troop to our offices, we know exactly where the shoe pinches them but even when you write to the government, the government doesn’t respond easily. We only enjoy when things get out of hand.
That is when we begin to think on how to react but, proactively, we cannot put anything on ground to avoid the things that ordinarily would have been avoidable. The insecurity we found ourselves in would have been avoidable if they are determined and they understand that this thing is likely to happen and we advised them long before now. Having one of our own as the head of the government, he should do better than what we are seeing today.
Some people feel northern youths are setting up Shege Ka Fasa to counter Amotekun. Recall that one of you, Abdulazeez, criticized Amotekun and, one month after, you now came up with this.
I cannot remember if there was any official statement condemning Amotekun by the coalition of northern groups or the group I represent in that coalition, that is, Arewa Youth Consultative Forum. But Abdulazeez represents a platform in the coalition just like any other group among the 36 groups in the northern part of the country. I am not aware but I do not think the coalition made any statement opposed to Amotekun. We even commended it.
I was the first group in the northern part of the country to commend the initiative and I also said that our people too are thinking in that line. Nobody is trying to form a parallel security outfit against the government; that is not our thinking, nobody is trying to do something as if we are doing it to counter the South-West. The idea behind this is to complement the government.
Some Nigerians also feel that the same coalition was the one that at a time in 2017 gave ultimatum to the Igbo in the North to leave. Many are surprised they are still walking freely and they have not been brought to book, arrested or prosecuted for making such a volatile statement against a region in Nigeria. What really informed that move at that time?
What was the offence of the coalition at that time to be called to order or to be prosecuted? All we did was to disallow somebody to just come out from somewhere and begin to abuse our people and nobody was saying anything. We made a statement and, when we did, Nigerians realized that there was a need for that statement at that time to awaken the consciousness of people, the leaders in the South-East to call one of their own sons who was busy abusing the sensibility of people, undermining the government of Nigeria. What we did was commendable because if we had not done it, there couldn’t have been election in Anambra State and in some of the eastern parts of the country going by the way these young people were approaching issues.
What we did was to stabilise the country. We ensured that government came to its normalcy and took charge and, at the e