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National Conference can’t solve Nigeria’s problems —ACF Spokesman

Mr Anthony Sani is the spokesperson of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF).  In this interview with our correspondent, Mohammad Ibrahim, Sani also speaks on issues of national interest including the 2015 general election, the ambition of President Goodluck Jonathan, the proposed national conference and the security challenges in the country among others. Excerpts:

Nigeria at 53 is still not where it is supposed to be as a nation. What do you think are the reasons why?

There are several reasons why Nigeria is not where people expect it to be. First is the concept of nationhood which has not fully been internalized in many Nigerians. As a result, Nigerians have not come together in unison to unleash their synergistic potential.

That is why there is hype in ethnic nationalism cast in the garb of agitations for true federalism; and that is why instead of republic of ideals propelled by national solidarity that accommodates relative pluralism, there are clamors for republic of cloistered communities with strong historical ties to places that come with insular particularism.

The second reason has been that the discovery of oil with easy money has conferred the status of a Trust Fund State on Nigeria. And because people do not pay tax, they do not hold leaders accountable.

What is more, people do not see the need for making judicious use of their democratic rights and ensure that their votes count so that leaders who emerge will be accountable to the people.

You know when people do not pay tax, the tendency is for them not to bother about what leaders do with their commonwealth.

And the leaders like it that way because of fear of accountability. Also, the nature of the political parties has not helped the matter. Normally, there is a national consensus on problems of a nation, but no similar consensus on solution of the problems.

Political parties are expected to represent different approaches to solving the problems among which voters choose their preference during elections.

But the political parties are mere clones of one another. As a result the choice has been reduced from which political party can deliver on the promise of democracy to which party has the resources to win elections. And finally, there have been collapse in national ideals, moral values and in social contract among groups and among individuals as well as fall in our sense of what is right and what is evil.

Corruption is one reason why Nigeria is not moving forward but recently, president  Jonathan said corruption is not Nigerian number one problem. Do you agree?

I do not share this view because corruption has distorted our values and sense of judgment to a level that it has stolen the empowerment, the opportunity and future of Nigerians.

It is corruption that has killed our education to a level that our wards believe they can buy knowledge without learning. Knowledge cannot be obtained through purchase of certificates without learning.

It is corruption that has killed our health and public institutions; killed desires to work hard. But this is an odd thing to say when we consider Gresham’s law which says money with low utility (corrupt money) chases away money of high utility (money from production).

The net effect is that corruption has become the bane of our socioeconomic development. Nothing could be worst. And that is why ACF has suggested capital punishment for corrupt practices.

President Jonathan also denied signing any pact with the state governors on one term agreement. Who then should Nigerians believe among them?

That is why we have advocated the need to have leaders Nigerians can trust. Else, campaign promises, government policies and programs would be meaningless.

We tend to forget the fact that Mr President and the governors are the embodiment of national ideals and moral values, whose words should be believed and respected. It is unfortunate that we have such situations in the polity.

When we were told that President Jonathan would do only one term in addition to part of late President Yar’Adua’s tenure, it was not that he made the decision to hand over to a northerner. We were told he made that agreement with PDP Governors, and not with northern governors.

 With this revelation by the President, do you think power will still return to the North come 2015?

The North’s aspiration for the president in 2015 should not depend on President Jonathan’s decision to contest or not. This is because people and not government make and unmake governments.

I do not like to hear people say power should return to the North, because that presupposes power is birth right of the North. No northern leader has said power to rule Nigeria is patrimony of the North.

We must note that military regimes being credited to the North never consulted the North before their coup because military is a constituency in its own right comprising officers across the nation. And that was why northerners were also toppled. Also, note that by 2015, the South will have ruled for 14 out of the 16 years under this democratic dispensation. So, anybody talking of power returning to the North has not gotten the arithmetic right.

With the crisis in government like the ASUU strike, the ASUP and other agencies threatening to embark on strike, the insecurity  situation that is getting worse daily with Nigerians dying cheaply, do you think the President deserves another term?

It is not for me to say President Jonathan does not deserve the second term. Only Nigerians can make such a decision on the electionday. It has been the considered opinion of many political pundits that if Nigerians fail to make judicious use of their democratic rights, then they get what they deserve.

Another aspect is the court which should tell Nigerians whether Mr President can be sworn in as president three times and rule for ten years, considering the constitution makes allowance for a maximum of eight years. So, only the court and Nigerians can make such decision, and not ACF or Anthony Sani.

The insurgency in the North East seems to have  staged  a comeback with the recent killings in some parts of Borno and  Yobe states. What is responsible for that?

Subduing insurgence is not a tea party. It requires imagination, perseverance, risk and purposeful leadership. Recall America toppled President Saddam within seven days, but ended up campaigning for ten years in Iraq without subduing the terrorists.

Terrorism is still in Iraq long after America has left. The same thing in Palestine and in Afghanistan, as well as in Somalia. It took almost 30 years to subdue IRA in Ireland.

So Nigerians should not expect that the insurgency  will soon be history. It will take a consciously directed efforts by both the government and all of us to bring the situation under control. It is not a matter for government alone.

With the happenings in that part of the country, Nigerians want to know  who is winning the war?

Nobody is winning yet, but I believe if the government can use the strategy of stick and carrot properly, it can win the war, precisely because the insurgence in one geopolitical zone cannot overrun the whole country. No, it is simply not possible.

If you are to advise President Jonathan on how to end this bloodshed in the country, What will your advice be?

 To use stick and carrot strategically. This is because force alone has never worked anywhere in subduing insurgency. This is because terrorism is driven by the highest commitment in those who believe it is better to die than to live. So counter terrorism measures like control of imports of chemical explosives, of arms, of sources of funds and recruitment as well as surveillance of borders and prevention of radicalization can help, especially if combined with constructive engagement and deradicalization.

Do you think Sovereign National Conference as being advocated by some elites is the solution to Nigeria’s problems?

We have never believed conference, be it sovereign or non sovereign, can solve our problems.

More so by ethnic nationalities which number and population are controversial. In any case, are we now trying to hype cleavages along ethnic lines? That would be unfortunate. Consider American constitution was drafted by 55 people. It is about three pages and with 29 amendments since independence.

Britain does not even have a written constitution while Nigeria has a book called constitution that is observed more in the breach. I do not see how the ethnic nationalities can be assembled to produce a people’s constitution, as if our legislators are representing ghosts. There is nothing like true federalism. And that is why no two federal systems are clones. All federal systems derive from circumstance of their emergence. For example, the 13 American colonies came together and formed the USA, whereas in Nigeria, the national government created the federating units. But the common mantra is often appropriate balance of the national government with state level power in such manner that the centre is strong enough to keep the country under one roof and not too strong as to nudge it toward unitary system. As to the form of government, it is note worthy that the presidential system works in the USA, the parliamentary system is successful in Britain while a combination of the two has been implemented successfully in France.

We must also know that however good the law may be, its usefulness to the society depends more on the judgement of executors.

So, the problems of Nigeria has nothing to do with the structure, with the form of government and not with the soundness of the laws but more on the way we do things.

All we need is cultural renaissance. Rewire the politics, reengineer our sense of justice, make mercy smarter and hope more strategic.

Is north afraid of Sovereign conference?

No, the North is not afraid of Sovereign National Conference but stating the facts based on courage of its conviction. People must know that oil is not a result of hard work, and that there are countries without oil that survive.

What is more, over the long history of nations and long lives of individuals, the powerful and the powerless, the rich and the poor, often change places. Just hear what The Economist August 3rd, 2013, wrote: “The world’s thirst for oil could be nearing a peak. That is bad news for producers, excellent for everyone else.” So, it would be unwise for any nation and the North to allow oil set the national agenda.

How do you view the move by Major Hamza Al’mustpha to unite northern and Southern youths because some people say there is a hidden agenda in it?

If he is able to bring the youths together, including the bellicose and percussive elements, for positive purposes, so be it. I do not know of any hidden agenda.