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President of the Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, “Don’t spare non-performing ministers” President Bola Tinubu Told

President of the Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, Alhaji Yerima Shettima, speaks to JUWE OLUWAFEMI and GODWIN ISENYO, about expectations from the President Bola Tinubu administration and the need for government officials to stop making more demands to the detriment of the masses, among other issues.

Nigerians have been facing tough times since the removal of fuel subsidy. What do you think the Federal Government should have done before taking such an action?

The Federal Government should have looked at the issue of the refineries. The refineries should have been functional first. The last administration came up with this agenda of declaring a state of emergency to put up the refineries but that never came to fruition. That is step one. Step two; they should look into the issue of minimum wage of the workers. Critically, I do not think a reasonable person would have imagined that N50,000 would be enough to cater to the needs of any worker in this country today. They should have done better than that. The government should have begun to think of ways to put up a policy that would be of benefit to Nigerian workers.

Thirdly, whether you like it or not, it’s understood that this is a global problem that everybody should have to make sacrifices. But the problem I have recently is that if you are talking about sacrifice, why should Nigerians alone make the sacrifice without those in government? From all indications, you can see that even the National Assembly members are demanding more and more on a daily basis. None of them are making any effort within the levels of the legislature and executive arms of government. There is no sign of them making sacrifices about anything. Why should the masses be the only ones to make sacrifices? So, let the legislative and executive arms begin to lead by example.

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Let us begin to see that the convoy of 50 to 60 cars by governors is reduced to maybe between five and six. I don’t understand this convoy they carry along at the expense of the taxpayers’ monies. They should reduce it. Let us begin to see the massive convoy on the President’s fleet also reduced. Then, let us begin the see or hear the National Assembly, reducing the bogus allowances they collect and cut it down to a quarter. These are people taking home more than N12m per month. Let them reduce it to N1m or N2m. That’s sacrifice, and not when they look at the faces of Nigerians just because they want to abuse their sensibility, they will come up with the idea of the common language of blackmailing Nigerians that it is time to make sacrifice. Why should the common man make sacrifices when the legislators are not willing to also make sacrifices? Whose interest are they protecting at the National Assembly? So, these are some of the things that I expect them to begin to do to encourage Nigerians to say ‘Yes, this is a critical period that all hands must be on deck because it takes two to tango.’

With the situation in Niger Republic, aren’t you worried about the likely consequences of this strike action and the threat to our democracy?

Well, some of us who are products of struggles in the country here have seen how the military intervened and we saw the consequences of military interventions. Some of us are in the pro-democracy movement and to some extent, somebody like me who has a background of struggle all the way from the South-West; I was a foot soldier under NADECO, participated in PRONACO conferences with the likes of the late Pa Anthony Enahoro, Prof. Wole Soyinka, even as a leader at the level of the youth director on that platform at that time, advocating for democracy. Some of us feel that anything that will hinder a democratically elected government is a threat to those who are products of the struggle because we know what we went through.

We know how many people we lost in the days of the struggles. Some of our lives have not been the same since then. We know some of our colleagues today that are still traumatised. They have not recovered ever since. So, a country in the 21st century within the African continent that will organise a coup against a legitimate government must be seen as a threat by every force. We must stand against it to condemn it in totality because if that is allowed to go, we are not sure that Nigeria may likely not go through that same thing. If you think that your neighbour’s house is on fire and you think yours is safe, you can rest assured that you also have the same elements in the country that may likely take advantage of your neighbouring country and do the same. So, I think it’s not right for some of us who are democrats. I think whatever the grievances are should be brought forward for negotiation. Only recently, we began to see Mali and other places toppling a government as other places.

I know that of Chad and a few other countries. So, this must not be allowed to go unchecked, especially Niger, because the Niger Republic issue is very close to us. What affects Niger directly affects us indirectly. We must, as a matter of urgency, act. I commend President Bola Tinubu as the Chairman of the Economic Community of West African States, who took the decision with his counterparts not to accept the coup in the Niger Republic. They have insisted that they would find their ways to ensure that they bring back the legitimate government of Niger. I think it’s a good development because this is a threat to democracy, not only to Nigeria but to the entire Africa as a whole.

But President Tinubu and ECOWAS leadership threat to the Niger coupists has been challenged by the coupists who questioned the legitimacy of the sitting Nigerian government. How do you relate that to our democratic process?

The issue of legitimacy is one thing. This government of Niger which was just overthrown was legitimately elected. So, whether it’s popular or unpopular, it’s the decision of the citizens to decide. There is always due process, either to recall him based on their constitution or give him the grace of the next four years or whatever, and then vote him out. I don’t know how they run their tenure. But they can always come back to an election and elect whoever they want if they are serious. However, a case where somebody will just wake up and feel that the citizens are not happy, and then take up arms and forcefully remove a sitting democratically elected president is not a good idea and should not be encouraged.

A government that is elected is a legitimate government. If elected through the ballot process; it’s legitimate. So, I don’t know at what point they arrived at saying that the government is not legitimate. Before Nigerians today, whether you like it or not, there’s no vacuum. Somebody occupied that office, and he was pronounced by the Independent National Electoral Commission as president. Some of us who witnessed the election knew that the election had been conducted and somebody won the election. So, if you said it’s not legitimate, go to court and challenge that legitimacy but for us, it’s legitimate.

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Our problem in this country is that we have bad losers who never believed they could lose. It is either they visited their native doctors or one fake prophet, who told them that they must win an election and they just came out with that mindset and felt that they would not be defeated and for that, they said Nigeria would never have peace because they lost an election. We will resist any attempt from any quarter to run us into any crisis.

What do you want President Tinubu to do for the North?

He has to look at the issue of the unemployment rate in the region and also look at how we can reduce the number of Almajiri on the streets of the North. I see them as a threat and a time bomb waiting to explode in the future because you do not expect our political leaders, some of whom are just there to find an opportunity to make money and build mansions to do much. Now, you carry your children in your luxury cars and think you are doing a good thing to yourself. A time will come when you cannot move freely with that car; a time will come when that mansion you built will be destroyed. That’s why I tell them often that if they don’t make the society a just society where their neighbour’s children will survive and go to school and do something better for themselves, then these same abandoned children will turn out to be the time bomb that will not allow you to enjoy with your family in the future. That’s what we are likely to face.

Tinubu should hold somebody responsible for any appointment, and should not act like Buhari who would appoint a minister and never bother to remember that the minister was appointed for the past seven or eight years; nobody asked questions. In his case, he (Tinubu) has to monitor ministers and other appointees saddled with responsibilities so that if they don’t perform up to expectation, he should drop them and pick other people to work, so that at the end of the day, you look at the unemployment rate at the other part of the country.

Out-of-school children must also be catered for. Let him come up with policies, collaborate with state governments, and discuss with them so that they will give you their support. Those children who are roaming the streets can also be enrolled in schools. This government must come out with skills acquisition programmes that will also be of benefit to the people so that those who cannot go to school can benefit as well. This is necessary to ensure that they can be productive and contribute to the well-being of the region and we will have fewer problems. Otherwise, if it continues to go like this, more Boko Haram groups are likely to emerge in the near future.

What specifics do you want the government to put in place for the youths to raise their hope in nation-building?

To avoid a national disaster, the government must bring them to the fore, bring in fresh people, and give them responsibility so that they can also be given certain roles to play in the government. Those are some of my views because if he continues to parade the same old people because they are his friends; some of them are supposed to be retired by now and you are giving them appointments, believing that some of them have something to offer, you are not doing any good to the country. We have a lot of gifted and intelligent younger people that he can work with, and they will do better. Some of us saw hope around him not only because he is a product of the struggle but some of us knew that from time, he had been the key to the success of many people of the younger generation.

I don’t think there is any leader in the country today that can come up openly to say this is what he has done than what Tinubu had done in ensuring that he gave a lot of younger people the opportunity to grow and become what they are today. Nobody can match that feat in the country. We can remember vividly that he made some of them governors, senators and even a vice president. He has built a lot of people and that was what saved him, even during the election. So, we look forward to seeing him do more of that again so that he can be remembered for such.

Beyond activism and pro-democracy struggles, what exactly is your forum doing to reduce the scourge of banditry, drug abuse, etc. among youths in the North?

We embarked on sensitisation programmes to conscientise most of these younger elements. Still, in as much as you do what you can, if you don’t have the cooperation and support from the government, either at the state level or the local government level, the person’s effort may likely not be felt. On the issue of drugs, we are making efforts to reduce this scourge by collaborating with the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency to ensure that we have a forum. We just did one in Kano State only recently and we are still working round the clock in other areas to let them know of the dangers of drug abuse before it becomes a significant threat to our younger generation, especially in the northern part of the country.

If you see what young people are consuming in the northern part of the country, you can’t find it in the southern part of the country. You begin to ask yourself how and when it all started. At what point did we get to this level, such that almost in every household, you have that problem as a threat? But we are doing our best and with the support of the NDLEA under the leadership of Gen. Mohammed Buba Marwa (retd.) who has been doing wonderfully well because he has been a man of action. We know his antecedents. We are getting some support, and we are getting the desired result. We are doing our best but not enough because we still want the government to look inward and do better than what we are getting from them now.

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