From Noah Ebije, Kaduna
Anthony Sani is the Secretary-General of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF). In this interview on the country’s 57th independence anniversary celebration, Sani said there are strong negative issues that have set the country at war with itself.
But he added that as it was common with all journeys, adding that the country has experienced both negative and positive sides of life. “There have been successes here and there just as there has been a failure here and there,” Sani, declared.
He also spoke on the north and 2019 and other issues of national interest.
Nigeria is 57, how has the journey been so far?
As it is common with all journeys, our own has experienced ebb and flow of life. There have been successes here and there just as there has been a failure here and there. After all, all mechanism of community living is expected to make allowance for freak and vicissitudes of life.
What are the challenges facing us so far as a nation?
There have been many challenges in the process of nation-building. We have experienced a civil war and challenges associated with socioeconomic development in the areas of education that is characterized by poor standard and enrollment. As a result, there are still over one million applicants in need of admission to higher institutions per year. There are also reports that about 10m children are out of school. This is very upsetting if not revolting.
The agricultural system is still rudimentary and not developed, while the power sector is not at par with countries you can say are our peers. The nation is yet to add value to our primary commodities because our industries are inchoate. That may explain why we still have problems associated with grazing of life stock since ranches seem to be beyond the reach of livestock farmers.
When you go to the health sector, the story is the same. We still have high infant and maternal mortality rates, low lifespan due to the prevalence of communicable diseases that are treatable. That explains the topsy-turvy in the polity.
We also have challenges of the unity of the country largely due to our diversity in ethnicity and religion. And because of limited resources and capacity, those charged with distribution of the kola nut do not seem to have fingernails for the kola nut to go round. Hence, the high poverty rate that comes with unemployment that has made some people like to promote cleavage of the nation along ethnic and religious lines.
Today, we have elbow-throwing grievance groups who toil day and night for government preferment. Those who feel corruption has stolen their empowerment, their opportunity and their future have decided to fight the society. As a result, the nation is at war with itself as symbolised by terrorism, kidnapping, armed robbery, clashes between herdsmen and settled farming communities, cattle rustling, ritual killings and baby factory.
Yet it is not all gloom. If you take a look at the number of educational institutions, health institutions, infrastructural development and number of regions at independence and compare with number of states now that include movement of capital from Lagos to Abuja, then you would hardly avoid the conclusion that though the pace of our development has been slow compared to those of our peers, we should count our blessings one by one.
Have Nigerians learnt their lessons from these challenges, and how can we overcome them?
Nigerians have learnt from those challenges, however slow. But in some cases, we have not learnt our lessons. In a way, the activities of Boko Haram suggest Nigerians have not learnt from the past. But in some other way, one can say Nigerians have learnt some lessons, considering that most Nigerians are not supportive of the split of the country as symbolised by sturdy opposition to activities of IPOB under the watch of Kanu.
Are those factors that bind us together as a country still there?
The factors which bind us together are very much around amid centrifugal forces here and there. Consider the relative pluralism that comes with urbanization and interethnic marriages which clearly show that it is possible for us to make the most of our God-given diversity by working hard to overcome what divide the people.
We all know that the certain benefits of our togetherness in a large country with big population are by far more than the uncertain gains of the split of the country. Nigerians know that the good things of life are never the natural order of things, but are often attained through hard work by purposeful leadership and the better of everyone. All that is required is for us to come to terms with reality and resolve to overcome the challenges through consciously directed efforts to make desires possible and then actual. Our situation is not beyond redemption.
Why is the country not sufficient in food production as we have seen in recent past?
Nigeria has not been self-sufficient as was the case 57 years ago for two or three reasons. The population has grown without the commensurate improvement in the effort at modernisation of agriculture. The second reason is that Nigeria is a TRUST FUND STATE which has been made possible by oil wealth that does not result from hard work. What is more, unbridled corruption has stifled diversification of the economy away from oil precisely because money of low utility tends to drive away the money of high utility.
Considering the various shades of agitations in the country, do you think this independence anniversary is worth celebrating?
There is no country without challenges. Otherwise, there would be no need for government. So there is a need for celebration of the 57th Anniversary, indeed every anniversary. This is because we now have the freedom that goes with our democracy that would enable Nigerians to make judicious use of their democratic rights and make sure their votes count so that the ensuing leaders would be accountable to the people.
Some Nigerians are calling for sober celebration, do you agree with them?
All celebrations are expected to be sober and introspective. This is because one should use such celebration and assess progress against plans for the purpose of effecting corrections or improvements. Let Nigerians come together and unleash their synergistic potential against collective challenges for common good.
Recently, a fellow northerner, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar to be precise, said northerners were opposed to restructuring because they are lazy. What is your take on that?
I would believe the former Vice President Atiku has his own reasons for saying that the North opposes restructuring because northerners are lazy. I do not share such views. You would recall we (ACF) have said that because restructuring means different things to different groups, we are unable to make an informed decision on the subject matter. This is because there are those clamouring for true federalism, some others for fiscal federalism and some groups hanker for resource control. Yet we have those who tout resource ownership.
It is against such backdrop that the Northern States Governors Forum has set up a committee to collate the opinions of stakeholders across the north with a view to informing their position on restructuring for the north. My dear, I do not see the wisdom in all the talks about restructuring by some elites, as if they do not know how democracy works.
I believe we should let those political parties which wish to restructure the country by way of far-reaching Reforms of the polity to reflect such reforms in their party manifestos and campaigns for the mandate needed for implementation. I think it is undemocratic and morally preposterous to demand a restructuring of the country based on recommendations by unelected platforms or individuals. Let political parties do their job democratically for larger interest.
It is about two years to another presidential election, but plans are already on to stop President Buhari from running. What is your take on that?
I see no problem posed to our democracy if some aspirants decide to contest the primaries within the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), against President Buhari. Also, we see no threat to northern interest or to our democracy should other political parties decide to field northerners as candidates against President Buhari.
You would note the north has never been one when it comes to partisan politics. We are one in terms of only values all northerners share. That was why there were NPC, NEPU and UMBC in the north during the first republic. That was also why there were NPN, PRP and GNPP in the north in the second republic. So, if President Buhari decides to re-contest in 2019 and some aspirants decide to challenge him, I do not expect APC to mimic PDP by printing only one nomination form.
I expect the party to allow democracy to take its course. If President Buhari could defeat other aspirants in 2015 on the basis of hope, it should not be difficult for him now that he has something to show. (The Sun)