A spokesperson for the Coalition of Northern Groups, CNG, Abdulaziz Sulaiman, in this interview, analyses the opposition to the formation of a security outfit for northern Nigeria, Operation Shege Ka Fasa, lamenting that elites in the region are frustrating efforts at ending kidnapping and banditry. He also speaks on why northern governors were not carried along before going public with Shege Ka Fasa.
The problem in the north is that there is a big disconnect between the people and the elites. The elites do not appreciate the depth of the problem. At 4 pm yesterday, last Tuesday, more than 70 people were massacred in Giwa Local Government Area of Kaduna State. Houses were razed and it was not reported. Shege Ka Fasa serves as a wake-up call that stemmed from Amotekun. When Amotekun was formed, we felt that we needed something like that more than the South-West because we are the ones being killed. We copied from them, brought out a sample and presented it to our leaders. We told them that if South-West governors and other layers of leadership in the zone could come together to form Amotekun, why don’t we do the same thing in the north? Because of the elite bankruptcy here, some people are kicking against it. From the arguments of our elites who are opposed to it, we understood that they are simply trivialising the issue. None of these northern elites opposed to what we did can simply come out to say that people are not being killed in the north. None of them can come out to say that people are safe anywhere in the north. They can’t say that.
Our response is this: Why are they insisting that bandits should be given a decent name? That heightens the suspicions that they have a stake in the killings. Why must they just insist that bandits who are killing people should have a decent name? Why are they saying that Shege is derogatory? In any case, that name is not even sacrosanct. It is just a proposal. I am sure that Amotekun was not the first name that South-West leaders came up with. There must have been deliberations before they agreed on Amotekun. The South-West has a common purpose while northern elites are just bankrupt. There was a prelude to the formation of Amotekun, which was the killing of Pa Fasoranti’s daughter. There were series of engagements leading to the formal launch of Amotekun. Were there interactions between your group and other layers of leadership in the north before you floated Shege Ka Fasa? Our leaders in the north are like wheelbarrows. You have to push them before they move. If it took the killing of one person for the entire South-West to come together to form a common front, why can’t it happen here where people are killed in dozens daily? Our leaders in the north are not doing anything. They are just setting up committees. We are in a state of war and all they do is to set up committees that do not even sit. We took the nature of our people into cognizance before doing what we did. They are living in high mansions with tinted glasses. If you knock at the main gate they will not hear. You have to carry big stones to break the glasses of the mansions for them to wake up. Already, Shege Ka Fasa is a success because as soon as we announced it, they all rushed to Kaduna to meet but they were not doing that before. They are now against the common people with their stance on Shege Ka Fasa. If they stop the outfit without securing the lives of the people, they would be in trouble. We have initiated this, let them take it up by inviting key stakeholders so that in the next one or two months we can agree on something with a different name. They must understand that there is a necessity to do this. Let us assume that the north is secure, if the South-West should form Amotekun to flush out criminals, the criminals would come to the north. Why can’t we also block our borders? Your neighbours can’t flush out criminals from their domain and you would allow the criminals into your territory. Unfortunately, our political leaders do not see it that way, because they don’t care about the rate of killings. To them, so long as they cling on to power there is no problem in the north. Apart from the statements the northern governors and other political leaders of northern extraction have made, have they reached out to your group formally or informally? That was what we expected. I am not sure Amotekun is just the idea of the governors. Some people may have initiated it and sold the idea to the governors and other leaders. That is what we did but our leaders are opposing us in the media. They don’t know that they are ridiculing themselves, because the reality remains that people are being killed and the north is not safe. They can’t just condemn our initiative simply because they want people to believe that the north is safe. They have not reached out to us in any way. The only people that reached out to us were the Northern Elders Forum, NEF. They invited us and issued a statement that President Muhammadu Buhari has failed which is true. In the face of this opposition from the governors and other elites in the region, are you going to quit? We are not quitting. The opposition is just from the elites, which is inconsequential. When bandits attacked Giwa yesterday, last Tuesday, the villagers called us to save them. That tells you that the people are relating to us and we are not going to let them down. Definitely, we are sure there must be constitutional windows that allow for self-defence. We are going to explore all legal windows to get recognition by the authorities and go ahead with our initiative. The reality is that whether we like it or not, whether we form a common front or not, a time would come when people would no longer run away from bandits. A time would come when people would resist and if such resistance is not coordinated, it would turn into something different. People can’t be running away from their communities every day. A time would come when they would resist. It is the resistance that we want to coordinate. The north is so unsafe that one can’t travel from one point to another without being kidnapped or killed. A traditional ruler, who is a first-class chief, was attacked on Zaria/Kaduna Expressway. He even said that he had to run in the bush for two hours and they still don’t consider what happened as a threat. The disunity in the north was brought about by the elites. They introduced religious misunderstanding, ethnic disharmony, and communal disharmony deliberately. They did it just because they want to retain power without knowing that there is a limit to the endurance of the people. We are going to explore all available avenues to get recognition because we cannot operate without recognition by the authority. That was what happened with the Civilian JTF in Borno State. When they started the governors were not happy but their operations were later formalised. Today, they are adding value to the efforts of the soldiers in the northeast.
The people suggesting that are perhaps not conversant with the nature of elites we have. We have had many interactions with them that would have helped the north but they just brushed them under the carpet. If we had taken the proposal silently to them, nobody would have heard about it. They would have just discarded it. To avoid that, we went public with the outfit and asked them to take it from us at that point. I don’t see anything wrong in it. The South-West may have used the approach and it worked for them, but here, we know the nature of the people we are dealing with. If we had discussed it with them, that would have been the end. For instance, the governor of Kano State is saying that Kano is secure because he has spent a lot of money on security. How could a leader have said such a thing in the face of insecurity? If Kano is secure, does it mean that the people in Zamfara, Jigawa, Kaduna, Katsina, and other places can go to hell? We are calling for collective efforts to end insecurity in the north and he is boasting that Kano is secure. Which Kano is secure? That is a lie. Is it not in Kano that 47 children were stolen? Is that security? Is it not in Kano that two million bottles of hard drugs are consumed daily? Is that security? We have found out a correlation between insecurity and drug abuse in the north. That is also justifiable because Nathaniel, who wanted to bomb a church in Kaduna, was confirmed to be a drug addict by his farther. The correlation between insecurity and drug abuse in the north is obvious. For instance, someone in the bush, who got N20 million ransom, would not take the money to the city to buy cars. They spend the money in the bush on drugs and arms. Now, how can the governor of a state where two million bottles of hard drugs are taken daily claim that Kano is secure? Let’s assume the place is secure, what about people in Katsina? In the South-West, some places do not experience insecurity but they all came together to assist others. Our leaders always feel threatened whenever we speak. They have turned it into a class struggle. They feel threatened, thinking we are coming to take over the leadership of the north from them. The reins of power can go to other people. That is what the Sultan said. He was emphatic that youths are coming to take over our responsibility. The Sultan’s comment on the situation in the north was recently attacked by the Shettima Yerima-led Arewa Youths Consultative Forum. What does that mean to you as someone pushing for concerted efforts to end insecurity in the north? The Sultan made two different statements. He spoke about Shege Ka Fasa separately. He talked about a new terror group that may emerge when he was speaking about 500,000 orphans that have emerged as a result of the activities of Boko Haram. He said that if government does not do anything, the children would grow to form a terror group that could be worse than Boko Haram. That was just a diversion because what we have in the Northwest and North-Central is worse than Boko Haram. Boko Haram has a cause and they keep saying it but in the North-West and North-Central, we don’t know who we are fighting. They come from the bushes, kill people and burn their communities. That is why they are called bandits and they are worse than Boko Haram. Already, we have something worse than Boko Haram. Shettima was responding to the Sultan’s remarks against Shege Ka Fasa and we also align with him. He asked why the Sultan didn’t speak when people were being killed. He asked why the Sultan didn’t speak when his colleague was attacked.
The cases of insecurity in the north that get reported are the fortunate ones. Every day tens of thousands of people go to the bushes to pay money. They just quietly pay to take back their relations. It is only when some incidents happen on a highway like Abuja/Kaduna Expressway that people hear about it but when it happens in the villages, it is not reported. For instance, if the villagers in Giwa didn’t call us, the incident wouldn’t have been reported. They called us and said they wanted the world to know what happened to us. We got one of the national dailies to report it. If we hadn’t done that people wouldn’t have known. Many incidents are not reported. About 70 people were murdered in Giwa. There is no interim measure to curb insecurity in the north because the problem has escalated. The bandits that attacked Giwa do not reside there. What happened was that the military attacked them and they came to the villages to attack innocent people before going back to their base. The bandits are not even afraid. The villagers have become so scared that they don’t know who to trust. They have lost confidence in the police and the military. They tell us that whenever they give information to the police, bandits return the next day to kill them. There is no guarantee that the villagers would be safe when they give information to security agents. The villagers know where these people are, who they are and they know the drug and arms route, but they can’t speak to the authorities. The villagers can speak to us. That is why we are intervening. It is not that we want to fight. Can I fight? We want to use the confidence they have in us to provide communication channels and information gathering opportunities. These people can tell us anything and won’t be scared of being killed by bandits for giving out information. We want to monitor the processes which include investigation and prosecution among others. Unfortunately, our people are trivializing it because of their bankruptcy. Because our elites feel they are secure, they don’t want to take action. They should learn from other peoples’ experiences. A first-class traditional ruler was nearly killed between Kaduna and Zaria, yet they don’t want to act. I am sure if the Sultan had contacted the Emir of Birnin Gwari, he would have told the Sultan that Shege Ka Fasa is welcome because Birnin Gwari is a no go area now. What we are saying is that we may not have the solution, but we have initiated something that could lead to finding the solution. Let the leaders take it up and meet with us. We are not saying that we must be the leaders of the outfit. We will give them what we have and tell them what we know so that they can go ahead to form whatever they want to form. I am sure no bandit would see all the gadgets and vehicles procured for Amotekun and would not be scared. Why can’t we do something like that in the north? If they do not want to use public resources to fund the outfit in the north, there are options because we have analysed the situation and realised that a middle-class person in the north would rather contribute two million naira to buy a bus or two for the outfit than wait until his son is kidnapped and he would pay N20 million in the bush. Even the villagers would rather contribute N100 for volunteers to secure their villages. I don’t know what our governors and other elites are afraid of. Their position is becoming suspicious. This is a movement that aims to checkmate insecurity in the north and we intend to get to the root of the matter. If given the kind of equipment Amotekun has, we can police our borders. Evidently, the government has failed as a result of incapability or unwillingness to act. If community effort is approved, we will use the people in the villages to fight the bandits. The villagers are willing but they are afraid because they don’t know who to trust.