Politicians stoking religious crises in the North – Arewa youth president

National President of the Arewa Youth Consultative Council, Zaid Ayuba, speaks to MUHAMMED LAWAL on the economic hardship faced by Nigeria, debate on the need to restructure the country, among other issues

What have been the Arewa Youth Consultative Council’s achievements so far?

One of the fundamental things we have achieved in the northern part of Nigeria since our creation in 2012 is that we were able to create an attitudinal orientation for the northern youths across the 19 northern states and the Federal Capital Territory. We created awareness for the youths; we campaigned to enlighten the youths that a lot is expected of them. Also, we were able to achieve in the area of human development where we trained 124,000 youths across the northern states in various areas of skill acquisition like welding, barbing, tailoring, plumbing, and other things that have to do with human capacity building.

Many people have been of the opinion that former President Muhammadu Buhari left a bad economy for President Bola Tinubu. It is believed that this is the reason Nigerians are facing the current economic downturn. Do you think the former president is the genesis of these economic challenges?

This is a political question, and we are not a political organisation. However, all democratic leaders in Nigeria from (Olusegun) Obasanjo, (Umaru) Yar’Adua, (Goodluck) Jonathan, (Muhammadu) Buhari to (Bola) Tinubu are all responsible for the economic problems of Nigeria, but since 2015 till date, some of the economic policies of the past and this current administration are blunders. This is because, as a youth leader representing the youths in the 19 northern states, some of these economic policies especially during the tenure of President Buhari and the current government are the reason behind the escalation of insecurity.

Looking at it not only from the economic angle but also from social, religious, and political angles, you will realise that the closure of borders without the provision of other alternative ways for the citizenry will amount to several problems and increase suffering. People who are complaining that President Buhari laid the foundation of this suffering have every reason to do so. During his tenure, several loans in billions were collected and at the end of the day, they were not accounted for. A lot of policies like the naira redesign by Godwin Emefiele and the closure of borders have caused loopholes in the country’s economy.

Many people believe that there is no religious tolerance in the North. How do you react to this?

These are just media speculations. Nobody can say that in northern Nigeria, there is religious intolerance. It is only a social glitch that happens once in a while as a result of political factors. The complexities and multidimensional nature of northern Nigeria impact this. However, there is relative peace in northern Nigeria. Once in a while, in some parts of Plateau, Benue, and Kaduna states, there used to be glitches. It is not true that Muslims kill Christians or Christians kill Muslims. What is true is that politicians are creating unnecessary reasons to breach the relative peace we have in northern Nigeria because they want to achieve their political gain. For instance, in a state like Kaduna, you can see that insecurity and religious crisis have completely stopped. There is political insincerity to wipe away these crises. In Plateau and Benue States, if the political, religious, and traditional leaders and stakeholders come together to agree on ending these challenges by the end of 2024, these issues will become a thing of history.

Some have said that since the conclusion of the 2023 presidential election, there have been tribal attacks and ethnic chauvinism. Also, it has been speculated that northerners cannot vote for an Igbo presidential candidate. This was said to have been demonstrated in the last presidential election. What do you say to this?

If you follow the antecedent of Nigerian political history, you will realise that in the First Republic, the northern part of Nigeria was an ally of the South-East. It was the Igbo who along the line drifted away from the political nature of Nigeria. Politics is a marriage; you cannot afford to marry someone who does not have the same ideology as you. The Igbo can produce a president in Nigeria; nobody has ever said they cannot. What we are saying is that nobody can become the president of Nigeria without the support of one of the three zones. For the Igbo to produce a president, they will have to show that they are ready to become Nigerians, show patriotism, and set aside their agitations. We all must continue to be Nigerians because we believe that in our unity, there exists a particular strength. The northern Nigerians see the South-West as more of a progressive ally that can achieve national aspirations together with them. We have nothing against them.

Do you support the agitation for restructuring as the North-Central (Middle Belt) and other parts of Nigeria have been calling for it?

We believe geographically and politically there is nothing like the Middle Belt; it is North-Central, which is etymologically part of the North. What exists is the northern part of Nigeria. It is some political elements who are agitating for some kind of system. Restructuring is a very good concept. Before any Nigerian should call for it, certain things must be put in place. However, this must be done with all necessary political readiness so as to better the lives of their people. United Nigeria and restructuring are good things for Nigerians if certain things are being done.

Is the Federal Government attending to insecurity and economic challenges the way it should?

I think the Federal Government is trying its best. The question of whether they are responding the way they should; no, they are not. For every sincere country in the world, one of the fundamental things they do is to achieve a secure society. In a country where there is multidimensional inflation, one cannot even explain the rate at which prices increase – rice, exchange rates, and a host of others. They are trying but they are not doing it the way they should.

The borders are closed in the name of what economic policy? What economic policy justifies that? Our security system may be providing arms, but when the people are hungry and the income per capita is not in reality with their survival, that is to say, the government is wasting its time. When they move one step forward, they take three backward. For the security of Nigeria, there is supposed to be effective coordination among certain ministries of the government.

What will you say about the continuous naira depreciation?

When you tell people that $1 is equal to N1,000, they will not believe you. Today, do not be surprised that by the end of February, the dollar could reach N2,000. This is one of the insensitivities of the government. How can you allow agencies like the International Monetary Fund and others to determine anything? To me and others in the North, they seem to be enemies of developing nations like Nigeria. How will Nigeria’s economic system allow the dollar to decide on the naira? They need to go back to former Presidents Yar’Adua and Jonathan’s formula on how they got it right. It is a shame that the currencies that used to be less than the naira in value are now more powerful than the naira.

Do you see this (international agencies dictating policies that Nigeria should embrace) as a form of colonialism against the country?

Today, the state of Nigeria is beyond colonialism; we are going through critical imperialism. The only thing left for this nation is to bring back the 100-year form of slavery to start tying ropes onto our necks and dragging us to Europe. You will think the likes of the United States and the United Kingdom are not happy with it; they are. We are growing their economy while killing our economy. But this time around, we are lucky to have some governors who are not too old and people believed will grow the home economy because they showed doggedness and readiness. It is so painful that we have a lot of opportunities to better the nation without taking advantage of these opportunities.

What is your view about the Federal Government’s move of some departments in the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria and the Central Bank of Nigeria to Lagos State? Do you think it is a plan to relocate government agencies from the North to the South?

Nobody in the North expected that President Bola Tinubu would approve this kind of attempt. The Minister of Aviation and CBN governor have given their reasons which were tagged on cutting costs. What kind of cutting cost is that? Prior to the 1960s, northern Nigeria was the hub of all forms of administration. So, how can you justify moving FAAN and the major units of the CBN back to Lagos State? Why did the President not order the relocation of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation back to Niger Delta and all of the Ministries of Agriculture back to Benue and Niger States as the biggest producers of agricultural foods in Nigeria or the Nigerian Institute of Commerce back to Onitsha or Kano? This is purely political. There is nothing administrative attached to the relocations.

We are aware of the South-West development agenda which is a part of the agenda to make the South-West the most developed region in Africa and probably in the world. We can grow not by crippling other parts of Nigeria; we should not attempt anything that will cripple the existence of Nigeria. All of us in the North are angry at the decision of the President, and if the President proceeds to move these critical sectors, I tell you 2027 is near, and nobody will take it lightly. Our traditional leaders, women, and youths are aware that this is a political move, not an administrative move.

The All Progressives Congress has accused the opposition of sponsoring protests against hunger and economic crunch. Do you think the recent protests in Niger, Kano, and some other states were sponsored?

Everything is possible in Nigeria. People might be sponsored because they are hungry and there is poverty in the country. However, I do not want to believe that they were sponsored. People themselves are beginning to feel the impact of some of these policies that are affecting them. There is no way people should bear the brunt of unbearable conditions without complaining and coming out to show their grievances. We are citizens of this nation, and we are being represented by our mandate. Nigerians are tired and they believe they need to speak up as nobody can give an account of the number of people who died as a result of the removal of fuel subsidy.

In Nigeria today, many people are poor. Those who have cars find it difficult to fuel them because of the hike in fuel prices. Our religious leaders are not saying enough, and political leaders are sitting in their comfort zone and are not doing enough. They are all pretending as if everything is going well. Even the traditional rulers are afraid because they do not want to come out and speak up so that they will not be removed by these political leaders. The youth leaders representing various youth organisations are hypocritical enough to keep quiet because they are afraid of assassination, kidnapping, or political silencing. It is obvious that Nigerians are getting tired and it is high time the Federal Government started resolving these issues and addressing them without political conditions.

SOURCE:PUNCH

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