Alhaji Ibrahim Coomassie is a former Inspector General of Police. He became the Chairman of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) some seven months back. In this interview,
Coomassie says President Goodluck Jonathan would have been a hero if he had stepped down in 2011 after completing the term of his former boss, the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, but insists that the 2015 presidential election, if free and fair, will return power to the North. He also berates the Federal Government for the insecurity in the North.
We have not heard much about the ACF of late. What is happening to the group?
That means you have not been reading the papers. ACF is fully on the ground, very relevant as usual, more noticeable than before and contributing its quota to the unity and development of this country. We have been in the news since I came on board.
About seven months ago when I became the National Chairman of the Executive Council of the forum and Alhaji Waziri Fika became the Chairman of Board of Trustees. The moment we came on board, the first thing we did was to meet the Chief Servant of Niger State and Chairman of Northern Governors Forum, Alhaji Babangida Aliyu, to draw the attention of northern governors to the persistency of insurgency in the North which seems to be going on for nearly five years unchecked.
He promised to take up the matter with his colleagues in the governors forum. After that, we went for the National Conference. I as Chairman of the ACF became the Chairman of the northern delegates forum co-chaired by Professor Jerry Gana from North- Central. We organized a retreat for the northern delegates, and discussed and perfected our participation at the conference. After the conference, we started the sensitization of our people. So, you can see that the ACF has been doing a lot. ACF is the umbrella for northern Nigeria, irrespective of religion, ethnicity or political leaning. May be you want to ask how it came to be.
Please go on?
If you recall, we handed power over to an elected government in 1999. Immediately the then President Olusegun Obasanjo took over, there was some degree of insecurity in the country. There were blames being heaped on northern Nigeria for the state of decadence in the country. We had three groups representing northern Nigeria: The Turaki Committee led by former President Shehu Shagari, the Northern Elders Forum headed by Alhaji Abdulraman Okene, and another outfit led by Alhaji Waziri Sule Katagum, the erstwhile Chairman of Federal Public Service Commission. And they were all talking in response to the criticisms against northern Nigeria, differently. So the stakeholders in northern Nigeria thought it was high time we started responding with one voice.
A meeting was held in Kaduna attended by traditional rulers, the clergy, technocrats, businessmen under the chairmanship of the late Sultan, Alhaji Muhammed Maccido. After discussions, it was decided that a team be established. The Emir of Ilorin, Alhaji Ibrahim Sule Gambari, a legal luminary, one time member of the Court of Appeal, suggested what we are now known as Arewa Consultative Forum and we began to speak with one voice. The Tiv-Jukun crisis, we resolved it. Other things pertaining to northern Nigeria have always been the forum’s concern. We were not very active in politics, to the extent that when election comes up, we don’t participate in handpicking candidate.
That is the prerogative of the different parties. That is the internal democracy of the different parties. But we did something in the ACF. We drew up criteria for quality leadership, from the councillor to the president. The criteria were reviewed by another committee and the Board of Trustees, the Central Working Committee, and the NEC before it was approved. We then sold it to all the political parties such that if you are looking for people to occupy public offices through elections, look for people with these qualifications.
What are the criteria for the presidency?
Things like knowledge, courage, transparency, honesty, focus and foresight, dedication to one Nigeria.
If you say the ACF represents the interests of the North, why do you still have splinter groups here and there taking care of the interests of some political office holders of northern extraction?
When I was asking your question earlier, I didn’t say non-political. I said we are a partisan forum. I said earlier that the responsibility of producing any candidate for any office is solely that of the party. But what we did was to help by saying that if you want quality leadership, these are the things you should look out for. We are political because our politics is northern Nigeria, no doubt about it. Anything about the North, we are there to advance it, but within the context of one Nigeria. Concerning the splinter groups you are talking about, everybody has freedom of expression, association. You cannot stop people from having an idea of their own. But all these splinter groups you are talking about, if you ask them, they will say they are members of ACF even if they are pursuing some other interests
We cannot, right from the beginning, when the whistle is blown for politics, to say we are supporting Olalekan. But at the end of the day, we have seen three or four aspirants vying for the presidency, all coming from the North. I think that is where we can now intervene because if we allow them to go the whole hog, we may lose it. So we can say ‘why can’t all of you concede it to one person so that the best among you to go for it and you can’t support him when he gets there’. If all of them vie for the position, there is the danger of losing the office. So what we are saying particularly to the northern delegates is to vote for whoever they consider the best among the aspirants and then the ACF will cast its vote for such candidate. These are some of the roles ACF plays.
Others think, right from the beginning, we should align ourselves with a candidate, no, we would rather allow the due process to take its course. The party comes out with their candidates, then we support. I think that is why we have splinter groups and we have been working together. Only recently, the ACF issued an open letter to Mr President over insurgency in the North, particularly in the North-East, in which we asked all the northern NGOs interested in advocating for a better northern Nigeria to come together and let us face the current issue which is lack of security. All we want is peace, unity and development of northern Nigeria. So it is better we put our hands together and see how best we can achieve this.
Would you say the Federal Government isn’t doing enough regarding the Boko Haram issue in the North -East as some have repeatedly said?
That is what we have been saying. It means you did not read our open letter to the President where we highlighted everything in the North-East and the North generally since 1999, even the attacks on individuals, the taking over of towns and hoisting of Boko Haram flags there. All these were enumerated in our open letter to the President.
What was the response of the President to the letter?
No response yet. I have not been told of any response. I signed the letter with my Secretary-General. All we hear is what you now called the splinter groups, Northern Elders Council responding on behalf of government or something and castigating us saying since I became the Chairman (of ACF) I have been anti-government. I have respect for the government. It is God who makes people and leadership, whether good or bad.
We respect them, my religion teaches me to do that but it also allows me, including the Constitution, to criticize obvious shortcomings. Since the death of Muhammed Yusuf in 2009, insurgency has been aggravated and there doesn’t seem to be effective response from government. The purpose of government, according to the Constitution, is security and welfare of the people.
To that extent, the Constitution provides for social rights, economic rights. It goes further to identify areas of education, health facilities, employment and, of course, fundamental human rights. If you are abused, it is easier to get a lawyer to go to court but the others are not justiciable. In other words you cannot go to court and force that your child be given education. That was one of our recommendations at the conference that social rights should be justiciable.
We have poverty inspite of our wealth, it is so pronounced. Why? We still have, especially in this part of the country, children roaming the streets begging. Should that be in the 21st century? Shouldn’t it be the responsibility of government to provide education for all children in the country irrespective of where they come from, irrespective of where the revenue is coming from? These are some of the things that are pertinent in the development of this country and it has a lot to do with leadership and interest of individuals in government.
The Federal Government said they had reached a truce with Boko Haram only for the group’s head, Shekau, to show up in a video denying anything of such. Is government not taking the country for a ride as some have alleged?
Since insurgency became a threat in this country, people have been talking. There have been discussions on ceasefire, amnesty; there was even a group led by Dr. (Ahmed) Datti in Kano which offered to mediate but the whole thing fell apart.
Why did it fall apart?
I don’t know. There were accusations and counter-accusations on sincerity of purpose on the part of government,. But suddenly we became quiet again. We in the ACF recommended amnesty, because we thought it was a good carrot provided we know who the insurgents are. We even called on the leaders of Boko Haram to come out and told them that government would guarantee their safety. We wanted to talk so that we know what they are after but nothing came out. Then, suddenly, after five years going to six years, we read vaguely that there was a ceasefire. When I was asked about it, what I asked in return was, ‘who was brokering the ceasefire agreement?’ Who was on the side of government? Of course there was a time the Chief of the Defence Staff talked about it which made us to presume that it was true there was ceasefire, but who is talking on behalf of Boko Haram?
We learnt two or three times that the leader was killed. But it was either Shekau was dead or later to say he was not. At a point they said the name was just a myth, that whoever assumes leadership of the sect automatically takes up the name Shekau but it is neither here nor there. Things of international dimension like this, if indeed there was ceasefire, there must be an international person in it. Who are these people, are they Nigerians? Is it a regional thing that we can easily see ECOWAS in it?
Or is it continental that AU is part of? Or even international that UN can be part of? Who is brokering the ceasefire? The only evidence we saw again was when our President visited President Derby in Niger Republic with somebody accused of connivance with the sect but there was nothing tangible official coming out from government regarding the peace deal; so the insurgency continued ferociously as it were. And, suddenly, Boko Haram came out to say there was nothing of such, that it never had any ceasefire with government. Why are we fooling ourselves? Are we not ridiculing ourselves? So our earlier suspicion is coming out to be correct.
That there was no ceasefire in the first place. It was bunkum. Somebody was just trying to bring it out, for whatever reason I don’t know. But what has Nigerians gained from it?
A prominent son of the North, Junaid Mohammed, said the Federal Government was playing political football with the lives of the Chibok girls. Do you agree?
Of course. I have said it too. It is in the open letter. But they don’t seem to be doing anything. Should we allow people to be continued to be killed? Seven to nine traditional title holders, emirs and chiefs in the North-east who abandoned their domains are now hiding somewhere in Abuja. Emir of Gwoza was killed by these people. His successor was pursued, he had to go into hiding. The late emir of Kano was attacked. Shehu of Borno was attacked. Should we continue to watch? Can’t we do something? What are the agencies responsible for internal security doing? What is the government doing? There is more to it than meets the eye. The whole scenario seems to suggest there is a hidden agenda.
I can’t say. I am not in government. All we want is restoration of peace. And elections are coming. Can we hold elections where there is no security? Can we ignore some parts of the country in the elections and think they will be credible? Or is it a ploy so that the elections will not hold and government can continue indefinitely; after all, there is provision in the Constitution to that effect. There are more questions than answers regarding this insurgency issue. You know some countries offered to assist us in this matter but nobody knows the outcome. Have we seen the impact? Instead we have read reports in the media, saying the visitors were not getting cooperation from Nigerians. Is that not what happened? This is what I read in the papers and the reality is that things have not improved.
How true is the claim that the insurgency is a self-inflicted northern problem, after all some northern politicians allegedly said they will make the country ungovernable for the Jonathan administration?
That cannot be because at the time the President took over, the North supported him 100%. He was a Vice President. His President died. The Constitution says for one reason or another, if the President cannot perform, his vice should take over. You can’t fault that. So the question of a ploy to make the country ungovernable because he is in the saddle is false. I think the question we should ask is why should the North make the country ungovernable?
Again, I think at that stage when he completed the first tenure of the Umaru Yar’Adua-Jonathan ticket, what some stakeholders in the North thought he would do was to step aside and allow another northerner to come and complete the two terms of the presidency, because that was an agreement, whether written or not written, to concede power to the South and, eight years later, the North will also get it. Obasanjo got it. Umaru later got it but he didn’t finish the eight years; so why not allow him and the North to complete the eight years? If Jonathan had stepped down, he would have become a hero in this country. Again, even in his government, they are saying he agreed to serve for just one term, or you are not aware of it? Didn’t you read it? Then you are not in this country.
Is that not why the North is perceived to be doing everything to make his government ungovernable?
But is it true? Who in particular is doing something to make his government impossible? You tell us. There must be an example. These insurgents are killing northerners, Muslims and Christians alike. There are more Muslim victims than Christians.
With the perceived non- chalant attitude of government to ending insurgency, is it still possible for the North to vote for the Jonathan administration in the coming elections?
If you go back to history and use it as a guide, I will say every Nigerian, irrespective of where he comes from, is entitled to contest for the office of the President; it is the electorate that will decide who they want. The North is saying it is their own time now for the presidency to shift. We in the ACF want the next President to come from the North.
Of course. There is no question about it. And that is because of the arrangement laid down.
You see that happening?
Why not? Once the election is transparent and fair, they allow the electorate to exercise their voting right, it is very possible. That is what some of the leading politicians are saying, ‘cast your vote and protect it’. Let me tell you. The polling units never favored us because we discovered that the so-called units are more favorable to other states than us even though we are more in number than the South.
How did you arrived at that?
It is the statistics.
Statistics that cannot be substantiated?
Why can’t it be substantiated? How did they compile the statistics?
Boko Haram is Muslim.
No they are not. They are not true Muslims. True Muslims will not do what Boko Haram is doing. It is unislamic. You can’t be killing people and say you are a Muslim. Nobody has the right to take the life of another except you follow due process such that the person is convicted of a crime that is punishable by death. Under any guise, you have no right to kill a fellow human being. It is totally wrong.
Arms deal issue scandal issue.
There are procedures for everything. There are laws for everything. You needed the cooperation of South Africa agencies involved. You cannot go to the black market to purchase arms just like that. Before you purchase arms and ammunition, there are some procedures internally in any country. I am telling you this authoritatively. I was an I. G.’s, except for the military, arms and ammunition purchased for agencies in this country are done through the I.G office, because there are documents to be prepared and you don’t take money there, cash and carry, like you go there, pay and take it. I think the issue should be properly investigated.
What about the plane, is it not owned by the CAN President? Now it was involved in criminal activities. That should be an exhibit. That is the kind of decadence we are talking about. For a government to go out to purchase arms in the black market, something is wrong. What is happening is abnormal.