Outspoken Northern leader and former Executive Secretary of National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Prof Usman Yusuf has said politicians preparing for 2023 election are living on false hope, as election will never hold, especially in the North, given the level of insecurity in the country.
His words: “There is insecurity all over the country and what have the politicians who are very selfish been talking all these times – restructuring, 2023 presidency, where the president will come from. We are in 2020, first year into a four-year term. At a time when Nigeria is facing the worst insecurity of its lifetime even since civil war; at a time when the ship of state is drifting, at a time when our people are facing the most excruciating poverty and hunger, our politicians are thinking of who will be handed over power in 2023, instead of how to get us out of the pit, and I wonder.
“If this insecurity continues towards 2023, there may not be a country to restructure, there may not be a presidency to rotate and 2023 may just be dream. It will just be a bridge too far we may not get there. If any politician thinks there is going to be a clean restructuring, clean rotation, clean breakup when there is this insecurity, the person should wake up because you are going to have warlords everywhere- there will be warlords in Mushin, Agege, Surulere, Victoria Island etc.”
In an interview with VINCENT KALU, the professor of Haematology-Oncology and Bone Marrow transplantation, warned communities to brace up to defend themselves against attack.
As a statesman, are you not worried the way Nigeria is drifting; no place is safe to sleep with both eyes closed?
Nobody in this country, that lives in this country, that loves this country, that is a friend of Nigeria will tell you that he is happy the way things are. We have insecurity problem and it is all over the country. It is much worse in the Northeast and the Northwest and that is why we continue to raise our voices not because we don’t like this government, we brought them in. We are raising our voices and giving voices to the voiceless because we love this country more than we love any government and that is why we are raising our voices.
If we are honest with ourselves, we are not happy. Insecurity is all over this country and things cannot continue to go this way. The government and all those that are responsible for securing this nation must to do things differently; must appreciate that there is a problem and if we keep quiet, we are doing a great disservice to our children and grandchildren. We are not happy.
As a guest on a television programme, you heaped the blames on President Buhari, but can he be everywhere in all the 36 states. Do you think you were fair to him?
Yes, absolutely. I didn’t vote for General Buratai as my president and millions of Nigerians too; millions of Nigerians voted for Buhari to make things better and he is the one we hold responsible. He looked for this job for 12 years from 2003 to 2015 and he got this job; so if he is not doing a good job we call him out and hold him responsible. I’m not going to hold any minister or any service chief responsible, but the government.
The day the government of Buhari finishes nobody will remember any service chief, but President Buhari government. Yes, we will hold him responsible and so will God. He needs to wake up, we are not happy. He knows that in all scriptures, leadership will be held responsible and that is why I say, he is the one we hold responsible, I don’t want him to give me excuse that it is the ministers or service chiefs. I didn’t vote any of them. The president needs to act as the commander in chief and if they are not doing their jobs he fires them. If any minister is not doing his job change him; everybody under his government is serving at his instance, it is his government, nobody else.
Yes, I don’t think I was being uncharitable, I’m just saying what needs to be said loud and clearly and he knows that. The service chiefs are serving under him and he is the commander in chief. Over 1.2 million people in Katsina voted for him. Many have never seen Buratai or Sadiq of Air Force or Mongonu the NSA, it is the president they know and they trust him and that is why they voted him in. So, I don’t want him to come and tell us that it is the service chiefs. We didn’t vote for any service chief, we voted for President Buhari, and we hold him responsible and God Almighty will also hold him responsible and he knows that.
Do you see any external plan trying to destroy Nigeria?
When they arrest these bandits, I don’t see any of them from outside Nigeria. These bandits in the forests are not even sophisticated; they are just rag tag with nothing than rusty AK 47 rifles and machetes and we are here saying they are from there, they are from here.
About 99 per cent of Boko Haram and bandits are Nigerians. We must take responsibility and address it and stop the blame game that will not solve our problem. Let’s be serious about it and accept that we have a fundamental problem that is home grown and must be solved and stop blaming anybody but ourselves.
You are advocating that communities should defend themselves; will this not create more confusion?
No, it won’t. In the Northeast, they have what they call, Civilian JTF, which was not created by the government or the military. The youths of Borno who were tired of watching their parents, relatives massacred by Boko Haram rose and said this cannot continue. They organized themselves and start with nothing but sticks and chased these insurgents out of their neighbourhood and then the military and the government helped them and they have been positive in the fight against Boko Haram.
This is not new. When I asked for community defence, we have to be real and honest that we don’t have enough soldiers, we don’t have enough policemen to police this country. I was in the US during Iraq war in 2003 when the war was getting out of hands, Sunnis, Al- Qaida were there, there was nowhere American military could be involved in all of them. What did they do? General David, the commander there went and sat down with the traditional leaders of Anbar Province and they made an arrangement of men of that area; Sunnis of that area and many of them that were demobilized by Sadam and they mobilised them and Americans were paying them to fight Al- Qaida and they successfully did that.
Even in Britain during the World War 11, they created what was called Home Guard, comprising young people who were too young to be soldiers, and old people who were too old to go; they trained them, they armed them to protect the homeland. So, we can do it in a very controlled way taking the template of the Civilian JTF, but make sure you work it in such a way it is local. I cannot bring what works in Maiduguri to Umuahia or Lagos. That is why I say community involvement is crucial instead of coming from Abuja with their plans, sit down with the community – how can we help, what is the best way of doing it. Communities have answers to a lot of insecurity.
The problem is local and the solution is local. We just have to listen and engage all stakeholders. This is the only way. Example, there is a village in Katsina called Batari, soldiers are there but it’s not enough to be there forever and they are not going to be in the forests where these bandits operate. So, you have to train community defence force to protect the people and supervised by soldiers. You are not giving anybody any arm. I have always advocated for Forest Rangers.
No nation anywhere in the world that can call itself secure if it doesn’t have control of its airspace, its waterways, its forests and highways. We don’t have control of our forests, where bandits take the people they kidnap to. We don’t have control of our highways that is why you cannot drive from Abuja to Kaduna; a 200-kilometre federal highway has become a highway to hell because bandits operate there.
On waterways, you have seen how vulnerable we are during the war in the Niger Delta. Even in the US they have Park Rangers, also other countries. They have park rangers that protect the forests against poachers. We must train our boys to live locally and in the forest like the park rangers to neutralize the bandits that live there.
Yes, we need community defence force to help the people locally because we don’t have enough police, and soldiers will not be there forever. I advocate that we must increase the number of our police force. In Katsina, which is a common knowledge, the governor has said it that for over hundred villages, there are only 30 policemen to protect them. That is one policeman per three villages and they have problems of operation vehicles, ammunition.
This is real. We should recruit more policemen and seriously consider training forest rangers to protect our forests. All our forests must be protected and manned by government, it could be the local government, it could be the state government, and it could be the federal government. When we were growing up, you could not just enter the forest and cut down a tree without permission but the forests have become headquarters for bandits. They live there, they have generators, everything.
As you have just highlighted, is it in the mold of Amotekun?
You can call it any name. Amotekun is Southwest something. Whatever works, we should not see it as Amotekun is against the North, against the Southeast or South-South. Government must come in to see what works best for every community, for the community to protect itself without lawlessness. I cannot have a central police in Kaduna policing my forest. It has to be local involvement. It can come in any form but federal government must be involved, but must listen to stakeholders and must not see this thing as something that is in competition of forming a private army.
There is growing agitation across the country. Some say it is restructuring or never, some say it is breakup. How can these issues be addressed?
I told my compatriots in the South that without security that nothing will happen; with continued insecurity, the South will witness insecurity after #EndSARS. You have seen how cultists fought and killed themselves and also an Assistant Commissioner of Police in Benin. We have seen a daylight robbery of bullion van in Lagos; we have seen what IPOB and others are doing in Rivers that Governor Wike has to stand firm and make sure this thing was quelled.
There is insecurity all over the country and what have the politicians who are very selfish been talking all these times – restructuring, 2023 presidency, where the president will come from. We are in 2020, first year into a four-year term. At a time when Nigeria is facing the worst insecurity of its lifetime even since civil war; at a time when the ship of state is drifting, at a time when our people are facing the most excruciating poverty and hunger, our politicians are thinking of who will be handed over power in 2023, instead of how to get us out of the pit, and I wonder.
If this insecurity continues towards 2023, there may not be a country to restructure, there may not be a presidency to rotate and 2023 may just be dream. It will just be a bridge too far we may not get there. If any politician thinks there is going to be a clean restructuring, clean rotation, clean breakup when there is this insecurity, the person should wake up because you are going to have warlords everywhere- there will be warlords in Mushin, Agege, Surulere, Victoria Island etc.
During the #EndSARS, when these kids they call hoodlums went burning everywhere, destroying government, personal and public properties, breaking jails and setting prisoners free, killing policemen and taking away their guns, where was the Afenifere in the Southwest or Oduduwa Republic to calm the boys down; where was Ohanaeze in the Southeast. Do you mean these groups don’t have the authority to tell these boys to calm down? They have no authority to tell these boys to calm down.
What that tells you is that they have no authority to control the people they want to rule. Things have gone out of hands and these boys were burning everywhere, we didn’t hear the voice of Afenifere, Ohanaeze to talk to these boys. At least, in the North, our emirs and clerics calmed down these boys not to do anything.
It is scary that there is no leadership that could calm these boys when there is trouble. It has shown the world that they have no control over the people they claim they are representing. They have no control over these kids that went berserk that could have set this country on fire. Politicians have to be careful; they are selfish and do not have the interest of the people at heart.
If insecurity continues, there may not be a Nigeria to restructure and there may not be presidency to rotate, and 2023 is a bridge too far. To be honest with you, the North, all the three geo-political zones are not in any mood for this restructuring, rotation, 2023 presidency; we are not in any mood. Our people are being killed; I cannot see how elections will hold in the North if insecurity persists.
In 2015 when Boko Haram occupied many local governments in Borno State, elections were held in those areas and results declared
Elections were not held in those areas. All these senators you see from those areas occupied by Boko Haram were elected in IDP camps in Maiduguri. They would go to primary school in Maiduguri and say; these are IDPs from Mongonu and let them vote. The Northwest is the largest geopolitical zone with the largest people. In Katsina, we have sworn that we are not going to have IDP camps; if you don’t give us security, we are not going to vote.
So, elections were not held in those local governments occupied by Boko Haram; they were held in primary school of IDP camps in Maiduguri and all these senators are nothing but IDP camps senators. We are not going to have any of these things in Katsina. It is the primary responsibility of the president, the governors, and the security chiefs to give us security. There is not going to be election without security. End of story, this is not a threat; it is going to be a reality.
Bishop Matthew Kukah recently described Nigeria’s unity as hopeless and under threat. Do you share his sentiment?
There are issues and there are problems. Yes, but giving up is a luxury we do not have. I’m a doctor; we don’t tell a patient he is hopeless. I expect all our religious leaders should speak up and they should be more circumspect in what they say. Nigeria has gone through a lot and we are going through difficulties, and it is us that will solve the problem, not by giving up.
Giving up is not a luxury we don’t have; we cannot afford that for the sake of our children and grandchildren. This is our country and we stay here and salvage it together; we can do better than we are doing now.
Opinion leaders, elder statesmen, and religious leaders have been talking on the same issue and in most cases offering advice, but the president seems to be obstinate, do you think this problem will end the way things are going?
I have said it, if we continue the way we are doing, we will only be deceiving ourselves thinking that anything will change; nothing will change. The service chiefs clearly have run out of ideas; the government has run out of ideas.
That is why anytime I write I don’t just write to condemn government, but I write with recommendations, a government that listens to people will reach out to people, to organisations, to stakeholders that can enrich their governance to solve problems. This is our country and not theirs alone. If we continue the same way we are doing nothing is going to change.
What is actually the problem, people have been talking, recommendations made; yet the president is not seeing any of them as being useful.
I don’t know. I don’t work in the Villa. For the first time, the Sultan of Sokoto spoke. People who do not know the North say it is a titanic move. The Sultan does not speak, even when he speaks, he doesn’t speak publicly, but he spoke at a public meeting where the SGF was there. He narrated the story of how 76 of his people in Sokoto were massacred in one day.
So, for him to open his mouth and speak in pubic, government should sit up and listen. In the North, we don’t talk too much, we give a lot of leeway to leadership and yet we have given a lot of leeway to this president, hoping and praying that things will change, but nothing has changed and things are getting worse.
Traditional rulers, clerics, people of goodwill are speaking up; they are not speaking up because they hate this government or the president but because it is our responsibility as citizens and it is their responsibility as leaders to be the conscience of the people and speak the truth. Whether the president takes it or not, people will continue to speak up, they have vindicated themselves in history and it is left to him to live through this legacy, let’s see how history will treat him.