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There is limit to what ACF can do, says Anthony Sani

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Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) National Publicity Secretary, Anthony Sani, in this interview with our acting Bureau Chief in Kaduna, Agaju Madugba, explains the position of the forum over the state of insecurity in some parts of North.

What is the position of the ACF on the botched dialogue between mediators and Boko Haram?

You must understand how the whole thing started. The ACF position in favour of dialogue is based on experiences across the world; that it is better to engage terrorism by way of dialogue instead of force. Force has never worked anywhere in the world. We know what happened when President Bush went to Iraq to remove Saddam Hussaini.

Within seven days he was announced that the mission accomplished without knowing that it was going to take him 10 years and that it was going to cost the US 4,400 soldiers and Iraq, hundreds of thousands of people. And the US went home without solving the problem. We also see what is happening in Afganistan.

NATO is there and they have not been able to solve the problem. That is why the ACF suggested the dialogue option. During the time of the late President Yar’adua, he gave directive for the use of military action against Niger Delta militants but it was the same Yar’Adua who later sat down in dialogue with them and that was what produced the amnesty programme. The military has killed about 800 members of Boko Haram including their leader but that has not solved the problem. So, in a situation like this and also given that it may be difficult using force against somebody who wants to kill himself, why not engage him mentally. That was our position. As at that time, government was not clear on what to do. But happily enough, Mr. President said they were ready to discuss with Boko Haram and we advised that government should not be confrontational because that will discourage Boko Haram. That was where the ACF stopped. We were not party to the negotiation proper. And we were told that they actually started the dialogue.

We later heard that the dialogue developed hiccups which are normal because you do not expect the solution to come easy. But the Federal Government should be able to revive the dialogue, along with the mediators, if they truly love this country and they want us to remain one. Certainly, there will be certain setbacks and obstacles but that should not lead to the abortion of the process.

We do not know what transpired or what they did that led to the present state of the dialogue. If they were to sit, that is something, people will shift grounds and they may end up solving the problem. All we can do is to appeal to Boko Haram, if they are Nigerians, to embrace dialogue for the sake of the country. The mediators should also have a rethink because it is not an easy thing. They need to make sacrifices. Once there is an engagement, there will be a solution.  ACF came in when they appointed our Secretary General into the presidential panel and that panel recommended dialogue. ACF is not government. We give moral support. We are not in a position of authority to make things happen.

The Datti Ahmed statement on the issue said there was insincerity on the part of government. What do you think about that?

We do not have the facts in order to know exactly what transpired and what level they reached. The Boko Haram people used to talk to me on telephone but they stopped. So, nobody to tell me what led to calling off the dialogue. But it is our responsibility and the responsibility of all Nigerians to tell the Datti group not to give up. The situation is too important to give it up.

Do you not think that the ACF may have disappointed the people over the inability to resolve the Boko Haram issue given that it is the umbrella body for the entire north?

I gave you an example with Iraq. The United States is a world power but they have not been able to solve the problem in Iraq. They are in Afghanistan. Have they been able to solve the problem there? This thing is never done using might. It is a matter of talking and working with the minds of people. People think we are so powerful and all that. It is the duty of everybody, Muslims and Christians to tell Boko Haram that what they are doing is not good. That is psychological warfare. Look at the way people have introduced religious coloration into the whole thing. Then our appeal is not to make it a regional ethic or religious issue. All hands should be on deck to engage Boko Haram constructively so that we can solve this problem. The use of force cannot do it. Tell me, how do you use might on somebody who is ready to kill himself? And the moment you look at it as a religious issue, then there is tendency that a section of Muslims may begin to side with them. Muslims and Christians should engage Boko Haram in a psychological warfare and they will give up the fight.

But it is a Muslim group; at least, that is what they say?

It is because they need Muslims to help them fight their war. In the case of 9/11 in the United States of America when the twin towers were brought down, it was discovered that the pilot that did the bombing was from Saudi Arabia but the US did not go to war with Saudi Arabia over the incident. That is why Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka also suggested that we should not consider Boko Haram as a religious affair because we will run into problems. But Boko Haram would want it to be considered a religious matter because they want Muslims to join them.

Some people hold the view that the reported high poverty level in the north may be one of the causes of Boko Haram. Do you subscribe to that view?

Western education came into Nigeria from the southern part of the country and it took another one hundred years before it came to the north. So, it is not easy to catch up with a period of 100 years. Do you think that the southerners are more hardworking than northerners? No. it is just a question of the circumstances. The south got education earlier and they are around the ports. The south should stop bragging; after all they did not plant the oil there. A state in the south collects N24 billion and another state in the north collects N3 billion and they brag about that. Even before Boko Haram, we have been talking about diversifying the economy to remove emphasis from oil wealth. Where is the diversification apart from the big money the south gets from federal allocations every month? They say the oil being drilled in the Atlantic ocean belongs to them. Instead of trying to unite the country, they say north is a parasite. A tree that refuses to dance will do so when a strong wind comes. We have to get a peaceful environment first in the north then all other things will fall into place.

But the north is rich in solid mineral resources which have not been exploited?

Do not bother what the southerners are talking. I was already an adult when India and China were suffering. One day it will be the turn of the north. As in the Bible, if Moses does not reach the Promised Land, Joshua will reach it. The fact that we currently have temporary set back does not mean we will not get there. We are not going to carry the tag of parasites forever. Whoever thought that India would be become what it is today. Just a few years ago, we had Indian teachers who flooded Nigeria. Northerners and indeed Nigerians should not lose their heads because of this temporary set back. There have been so many acts of terrorism in different parts of the world and those people are not talking about sovereign national conference or re-negotiating terms of existence of their countries. Nigeria is not the only country that is a product of artificial creation. We should all work hard to solve our problems instead of saying that we should divide the country. If you divide the country along religious lines, what will you do with the Yoruba? Olusegun Mimiko, the Ondo state governor, is a Christian but his parents are Muslims. What do you do with that kind of situation? If you say we should go by tribe, we are over 250 ethnic nationalities in the country.

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