2019: We’re Under Pressure to Support Buhari – Gujungu, Arewa Youth Leader

Alhaji Ibrahim Gambo Gujungu is National President of the Arewa Youth Forum (AYF), a foremost umbrella platform of youth groups, non-governmental organisations  and community-based organisations  from the 19 states in the North. The AYF President, in this interview with AGAJU MADUGBA in Katsina, says like the proverbial camel passing through the eye of the needle, President Muhammadu Buhari and his men may have a Herculean task in convincing Nigerians to give him another term in office come 2019.

From your press statement last weekend, you seem to insinuate that Nigerians are apparently dissatisfied with the Buhari administration. To what extent can you defend this position?

Let me say that it is not an insinuation, many Nigerians are actually dissatisfied with what is happening now. But if you are happy with the current situation in Nigeria, then we thank God. But the truth must be said, things are difficult for the ordinary Nigerians, the youth who make up my constituency are not finding things easy. There are no jobs, even some of the parents who work are not well paid. How do they take care of their wards? If you add that to the current fuel scarcity in the country and the attacks and killings of innocent Nigerians virtually all over the country, you will agree with me that I am not just insinuating. Truth is constant and that is what we at least owe those who look up to us to be their voice, those who look up to us to show them direction, as their leaders. However, I want to place it on record that the President Muhammadu Buhari administration cannot take all the blame for this current crisis in the land. This is a product of long years of mal-administration. Nigerians voted for the President because things were bad and they wanted him and actually saw him as someone who can effect that change, especially when he and his party, the All Progressives Congress(APC) campaigned on the mantra of change and the people really wanted things to change. More so, that majority of the people who believed in him see him as someone who can turn things around for the better. But today he has failed to wave the magic wand and that is what we are talking about. The President needs to change tactics and ameliorate the sufferings of Nigerians, that is what we are talking about. Let it be known that we stood for this administration when it came in because we believed President Buhari has the capacity to deliver. But some people around him are not up and doing, but as you know, the buck stops on his table as the Commander-in-Chief. The Buhari I know, means well for the people,     but we are at a stage where things need to be done and actions taken. For example, for how long can we continue with the killings all over the country? The President needs to act and now is the best time.

Coming from the same state with Buhari, are you not afraid of criticizing him considering that he still enjoys a large following in the North?

It is not that I am criticizing the Buhari administration. When you like him, you do that based on constructive criticism. What we are saying is that we cannot stop him from contesting in 2019, but he has to fix all these things you mentioned before talking about re-election. It is not a matter of carrying us along or not carrying us along. Our association was established in 2001 and we went through former president Obasanjo, Yar’Adua, Jonathan and now Buhari. So, we are not a partisan organization and we do not believe in any party. We would keep on supporting Buhari just like the way the Asari Dokubo and co supported Jonathan. But they reduced Jonathan just like the Ijaw president. We feel that it is our responsibility to tell Buhari the truth. There are a lot of things that are going on and we have a lot of channels of getting information. But there are times that you have to say it publicly to get the attention of the government to deal with the problem. It is not basically criticism. Buhari is our brother; we worked for him. So, it is not as if I want anything.

Some people even insist that you have been offered money and that is why you are now criticizing Buhari?

In Nigeria, it is normal that when you criticize a government in power, you are tagged as having been offered money. We are an established organization. If you look at our profile, we have been carrying on with a lot of programmes even with the United States government. I do not see Atiku, Sule Lamido or any other person in the presidential race offering me money to buy me to criticize my brother. This is because if the presidency is coming back to the North, it is either Buhari or one of them. I do not think it is logical for me to collect money to criticize him. We can reach anybody. We are not a partisan organization.

What do you consider as the chances of the President to get the mandate of Nigerians to continue in office after the general elections next year especially as reports indicate that he may have actually begun the move for a second term?

We are not against the President seeking re-election as a Nigerian like other Nigerians who meet the laid down rules and regulations and the constitutional provisions of who can contest for the highest position in the land. The President is free to re-contest. It is left for Nigerians to decide whether the President has met their aspirations based on what was on ground before he came in, what he has been able to add or change if you like, as he and his party promised. However, our point at AYF is the timing. Based on the situation in the country at this time, we think it is insensitive, and ill-timed for the President’s men to go to town clamouring for a second term, in the midst of suffering and killings here and there. That is our argument.  Though the President himself has not said anything, it’s just his ministers, yet we know that if the President is not in tune, he would have called them to order. Many people rooting for him might be disenchanted due to the timing and that is some of the things we were trying to point out to the President and his handlers. If some of those attacking us on behalf of the President had looked critically at our submission, maybe they would have even thanked us for the good counsel. President Buhari has his support base across the country, the same way some people are not happy with him. So, it is left for those around him to know what to do, because if actually the President is serious about contesting, his people need to do a lot of work to convince the people how we got here and what he can do to take the country to the next level.

We are not working against the interest of the President. If you have been following our outings you will see that we have been consistent in our support for the President when the need arises. The same way we have been consistent when the need arises to tell the President the truth. It has always been our avowed commitment not to derail in pursuit of what will benefit the North, especially the youths and Nigerians in general. For example, when the President was ill and out of the country, in spite of attacks from all angles, we stood our ground in support of the fact that since the President had not broken any rules or constitutional provisions, those attacking him were not fair to him especially when an able Vice President was in charge and government activities were moving on smoothly. The truth of the matter is that in Nigeria, if the situation does not favour some people at a particular point in time, they shout blue murder. We are not against the President, but we are for the truth at all times.

Ahead of 2019, some names from the North have begun to feature in the media as possible replacement for Buhari. To what extent do you think that people like Atiku Abubakar, Sule Lamido, Kwankwaso, Makarfi and others, can give Buhari a run for his money if the President decides to run for a second term in office?

I believe this should be left for politicians and the political parties. As I said earlier, President Buhari has the right to re-contest. All those you have mentioned also have the right to contest.  All of them have their individual followers. They should all present themselves to the electorate if they are interested. Nigerians will decide who they want. For Buhari, based on his performance, and for the others coming in, based on their antecedents and promises, antecedents because many of them have served before so Nigerians will be the ultimate judge.

Some two years after Buhari and the Federal Government said that the Boko Haram issue would become history, the insurgency in the North still persists. Why do you think this is so?

I think what opposition parties and even Nigerians should know is that when you are outside  government, it is quite different from when you are actually saddled with the real work in government. It is general knowledge that fighting insurgency is different from the conventional war. So, I believe it is an oversight for anybody to give a timeline to an insurgency war. The truth must be told that the military has been doing a good job as the frequency and audacity of the attacks have really reduced. But it is not something that can be wiped off just like that. I believe government has been doing their best and they should intensify efforts so that the pockets of attacks we see here and there can also be curbed.

What of the suspected Fulani herdsmen reportedly carrying out bloody attacks on communities, not only in the North but also in other parts of the country?

It is quite unfortunate and regrettable, the attacks and killings going on in different communities in the country.  Government must rise up to the occasion immediately and tackle the menace, whether gunmen or suspected Fulani herdsmen. But let us look at the farmers and herders problem in the country. The farmers are entitled to their land to farm especially when this government is talking of self-sufficiency in food production. The same way the herders too are entitled to their means of livelihood especially when this is the type of activity they have been used to. The onus now lies on government to do the right thing. Population expands and the type and size of available land for grazing in the past may no longer be there.  It is now left for government to educate the pastoralists on new methods that can be adopted to settle the issue and even if possible, assist them to  inculcate this method with a view to making sure that there is no problem with them and the farmers. But for the situation to degenerate to this level, it is not good. And of course you know that the problem did not start with this government, it has been lingering. But I believe President Buhari can do something about the situation, we cannot allow these attacks and fighting to continue.

Do you consider restructuring as part of the measures to resolve the problems said to be plaguing this country?

The issue of restructuring is neither here nor there. I say this with all sense of responsibility because if you ask three persons who are in support of restructuring, the three of them will tell you three different meanings of restructuring and different ways Nigeria should be restructured. That is where we are today. So, for me, I prefer a situation where government makes sure that what we have works, since we are talking about resolving problems and making the country work for the better. The issue still remains that our people don’t obey simple things like traffic light, they don’t obey court judgements, they don’t follow laid down rules and regulations. For me, that is our main challenge as a people, not restructuring. If government can make things work for the generality of the people, the agitation for restructuring will die down. However, government can still aggregate the views of the people and find a common ground, to assuage the various interest groups because at the end of the day, that is what governance is all about; listening to your people and solving their problems.

Several years after independence in 1960, reports show that the North still lags behind in several areas of development when compared with other sections of the country. What do you think is responsible for this?

The whole country is not where it is supposed to be, that is if you put our human and material resources together, we have performed below expectations and our leaders, past and present, should take blame for this anomaly. However, the leaders of northern extraction should take more of the blame for their lack-luster performance in not keeping up with the pace of other parts of the country. You can even see that we are presently battling with the insurgency and this crisis has further taken us several years back. Our leaders should be selfless, try and build leaders of tomorrow.  If we do not have a plan for the youths, there is no way things will improve. Those are some of the things that the AYF is trying to do, build capacity of youths to be leaders of tomorrow, empower them and give them the needed orientation as a way of empowering them to meet up the needs of the 21st century world. If many of our leaders key into what we do, it will go a long way in bridging that gap that you talk about.  We need concerted efforts by all stakeholders and a new crop of leaders need to come on board.