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2023: There was never zoning agreement in APC – Senator Yerima

Senator Sanni Yerima, a two-term former governor of Zamfara State,  is a political colossus famed for his stand on the sharia system of rule. In this interview with LANRE OLOYEDE, he bears his mind on why he should be the next president of Nigeria in 2023 after President Buhari and other national issues. Excerpts:

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What are your dream and the force driving you towards believing in this country called Nigeria?

As you earlier said I was elected as Governor of Zamfara State for eight years and I was later elected as a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, representing Zamfara West Senatorial District. But you may recall that in 2006, I declared my interest in contesting for Presidency after having served Zamfara State for a period of eight years. However, I decided to withdraw from the current President at that time and since then I went to the Senate for three terms. Now that Mr. President is completing his second term, I decided to try again to see what God will have for me having voluntarily decided not to go to the Senate again.

Every politician who is participating in the current democracy knows that the Constitution of Nigeria has spelled out what he has to do as President, Governor, member of the National Assembly, or State Assembly. Some people try to say that this Constitution is not a Nigerian Constitution but I believe that however, in whatever manner this Constitution came about whether by military dictatorship or arrangement or by constitutional conferences, we now have a Constitution that we operate as a democratic country since 1999.

 This Constitution has clearly stipulated two functions of government: security of lives and properties of citizens and the improvement of the welfare of Nigerian people. How do you go about it now is the issue. Every Nigerian will have his own idea but of course, his idea will not be all of it, he has to bring other people together who share similar aspirations, similar positions and see how they can move the country forward in these two roles of government.

You can see today Nigeria is facing a lot of challenges in security but as one of APC stalwarts, I have an opportunity, always, if I want to meet Mr. President and give my own piece of advice. However,  I can still say that these challenges can be overcome through concerted efforts. First of all, you need to improve the welfare of the security agencies, the Police, the DSSS, the military, Civil Defence, all other people working to bring peace and security to our people you have to make sure that their welfare is improved. In fact, not wages and salaries, you have to make sure that their family is adequately taken care of; their future, their education, their health facilities, their retirement benefits.

They have to be very comfortable so that they can give out their lives in the struggle to ensure that we are secured. You also have to give them the equipment. When I was Governor,  I had an arrangement in Government House where the security, the Commissioner of Police, and the Director of DSS have some communication center were from every corner of the State where security agencies can communicate with each other. But today, unfortunately from one checkpoint to another the Police can’t communicate themselves. I have been seeing it when you move around, I travel from here (Abuja) to Zamfara, Kaduna, you will see checkpoint can’t communicate to the next checkpoint.

This is terrible. They have communicated. If there are any attacks and the modern equipment that we have today, you can install facilities that you can even see the movement of people around the country. You can detect where the bandits or insurgents are and communicate between themselves and surround them and take necessary actions. So we need to do a lot in the area of security.

Then, welfare, poverty is a very terrible problem that can cause not only insecurity, all these drug addictions by youths and women, the problem of crimes and other things are caused by poverty. Every citizen of Nigeria should be given access to education, not only quantity education but quality education. You should have free education at least to the secondary school level. For tertiary institution, you need to make an arrangement like the United Kingdom and United States of America where you give some brilliant students scholarship but should have what I call school soft loan where every child who is from a poor family can have access to loan so that he can finance his tuition fees, his maintenance allowances and when he graduates and starts doing something he can start to pay in 10, 15 to 25 years.

 This is what is obtainable in the Western world. The type of education we are giving our children is also nothing to write home about because every child now will be targeting to have a certificate just to get employment. That is not a good one. You have to give them education if somebody, for example, is going for a degree in Agriculture he should specialize in poultry, fishery, crop production, animals husbandry and any area of agriculture so that he can have access to a loan when he graduates from Development Bank, Bank of Industry so that he can establish a small business that he can even employ others.

 So, these are the kind of areas that one can touch. It seems simple but it needs a lot of effort, bringing talents together so that you can have a team that can drive these issues; security of lives and properties, and improvement in the welfare of citizens.

You have shown interest in the Presidency in 2023 under APC and there is this insinuation all over the place that there was an agreement prior to the merger where it was agreed that there should be zoning. Don’t you think this will affect your aspiration?

You see, I don’t think there is anything like agreement. You can ask Mr. President, he led the group, Asiwaju was there, I was part of it, there was no meeting I didn’t attend or any meeting that I attended that there is such agreement. The agreement can’t be verbal, it has to be written. In any case, any agreement that is contrary to the laws of this country is not an agreement.

The Constitution is very clear, the Constitution of the political parties, the Electoral Act. We are in a democracy and democracy is governed by processes and procedures and bylaws. So the Constitution of Nigeria doesn’t recognize anything called zoning and likewise, check APC Constitution.

If there is that agreement why didn’t we put it in the Constitution? So nobody will just come and say that there is an agreement, take your Constitution and amend it, but that agreement if there is then nobody will come from another side and work against the Constitution. As a democrat, as a citizen of Nigeria, I can aspire based on the laws of Nigeria. The Nigerian Constitution has given rights and privilege to every citizen who believes he has something to offer to aspire for any office, irrespective of his state of origin, his tribe, ethnicity, religion; you have right, and the Constitution has given us guarantee to participate in the political process.

The Constitution is the most superior document we all know that there is no provision for zoning in the Nigerian Constitution but the President is from Katsina, North-West State, you are from Zamfara, North-West State. Will it be proper for a North-West person to also succeed President Muhamadu Buhari?

Can I give you an example of America, George Bush (Snr) was President, George Bush (Jnr) became President. They are from the same family not from the same state, not from the same zone. This is a democracy, if Nigerians decide to vote for Yarima, so it be.

The Governors in the North-West States have been accused of unduly romancing insurgents and bandits by way of granting amnesty to them. What is your take on this?

Initially, I was in support of negotiations because I have seen that negotiations had worked in the Niger Delta issue. We got an amnesty program and that why we have peace in the Niger Delta. So anything that will bring peace and stability, I think should be considered. However, the Governors should employ a carrot and stick approach, talking to them and where necessary, use military and police power to ensure that all those erring members of the indigents who refused to accept the agreement reached between them and the government are brought to book. So that’s what they need to do.

Can you confirm the rumor that you have been receiving a tram of 1999 Governors in the quest for this Presidential ambition as well as reviving your own faction of the merger team that formed the APC, that is the ANPP? How true is this?

You see have the APC and the merger is being consummated and we’re operating a political party. ANPP is gone, Nigerian Governors Forum, 1999 to 2011is an Association of people that have shared interest. In politics, you will not be surprised, James Ibori who is in PDP is a very close friend of mine can support me so once you are contesting you reach out to all shields of opinion and people from all walks of life in Nigeria, explain to them your ambition, explain to them your programs and what do you want to achieve, what do you want to offer for Nigeria, if they share the same opinion with you they can be in another party and they can vote for you.

Right now, when I started this mobilization I developed an application which I will show you after this interaction, and that application is being downloaded in android or iPhone and I have forms that are printed carrying the same information that we need to upload to the system. My objective of doing that is to see that before I officially declare, I will have at least 30 – 40 million supporters and I assure you I have the capacity to achieve that. I already have very close to two million people all over the country. I have more than 4000 supporters in Imo, I have more than 7000 supporters who have declared their interest to support me in Enugu State, I have over 400,0000 supporters in Katsina State,  different states, PDP, APC. That’s why I said your ability to mobilize Nigerians across the party to vote for you. It’s not your party members that support you. You will see some people who are senior leaders of a political party coming to support a candidate that they believe have something to offer.

Having made Zamfara a Sharia State, you’re coming to the National stage the fears of every Nigerian is that are you coming to Islamize Nigeria?

You see Nigerians are sometimes very illiterate of their own Constitution that is why this kind of question will come. Section 38 of the Nigerian Constitution specifically stipulates that every Nigerian has freedom of religion, either to practice his religion alone or in community with others, in private or in public, even including to change his religion if he so wishes. They also don’t see the content of the Constitution. The Constitution has provisions for Common law for Christians, Sharia law for Muslims, and Customary law for nonbelievers of the two faiths. Those provisions are very clear, I didn’t do anything outside the provisions of the Constitution. Under democracy, you have to prepare a law to send it to the State House of Assembly if you are Governor, or send it to the two chambers of the National Assembly if you are the President. They will pass this law after deliberation and in the course of the discussion, there is what we call a public hearing where you give the opportunity to people outside the Assembly to come and contribute, debate this matter, once it is passed by the State or National Assembly then the Governor or President can sign it and it becomes law. I didn’t do anything outside the Nigerian Constitution; otherwise, the Federal Government then under President Olusegun Obasanjo would have taken me to Supreme Court. If any Governor passed any law that is contrary to the Constitution, the Federal Government can go to Supreme Court and Supreme Court will now pronounce that law as unconstitutional, and that Governor will have some sanctions.

You see, this is my friend, Prof. Ojunbe from Imo State, he is a Christian, and he has been with me for a very long time. Go to Zamfara, I was the only Governor, in fact, the first Governor in northern Nigeria to sign a Certificate of Occupancy for a Church. Before me, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), in fact, it was one Church called Ladies of Fatima whose Certificate of Occupancy expired 25 years before Zamfara was created and this 25 years they have been pursuing the renewal of Certificate of Occupancy since the North-Western States – Sokoto, Niger, Kebbi, Zamfara were one State. Niger was taken away, Sokoto became Sokoto and Zamfara then Kebbi was created it remained Sokoto and Zamfara and later Zamfara was created. It was only then when I became the first Director-General, Land, Housing, and Survey that they met me and said they have been suffering for 25 years just to get a Certificate of Occupancy renewed. I quickly got their file, processed it through the Land Use and Allocation Committee of the State and we recommended it to the Military Governor then. Of course, the Governor didn’t sign it and they heard that I resigned my appointment to contest for Governorship they came to me and said they will support me if I promise them that I will sign their Certificate of Occupancy. I laughed. I said well if I can recommend your Certificate of Occupancy for signing to the Governor what will stop me from signing if I become Governor. They took me to their congregation in the Church, I made the same promise. They took me round to every Church in Zamfara at that time, in fact, at the end of the day, there was a meeting of CAN in Zamfara State with me at that time they told me that they have three problems in the North not only in Zamfara: One, they were able to get land to build Church even if they buy land with their money, Government doesn’t give them building approval and when they build they don’t get the certificate and sometimes because of lack of certificate they demolish their Churches. I now promised them that I was going to stop that in Zamfara as a Governor, not in the North and that’s what I did, I fulfilled my campaign promises.

The Sharia law, people didn’t go to find out what is this Sharia that Yarima did. Of course, there was Sharia and for Muslims. The Sharia law clearly stipulated that Christians are exempted. You know in the north some Igbo traders, Yoruba, Christians use to take their cases to Sharia Court, not Muslims. So I said for me to be protected, Government of Zamfara to be protected not to say that a Christian is forced when he takes his case to Sharia Court is forced, I made provision in that law, go and check that if there is the case between Muslim and Christian the Christian has the right to chose which court he wants to go. In case he chose to go to the Sharia Court with the Muslim, he has to put it in writing and CAN to witness. Till to date, they’re still doing that.

If you as a Christian living in Zamfara has a problem with a Muslim and you want to take your case to Sharia Court you have to put in writing to CAN, Chairman CAN will have to endorse that you voluntarily want to go to Sharia Court so that in the end if you lose you will not complain. So Sharia has always been here with us before Independence and after Independence since the 1963 Constitution. Every Constitution of Nigeria has ample provision for Sharia law and the rights of Christians are effectively protected by the Constitution.

 

The herdsmen/farmers clash has been a very serious issue in Nigeria. If elected how you do intend to handle this?

Justice and fairness. Once there is equity, justice, and fairness you will not have any clash between any group; tribal or ethnic classes. Government has to be firm in implementing laws, rules, and regulations. Once there is no implementation of the laws, rules, and regulations you have this clashes but if everybody knows that this is prohibited and this what you can do as a farmer or as herdsmen there will be no problem. Grazing areas in the north are clearly demarcated but some farmers use to encroach the grazing area and which use to cause a crisis because people are not observing the rules and regulations of the states. So once laws are properly enacted and implemented there will be no crisis so every leader has to be just and fair to all just as we always swear by the Constitution. You see in this country, it is amazing for people like I said don’t read their Constitution, they don’t even know. I think there has to be part of the political system of Nigeria from the secondary school level for people to know their Constitution. If you know your Constitution you will know that what Yarima did in Zamfara was constitutional, you will not ask.

How can you from a State not governed by APC be looking for a ticket in the party to run for Presidency?

Have you forgotten that when I left office, I was the only Governor that handed over to his Deputy and that my Deputy defected to PDP and we recover that State through an election? I don’t have to have a State to be in politics and contest. I contested for Senate when my Deputy defected to PDP and I won my seat, the Federal Government was PDP, the State Governor was PDP, the Local Government Chairmen were PDP and we sponsored the former Governor Yari and he defeated him. So you don’t need to have a State Government to be able to win an election in Nigeria. What you need is to mobilize Nigerians. APC is going for direct primaries so this registration that’s why I came up with this application. Now I have almost two million supporters so if I come and tell you by 2022 that I have 30 or 40 million that can be proven.

The crisis in APC is another thing. In Zamfara, everybody knows that it is the Supreme Court. It is just because of internal wrangling between two factions and we couldn’t have a candidate and that is why the Supreme Court gave it to PDP it was not through an election. And a crisis is always part of politics not only in Nigeria even in America. Today, Trump is having a problem with elections that have been conducted in America. So it’s part of politics, you will always have disagreements, the most important thing is that you will come back one day before the election to have an agreement. I want to confirm to you that by the grace of God one day you will hear that the Governor will come back to APC because he is a member of the APC family. He was my Commissioner and will are still relating very well. So you will not be surprised one day that he is coming to join the APC.

Talking about the mutual suspicion that is going on in your party, you can’t pretend that there is peace in APC, let me link it up with the dissolution of the executive of the party. Are you satisfied as a Presidential aspirant with the status of your party?

Every step that is taking place in APC is based on the Constitution of the APC that’s why if there is any problem people go to court and the court will look at the Constitution of APC and say this is wrong or right. As far as I’m concerned, the Mai-Mala Buni-led structure of the APC came about through the constitutional process of APC and I support and I believe that every well-meaning member of the party is on board in that regard. There is no problem and as I said disagreements are part of politicking, you always have disagreements but the most important thing is that you come together before the election and agree.

There is a clamor for true federalism and state police in view of the security challenges we having. Which side of the divide are you on?

You see, talking is part of politics as usual but we have a Constitution. Those people who are clamoring for one thing or another, State Police, true federalism should participate in the political process, get elected and go to National Assembly and sponsor Bills for the amendment of the Constitution. Talking will not cause a change in the Constitution. Far as I’m concerned, everything that is in this Constitution can change through the Constitution amendment. These people who are always talking cannot even win their ward. Some of them can’t win elections in the polling units. The Constitution is very clear on how to amend the Constitution. We need community police but we haven’t reached the stage in this political development where Governors will be given State Police that can lead to anarchy because some Governors can be ruthless. You still have to have an amendment of the Constitution to reduce the powers of State Governors. I was Governor for eight years; I know the enormous powers they have. If you give them the control of the Commissioner of Police, you will be in your house once you are against him he will just send the police to arrest you. So what we need is community police that you recruit, employ from that community. Each Local Government should have a Community Police Unit. Recruitment should be people who are within that Local Government. Give them enough equipment, welfare, guarantee the security of their family you will see how they will work to protect their communities.

How do you rate APC? It came to power on the tripod of security, economy, corruption. Talking about insecurity in the country, talking about the second recession, the rising corruption, how do you rate your party?

You see that is your own personal assessment. I don’t whether corruption is rising or is not rising. All I know is that people are scared to be corrupt openly. Before the Buhari administration corruption was open but now you as the press have you ever come to say this man is corrupt and you have evidence. You are supposed to do some investigative journalism to make sure that you monitor the people that are in power, the Ministers, the Executive Officers, and expose them if you see anything. So you can’t just claim that there rising corruption when you don’t have data. Give me data then I will answer your question on that. For insecurity, I believe there are some challenges and I think some of them are political. There are people who are working very hard to ensure that they smear the name of Mr. President and I am sure these challenge as I told you, as an APC member and somebody who have access to the President, I have something to offer. As I just said now we need to equip the security agencies with communication gadgets. We have to look at the intelligence aspect of the government. Intelligence gathering is very weak but this is normal. Every government has some challenges and I am sure we’ll overcome these challenges. We’ll give them advice. It’s not just to attack, offer a solution. Once you provide adequate welfare packages, provide communication equipment like I said a checkpoint today can’t communicate with another checkpoint.  Government has to provide equipment for the police, DSS, military officers to communicate with their people at every point and I am sure the movement of these people will be identified.

On the economy, you can answer yourself by saying what COVID-19 has brought to us. When PDP was in power the crude oil price rose up to $140 per barrel. At the inception of this administration, it came down to below $30 per barrel. With these challenges, COVID-19 also came and I think the President has done very well with the challenges he has faced as far as COVID-19 and other revenue generation challenges that took place.

QUOTE

We need community police but we haven’t reached the stage in this political development where Governors will be given State Police that can lead to anarchy because some Governors can be ruthless”

Culled from Nigerian Pilot

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