AGAINST backdrop of the rising agitation for the actualisation of a sovereign state of Biafra by the pro-Biafra groups in the South-east geo-political zone, a coalition of Arewa youth groups penultimate Tuesday issued a quit notice to the Igbo living in northern parts of the country to leave the region on or before October 1, this year. The Arewa youth groups that gave the ultimatum included Citizens Action for Change (ACAC), led by Nastura Ashir Sharif; Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF), led by Shettima Yerima; Arewa Youth Development Foundation (AYDF), led by Aminu Adam; the Arewa Students Forum (ASF), led by Alfred Solomon; and the Northern Emancipation Network, led by Abdul-azeez Suleiman, among others. Although the ultimatum attracted widespread condemnation from across the country and beyond, a northern elder and renowned academic, Prof. Ango Abdullahi, declared support for the Arewa youth groups.
The country has been tension-soaked since the development and there are growing concerns that Nigeria was treading a dangerous path and needed to urgently address the situation. As the Federal Government continues in its moves to rein in the situation, Sunday Sun exposes the antecedents of those behind it and their intent in this report.
Professor Ango Abdullahi: A Northern elder, Abdullahi is an outstanding academic, researcher, agricultural scientist and former Vice Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria (979-1986). He also served as Special Adviser on Food Security to President Olusegun Obasanjo between 1999 and 2003. Although he is not a core politician, he has remained a potent voice in Nigeria’s socio-political arena. He participated in all post-independence constitutional and political reform conferences in the country including the National Constitutional Conference of 1987-1988 convened by Gen. Ibrahim Babagida; the National Political Reform Conference assembled by the late Gen. Sani Abacha (1994-1995) and the 2005 Constitutional Conference convened by former President Olusegun Obasanjo. Abdullahi, who is the immediate past Pro-Chancellor and Chairman Governing Council of Abubakar Tafawa-Balewa University, Bauchi, is also currently serving as the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council of Bauchi State University, Gadau (BASUG) and the newly established Federal Government-owned Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi.
A holder of the Nigerian National honour of Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON), Abdullahi is also the Magajin Rafin Zazzau. He is the spokesman of the Northern Elders’ Forum (NEF).
Despite the condemnations that trailed the quit notice given to the Igbo to leave the North by Arewa youths, Abdullahi publicly declared support for them and expressed “disappointment” with the Northern Governors’ Forum for disowning the groups.
“I am disappointed in the decision taken by Northern Governors’ Forum disowning and condemning the agitation by this young agile and progressive youth groups. Let me ask these Northern governors, whom are they representing? Are they representing spirits, ghost or people of the north?
“Recently, people from eastern part of this country, specifically Igbo, were busy calling for the Sovereign State of Biafra and from all indication their leaders including governors are behind them. This is somebody who has been agitating for the break-up of Nigeria but his people were behind him, therefore, I am behind the youths. This is because the northern youths are pushed to the wall, we have been calming them down in any event similar to this,” he had said.
The NEF has, however, distanced itself from Addullahi’s position, saying he was speaking for himself. But no public statement had yet emanated from the vocal scholar indicating that he has withdrawn his support for the youth groups and their cause at the time of filing this report. After all, he had been vociferous in recent times in pushing his position that the North was ready for Nigeria’s break-up.
In a recent interview with The Sun,
he had said: “If we agree that we should live together as a people and as a country, so be it; but if the general consensus is that Nigerians want to go their separate ways either on the basis of ethnicity, culture, history or religion, why not; why not. If anybody tells you that the large informed opinion in the North is against the dissolution of Nigeria, he is telling you lies.”
Alhaji Shettima Usman Yerima: An activist, Yerima is the President of Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF), which is one of the groups that issued the quit notice to Igbo. He has been visible in Nigeria’s political space in recent years through the activities of the AYCF. Although the group had severally taken an unbiased position on issues of national importance, it has been mainly preoccupied with the protection of northern interests.
In the build up to the 2015 general elections for instance, he had warned that “politics will come and go but the North and Nigeria will remain. So we must remain together and see ourselves as brothers.”
But the AYCF was one of the groups that issued the controversial quit notice to the Igbo and Yerima has insisted that the notice would not be withdrawn. He has rather justified the action, saying youths in the North asked Igbos to leave their region to save the country from trouble.
A graduate of the University of Lagos, Yerima played an active role to ensure the inauguration of former president Goodluck Jonathan as Acting President in 2010 through his activities as a leading member of the Save Nigeria Group. In the 2011 presidential election, he ran as the vice presidential candidate of the Liberty Democratic Party (LDP).
In all his statements since the quit notice to the Igbo to leave the North dominated national discourse, he has maintained that the AYCF joined the coalition of Arewa youth groups in asking Igbo to leave the North in the interest of the country.
“I was drawn into this latest issue of Biafra and we decided to take the stand that we communicated to Nigerians through our communiqués and press conferences because of the way Nnamdi Kanu and his members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) are dragging the matter lately.
“We are not comfortable with the way Kanu and co are taking this issue, which may snowball into violence. So, basically, our position was just an intervention to save this country from plunging into chaos or another civil war.
“Everybody who knows me well will easily tell you that I had a special relationship with the leaders of the MASSOB led by Chief Ralph Uwazurike. And that’s because of their non-violent approach to the struggle. My relationship with them is such that I even attend their annual memorial events in Owerri and usually deliver speeches in solidarity with their cause.
“Now, Nnamdi Kanu’s version of Biafra struggle, which is different from what Uwazurike-led MASSOB was known for, has put everybody on the edge. Kanu’s rude and arrogant approach to the Biafra struggle is what many of us are uncomfortable with.
“We believe that the conduct of IPOB leaders, if left unchecked could cause trouble for this country. That is why we came out with a clear proposal that would save the country from trouble.
“And our position is simple: We want those who want Biafra to be allowed to go and fulfill their wish. Since Nnamdi Kanu-led IPOB is threatening that it is either that they are not allowed to secede from Nigeria or they rain down fire, we don’t want that to happen. We don’t want Biafra struggle to breed violence or civil war.”
Sunday Sun gathered that Yerima feels more at home in Abuja and only sneaks into Kaduna whenever he chooses to mobilise Arewa youths for one cause or the other.
Aminu Adam: Adam is the President of the Arewa Youth Development Foundation (AYDF). A self-acclaimed certified chartered project manager with ample experience, Adam expressed delight with the global attention the quit notice to the Igbo leave northern Nigeria was generating.
“First and foremost, we are all happy because that is what we want. We have received many calls within and outside the country; we want the whole world to know about our stand so as to fast track the selfish agitation by the Igbo for their own state. We are also tired of the abuses and uncultured behaviours of the Igbos in this nation. They are ungrateful to the hospitality given to them by the northerners.
“We are delighted with the northern people who support us massively on the three-month ultimatum given to the Igbo to leave northern Nigeria. The few unscrupulous governors, emirs and some unpatriotic youths from the North who are not in support of our cause have chosen to do so because of their selfish and political interests,” Adam told Sunday Sun in an interview.
From every indication, Adam has been enjoying the hullabaloo emanating from the newfound cause of Arewa youths and would pursue it diligently.
Abdul-azeez Suleiman: Suleiman is the President of Northern Emancipation Network (NEN). He is the person who signed the statement issued at the press conference where a coalition of Arewa youths gave the Igbo till October 1, this year to leave northern Nigeria.
And in spite of the fact the threat attracted widespread condemnation from across the country and beyond, with the Presidency, United Nations, Northern Governors Forum and NEF, among others, all highlighting the dangers inherent in the ultimatum and suing for tolerance and a spirit of togetherness, Suleiman still signed the statement where the Arewa groups remained defiant in their position.
“We reiterate our call on Nigerian authorities and recognised international bodies such as the ECOWAS, AU and UN to hasten the initiation of the process for the final actualisation of the Biafran nation and with it the excision of the Igbo out of the present federation,” the statement had read.
A Katsina born journalist who is believed to be in his early 60s, Suleiman had worked in several newspapers organisations in the country, especially in the North. Sunday Sun learnt that he had edited newspapers like The Summit, Peoples Daily, and National Trail. He had also served as the regional editor of the defunct The Moment. He, however, appears to be more preoccupied with civil society activities these days.
In 2013, when the clamour for the return of Presidency to the North gathered momentum, he had told northern politicians to bury their dream of producing the president of the country in 2015, saying they had deceived ordinary northerners for too long for their own selfish desires.
“What we have today is a conscious North versus the northern political elite. Before now, wherever the elite decided to go, the crowd followed them. But now, it is no longer the same. People have started thinking that they should not allow the elites to pull them wherever they go,” he had noted.
The political elite though succeeded in having their way in 2015, but his position then threw him and his NEN into limelight. The ultimatum to the Igbo to leave the North and his role in the entire process has exposed him more than ever before. But again, he is not on the same page with the northern political elite and elders on the issue. How far he would go with NEN and the other groups in pursuit of the cause remains to be seen.
Alhaji Ahmed Sule: Sule is the Secretary of the AYCF although there is nothing youthful about him either by age or look. He has also maintained that there is nothing abnormal in the North asking Igbos to vacate the region.
In an interview with Channel Television recently, Sule declared: “The Igbo people and their idea of Biafra in a sovereign state has become like child’s play. You don’t start to make jest of situations like that especially in a country like Nigeria. When you are within a state and you are talking about another country in a country. “You see, what I’m trying to tell you is that things get too much, because we tend to have been allowing them get away with it. Why should they be always talking about Biafra, Biafra, Biafra and the ones that do it, you can see them, are the younger ones.
“Now, the Arewa youths have never talked about breaking away from this country. In fact, all we do in our programme is making sure this country remains united.
“In the North, if not the Arewa youth, what other organisation stands out, sticks its neck and say things the way they ought to be said.
“What makes you think the ACF ended up backing what the Arewa youths said? It’s because we are not fighting. We only said, ‘if it is Biafra that you want because you always say you want to break away, you can go’. It’s a kind of marriage; if you are not satisfied, you move aside. There’s no fight in it.”
Sunday Sun gathered that Sule and other members of the group were not afraid of being arrested and would readily submit themselves to law enforcement agencies once there is a warrant of arrest coming from a court of competent jurisdiction to that effect. He is, therefore, resolute to forge on until the Igbo eventually vacate the North no matter the odds.