Alhaji Gambo Ibrahim Gujungu, the National President of the Kaduna-based Arewa Youth Forum (AYF), in this interview with Regional Editor Northwest, Hassan Ibrahim, expresses dismay at the recent comments (Click Here to watch If you missed it) by Mujahid Dukobo-Asari, leader of the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force (NDPVF), that there will be crisis if the Goodluck Jonathan presidency did not continue in 2015. Excerpts:
Dokubo-Asari recently threatened to ensure that Nigeria will no longer know peace if President Goodluck Jonathan is not returned as president in 2015. What is your take on this?
Ordinarily, we wouldn’t have taken issue with Dokubo, but it seems that silence is no longer golden. Looking at his antecedent as a militant, during the amnesty programme in Niger Delta and after he was granted amnesty by late President Umaru Yar’Adua, we have come to the conclusion that he is not somebody that should be taken seriously in the Nigerian polity.
To start with, Asari cannot be said to be speaking for any group, because he has no credibility to do so. His double-speak over the years and has only shown him as a character that is only after what he can get from the authorities. This is a man who was castigating this same government a few months ago, warning and threatening that even the people of Niger Delta might not vote for President Jonathan in 2015. A few months after, he is now singing a new tune. We in AYF believe that some water must have passed under the bridge for the former militant leader to have changed his posture towards government all of a sudden.
Would you also call for his arrest for making such inflammatory statements?
Well, if the Federal Government is really serious about uniting the people of Nigeria, it should not allow such belligerent speeches to disrupt the existing peaceful order currently enjoyed in many parts of the country. If the government wants the people of the North and, indeed, all Nigerians, to believe we are in a transparent democracy, people like Dokubo-Asari (who are from the same region with the president) should not be allowed to make such frivolous remarks. It would be assumed that he is speaking on behalf of the president, and that would make many to hate the president. It is like he (Dokubo) has not read the history of the civil war in Nigeria; that could be why he is always agitating for war between the regions. If he had read or heard from his parents how devastating the civil war was, he would not have been agitating for one.
So, how would you like the government to call him to order?
The government should take decisive action against him. We are calling on the Federal Government to remove him as a permanent member of the Hajj Commission. That commission is sensitive and important and its members should be people of integrity. From his remarks, Dokubo-Asari does not have that credential. He is a pardoned criminal. Someone that accepted amnesty is now saying that he will take arms against his fellow countrymen. Our security agents, if truly they are serious about peace in the country, should arrest him. We are also going to write a letter to the Saudi government through our ambassador in the kingdom, that they should stop giving Dokubo-Asari visa because he is a terrorist. They shouldn’t grant him visa because anything can happen and we should not be blamed. From his utterances, you can see that he is a terrorist. He cannot visit the United States because they have listed him as one. So, he should not also be allowed into Saudi Arabia using his position as a member of the Hajj Commission.
Dokubo-Asari also accused Northern leaders of being the cause of the backwardness and infrastructural decay in the South-South region. How true is this?
That’s nonsense! Those past leaders never did what they are now doing against the North. No one among them ever came out to discriminate or to say this leader is for us, we Northerners and not for you, people of the South-South. Our past leaders of Northern extraction encouraged unity and considered the entire country as one. They did not indulge in acts that could lead to the disintegration of the country; and no one from the region ever came out to lambast the South-South leaders the way Asari has done.
Piqued by Dokubo’s remarks, some Northern youths have threatened to withdraw their support for Jonathan, unless he reins in Dokubo. Is this in order?
They are right. This is because 90 per cent of the people in the North believe that he (Dokubo) is speaking on behalf of the president. Some days back, he said the president would not win even a councillor’s seat in his ward; today he is saying that there will not be peace in the country if the president does not win election and that there will be war. You see already, perhaps he might have been settled by the president’s men. That is their (Northern youths) thinking. Unless Jonathan cautions Dokubo to desist from such, he will definitely lose a lot of support. Apart from the support to win in 2015, a leader needs the support that will give him the morale to lead the nation.
But it appears the North is still not ready with a credible replacement for Jonathan in 2015…
The most important thing now in the North is for us to unite. Unless the North unites and forgets their differences, it will be difficult to present a credible personality that will be an acceptable replacement for Jonathan in 2015. President Jonathan’s case in still in court, though the case says he can still contest for the position in 2015. But there is a serious agitation up North that 2015 is its turn for the number one seat. However, no one in the North will get to that highly coveted position if Northerners do not come together, unite, and forget their political and religious differences. It is not going to be easy if we continue like this. These religious crises in the region are not ordinary; there are some people behind them. It is only when Northerners wake up and realise this, put the past behind us that the region will be able to present a presidential material that will be acceptable to all.
2015 is fast approaching…
Yes, 2015 is coming fast, but for now we have not seen any Northerner that is fully qualified to vie for the position in 2015. We are still deliberating, looking at who will put on the big shoes in 2015. We won’t mind if this time around, a youth from the region is supported to be the president in 2015. Truly, if the Arewa elders do not unite themselves and forward a credible candidate, we the youth will support the emergence of a youth and will campaign for him vigorously to be a replacement for Jonathan in 2015.
That brings us to the issue of Speaker Aminu Tambuwal and 2015. Do you think those Northern elders and their collaborators will allow that dream materialise?
That is the problem – lack of unity in the North. Recently, former President Ibrahim Babangida said at a gathering that Tambuwal was qualified to vie for a higher position in 2015, but he was not specific. When Babangida visited Jigawa State, he said the same thing to Governor Sule Lamido; that he should vie for higher leadership in the country. You can see the kind of double-speak from our elders. Tomorrow, the same Babangida will still say the same thing to any of his favourites at a gathering. It appears there is no unity of purpose in the region. It is only when there is true unity that we can present a formidable and acceptable presidential candidate from the North. I am not saying that Tambuwal is not a good material for the position, or that he cannot do it; but from the way things are unfolding, I don’t think that they (Northern elders) are truly interested in Tambuwal. It’s like they are just using that as a game plan or part of their political calculation ahead of 2015. We are watching them, and if they fail to present a candidate that is acceptable across the board, as I have told you, we the youth will present our candidate, And you know we have the population and the virility to make serious changes in the political process.
Let’s get back to Dokubo-Asari. Since he is also a youth and, as you earlier said, has never experienced war to know how devastating it could be. Don’t you feel it would be nice to sit down with him and iron out certain issues?
We know each other very well; we’ve been sitting together in a committee we formed to bring national unity between us – the Ijaw Youth Council and the Odua Peoples Congress (OPC). We had a 14-man committee which had Dokubo and me as members. I was the one representing the North in the committee and we tried to see that no part of the country would be discriminated against at our meetings; that all parts should be carried along. But as things were progressing, Dokubo and his people opted out. They felt Jonathan is their brother and they did so many things that ultimately led to the collapse of the committee. The first thing he did was the statement he made when Chief Odimegwu Ojukwu died. He went there and insulted Northerners; that they destroyed the country and owned oil wells in the South-South region. Meanwhile, we had earlier agreed in the committee not to insult our elders or indulge in acts that could cause disaffection. We said our aim would be to advise the government genuinely on how to ensure that development reaches all parts of the country, and to advise the youth to be good partners in progress. But Dokubo indulged in acts that made our committee to crumble like a pack of cards. If he had known about his people such as Dappa Biri and another who was there during the former Head of State Yakubu Gowon era; if they had followed their steps, things would have been okay. It was then that the Niger Delta people became well known and were accepted. Even President Goodluck Jonathan did not follow their steps. If they had studied that period, they would have known that there was a good relationship and political understanding between the North and the people of the South-South. The North had really helped them, during that time they had only one person in parliament. It’s a long history and they never thought of it; they wouldn’t have been behaving this way, feeling that now they have power and that since oil is in their region, they will do what they want and threaten others. They should know that oil is a national wealth and nobody should exercise any monopoly over it.
So there is no way out?
I have met him personally and we discussed on how things should be; that we should not be insulting our elders, even though I know some of the elders have disappointed us. We said they shouldn’t touch our elders and we won’t touch their elders. But if they insult our elders, we won’t spare their elders either. There are series of things that they are planning underground, and it will not be possible to seek any dialogue with Dokubo for now. The only thing now is to reply him whenever he pours his venom against the North. If he continues, we have a lot to tell the world about him and his activities. He knows that we know all these. He is one of the beneficiaries of a multi-billion naira oil pipeline protection contracts, for which he is being paid billions – he, Tompolo and others. Secondly, he has a big school in Benin Republic. It is a private school, but the government, through its agency, sends students to that school under government’s scholarship. We know all these and many more, but we decided to keep quiet.
Late President Yar’Adua offered them amnesty, which they accepted. Money was spent to train their people overseas, to learn various skills so as to stay in peace. We never raised an eyebrow, even though we too are bona fide citizens of the country. But now we have been relegated to the background and still we remain peaceful, working towards national unity.
I don’t think we can now sit with Dokubo again for any dialogue. We can only be prepared to reply him anytime he castigates our region and our people. It is going to be fire for fire, and there will not be any going back unless and until he retraces his steps. He should know that the people of the South-South alone cannot make Jonathan president; he needs support from the other regions. He cannot win the presidency unless he has an alliance with the North. The likes of Dokubo-Asari are ignorant of this fact. Or perhaps the euphoria of the moment has beclouded their sense of reasoning. The president should come out and disown him before he puts a spanner in his works towards 2015.