President of the Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, Shettima Yerima, in this interview with BAYO AKINLOYE says the statement issued by the Coalition of Northern Groups on Tuesday asking the Igbo to leave the North for their various states in the South-East was quoted out of context
Are you on the run from the Nigeria Police?
For what? Why should I be on the run? I have committed no crime.
You have been declared wanted by the police and the Kaduna State Government for the quit notice you and other groups of youths in the North issued to the Igbo living in the region.
I have not received any invitation from the Nigeria Police. But if I am invited by the police, I will willingly honour their invitation. There is no issue about that – but as of the time that I am talking to you right now (Thursday), the police have not called me for any interrogation.
Do you have any apology concerning the statement you, along with others, issued on Tuesday?
Apology for what? And exactly what part of the statement are you referring to? The Coalition of Northern Groups, after due consultation came up with a position as regard the disposition of the Indigenous People of Biafra. Our position is very clear: we have the intention of helping the Igbo to get the international attention they want so that they can leave Nigeria in peace. At no time did we advocate violence or make any attempt to incite anyone in the North or any other part of the country, to engage in violence against any tribe.
But you gave them a three-month notice to leave the North?
Yes; because by then they would have had a referendum to decide whether they want to be part of Nigeria or they want to have an independent nation of their own. If after the three months they succeed in getting a referendum in having an independent state of Biafra, what business do they have again in the North? They should go back to their Biafra. We did not ask them to go. They said they want to go. They are the ones demanding for their own independent nation and we said ‘OK, we will help you.’
I should add that the silence of the Igbo in the North concerning the call by IPOB for a state of Biafra indicates that they are in support of the agitation – it is what we term ab initio, as conspiracy of silence. They have agreed to have their own nation; then they should go – IPOB is speaking for them. If not, they should have come out to say, ‘No, IPOB does not represent us. We do not want to be part of the Biafra being called by IPOB.’ They didn’t say that. We are all living witnesses to the Biafran agitation. Everybody wants to leave Nigeria but nobody moves. Therefore, it clearly means they (Igbo in the North) are in agreement with them (IPOB).
It is not our intention or plan to push them out of the North by force – no, that’s not our intention. We won’t do that. We are only encouraging them to leave. If they have decided to be part of an independent Biafran state, why are they wasting time still living in other people’s land? They should go to their region if they want to go; we will help them to leave. They should leave. But if at the end of the referendum and they vote to remain as part of Nigeria, we are willing to receive them back. Our declaration is by no means a call for violence. By upbringing and orientation, as northern youths we are not inclined to violence. We believe in peaceful resolution of conflicts.
decide whether they want to remain a part of the country; and we are helping them to get the referendum initiated, hoping that by the end of the three month’s (ultimatum), they would have chosen to form their own nation. We will continue to help them to the extent that their voice would be heard in the international community. We will help them to ensure that the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States, the United Nations and other international organisations come to their aid. There was a referendum in the United Kingdom; was there any bloodshed there? In essence, what we are saying is that if the easterners want a state of Biafra the Federal Government should give them what they want. Is that asking for too much? We insist that the Federal Government should organise a referendum for them to choose whether they want to remain a part of Nigeria or not; let them vote for or against.
If some people in the South-East are seeking for an independent state of Biafra, is the North too interested in going its separate way from the federation?
No. We are happy to be Nigerians. We are happy to be a component of the country. Let those who are not happy being a part of this country leave peacefully without heating up the polity. Why should a group of people keep agitating, intimidating, and harassing Nigerians because they want their own country? If they want to go, they should be allowed to go. Do they think without them we cannot survive? They cannot continue to intimidate us in this country. We are proud to be Nigerians. We cannot have stability and peace in the land with this continued agitation for independence. We can live without them (the Igbo).
Not a few people have come out to criticise what you and your group called the ‘Kaduna Declaration’. Do you think the coalition’s position as contained in the statement issued on Tuesday was misunderstood?
Let me reassure you that I and other members of the coalition are peace-loving Nigerians. Our advocacy has always been non-violent. For those who have chosen to misrepresent us, all I will say is that at no time did we advocate for violent removal of the Igbo in the North. We are not violent people. Some Nigerians are very funny. What has happened is a matter of mischief by some people who tried to twist our honest and non-violent position on the fact that the Igbo should leave the North to form their own nation – that’s what they are craving for and we are ready to help them to leave for their home states.
As northern youths we have never been violent and we will continue to remain non-violent. For how long will we continue to urge them to remain in a union they are not willing to remain in? They should decide whether they want to remain in the ‘marriage’ or go for a divorce. If they are not interested in the ‘marriage’, let us dissolve it and allow everybody to go his way. As proud Nigerians, we want to be peaceful and will not be intimidated by people who are trying to make the country boil for no reason.
Assuming the majority of the Igbo vote in the referendum to leave Nigerian, does the North intend to flush out those Igbo living in the North by force if they choose to stay?
No; we are not going to do that. We will not forcibly eject any Igbo living in the North even if majority of them voted to exit Nigeria. But we intend to support IPOB’s agenda; we intend to help them push the call for a referendum so that the people can vote. In three months, if they are not able to achieve that we will help them to do that. We will ensure we help them to get the attention of the international community to actualise their agitation. We will also ensure that the Federal Government gives attention to their demand. We will ensure that not a single blood was shed. We are for peace.
To that end, I want to assure Nigerians that there is no cause for alarm. They should remain peaceful. They should be calm. They should resist any attempt by anybody to call them to take up arms. They should resist any attempt by anybody urging them to unleash terror on any member of the country. I will also urge the security agencies to be watchful; they should be on the look-out for troublemakers. I can assure you that we are not in support of violence in any form. It is not part of our ideal and we will never promote violence.