Elder statesman and Second Republic Political Adviser, Alhaji Tanko Yakassai has expressed concern about the post-elections crisis in Rivers State, saying that the unfolding developent was capable of pitching the Ijaw people against the huge population of Hausa Fulani resident in the Niger Delta region.
Yakassai in an interview with Saturday Sun, insisted that the heads of security organizations playing lead roles in the confrontation with Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike were mostly Hausa- Fulani, Muslims and northerners, adding that there would be grave implications if the conflict was allowed to take the shape of Hausa Fulani versus Ijaw people. He spoke to DESMOND MGBOH in Kano.
Are you following the unfolding development in Rivers state?
After the elections in Rivers State, I saw the tension mounting between Governor Wike and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). However, I know that the original controversy was between Chief Wike and Nigeria’s super Minister of Transport, Chief Rotimi Amaechi. These two were previously best of friends. They were friends to the extent that Chief Wike was his Chief of Staff. But now, the two of them are no longer friends. Of course, in politics there is no permanent friend or permanent enemy. Hence, I am not in any way surprised about that. I see the development in this regard as normal.
I, however, cannot understand why and how the matter- their personal quarrel- has degenerated to the extent of dragging the police into the controversy. To make matters worse, there is the recent inclusion into the controversy of the Department of State Services (DSS), through the recent utterances of its Director General. All these worry me.
Why are you worried?
To understand the source of my worries, one has to look at the distribution of the headship of the various security agencies in Nigeria. If you look at our National Security arrangement objectively, you will see that apart from President Muhammadu Buhari, who is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, the current Chief of Defence is from the same geo-political zone with the President. Both of them are northerners, Hausa Fulani and Muslim. And the same thing goes for the Chief of Air Staff, who is a northerner, Hausa-Fulani and Muslim.
Besides, we have the Chief Army Staff, who is a northerner, a Muslim, although not a Hausa-Fulani. We have in addition, the Minister of Internal Affairs, who is a northerner, Hausa-Fulani and a Muslim. Now, we have the Inspector General of Police (IGP) who is a northerner and a Muslim although not Hausa Fulani. Don’t forget that the Independent National Electoral Commission is headed by a northerner, Hausa-Fulani and Muslim.
The way the debate and contest of power position is going in Rivers State since the elections, it would soon degenerate to a situation, given the backgrounds of the protagonists, where it would become a dichotomy between northerners/ Muslims, who are occupying strategic positions in the security establishments on one hand and Chief Wike and by extension, the people of Rivers State on the other hand. The situation, if allowed to fester, would invariably develop into another conflict; Hausa Fulani and the Ijaw people in the area.
We do not have much of the Ijaw population resident in northern Nigeria, but we have a lot of northerners, particularly Hausa Fulani in different parts of Ijawland. These northerners have been there for a donkey years. Some were born there and some had their parents born there. In fact, some of their grandparents were born there. There are some of them who have not been to or visited their places of origin or the home of their ancestors in the North since they were born. These people are inhabitants of Ijaw land. If this confrontation, as a result of the elections, is allowed to develop further, thousands of these innocent people, who had nothing to do with the conflict would be caught up in the crisis.
Your concern basically has to do with the fate of Hausa Fulani in Niger Delta in event of any crisis?
I am concerned. Why I am concerned is because I have witnessed similar happenings in Nigeria in the past. In 1953, when the Action Group (AG) moved a motion for independence and the motion was opposed to by Sir Ahmadu Bello, that led to a rowdy debate that eventually led to the walk out of the northern members of the House from the session. And they were booed by the spectators. They decided that they would no longer stay in Lagos. A special train was arranged for them and they were booed all the way from Lagos to Offa. They were attacked at every railway station until they reached Offa. That led to the mayhem of 1953 in Kano. It also led to the killing of many innocent people, particularly Igbo, who had nothing to do with the original conflict.
A similar situation happened in 1966, when some young military officers staged a coup, which resulted in the killings of some political and military leaders of northern origin. That subsequently led to another anti-Igbo riot in many parts of northern Nigeria, as a result of which thousands of Igbo lost their lives.
The last of my examples was the Boko Haram insurgency in many states in the North. It started with the Police in Yobe State and when the Police could not cope with the situation, the military were invited to assist them. The military eventually succeeded in arresting the leader of the sect Mohammed Yusuf and handed him over to the police, but Yusuf was unfortunately gunned down by the police at that time. The consequence of that unfortunate situation was the loss of thousands of innocent lives of men, women and children, who had nothing to do with the original trouble.
So, who do you address your concern to now?
It is my experiences in this regard that informed my comment on this topic. I would not forget that we, as Nigerians, are encouraged to say something if we see something. I am saying something now and I hope that the Federal Government would do something about what I am saying before it would get out of hand. I will also appeal to President Muhammadu Buhari to take immediate steps to avert the prospect of the conflict degenerating further into the kind of dichotomy that I had outlined. I will also appeal to other patriotic Nigerians to say something in order to save the situation from pushing further while I will encourage all the parties in the conflict to resort to constitutional provisions to address whatever grievances they have about the process and outcome of the recent elections in Rivers State.