21 October 2000

Nigeria: We'll Change Tactics -Mohammed


Kano — The recent clash between the OPC and the Hausas which resulted in deaths on both sides, has continued to attract sharp reactions from both the highly-placed and the ordinary Nigerians.

Alhaji Sagir Mohammed, the leader of Arewa People's Congress (APC), which was founded as a counter to the OPC, did not hide his bitter feelings about the violence that consumed some souls and property in parts of Lagos.

But will the APC retaliate the action? What will be the response of the organisation? He answers these questions and lots more in a chat with Weekend Vanguard. Mohammed also warns that the time has come for them to change tactics.

Another round of violent clash involving the OPC and Hausas in Lagos occurred few days ago. What is the position of your organisation on this?

You see, there are chains of events that are unfolding gradually. We thought this senseless mayhem should have come to an end a long time ago, but unfortunately, rather than coming to an end, it is taking multi-dimensional phases. It is worrisome that even the police appear to be incapable of controlling the situation because as you know, the OPC has now transmuted into a militia group threatening not only the lives and property of Hausas but all Nigerians.

However, the most unfortunate thing is that this is part of an irredentist movement by the entire South-West trying to sort of realise their own hidden agenda. Their hidden agenda as spelt out by a top leader of the Afenifere during a recent interview with one of the magazines. There, he said there has to be the Republic of Oduduwa and whether anybody likes it or not, there has to be that Republic because it is just a question of time. Right now, they are putting down necessary instruments for the actualisation of the Republic of Oduduwa. He said that and that is high treason. You see, what the OPC is doing is a consequence to what the Afenifere is trying to achieve.

Are you in essence laying the blame of the recent clash on the door-steps of the police for not effectively checkmating the OPC?

As far as we are concerned, those who are charged with the responsibility of preservation of lives and property are the police. And when you ask the Commissioner of Police and the Inspector-General of Police, they will say they are doing their best. What is their best? Will they fold their arms and watch until probably the entire Hausa Community in Lagos are wiped out or until non-Yorubas are wiped away in Lagos before they (police) will accept that they are abdicating their fundamental responsibility? Come on!

And you see, what happened on Sunday through Tuesday in Lagos made the APC to re-appraise our modus operandi. And like what we had always said, we don't believe in violence. We have always said that we will always follow the democratic process to make our grievances known. But it appears that persistent or active resistance is what pays in this country. So, everyday the OPC would come out to brandish weapons. They kill, they maim but nobody talks. The Bakassi Boys do the same thing. So, probably we have to start thinking in that line.

There are fears that your organisation may retaliate against the Yorubas or other Southerners for that matter...

No, no, no. We don't believe in reacting to events. We believe in dictating events. I have always said that we don't believe that Yorubas in the North should fall victims of such senseless carnage of their OPC brothers in the South-West. We don't believe in that. But certainly, like I said earlier, we are re-appraising our modus operandi in line with the principle or option of active resistance.

What is it all about this reappraisal of your modus operandi you are talking about? Is it not another way of saying that you will hit back?

We have always said that we don't believe in violence. There will be no violence. But it appears that what pays in this country is active resistance.

Do we take it from you that the APC will resist the attempt to retaliate these attacks, perhaps violently too?

Look, first and foremost, you should understand that we shall never ever contemplate reprisal attack in the North. That is not our way. It is ruled out. But we have always said that we shall fight the battle where it is being fought. But right now, we are thinking of so many options. One of the options is that we are waiting to see what the Federal Government will do.

Secondly, we are waiting to see what the Arewa Consultative Forum (APC) is going to do because we are subordinate to Arewa Consultative Forum. Mark you, there is also the Committee of Patriots, there is the Arewa Board of Trustees and we are going to wait and see what these senior organisations will do. If we are not satisfied, we will go out of our way to continue considering the option of passive resistance.

It boils down to my earlier question and if I understand you correctly, you will use force against these perceived enemies or maybe the Yorubas in the North...

Listen, I am not ruling out any option but the option that I have ruled out is to turn the North into a battle ground. This option is not tenable. And like I told you, we have got enough resources to fight the battle where it is being fought. Probably now, they are trying to test our will and our capacity to actualise our pledge. But all I am saying is that we are waiting to see what our elders in the Consultative Forum would do. We still believe that we must not be the people who will derail this nascent democracy. The OPC are the people who are always attempting to derail the democracy through their activities.

How long are you prepared to wait for the intervention of these groups you have mentioned and the government?

The meeting of the Arewa Consultative Forum is going to be held at the end of this month. I am not ruling out the possibility of our elders calling for an emergency meeting to address this issue. But for those who were killed, may their souls rest in peace. I want to let you know that this is a very dangerous development. But you must know that it's triggered and it's fanned by their leaders.

What exactly are your expectations from government?

What we are doing is calling on the Federal Government to, as a matter of constitutional responsibility, proscribe all these militia organisations in the interest of the safety, security, stability and corporate existence of this country.

The Federal Government has just banned such groups like the OPC, the Bakassi Boys and even APC. How do you think the government's directive will be heeded?

Before now, we had been talking in isolation. We had been talking as Arewa People's Congress. Now, they are so many apex organisations: The Patriots comprising distinguished Nigerians, we have the Board of Trustees and we have the General Assembly of the Arewa Consultative Forum and we still have APC independent of that. All we are saying is, it is the language of passive resistance that pays and we are considering that option. We are not going to do anything; we are not going to actualise our pursuit of passive resistance if the elders are able to contain the situation.

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