These certainly are not the best of times for the various states in the northern half of Nigeria. From lofty heights under the able and commanding leadership of the late Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto, the region has now become a problem onto itself. It is presently not only home to one of the largest colonies of beggars and drifters in the world, in the past two decades in particular, it hopelessly degenerated into one of the most inhospitable locations imaginable.
Since the sad events of 1966, the strategic leadership of the Sardauna hinged on the internal cohesion of the region, has not been matched by the brainless upstarts that followed him in various capacities as leaders of the hapless millions in the Northern half of the country.
Their mediocrity, and serial incompetence, accelerated the drift into the various ethno-religious crisis that has left the states in the north hopelessly divided along ethnic and religious lines with hardly a common platform of engagement on the national plane for the much needed development and advancement of the interests of their people. And that is even without adding the excruciating effect of Boko Haram insurgency and the general state of insecurity that is not limited to the region itself.
But even more dreadfully, poverty, of the most extreme and violent hue, also took its toll on the north. It stares at you from every corner your cared to look in most villages and townships in the region without exception. The status-quo contrasts sharply with sprinklings of the most obscenely opulent palaces built by thieving and unimaginative politicians, their equally light-fingered collaborators in the Civil Service, pimps, girlfriends and hangers-on
To this pitiful creed of shameless leaders and crass opportunists, the honourable path paved by the Sarduana, which epitomized selflessness in public service hinged on honour and integrity, counts for nothing. The legendary leadership example of the great man has become a distant memory, or perhaps even fables from the temporary residency of some extra-terrestrial beings in Lugard House. They continue to wallow in self-delusion, routinely mocked by the destruction actions of Boko-Haram, and savaged by the national media for their greed and criminal ineptitude.
It seems ages ago now since the South-East with its perpetual ranting against marginalization and the Niger-Delta states with their justified campaign against economic injustice and environmental degradation set the tone of national discourse in the media. The north now occupies more column inches than all the form regions combined.
The north is now the new under-class. It is open sore that threatens to infect the entire nation with its insecurity and rampaging poverty and economic under-development among other vices. And in my opinion, no public commentator to date has thrust that reality more in the faces of the leaders and the led than Chidi Amuta did, so brutally, in his ThisDay column last week.
Some, including my humble self, may disagree with Amuta over his reluctance to support dialogue among the options available to deal with the threat posed by Boko-Haram, or even his denial of endemic poverty as one of the causal effects of their insurgency, but can we honestly question his theory on leadership as a fundamental issue for the ruinous state of the region?
Can we also fail to notice the near total absence of any discernable strategy in the manner the some Northern governors have dealt with the issue of poverty and under-development in their states? Like their southern counterparts, can we also deny the fact of corruption in their ranks?
I completely agree with Amuta that the teeming millions of Muslims in the north should be an advantage and not a cause for its under-development. In taking that position, he merely echoed the views taken by the former Malaysian Prime Minister of Malaysia at the Conference of the Organization of Islamic States (OIC) the 16th of October 2003. There is nothing in the teachings of Islam that suggests that it is synonymous with poverty and destitution.
What has occurred in the North is that a few governors have used Islam to sedate the squalid and educated masses so that they could loot their treasuries to their heart’s content. It happened in Zamfara before the present administration and Kano before the return of Rabi’u Kwankwaso whose decision to award 501 overseas post-graduate scholarships to students from the state was a major statement of intent in the right direction.
The North can rise again if its governors in particular recognize the urgent need to dispense with their tag of unimaginable people and begin to take constructive measures to build the capacity of its people to become self-reliant. They can start by investing the scarce resource at their disposal to invest heavily in agriculture like was done before the discovery of oil. Today, each time there is a strike by operators in the oil industry hundreds of northern youths who could be gainfully employed on mechanized farms suddenly emerge on the streets peddling kegs of petrol. It needn’t be so.
The north can rise again if its leaders learn the meaning of collaboration in the investment of their limited resources. If Gombe had a functional airport for instance, there was absolutely no reason under sun for Bauchi, which is less than an hour away by road, to invest all those billions building its own airport when its students have no well-equipped class-rooms!
That brings me squarely to the issue of strategy. The last time I counted there were close to a dozen ad-hoc groups meeting or more appropriately wasting their time deliberating on the sordid state of affairs in the north. I was lured to one of such meetings by a friend and immediately realized its impotency. The real action centres for the positive changes desired for the north are the various government houses and their occupants. There is nothing even the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) can do if it fails to devise a means to reform the kleptomaniacs in some Government Houses across the North by making them more accountable to their people. But in doing so even the ACF would need to approach the governors with clean hands. You get the drift?
The Northern Governors’ Forum also routinely meets but on the basis of the present situation we are left to wonder for what purpose? It seems to me that the body merely reacts to events affecting the north by making occasional noises to justify its existence.
I doubt if it has any cohesive short or long-term strategies to deal with the various challenges facing the region at the moment. What for instance is their position on the disputed oil wells in Kogi state claimed by Anambra? Contrast that with what the Southwest is doing with regional integration complete with milestones and a balanced scorecard.
The north can rise again when its leaders re-examine their potentials, recognize mutual platforms for effective collaboration in the development of its resources. Its lost glory can be restored when its leaders and the led collaborate to end the current security challenges, heal the cracks in the regions internal cohesiveness, reform or elect only leaders with the right capacity into various positions of responsibility.
Written by Muhammad Al-Ghazali on Daily Trust