The North is a region in crises: plagued by poverty, riddled with gunmen on the loose, terrorised by Boko Haram insurgents; many Northerners as well as other well-meaning Nigerians, are truly concerned about the travails of the once peaceful and serene region. Before North turns to nothing, something has to be done to salvage it, all seem agreed. I agree. Former Head of State, Gen. Abdusalami Abubakar, at a recent conference in Minna, had lamented that it would take the North over 15 years to recover from its ‘devastation.’
Economic, social and physical. He was speaking at an event called to examine the travails of the region, which has seen the worst of times. You will agree that Abdusalami is not a frivolous man, who speaks carelessly. Similarly, the Senate President, Senator David Mark, had also decried the activities of the rampaging goons, hiding under all kinds of guises to make the region unsafe and portrayed as a theatre of bullets, blood and tears. Mark had carpeted the region’s leaders for folding their hands while the zone is aflame. Poverty, he argued, should not be an excuse for brigandage, since the word was not synonymous with insanity.
For what they termed his ‘satanic verses,’ Mark was roasted. A gunner by training, Mark stuck to his guns. After Abdusalami and Mark, a few other leaders have been quite disturbed over the disquiet in the North; how a region noted for its tranquillity and purposefulness has been turned into the land of blood and fear. If a legislator is not being blown to death by deadly gunmen, Boko Haram guys would be razing down a community of worshippers for reasons that defy logic and rationality. As I write this piece, the news is about the escape by the whiskers of the Emir of Kano, the octogenarian Alhaji Ado Bayero, and his sons, Lamido and Nasiru, from gunmen, who wanted them dead.
Three of his guards were not so lucky. They have become past tense. Photographs of the slain guards and bullets-ridden Limousine bear testimony to the desperation of the gunmen. Why would anyone want an old man, in the departure hall, waiting to board life’s final plane, dead? An old man in his 80s is truly on the last lap of his earthly sojourn. What gunmen would want to kill an old man? Goons. Men without conscience. Lord, have mercy! Anyway, back to our discourse. As I was saying, the concern over the challenges confronting the North has continued to engage critical attention. However, the prognosis of the situation by the Sultan of Sokoto, His Eminence, Alhaji Abubakar Sa’ad 111, in my view, seems to have hit the bull’s eyes in recent times.
His disquisition dominated the media headlines last week. He shot straight from the hips, and his heart. He spoke the truth and nothing but the truth. And it is for such candour which has become his second nature that the Sultan has continued to be revered, applauded and garlanded across the nation and the globe. Now, what did the Sultan say that makes me exalt him in today’s column? Speaking at the inter-religious conference in Kaduna, Sultan Abubakar said the North and its elite must take full responsibility for the ethno-religious crisis and insecurity that have now almost grounded the region.
The Sultan, from what I made of his paper at the conference, blamed successive political leadership for the pauperisation of the people; the neglect of infrastructure and the poor attendance to developmental issues. The result: a region in decline; a region in search of regeneration. Instead of searching for blames and scapegoats everywhere, the Northern political apparatchik must begin to look inwards for solutions to the myriads of problems confronting it. The Sultan was unhappy with the Nigerian political elite, who, he said, sowed hatred and disunity in a bid to score dubious political points, only to turn round to blame others when the harvest of mayhem and blood occurs.
The politicians, he submitted, know what to do to end the cycle of violence if they are truly desirous of bringing peace to the land. He concluded by enjoining other parts of the country to take the Northern challenge as their own because what affects a part invariably affects the whole. The other regions of the country can’t claim to be healthy when the North is ill. On all the points canvassed by the royal personage, I humbly concur.
Coming from a man of his stature and standing in the country, the Sultan’s homily ought to be food-for- thought to all Nigerians, not just the North. The Sultan’s disquisition was, in my view, honest and unpretentious; a nationalistic, rather than a parochial submission. First, he tells the North: many of our troubles are within us, not outside. My interpretation: If the North is not as developed as some other parts of the country, it is not so much as a result of the 13 per cent derivation or the ‘fallacious propaganda’ that the oil-rich states have ‘pocketed the lion share of our national resources.’ With little, much could have been achieved.
It doesn’t take billions of naira to build functional schools equipped with learning materials. It takes commitment, focus and leadership. Sir Ahmadu Bello didn’t have billions to educate a generation of Northerners. Speaking with Alhaji Adamu Ciroma last week, he told me how the leadership wizardry of Sir Bello turned around the fortunes of a region. The budget, he said, wasn’t even up to 20 million pounds a year, yet so much was achieved. Apart from a few performing governors like Govs. Babatunde Fashola, Godswill Akpabio, Adams Oshiomhole, Ibrahim Dankwambo, among others, we have mostly lazy governors, who lack the imagination to turn stone to bread.
They grumble about allocation and resources; doing not much with even the little they have. If the North is so poor, it can only mean the leaders have been so poor imaginatively. Ditto other parts of the country. If Nigeria is the way it is, we can only safely conclude that we haven’t got many things right. You can only be limited by your vision, not your resources. What have we done to educate our people? What are we doing about the Almajiri system? What are we doing about our infrastructure decay? That is what the Sultan seemed to be saying when he asked the North to look inwards.
The second point: If the North has today become a killing field, its leaders are the ones to first seek an honest, dispassionate means out of the jungle before outsiders can join in the search. And that’s where the political leadership must not only admit its failure but urgently rise to the challenge. I agree entirely with the postulation that political differences and manipulations have largely been responsible for the bloodletting in the region. When some mischievous elements put religion in the mix, what we have is the senseless combustion everywhere.
Politicians or whoever they are, must halt the drift in the interest of the region and nation. Thirdly, we must not look at the Northern challenge as the North’s problem alone. What affects a part, affects the whole. The Sultan is right. My view: So long as the North is an integral part of our country, we can’t pretend to be unaffected by its travails. A weak link in a chain is a cog to effective movement. Take the case of Niger-Delta.
When insurgency ruled the area, we were not a nation at ease. Well, even if some argue that its effect was due to the huge crude deposit in the region, the attendant international odium kidnappings in the region brought was not limited to the region but affected the whole nation. It is the same way the shame of Boko Haram has continued to rub off on all Nigerians not just the North. So, what to do is simple: the governors and political leaders in the North must not give the impression that they are playing politics with the issues or seeking to scapegoat others for the infrastructure challenge of the region or the insecurity. Let them first admit that the solution they seek outside or blame others for, lies within.
Resources are never infinite; ideas are. With a little prudence and diligent application of whatever is accrued to them, good things can still happen. The North can still bounce back, Insha Allah. But even as I make the above submission, let me quick add that it is not only the North that is enmeshed in a state of decay. Almost all parts of our country suffer neglect and rot.
We have governors, who are governing only their pockets; we have leaders, who are not leading us anywhere close to prosperity. We have citizens, who try to be happy amidst the hopelessness in the land. The paradox of a rich country, with poor citizens. But the solution to our problems can only come from within, not from Washington, London or Paris or from the Bretton Woods institutions. I so submit.