A product of the British colonial power that came into reckoning after the 1914 Amalgamation of the two protectorates, the North, then known as the Northern Region, was the amalgam of over hundreds of ethnic groups that was once enmeshed in bitter wars of attrition against one another. The coming of the colonialists would grant controlling power to the Sokoto Sultanate to exercise authourity over other groups through the indirect rule adopted by Britain.
The task of forcing these hitherto warring tribes under the Sultanate that came into being by the Islam inspired 1804 Jihad also birthed troubling moments of resistance. The relevance of the then North Region came into display when it rejected Chief Tony Enahoro’s motion for Nigeria’s independence in 1957. Against the low level of education, among others, it was obvious that accepting self-rule for Nigeria in 1957 by the North could only amount to rejecting chains of servitude from far away oppressors in white skin and replacing them with internal slave masters in black skin.
At independence on 1st October, 1960, the North became the leader of newly independent Nigeria, with Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa becoming the Prime Minister. The Sardaunan Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, became the premier of the region. This scion of Othman Dan Fodio demonstrated altruistic leadership that assisted in wielding various ethnic groups into a force for the common good. It was to the astounding credit of the Sardauna’s capacity for management of diversity that former warring tribes were coupled into a political force.
When compared to the present Northern leadership, one fact remains unassailable: the Sardauna portrays a patriotic leader whose vision was devoid of nepotism and bigotry. He came under attacks over subtle conversion of traditional religion adherents to the Islamic faith; nevertheless, non-Muslims were carried along. The premier believed so much in the people he led that he preferred to be killed among them than heed the advice of Sir Samuel Akintola to flee from the imminent bloodshed about to be unleashed by the coup of January 15, 1966. The greatness of the Northern Region was founded on the self-sacrificing leadership qualities of Sir Bello who played effective roles for the development of the North. As a true visionary leader, the Sardauna embraced the bigger picture of working tirelessly for all northerners, irrespective of faith and ethnicity.
The Sokoto Prince was majorly concerned with living a legacy of honour rather than acquiring material wealth as he inspired men and women to believe in the worthiness of his cause and vision. As the premier of the North, now divided into 19 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), he saw himself as a father for all and ensured equity to all. The military regimes that came after the First and Second Republic worked hard to obliterate cries of marginalisation by ethnic groups. Creations of additional states by succeeding jackboot regimes were aimed at loosening the strangleholds of oppression by the majority on the minority.
Poverty and violence
Sardauna’s Arewa, when compared with the present North, is a despairing story of how a great future was betrayed by a rudderless leadership enmeshed in irredeemable corruption. The compassion embraced by Northerners is now replaced with coldblooded murders and decimation of defenceless communities by Boko Haram, bandits and other criminal elements. Discrimination on the basis of faith and ethnicity has become the bastion of modern Northern leadership.
The inheritors of the Sardauna legacy have enthroned religion as the foundation upon which they want their envisioned North built upon. While they scorned and oppressed ethnic groups that have suffered inequality, the ruling class has found convenience in advancing their interests under a setting inspired by benevolent power elite. Membership of this power group comprises politicians who have shared values in perpetuating their interests across ethnic and religious groups.
This contemptible practice of enthroning the virus of religious bigotry has been mostly demonstrated in Kaduna State where the All Progressives Congress (APC) has dreadfully relegated the southern part in political appointments on account of faith. While it seems acceptable to appoint non-Christians from Southern Kaduna to political positions; it has become an anathema to appoint Hausa-Fulani Christians in Makarfi, Kudan, Giwa, Soba and Birnin Gwari, who are from the northern part, into appointed political offices in the state. Despite being allotted two ministerial positions in Kaduna State under the Buhari-led administration throughout its eight years, Kaduna state refused to appoint an indigene of Southern Kaduna as a minister. As I write this piece yesterday, the APC has refused to change this ill-advised and unconstitutional practice.
More than any factor, it is this enthronement of religious discrimination that has thrown the North into the bottomless pit of ceaseless rising tension. The elites, the greatest beneficiaries of the humane North, are taking advantage of our fault lines to divide us into the ‘they-versus-us’ voice. Acute destitution has eaten deep into the capacity of the North to rise above its self-inflicted woes. The North boasts of 80 percent of Nigeria’s multi-dimensional poor after we overtook India as the Global Headquarters of Poverty.
What happened to the Kano Groundnut Pyramids that once made the North as the Region to be reckoned with? What happened to northern cotton farmers who fed textile industries all over the country? Why is the North now a battleground for Christianity and Islam, while Muslims and Christians are not at war? How did this proxy war come about? Why are our leaders seemingly uncaring to the mindless genocidal attacks unleashed on the northern communities by brigands and killer herdsmen who are now turning our lands into grotesque killing fields? That there is no committed leadership to salvage the North from these miseries is a reflection of how low Sardauna’s vision has cascaded down the slippery slope of irrelevance.
Can the past return?
Amidst the raging issues trailing distressing people of the North; the quest for devoted leadership primarily concerned with enthronement of justice is now most imperative. As long as injustice rages in any part of our nation, so long will agitations for freedom continue unabated. The major culprits behind the afflictions of the North are mostly those occupying elective and appointive positions whose quietness is emboldening the perpetrators of inequality.
These elites only scream when they are denied political appointments, but choose to be without voices when it comes to the welfare of the poor. There is a limit to which the poor can be fed with the bread of hope through religion that has been defined by Karl Marx as the opium of the masses. To cure the North of its many ailments, leaders must wake up to re-align the zone along the need for not only regional but national development goals.
What the North needs now is an honest leadership committed to the unity, peace and development of the region and Nigeria. In the present global system, partnerships and collaborations remain indispensable in creating an equitable society. Northern leaders must unite not just primarily for peaceful resolution of conflicts plaguing their ethnic groups; they must demonstrate that all Northerners are equal partners in creating a new North for the dawn of a New Nigeria.