The meeting, last Saturday January 15 2022, of the Northern Leaders of Thought was the most recent manifestation of the desire of the political elite in the North to strengthen its position as a major promoter of the Northern interests and therefore a determinant of political developments in the entire country. The theme of the meeting—Rebuilding the North—at least suggested that bolder efforts towards the restoration of North’s lost values have already been initiated by some thinkers in the region.
In fact, the meeting was a clear expression of both a realisation of the existence of some crippling realities in the North and a determination to decisively deal with them. The conveners of the event and the participants concertedly deployed their intellectual expertise towards a genuine search for solutions to the problems that are a threat to the survival and development of the North.
The meeting was, of course, not the first of its kind as similar efforts were, at various times and places, made by either the same or some other groups of Northerners which shows that it was not a particularly fresh move. On each of such past occasions, the usual lamentation of the situation was made, but without a clear and practical resolve to reverse it.
At the last meeting, however, Professor Ango Abdullahi who is the Chairman of the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) frowned at the continuous mere lamentation, blame-game and buck-passing and therefore called for real actions. As the leader of the group which co-ordinated the event, he furiously commanded Northerners to multiply their efforts towards the rescue of the North in particular and Nigeria in general.
The NEF’s Director of Mobilisation, Advocacy and Publicity Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed who delivered the keynote address expectedly toed a line that was the same as Ango’s with adequate elaboration and emphasis. In the address which not only formed the basis of further discussions but also informed the submissions made by a lot of the participants, Dr Baba-Ahmed who is currently one of the most consistent defender of the North’s interests gave two pictures of the past and the present North which are conflicting to each other; while the past North was peaceful, cohesive and prosperous, the present North is rancorous, disunited and backward.
The meeting which took place in the official residence of the Premier of the defunct Northern Region, Ahmadu Bello, Sardaunan Sokoto, and on the same date that he was killed 56 years ago was definitely most historic as it reminded the Northerners and other Nigerians of the ugly incident and also brought out much more clearly the challenges confronting the region. Dr Baba-Ahmed was therefore perfectly right when he mentioned that the North “faces two distinct choices: atrophy and destruction, or recovery and growth.”
Even if not all of the participants are serious thinkers, the quality of the deliberations and the conclusions drawn therefrom are indications of the high appreciation of the immense value of deep and critical thinking. The natural divergence of opinions which manifested in the course of presentations had evidently not stalled the collective work for the adoption of common positions on the various issues about the North.
By, as contained in the communique, taking position on 12 fundamental issues, some of which are however inter-related, the participants really made the meeting a very serious business that will continue to enjoy clear reference from within and outside the North. The decisions of the meeting are an indication of the relative understanding of the issues, capacity for strategic actions and readiness for meaningful engagement with government and other critical stakeholders towards the resolution of the various crises in the North.
Understandably, the prevailing insecurity which the meeting described as “unprecedented and unacceptable” and over which the Northern thinkers have continued to shed tears was an issue to which utmost attention was paid. The call, by the participants, on the Federal Government to “revisit and re-prioritise spending on security and address the scourge of poverty” was in line with the most basic expectation of the people of the North and therefore particularly laudable.
Furthermore, the insistence that “Northerners have equal rights to aspire to all offices, but they must raise competence, evidence of personal integrity and commitment to the rule of law” was both a sharp reaction to the agitation for the shift of power to the South and an expression of desire for the emergence of only those Northerners with the required qualities as leaders at all levels. It is an approach that is meant to effectively neutralise those hostile groups of Southern politicians that have fully indulged in the intimidation and blackmail of the North over the issue of power shift and at the same time serve as a solid beginning of a process for the emergence of only responsible and credible Northern politicians as leaders in order to avoid the disappointment that, by the judgement of the participants, President Muhammadu Buhari and some other elected leaders and representatives of the people in the North have become.
It was all part of the determination to ensure that the North is not shortchanged during the 2023 General Elections that the meeting recommended for the postponement of the National Census scheduled for this year. There was a serious consideration of the fact that the terrible demographic dislocation that the region has continued to experience as a result of the rising insecurity will certainly make disenfranchisement of millions of Northern voters completely unavoidable.
Generally, the outcome of the interaction is a comprehensive package for everyone as each of its component contains some clear messages for the specific segment of the population to which it is justifiably related. A timely unbundling of the package will make not only quick interpretation of its contents but also and, more importantly, a proper application of the recommendations a possibility.
In a very clear way, all those far-reaching resolutions which are products of the high quality conversations that took place at the meeting have already expanded the scope of discussions on the fundamental affairs of the North. The resolutions, unless if they allowed to be manipulated by opportunists and mischief-makers, are essential enough to continuously enrich the various discourses that are required for the strengthening of the country’s political system.
The overall result of the meeting is, in other words, a fundamental challenge for the political parties, electoral bodies at state and national levels, electorate and the Civil Society Organizations. All these and some other stakeholders have something to take away from the submission of the Northern thinkers which will definitely enhance their respective performances or contributions to the emergence of credible political leadership that can effectively guarantee maximum security, peace and stability in Nigeria.