How do you react to the level of poverty in the North and what would you say is responsible for it?
It is the convergence of several factors that can be said to be responsible. Chief among these factors, and which not many want to admit, is elite failure that has its roots in history and also feeds on the general docility of the northern public. The North as we know it, is today divided across two major conflicting lines; not the artificial geographical division touted by some groups, but along personality traits rather.
On one hand, we have an emerging cultured North. On the other hand, is a class of ruling elite that rides on the back of insatiable greed and blind ambition for the monopoly of the total available activity in the region. Since a little after Nigeria’s independence, members of this bankrupt section of the elite, obsessed with a burning desire for personal political ascendancy and quest for fantastic wealth, have manipulated the destiny of the region that was set by our forefathers who toiled and paid with their lives for a united and prosperous North and people.
How does that translate into the current decadent condition in the region?
In many ways. like I said, it has its roots in the history of the evolution of leadership in the region. A little historical background will help better understanding of the situation. In 1954, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Sardaunan Sokoto, became the first Premier of Northern Nigeria and in the 1959 independence elections, led the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) to win a plurality of the parliamentary seats.
The Sardauna’s NPC forged an alliance with Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe’s National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroon’s (NCNC) to form Nigeria’s first indigenous federal government, which led to independence from Britain. In forming the 1960 independent federal government of Nigeria, Sir Ahmadu Bello as leader of the NPC, chose to remain Premier of northern Nigeria, and in the spirit of mentorship, rare statesmanship and extraordinary selfless patriotism, devolved the position of Prime Minister to the deputy leader of the party, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa.
This is the first point of departure, because unlike the thinking of the present set of elite, the Sardauna’s choice to remain as the Premier of northern Nigeria was a conscious one, informed by a keen understanding of the fact that the building block for national development is regional development.
Contrasting sharply with the ineffective, unfocused and insufficient understanding of the present crop of northern leaders, Sardauna’s major priority was to push for the realisation of a northern region that can politically and economically compete with Western and Eastern regions of Nigeria. Not long after the Sardauna was assassinated, successive northern leaderships abandoned his development strategy of trying to achieve regional parity through affirmative-action politics out of perhaps greed for power or an unfounded fear or both.
These successive leaders immediately abandoned the Sardauna’s basic northernisation agenda for development that reflected his profound belief that northerners had the capability for rapid development, if given the opportunity.
The Sardauna made education and human resources top priority so that by around 1965, he was able to diffuse the latent resentment and suspicion at the grassroots level over the nature and purpose of western education. His crash programs in professional education in Kano and Zaria and Kaduna, and his insistence on the establishment of a northern university at a time when many felt it was premature, attest to his forward-looking view of development.
The decade from the mid 1950s to the mid-1960s produced the first mass-educated efforts in the north, which in turn have produced the first broadly based generation of northern professional and educated leaders. He was pro-education and promoted an aggressive policy of building world-class educational institutions all across northern Nigeria as well as incentivising attendance at these schools.
Unfortunately, what we are witnessing in recent times, is a reversal of the gains attained through the innovations pursued by the Sardauna in education and the all out war he prosecuted against illiteracy and ignorance. We are witnessing a reinstatement of pre-colonial attitudes towards secular education in parts of northern Nigeria, which has led in part to the emergence of the phenomenon of Boko Haram.
But don’t you reason with the present leaders that perhaps there are many more sectors to be developed, not education alone, which perhaps puts strains on the available resources?
That cannot be reasonably accepted as explanation for the current level of non-performance by our leaders. What they don’t want to admit is that leaders today have lost the passion and commitment of the Sardauna to the welfare of northerners as well as his pragmatic approach to the development of the region aimed at ensuring its competitiveness within the larger construct of the Nigerian federation.
We can see that beyond education, Sardauna’s other top development priorities were agriculture, industry and infrastructure and was particularly concerned with issues of water, and the introduction of new technology into grassroots-level farming with a firm belief that local farmers would seize the opportunities for self-improvement if provided with resources and incentives.
His search for capital and technology in the areas of textile mills, groundnut oil mills, etc., was as well backed by an insistence on indigenization of business opportunities, and local staff-development training schemes. His concern for infrastructure was also related to strategic concerns about community consolidation, both within the North and at a national level.
Under the Sardauna, various institutions were created to drive economic growth that include the Northern Nigeria Development Corporation (NNDC), which was created to assist in industrial development, the Bank of the North and the Northern Nigeria Investments Limited (NNIL), a partnership with the Commonwealth Development Corporation.
Whereas the leaders today would prefer to leave the bulk of the people in poverty and fighting each other, the Sardauna united the ethno-religiously diverse people of the region under a single political agenda and led a cabinet that pursued the twin policies of mass education and capacity building of the citizens on the one hand, and economic development and industrialisation with agriculture as the back bone, on the other.
In comparison, the present crop of northern Nigerian elites, by fixating almost exclusively on holding on to political power and office at the federal level. In so doing, the present merely demonstrate a failure to observe that the socio-economic and political landscapes have shifted, globally, and that political power and office alone serve only their selfish interest, and as such, grossly inadequate to lift the people of out of poverty and set them on the path of economic prosperity.
Having made these observations, what do you propose to be done to rectify the situation beyond rhetoric?
One major practical step should be to get together and move to compel the elites and leaders of the North to retrace their steps back to the development path set by our forefathers. We must stop blaming other regions for our travails and seize our destiny by insisting on a socio-cultural revolution that would ensure that every child is employable or self-employed through education, vocational training and skill acquisition programmes a basis for regional and national development that would see the North realise its true potential.
We must first mobilize the younger generation of northerners of all faith and all ethnic groups to accept the major role of rescuing our region from the margins of irrelevance, impotence, inconsequence and decay in the context of the Nigerian nation.
This move represents part the Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG’s) mobilization strategies to involve every significant component of Northern society; the intelligentsia, community leaders, students in higher institutions as well as the business community who are legitimate and natural claimants to shaping the destiny of the North.
But do you see the possibility of permanently ending the farmers and herders conflicts that you said have been going on for several years?
For me, I will tell you that the challenges have now gone far beyond the known farmers and herders clashes, they have assumed a different face ultimately forced fresh questions unto the nation’s political agenda. Our leaders are failing in the primary task of protecting our weak and vulnerable, as well as their responsibilities to serve the people. In the short term, we must therefore, in the very least, begin by changing our political culture from one that serves the leader, to one which creates leaders that serve the people.
Then we can move on to demand from the President action to compel federal agencies located in the North to respect the catchment policy so that Northerners can be employed at all designated levels.
Significantly too, we must insist on transparent action against illicit drug manufacture and distribution which is destroying the soul of our communities and raise issues regarding policies that further impoverish the North while it enriches other parts of the nation.
We must challenge northern governors who do not live up to the challenges of leading a people desperately in need of good leadership to act to find solutions to conflicts that can be ended.
In the medium term, the Federal Government must declare state of emergency on insecurity in the entire northern states with particular concentration on the frontline states of Taraba, Kaduna, Benue, Kebbi, Borno, Katsina, Niger, Nasarawa, Jigawa, Adamawa and Zamfara.
After this, the Federal Government must begin to take immediate steps to disband all militias and armed groups in Nigeria to ensure that no group has the capacity to challenge the State in its prerogative to maintain law and order, and protect citizens’ lives and properties.
With regards to the crises in the North, government should take further steps to ensure that both farmers and herdsmen are given adequate protection by state agencies. The presidency, northern federal legislators and governors must to protect the lives and property of northern communities everywhere, and ensure their right to free movement is not impeded by any legislation or obstacle imposed by a state or a community.
The Federal and State Governments must immediately identify suitable lands and create grazing reserves and cattle routes through resort to extant provisions of the Land Use Act and other related laws. In the long run, demands should be considered for the proclamation of a National Policy on Grazing and Livestock Development (NPGLD) to cater for the needs of all the pastoral communities everywhere in the country.
This can be supported by the proclamation of a Special Intervention Initiative through the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the Ministries of Finance, National Planning, Agriculture and Water Resources, for supporting special livestock development policies and the establishment of special funds to support pastoral communities along the lines of the Anchor Borrowers Programme and other types of Federal Government interventions. There should then be a National Pastoralist Commission (NPC) to act on all matters affecting the wellbeing and interests of all citizens whose livelihoods depend on livestock rearing.
Successive governments have found it expeditious to establish structures like OMPADEC, NDDC, Ministry of Niger Delta, the Amnesty Programme, etc aimed at resolving a specific set of challenges affecting specific communities in the South. There is therefore no justification whatsoever to resist or even question the creation of special initiatives to address the needs of herdsmen if these will lead to lasting peace and stability.
What is your take on the repeated calls for restructuring?
Of course we hear and understand the clamour to re-visit the philosophy, structures and operations of the Nigerian state, and we join in support of any enquiry and change in the manner we live that will improve our security and the quality of our lives. The North has nothing to fear from any restructuring process, provided we are involved not as a problem but as partners who have a stake in a Nigeria that works for all of us. The North has many issues with the operations of the Nigerian state, but it does not routinely insult and blame elites from other regions for them.
On the contrary, we will welcome an opportunity to engage all parts of Nigeria in honest and open-ended discussions on constitutional reforms, the operations of our federal structure and national economy, and all issues which represent major sources of grievance. We want to join others who want to ask why we are paying our legislators so much, whether we need all those in power who take home so much of our resources, why corruption finds it so easy to find space in our judiciary and all critical institutions.
Like all Nigerians, we have questions over the manner our nation operates. We want to work with others to establish a basis for identifying what is priority, what is essential, what is fair, what is avoidable and what we need to do as a nation to isolate violence from its central position in our lives. But we strongly suspect that the renewed clamour for restructuring and other agitations and disturbances that have been ongoing ceaselessly since around 2015 culminating with the near total breakdown of law and order during the EndSARS protests are simply aimed at rendering the country practically ungovernable, and ushering in of anarchy and instability thereby occasioning a change of government by whatever means and tactics.
Similarly, the resurgence of separatist agitations especially by the IPOB and its ilk in the South-East and recent instigated attacks on northern communities in some parts of the South represent a much wider conspiracy to divide Nigeria by first bringing the North down on its knees by incapacitation and balkanization.
I think therefore, that the renewed agitations for “restructuring”, “true federalism” and “resource control” are strategies employed to achieve the results that the copyists of the First Republic failed to realise, namely increase the weight and relevance of the regions to the detriment and expense of the central government, thereby gradually paving the way for complete separation from Nigeria.
This informs why the clamour for “restructuring” is coming at a time when the verdict from one part of the country is that Nigeria is not working and that it must be renegotiated and restructured if it is to survive and prevent its ultimate destruction. This self-serving argument will then be advanced by demanding the adoption of a new national constitution that would reflect a “restructured” Nigeria whereby “true federalism” with “fiscal federalism” would be achieved.
Some of them even call for the implementation of the outcome of the National Conference contrived by the previous administration on the back of the most gratuitous insults to justice and fairness wrapped in the a crude cover of crass political opportunism and ineptitude. Even at that, we recall that the Northern Elders Forum had warned of the futility of addressing the fundamentals of our national existence through a medium created by an administration that had acquired the reputation of being the worst in the history of our nation in terms of any capacity to generate confidence in achieving credible national goals.
It drew attention to the limitations of a National Conference that had turned all accepted indices of our national demography on their heads; one that was clearly aimed at achieving dubious political goals; and one clearly designed to weaken our region. We have no quarrel with an autonomous, citizen-driven search for reforms in our polity and economy should re-visit these and other reports in the near future. If there are valuable insights that will contribute to improving the structure, operations and utility of the Nigerian state in them, they should be reassessed in the context of a genuine dialogue without hidden agendas or preconditions.
How do you assess the current government and the state of the nation generally?
The nation is not wrong when it insists that President Buhari’s image and vision are not being served by the quality and competence of many of the people he has assembled to work with him and see the nation through this difficult period.
Those who insist that President Buhari’s administration can do much better in managing the recession, in the all-important fight against corruption within the laws of the land, and in rebuilding a nation united around the values of justice and honest enterprise are not his enemies. Most of them are people who voted for him because they shared his belief that we can live secure lives; that leaders do not have to steal our resources and that our children can live in, and work in a nation they can be proud of.
When northerners say they bear the brunt of bad or poor governance more than other Nigerians, they speak from a solid experience of living under leaders who were inept and corrupt and who governed poor people. When the economy deteriorates, we feel the pain more sharply than other Nigerians. With security, we can feed ourselves and feed the rest of Nigeria. But when cost of inputs become prohibitive, threats to lives limit productive capacities, herds are stolen or limited by hostile and damaging political interests, the economy of the North suffers.
We recognize that restructuring the Nigerian economy involves a tremendous boost in productivity of the assets which the North is blessed with. We look forward to a restructuring process that involves our assets and our interests, but we ask the President and our Governors to pay close attention to relieving the hardships and stresses which these critical and strategic transitions will involve. We ask to be involved as genuine partners, not as targets of policies and programmes that are designed in capitals. We ask that our current limitations are understood by leaders and policy makers, so that our current disadvantages are not compounded by poorly-designed policies. Our people are hardworking and we have no desire to depend on any section of the country beyond what is made necessary by the logic of an inter-dependent economy.
We expect our Governors to be in the frontline of the search for credible policies. There are excellent blueprints and suggestions on improving the Northern economy which they can utilize. The North and its people are doubtlessly convinced that our region had been abandoned at the mercy of a rampaging insurgency and a calculated design to continuously weaken it politically and pauperize it economically.
To the rest of the country, we say that we emphatically repudiate the vilification of one ethnic and religious group or the other for whatever reason or justification. In this light, we deem the targeting of the entire Hausa/Fulani and northerners for vilification, systematic dehumanization, profiling, alienation or any action that will render them object of attack and persecution in other regions, not only immoral and illegal, but also abhorrent to our sensibilities and ordinary decency and therefore unacceptable.