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The North looks at itself
December 14, 2011
By Hakeem Baba-Ahmed
ON December 5 and 6, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) organised a Conference around the theme of “Peace and Unity” in Kaduna, the political and spiritual heart of the North. By any standard of judgement, the meeting was well attended. The Vice President, a former Governor of the State, the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, all northerners, were there.
So were General Yakubu Gowon, Vice President Atiku Abubakar; an assortment of former Chief Justices and Presidents of the Court of Appeal, former Inspectors-General of Police, former Governors, including an impressive turnout of former military governors who are now politically active; traditional rulers and the clergy led by the Sultan; a sprinkling of Northern Christian elite, including Bishop Matthew Kukah; northern captains of industry and intelligentsia; active, inactive and undecided politicians, and many young people who turn up at these occasions for some pickings. Significantly, a large number of Northern Governors and Deputies were also there.
Gowon, Sultan of Sokoto, Yakowa and Sambo
There were hundreds of heavily armed soldiers, policemen and plain cloth security officials with enough arms to form a small army. It is fair to say that the beleaguered city of Kaduna has not seen a gathering of this nature for a long time; at least not since its political and security volatility chased away many people, businesses and groups, including the periodic meeting of Northern Governors.
A most notable presence was the large number of elderly northerners, not just those who have made Kaduna their homes, but many others who travelled long distances in the hope that they can find out some explanations, or offer some, over the state of insecurity, disunity and increasing underdevelopment of the north.
Opportunity for self-assessment
The Conference could have provided a good opportunity for the North to undertake a critical self-assessment at a time of rapid changes, and in the face of new challenges, all of which are placing it at a great disadvantage in a federal arrangement in which it had firm control of the political process, until the last decade. It was obvious however, that the ACF had been aided by substantial injection of funding from political sources which wanted a predetermined outcome.
The audience could easily see this, and although many people stayed until the end of the poorly-handled Conference, this unseen hand took much of its credibility away.
In a region where faith has become a major player in politics, the selection of three Christian and one Muslim speaker also caused substantial ripple. But by far the biggest blow to the credibility and integrity of the Conference was the virtual absence of Northern Governors for most of its two days.
Perhaps, many thought they had played their roles when they contributed in funding the Conference, but in walking out with the Vice President and staying away, they showed how little they thought of the state of the North, or the acute problems of security and poverty in their States.
The few who stayed behind took much of the virulent criticism of Governors and other current leaders, and they would have left the Conference with a deafening endorsement of the view that Northern Governors represent the biggest problem of the north.
Perhaps, the lamentations over the failure of the North to preserve its tenuous unity and limit the damage from the multiple threats to its security were being made at the wrong forum by the wrong people, to the wrong audience. The Arewa Consultative Forum is a collection of generally well-meaning but ineffective northerners who have little claim to anything of substance in the contemporary disposition of the North in Nigeria.
This, indeed, may be why the Presidency and the Northern Governors felt safe to support it to organise a talk shop with this level of sensitivity and importance. The Forum had been used extensively in the past by Northern Governors who can find no other platform to maintain some visibility.
The effect has been poor because the Governors’ agenda had been unpopular, and the vehicle of the ACF is weak and marginal in terms of the fortunes of the north. The political disunity of the north was largely engineered by the roles which northern governors played in the run-up to the general elections in April this year.
The ACF was a by-stander in the high stake manoeuvres of the Governors, and could not have mediated their roles with the core interests of the North, even if it wanted to.
The ACF was turned into a virtual cheerleader when governors called in those days, or wanted one position or the other supported. The Forum watched as the ill-fated consensus candidate project decimated the remnants of northern power and cohesion, and northern governors decided the fate of northern candidates and the emergence of Goodluck Jonathan as President.
The Forum watched the effects of the destructive politics which used faith and ethnicity as prime instruments to engineer the emergence of the Governors’ candidate, as substantial portions of the north went up in flames.
The Forum watched the damaging distance being created between the far North and the middlebelt, largely as a result of the elevation of religion and region as key elements in the quest for power by Governors and the President. The Forum watched Northern Governors retreat behind secure walls and road blocks as violence spread and became a permanent feature in the lives of northerners.
And then the ACF reaches out to the Presidency and Governors to organise a Conference on Peace and Unity in the North. But there was little mention during the Conference about how the North came to its present position as the beggar region, wrought by poverty and insecurity, and led by people with little respect from their people.
The Conference couldn’t blame Governors because it is, in many respects, their Conference. It cannot blame the Federal government for its inability to engage the sources and consequences of insecurity in the North, because it is, in a way, its own Conference.
It cannot put foward options and strategies for building bridges between and across Northern communities, because governors in Plateau, Kaduna, Borno and Bauchi have created enclaves and no-go areas for anyone else, including fellow governors and other northerners.
It cannot mention the linkages between rampant corruption and gross ineptitude at the levels of northern leadership, and the economic poverty and political alienation in much of the north. It could not invite attention to the danger of the total reliance by the north on proceeds from the sale of petroleum and gas, when its endowments of a large population, rich and vast agricultural land and abundant solid minerals could make it a very rich region.
The ACF Conference on Peace and Security in the North could not put forward options for the North in the rumoured attempts to re-engineer the Nigerian federal system and isolate the north even further. It did not have that capacity; and it could not risk annoying the Governors. It could not invite attention to the emerging unity between the political elites of the South east and the South south around a strategy to further reduce northern political influence.
This is likely to offend some strategists in the Presidency. It cannot raise alarm at the increasing tribalisation of South west politics, and the efforts to build political and security infrastructure that will give the South west the paraphernalia of a quasi-state.
It cannot raise the danger of a resurgent northern Christian and ethnic minority mentality which sees northern Muslims as the enemy in every facet of its existence, and which defines faith and political activity largely around fighting Muslims and Islam. And it certainly cannot raise the danger of increasingly militant Muslim sects which demand the creation of an Islamic State.
Confab and Boko Haram threat
Significantly, the Conference did not mention the unacceptable failure of the President and the Governors to find some solutions to the threat of Boko Haram insurgency because the audience and participants are actually the source of the problem, and cannot therefore be its solution.
Bad governance and a political process that does not produce leaders but office holders under dubious credentials has largely alienated young people from elders, and the resort to violence is being elevated to the level of a credible Plan B in communal conflicts, and as a means of settling frustrations around unemployment and poverty.
The Conference nibbled around the issue of massive corruption of the electoral process; people who rule with questionable mandates; the alienation of the population from the democratic process and the collapse of older values of service, loyalty and hardwork.
But it will not raise the linkages between endemic corruption and the absence of respect for constituted authority, and the emergence of an entire generation of young Nigerians who believe that they have no obligation to respect the law or follow rules and regulation in their lives.
The Conference on Peace and Security in the North will go down as a missed opportunity by elders and politicians to take stock of the strengths and weaknesses of the north. It could not have achieved much because the organisers and participants are the problem, and cannot therefore be the solution.
If any good has come out of the Conference, it is the glaring evidence that the real poverty of the north is that of good leadership. It also lacks time to reorganise itself, in a context where the rest of the nation is moving very fast, and away from it.
The most critical requirement of the North today is that of a new leadership which will give it new energy, focus and a position in modern Nigeria in which it will be respected by its own people; and be respected by the rest of Nigeria.
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