Anytime the likes of Prof. Ango Abdullahi, Dr Junaid Mohammed, Mallam Adamu Ciroma, Lamido of Adamawa, Mr. Anthony Sani or any of the members of the Arewa Consultative Forum or Northern Elders Forum speak on national issues, there are some things that are constant in their speeches: Arrogance, condescension, threats, etc. If the matter has to do with national resources, two critical “words” must be present in their speeches: “Sharing” and “allocation.”
That makes you wonder: Don’t these “elders” feel that they are insulting the North by their fixation on “sharing?” Don’t they feel they are insulting the North by portraying the region as incapable of taking care of itself? Don’t the younger generation feel ridiculed by this unenviable image foisted on them by these elders? Most times when these comments fly around, the lone dissenting voice you would hear is that of Col. Abubakar Umar (retd.), a former Governor of Kaduna State.
Whenever there is a call for true federalism, regional autonomy or resource control, you are sure that it will be resisted vehemently by the North. Ironically, the South-West that cannot be called an oil-producing region, except
for the little deposit of oil in Ondo State, supports resource control. The South-East which cannot really be called an oil-producing region also supports resource control. The South-South, being the real oil-producing region, naturally supports resource control. The South-East and South-West do not support resource control because they hope to gain much from oil proceeds from their regions; no, they support it because they believe that their lack of oil in large quantities would ginger them to be more creative and productive in other areas of life, so as to attain the desired developmental heights. They know that the sharing of proceeds from oil has hampered their growth for long.
It was refreshing, therefore, to hear former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar – who has become a true apostle of true federalism – urging delegates to the National Conference to go for true federalism. In a 2012 paper, Abubakar had said inter alia: “I also want to recall that during the said 1994-95 Constitutional Conference, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, GCON, the Second Republic Vice-President of this federation, introduced and canvassed for the concept of geopolitical zones. I was among those who opposed it because I thought that Ekwueme, coming from the defunct Republic of Biafra, wanted to break up the country again.
But Abubuakar’s lone voice is drowned by the sea of voices of the Northern elders whose reaction to every national issue has become predictable.
That is why people like Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, a former minister of the Federal Capital Territory; Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, a former Chairman of the Economic Financial Crimes Commission; Alhaji Ghali Na’Abba, a former Speaker of the House of Representatives; Mr. Sam Nda-Isaiah, Publisher of Leadership newspapers need to stand up and change this sad, old song from Northern elders.
Those who are too emotional and politically partisan would dismiss the performance of el-Rufai as minister of the FCT, or Ribadu as the EFCC chairman. Whatever their shortcomings, both of them acquitted themselves well in their respective positions. While el-Rufai transformed Abuja, Ribadu made Nigerians afraid of corruption; and it is clear that when compared to most other people who have held positions of authority, el-Rufai and Ribadu would come out much cleaner.
Sadly, el-Rufai has been so obsessed with “Operation Remove Jonathan” that he does not seem to notice that the North is burning or that there is a huge task to be done in the North. Why are the likes of el-Rufai and Ribadu critical in this task? Both men are very intelligent, well read, young, successful in their careers and national assignments, progressive in orientation, change-hungry, etc. The Northern youth will listen to them. The Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, was known to have mobilised the North to go to school and join the military, civil service and politics. I knew Barewa College, Zaria because most Northerners, including heads of state and presidents, attended it. Today, another group is mobilising Northern youths to reject education. Even before Boko Haram came to the limelight, whenever the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board released the statistics of candidates for its exams, you would see figures like 120,000 candidates from Imo State and 3,000 from Jigawa State. Other Northern states produce similar extremely low number of applicants in all exams in Nigeria. With Boko Haram campaign against Western education, the situation has worsened by far.
But how can anyone call mathematics Western education? The 1, 2, 3 numerals used all over the world today for calculation are called Arabic figures because of their source. Physics, chemistry, economics, etc, are not Western subjects, for a stone dropped from a roof in Saudi Arabia would be pulled down by the force of gravity just like the one dropped from a British roof.
While he is bashing the Peoples Democratic Party, I look forward to seeing el-Rufai pay serious attention to kick-starting the Northern renaissance. He needs to use his life story to inspire the youth: How his father died when he was eight years old and an uncle took care of his schooling; how he went to Barewa College and came tops, then gained admission to Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, where he made a first class in quantity surveying, before attending other universities; how that Western education gave him the pedestal to be appointed Director General of the Bureau for Public Enterprises before he was made the FCT Minister; and how anybody who pays attention to education the way Ahmadu Bello advised would rise to be a leader.
It is sad to see how many Northern youths are finding the message of Boko Haram sweeter because there are no compelling messages from other quarters. Since others are not standing in the gap to offer this service to the North, el-Rufai should offer it.
I see associations of professionals of the South-East, South-South and South-West, but I don’t hear of such groups in the North. El-Rufai and Ribadu should form such groups that will attract young people of the North. Members of such groups should visit towns and villages of the North and create awareness on the need to go to school to become doctors that save lives, senators that make laws, and presidents that lead nations, and that those who don’t go to school will be condemned to the hard life of labourers or beggars. Those who have missed out of education need to be encouraged and mobilised to acquire some skills or get involved in sports.
Northerners are not lazy people. They may even be the strongest in Nigeria given the strenuous work most of them do. Northerners are not less creative: Sokoto-born Jelani Aliyu of GM Motors in the USA has wowed the world with his car designs; Gombe-born Helon Habila won the 2001 Caine Prize. Northerners are not less enterprising; that the richest man in Africa and the Black race is a Northerner should tell us something. Northerners are not less intelligent; the academic exploits of Beatrice Hamza-Bassey at the University of Maiduguri and Harvard University bear testimonies to this.
The problem of the North is not in the individual, but in the environment created by the elders that think only of themselves and immediate families. There needs to emerge a group of young intellectuals who can call the bluff of the South on issues like quota system, resource control, regional autonomy, and the like. This group needs to tell the Northern elders to stop insulting the North and portraying Northerners in a bad light.
It is only when the North starts telling the South bluntly that it can survive and excel without the South and its much touted oil that the Northern renaissance will have started. This is the missionary work the likes of el-Rufai and Ribadu should take upon themselves to salvage.