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Our own worst enemy

For the past two years, Professor Attahiru Jega has been on a roll in the lecture circuit. The former Chairman of the Independent National...

By Nick Dazang

For the past two years, Professor Attahiru Jega has been on a roll in the lecture circuit. The former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has been voluble and incessant in commenting on the electoral process, the need to restructure the country, the cluelessness of our leadership and the parlous state of the North.

The comments have been cogent, compelling and possessed of a sense of urgency. And given their timing, most observers would have been tempted to conclude that they were carefully calibrated by the Professor to seek relevance and put himself in reckoning for the presidency in 2023. Thankfully, he has disabused our minds. At a forum organised recently by Kwaravisioners Network for Rural Development in Ilorin, the former INEC Chairman assured that his interventions were inspired by patriotic fervor. He asserted at that forum that:”I have no presidential ambition. All I am doing is to contribute to a credible, reliable and acceptable process of election and leadership recruitment in the country.” In other words, he is not indulging in the kind of self-righteous ululation which politicians are adept at in order to solicit sympathy for themselves.

Given our abject and woeful state of affair, all the issues that Professor Jega has raised or canvassed in the past two years must resonate with Nigerians. But the one that resonates most with this writer is his plangent lament about the North being the haven and poster boy of horrible statistics and the world capital of poverty. Additionally, the North, which Andy Akporogu once dismissed as a “haven of excitable tempers” on account of the ethno-religious crises that reared their ugly heads in the 1980s/90s, has become the epicenter of other mortal failings, to wit: terrorism, banditry, kidnapping, out of school children, hordes of urchins roaming the streets etc.

Though Professor Jega did not go beyond issuing a clarion lament, he must nonetheless be saluted. Not a few mountebanks who parade themselves as our leaders in the North have preferred to play the ostrich and to pussyfoot over our horrible condition, making it to fester. But beyond Professor Jega’s lament, we must interrogate ourselves as to how the North arrived at this sordid pass, a pass where other sections of the country perceive the North as regressing to the Stone Age and a liability to the commonwealth.

The first major failing, and arising from a primeval and feudal mindset, is that we were not prepared to invest in education in a concerted and determined way. Whereas the South had the benefit of exposure to Western education for a century before us and insisted on free education for its wards in the aftermath of Independence, the North was content with educating only the wards of the ruling class to the exclusion of the less-heeled. Until the advent of Christian Missionary activities in the 1930s, Western education in the North was the preserve of the privileged. Post-independence, there was no deliberate policy to make education free and compulsory for all. Even though the Almajiri system had initial sublime and uplifting spiritual intentions, our people outsourced their responsibilities as parents to the Quranic/Madrasa teacher. By and by and without infrastructural support and resources, the Quranic teacher became overwhelmed, the system became bastardised and its helpless products became cannon fodder and easy recruits for clerics of dubious religious pedigree. An insightful documentary by Ambassador Yusuf Mamman aired on NTA Kaduna in 1984 showed that it was against this background that the Maitatsine movement began and later erupted in a number of riots across the North.

The second failing, if not incubus, is the desperation for power. A typical Northerner would always desire to insert himself anywhere and anytime a leadership vacuum presents itself. Perhaps there would have been nothing wrong with this tendency if it were informed by the overarching quest to add value, make a difference and pursue an uplifting national agenda. Instead, the quest is often undergirded by a narrow and obtuse vision, a vacuousness and a vanity of the highest order.

The third failing, and related to the aforementioned, is as soon as one assumes power, he carries on haughtily and members of his family or cabal carry on with a sense of entitlement. The national patrimony is soon appropriated and transformed into a family one. Compatriots are looked upon with disdain. It is soon forgotten that power ought to be acquired to do justice and be fair to all and to improve the wellbeing of all citizens.

The fourth failing is that the North is a house divided against itself. As far back as in the 1950s, the North had not been at peace with itself. Neither has it been the monolith that it professes. This explains why as far back as the 1950s, there were serious agitations for a Middle Belt region. The shabbiness and clumsiness with which the North used to treat its minorities has now assumed a cavalier proportion. To get it right, the North must reconcile itself with its minorities and manage its diversity adroitly, justly and with sagacity.

The fifth failing, arising chiefly from its feudal mindset, is that it gives the short shrift to merit and healthy competition. Its best and the brightest are often driven to the margins or at best ignored while its epigones and inferiors are brought to the centre of attention and opportunity. Positions of responsibility, demanding intellectual rigour and hard work, are reserved for the privileged. And in any contest, instead of the North to showcase its First Eleven, it flaunts its Eleventh Eleven. Merit is thrown overboard in favour of mediocrity. It is this mediocrity that has atrophied and undermined the Northern Nigerian Development Company (NNDC). Contrast it to the Oodua Group of Companies which continues to grow apace and declare annual profits.

The sixth failing is in the area of investment. With perhaps the exception of Aliko Dangote, T.Y. Danjuma, Col. Sani Bello, A.A. Rano and a few others, most Northern elites who are blessed are content with investing their millions in erecting mansions, collecting the most exotic cars and marrying nubile girls. Contrast this with a typical Southerner whose obsession, once he is blessed, is to put up a factory, a hotel or a hospital that serves his community and gives his people employment. Our rich in the North prefer to dole out alms to ill-clad urchins who remain eternally beholden to them. Few set up foundations or provide scholarships for the bright but indigent.

If our investment sense is tops-turvy or indeed non-existent, the attitude of our leaders, political and spiritual, is backward and smacks of moral turpitude. The other day, a Minister (of not less than seventy-five years!) was reported to have married an eighteen-year-old. A nonagenarian traditional ruler was reported to have married a twenty-year-old. As I write, a top civil servant, heading a sensitive federal agency is said to be seeking the hand of a fifteen-year-old in marriage. For good measure, he has asked his prospective father-in-law to look for a befitting house in any of the well-appointed districts of Abuja which he would buy for him as part of the dowry. With ugly behaviors such as these flaunted by the elites why wouldn’t the woes of the North multiply?

It is in this context that certain office holders are being returned to office in spite of overwhelming evidence that they have failed and betrayed their people. Though these ludicrous antics have been perfected and are being perpetrated remorselessly by the North, it is, alas, the same North that is at the receiving end of this perfidy. This explains the horrible statistics which Professor Jega and several others have alluded to.

One can carry on, ad nauseam, cataloguing the North’s legion of failings to demonstrate that the North is its worst enemy (apologies to Tom Nichols, author of “OUR WORST ENEMY: THE ASSAULT FROM WTHIN ON MODERN DEMOCRACY”) Given the capacity of these sins to terminally consume the region, this is the time for it to do a serious rethink and soul searching. It must, in the aftermath of this thorough soul searching, come up with concrete, realizable measures with time lines for implementation. It must reform itself holistically and not cynically cherry pick what suits its whim. It is when it has purged itself of its sins and its grand standing, for which it is noted, that it can dare to re-launch itself. Mercifully, the North has time-honored core values which it can summon to this onerous task. The North was once known for Imani(humaneness); Mutunci (respect for man); Adalci (justice); Nagarta(equity); Sanin yakamata (knowing and doing the right thing); Aiki da Ibada (Work and Worship), among others. We must re-invent these core values and be encouraged by the fact that Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Vietnam etc, were once backwaters. But their people rolled up their sleeves and pulled themselves by their bootstraps. With purposeful, selfless, people-oriented, just, inclusive and focused leadership, they are now in the front rank. We can get there!

Nick Dazang is the immediate past Director, Media and Public Enlightenment, INEC.

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