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The Kano initiative

In these gloomy days when every light marks entrances to dangerous tunnels particularly for the beleaguered people of northern Nigeria, an activity was held a…

In these gloomy days when every light marks entrances to dangerous tunnels particularly for the beleaguered people of northern Nigeria, an activity was held a few days ago in Kano which should restore some hope and faith that this vast region does not have to go under in the next few years. A friend who attended the event organised at Bayero University Kano by a relatively unknown organization called Kano Concerned Citizens Initiative (KCCI) was so excited telling me about it, he almost made me change my mind about boycotting all fora involving the northern elite.

As initiatives go, this was apparently a bold and inclusive attempt to re-hash most of the most serious threats and challenges facing the North today. The value it added was the successful mobilization of a broad spectrum of the elite from Kano and parts of the North so soon after the damage wrought by the 2019 elections on cohesion and focus of the elite, as well as the deepening of class divisions that has always been a character of Kano politics. Another was the quality of inputs into the ‘General Assembly’. A veteran columnist in this paper and a working encyclopedia of the Kano terrain, Bala Muhammad, reports that the Assembly registered the presence of the most prominent gadfly in royal robes, the Emir of Kano, the richest African alive who wears his Kano identity with some aplomb, other wealthy industrialists, politicians, academics, and all those ‘who matter’ to engage in a detailed lamentation of the state of the North. A notable absentee was the governor of Kano State. Perhaps the embers of the electoral contest are still burning in some quarters, but that absence said a lot about the disposition of elected leadership to problems of the northerner.

The Assembly  reportedly went through the usual routine of heart-wrenching rendition of the poverty of leadership in the North; its shrinking economy; deepening and widening insecurity; alarming magnitude of social problems; scary statistics on child beggars, unemployed youth and  urban crimes; and the seeming vicious circle into which the North finds itself, most prominently typified by the tendency of the democratic system to progressively lower the quality of governance and lives of otherwise hard working and enterprising people. But it also signaled an intention to light a fire across the entire North and become a beacon for a pan-Northern rediscovery. This is perhaps its most significant contribution, basically for the fact that only a pan-northern approach will address Northern problems.

The de-industrialization of Kano and the collapse of its mercantile capacities have been a major cause and effect of the decline of the northern economy. An economic blueprint on sustained rebuilding of the economy of the North will have to link the rebuilding of industrial capacities in Kano, Kaduna and a number of other northern cities with re-establishing vital agricultural production and processing activities into mainstream, basic economic activities. Critical economic infrastructure such as power, transportation, water resources and communication will be useful only if they link key northern economic activities and communities. Radical improvements in human capital development have to be  comprehensive and sustained across the North.

Successful campaigns against social problems cannot be achieved unless they cover the entire region in design and implementation, backed by strong political will. Almajirci (child-beggar/destitution) which wastes millions of the North’s most vital asset and turns it into its biggest liability and threat needs a pan -Northern approach. Campaigns against deeply-entrenched practices such as irresponsible polygamy cannot succeed if they are isolated and starved of wider authoritative support. Re-securing the North and freeing huge agricultural lands from criminals will be difficult to achieve without pressure on the federal government to treat it as the real threat it is. Anyone who insists that this administration has not lost the battle against bandits and kidnappers should support their case by driving with their families from Kaduna to Abuja even in broad daylight.

The Kano Initiative should be prepared to fight for space, and learn from the limitations of other groups that share its broad concerns. It will find the declining influence of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) claiming seniority with only the title of ‘umbrella’ giving it an identity. Its break-away, more radical rival, the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) is less secretive about its politics, but its attempts to engineer a pan-northern front to confront and challenge leadership has met with fierce resistance from northern politicians sensitive to criticism. There is the Middle Belt Forum, Christian Association of Nigeria, Muslim organizations and powerful clerics that can mobilize three million people in twenty-four hours, ethnic groups that have long given up on peaceful resolutions of their problems and governments at federal and state level with pronounced allergies to criticism and much to hide.

Veterans like the KCCI’s chairman, Alhaji Bashir Tofa should be familiar with the terrain. Partisan politics tears northern communities apart, rendering poor people even more vulnerable to manipulations around faith, region and financial inducements to re-cycle politicians that will make them poorer and less secure. The Kano Initiative should seek collaboration with groups that share its ideals, and be prepared to deal with assaults from quarters that feed on the status quo. At the most minimal level, it must be prepared to engage in the political process.

The democratic process, if it is measured by willingness of citizens to participate as voters, is more routed in the north. How could 15 million voters express choices they believe could make differences in their lives, then slide deeper into insecurity and poverty within a few months after the elections? How could two northerners contest for the presidency, and today more northerners today are running from bandits and kidnappers? Millions of acres of farmlands will not be cultivated this rainy season( making the prospects of famine real) because farmers do not have the security to till the land, and we have northerners in these positions: President, Minister of Defence, NSA, IGP, D-G, SSS, DG, NIA, Service Chiefs and many others in positions of authority.

It should be obvious by now that multiple sources of influence in the North need to be re-invented to complement or even supplant leaders who tend to behave as if being voted into power has robbed citizens of every right to demand responsibility, accountability and competence from them. President Buhari and northern governors must not be given an inch of relief to ignore our deepening poverty, insecurity and declining hope that our children can live decent, secure and progressively better lives. The democratic process is too weak to provide the types of leadership needed to re-engineer the North. Groups such as KCCI must be prepared to soil their boots, engage in productive search for solutions and take on leaders who are severely limited in their respect for the people and engage the rest of Nigeria in productive activities towards addressing the foundations of structures and systems that are clearly not working for the North. The Kano Initiative was not a light at the end of a tunnel. It was a light that should light up the tunnel and show the way out of it.

Jamila Abubakar wrote this piece from Abuja





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