The Labour of Our Heroes Past

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The Labour of Our Heroes Past....

 

By

 

Zulfikar Aliyu Adamu

zulfikar@kfupm.edu.sa

[Saudi Arabia]

From the northern banks of the Niger, we have the factual and unenviable record of producing series of rulers that have plundered and squandered the nation's wealth in such pharaoic proportions that Ramses II and Tutankhamen of ancient Egypt would have looked like paupers in comparison. After four decades of relatively wasteful rule under camouflage dynasties, one of the only 'honest' and profitable businesses that thrives in the north is beggary at the street and bureaucratic levels. The plummeting quality of the common northerner's life can be plotted inversely with increasing time. Under northern dictators, the number of graduates from the north had neither improved systematically nor did the enrollment into primary schools increase significantly. While I need not reiterate that there was general deterioration in the quality and quantity of our overall advancement, the agriculture that made the north sufficient enough to feed and export was relegated into insignificance. More talakwas (the common poor people) were selling their hoes and buying torchlights in order to mount sentries at the gates of southern homes. We are more dependent on the same civil service (which we helped to destroy) than any other section of the country. The industrialization of the north does not go further than a few textile factories in Kaduna-South. Even then, majority of us are still dressed in rags. I would like a northerner to come out and kindly show us exactly how many universities in the north have a majority northern population of either staff or students. The north is the only region that cannot boast of a single private university today, but we don't really need them anyway because you and I can imagine just how private they would be. It's as if we expect the rest of Nigeria to wait for us to meet up. Agreed that the decline in quality education was nationwide, but at least, it would have been better to have produced (like the rest of the country) half-baked graduates than not. A new generation of northern men and women are therefore being ushered into the 21st century with the notion and misplaced advantage of coming from educationally-less-advantaged-states.

So nonchalant are our northern rulers -(very very few of them deserve to be called leaders, so pardon the expression henceforth)- that our states and local governments are not even in a position to fashion out a workable catch-up strategy for the north; despite the scientific and technological shortcut to development that computerization and information technology has brought. And yet when the so-called elite of the north gather at Arewa house and elsewhere to discuss the state of the region and nation, they never fail to drag the honorable name of Sir Ahmadu Bello into this mess. Now, that was a true northern premier nay, leader whose only asset in life and in death were honesty, modesty, identification with the plight of the common northerner and importantly, the unity of the north. The unity of his northern constituency must have been vital to Sardauna even before that of the nation, because he never appeared to loose sight of the priority of his flock. The only other physical or material assets that he left behind are an aging bunch of politicians that only follow his legacy in public speeches and quotations. It was a popular saying of Sardauna that it was great to be a Nigerian and even greater to be a northerner. Well, there is nothing great about Nigeria today and the average southerner sees the northerners as a major cause.

Four decades, three disrupted Republics and many dictators scattered in between, the northerners and other Nigerians have only become poorer and hungrier than the average man of the 60s. Although we northerners could proudly boast of not owning and circulating any popular, sectional and secessional tabloid like in the southwest, it remains to be seen to what extent we have been able to mobilize and sensitize our people towards their rights or projecting their aspirations. But I guess denying them access to these rights and aspirations were part of an effective clandestine policy. Recently, about the only tangible rights that the common man was used to attain, was Shari'a, which was introduced in such a manner that has pitched the simple Muslim against his Christian neighbor. I am truly convinced that the late Sardauna would have been utterly shocked at the mutual distrust that holds sway today. In a nutshell, as of today, there is virtually nothing like 'us' in the north anymore. It is now a matter of 'we' and 'them '. Personally, the reverence that I have for Sardauna is so great that I feel guilty each time I hypothesize about what he could have done in many aspects of nowadays. Nevertheless, I plead to be allowed to theorize that in his characteristic humble way, he would have called all the stake-holders together to help lay down the fundamental, educative and logistic requisites before subjecting the northern Muslims under Shari'a rule. Besides, he would not engage in using taxpayer's money to publicly and politically declare or 'launch' Shari'a which ought to be taken for granted as part and parcel of a Muslim's life. Those who are familiar with his lifetime would acknowledge his apathy for public functions, unnecessary publicity and wastage of anything, especially funds. That was how simple this great hero was. Alas, all his efforts and past labour now seem in vain.

When the average common northerner hears 'government', he visualizes it as that rich politician living in Government House. Election is therefore to him, just an opportunity to form long queues for the next occupant. We northerners respect office and 'leadership' almost to a fault that we do not seem to pursue the fact that social amenities are not to be given to us out of favour, but by right. It keeps running somewhere in my mind then that perhaps the backwardness of the talakawas is to some peoples' benefit.  The sub-system of governance in the north is based on feudocracy, if ever there was such a word, as some of these mega-rich elite of the north measure their wealth with respect to the destitution around them. A super-rich northerner would not want to tar the road to his mansion simply because his poverty-stricken neigbours would benefit from the culvert. Our wide-spread poverty is uniquely dotted with extreme affluence here and chronic opulence there. On the national level, we cannot deny our rulers' contribution into establishing a style of governance that is made up of an aggregate mixture of sycophantism and political pickpocketism- a kind of governance whose foundations are strongly and deeply entrenched into the habitual rigidity of corruption. As much as some of us love to hate the present administration, we should also try to remember that it inherited its code and ethics from past governments..headed by northerners. Though the failure of the Nigerian experiment can be equally blamed on all the major ethnic players due to the connivance and collaboration of their 'representatives' in successive coups, the north should and must accept the leadership role that it played in this regard. To deny the role that northern rulers have played in the decay of the nation is an attempt to distort historical facts- a crime that posterity will find very hard to forgive. We must accept some measure of responsibility for the role of our selfish rulers because acknowledging a problem is half-way to solving it.

Since without darkness, light would have no meaning, I therefore welcome the so-called marginalization of the north in terms of political appointments and handouts that would have eventually benefited the same select-few who brought us to this predicament. In fact, if incumbent president Obasanjo eventually wins a second term (its not exactly my prayer though), I hope he marginalizes the north even more so that we can have a taste of what our Ibo compatriots have been crying about for 30 years. This would teach northerners to rule or rather, to lead with fairness, honesty and most importantly, justice. The Ibos have been so deprived of the action at the center that I am even surprised that there isn't an army of occupation still in Ibo land since the civil war ended. Our northern rulers only see the Ibos fit to do their dirty propaganda wars as ministers of Information and other dubious tasks. Even though the southwest has never voted a democracy into power, another issue here is that despite the political alliances between the north and the southeast as witnessed in the first two republics, the way the Ibos themselves have been approaching politics keeps throwing them from frying pan to fire and vice versa. In other writings, I have compared their political behavior to 'crabs in a basket' with one not letting the other out. That's why for example; they allow people like Nzeribe to stain their collective reputation and, why they have more aspiring presidential candidates now than necessary. This is also probably why more senators voted Okadigbo out of senate leadership than into it. For all their loyalty to the north, the Ibos have never been rewarded with even a little peek into that Hausa-Fulani pamphlet of political success. But just because some Ibo politicians keep confusing politics with spare-part business, should not be an excuse to deny them and other Nigerians a true sense of belonging. We have not treated them as equals, but we now expect to have done unto us what we did not do to others. In this regard, I appreciate vice president Atiku's declaration at the Arewa House Annual Lecture that ".while we hate injustice visited on us we must also hate to see it visited on others". The steps he (Atiku) takes as a democratic leader from the north to actualize this solemn and noble declaration should be our collective concern then. It is time to stand up for truth, integrity and justice.

What we northerners have to come to terms with is that our salvation as a people must not necessarily come from many of these self-acclaimed champions of the north. However, there are a few principled leaders among us whom we need to celebrate by empowering them politically. As I fail to see how we have benefited from many decades of misrule, I ponder how many northerners will actually agree with the standpoint that we northerners have (by proxy), collectively ruled the nation in a non-directional way during the dark ages of our numerous juntas. And along the lines, there were genuine efforts by all parties to break the ethnic and religious divide as witnessed by the Muslim-Muslim SDP ticket of June 12. But with the spate of religious friction (especially in the north) how many northern Muslims can now dare to dream of two Muslims on a presidential ticket? Much as we don't admit it, June 12 was a statement by all Nigerians especially the southern non-Muslims, who are probably too intimidated now to repeat that scenario. Unfortunately, while the late MKO Abiola is hopefully resting in peace, the truth about the June 12 annulment remains as secret as the ingredients of Coca-Cola. In addition though, MKO's kinsmen did not make the matter resolvable by acting as if only the Yorubas voted in that election. If it was so easy for them, Falae would have been in Obasanjo's agbada today. So in a similar vein, just because some Yorubas are too tribalistic to carry others along politically is no excuse for us to stand aloof in the face of glaring iniquity. We may be able to fathom the earlier disqualification of Yar'Adua and Ciroma by the military but the Yorubas may not. I cant help but name the likes of Abubakar Umar and Balarabe Musa who saw a wrong doing and spoke out. These are elementary virtues that were the order of the day during Sardauna's reign. May his soul rest in peace and may the Almighty reward him with paradise.

As we look forward to at least four more years of marginalization, it is my desire that the younger generation of northerners understand and claim their rightful place in the nations polity without depriving anyone of their own part of the bench. Today, many of the so-called middle-belters are ever more anxious to shrug off any thing that will associate them with the north. The only reason why we should not hide our heads in shame is that there are indeed future opportunities for us to prove to ourselves and the rest of Nigeria that we are capable of sound leadership, devoid of any sentiments and pilferage. Being fair to all will not cost us a single kobo. There are benefits to fairness in this world and hereafter. The mere fact that the country has withstood several stormy sessions of nation building is enough evidence that the Almighty is with all of us. As we play our human part, we northerners shall sooner or later be faced with the task of wearing the crown of leadership again. We would have to meet so many challenging economic deadlines if we are to make any positive political headlines. But first, we must all reach out to those northern neighbors of ours whom we have been competing with in the acts of religious and tribal butchery. We must also start approaching the issue of our people's education aggressively. Any northerner who is not yet panicking should feel free to start now; because we have to jump-start the machinery of massive education and enlightenment if ever we are to catch-up and be in position to dispense good leadership while expecting good followership. We should make no mistake, the world is changing so fast with the amount of information and knowledge doubling every five years. The classical gap between the world's haves and have-nots is being replaced by the knows and the not-knows. The difference between success and failure can be decided by the single click of a mouse. If we fail to prioritize education today, children from other parts of the country will be speaking (digitally) 20 years from now to our children. Our kids will only be able to reply in analog mode. We have been blessed with a vast Lebensraum (economic living space) but we need to have the human resource before we can tap its potentials. Based on the status quo, it wont matter whether every village in the north strikes an oil well today because we lack the leadership, the human resource and the charity necessary to administer and manage judiciously. Although, no great fan of mine, Umaru Dikko once said in an interview that the north can produce groundnut oil which is far more expensive than an equivalent amount of petrol when bottled side by side. How we strive to understand this correlation is quite a different story. Simultaneously, we owe it to ourselves to build more 'bridges' of unity across the Niger and Benue. The only thing it will cost us to have a united and stronger north and thus better Nigeria, is to realize the error of our past ways and move towards change.

As of today, we are still educationally-less-advantaged but that is no reason why we should be rationally-less-advantaged. Leading Nigeria into a bright and just future is one of the best things we northerners can ever hope and work for.

 

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