If you are starving and young and in search of answers as to why your life is so difficult, fundamentalism can be alluring. We know this for a fact because former members of Boko Haram have admitted it: They offer impressionable young people money and the promise of food, while the group’s mentors twist their minds with fanaticism.~ Muhammadu Buhari
Achebe wrote that “The trouble with Nigeria has become the subject of our small talk in much the same way as the weather is for the English”. Nigerians love arguing because there is never a drought of issues for a rapacious audience to discuss in this country. We are often cajoled by flowery catchphrases and hashtags such as change, Biafra or nothing, restructuring, our-mumu-don-do, red card, #RevolutionNow etc. It is one week one new story, ranging from the ingenious to the utterly absurd.
The current debate sparked by Senator Abaribe’s call for President Buhari’s resignation over the worsening insecurity bears the same hallmarks.
We will immerse ourselves in the velitation by taking sides. Dissipate humongous energy on expletives and end up in ground zero after the whole rigmarole. Unsurprisingly the senators and indeed the citizens from the northern states ravaged by the crisis are the ones who have joined the presidency in taking umbrage at the senator’s remarks. While the vocal minority comprising mostly of southerners on various media platforms have stoutly risen to his defence.
Senator Abaribe is not a stranger to controversy. He is a courageous and experienced lawmaker who presented himself as a surety for the fugitive IPOB leader when his colleagues from the South East baulked. Moreover, he is the leader of the opposition and is well within his rights to make such a demand after all President Buhari himself once asked former President Jonathan to resign on the same account and nobody threw the kitchen sink at him.
However, I believe that we are not having the right debate. How will Buhari’s resignation impact on the orgy of violence we are currently witnessing? In a nation where everything including the security of lives has been politicised the answer pretty much depends on one’s prism of perception. The president’s fanatic fans will argue that the reverse could be the case while critics who absurdly claim that he is behind the insecurity will claim that his resignation will put end to it. Yet some have stated that he should resign first.
But here is the thing. You and I know the president will do no such thing, more so when the call is from a senator whose region contributed little to his emergence and eventual reelection. Even Abaribe himself knows this too, so why are we chasing rabbits? One would have thought the realistic discourse would be around the solutions to stymie the worsening insecurity, especially in the northern region.
And this brings me to the meat of my thesis.
The north is a region that negates its enormous natural endowments. Despite the existence of huge human and material resources, the region is plagued by abject poverty, illiteracy and terrorism. If you have lived in the northern part of the country you will better appreciate why it currently serves as the crucible of the turbulence across the nation. Out of the six geopolitical zones, the three in the north have the worst indices of poverty with 77% for the North-West, 76% and 67% for the North-East and North-Central respectively.
The region is a vast land, so vast that you can drive over 30km without any sign of human habitation. I can’t think of any road in the South East where you will drive for 5km without coming across a storey building. That gives you an idea of the disparity in development between both regions and why the insurgency easily thrives in the north.
A former Governor of Borno state aptly captured the region’s debilitating poverty and developmental imbalance between the north and the south when he remarked that: “Unemployment in the north is extremely high. Nigeria is a country of two nations, the South is much more stable and prosperous, the north, on the other hand, is in a poverty trap. In Nigeria, poverty wears a northern cap; if you are looking for a poor man, get somebody wearing a northern cap.”
Of course, Shettima is not alone in his position. The outspoken Emir of Kano Alhaji Sanusi Lamido has often come under fire from his tribesmen for saying the truth. Mirroring President Buhari’s quote at the beginning of this piece, Sanusi once suggested that Islam faces extinction in the region because, “if poverty continues in the north, Islam will disappear from the north. Poverty can lead to disbelief”.
Light as they may appear these words become more worrisome in context when you consider that despite the varying opinions about the Boko Haram insurgency, the sect actually emerged as an opposition element to the political system dominated by corrupt elites. Mohammed Yusuf recruited from the streets, preying on the downtrodden with a twisted version of the doctrine that promised a better future.
Yet we are discussing a region whose elites have ruled the country for over 40 in our 60 years of independence with Buhari actively involved in this period. A region with so many billionaires including the world’s richest black man.
Shouldn’t every northern politician be ashamed?
Where is the Sultan? Where are the religious and cultural leaders? Where is the loquacious Junaid Mohammed? The Sule Lamidos and Kwankwansos who led the opposition against Jonathan in the guise of fighting for northern interest? They have all gone mute even as the citizens they pretend to lead are slaughtered in thousands.
The truth is that we cannot continue pretending. Someone had to press that button and if takes Abaribe to ring the bell then the northern senators should have given him a standing ovation and proceed to offer solutions. And just like Festus Keyamo said the ruling APC, the northern leaders and indeed Nigerians as a whole must see the senator’s call as a way of telling the government to do more.
And there are several short term solutions which many well-meaning Nigerians agree can be implemented immediately.
Firstly, a unanimous call by the lawmakers on the president to sack our service chiefs is now more than urgent. They have overstayed and consequently also outlived their usefulness. We need fresh ideas.
And then the government should seek foreign help especially in the area of intelligence gathering. Our security agencies have for too long been reliant on the obsolete strategy of reacting to attacks. Proper intelligence-gathering presents a proactive way of nipping crime in the bud.
Taking these steps will give a psychological boost to not just the officers fighting to keep us safe but also to the citizenry. Perception is key. As a leader, you must not only be responsive, you must be seen to be responsive.
After which we can proceed to the long term solutions of bridging the poverty gap between the north and south which I believe must include ditching the ineffective and now over recycled poverty alleviation programmes that end up enriching the wealthy.
Proper incentivisation for private initiatives must be encouraged especially in the education sector to reduce the government’s burden of subsidizing the sector. We cannot stop the Dangotes and Indimis from sending their kids to Ivy League institutions but we can at least make legislation that will encourage them to invest more in education.
Also, the northern leaders must come to terms with the research-backed fact that the region contributes most to the population explosion and by extension poverty increase with its larger households. It cannot remain traditionally impervious to birth control in the guise of religion and culture. Not in these times. So it is expected that other traditional leaders should echo Sanusi’s opinion on polygamy while concerted efforts must made towards educating young girls to discourage early and underage marriage.
Leaders cannot roam the paved roads of Abuja in their long convoy of exotic cars while their children languish in the streets of Kano just like we saw with the HOR member from Kano who shamelessly took his 4 wives to the lower chamber to brag about his 27 children among whom he barely recognises some even as he is still ‘counting’.
It is atrocious that while these northern politicians carelessly contribute to the insecurity they will still have the temerity to oppose a senator from the South-East (the safest region in the country) calling on the president to resign over the wanton bloodletting in their region. Responsible leaders should rather welcome the challenge because for all the talk about Buhari’s agricultural revolution in the north it will still amount to little if insecurity continues to pervade the region.
If Nigeria is to achieve greatness then the north must fully realise its potential. Renowned Florida based professor Pius Keysmu couldn’t have said it better. The Nigerian-born academic in one of his deeply researched studies put it simply: “create an enabling environment (good roads, security, 24/7 electricity) and the North will supply the entire African continent and beyond with agricultural produce. Thus, increased internally generated revenue (IGR).”
Its time for northern Nigeria to wake up. It is time for the region to produce more leaders in the model of El-Rufai, Sanusi and of course Abaribe.