Three weeks or so ago as of this writing, the leading political lights in northern Nigeria – state governors, federal and state legislators, ministers and a host of very important people – met in the old regional capital, Kaduna. I perked up my ears. I thought that a minor miracle had happened and these important leaders of the region had woken up to the stark and disturbing realities that northern Nigeria is bleeding from insecurity, reeling from poverty and losing the developmental race to the other three old regions. The misery index in the region is not a matter of conjecture; it is a matter of grim realities.
I thought it was good they had decided to hunker down in Kaduna, watched by the ghost of the late premier of Northern Nigeria, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Sardaunan Sokoto, to critically examine what the region and its people are passing through and find solutions to them so that the old region and people would recover and begin the slow, painful but necessary process of putting the years of Boko Haram savagery , bandits, kidnappers and sundry lawless elements behind it.
Apparently, their objective was not to lock themselves up in the conference room and think of some pragmatic ways of saving the north. They were there to play politics and serve notice of the earth-shattering discovery they had made in the wake of the #EndSARS protests by our youths. These were their empirical findings issued in their communique: One, #EndSARS was against the north. Two, the underlying objective of the protests was regime change.
How come we never knew. Well, conspiracy theories always bob on the surface of turbulent political waters. People easily reach for them when they have problems with making sense of sudden and unusual developments in the society. Conspiracy weavers know that the more outlandish the conspiracy, the more easily it garners followers to whom alternative facts are still facts. Our youths have never protested like this before; therefore, there must have been a sinister motive behind it.
I ask you not to think less of these important people because of the conspiracy theory that emerged from their meeting. They are privileged men holding privileged positions and are in a protected position to receive privileged information denied the rest of us because of our lowly position on the societal pecking order. The governors are the chief security officers of their various states; they know a thing or two about security, seeing as, thanks to them, the north is not ruled by sundry criminal elements making life tough and rough for their people.
Come to think of it: I did not think the reports of police brutality, extortion, corruption and lawlessness were in the interests of the north and, therefore, stopping them was against those interests. Perhaps, they forgot that in 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari initiated police reforms. Perhaps, they forgot that the president welcomed the peaceful protests and acceded to the demands of the youths to scrap SARS, reform the police and reposition it to serve the security needs of the government and the people better. It would be unfair, I think, to suggest that the president took these and other steps without knowing that he too was working against the north; and without knowing that he, not SARS, was the real target of the protests and the protesters. If you would excuse the cliché, it befuddles the mind.
The reaction of these men to the protests, should have come as no surprise because each time the government people find themselves called upon to account to themselves and the people, they resort to the old trick of divide-and-conquer by opening up or widening the fault lines we have been trying all these years since independence 60 years ago to narrow and eliminate. When a particular issue is promoted as a do-or-die fight between the north and the south, it is never short of takers. People quickly take positions on either side of the divide and feed the storm with whatever makes a storm more ferocious and devastating. The protests began in Lagos, a southern city; therefore, the plot to go against northern interests must have been hatched by southern leaders. That simple.
I do not think it was the business of these important people to offer the president a jaundiced reading of why the youths chose to protest what they felt was contributing to our forward national movement characterised by lack of focus at all levels. I thought it was their business to assist the president leave a legacy that northerners and Northern Nigeria would be proud of; something that would become a reference point in our efforts in nation-building and a credit to the region that has held the reins of power longer than the other three regions put together.
I thought they went to the meeting with one agenda: the insecurity and the poverty in the north. I thought they would rise from their meeting and present to the president a list of what he must do, and urgently too, to end the consuming insecurity in Northern Nigeria.
I thought they would rise from their meeting with a collective determination to work with the president to make Northern Nigeria safe and secure.
I thought they would remember that 200 young girls abducted by Boko Haram from Chibok 2,417 days ago as of this writing, are still technically missing; and that Lea Sharibu, the Christian girl abducted along with her Muslim school and class mates has not, despite the president’s promises, been re-united with her family; and that these put down are failure of northern leadership and the responsibility of northern leaders to their people.
I thought they would remember the problems of Nigerians turned into refugees in their own country and are existing, rather than living, in various internally displaced persons, IDP, camps in virtually all the states in the region and forge a collective determination to end the refugee status of these unfortunate fellow Nigerians, victims of the criminal lords that lord it over Northern Nigeria.
I thought they would remember that Northern Nigeria is the poorest region in the country today with the poverty rate as high 87 per cent in the North-West geo-political zone. Nigeria is now in recession, the worst in 36 years, according the World Bank. Northern Nigeria would be hardest hit with this new development in our national economy. It is the most vulnerable region to the misfortunes in our national economy. More poverty, more unemployment and obviously, more crimes. And the northern leaders chose to meet in Kaduna and give into politics of north-south?
I thought they would remember that this is getting worse, not better, in that thanks to bandits, kidnappers and Fulani herdsmen, the northern farm lands are lying fallow, thus condemning the displaced farmers to an uncertain future and at the same time increasing our country’s dependence on food imports.
I thought they needed no one to tell them that these are the great challenges facing them as northern leaders at various levels. I thought they needed no one to remind them that in failing to take up these challenges and make Northern Nigeria a secure and peaceful region, they forfeit the right to their self-anointing as northern leaders.
Perhaps, they have a more benign take on the problems of the region. Perhaps, they believe the problems would solve themselves and the region would simply rise from the ashes of its missed opportunities and make the leap in the competitive race for development. Perhaps, they believe that living in denial has its merits because what you refuse to acknowledge does not hurt. Perhaps, they are in so taken by the protocol of their exalted positions and their fine and expensive baban riguna to remember why they are where they are now in the modern history of Northern Nigeria. Whatever these men choose to make of their privileged positions and conspiracy theories, they must never forget that the grave responsibilities for our national unity rest on the shoulders of Northern Nigeria. Its leaders, past and present, cannot escape blame or praise for what went wrong or right for our country, given their long hold on the reins of political power. Our country is passing through difficult times, overwhelmed by the security challenges and the equally critical challenges in the consistently bad behaviour of our national economy. It is the wrong time for northern leaders to ignore these crippling challenges and permit themselves the inadvisable luxury of weaving conspiracy theories and promoting north-south divide under a president of northern extraction.
Dan Agbese can reached through Email: [email protected]