Rescuing The North

Posted: August 28, 2012 in Uncategorized

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Engagements By Chidi Amuta

The critical national security challenge of the moment coincides with an incremental meltdown of the geographic North of the country.  As we speak, nearly the entire region has been seized by a new normal: suicide bombings, assassinations, routine acts of arson, carnage and the elevation of violence into the dominant language of social interaction. Tragedy no longer makes news. More debilitating is the gradual de-coupling of half of the nation from the national economy through a psychological hindrance of the free movement of persons and economic factors.

For now, something rough and frightening is restlessly haunting the North and we should all be concerned.  Any crisis that affects one section of the country makes us all incomplete whether we live in Badagry or Birnin Kebbi.

While we are at it, an untidy sectarian wall is gradually being erected among Nigerians. From being simply citizens of one country, Nigerians are being forced to see themselves as either Christian or Muslim.  Meanwhile, the politics of insensitivity to the plight of the masses persists just as Northern political leaders jostle for vantage positions in relation to 2015.

Federal response has followed familiar roads: troops deployment, expressions of intention to dialogue with a faceless adversary etc. Even more tragic, repeated meetings of Northern governors and political leaders have turned out clueless on how to stem the violence and re-integrate the region into the nation. Instead, the loudest noises from the region have been about sharing of oil money, derivation quotas and loud opposition to proposed constitutional changes that should make Nigeria work better.

One or two members of the so-called Northern elite have gone as far as alleging that Boko Haram is the result of a lopsided revenue and derivation formula. Implication? Throw more billions of naira into the gaping pockets of the same opportunistic and unimaginative people who vicariously created Boko Haram in the first place. A handful of more enterprising ‘Northerners’ have set up shop as negotiators or mediators between government and the violent jihadists. I see a business plan, not a patriotic interest in national security in this whole enterprise of dialoguing with Boko Haram.

Only last week, however, an impressive array of mostly Northern notables was convoked for the purpose of finding solutions to the unrelenting violence. These efforts are impressive displays of concern. But among this gamut of views and propositions, there is nothing on the table that suggests that we are prepared to admit the origins of the crisis or intelligently engage on permanent solutions.

While we grope for solutions, to my mind, the region faces three distinct possibilities:  First, increased federal security effort could produce a temporary restoration of the pre-existing order of inequality secured by force.  Second, the regime of insecurity could become institutionalised to the extent of the region becoming more like Somalia and thus become effectively de-coupled from the rest of the federation. The latter would be characterised by periodic fire fights between armed factions and the rise of warlords. With the characterisation of elements of Boko Haram as part of an international terrorist organisation by the US, we may soon play host to drone attacks on suspected terrorists targets in Nigerian territory.  The third more positive possibility is an internal political revolution in which a new leadership emerges to seriously address the challenges of development and modernisation of the region, literally continuing from where the late Sar’dauna of Sokoto left off in 1966.

Most interpretations of the turn of events in the North are mostly as foolish as the blind quest for solutions in wrong directions. The anomy in the region is not exclusively a failure of security. The North is as insecure as the rest of Nigeria and people are not strapping explosive belts around their waists in other parts of the country. It is also not necessarily a political pressure to get a Northern president in 2015. How come Boko Haram has targeted key Northern leaders including, most recently, some traditional rulers and key politicians? It is true Al Queda and other fundamentalist anarchists seek fertile ground in places where poverty and desperation drive people of friendly faith to buy into their theology of mindless bestiality. But the Nigerian show of repeated violence is not strictly theirs; our strategic position vis-a-vis Western interests is mostly marginal but our weak security infrastructure makes this place attractive to casual anarchists, be they Boko Haram, kidnappers or glorified  oil thieves erroneously dubbed Niger Delta militants.

To my mind, Boko Haram is a direct repercussion of years of misguided policy, irresponsible politics and atrocious governance by both the federal authorities and the various governments of Northern states. All our efforts in the search for solutions to this tragedy must therefore be anchored on how to redress the repercussions of bad leadership first by the Northern elite and vicariously the federals.

There is a historical puzzle about the turn of events in Nigeria’s Northern half.  The two factors that have contributed to prosperity, modernisation and progress in other parts of the world have been abundantly present in the North of Nigeria, namely, Islam and military rule. For over four decades, Nigeria was under military rule and 95 per cent of the leaders were Northern officers. Roughly 50 per cent of Nigeria is unarguably Islamic.  In Asia and parts of Latin America, military rule modernised economies and provoked modernism and democratic reform. In Malaysia, Indonesia and the Gulf states of the Middle East, Islam and oil wealth have fuelled modernisation and major economic development. How come that in Nigeria, these factors have ended up breeding swarms of destitute and jobless youths driven to the limits of desperation mostly in the Northern half of our country?

Let us reduce the argument to the real world. Let us take an inventory of technicians, tractor operators, plumbers, mechanics, tailors, bricklayers, IT operators, serious traders from the North. In short, let someone carry out an audit of the percentage of the national stock of skilled manpower that is from the North. It is not enough for some Northern governors to insist that they have been budgeting for education and infrastructure over the years just like their Southern counterparts.

What type of education have they been providing? What accounts for the low level of entrepreneurial education in the region? How come the region remains unattractive to foreign investors even from point of view of available indigenous manpower? The Nigerian Diaspora is burgeoning. Let us find out what percentage of that potent force is from the 19 Northern states.

The inconvenient truth is that the North is not quite like the South in many senses. The cultural and religious divide of the country between the two dominant faiths of the world poses a different set of development challenges for the two halves of the country.  Incidentally, it was only in the First Republic under the late Sar’dauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello (Allah bless his heritage!), that this realisation was brought to bear on the philosophy of governance and development strategy in the old Northern Nigeria. That is why the glorious era that we keep referring to – the age of the groundnut pyramids, the cotton piles, the super competent public servants and the openness and tolerance of the people to all faiths coincides with this era.

With military invasion of governance and regimental political unitarism, the recognition of the peculiarity of the region was smashed. In its place was introduced an array of faulty assumptions: equality of states, even development, unmediated western education, oil as king, the politics of laziness and constitutional entitlement to oil money and a very unscientific affirmative action. These are the sins that we are now paying for.

The imperative of the moment is to take a look at the development strategies that have been adopted over the years in the North and see the extent to which we have adapted this to the cultural needs of the region. We are not the only country in the world with a huge Muslim population. Why are the others making progress and we are making orphans and widows? Why are the Gulf states taking giant leaps in development to the acclaim of the rest of the world? Why is Turkey, a predominantly Muslim country with a secular constitution, now one of the world’s favourite destinations for investment and a source of expertise? Why have Malaysia and Indonesia made the giant economic leaps we know in spite of their impossible geographical constraints?

The classic irony of the plight of the North is that a region that has produced ‘the richest man in Africa’- Alhaji Aliko Dangote – also boosts of the smallest concentration of entrepreneurs per square kilometre than the rest of the country! How come?

Even Saudi Arabia that hosts Islam’s holiest sites is embracing modernity while we remain cocooned in ancient customs and hold our people down with oppressive theologies? Put simply, why has the Northern political elite found it impossible to come up with development strategies that are based on the cultural identity of the region? All meetings of the so-called Northern governors over the years have never been development oriented. And yet, it is to the prosperous cities of the Gulf states (Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha, Mecca and Medina) and Europe that these same leaders escape either on lavish vacations or to invest whatever wealth they accumulate in public office.

The solution to the crisis of violence and insecurity in the North may not be as farfetched as the authorities are making it appear. The prerequisite is the humility, on the part of the Northern political elite, to admit past missteps and the intellectual curiosity to ask the correct questions from the right quarters.

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