By Aminu Imam
The best way to illustrate the North’s present precarious socio-economic position in Nigeria today is that of the proverbial rabbit caught in the crossfire lights of an on-coming vehicle.
The region currently faces multiple threats to its security, the most pronounced of which many observers say could severely cripple the capacity of the region to survive and provide even the most minimal of basic service to its citizens.
Like that rabbit, the North is at the moment in a state of paralyzed surprise, fear and bewilderment at the unfolding scenario currently playing out on its shores.
With the present administration, which got elected on the North’s platform, entering the last lap of its second-term it would be wise for it to begin to ponder on the fate of its people with respect to the resultant, yet increasingly unending calls for restructuring from some quarters, especially the other components of the federation.
The quest for an achievable federal structure that could be acceptable to most of its people means so many things to so many people. It can often be quite daunting even for the elites at best, and at worst it is lost in translation for the rest of the masses, especially in the region.
According to Nigeria’s former Minister of Youth Development and that of Sports, Malam Bolaji Abdullahi, in a recent article, much of what we are witnessing are the direct consequences of the kind of politics that the North has played, which has been based on the elite’s understanding of politics and the purpose they think it should serve.
Like many analysts have argued, politics and political control has been the North’s way of balancing power with the more industrious and developed South. However, what several decades of northern power domination has shown is that political power in itself is useless if it is not anchored on a vision of development.
The pro-restructuring pundits on the one hand anchor their argument that the future of Nigeria as a Federation lies in regional development, which they say could be stronger relative to the strength of the sum of its parts. On the flip side of the debate however, the restructuring opponents argue that the deep ethno-religious divisions in the country may not make any equitable restructuring feasible for their people.
Interestingly, former Kaduna legislator civil and political activist, Shehu Sani recently revealed what he termed ‘obstacles’ to the restructuring of the country. In a Tweet posted on June 28, Sani listed four key factors why it has been difficult for the country to restructure, despite the recurring agitations.
According to him, the first obstacle against restructuring is that the North considers it “a South-West agenda”; the second factor is “the fear that it is only about control of oil resources”. The third factor is the fear of loss of political patronage, territory and economic privileges, while the fourth, according to the former lawmaker, is opportunism and lack of political will and courage by the past and present governments.
In the same vein, a prolific writer, public speaker and Chairman of Kaduna-based Dialogue Group, Alh. Mahdi Shehu, while lamenting on this deep ethno-religious divisions in the country, opined that breaking up the nation may not be such a bad idea. In a recently published interview, Alh. Mahdi faulted the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates by the British in 1914, saying it was a huge mistake, pointing out that most Nigerians have not been able to rise about ethnic and religious sentiments, making a united nation difficult to achieve.
For whatever it is worth, given that the political landscape would inexorably shift out of its control post-2023, there is no greater period than now for the North to untether itself from this image of illusory political superiority and meaningfully engage with its other counterparts in the union towards ending this roller-coaster ride that seems to lead Nigeria and Nigerians nowhere.
Just as ex-Minister Dr. Bolaji Abdullahi posited, 2023 presents a great opportunity for the North to embrace a different kind of politics.
He instructively pointed out that the manner the present political process operates does not help the vital goals of enhancing constructive pluralism and peaceful co-existence and therefore needs to discover a means of engaging its multiple interests and groups in major and productive discussions as a priority.
He says “the places of religion and ethnicity in particular have to be placed on the table and addressed openly and responsibly. No Muslim or Christian feels that current laws and local environments allows them full expression of their rights to live in accordance with their faith. Conflicts involving ethnic groups are basically about resources, and this will only be dealt with by a combination of real economic progress that benefits all groups, and governance that rests on pillars of justice and equity”.
In this regard, it might do well for the North to heed the advice of a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Kaduna and erstwhile Chief of Staff to immediate-past Senate President Bukola Saraki, Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, who so brilliantly advised on a way forward for the region in such an arrangement.
In a recent article he titled: “Rebuilding the North“, he posited that the North has the most to gain from a holistic review in the manner the nation is structured, and advised that its elite and thinkers should begin to design options for a future that may involve negotiations with other elites and leaders and an outcome that will give the region a number of advantages.
He, however, stated that there are a number of fundamental pre-requisites if the North must be salvaged, secured and placed on a path to sustained recovery for it to be able to compete favourably with its other counterparts in the country, if even in the long-term. Of these, he said the most significant is what happens to the Nigerian state in the next decade.
The APC chieftain pointed out amongst others that firstly the North may have an opportunity to re-design its political and social structures to address the quality of governance, manage pluralism better and give space to its core values in the manner the citizens live.
Secondly, he said, it will enjoy greater leverage in developing its human and economic resources for the benefit of its own people; and thirdly, it will relate better with other parts of the nation, as a valuable partner that contributes to the development of the nation, and a region that is vital to the development of other parts of the country.
Proffering his own solution, former Governor of old Kaduna State, Balarabe Musa, says the only way out of the numerous challenges confronting Nigeria was to divide the country into six regions, saying those calling for restructuring must think of what will unite the country and make Nigerians proud of themselves and of their country, adding that with this, each regional government would now decide how many States and local governments that befits it.
In the words of renowned columnist and public commentator, Dr. Boniface Chizea: “Those with perception grounded in experiential reality appreciate the fact that balkanization is not in anyone’s interest, as most of us know that as you separate hidden and unfelt cleavages emanate, adding that “you cannot have a secured, robust and enduring unity in an unfair, unjust and unbalanced relationship. It is trite that you cannot build robust relationships on a fulcrum of injustice.
“Nigeria is punching below its weight no thanks to prevalent retrogressive structure; impatience is gaining traction and could result in cataclysmic implosion if we do not act timeously; therefore, those scared of altering the status quo are not being farsighted.
According to him, the challenge before us all is to look for this justice, equity, fairness, balance which is a sine qua non if we must foster a spirit of ownership and inclusiveness so essential for the sustenance of the Nigerian project.
When this is gotten right we would enjoy the shared prosperity which would make life livable for all the citizens.
“Those who love Nigeria to attain to its manifest destiny and assume its rightful place as the pride of the Black race in the world should know better than to want to delay restructuring a moment later”, he stated.
Whichever way one chooses, Dr. Baba-Ahmed has succinctly spelt it out, that if Nigeria survives as one, it will be largely because its political system ultimately succeeds in creating major spaces for growth and development of parts of the nation at radically different paces and manageable, but different directions.
Aminu Imam wrote from Tudun-Wada, Kaduna, Nigeria.