By Hakeem Baba-Ahmed
“You realise you’re no longer in government when you get in the back of your car and it does not go anywhere.” -Malcolm Rifkin
THERE are serious efforts being made by some political parties, groups and elders to engineer political unity in the political North (defined broadly as the 19 northern states). These are the most serious and sustained efforts since the build up to the 2011 elections.
The efforts are unique in the manner they involve interests, energy and resources of people with the most diverse political, professional and ideological characteristics. They are also being closely monitored by political elite from other regions, all of whom also have varied motives and interests, ranging from the most optimistic to the most hostile or skeptical.
The historical necessity for these initiatives is not difficult to identify. The political fortunes of the North are dwindling by the day, and its potentials for reclaiming lost grounds are very weak. Its elite had targeted the capture of the centre as the prime goal of political competition, but had been fatally split in the process. The centres of power at states are powerful, but given the political spread of the PDP, they merely tend to reinforce the very centre which the northern political elite see as the prime target.
The symbiotic relationship between the PDP centre and federating units make both dependent on each other. A rapture of this intricate and strategic relationship will seriously damage the stranglehold of the PDP on the centre, and in many states, particularly in the North. A re-engineering of Northern political unity may therefore have to involve an all-out assault on the PDP, a feat that is feasible, but will be even more challenging if it does not involve a major split in the ranks of the PDP in the North.
The increasing pauperization of the region compared with the rest of the nation is popularly linked to the loss of control of the centre. Insecurity, incompetent leadership and corruption at state levels are also factors which explain the increasing desperation to stop the rot.
Widening gulf between Christian and Muslim northerners, as well as between northern and southern politicians are also major sources of the weaknesses of the north. Above all, the failure to generate a popular momentum behind a leader or leaders with required levels of vision, honesty and commitment which should restore the north as the fulcrum of Nigerian politics is seen as the biggest challenge.
Northern backwardness and political marginalisation
The consequences of the increasing backwardness of the North and its political marginalization are evident at every turn. Poverty and insecurity reinforce each other. Youth without education, skills or jobs fuel social discontent. Corruption and impunity erode respect for law and order. More and more people become victims of a shrinking economy and a political process that operates like a cult.
Hallowed cultural values are meaningless in the face of massive assault by corruption and hopelessness. Leaders lose respect, and hide behind high walls and lines of security personnel. The most rapidly-expanding population in Africa breeds young without hope of productive lives, and its traditional and religious leadership and framework is being seriously challenged by an insurgency which claims higher legitimacy. Its political leadership is in disarray, aging or decaying. Many of its educated and political elite think the option of a North, or parts of it outside Nigeria is not as frightening as they used to fear.
Why does the North want power?
It is possible that all the energy being channeled into creating a solid political unity in the North will bear fruits. But there are some questions that need answers. First, what does the North wants power for? Is it just to have a Nigerian from the North in the Villa, or are there specific and practical advantages in having a Northerner as the next Nigerian President? How will the rest of the nation benefit from having a Northerner in the Villa as opposed to a Nigerian from any other part of the nation?
Secondly, is the grievance of the North essentially about losing power, or having a leadership which does not appreciate and address the interests of the North? If it is the former, how would this quest differ from other zones or ethnic groups which seek elective offices only because they see it as the sole avenue of accumulating unfair advantage? If it is the latter, has the North articulated its core and secondary interests which need to be addressed, irrespective of who is in power?
Thirdly, how much does the North understand how it got to where it is today, and how much does it understand what it needs to do to alter its current situation? The historical element is vital to grasp; the North cannot recreate history the way it wants, anymore than it can ignore it.
Since 1999, Nigeria has changed, sadly for the worse in many vital respects. The holier-than-than attitude of many northerners, and the false sense of a historic burden to lead Nigeria well is a damaging mentality. Northerners, civilians and military are more responsible for what the North is today than people from outside the region.
While it is unfair to label the North as having “ruled” Nigeria for the vast majority of its independent existence, it should be acknowledged that northerners in leadership positions have fared no better than those from the south. Military leaders from the North eroded its fundamental unifying structures, and its civilian rulers marked time and made money from the misery and backwardness of its people. The Jonathan presidency is very much the product of the efforts of northern politicians to put him in the Villa. What, then, would northern unity seek to achieve, apart from having a northern President in power?
Then again, the question needs to be asked: Is all this energy being directed at putting one of several claimants from the North in office? Is the goal of Northern political unity to have Buhari, or Atiku, or Muazu Babangida or Sule Lamido or half a dozen others whose ambitions are yet to be made public become President, or is it more about issues, platforms and a vision of a North outside its desperately limiting challenges? Does it include considerations for the emergence of new leadership unencumbered by a past and present loyalties to structures and institutions that have crippled the growth and development of the Nigerian state?
A politically regenerated North
There are many other issues that should form part of the enquiry regarding a politically regenerated North. They include the degree to which its ethnic and religious diversity is involved and integrated; the manner the sectarian issues which split Muslims feed its disunity; and the manner in which generational issues are handled. Above all, the rest of Nigeria must be involved in this venture.
The worst card the North can play is one which makes the case of a northern leader only because he is from the North. Zoning or any other arrangement which bestows advantages on ethnic groups or religion is anti-thetical to the search for leadership which should command respect and allegiance across the land.
The case for free and fair election, intra-party democracy and the emergence of quality leadership should be championed as northern agenda, because with them, even a leader who does not emerge from the North will be fair and loyal to Nigerians in the North.
The goal for re-inventing the North will not work without other Nigerians. Northerners may be pained at the state of the North today; but they are not alone in lamenting the spectacular failure of the Nigerian state to address the most basic of its functions.
Many Nigerians outside the North also recognise that a weak and severely crippled and divided North is a liability to itself, and an even bigger liability to Nigeria. You cannot fix Nigeria with a bleeding North; and you cannot fix the North when it plays the game according to the rules others play it.