By Muyiwa Adetiba
The Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi 11, was in the news last week; again. It was, depending on who you are listening to, for the wrong reasons. According to these people, his ‘offence’ was that he exposed their dirty linen in public without even attempting to wash it. He told the whole world in an international conference about the crippling poverty in his region and in so doing, cast direct aspersions on the leadership of the northern elites. This is a man according to them, who has a direct access to this same leadership and could have, but for his alleged love of histrionics, passed on his advice privately.
This is a man who, as the Emir of Kano, occupies a very conservative position in a conservative setup. His role as they see it, is to preserve the establishment and not act like some liberated progressive. In fact, a writer described his action as ‘unroyal.’ Besides, he is they say, also a hypocrite who has used his extensive connections for himself to the neglect of the people whose cause he is supposed to be championing. He lives in a newly modernised, luxurious palace and rides a Rolls Royce while his people can’t afford even a square meal. The tirade and righteous indignations go on as we speak.
Yet, if only these people had concentrated on the message and not the messenger; if they had dispassionately analysed the statistics as put forth by the messenger, they would see that Sanusi is actually doing them a favour by warning them of the dangers ahead. Part of the dangers includes an epidemic that can ravage the entire north.
Already meningitis is spreading like an uncontrollable fire. Polio has refused to leave the northern ‘shore.’ Leprosy is rearing its ugly head again. All these are largely diseases of the poor and ignorant as is its infant mortality rate which is one of the highest in the world. Part of the danger is a rebellion among the poor that could lead to an outright revolution. It is not an accident that so called religious skirmishes are prevalent in the north. They could get worse. Part of the dangers is that the entire south can decide to ‘shake hands across the Niger’ and form some kind of economic and political cooperation that precludes the north. It may look far- fetched now but a persistent sense of marginalisation and injustice can bring all kinds of strange bed-fellows together.
This could also get worse. The hawks in the south, tired of a seemingly unending economic yoke, could mobilise against the economic interests of the north. The hawks and radicals in the north itself could cause an implosion. It is harmattan right now in the north to use an imagery that we are all familiar with. The leaves are crusty dry. All that is needed is a careless flame and the fire would engulf everyone and everything in sight. And there is no buffer in terms of education, employment, industries etc to mitigate the looming disaster. Sanusi’s call is a wake-up call. It is time for the northern leaders to be proactive otherwise they might not be able to control the forces that years of religious and economic manipulation would unleash.
Unfortunately, it does not yet appear as if anybody is listening not to talk about heeding Sanusi’s call. A so called group of Northern ‘elders’ came out around the same time the Sanusi bashing started to say that it is against the cry for a restructured Nigeria; meaning that it is satisfied with the status quo. You wonder which part of the ‘status quo’ the group is proud of. Is it proud of the statistics that a respected Emir in the north has reeled out to wit that the three northern zones are behind in every index of human development and that were they to make a country, it would be the poorest country in the world?
This is in spite of the fact that the region has taken so much individually and collectively from the commonwealth. Is it proud of the fact that all standards have been so lowered to accommodate this region that the word ‘merit’ has almost been expunged from our dictionary? Perhaps it is proud of the fact that the region has become an albatross to itself and to the nation dragging the poverty rate from around 30% in the south to over 55% nationwide. It is obviously not averse to maintaining the status quo because it appears deaf to the loud ticking of an economic time bomb with its ramifications.
Already the south not only feels hard done by the north, it feels held back. Look at where the revenue that feeds the nation is coming from. Then look at where the personnel that runs the critical areas of governance is coming from. Now look at the cut-off point for JAMB in different states and imagine that the people with low cut-off points are going to be fast-forwarded to run the country. That’s like fielding your third eleven for a crucial football match. This is not a status quo that can continue for much longer. That is why the separatists’ movements are thriving. But theirs is not necessary a cry to break-up the country as it appears. It is rather, a plaintive cry for a better structured country. But there are quite a few ways to skin a cat. If you cannot restructure politically, you can do it economically. If the nation state as led by proponents of ‘the status quo’ does not want to restructure, the individual states can self-help.
My proposal is that states that make a zone should come together to push an economic agenda that is consistent with its area of strength. Each zone should pick a coordinating governor based solely on his capabilities to deliver (this is assuming that the other governors can swallow their egos). Then human and material resources should be pulled together, possible industries identified and entrepreneurs enabled. All of these should be altruistic with the sole purpose of developing their zones and solving youth unemployment. All of these mean that the governors should be prepared to strip themselves of hangers-on and white elephant projects so that spare resources can be utilised. But the beauty of it is that it would mean less dependence on the centre. It would also teach their northern brothers a thing or two about economic independence.
The country can benefit a lot from the north. Especially in the area of agriculture. But the North has to believe in itself and its ability to feed the entire nation if need be. The north must also believe that it can be self-sustaining if it can stop hiding under religion and culture to suppress its people. It will take hard work but it can do it. Perhaps it will need someone to show the way.