The Northern Senators’ retreat which took place in December 2017 in Katsina, was remarkable for three reasons. First, its agenda pointed to the fact that Northern leaders, as always, are willing to put politics aside and face squarely the issues of common interest, such as the election campaigns in 2018/2019 and the future of Nigeria.
Top on the agenda for the retreat were the 2018 Budget proposal, insecurity in the defunct Northern Region and the clamour for restructuring. Also included were discussions about poverty in the region.
On poverty, for instance, the Chairman of Northern Senators Forum, NSF, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, pointed out to his colleagues: “Poverty sits rather pretty in the North. This is unacceptable. It is within our powers as legislators and political leaders to make every federal budget have the right impact on efforts to lift the North out of the morass…”.
It is clear that even on restructuring which the South placed on the national political agenda, the North has stolen a march. While the three Northern geopolitical zones came together to deliberate on common approaches to this all-important call for the readjustment of the political structure of Nigeria to conduce it better for future survival and enhance its unity, the three Southern zones have no unified platform.
They are rather approaching the issue as South-East, South-West or South-South, instead of a unified South. The danger in approaching the restructuring agenda in this inchoate manner is that the South will lose out in the end and, as usual, turn round to blame the North for their woes.
The Southern Nigerian groups can no longer blame the North for their inability to wrest their rightful due from the system, or have their aspirations properly accommodated. Despite the dissolution of the regions, the leadership of the North has continued to nurture the interests of the region through their Governors Forum, Legislators Forum, Consultative Forum and Youth Forum. That is why they have been dominant in the political affairs of Nigeria.
Southern leaders need to emulate this approach. Apart from working together to resolve the many issues militating against the unity and socio-political and economic interests of the South, the creation of a strong Southern leadership forum will help to build national consensus and answer the many national questions in a more inclusive and satisfactory manner.
Just as the North grapples with extreme poverty and perennial ethno-religious violence that give its leaders great worry, the South also has its peculiar problems which need to be addressed by combining efforts.
Southern leaders must wake up and create a common ground which can negotiate with their Northern counterparts and bring about a more united, just and equitable nation of which all Nigerians will be proud.