23 January 2013

Nigeria: Beyond the Sultan's Admonition


The Sultan of Sokoto Alhaji Muhammad Sa'ad Abubakar was refreshingly forthright when he faulted the president and state governors for what he said was their failure to apply suggestions variously offered by traditional rulers in the North and the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) on possible ways of addressing the security challenges in parts of the country.

Speaking recently in Kaduna at a meeting of the committee on 'Reconciliation, Healing and Security' empanelled by the Northern Governors' Forum, the sultan also berated politicians for the insecurity in the region, although he said they held the key to solving the problems. "Whatever is happening in the north is our own doing because we did not play or do what we are supposed to do", he said. The sultan was even blunter when he said politicians were masterminds of some violent attacks that were initially blamed on the Boko Haram sect. "The problem of religion in this country has been over-flogged; blown out of proportions by politicians themselves because they caused all the problems" he noted.

The security challenges attributed to the Boko Haram insurgency have caused incalculable damage to the North; the ongoing military option preferred by government to bring them under control appeared to have had little impact. The sect has claimed responsibility for some of the violent attacks on individuals, places of worship and government institutions and economic installations.

The sultan's frank admonition could not have come at a more auspicious time. With the northern part of the country bedevilled by security, political and socio-economic challenges, there are questions being asked on what governments in the region did with the over N8.3 trillion collected from the federation account in 11 years. As various newspaper accounts and analyses have sought to portray, the region has little to show for such dizzying amount of money. The deplorable state of agriculture in the north, in the past the mainstay of the national economy, is a consequence of the misapplication of funds. This represents the abdication of responsibilities by the state and local governments in the region. Very low investment in education, high poverty and unemployment rates, and general infrastructure decay, are some of the results of bad governance in the region. Sultan Abubakar's words captured the concerns of people in the region about the direction the North is headed.

The challenge now is take his words in good faith and for the authorities concerned to make concerted effort to find solutions to the problems of the region.

Such candidness as the sultan has demonstrated in telling it like it is to people in positions of authority is what this country needs. But words are not enough.

The sultan, being the spiritual head of Muslims in Nigeria, should also act the part. That part includes the responsibility of visiting troubled areas like Maiduguri, Damaturu and Potiskum, not only to empathise with the people there, but as confidence building role that the people under siege and violent attacks, have not been forgotten. Although the public is left to guess at what kind of recommendations the traditional rulers and which were rejected, it would be prudent to say that if the government and the insurgency leaders had problems agreeing on dialogue, the sultan could offer to play a role.

The sultan alone cannot accomplish much; the region and the country would benefit more if traditional and other community leaders in the North towed the sultan's line of speaking out when and where it mattered most. There have been too many expressions of lament over the woes of the North. The time has long past for apportioning blames. The political leadership must begin to take action now for the region to move on the part of progress and development.

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