opinionBy Abba Mahmood
For some years now, it has become my tradition to pay tribute to Sir Ahmadu Bello, Sardauna of Sokoto and the first and only premier of northern Nigeria, every January to mark the anniversary of his assassination, together with some other military and political leaders of this country on January 15, 1966.
Sir Ahmadu Bello and his lieutenants set a very high standard on how to run a government, how officials should conduct themselves during their public life and how to be responsible and responsive as leaders. It is a pity that 47 years after that first military coup that swept them away, we are still recalling that era with nostalgia. The Hausas say if anyone is thinking of yesterday's soup, it only means today's soup is really not palatable. History is always a good barometer.
It must be noted that during the first republic, oil was insignificant in the revenue profile of the country. In fact, the last budget for the whole north during the era of Sir Ahmadu Bello was just £44 million. And, as Mallam Nuhu Ribadu mentioned during a seminar last week, "with this meager resource, they were able to maintain law and order and ensure effective security of life and property for this vast region.
They built Ahmadu Bello University, the largest in sub-Sahara Africa; they built Ahmadu Bello Stadium, one of the largest and best in Africa at that time; they built NNDC, the largest black owned conglomerate in black Africa; they built many textile factories, good roads, marketing boards, efficient water supply where it was available and good sanitation, well planned urban areas with trees, and good hospitals with ambulances; good primary and secondary schools; Kaduna Polytechnic that is the largest in black Africa.... these were accomplished by men and women from here and not from the moon!"
It is very obvious that the north and, indeed, the entire nation are going through a most difficult period. Apart from poverty, unemployment and diseases, there is the security challenge which threatens to destroy peaceful co-existence among various communities. Out of these challenges, there are opportunities.
This is a period when real leaders emerge to provide workable solutions to the problems and to guide society properly. Nigerians are some of the most patient people but that patience is not without limits. Nigeria is the most resilient nation on earth but that resilience has its limits. Nigeria has problems but northern Nigeria has the greatest problems, largely because most subsequent leaders have not continued in the path of late Sir Ahmadu Bello.
To be honest, most of the problems confronting the north are internal and self-inflicted. The solution therefore lies from within the north. Petty jealousies, personality clashes, personal egos and some superiority/inferiority complex among the elite are the root of the crisis.
Among the ordinary people, lack of opportunities, shrinking spaces in both political and economical spheres, insensitivity of the leadership to the yearnings and aspirations of the led, over-recycled people in all sectors, inequity, inadequacies, injustice - past and present, perceived and actual - and general poverty and ignorance are the major problems.
The north is now confronted with a lot of paradoxes: the more money available to the governments, the more poverty there is among the people; the more schools being built, the more ignorant the people are - which tells a lot about the quality of education now; the more governments and government officials, the less the area is effectively governed; the more university degrees acquired, the less the ability of the elite to protect the interests of the region; the more the churches and mosques, the less spiritual are the people; the more beautiful palaces built and the more the number of kingdoms and chiefdoms, the less prestigious and less influential the traditional rulers. All these are consequences of betraying the legacy of Sardauna.
Sir Ahmadu Bello correctly identified and promoted education as the key to the present and future of the people. Education was virtually free for anyone of school age and scholarships were available for any qualified students to go and study abroad with no discrimination whatsoever. He recognised and respected the diversity of the people in the interest of harmony and unity.
He recognised the imperative of a united Nigeria and, therefore, he went ahead to forge alliances and bridges across the country: with the NCNC at independence; with the Niger Delta Congress throughout; and with Chief Akintola's NNDP later. That led to the Nigeria National Alliance with the emergence of two major blocs towards the tail end of the first republic.
At the heat of the zoning issue, instead of the northern elders to make it a pan-Nigeria issue, they made the mistake of the Yoruba with June 12: by making it a regional affair. They even went ahead to adopt a 'consensus' candidate to challenge President Jonathan during the 2011 primaries of the ruling party. It was possibly good short-term politics, but disastrous long-term statesmanship.
The north cannot afford the precedent of isolated action nor defend national interests in any narrow sense. A truly consultative relationship would be the most natural and normal manifestation of the partnership which had existed between the various components of Nigeria for almost a century now.
Let us come to terms with the fact that a majority of the people are now a young generation who do not care about regional arrangements because they consider themselves Nigerians. In this era of globalisation, identities are even becoming global and the north is not different. Like everything else, politics is now scientific. There are old, experienced hands who could provide guidance but there is a limit to how any group can play the same card over and over again. Already, most unfortunately, interests instead of values have taken over the political culture of the north and indeed the nation.
The need for unity has never been more urgent than now. Divisions would only compound the pervasive sense of helplessness, dependency and vulnerability in the north and encourage those forces that consider the north decadent and doomed. If truly the current leaders value the northern age-old civilisation, there is need for maintaining the unity and common purpose that give it both its meaning and its strength.
There are eight PDP governors in the southern states and 15 PDP governors in the northern states. That means even the ruling party is effectively in the hands of the northern states going by the powers the governors wield. This is simple arithmetic. The total number of National Assembly members from the north is about 60 percent.
That means regardless of who is president, they can defend the interest of their people by promoting what is good for the country, especially the poor masses whose majority are in the north. This is simple political calculation. So why are they so ineffective?
It is a pity that some people keep shouting that it is the turn of the north to produce the president. That is a very bad strategy. Any calculation that will succeed must be based on real indices: the poor performance, insecurity, poverty, and unemployment challenging the nation.
Then it must be led by someone acceptable to the whole nation; in other words, he or she has national appeal. The task requires real hardwork, good planning, good networking and ability to generate national platform. That was the path of the Sardauna; any deviation from that will spell failure. God save Nigeria.