Another take on crisis of leadership in northern Nigeria, by Prof. Abubakar Liman

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Professor Abubakar Aliyu Liman
Professor Abubakar Aliyu Liman

To state that northern Nigeria is ethnically and religiously diverse and variegated sounds more like worn out cliché. In terms of its demography, the North is slightly more than half of the 180 million Nigerians dwelling in the country. This is quite a sizeable number. In comparative terms, the population density of the North is almost the half the sum total of the entire human beings found in the rest of West Africa. Apart from human resource endowment, the region is also blessed with unquantifiable agricultural and mineral resources. However, despite the abundance of God’s bounties and indemnity, experience in recent times has shown that the region does not know how to manage itself, its people and resources. And this is a very big problem that can only be traced to the crisis of leadership bedeviling not just the North, but the nation as a whole.

Leadership is indeed a critical factor for the wellbeing of society. The collapse of leadership values started in earnest with the political problems of the 1960s that saw to the collapse of the first republic and the death of the key leaders of the North in the hands of military rebels, an unfortunate historical event that plunged the nation into three years of one of the most brutal civil wars recorded in the 20th century. The Nigerian civil war has consumed more than a million souls. The devastating impact of the war has to this day continued to haunt Nigerian unity. I’m not making this up, am I? For northern Nigeria, the decapitation of its finest leaders has created a huge vacuum that could not be filled by any other set of leadership cadre ever since. Nobody could take away the level of foresight, selflessness, focus and vision demonstrated by Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Ahmadu Bello Sardauna and a whole battery of their peers across the place.

The Sardauna generation of leaders has administered northern Nigeria with all sense of responsibility, vision as well as mission. Those leaders really had an idea of what the society should be. They had a clear understanding of where they wanted to see the North based on a carefully thought out development blueprints, and within realistically stipulated timeframes. The logic of regional competition between the North, the Southwest and the Southeast had compelled the Sardauna’s administration to be purposeful in their careful planning for the development of the North. This sense of purpose is however eluding our present crop of leaders. The North did very well before the discovery of oil before the period of the unitary system imposed on the country by the postwar military leaders of northern extraction. They were able to judiciously utilize the modest resources of the region to develop education, agriculture and industrial infrastructure. In strategic terms, they were able to identify the tripartite pillars of education, agriculture and industry as the cornerstone of modern development and social transformation in northern Nigeria. The legacies of their prudent management of the region are still surviving in so many locations.

With hindsight, it can be argued that the feat attained by northern regional government in those days is to this point of our postcolonial history unparalleled by subsequent generations of leaders that are proving to be indifferent to the development of the region. Even the necessity of centralizing institutions and administrative structures under the federal arrangement by successive military regimes in order to enhance their idea of national unity could not guarantee the much sought after national cohesion, and the quest for strong and sustainable national values. To date, public spaces are basically characterized by regional affinities and ethno-religious consciousness. Therefore, despite the principle of equity governing the handling of top federal government offices, officials are always inclined to their ethno-religious identities and affiliations. They usually ignore any notion of our collective pan-Nigerian identity in their dealings with members of other ethnic communities.

In this context, as people from other regions are stridently making efforts to appropriate federal largesse to themselves and their regions in the raging geopolitical contestations for scarce resources in the country, the northerners, as variegated as they are, have remained aloof and indifferent to the flight of their own region and people. Educational and political elite are only concerned with problems afflicting members of their immediate family, friends, associates and ethnicities in their official capacities. Hence, they could be seen elsewhere fanning the embers of tribal sentiments, if not outright prodding of primordial cleavages of their diverse populace. Even public discourse in the North these days is over tribe and religion and conflicts generated by those sentiments rather than economy or how to improve the lots of the generality of the northern people in general. There is no meaningful discussion on the development of our abundant human and capital resources, which is to be complimented by sincerity, honesty, justice, equity, good education and prudent management skills, whatsoever. The best our elected officials could do is to open up the economy to multinational predators that least care about the social wellbeing of our people.

Worse of all, education that is meant to liberate the people from the yoke of ignorance, illiteracy and poverty is everywhere neglected. The good old public school system has collapsed in the face of burgeoning culture of profit-oriented private schools. The proprietors of those private schools have really understood how to play the game of corruption very well. Since they quite understand what their corrupt clients want them to do, that is, to produce certificated illiterates out of their wards at all costs, they are effectively providing the services needed, especially insofar as parents are paying the prohibitive prices on their schools. Even in our universities academic contests these days are no longer waged specifically on the fecundity of imagination, path breaking ideas, knowledge production and dissemination, but on simple-minded inanities. Academic culture has completely taken a French leave from the so-called Ivory Tower. The universe of knowledge manufactory commonly associated with any university that answers its name has given way to careerism, identity politics, ethnicity and religious bigotry. The Ivory Tower is currently looking up to the philistine impulses of the larger society rather than the other way round.

Today, due to lack of foresight in leadership, the North is everywhere bleeding. The North is reeking of regional decomposition. The North is becoming a dead matter. In our region, we have a situation in which “Development runs dry”, to borrow a cliché from Muhammad Iqbal Asaria. Disease, poverty and ignorance have become the order of the day as the ruling elite are fortifying themselves in the prison walls of their mansions and through the illusion of security provided by the retinue of security escorting them on our dangerous highways, and in their offices. Myopic leadership style is adversely taking its toll on the common humanity of our people, which is being dismantled inch-by-inch through wanton violence, death and destruction. The North is dying as a result of deliberate acts of criminal negligence of the people by their leaders.  Leaders don’t want anybody to talk about the true state of things in the region. All they want is for people to sing their praises to high heavens even where they are not fulfilling their obligations to the people.

The political elite in particular are the worst culprits here. Political leaders are no longer concerned about any development agenda. Instead, they only engaged in acts of self-aggrandizement, inexplicable corruption and things that do not add value to society, culture, progress and development. After deceiving people that elected them into powerful political offices through truckload of unfulfilled promises, the next thing they resort to is political chicanery and subterfuge. In the process, they always pretend that the people do not matter as they abandon them to their own devices. In worst-case scenarios, they could be seen conspiring to shortchange the people through sightless pilfering of the collective estate entrusted in their custody. These types of politicians will only learn their lessons when it is almost to late to reverse their misdeeds.

At this juncture, I wish to state that it is not yet late for well meaning people of northern Nigeria to go back to the drawing board to come up with a new agenda for social engineering in our region. We do not have any other option, or even the luxury of calling for the restructuring of the region, which will never work because of our historical commonalities and geographical contiguity. What do you think?