Society without leaders that are endowed with a sense of vision and mission is like a loose camel that is left to roam aimlessly in the wild with no clear direction or purpose. Basically, lack of coherent leadership structure has a glaring impact on our sense of being. Visibly, this lack of leadership values is responsible for our collective amnesia, regression, instability and underdevelopment; inter and intra community tensions, religious bigotry, disharmony, philistinism and de-industrialization. Again, the erosion of our values and capacity for justice, equity, honesty, vision and social commitment, has everywhere created an unbearable state of malfeasance. Leadership deficit is everywhere at the core of our confusion, helplessness, frustration, disempowerment and backwardness. In the Hobbesian state of nature that northern Nigeria has become today, imagination seems to be failing us in our exploration of ways out of our existential predicament. Failure to fashion out development strategies, make rational choices and decisions; plan our affairs carefully; define and prioritize goals, and chart viable means of achieving them are taking their toll on all aspects of life.
In terms of its geopolitics, Northern Nigeria has come a long way from the period of its historical formation in the colonial era to the critical point when it strategically attempted to construct a cohesive regional identity. In spite of the complexities, pluralities and differences of our diverse ethnicities and cultures, the region seemed to be transcending primordial incongruences based on an undefined philosophy that recognizes and respects internal differences. The construction of Pan-Northern regional identity took place in the context of competing regional powers between the North and South, the North and Southwest, the North and Southeast, respectively. This in turn influences the social realities of postcolonial Nigeria with all its feuding fragments. Homegrown economic development blueprint that cognized the peculiarities of the region before the Nigerian civil war had somewhat held tremendous promise for a northern Nigeria capable of competing with any nation. But this effort was totally jettisoned when the easy money of the new oil economy started flowing to the federating units under the unitary arrangement.
First generation of postcolonial leaders in the bracket of Sir Ahmadu Bello Sardauna and Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa have been, by all parameters of evaluation, the best the region has so far produced. They were purposeful, focused, visionary and high quality in their leadership disposition. The first set of modern western educated leaders we had, despite their imperfections, proved to be selfless, incorruptible, detribalized and highly distinguished by a good sense of mission in the various capacities they served the people and the region as a whole. Sardauna, for instance, knew exactly the development trajectories that needed to be trodden to develop the North. The development plans they designed and adopted for the modernization and industrialization of northern Nigeria could not have been equated with any of its kind in other regions of Nigeria. Evidence of their leadership prowess could be seen in their comprehensive industrialization blueprint they implemented, and which would have terminated by the 1980s.
All things being equal, the industrialization policy would have guided the independence of the region from anybody or any other region of the country. Contained in it was a thorough analysis of all the natural resources and areas of comparative advantage of God-given endowments, scattered across the length and breadth of the region. The industrialization blueprint even had provisions for the production and industrial processing of commodities that the North was importing from other regions of Nigeria. There was the desire to locate suitable environment for the production of agro-allied products that the North was purchasing from other sections of Nigeria. Self-sufficiency and economic independence were the guiding principles of the gargantuan industrialization scheme that the regional government put in place. The industrialization policy, which was part of the broader development plan, also contained measures of sourcing markets for the manufactured products from northern Nigeria industries.
In the mid 1960s, there was the consciousness of value chains for especially all commodities produced and processed in the region. This has encouraged the setting up of industries in the region to maximize gains. Rather than wholesale selling of primary produce to industrial processing zones elsewhere as was rampantly practiced, under the industrial scheme our commodities would now be processed directly for buyers and consumers at home and other parts of Nigeria where those products were needed. Apart from the resolve to transform agriculture from its ad hoc peasant horticultural levels to large scale organized farming based on the formation of cooperatives, supply of quality inputs and implements, rigorous extension services and enlightenment campaign, an industrialization document was fashioned by the regional government. The document was intended to harness vast resources available in the region for wealth creation. Obviously, such ambitious transformation agenda focused itself entirely on comprehensive agricultural mechanization to feed the growing number of industries. The plan also intended to establish processing industries for mineral resources. The idea was to create employment opportunities for teeming youths that were receiving vocational training in colleges and other institutions of learning.
Harnessing of natural resources had in itself logically necessitated the pursuance of development agenda pari passu with a carefully planned mobilization of human capital potentials. Of course this was to be achieved through the provision of quality education to the generality of northern Nigerians irrespective of their ethnicity, religion and gender. Educational institutions in the region were systematically established and located across the expanse of the North. As awareness for the importance of modern education gradually increased, more schools were established to cater for the growing needs of the society. Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, the premier university in the region, was established for the purpose of attaining self-sufficiency in the training of professionally skilled manpower, industrialization and modernization of northern Nigeria. The degree of importance attached to agricultural growth could be seen in the sprawling research outposts of Ahmadu Bello University Agricultural Colleges in Bakura, Talata Mafara, Kano, Makurdi, Kabba and Mokwa. Other middle manpower and vocational training institutions were also established to augment high-level manpower output from the premier university.
Unfortunately, the period after civil war, with the cessation of hostilities between the federal army and the Biafra rebels in 1969, has abysmally affected the fortunes of northern Nigeria. The unitary system foisted on Nigeria by successive military regimes has coincidentally marked the historical turning point in the “unmaking of northern Nigeria”. Northern establishment, military, political and bureaucratic elites and traditional rulers, all became embroiled in their newfound opportunity to administratively control the structures of power in postwar Nigeria. In the process, they got carried away through their sense of triumphalism. They then strategically lost everything to nothing. In addition, they lost honor, dignity and respect through a calculated propaganda blitz deliberately orchestrated by powerful southern Nigeria media that continues unabated to date. Either by commission or omission, this media war against the northern section of Nigeria has effectively played into the hands of centrifugal forces hell bent on destroying Nigeria as it takes its toll on the unity of the nation.
More and more, Northern Nigeria became awash with selfish leaders who care less about the development of their own society as they concentrated their energies on the execution of narrow selfish interests and agendas. Consequently, these leaders have since then been creating virtue out of self-aggrandizement, recklessness, thoughtlessness, myopia, nepotism, corruption and criminal neglect of the interests of the region. Often, they were found at the forefront of any agenda for the subversion of the interests of their people. This was the period that northern Nigeria was left at the mercy of hordes of philistines masquerading as leaders. In most instances, leadership cadres in the administrative contraptions of the so-called federating states, have no notion of social engineering. Instead of building society, they flagrantly engaged themselves in the destruction of legacies and values inherited from the first generation of our leaders.
Even before the onset of pervasive social angst consequent upon Shagari’s and Babangida’s externally induced monetarists’ policies and economic reform packages that ushered in austerity measures and structural adjustment programs, northern Nigeria was in rapid decline in all indices of development. As rates of poverty increased, society began to experience serious challenges and outward decline in public health, education, industry, agriculture, infrastructure, transport, youth unemployment and social mobility. And the harvest of leaders that inherited the creeping rot has little or no clue whatsoever on how to arrest downward spiral in the region. At national and regional levels, these leaders compete amongst themselves in the parroting of policy diktats imposed on the nation by western powers. With the active connivance of foreign powers, every homegrown development initiative is contemptuously ignored. Clearly, this all happened in our haste to uncritically ape western social models. Picture the attempts by the head of military government Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida who styled himself as a president to Americanize administrative structures in Nigeria. Indeed, all that these leaders were interested in was to surrender our collective patrimony to the unfair policies of global capitalism.
Worse still, the return of Nigeria to democratic rule in 1999 has merely accentuated leadership crisis in northern Nigeria. The medley of leaders that emerged consists of self-seeking, visionless and incompetent individuals who are indifferent to the development of their states. In spite of gradual institutionalization of democratic culture, northern governors are behaving like feudal potentates who run their states as inherited estates. Even though they specialized in the art and craft of political demagogy, in reality they do as they wish with public finances. The first sign of problems are in how they insensitively squandered federal revenue subvention to their states. The governors have also wantonly discarded implementation of budgetary provisions. Budgets are only functional on paper. Critical sectors of the local economy are completely neglected through projects that can at best be described as misplacement of priority.
Corruption tends to vitiate execution of capital projects; and where such projects are executed, they are shoddily done. There are also instances in which governors engage in fanciful projects that have no bearing to the wellbeing of the people. Unlike their counterparts in the South, one could hardly see any tangible investment that would secure the economic future of northern Nigerian states. In addition, most of these governors have incurred inexplicable debts on behalf of their states. With the recent economic downturn our governors could not even pay salaries to workers. In fact, northern governors are the biggest threats to our nascent democracy. Thus, the antidote to bad leadership is the involvement of conscientious individuals in politics. For the interest of the region, we must as civil society organize ourselves for public awareness campaign, massive political education and enlightenment in order to throw off the yoke of bad leadership. People must be made to understand the responsibilities and duties of their leaders. Finally, institutions charged with election of individuals into political offices need to be further strengthened and empowered to execute their mandate transparently and honestly.
Mr Liman is professor of Comparative Literature and Popular Culture at Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, Nigeria