Arewa, Nigeria Is Waiting For You No More!

Vice President Kashim Shettima
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By Abu Shekara

Student or enthusiasts of contemporary Nigerian history are familiar with the account of how Northern Nigeria held back the nation’s independence from Britain for three years. The colonial masters proposed to grant self-rule to Nigeria in 1957 but the North was not ready at the time, so the rest of the proposed new nation had to wait until 1960 to raise the green-white-green.

The justifications and rationales for this event in history are still subject to interpretation and debate but no argument changes the fact that if self-determination is justice, then Nigeria’s independence was justice delayed and thus, justice denied for those citizens that were prepared and willing to receive it. And it was obviously in the realization of that fact that the Northern elite at the London Conference elected that the delay should affect only the North, the South might as well go ahead and raise their own flag in 1957.

After independence in 1960, the indigenous government at the center had the exigency of waiting for the barely prepared North to catch up with the other regions in the formation and the running of the federal service, through the instrument of the quota system. It was an arrangement by which alternative requirements for employment into the service were created for the benefit of Northern entrants, as an initiative to make the region part of a system alien to its long-existing heritage of political and administrative form and structure.

That was evidently the concern of Northern leaders, notably Sir Ahmadu Bello, Sardauna of Sokoto. They wanted the region to evolve into a nation, develop at its own pace and assume a structure that was suited to its ideological and historical antecedents, thus rendering those early contentions brought about by the North being part of Nigeria unnecessary.

Nigeria as amalgamated in 1914 emerged as an independent nation regardless and ever since then, the quota system has remained a contentious issue between the North and the Southern part of Nigeria and one of the oft repeated explanations for the inefficiency of the nation’s public service. And whether or not that argument is valid, the truth cannot be denied that complacency breeds mediocrity, as much as competition motivates the quest for excellence.

The South may have felt shortchanged all along and perhaps rightly so but being put up to higher standards has its positive side. Facing tougher conditions for eligibility did latently motivate in the average Southerner, a far stronger zeal for the pursuit of perfection, which is induced by the struggle to attain the high requirements for representation at the national stage. Conversely, enjoying a comparative lowering of the bar has inculcated in the average Northerner, a general attitude of smugness, satisfaction with relatively modest accomplishment and a matter-of-fact sense of entitlement.

Northern and Southern Nigeria have both emerged into the 21st Century with these two opposite set of dispositions but this is not an era of lifelines and head starts. Extraneous economic factors make tighter and tougher decisions exigent for individuals, groups and institutions, thus eliminating that sense of understanding and tolerance for weaknesses or inadequacies that exert losses or hold systems back.

Being part of this global trend, Nigeria can no longer afford to wait or even slow down for any of its parts. There is certainly no time or the mood to play catch-up with any part of the country because the world would not extend the same gesture to Nigeria. Due to these realities, governments, even if they are headed by Northerners and private institutions, even if they were in Northern ownership, will be compelled to pursue policies that would be deemed dispassionate and insensitive to the weaknesses and peculiarities of any section of the country, even if it is the North.

The survival of the subjects of this repressive environment would invariably be determined by their reaction to the uncompromising conditions in the ongoing process of natural selection, by which only the adaptive and resilient would subsist. This is the reality against which all parts of Nigeria will have to determine their destiny and their fate. An assessment of the current economic character of the different parts of Nigeria would clearly indicate which geopolitical zones will survive and eventually, even emerge stronger from the hardships occasioned by the effects of market forces and the resultant reactions to them by governments and the private sector in the form of policies.

A most fitting case study is the government’s withdrawal of petrol subsidy and the various responses to the policy by different states of Nigeria. While the decision has certainly thrown the entire nation into sudden socioeconomic predicament, looking past the discussion, criticism and the cacophony of noise, the fact is emerging that some parts of the country are relatively faring better than others against the prevailing conditions.

The Lagos-Ibadan axis is, without doubt, setting the pace in progressive reaction to the current social and economic straits after the subsidy withdrawal. Just when the rest of Nigeria, from Abuja to Maiduguri, Kaduna to Port Harcourt, are writhing under the drastic hike in the cost of transportation, Lagos has come up with a revolutionary, ultra-modern electric rail service as an alternative to petrol powered vehicles that will afford commuters in the zone to park their automobiles and simply hop on the train..

Nevertheless, the Lagos rail project is not essentially for the purpose of responding to the fuel subsidy withdrawal and thus not a direct palliative against the effects of the policy but a long-term initiative started decades ago, sustained by four successive governors of the state, only to coincide with the situation of today. That does not, however, disprove the capacity of Lagos to respond to sudden situations. That state proved this fact, when President Obasanjo withheld its federal allocation and Lagos promptly reacted by looking inwards to fund its affairs with drastically boosted internal revenue.

On the converse side, as Lagos launches a modern rail system, in Sokoto State the hot debate is whether the government should have distributed grains to the people, instead of providing mass transit vehicles for intra and inter-state transportation, while there is an uproar in most Northern states about the sharing of the federal government N5 billion petrol subsidy withdrawal palliative. It is, indeed, the tale of one nation, two levels, two standards.

This situation did not however, obtain today. Lagos-Ibadan and indeed, the rest of Southern Nigeria attained their current comparative economic edge through a long period of individual and collective struggle for self-reliance and empowerment, with little or no lifelines and safety nets. The North on the other hand, is consigned to its current state of marginality due to a long period of systemic permissiveness, which evolved a culture of individual and collective indolence.

Sadly, the North seems to be completely lacking in both the consciousness and awareness of its current situation. Virtually the entire region, unlettered, artisans and educated elite alike, are pre-occupied with the discussion of the symptoms, instead of the fundamental causes of the condition, in which their part of the country finds itself.

The Southern religious, educational, political, bureaucratic and business elite are engaged in proactive discourse about ideas and the pursuit of initiatives to advance their individual and collective interests, which invariably impacts positively on the socioeconomic fortunes of the South. While they are coming up with exotic bridges, boulevards, super malls and electric trains, generally creating multi-billion Naira business empires, their counterparts across the Niger are in the majority, dwelling on discussions that only superficially address the problems and needs of their own part of the country.

Northern Muslim clerics harp on the obligations of the rich to feed the poor but neglect to motivate the poor to exert their productive capacities for self-reliance and usefulness to society, heavily tilting towards a brand of teaching that induces in the masses, the belief that their deprivation is God-sent, when poverty is a condition that can be escaped by those who dare to strive with Divine assistance.

The Western-schooled elite of the North dwell on the same mundane issues.  Institutions of learning produce ideological mavericks who, leaving school, exhibit preparedness mainly for academic pursuits, rather than productive endeavors. The object of education in the North seems to be to serve solely as the tool for securing instant personal prosperity, through lucrative, white collar employment.

As for the Northern political leadership, they have realized that it is more politically smart and safer to play along with the general psyche of the people that identify charity and generosity as the sole marks of good governance. Individual politicians in the North secure acceptance through the distribution of material largess to the masses, while governments allocate substantial resources to social spending and various forms of welfare, in order to be seen as responsive to what the people want but not necessarily catering to what the people and society actually need.

An aspect of this state of affairs that raises greater concern and foreboding for the future of Northern Nigeria, against the backdrop of the ever stiffening competition amongst the nation’s component parts, is the general subscription to this backward perspective on governance by generality of the young people. The youth of Northern Nigeria through both opinion and attitude tend to exhibit that characteristic sense of entitlement to prosperity and status, without acquiring the requisite qualifications that confer such eligibility. It is a disposition that held the North back in the past and it will continue to encumber the North into the future.

The only panacea against this dark potentiality for the North is the embrace of positive and proactive attitude to development and political will to identify the real challenges, stare the realities in the face, and deal with them. Northern political leaders should jettison their bid for cheap popularity and exhibit cross partisan resolve for doing what is right, even if unpopular. 

Democracy does not have to be a mob rule, where the masses always impose their will. The onus of steering the course of society and controlling the collective fate and destiny of the people is thrust on the shoulders of leaders and thus, those entrusted with power are not in a popularity contest. Their greater obligation is not to give the people what they want but secure for the society what it needs.

Abu Shekara, a former Deputy Editor, Leadership Newspapers, sent this from Arkila, Sokoto.

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