The North In Nigeria’s Survival Of The Fittest

Vice President Kashim Shettima
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By Abu Shekara

Back in 1995, I had the privilege of being part of a media team that interviewed late President Shehu Shagari at his residence in Shagari village. It was a period when Nigeria was in search of determination, when sociocultural groups became rallying points for the expression and assertion of sectional and ethnic interests.

The former president was asked why he was not a member of the Northern regional group, Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF). In response, Shagari said as a prominent actor in the emergence of Nigeria as a nation and former president of the republic, he regarded himself as an elder statesman, who was above the level of belonging to regional associations.

Shehu Shagari explained that the whole of Nigeria was his constituency and the only role he could assume was that of an arbiter between interest groups. He quickly added however, that sociocultural and regional leagues are desirable, being the aggregate of the views and agitations of the nation’s diverse and complex identities and thus the platforms that facilitate discussion, understanding and compromise.

As the just concluded 2023 general elections approached, groups resurged, claiming to represent different parts of Nigeria in the scramble for shares of the nation’s resources and power. One of the most active of such organizations is the Southern Governors Forum, who, with the approach to this phase of the nation’s political journey,  closed ranks across religious, ethnic and geopolitical divides to demand for southern presidency. 

Under similar auspices, southern governors created sub-regional security forces and banned open grazing within their boundaries as measures to stave off the spillover of banditry into their states from the North. The Southern Governors Forum is a pressure group of serving elected officers, who pursue and secure their interests through actions that often defy the realities of the nation’s spatial integration. 

Governor Nyesom Wike once had cause to declare his state of Rivers a Christian State, without “owing any apologies to anybody.” Peter Obi, former Governor of Anambra State, and  presidential candidate of Labour Party was widely quoted to dispute the criminality of the armed separatist group, IPOB, whose violent activities no southeast governor has so far condemned, even though the militant group have shed innocent blood and substantially administered the geopolitical zone, issuing curfew orders at will, which they brutally impose throughout the zone, as though the security agencies do not exist in the area.

Armed and violent groups like IPOB, MEND and OPC are historically integral to southern agitation. Regardless of their legality or otherwise, they have served as bargaining chips, with which their parts of the country assert their interests, being virtual armed wings that wittingly or latently enforce the southern political agitation. And all three groups have at one time or another, laid down their arms, when their indigenes assumed or stood a good chance of assuming the leadership of the country.

Northern groups, on the other hand, pursue the interests of the North within the context of corporate Nigeria. At a Northern Elders Forum’s parley in Kaduna with Labour Party’s presidential flag bearer, Peter Obi, prior to the recent elections, their spokesman, Dr Hakeem Baba Ahmed, raised an issue of the fear of marginalization amongst Northern voters, if Obi became president and challenged him to make a commitment that his government would be inclusive of other sections of the country besides the part he came from.

Radical agitation never being its posture,  the North has never staked the nation’s corporate existence at the alter of its interests and that seems to be the Southern joker against the North, for whom the threat of a breakup seems to be the biggest scare. The very survival of the North therefore tends to be hinged on the fulfilment of this self-conferred exclusive obligation to sustain and defend the existence of Nigeria at all costs and thus the region always blinks first, whenever disputes escalate to potentially threaten the corporate being of the country.

This conciliatory Northern posture is ascribable to the historical antecedents of most of Northern Nigeria, as the socioeconomic confluence of diverse peoples and cultures across the African continent in the form of empires and kingdoms. This has invariably inculcated in the Northern people, a sense of citizenship of vast multi-cultural geopolitical entities, centuries before the emergence of contemporary nations and states.

Nevertheless, pacifism was not, a factor in the creation of those huge geopolitical entities of which Northern peoples were historically citizens.  Gobir and Kebbi Kingdoms, Kwararafa, Sokoto Caliphate, Kanem-Borno Empire, Igala and Nupe Kingdoms,  etc, were founded by reformists and desidents, who forsook the comfort zones of citizenship, turned against existing orders, resisted subservience and refused to accept dishonor.

As opposed to their assumed contemporary character Northern peoples have the historical precedent of forsaking the comfort of a sense of belonging, if that is the prize for physical or moral subjugation,  when the founders of civilizations North of the Niger prized honor over affluence and opted for subsistence in frugal dignity, rather than prosperity under subjugation. But with resources that substantially outstrip the comparatively meager endowments of that ancient period,  the Northern Nigeria of today has no cause to persevere to sustain a union, as though its sustenance solely depends on it. 

Certainly, the North does have an obligation to work towards maintaining the corporate existence of Nigeria but no more or less an extent than any other section of the country. For in the Nigerian franchise, Northerners have, to be modest, as much to gain or lose as their fellow citizens in other parts of the nation.

The Northern political elite may continue the pursuit of regional interests, within the context of corporate Nigeria, through the sublime options of negotiation and compromise but it is inconceivable that the North continues to do so in preclusion of strategies that are in subscription by the other parts of the country. Thus, the emergence of more vibrant Northern groups that will stand up to sectional intimidation or harassment is long overdue because it is high time that the North took a stand on its ultimate interests, within the context of the nation’s changing sociopolitical and economic dynamics, relative to the postures of other parts of the country.

To articulate that position, the region requires a philosophy of existence as an entity within another entity that is Nigeria, that should be inspired by the aggregate and fair representation of the norms and values, interests and aspirations of all the constituent groups in the North. This is a challenge for Northern intelligentsia, who need to rise up from their academic armchair and give practical effect to their intellect for the benefit of their people.

Northern intellectuals ought to realize that while patriotism in the context of Nigerian citizenship is desirable, they owe greater obligation to the part of the country, which expended its own share of national resources to nurture and develop their potentials. Their energy should therefore be equally directed towards the assertion and protection of the rights of those people, on the strength of whose wealth their capabilities are so acquired.

The academic/intellectual elite in the North therefore need to urgently shed their toga of local critics of the Northern  establishment and assume their rightful role as agitators of Northern interests; for, preoccupation with internal dissension is injurious to a people engaged in the pursuit for self-assertion against various competing interests.

The Northern Nigeria of today has indeed lost direction regarding its interest in the nation’s  sociopolitical space mainly because it has no unified resolve about its stakes in the affairs of the nation. This situation has left the Northern elite to their devices, to pursue conflicting interests at national stage that at are cross purposes and often not sensitive to the common good of the people, while occasional genuine attempts are met with indifference or outright subversion by self-serving forces of reaction, both within and outside the region.

Northern Nigeria has emerged in this contentious era, as a house divided in thought, attitude and action and thus lacking the will, strength or resilience to subsist against the elements in the current race for survival of the fittest. The region’s weaknesses as a species, being acquired rather than innate, must be resolutely overcome, if the North is to save itself from certain socioeconomic extinction in a matter of decades.

An integral part of this revival would be an in-depth and dispassionate look inwards, at the region’s strengths, weaknesses, potentials and challenges, particularly in relation to the other parts of the country, followed by the institution of strategies to respond to the realities. There is urgent need to remedy the comparatively low indices of social and economic development in the North because the strongest means of winning in today’s  competitive environment is socioeconomic power.

Education, in which the North is comparatively behind, is key to the capacity of the region to assert itself in the scheme of things. Without qualitative schooling, the area will continue to produce clueless leaders within and send elements to the center, who have neither the will nor the capacity to provide effective representation for the part of the country.

The civilizations, empires and kingdoms, in whose past glory Northern peoples are basking today, were not built and sustained by complacent, unenlightened and economically  unproductive populations. And the fact that the North has now found itself backward in all social and economic indices is because its people have jettisoned their inherited virtues of learning and hard work.

Northern Nigeria also needs to refer to its contemporary history for lessons on how to forge ahead and make progress now and in the future.  There is so much to emulate from the style of leadership of founding fathers like Sir Ahmadu Bello, whose fair and inclusive approach to public office created the once monolithic entity that the Northern Region was.

There is indeed, no denying the fact that the North is today so divided mainly due to resentments within and amongst component parts of the region, who feel socioeconomically excluded and marginalized.  There is thus, an abiding need for the Northern elite to institute forums for sincere, down-to-earth discussion, reconciliation and settlement between disputing groups.

The reality for Northern Nigeria in the current situation is that it cannot afford to be complacent in a fiercely competitive Nigeria, it will not compete from a position of socioeconomic weakness and it will not be strong. while divided.

Abu Shekara is a former Deputy Editor, LEADERSHIP Newspaper and now a Sokoto-based Public Affairs Analyst

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