The politics of who gets what shouldn’t be of much concern to northern Nigeria, but the growing sectarian violence of a frightening magnitude, fuelled by economic crisis and wide gap in social–order. It’s northern Nigeria’s 21st century new challenge. Despite the fact that this recurrent violent conflict has its roots in the social and economic turmoil arising out of the region’s age-long challenges of absolute poverty, illiteracy, ethnic and religious differences, two others factors have also helped to escalate the crisis to its present terrifying point. The two factors are: the continuing decline in the patriotic zeal of north’s political class to free the region from the prison of underdevelopment. And, the growing ‘We’ and ‘They’ feeling that is gradually defining life in the north.
In every instance, the region’s poor, the weak and rural dwellers are often the victims. Their self-help efforts to battle and surmount these challenges always met brick walls. Indeed, the common people’s efforts seem not enough and their hope of feasible solutions from the constituted authorities has always been dashed. It thus seems, the political class in the north has failed the masses.
Notwithstanding the locations, magnitude, as well as the victims of this growing violent conflict, everyone, including the political, religious, traditional and the business classes, in their comfort zones, must get ready to take up a political, legal and ideological war against this recurrent violence. In fact, the elites of the north must realize that outsiders’ perception of the north, which they claim leadership over, has changed. Reason being that, other Nigerians and the world see what is happening in the north as an extension of global terrorism. The world would now pay more attention to northern Nigeria and the region will increasingly be in the news, negatively, and as it appears, it might be there for a long time.
This is a big challenge to northern Nigeria political, traditional and religious class; because the world and the indeed the Nigerian state demand a lot from them. Good leaders are always expected to proffer quick and timely solutions to their society’s nagging problems. But is the leadership in the north ready to confront this new challenge head-on? Or are we in for the usual Nigerian political leader’s habit of ignoring problems with a wave of hand, thinking it will naturally die-out? Ignoring this crisis is costing the north a lot. It is time for a rethink. Northern leaders should turn things around because the situation we are is not where we ought to be.
The recent bomb explosions and flashes of gruesome attacks in some parts of the north have given an international dimension to a local ethno-religious-economic conflict hitherto being fought with words–of-mouth, machetes, swords, bows and arrows. Some observers are of strong opinion that international terror groups have infiltrated Nigeria’s shores. If this assumption is established to be true, then, the political class in the north and indeed Nigeria, should remind themselves that since the 9/11 attacks on the United States, the war on terror has taken a different dimension, it is now presented as military, political, legal and ideological war against regimes, regions and organizations that has ties with or shows any signs of being potential terrorists sleeper cell. Is northern Nigeria and Nigeria as a whole ready to face this big challenge? The answer is anybody’s guess.
Terrorism has become increasingly common among those pursuing extreme goals throughout the world. Thus, fighting it has become a herculean task; it requires intensive intelligent gathering, as well as cross-border cooperation. Terrorism being a conflict that often dazzles authorities; when it rears its head, the nature may not be fully realised. And criminal activity may be mistaken for terrorism, or the other way round. So, authorities, especially the political class in the north should tackle this new challenge via two ways: first is development that will align with the expectations of the people, while the second is enlightening and educating the populace through honest engagement.
The basic causes of poverty in northern Nigeria are the absence of an enabling environment that will free the people from the prison of poverty; unequal distribution of resources; lack of basic education and infrastructure, in addition to the absence of employment opportunities that would raise peoples’ living standard and provide ways to assist them turn their dreams into reality. The north can fairly get wealthy by simultaneously developing her agricultural sector, small scale industries and human capital. That is, putting in place a process through which the region’s economy is transformed over defined period, by the revitalization of the agricultural sector, propelling small scale industrialisation and placing the region in a position so that her citizens can take advantage of the vast opportunities the Nigerian and the world economies offer. More importantly, the development plan should be tied to creating employment opportunities for the youth through education, training and reliable micro-finance systems.
The aforementioned second way to confront this violence is enlightening the people. This should be skewed towards the use of the radio. Radio is an important medium of reaching majority of the people in the north. In fact, almost everybody in the region listens to the radio in the morning before going work, afternoon and in the night before going to sleep. State governments should collaborate with local radio stations, NGOs and more importantly, the western world owned radio stations like the BBC, VOA, Deutsche Welle, Radio France International, etc, they have a very large listenership of their Hausa programmes in the north.
Quality leadership will also a have strong impact on finding a solution to this crisis. For instance, despite being in primary school, this writer can still vividly remember how quality leadership skills were used to quench the 15th Feb. – 2nd March 1984 Maitatsine revolt in Jimeta-Yola, Adamawa State. In particular, the Late Lamido, Dr. Aliyu Mustafa and then Military Governor of old Gongola State, who is now the Emir of Gwandu, Alhaji Muhammad Bashir Illiyasu, showed quality leadership skills in bringing together community people of diverse background to defend their wards. For instance, in my ward, Clerks Quarters, a cosmopolitan area in Jimeta-Yola, where the Professor Emeritus, Okey Ndibe grew up, was defended by men of diverse ethnic and religious background. One of the groups was led by an Igbo man.
The north is in a crisis with itself, and it now seems the region has been infiltrated by forces outside the shores of Nigeria, as a result of the crisis. This is a challenge to the region, but a bigger one to her political, tradition, religious and business leaders. They have to return the region to her earlier, simple and brotherly way of life.
Zayyad I. Muhammad writes from Jimeta, Adamawa State, firstname.lastname@example.org, 08036070980.