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Thus Spoke Aliyu and Rev Okoye

12 Mar 2013

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Edifying Elucidations By Okey Ikechukwu. Email, okey.ikechukwu@thisdaylive.com

Last week, Governor Babangida Aliyu of Niger State said that northern Nigeria might become extinct within the next few years, unless security is quickly addressed in the area. But it may not be that easy, since the North will more likely ‘breakdown’, rather than break-up. Extinction is a very easy and even possibly comfortable exit, because it is just a matter of lying down to die. But breakdown implies the collapse of everything that defines modern living and civil society. That is why Governor Aliyu said: “Let us not allow this place degenerate into a territory filled with wild bands, or pockets of armed groups and neighbourhood warlords who seize and terrorise various sections of the killing fields.”

A week earlier, Rev. William Okoye, in his sermon at the Aso Rock chapel, titled “Be the Change You Want to See”, cited the example of William Wilberforce who resolved at the age of 25 to help improve the world by dedicating his life to the abolition of slavery and the “reformation of manners”. Wilberforce wanted to change the thinking of society in an era when loose morals, corrupt business practices and absence of religious faith reigned. He ended up more successful than many religious and political leaders, because he lived his convictions! The call today is for leaders, particularly northern leaders, to face the real issues affecting northern Nigeria, which is not to say that the crisis in the North is a ‘northern’ problem. The region helps sustain the national food chain, among other things. As it is being quietly shut down by all manner of socio-political forces that are finally snuffing out local economies, so are the ripples dis-contouring the nation. The North was already choking and reeling from the neglect and abandonment occasioned by oil wealth, as it watched its dugout wells traditionally used to dye both fabrics and hides for centuries shrink by over 80% in the 80s and 90s. The wells have practically disappeared today, along with the manufacturers of local dies and related trades that blossomed because of this single economic activity. The artworks usually sold by mallams are either no more or a rumoured to still be available in isolated places. The groundnuts are gone, so let us not talk about its pyramids!  Perhaps the Chief Servant may wish to note that much has already gone into extinction ahead of the people!

Today, the quantity and quality of baskets of tomatoes and other produce coming from the well irrigated, all-year farms in the North have declined precipitously. Jos that can produce enough flowers to put all of Kenya’s globally celebrated flower exports to shame is an economic no-man’s-land as I write. The people who used to earn daily and monthly pay from these farms are idle, earning zero income. The percentage of the overall population still earning any income at all has decreased, even as their daily needs, demands, hunger, number of children and other dependents have increased. Farmers of the popular and fast-selling Irish potato and the local sugarcane, whose wares used to come down south in long rows of bulk haulage vehicles, have a similar story. Besides the handful of children at police checkpoints on highways who carry anaemic-looking supplies, marketers of Kuli-Kuli, which is a by-product of groundnut processing, are now rare.

In the midst of these clear signs of danger and socio-economic sickness unto death, the Chad Basin has been shrinking for decades. Some surrounding villages have moved close to 50 kilometres away from their original locations, following the receding waters and taking contrived national boundaries in vain. The demise of local economies also means that old skills are not being transferred, even as new ones are not being learnt. Since plunder, bombing and related ‘capacities’ are not 21st century national development skills, there are dreadful prospects for an environment with a rising population of restive youth with limited survival skills.

Meanwhile, the political elite is too complacent to see its undertakers in the neighbourhood. The words of Sultan Uthman Dan-Fodio, “Conscience is an open wound, only truth can heal it”, should spur them to identify and heal the ‘wounds’ of the region. The current Sultan, in his convocation lecture at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, two years ago, said: “It is time we asked ourselves how, and why, we allow our sanity to take leave of us at very critical moments of our nation’s history.” He followed up with this question: “How can we reconcile our perceived religiosity with our readiness to rent asunder all that God declared holy and sacrosanct? How can we register any appreciable level of development when we cannot even boast of the requisite level of social stability and harmony to lead normal lives?” This is food for thought indeed!

Leadership is the issue here and leaders of a decimated environment are the primary targets of any unrest, as shown by world history, the Arab uprising and even the last fuel subsidy riots, which saw hitherto deified institutions and persons in the North being attacked. The experience of the Shah of Iran shows that local imams, with their more regular (and mandatory daily) contact with the bulk of the population, can easily run many northern political leaders out of town. The statistical evidence of an unacceptably large and growing population of the indigent in the North suggests that the area is sitting on a keg of gunpowder. That is what Governor Aliyu is saying. That is one of the many good points that can be inferred from Okoye’s sermon. That was the point made by Gen. T. Y. Danjuman a few days ago. That was Gen. Ibrahim Babangida’s point at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, last week.

The word of wisdom from my now world-popular cousin, Obarakunime Obioma (who they call Barack Obama in the US), whose thoughts themed Okoye’s sermon, invites us to note that: “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek”. Northern leaders, beginning with Aliyu whose understanding of power and public administration is not open to question, must use their influence, knowledge and authority to guide society and become standard bearers for what is right. This is in addition to addressing capacity and economic challenges in a sustainable manner.

Leaders are the primary role models on values and the general direction of society. The Sultan likened a leader to “A pure spring of water”, describing the populace as water wheels that receive what comes from the spring for distribution. If the spring is pure and always brings out clean, pure water, even the dirtiest water wheels will become clean over time. But once it is the spring that is unclean, then the water wheels are doomed to eternal dirtiness, stench and grime. This means that those who use their positions of leadership to wreak havoc on humanity, or leave undone what they should do, are like the impure spring.

Okoye, too, observed that believers and leaders are the salt and the light of the world. Just as salt flavours food and also preserves (Matt. 5:13) and light illuminates, exposes, expels darkness and shows the way ((Matt. 5:14–15), so should leaders be the pointers to all things good and right. Hear his conclusion: “Lack of consistently God-centred, people-oriented, focused and purposeful leadership have been identified as to be at the heart of Nigeria’s problems”.

Borno, Kano, Jos, Kaduna and several northern cities have lost the bulk of their resident populations. That missing population now lives in less troubled and less troublesome areas where their love can sleep in peace on a regular basis. No one wants to go to work in the morning and come to find the streets inaccessible, their houses burnt or their children killed? They love their old neighbourhoods, which are part of their personal and family history, but circumstances have forced them to consider these places too unsafe for their peace of mind and for the upbringing of their children. As they shipped out with their businesses and hitherto thriving bonds of friendship, their money started contributing to the growth of other neighbourhoods. Their rents have gone to new landlords. They now buy the midnight candle, the stick of sugarcane, the occasional kolanut, the sweets, the tin of tomato, etc, from their new neighbours – far away from the old.

Landlords now have fewer tenants and get less income every month. Property value, including the cost of residential accommodation, has dropped. So has the income of house owners, the level of living and the ability to solve routine family problems. Shopkeepers, suya and kilishi sellers, butchers, tailors, shoemakers, fruit sellers, etc now have fewer customers. Fewer customers mean less income. Less income means the inability to repair a leaking roof, or pay school fees, or pay hospital bills. It could also mean avoidable deaths in the family. All because those who visit violence on their living environment fail to see that it pays no one in the end.

Imagine a landlord who took a bank loan or overdraft and mortgaged his house as collateral to start a long-gestation business and who expected to repay half of the loan through the rent he will collect this April. Is he not finished? His friendly tenants left because they were tired of running away and coming back from time to time. Poverty, real grinding, remorseless poverty, is settling in – to eventually consume the islands of affluence in sight and within reach. These things are usually imperceptible at first, but the signs will soon become too obvious for anyone to ignore or deny – as Babangida Aliyu has pointed out.

Even if, in truth, the short-sighted mischief-makers do not see the wider negative results of their actions, the people should know, the elders should know and the religious leaders have a duty to rescue their very names in all of this. No community can stand forth, beat its chest and say that its selling point is insecurity. The North should quickly scotch the fires that are scorching the sense of ‘community’ in many places.

He who has ears to hear let him hear!

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