With his new job as the Chairman of Arewa Consultative Forum, a former Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbeh will Nigeria a lot of good, using his position to change the northern narrative. Shola Oyeyipo writes
Though mixed reactions trailed the emergence of Benue State-born former Minister of Agriculture, Communications and Steel Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh as the new chairman of the most prominent association of leaders in Northern Nigeria, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), fact is, saddled with such huge responsibility, a lot is expected from the former National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), who is now a chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
Like other major socio-political organisations such as the Afenifere (South-west), Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF), the ACF has been in the forefront of contributing to both national and sectional issues, and like its counterparts in other regions, the body has vigorously pursued such agenda that could ensure the north gets the best from the contraption called Nigeria.
Though some kinsmen of the Otukpa-born Idoma politician had taken to the social media to reject his emergence as the ACF chairman, on the grounds that he was not a core northerner and that he did not have their backing, Ogbeh, coming from the North-central is both qualified and equipped with requisite qualifications to help him lead the organisation and make significant difference.
He is an administrator, educationist, civil servant, farmer and politician. He headed the Department of Humanities, Murtala College of Arts, Science and technology (now Benue Polytechnic and was Deputy Speaker, Benue State House of Assembly.
Not only that, he is from a region, North-central, which carries the appellation ‘north’ but only comes into reckoning with the core north during electioneering and census. He is from Benue State, which has been worst hit by the activities of the rampaging Fulani herdsmen, who are basically from northern Nigeria.
Another thing that stands Ogbeh out for his new responsibility is the fact that he is a Christian. People of his faith have been primary target of killer terrorist organisations in the north on the basis of ideology.
So, who is he that is better placed to head such noble body of respectable leaders of the north than a man like Ogbeh, expected to know where the shoe really pinches?
Formed in 2000, ACF has considerable influence in the Nigerian political scene. It took its root from the defunct Northern Peoples Congress (NPC), which ceased to exist after the 1966 military coup.
The ACF has been associated with the Arewa People’s Congress (APC), a militant group set up to protect the interests of the Hausa-Fulani people. The forum on its part drives its agenda through democratic processes, working in tandem with constitutional provisions, relying on the consensus of its members and the people.
Ogbeh’s leadership of this group of northern elites will be evaluated from different contexts and perspectives. For instance, one very important aspect will be how the body relates with other sectional groups vis-à-vis some major contending debates.
There are many of such unresolved issues, chief amongst which are the persisting violent activities of the deadly Boko Haram sect and its ripple effects on the nation at large.
This militant Islamist group has held the North-East of Nigeria in bondage since 2009. It has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced millions more. No fewer than 2.5 million people have been rendered homeless and an estimated 7.7 million people are in dire need of humanitarian support.
While it is expected that the ACF will continue to stand in the gap between the government and the northern people, who have suffered ceaselessly in the hands of this terrorist organisation, a spillover of the insurgency – the farmer-herder clashes must also take a central stage in the agenda of the new ACF leadership.
The Middle Belt region, where Ogbeh himself comes from has had been worst hit by violent clashes between the predominantly Christian farmers and the mostly Muslim cattle herders. Understandably, the main cause of the clashes is access and rights to land and water resources as a result of continued desertification affecting the grazing patterns of cattle.
Be that as it may, Ogbeh’s leadership will not be expected to continue to pursue the Ruga Farm Settlement agenda of the federal government, which was not only rejected by his own people, but other parts of the country.
Most other Nigerians consider the Ruga idea and a government-backed expansionist agenda of the north and as such, attempting to initiate it in any form will only continue to widen the gulf between the north and other parts of the country.
If not handled in national interest, it is capable of aggravating the existing ethnic and religious tensions, something very unhealthy in an already divided country like Nigeria. The ACF should, therefore, join other compatriots to ensure that President Muhammadu Buhari finds inclusive and creative ways of deescalating the unceasing conflicts.
Though the ACF has shown that it is not favourably disposed to the agitation for restructuring being canvassed by the Southwest, Southeast, South-south and the Middle Belt, however, given a leadership with a broad mind, Ogbeh and other members of the organisation can objectively sit at a table with other similar bodies to look at way forward and how to evolve lasting peace among the various ethnic nationalities that comprise Nigeria.
The mentality to dominate other regions and subject them to the whims of the north is what is fueling unending disaffection from the Yoruba, Igbo and other southern nationalities. So, history will preserve Ogbeh’s name if he would be able to get the ACF to engage other Nigerians in a meaningful dialogue – with an open mind that could facilitate the ‘give and take’ spirit with a view to moving Nigeria forward.
Despite dominating the corridor of power in Nigeria over the years, illiteracy and the growing number of out-of-school students are worrisome. Many commentators have attributed to the level of violence in the region to lack of proper education.
So, the elite, which include members of the ACF, must go beyond rhetoric; they must take proactive actions that would ensure that the urchins littering streets in northern states get educated rather than keep them as manipulative tools during elections.
Recently, the Katsina State Governor, Aminu Bello Masari, warned that the high level of illiteracy prevalent in the northern part of the country might turn into an unmanageable disaster in the near future.
He said so against the background of the activities of armed bandits operating in the area, lamenting that the rising population of bandits and their families in the forests in parts of the north.
Masari is not alone in his thoughts. Leaders across the country know this. Some state executives have made frantic efforts to address this disaster-in-the-making but with very insignificant success. So, while the ACF makes effort to position the north in the national scheme of things, the leaders must save themselves and the country at large from the danger of the growing rates of uneducated children.
In identifying some of the major problems confronting Nigeria, which must be addressed if the country must make noticeable progress, commentators are of the opinion that sectionalism and tribalism must take the back seat, when national issues are being discussed.
A business consultant at Premiumkraft, Adeola Adebowale, said the country was contending with the problem of “Bias and sentiments, because of culture, religion and a tendency to want to identify with a group.”
According to him, “Most Nigerians think along the lines of us and them when trying to address issues. This leads to trying to justify why the others qualify as them and defending the position or shifting base, when classification sets clash, as against actually identifying and solving the problems.
“Privilege: majority of Nigerians have the mindset that privilege must be exploited to one’s advantage. This ideology affects the goals and general expectations of individuals, shaping their behavior in all areas of life.”
Also, answering the question: what are the major problems facing Nigeria? The major problems facing Nigeria, a Sapele, Delta State-based student, Reuben Mofford, named tribalism as one of the main problems.
“This is another big problem facing Nigeria. The major tribes like the Hausa, Igbo and the Yoruba are like cats and rats. The Igbos always believed that the Yoruba man is a betrayal; the Hausa man believes the Yoruba man is his work tool. The average Hausa believes he owns the country.
“There are series of tribal wars going on in a popular online forum (nairaland) on a daily basis. We Nigerians don’t see ourselves as one, we see ourselves as tribal enemies. A president was publicly saying those that gave him five per cent votes (Igbo) should not expect much from him.”
Indeed, the problems with Nigeria have been extensively researched and adequately documented, it’s only a matter of will for the likes of Ogbeh and other members of the ACF to take necessary steps to resolve the widening division between Nigerians.