THE NORTH AND THE ELITE

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Iyobosa Uwugiaren urges northern leaders to look after the welfare and security of their people

What message were they trying to pass across to the rest of Nigerians and the world in general? I mean the Northern leaders: Governors, traditional rulers and senior political appointees from the North, in their recent meeting in Kaduna State — when they stated that the intension of #EndSARS protest was to topple President Muhammadu Buhari-led government?

Well, we can only read between the lines through the communique issued at the end of their meeting, alleging that “those pushing for superlative agitations and other change-regime actions outside the ballot box hijacked the peaceful #EndSARS protests to further their separatist agenda.’’ The Northern leaders also called for strict watch on the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to guide against unwarranted and destructive protests as well as to safeguard critical national assets.

At the meeting by the Northern State Governors’ Forum (NSGF) held with traditional rulers, some federal government officials, including the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Mohammed Adamu; Ibrahim Gambari, the President’s Chief of Staff, and leaders of the National Assembly in Kaduna, the Northern leaders also denounced the overwhelming consequence of the social media in spreading fake news, and called for “control mechanism and censorship of the social media practice in Nigeria.”

Even though the meeting hosted by Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna state reiterated their pledge to the ‘’indivisibility, indissolubility and oneness’’ of Nigeria, while fantasising a nationalistic idea in their communique, their message to the rest of the country is direct: We will protect Buhari by all means necessary. And they went further to ask him to censor what has become a tool for global mobilisation for just actions by the voiceless – the social media.

However, it is reasonably reassuring that many of the radical elements from the north are not with these elites – their reactions in the last few days have suggested that this elitist group didn’t speak for the entire north at the meeting. And I have digested some of these reactions, including the one by Senator Shehu Sani. Their grouse is that those who attended the meeting were more concerned about retaining, sustaining their political/economic power and protecting their huge properties across the country rather than addressing the socio-political, economic and security crises that have continued to ravage the entire region in the past decades, especially in the past five years of Buhari’s administration.

For a group of people who are not used to their subjects challenging their authorities, and daily derive joy in “rakandede’’ greeting from the poor, they were thoroughly rattled by the peaceful-turned violent protest in some parts of their region. And my reading of the meeting is that in an attempt to change the narrative of the fundaments of the protest, they needed to create a distraction; it is understandable.

Because, it is does not matter to them that our country is now referred to as the ‘’poverty capital of the world’’, with over 92 million of its nearly 200 million citizens living in life-threatening poverty. And within our country, the northern is also seen as the ‘’poverty capital of Nigeria.’’ If you are in doubt crosscheck the comparative regional poverty rates, as released by the federal government’s agency, the National Bureau of Statistics: North-West: 80.9%; North-East: 76.8%; North-Central: 45.7%, making the north poverty average of 67.8%. Then, relate this to their southern counterparts: South-West: 19.3%; South-South: 25.2%; South-East: 27.4%, with a southern average of 24%. Sadly, within this context, the north is nearly three times poorer than the south.

Like their counterparts in the Southern Nigeria – who own luxury properties in Abuja, Lagos, Kaduna, and outside the country, the northern elite club is not troubled that Northern Nigeria has over the years lagged far-off behind Southern Nigeria in quality education, especially the absence of qualified teachers at all levels of education in the region. As a matter of fact, there are several researched works by academics, suggesting that outside first and second generation universities like Ahmadu Bello University and the University of Maiduguri, the mainstream of teaching staff at tertiary institutions in the north do not have doctorate degrees.

They are apparently more concerned about the so-called disruptive impact of the social media rather than explaining a region that is swamped by millions of out-of-school children wandering the streets while their children are attending the best of schools abroad. They appear not to be bothered that the educational structure in the region needs to be transformed and incorporated into the contemporary educational scheme for the benefit of the poor.

Check some of the economic figures released by the NBS: The entire 19 states in the three northern geopolitical zones account for only 23% of Nigeria’s GDP. Kano State that certainly tops others, produces only 3.3% of national GDP. Taraba State leads the hindmost with 0.25%. On the other hand, three states in Southern Nigeria: Delta, Rivers and Lagos states produce 36% of Nigeria’s GDP. Yet, they are not bothered!

Apart from Governor El-Rufai of Kaduna who appears to be changing the sad economic narrative in the region, other governors focus on spending/sharing oil wealth from the Niger Delta region. And sad enough, even though the region has produced heads of government for 44 years out of the 60 years of our independence, this circumstance has no delivering impact on the lives of the ordinary citizens in the north. Six years ago, majority of the poor in the north believed strongly that Buhari-led federal government would change their fortunes. Today, go ask this set of people – who voted massively for Buhari in 2015 and 2019: they will tell you bai Buhari(We don’t want Buhari).

Everyone can see the psychological mind-set of these elites: They are apprehensive that day-after-day, their strategy of retaining political power at the local, state and national level, for their self-aggrandisement, is gradually being exposed and punctured – as epitomised by the recent protest in some states in the north, in spite of the many falsehoods they sold them that eventually reduced the impact of the protest in the region.

I thought the northern elites should be more alarmed about the increasing insecurity that has ravaged their region in the past six years that claimed thousand lives – even when the leadership of security agencies: Department of State Services, Nigeria Army, Nigeria Air Force, Nigeria Civil Defence Corps, Nigeria Police Force and others are in their hands in recent years.

Let’s not continue to pretend: These socio-political, economic certainties have crippled essentially the entire region, which is further contributing to the economic depression of the poor. Yet, it doesn’t matter to them that protecting and defending the welfare and security of lives and property of their people is the fundamental duty of government. State failure materialises in the absence of security such as what Northern Nigeria and other parts of the country are experiencing today.

Our big brothers from the north should be careful not to further divide the country along ethnic lines, going by the tone of their divisive communique read by the Northern State Governors Forum Chairman and Plateau State Governor, Mr. Simon Lalong. We had enough of this in the past six years.

We should see the recent protest as a product of decades of bad governance which the poor can no longer accept. The lazy youths are now talking.

This is not the time to play dirty and ethnic politics; the northern leaders must begin immediately to engage the youths and confront the self-inflicted problems by coming out with several deliverable measures to better the lives of thousands of unemployed youths in the region. It is reassuring that they have called for engagement with other critical stakeholders: religious leaders, the business community, and youth leaders, while agreeing to set up two major engagement committees – namely Committee on Roles of Traditional Rulers Membership, headed by the Emir of Lafia, Alhaji Sidi Muhammad, and Committee on Youth and Civil Societies headed by the Emir of Zazzau (Zaria), Alhaji Nuhu Bamalli. That is the way to go.