As Katsina Elders Were Saying

By Okey Ikechukwu

An Igbo proverb says that the man who complained about the relocation of the village market because its current location suited his wife is not thinking of the needs and fortunes of the larger community. The Igbo will also tell you that a coffin merchant who says to a customer “I will give you a discount when you come for the next purchase” must be viewed with misgivings by all men and women of goodwill. There is also the Igbo saying that whoever makes a living by impunity, presumption and braggadocio will have a very hard time when widespread hunger, draught and famine compels everyone in the community to deploy his farming skills.

Which brings us to the outcry of Katsina Elders, among other allegedly ‘Northern’ voices, when news of the relocation of some departments of the Central bank of Nigeria and aviation ministry hit the airwaves. Like Senator Ndume, who opened with a rather virulent salvo, the Katsina Elders forum asked President Tinubu to either reconsider the decision or face the clear possibility of losing Northern support in the 2027 elections. The statement was that blunt; and to the point.

But what is this much-vaunted point? The reaction was very likely in anticipation of the potential socio-economic impact of a relocation of institutions of state on Northern Nigeria. The group accused some individuals of ill-advising President Tinubu, calling the presumes mis-advisers enemies of Nigeria who aim to undermine the unity of the country.

By implication the, Katsina Elders are saying that the unity and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is secured and maintained by the continued presence of certain government institutions in Abuja – or in the North, generally. Now, that is absurd, is it not?

Not quite done on the matter, the forum accused the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Nyesom Wike, of supporting the federal government’s plan to relocate anything at all. Quite an “accusation”, wouldn’t you say? The group also asked why Wike was “inviting the Israelis to come and provide security to (sic) Abuja.” That is the business of Katsina Elders – I mean what a minister does, or does not do, in Abuja; right?

This group of wise elders said nothing when Miyetti Allah, a trade union of cattle dealers, set up a fully kitted alternative national security outfit, with its pilot test case in Nasarawa State. The group said nothing when the son of Professor Ango Abdullahi, Chairman of the Northern Elders Forum, was kidnapped from a Kaduna-bound train. The young man was held captive for months, until the full ransom was paid. Not even the subsequent kidnapping of Ango Abdullahi’s relation and her four children, shortly after the release of his son on ransom, was a matter of interest to Katsina Elders.

Even now, the Katsina Elders have not seen anything to worry, or talk, about concerning the routine pillaging of the North by marauders of northern Nigeria origins. Instead, they are very deeply concerned about what President Tinubu should do, in order to please the North and get the support he would need to win the 2027 elections. In strident tones, the group said:
“… we are telling Mr. President, as long as he is interested in coming back in 2027, … to reverse these unconstitutional decisions. Whoever is advising him to take such decisions is an enemy of the country.”

Perhaps the revered Katsina Elders would recall a lengthy submission of four years ago, by the Northern elder statesman, Ahmed Joda. The latter sought to remind his brothers and sisters that Northern Nigeria was not developing its human capital. He also told them, in that well-publicized open expression of concern that the North no longer had the time to do so anymore; and that the region was now ill-equipped to fit into either the knowledge-driven world of today or the new world of tomorrow. He summed it by saying that the North needed at least 20 years of super-accelerated development of its human capital in order to be taken seriously in today’s world.

Is the foregoing the concern of most of the people speaking for the North today? What you see, instead, is the pursuit of the illusion of dominance. No one is asking whether the larger half of the youths of the region possess the skills for tomorrow, or anything that could make them part of a 21st century world in any way.

Everyone now overlooks the major point in Joda’s intervention, which revolved around the fact that the triumphalism of cattle herders will not take the North anywhere in the immediate and long terms. The herders’ illusion of invulnerability rests on a conspiracy to use national security framework to promote insecurity in specific regions of the country. Can this last forever?  Has the headship of institutions of state helped the North, or created a “replacement generation” that can lead the region into the future – even here in Nigeria?

There are abandoned, ungoverned and even ungovernable, spaces all over Northern Nigeria, due to terrorism and banditry. The North’s dominant elite lives in Abuja, while playing games with the very criminals that are wiping out northerners and laying their lands desolate.  

An article which appeared on this page on April 17, 2019, titled “As the North Goes Under”, spoke of how a serving Secretary to the Zamfara State Government “…explained how he abandoned his farm and ranch because of cattle rustling and fear for his personal safety.” He confessed that “it was impossible to deploy law enforcement agents, even for himself, in any meaningful way” because they were mostly outnumbered, ill equipped and answerable to Abuja. As I write, matters have worsened very dramatically in Zamfara State over the years.

Remember that the government of Katsina State once signed an agreement with bandits; for them to stop robbing and maiming hapless citizens under Governor Maisari?  What became of that agreement, and what did Katsina Elders say about it; and about the series of kidnappings going on in the state? What did they say, at that time, about the months-long kidnap of a Katsina State traditional ruler, and of the recent kidnap of a home-going bride and the 63 women accompanying her in the same Katsina?

Remember that Bauchi State signed an MoU on service delivery with development partners a few years ago? Remember also that the same Bauchi State has schools and other social amenities that are better not talked about here. The situation is hardly different in Jigawa, Kebbi, Sokoto, Kano and other northern states. Even states with over 10% of their geographical spaces occupied by marauders have been drafting and implementing budgets and development projects covering these areas, where no one lives.

Is it just elite myopia, leadership illiteracy and abysmal ignorance at work here? Most of Nigeria’s poor are northerners. It is always the case, whether or not most high profile political and economically rewarding positions are held by Northerners. For the first time ever, beginning with the tenure of President Buhari, the North came out with the greatest evidence of a people’s failure to follow the rules of political and economic self-preservation.

What you find at most major social events organized by prominent politicians in most parts of the country today, but specially the North, is that the guests are overwhelmed by shabby looking youths. They are either generally prowling the vicinity, directly affronting guests, or raiding laid out serving-food tables. They are very hungry, and not yet very angry about that. They are looking for bits of leftover, a little cash gift here and there, perhaps a half empty bottle of water, oo a soft drink. Nothing more!

And the big men themselves are usually not embarrassed by the spectacle.

It should be easy for the Katsina Elders to see the disconnect between today’s world and the illusion of relevance they are trying to sustain. School enrolment, the acquisition of vocational skills, professional development, and overall academic performance have not improved, and are not improving, in the North. But go and take a look at the recorded expenditures on education in the last ten years alone.

The North has not shown a significant increase in the number of people registering for SSCE, NECO and similar competitive examinations. And Northerners is being progressively wiped out by “their people” who come here from Chad, Mali, Niger and further away. Many Northern youths are begging in the streets, or in the forests, while those from outside Nigeria now dominate even the herding business; as they turn everywhere into a no-man’s-land. More and more foreigners may be the ones with Nigerian ID cards in the North. The total number of registered candidates for all competitive examinations from the 19 states of the north continues to stand much lower than that of one serious state in the South. Yet, the Katsina Elders are not looking in the right direction for their problems.

The roaming bands of marauders who have no conception of even Fulani/Muslim brotherhood may yet be the undoing of Northern Nigeria, unless the Northern elite wake up on time – if it still has time. The merciless, mindless and truly gruesome regular killing, the kidnappings and the rapacious banditry now has a life of its own. A new breed of wild young men, with predominantly predatory and anti-social skills, and who would rather pick up any healthy-looking man rather than say ‘Ranka dede’, are on the ascendant in Northern Nigeria. This is bad! Very bad for us all!

When you combine the foregoing with widespread drug abuse, poverty, open-ended criminality and elite insensitivity in one location, there you have the ingredients for brewing what is keeping most northern big men to Abuja and environs. Can they be in exile forever? I think not! Abuja itself is no longer safe. Many high-profile, and presumably impregnable, estates and exclusive neighbourhoods in Abuja are no routinely attacked; at the pleasure of bandits and kidnappers.

From the angle of business and simple economics, local economies have collapsed. Re-desertification has taken over the places abandoned by victims of insurgency. Farming and animal husbandry are in limbo, in places where they used to thrive. There is now no peace mind of for those who had the chance to make a difference but failed to do so. Thus, the elite must now spend so much on armed escorts and sundry security measures.

To the Katsina elders, as I said at the beginning of this piece, “…the man who complained about the relocation of the village market because its current location suited his wife is not thinking of the needs and fortunes of the larger community. …whoever makes a living by impunity, presumption and braggadocio will have a very hard time when widespread hunger, draught and famine compels everyone in the community to deploy his farming skills”.

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