MUHAMMAD SABIU with additional reports from ISHOLA MICHAEL, ISAAC SHOBAYO, KOLA OYELERE, ATTAHIRU AHMED, AYO AJOGE, writes on the mixed feelings across the North over the state of affairs in the region since the collapse of the First Republic.
ABOUT six decades ago, Northern Nigeria, like the rest of the country, was a land of prosperity and boom. The word poverty in the midst of plenty was hardly an issue and a word in the lexicon of the vast majority of the people. The leadership of the late premier, Sir Ahmadu Bello, the SardaunaSokoto had kick-started the progressive development of the area through a Northernisation policy, which fast-tracked a sound economic and infrastructural development.
Many are full of fond memories of that policy and gleefully speak about his major strides as a visionary leader. Others painfully talk about the litany of woes that befell the North after the golden era of the First Republic. One of such senior citizens that so much enthused about the Sarduana period is Colonel Mohammed Abdu (retd) a longtime ally of President MuhammaduBuhari and one of the leaders of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF). He noted with nostalgic feelings how the late Sardauna succeeded in promoting unity first and later introduced the Northernisation agenda, which placed the region at par with other regions as well as launched the region to the path of socio-economic growth.
Era of one North
Abdul declared that the ‘One North’ slogan adopted by the Sardauna government was the tonic needed to turn things around as both the leaders and their followers were enthusiastic about the progress of the region. He recalled that appointments were based on merit and not your colour or where you came from. Col. Abdu disclosed that Sardauna saw the need to have an educated manpower which was then a deficit in the region. According to him, the northern leader embarked on enrolling young men and women into colleges to acquire western education. “Many northerners were forced to go to school, irrespective of their parental backgrounds and where you came from. By 1960, a good number of northern youths had acquired western education and were ready to start work in the public and private sectors. Among the youths were Hamza Yazzad, AbdulrazakAbdullahi, Abidu Yazzad, Balarabe Musa, Ibrahim Babangida, UmaruMutallab, SaniAbacha, Aliko Mohammed, Ahmed Joda and a host of others. These young and vibrant northerners came back home and met the likes of Ali Akilu, YahayaGusau, Ibrahim Dapchmari, Aliyu Makama Nupe, Ibrahim Dasuki. Jolly Tanko, Michael Buba, Isa Kaita, among others to contribute their quota to the development of the region.
Speaking in the same vein, a retired military officer in Plateau State, who pleaded for anonymity, cited the story of a family in Mangu of the state. According to him, the family had a life-size portrait of the Sardauna in the house. On inquiry, it was learnt that the Sardauna was personally sponsored the education of the only Christian among his six other brothers. The rest were Muslims. Yet, he was the closet to the Sardauna, spending his holidays in Kaduna with him.
Investigations revealed that there was a high spirit of togetherness and one North radiating in the region then. Christians in Sardauna’s government perceived the likes of the late Chief Sunday Awoniyi popularly referred to as Sardauna “kekere.” There were others like Micheal Audu Buba from Plateau; Edward Maminso (Adamawa); Jolly Tanko Yusuf (Taraba); Mr Achimugu from Kogi and several other notable Christian ministers, who had very close political relationships with the Sardauna. It was also learnt that his deputy, the MakamanBida, was not a Hausa/Fulani but of the Nupe extraction.
Once a golden era
The unity of purpose and human capacity development soon translated into enhanced wealth, economic growth and development in the region. The gradual economic boom gave rise to other benefits that had direct impact on the people of the region. The Head of Department of History, Kaduna State University, Dr Ashiru Sani shed light on the situation. He noted that apart from the unity that the Sardauna promoted while he was in charge, “we witnessed the establishment of many institutions that are still very much on ground.” He listed some of the institutions established by Sardauna to include Bank of North; Northern Nigeria Development Company( NNDC); Kaduna Airport; the Air Force Base; Kaduna Textiles; Arewa Textiles; Funtua Textiles; Zaria leather institute; New Nigerian newspapers; Northern Nigeria Grains Board, among others. Speaking further, Sani said the late premier established the Nigeria Defence Academy (NDA); Armed Forces Command Jaji; Ahmadu Bello University; College of Agriculture Shika; Kaduna Polytechnic, Ahmadu Bello stadium, Aviation school in Zaria, , Defence Industry; Northern Nigeria House of Chiefs (Luggard Hall), State House Kawo, Police College and so on.
He noted that in agriculture, the North was ahead of other regions, as the groundnut pyramids became phenomenal in Kano. There were cotton ginneries; dairy farms, and others, all of which placed the region at an economic advantage. The don argued that in the whole of the region, there was hardly any area or province that Sardauna’s visionary leadership did not manifest. For example, he said that in the present Niger State, there are hydro plants in New Bussa and Kainji; as well as in Jebba, Kwara State and other parts of the North. DahiruBiyaki, a civil servant from Zamfara State, also noted that in his village and most of the surrounding communities, one could still find functional wells sunk by the late premier, with the people depending on them for water daily till now. In retrospect, DrSani, was nostalgic about the major strides of the Sardauna era that witnessed economic growth and development, asserting: “Life was simply affordable and comfortable. An average man could feed his family and enroll his kids in schools from the little income he earned as a labourer.”
Indeed, the creation of more states by the Federal Government out of the then region was received with mixed feelings. While some pundits saw it as a welcome development the argument that it brought development closer to the people, others felt the exercise further divided the region along ethnic, tribal and religious lines. The first group argued that the military interventions that brought Generals Yakubu Gowon to power in 1966 and other Generals: Murtala Muhammad, MohammedBuhari, lbrahimBabangida, SaniAbacha and AbubakarAbdulsalami culminated in the creation of 19 states in the region. Gowon created six states: North Western, Northern Eastern, Benu-Plateau, Kano, Kaduna and Kwara. Murtala created four more states: Borno, Niger, Benue, and Bauchi. Babangida created additional six states: Katsina, Jigawa, Kebbi, Kogi, Taraba and Yobe, while Abacha carved out three more states: Zamfara, Nasarawa and Gombe. To HonourableSalisuZakari, a former member of the House of Representatives representing Ningi /Warji Federal Constituency of Bauchi State, the creation of those states was commendable, as he believed it had brought about accelerated development in most of the cities and villages in the North. He disagreed with those who claimed that successive leaders after the Sardauna had not lived up to expectations. To buttress his position, he said that during Sardauna’s era, the North had only one university, but today, there are more than 30 universities in the region. He added that during Sardauna’s era, there were less than 50,000 secondary school students in the entire North but today, there are millions of them in the public and private schools across the North. According to him, “In Sardauna’s era, most of the students were forced to go to school; today, most of the students you see in schools are voluntarily attending without any element of enforcement.”
Zakari said that the progress achieve them was not limited to the education sector alone, recalling that in Sardauna’s time, the North had only one airport, “but today, we have more than 17 airports,” and “we are proud of three sub-regions: North-East, North – West and North–Central” emerging from one region. All these were achieved both the military and democratic eras. The northern leaders during the periods have done more good than harm to the North. I will give the northern leaders that came after Sardauna a good credit. IBB and Abacha did the major transformation ranging from developing the entire North through various projects to empowering our people.”
North at a crossroads?
However, an analyst, SaniSambo strongly believed that the policies and programmes of those who came after Sardauna, polarised the region along ethnic, religious and tribal lines.
He observed that state creation, though good, it impacted negatively on the people, citing the resurgence of ethnic based organisations in the North. For instance, he said: “We saw the creation of blocs like the Middle Belt Forum, Northern Elders Forum, Arewa Consultative Forum and the North Central Forum. Sambo remarked that each of the blocs was pursuing its own agenda at the detriment of the region. He queried: “Show me a single state that has developed? Every state in the region depends on the monthly allocation from the centre for survival. Tell me if the statutory allocation stops, what will happen?”
Sambo argued further that the allocation had turned us into lazy people, saying that “We have mineral resources in each of the state in the region, but have we turned them into a fortune?” He also observed that agriculture too that ought to fetch the region a fortune was still at the peripheral level because mechanised farming that could provide direct and indirect jobs to millions of jobless youths was not being practised. The North,according to him, is at a cross roads, as all the legacies of Sardauna had either gone or in a state of disrepair.
Collaborating the assertion, Abubakar IsahBakori, of the Alliance for Progressive Arewa Youth (APAY), said that it was unfortunate that primed institutions like Bank of the North, New Nigeria Newspapers (NNN), Northern Nigeria Development Company and so on had become either gone bankrupt or moribund almost 60 years after the departure of the Sardauna. “With minimal resources, prudent management, transparency and accountability, Sir Ahmadu Bello and his lieutenants were able to lay a strong foundation for the region with world-class infrastructure in education, healthcare, road network and housing .Where are we today,” he queried. He lamented that the North currently does not have a symbolic leader, who can be respected to galvanise the people to speak with one voice for the region. He decried: “Nothing can be sadder and disturbing to a region that once boasted of the best crop of leaders in Nigeria.”
More worrisome today is the fact that the North has become the epicentr of insurgency, kidnapping, banditry and cattle rustling. Life has become almost miserable to lots of people because of the general state of insecurity across the region. And the people are not just miffed about the ugly trend but trading blames for the factors that led to the frightening situation. For Bakori, governors from the region cannot absolve themselves from the problem because of their lackadaisical approach to challenges facing the North. He alleged that: “They did not demonstrate the right leadership that is expected of them,” ostensibly in the face of insurgency and other crimes, especially the menace of Boko Haram that was devastating the North East, kidnapping, banditry and rustling in the north-west, as well as the farmers and herders’ conflicts in the North Central zone. He said that the insecurity had forced the zones not to fully tap into agriculture and mineral resources to rev up the economy. “Most of the governors depend on the monthly revenue allocation to carry out developmental projects. Without the subvention, many of the states will become stagnant,” he declared. Also commenting, Ajibade noted that the region had abundant minerals resources that could act as a catalyst for development. ‘Today, Northern leaders have not really put on their thinking cap to bring out the region out of poverty and hunger. With security challenges, the region has become the weeping child in the country,” he alleged.
Again, Bakori spoke on the colossal damage insecurity had done to the North, noting that: “Today, cases of banditry, kidnapping and cattle rustling are so pronounced in Kaduna, Katsina, Zamfara, Sokoto and Niger, but we cannot say if these governors have met to coordinate efforts to confront the act of criminalities. We are living witnesses to the near absence of a voice of conscience. The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) today exists only in name because they are not accorded their rightful place as elders and conscience of the North. Most of the key members of this important socio-cultural organisation have been maligned and negatively profiled for always speaking the truth on issues that have direct bearing to the development of the region.”
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