Arewa: Riding the wrong horse By Garba Shehu

Garba Shehu

I am among those who hold the view that the shine of the old North, Arewa has faded and no amount of polishing will bring it back.
I am however inspired by the current strides of the Northern States Governors’ Forum; the combined efforts of emirs and chiefs and other leaders to begin to have a re-think. I am not oblivious of the saying of the wise that in order to reach for gold, one must work hard to remove a lot of dirt. Arewa has failed to grow since the demise of visionary Sardauna, Sir Ahmadu Bello. The region has instead wilted.
A few weeks ago, the National Bureau of Statistics issued a disturbing new statistical data on the distribution of poverty in the country. The North carried the shame of being the poorest.
Each time they feel the bad times, Northerners fall back on their more glorious days under the first Premier of the region, theSardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello. For many years in post – independence Nigeria, the Sardauna legacy and sentiment had acted as the fibre  binding the people together, until suspicion began to creep in that the legacy, which had been turned into a fiefdom or an ownership organization in the hands of an exploitative few. While a Sardauna Movement in the hands of an exploitative few loomed at the centre, it lacked the dynamism of Awoist Movement. At the state and local government level, this movement died shortly after the great leader’s death. There are many who blame the long years of military rule as a causative factor here. The second tier or line of leadership in the North lost its identity following state creation and was converted to a “yes man” culture by the army rule. “Leaders” of the North simply toed the line of military high command.
As a consequence, the Arewa, unlike other regions, failed to produce strong and credible regional leaders who could inspire the Northern masses and project their political agenda with conviction.
It is difficult to put a pin to the reason for the current turn –around. But the recent proactive advocacy by the Northern States Governors led by their Chairman, Dr. Babangida Aliyu is bringing back smiles on the faces of Northerners as it certainly would elicit the same with the late Sardauna in his grave.
In particular, the recent attempts and determination to address security and education problems and the bold challenge they are putting to the lopsided, unjust revenue sharing formula in the federation as well as the skewed project allocation schemes at the centre is reverberating well across the region. Although it is rather early to say whether they can push it all the way, public sentiment has equally been jolted by their resolve to work for the rotation of the presidency to the North come 2015. The thing that is causing excitement is that a group has risen to the occasion in the absence of a decisive regional leadership willing to take on the other regions. In particular, this public sentiment is overwhelmingly in support of the challenge to the off-shore oil revenue sharing schemes, by which states that neighbor oil wells off the continental shelf are reaping huge billions in the face of growing poverty in the rest parts of the country.
The lopsided revenue sharing formula was itself imposed on the North and the country as a whole by a greedy set of parliamentarians (2003-2007) who many believe were bribed into passing the bill which later was signed into law. Now in fairness to President Obasanjo, the country’s head at that time, he declined to sign the off-shore thing in the belief it will dichotomize the federation, and true to that prophecy, here we are. Even the World Bank is talking about Nigeria being two countries in one – one being rich, the South; the other being poor, the North. The former U.S. President, Bill Clinton on a recent visit to Nigeria, publicly acknowledged that poverty is a contributing factor to the wave of insecurity in the North and advised the federal government to tackle this issue decisively. To sign that piece of legislation, Obasanjo faced threats of sanction, including impeachment before he caved in. Now, just a few years down the road, poverty wracks the North and the Delta region of the South booms with excessive riches. To add to their pains, Northerners who signed away the off-shore revenues to the South and then conceded the Presidency to that region, all at a go, got no dividends but a string of deprivations and insults. Arewa rode the wrong horse. Here again, Arewa was shortchanged with the connivance of its leaders.
After giving away so much towards a stable, more accommodating federation, the country’s response to the North is by way of a return to ugly regionalism – the type in the First Republic that had the tail at the regions wagging the weak, toothless dog at the centre.
Flowing from this frustration, there are many who think the solution lies in the old generation of leaders being dumped and a fresh blood groomed. There is no denying that given the challenges at hand, the Arewa needs to do a lot with regard to organization and recruitment to political roles. The problem over these years is that we are having too many leaders. Men who are not fit enough to being community leaders are laying claims to being regional and national leaders. Each of them is trying to have his own empire. The North, once dreaded as a political behemoth so formidably united to be broken, is today a victim of morbid self-pity. Bereft of leaders with vision and selflessness of the Sardauna and other Northern politicians of his generation, the North is today desperately looking back to the Golden Age of effective leadership. Led like a lamb to the slaughter by its opportunistic leaders, Northern leaders now seem to have a rude awakening. It however, remains to be seen how far they can go in the latest efforts to tackle the spectre of insecurity and poverty. This is a moment of soul-searching; rather than blaming its sorry fate today on the South entirely, the North must also take responsibility for its miscalculations and complacency in the light of changing realities.
Amidst this conflicting and confusing background, Arewa’s rejuvenation may be the surprise verdict of the two – year tenure of Governor Babangida Aliyu as the Chairman of the Northern States Governors’ Forum. No doubt, it is a reign that has engendered so many innovations that are worth pursuing. Is it a false dawn? Time only will tell.


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