From the outset, the Conference of the leaders and elders of Northern Nigeria, convened last week in the ancient city of Kano, was pregnant with meaning and daring in content. And it did not disappoint at the end of the day.
The event, which flagged off at Tahir Guest Palace on Day one and continued at Afficent Centre, along Sultan road, on Day two, featured mostly a select group of northern elders and leaders, particularly those with history of discontent against the present federal administration.
Indeed, as the participants began to surface at the hotel lobby for the two-day conference, it became clear that the selection of the conference’s key actors were neither an accident nor a random pick.
The roll call, intimidating no doubt, included the Chairman of Northern Elders Forum, Prof Ango Abdullahi, Deputy Chairman of Board of Trustees (BoT) of Arewa Consultative Forum, AVM Mukhtar Mohammed; Nigeria’s former Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Dr. Yusuf Maitama Sule, and Wantaregh Paul Unongo, who chaired a number of sessions and never for once hid his bitterness against the other regions of the country and President Jonathan.
Others were Air Marshal Al Amin Daggash, Alhaji Magagi Dambatta, former Minister of Labour, Alhaji Musa Gwadabe, former Secretary of the INEC, Dr. Hakeem Baba Ahmed, former Legal Adviser to General Abacha, Prof. Anwalu Yadudu, Dr. Usman Bugaje and a representative of the Borno Elders Forum, Zanna Hassan Boguma.
Also there were the former EFCC boss, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, two retired former Police Commissioners, Alhaji Ibrahim Babakowa and Alhaji Abubakar Tsav, former Deputy Governor of Plateau State, Dame Pauline Tallen, former deputy governor of Jigawa State, Alhaji Hassan Hadejia, former NRC presidential candidate, Alhaji Bashir Tofa, former chairman of the All Nigeria Party, Alhaji Yusuf Alli, Dr. Abubakar Siddique Mohammed, former Governor of Plateau State, Col Habibu Shuaibu (retd) and Barrister Solomon Dulung, among others.
The theme of the conference was simple and apt: “The State of the North” which was broken into topics such as “The National Conference”, “The Security Challenges in the North” , “The North and the Challenges of Development” , “ Why the North Needs Political Direction , “ The Imperatives for Change in the North and Nigeria”, and “The Challenges of Managing Pluralism in the North” .
In his opening remarks, convener of the conference, Dr. Yusuf Maitama Sule(Dan Masanin Kano), spoke at length and convincingly on the lost glory and beauty of the North, relieving their history, their once unpolluted unity and their oneness as a people, which gravitated them to victory and triumph over their peers in Nigeria and in the sub region.
He recalled that under Sir Ahmadu Bello and Sir Abubakar Tafewa Balewa, the North was one people, with one strong voice, undivided by religion, tribe or tongue and ruled by a sense of fairness, made possible by the quality of leadership available to the people in the beginning.
He recalled that although the leaders in the North came from different backgrounds and tendencies, they respected one another, accommodated their diversities and differences and sacrificed their personal interests for the good of all.
He lamented that all these positive inclinations have changed for the worst, regretting: “In all my 60 years of politics, I have never seen what I am seeing today. Today, there is insecurity in the North. There is poverty in the North. There is lack of unity in the North. We don’t trust one another. There is no leadership”
He was truly deep in frustration, but optimistic that the end holds hope for the North, stressing that no condition, good or bad, is permanent in the lives of a people. He tasked the people of the North to return to the past, come together and provide a formidable front in the battle against the things that undermine them while praying for an end to the killings in the region as a result of the insurgency and other intra-regional conflicts ravaging the region.
It was an equally distressed retired Air-Vice Marshal Mukhtar Mohammed that spoke at the event. He held that the situation in the North today is dire, adding: “You all would agree with me that there is no nation that is going to be losing hundreds and hundreds of innocent lives daily, properties, suffering attacks on markets, towns, villages, on the roads that would come and start thinking about other things than how to address these issues.”
In his emotion-laden goodwill message on behalf of Borno Elders Forum, the Zanna of Boguma , Alhaji Zanna Hassan Boguma reported to the conference that the security challenges in the North East, particularly Borno State, is a call for serious and concerted intervention by all Nigerians.
Alhaji Zanna, who delivered his speech on behalf of Ambassador Usman Gahji Galtimari, the Chairman of Borno Elders Forum, lamented that entire communities in the North East were being wiped out while places of worship were being destroyed, without recourse to even women, children and the elderly.
“We have seen hell; our people are constantly decimated. Our towns and villages razed, properties destroyed, schools and places of worship burnt even innocent travellers are not spared,” he stated.
“From Kawuri to Izghe, from Konduga to Bama, from Buni –Yadi to Mainok, from Shuwa to Madagali and from Mafa to Jakana all within 20 days, tells you how vulnerable our towns and villages are and how inept the mission to contain the crisis by government,” he added.
He condemned the continued silence of the Federal Government and the deliberate non-implementation of reports on the insurgency, starting with the Abdullahi Sarki Murtar report, Galtimari report as well as other reports.
“This posture of the government and its inability to issue any statement on the killings is a confirmation of our earlier belief that Borno and indeed the North East is used as a theatre of war in which the actors and conspirators benefit in the execution of an agenda,” he stated.
“We should also know that unless we put our differences aside and face the realities of the moment, wallahi (I swear ) it will engulf, swallow and catch up with you wherever you are. Today, it may be our people in towns and villages, but it may be yours tomorrow,” he warned.
In a keynote address, which was succinctly delivered at the conference, Dr. Hakeem Baba –Ahmed revisited the history and dynamics of inter-political relationship among regions and groups in Nigeria, saying that the northern hegemony suffered its greatest blow under President Obasanjo.
Titled: “The North: The Past in the Future,” he traced the final fall of the North to this inglorious era, adding: “Within the first four years of his two terms, Obasanjo had completely dismantled the northern political establishment that created him and the northern political elite has been on the defensive since then.”
The rather very bitter Dr. Hakeem added that after 2011, the lines had become firmly drawn and the North had become politically decimated, while lamenting that the North is at the moment of its greatest weakness.
Talking about the National Conference, he said: “Of all the power blocs that could resist him (President Jonathan), the weakest is the northern bloc. A dangerous insurgency has developed from within it and it has been powerless to fight it or to get the president to fight it with better result.”
Still on the North, he said: “Its politicians are generally hostile to him (President Jonathan) but their hold on their people is weak. The region has been badly damaged by ethno-religious divisions, suspicions and conflicts. Its economy is crumbling by the day.
“Its attempt to cobble together with the South West, a broader political opposition, holds some promise, but this promise can be subverted by deepening the faultiness around the region’s pluralism. In short, the North is powerless to resist,” he added.
He regretted that President Jonathan had gone ahead with the National Conference in spite of its major setbacks, saying that these shortfalls included its non-sovereign nature, its inability to bring about a brand new constitution and its failure to submit itself to a referendum, among others.
He also said the list of delegates published recently has further set the North against the South, alleging: “ It is offending Nigerian Muslims with roughly 198 delegates while Christians have 294 delegates.”
He charged northerners in the delegate list to insist that the offensive imbalance between Muslims and Christians be addressed.
He felt that the national conference holds little or no promise for the North and Nigeria, adding that it would only benefit President Goodluck Jonathan who stands to benefit from the arguments and controversies that the conference would throw up in the North.
“For the northern delegates who are about entering the ring with one hand tied behind your back, we can only appeal to your conscience to do the right thing, do not attend if all the conference will give you is a few million in allowances and three months in a comfortable apartment.”
He asked them to stage a walk out when and where necessary.
Mallam Nuhu Ribadu was less aggressive, yet very precise. His paper admitted that things are not well in the North, explaining that some of the crises are self-inflicted. He faulted government and parents in the North in terms of the kind of upbringing they gave to their children in their formative years.
He charged the North to mend its ways and put its house together, pointing out that there are hope and new opportunities in the horizon even as he noted that several nations have gone through this same path, emerging triumphant at the end of the day.
The communiqué read at the end of the conference was evidently much milder and more carefully scripted than the explosion of inter-regional hate and bitterness that characterized the conference itself.
The northern elders and leaders, at the end, resolved among other things, to demand that the Federal Government improve its capacity to protect lives in the North East and many other parts of the North as the most minimal evidence of its seriousness to live up to its responsibilities.
The conference equally expressed sympathy with the communities, towns and villages in the North East which were affected by the insurgency and resolved to establish a Relief Fund to assist the victims of the crises.
They indicted the national conference on the issue of composition and character, stressing that the conference violated all the principles of justice, fairness, inclusiveness and equity.
They, therefore, advised northern delegates to ensure that the conference’ agenda is carefully chosen to avoid issues which may threaten peace and harmonious existence, the 2015 elections or which may offend the constitution are avoided.
They also advised all delegates to be true to their conscience and to withdraw as soon as it became clear that the conference would be used to injure the interests of Nigerians.
The conference also remarked on the absence of transparency in the management of the nation’s resources while noting the endless controversies regarding missing funds. The frustrations of Nigerians, over the lack of information regarding the veracity of the allegations, such as those of the missing $20 billion, are very worrisome.
They noted that the 2015 elections will challenge the electoral process and, therefore, called on politicians to develop the highest level of tolerance and willingness to respect the will of the Nigerian people.