Monolithic Northern unity is a myth, By Dan Agbese
Dr Junaid Mohammed thinks it is a bad idea. I think it is a good idea. We are talking about the sudden split in the Northern States Governors Forum. The Governors of the North-East geo-political zone left that forum last week and regrouped as North-East Governors Forum headed by the Governor of Borno State, Professor Babagana Umara Zulum.
Dr Mohammed dismissed the new geo-political group as “nothing but an unwise political move that will serve no useful purpose.” Mohammed does have a knack for sound political judgments. I usually do not find reasons to disagree with him most of the time. But on this, I am afraid he missed the point because he is still holding on to the myth that the north is a united monolithic geo-political entity with clearly defined common economic, social and political interests and that a move such as this, threatens that unity and puts all of us in harm’s way. He should know that this is just what it really is, a myth. I can see nothing that faintly suggests that the north is united and speaks with one voice on matters that affect its political, economic and social interests, whatever they are, in the larger context of the nation-state. Time to shatter the myth and face the realities of our national politics. Zulum and his fellow North-Eastern Governors have taken the first step.
It is right; it is courageous and it must be a wake-up call to the North-Central and the North-West to take their destiny into their hands too in terms of their shared geo-political interests and security. They should formally regroup under their geo-political zones and rise from the ashes of the Northern States Governors Forum. The forum certainly served its purpose when it was formed in 1999 as a northern pressure group in the early months of the return to civil rule. Its pioneer chairman was Alhaji Abdullahi Adamu, the then Governor of Nasarawa State. Current realities seem to indicate that it is too large and too unwieldy to serve the undefined northern interests. In any case, whereas it put pressure on the Obasanjo administration to do well by the north, it seems to have lost the clout in the current federal administration headed by a northerner. Breaking it up is not an unkind comment on Governor [Simon] Lalong’s leadership of the Forum. It is just that it is an action whose time has come. Conventional political wisdom favours smaller groups in the context of the geo-political zonal arrangements.
The myth of northern unity has done some serious damage to the old region itself. It has stifled dissent for fear that those who think differently about the defunct region are branded as enemies of a region that lawfully ceased to exist since May 27, 1967. That was not yesterday. In 2011, the Northern Media Forum that I chair, was worried by the emergence of some 23 different groups each claiming to be the authentic voice of the north, but all of which were pulling in quite different directions. The discordant voices were loud, clear and clearly irritating. The Forum invited them to come either singly or collectively to address it on what each stood for and what northern interests they purported to be serving or protecting. Only the late venerable politician, the last man of his generation standing, Alhaji Yusuf Maitama Sule, Dan Masanin Kano, turned up in response to our invitation, but spoke generally about the lost opportunities in the defunct region and the nation itself. He wept.
Zulum told state house correspondents that the forum would address “the root causes of insurgency and decaying infrastructure.” Waiting for the central government to take up this challenge is tantamount to waiting for Godot. It is both naïve and unproductive. Each of the three geo-political zones in the north has its own peculiar social and economic interests. In smaller groups, they can best deal with those interests and challenges. The formation of North-East Governors Forum is itself a major challenge. The governors should have no illusions about the task they have imposed on themselves; nor should anyone be so naïve as to think that the arrival of the new forum on the socio-political scene would automatically end the existential security threats that stare the entire old region in the face. Ending the killings is beyond the governors, lacking as they do, the capacity to respond to Boko Haram, the greatest security challenge in the zone in the last eleven years. But I believe it should give us some hope that the northern governors are not snoring on duty any more. I would be pleasantly surprised to see them walk the same path with the South-West with a local security outfit similar to Amotekun.
I hope the Governors realise the size, so to speak, of the hope they must have raised in their people since the formation of the forum was announced last week. Their people, like those in the rest of the defunct region, are harried men and women who look for deliverance in the hands of any groups that chance along. The people expect their governors, under a distinct new umbrella to make them secure in their homes, on their farms, on the road and offices. The zone has suffered more than other parts of the country since Boko Haram took on the Nigerian state in 2009.
The victims of Boko Haram attacks are in refugee camps euphemistically called camps for internally displaced persons. There are more of these camps in the zone than anywhere else in the country. But the federal government prefers to ignore them in favour of rehabilitating so-called repentant Boko Haram foot soldiers. Perhaps, the first task of the forum is to offer a different approach in meeting the security challenges. The apparent helplessness of the federal government is beyond embarrassment. If the governors under the aegis of their new forum fail to offer their people hope this might turn out to be a mere talk shop. Perish the thought.
However macho it may be inclined to speak about its capacity to make us safe, the federal government is so overwhelmed by this critical challenge that whatever claims it may make would be nothing more than a hollow sound. As a group, the NEGF can force the federal government to cede some security responsibilities to them and assist them with the means to complement its own efforts. The homes of the internally displaced persons must be made safe enough for them to return to and pick up the shattered pieces of their lives.
We want to see a new thinking on ending the killings in the north. It is no credit to the northern leaders that their people are killed in large numbers every week by Boko Haram and bandits. It is no credit to them that their region is today so unsafe that its deepens its poverty. The north has bled enough. Innocent people have suffered enough. Let our leaders say, enough is enough. I look forward to hearing that from North-East Governors Forum.
**This article was first published in Daily Trust on August 29, 2020. It was permitted by the author to be published at Ashenewsonline.com