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The Arewa Joint Committee initiative

By Dan Agbese
21 October 2022   |   2:30 am
Some northern political and social pressure groups, namely, Arewa Consultative Forum, Arewa House, Sir Ahmadu Bello Memorial Foundation, Northern Elders Forum, Arewa Research and Development Project

Some northern political and social pressure groups, namely, Arewa Consultative Forum, Arewa House, Sir Ahmadu Bello Memorial Foundation, Northern Elders Forum, Arewa Research and Development Project and Jamiyyar Matan Arewa, recently formed Arewa Joint Committee as an umbrella body to jointly pursue political and other interests in the context of saving northern Nigeria. 

To give effect to this, the joint committee initiated interactive sessions with selected presidential candidates on October 16 and 17. So far, Kola Abiola (PRP), Peter Obi (Labour Party), Asiwaju Bola Tinubu (APC), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar (PDP) and Prince Adewole Adebayo (SDP), have featured in the programme of the committee.

Each of them addressed the joint committee on what he intends to do for northern Nigeria if he is elected president in succession to Muhammadu Buhari next year. The dialogue is being treated more or less like the Chatham House dialogue in the UK. Not much filtered out from the sessions so far. 

The work of the Arewa Joint Committee should be of more than passing interest to the rest of us. It is the first attempt by such a body of eminent Nigerians to interrogate those who wish to rule or lead us from May 29 next year. We have always treated our ambitious men like know-all men with solutions to our national challenges and problems peculiar to the various parts of the country. We have always missed the target and imposed on the countrymen steeped in mediocrity.

The press whose professional duty it is to interrogate political power seekers and help to expose their strong and weak points as well as their inadequacies and lack of preparedness to lead often elects to flow with the crowd and induce the people to give power to incompetent men armed with the qualities of indifferent leadership.

Mark it as one good reason why our political discourse has never risen to an intellectual height but remains mired in the glib bread-and-butter promises of politicians who are in it for the power and the instant wealth.

The committee may be criticised for pursuing narrow or even selfish northern interests rather than national interests. After all, we will be electing a Nigerian president whose constituency is the entire country, not parts thereof. I am afraid, that would be a rather poor reading of the objectives of the group.

In taking on this task, the committee seeks to educate us on the fact, often ignored, that each of the old defunct four regions or the geo-political zones has socio-economic and political challenges peculiar to it.

It is incumbent on each of them to articulate those challenges and interests and ask those who wish to rule us, not in jest but in all seriousness, to show they understand and appreciate those problems and can offer pragmatic rather than glib solutions to them.

To put the regional and geo-political challenges in one basket to be pursued in the context of national interests has often missed the point and subjected us to the current dance of moving in circles in repeated failures to move the nation forward.

I welcome this new approach by the Arewa Joint Committee as a process of encouraging the geo-political zones to see their challenges and various interests as peculiar to them – and initiate a process of pursuing their solutions.

One major problem solved in one geo-political zone will rub off in the other zones. The other geo-political zones must rise to this new approach and challenge those who seek to rule us at all levels to fully demonstrate their knowledge of what ails each geo-political zone, the country, and its people.

Nations make meaningful progress by appreciating their own diversities and responding to them accordingly, hence the wisdom of the creation of regions and states and local governments.

The northern leaders recognise that the northern challenges are not just mind-boggling; they are horrendous and constitute existential threats to the region and its people. In all the indices of human development and progress, it is the worst of the times for the region. It has never had it so bad. It is the poorest region in the country with the poverty rate in the northwest and the northeast topping 80 per cent. Nigeria is the poverty capital of the world but the locus of that national wretchedness, even as the northern politicians strut the stage in their fineries, is the north. 

More than 80 per cent of the 20 million out-of-school children in the country are in the north. When Buhari took over, we had 13 million out-of-school children. Now we have grown the population by as much as seven million children. Our future leaders face the grim prospects of illiteracy in the 21st century. 

It is foolish to argue the fact that the region is the least safe part of the country today. Peasant farmers have been forced to abandon their small farm holdings and contend with the nasty problems of managing poverty forced on them. Bandits and kidnappers have become the lords of the wretched manor before whom the Nigerian state bows and trembles. It could not be worse but do not bet on that.

The northern leaders know they have a moral duty to take steps to change this sad northern story by challenging those who seek to rule the country to address them on their appreciation of the peculiar problems that afflict the region. They have been blamed in the past, fairly, or not, for their indifference and neglect of the region that produced and nurtured them and gave them opportunities as leaders in their various endeavours in their own right.

In initiating this dialogue between them and our potential presidents, the joint committee is taking our national politics to an intellectual level where, hopefully, in the near future, money will no longer play the leading role in our leadership recruitment process. A man’s intellect and demonstrable capacity will then replace Ghana-Must-Go bags. 

Their interactive session with the presidential candidates was intended to see who, among them, can offer the north a pragmatic Marshal Plan to rescue and rebuild it. If a candidate is ignorant of the problems of one section of the country, the chances are that he is ignorant of problems in other parts of the country and, therefore, disqualifies himself as a fit and proper man to be entrusted with the leadership of a country that was once the black man’s hope but blew it. 

The northern leaders had been twice beaten. In 2015 they helped to give Buhari what he had always wanted. He was elected president and re-elected four years later. They believed he knew what ailed the north and would respond to it, not to the exclusion of the rest of the country but in the context of finding solutions to the myriads of our national problems at local levels that would eventually translate to national levels. They trusted too much in the context of na mu and they were roundly disappointed in their expectations. I offer my commiserations.

My not uninformed guess is that if they had subjected Buhari to an interactive session such as this, they might have advised themselves not to put their total trust in his capacity to provide their assumed radical and focused leadership in changing the northern Nigeria story. From what I hear, the northern political leaders are smarting from the fact that their fellow northerners sitting on the political throne has not been of much help to the region. 

Under him everything that needed to go wrong in the region has gone wrong. It is poorer; economically more depressed; educationally more deprived and its green fields of agriculture have been turned into brownfields inhospitable to peasant agriculture. The north did not bargain for this but what it received tallies with that of communities that tend to dress every ambitious man in the messianic halo. The northern leaders are as baffled about this as the rest of us. Their decision to involve themselves in the leadership recruitment process this time around should be heard as a wake-up call to the rest of the country. 

Leadership recruitment is rather too serious a national challenge to be left to the politicians alone. They have done a poor job of it – and will continue to do so unless and until the rest of us take up the challenge of challenging them. I am not that naïve to suppose that an interactive session such as the one initiated by the Arewa Join Committee, will be the solution to our warped and flawed leadership recruitment but as an innovation in that critical aspect in our national politics, it is a step that may possibly point us towards the path of our political Eldorado.