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ACF’s casual outing amid insecurity in the North

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(Photo credit should read STEFAN HEUNIS/AFP/Getty Images)

The social and economic unrest in Zamfara State have accentuated the prevailing upheavals in the northern part of the country. Consequently, the recent decision by Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) to meet and chew on the rising spate of insecurity in the region suggests that either the leaders have woken up belatedly or merely engaging in academic exercise over the deteriorating social conditions.

It is obvious that politics have gone a long way to diffuse the traditional control that tended to weld the region together. This is because it is now hard to pin down the leadership structure in the zone.

The traditional and political leaders of the north seem to have been frozen by the emergence of General Muhammadu Buhari as the president of the country, such that they lost the usual convergence or near unanimity of opinions against the preceding administration of President Goodluck Jonathan.

Having succeeded in retrieving political power from the South, the leaders, despite subdued reservations about the competence of Buhari, could not rise above narrow religious and political sentiments to set the agenda for sustainable development of the region for the President.

To an extent, the election of President Buhari presented itself as a rebellion of the masses against the elite, who held serious reservations about the ability of the former military head of state to secure, stabilize and unite the north, nay the country, for progress and prosperity.

Against that background, the ACF meeting, which was ostensibly convened to discuss insecurity in north, not only came a little bit too late, but also underscores the dilemma the leaders face under Buhari presidency.

For instance, while the Southern Kaduna and entire North central were battered by deadly insurgents, ACF was in the cold as they did not want to speak up in condemnation of the atrocities believing that doing so could be interpreted as a vote of no confidence on the federal government.

Coming barely one month after the contentious and disputed presidential election, most people did not expect that the meeting of ACF board of trustees would bear any positive fruit except as an addition to babble of voices of pain and agony to the human and material losses that have become the lot of the embattled region.

The sheer hypocritical side to the ACF meeting could also be seen from the fact that the regional leaders lost the moral high ground to curtail the excesses of its political counterparts, when they failed to engage them in robust discussions on issues of development and social cohesion.

Again, instead of retaining its non-aligned status as a socio-cultural platform, the ACF leaders took pleasure in serving as course mates of northern politicians, especially in their antics against their counterparts from the South, who were by then holding the reins of political power.

To that extent, the meeting of Wednesday April 10, 2019 amounted to shutting the stable gate after the horses had bolted, because the foundation for the prevailing security and other aspects of social upheavals in the north seemed to have been laid in the past.

Where the rain started beating Arewa
In 1999, when Nigeria returned to multiparty democracy, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, from the Southwest was elected president in a national consensus to propitiate the Southwest and stabilize the country after the inscrutable annulment of a presidential election which Chief M.K.O Abiola was on the verge of winning.

That alteration in the equilibrium of political power, which had always tended in favour of the north, opened up new realities, especially diffusing the influence that northern leaders used to wield. In the emerging political scenario, some of the political actors from the north decided to exploit the leadership vacuum through political grandstanding.

One of the schemes by the politicians was the introduction of the sharia legal system, which was a feeble concoction to douse the balance of power that had moved to the South. The fact that the sharia system contrasted with the constitutional postulation of the country as a secular state, clearly showed the mischievous intention of the protagonists.

Although the sharia proviso succeeded as a weapon of political opposition, it left on its wake the potentials for religious dysfunction, which flummoxed the citizens and benumbed them from holding the politicians to account for their mandate.

In a bid to escape the backlash of non-implementation, other states tried to emulate the Zamfara State government by adopting the sharia system, which bandwagon effect was overwhelming in the entire north. Such frenzy was behind a murderous riot in Kaduna State.

As the ullama agitated for sharia across the region, northern state governors closed their eyes to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), including widening access to education, reducing maternal mortality and poverty. In its place, hisbah committees were set up comprising young men to enforce sharia, instead of creating job opportunities and widening economic empowerment schemes.

Although the election of late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua came as a stop-gap, the interest and impact of sharia waned, as citizens began to notice the disparity in its execution and effectives. Furthermore, the sharia system was seen as a ploy by the elite to protect their wealth and continue the subjugation of the masses. With time the double standards in the implementation became common knowledge.

However, things were to take a turn for the worse when barely three years on the saddle, Yar’Adua died and former Vice President Jonathan not only took his place but also went on to contest and win the presidency for a full four year term.

With the continuing destabilization of the balance of power and sphere of influence of northern leaders, some ambitious political actors, who were uncomfortable over the sudden loss of power, declared their intention to make the country ungovernable.

Could it be that the Boko Haram insurgency came on the scene as the offshoot of the poorly implemented sharia system? There are no tangible data to prove such relationship, but it could be deduced that the killing fields, which the northern Nigeria has become could be traced to the gambit, which took root in Zamfara State and spread to Borno.

Burden Of Democracy
Long used to unquestioning authority, it could also be said that the resort to armed banditry and violent crimes by young people comes as part of the burden of democracy on the region.

The masses have seen the political leaders cozying up with their immediate family as they enjoy the good life, as such they too want to banish hunger by force, especially in the face of harsh economic policies and depleting incomes that the Buhari administration brought about.

Consequently, northern Nigeria’s huge population, which is touted as a source of blessing has transformed into economic nightmare and social burden, thereby compounding the challenges in the region.

Therefore, it is possible that ACF and non-partisan northern leaders lost the opportunity to address the challenges, first by failing to set agenda for the governors and even the president concerning priority concerns of the region.

In the basket of the unfolding crisis are the mesh of shrinking economic opportunities, insecurity, unstable social amenities in health and education, manifesting in unrelenting violence. The ACF confabulation therefore holds not much promise, especially given its failure to pass a consensus opinion on which direction the zone should go before the 2019 election.

Even at that, such consensus if contemplated, the question would be how far it could be enforced. That burden of democracy is what defrays the attempt by the ACF board of directors to jaw jaw on the security situation in the region. At least from the foregoing, it could be seen that they are as interwoven as they are deeply rooted in the past.

The next milestone of challenge, which might engulf the country into needless chaos is the possibility that faced with the enormity of social challenges in the zone, northern leaders might form a consensus of opinion to thrash power shift to the south in 2023 as some elements have already mooted.

Could it then be that ACF meeting was ostensibly to look into the political alternatives, rather than as a talk-shop on the security situation in the region, which it was sold to be? The spokesman of ACF, Muhammed Biu, denied any such association saying: “The BOT of ACF met in Kaduna today and we discussed a number of measures, which we hope to discuss with the government so as to find a lasting solution to the security challenges facing us as a nation.”

Biu said the forum resolved not to make public its policy thrust until the National Executive Council (NEC), which is the implementing arm, meets “to see what we have proposed and the way forward.”

In the light of the statement by the minister of defence, Mansur Dan Ali, that traditional rulers from some states in the north are behind the spate of violence, it could be said that the ACF BoT’s propositions are already dead on arrival.

The minister maintained that “some unpatriotic persons, including highly placed traditional rulers in the areas were identified as helping the bandits with intelligence to perpetuate their nefarious actions, in spite of concerted efforts of the armed forces and other security agencies.”

In spite of the minister’s claims, most Nigerians believe the federal government has not lived up to the expectations of section 14 (2) (b) of the Constitution. That means more work for a lackluster ACF.


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