By ‘Dipo Onabanjo
Like the western Nigeria of the early 1960s during which it got the blood-chilling sobriquet, the ‘Wild, Wild West,’ home of ‘Operation Weti e’ (‘operation wet it with petrol and burn it down’), the North is also experiencing its own quake. Call the entire region, the ‘Wild, Wild North’ or home of ‘Operation Bombu e’, meaning ‘operation bomb it all’; one would not be far from the truth.
The crisis in the defunct Western Region then was in response to perceived political injustice and electoral fraud that robbed the people of their electoral mandate. It also witnessed the persecution of some credible political leaders from that part of the country.
But what is going on in the North appears to me hydra-headed. It is a kind of revolution with variegated colours. It is religious, ethnic, political and socio-economic in content and direction. The notorious Boko Haram insurgents in collaboration with their al-Qaeda brothers from the Maghreb region give the revolution its religious, political and socio-economic contents while the murderers in Plateau State in particular give it its ethnic colouration.
If the crisis in the North were devoid of emotional contents of religion and ethnicity, it would have been a much more welcome one, indeed an opportunity to rouse the entire region from its long years of slumber.
For, it is a fact that the North has slumbered for too long, making it excel in virtually everything that is negative in terms of development indices: home of the most poor, the most uneducated, the most unenlightened and the most underdeveloped. It is sad, very sad that rather than addressing the challenges of poverty, illiteracy and underdevelopment, some people in the North are busy killing and maiming fellow human beings and destroying property in their quest for an Islamic state, fighting a so-called Jihad ostensibly on behalf of a God or Allah that is omnipotent enough to fight His cause.
If it is true they are being used for a sinister political motive, as is being canvassed in some quarters, would they not have been able to reject that kind of errand if they had been educated about what Islam truly means, which is peace with God and peace with man? I cannot imagine their Muslim brothers in the southern parts of the country, with their education and enlightenment, falling into this kind of cheap misuse.
Over the years, particularly from the 1980s when the Maitatsine, a religious sect struck, the North has allowed itself to fall prone to deceit and misuse in the name of religion. Unfortunately most northern leaders cash in on religious sentiments to fan embers of disunity and gain political power. It should be recalled that at the inception of the current political dispensation in 1999, some northern leaders raked up what former president Olusegun Obasanjo aptly called political Sharia in the guise of defending religious rights. At the end of the day, it was clear that the pro-Sharia forces even lacked the moral right to enforce Sharia laws over which they threatened fire and brimstone on the entire country. Simply put, they were using religion as a smokescreen to deceive many Nigerians.
It is a pity that for the over three decades the North has been engulfed in this bloody business, it has been a further fall from grace to grass: it has lost its agricultural strength, its industrial capacity, its environmental beauty, respect and affection from non-indigenes and religious tolerance. It has even lost its cohesiveness as the Middle Belt states are just tagging along and may break off in the event of further religious persecution of their people by the core North.
The region is now on the path of self-destruction, sowing seeds of death and decay. My fear is that the rate at which the region is engaged in self-immolation, there will be no meaningful development, say in the next decade and this will compel its leaders to embark on another round of hate crusade and accusations over perceived marginalisation of the region by others. They will, out of jealousy and inability to compete favourably with their not too impressive counterparts in the South, complain about lack of adequate resources from the centre and too much of same going to some southern states.
But as deeply cloudy as the situation is, there is still a silver lining. The ongoing crisis in the area is not entirely hopeless in spite of the shenanigans of the Boko Haram and their brothers engaged in blood-curdling violence. Happily, the crisis has produced youths who for many years had been silent, even when used as cannon fodders. Some of these youths are now bold enough to challenge the competence of their leaders, asking them questions and demanding answers.
One of them is Shehu Sani, president of the Civil Rights Congress who boldly accused the northern governors of having “contributed a lot to the pervasive insecurity in northern Nigeria. Their major interest is serving themselves and settling political hoodlums, religious leaders and traditional rulers.” He further alleged that the security votes in most of the states have been turned into “a patronage fund for royalties and supporters.”
In a similar vein, the Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, an umbrella of northern youths, blamed the poverty and insecurity situation in the region on past leaders of northern extraction who they alleged, failed to develop the area. Describing the leaders as self-serving type, the youths vowed to prevent anyone of the surviving leaders from seeking power in 2015.
How I wished the Boko Haram Jihadists had argued like these youths. They would have been understood as seeking good governance for the people of the region rather than being apostles of religious violence and hate.
The significance of the youths’ comments is that there is a growing awareness about the paucity of good leaders in the North. It is this awareness, if encouraged that will force a change of guards in the area. The North needs selfless, incorruptible and knowledge-driven leaders to lead it out of the woods. It does not need leaders who aid and abet people who commercialise religion in the hope of going to some heaven with beautiful maidens for ‘supper!’ Such thinking is warped and can only be believed by people with little understanding of the religion they claim to propagate.
Let the youths from today take their destiny in their own hands for it is they that own the North of tomorrow, not the Boko Haram who can only destroy what others have laboured to build. We can only remind them that those who wage war against peace and development have a certain place in the dustbin of history.