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Published On: Wed, Sep 10th, 2014

Arewa: One region, several voices

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Professor-Ango-AbdullahiAli M. Ali.

There, currently, exists two distinct major pressure groups in the North each claiming to be an ‘elders’ assembly. One goes by the name ‘Northern Elders Forum’ (NEF). The other answers the name ‘Northern Council of Elders’. They are both ‘speaking’ for the region, a region serially betrayed by some of the fluffy pates now posing as ‘elders’. Those not in the ‘elderly’ class swear that one of the groups is speaking for bread. The other, they insist and still under oath, are speaking to atone for its sins. NEF is lead by the erudite Yusuf Maitama Sule, Danmasanin Kano and foremost teacher. The fiery academic, Professor Ango Abdullahi who interestingly, was a student of the oratorical Maitama Sule, is one of the men populating it.

Another Kano politician, the inimitable Tanko Yakasai, leads the second group. Both men are elders all right. They are elders by whatever standard. Both are above 80 years. Both have a rich political history. Both have intervened at specific times for good or for ill, in the region’s political history.

Both men were Commissioners in the cabinet of Military Governor Audu Bako when Kano was created in 1967.Before then, Sule was a Minister at the tender age of 29 or there about in the First Republic. Yakasai, on the other hand, was a founding member of the radical left winged NEPU.

In 1978 the Danmasanin Kano stepped down for Shehu Shagari in the defunct NPN presidential primaries. Yakasai who was also a stalwart of the NPN queued behind Shagari in the primaries notwithstanding that Sule was more popular and willing. At the time, Shagari’s interest was in the Senate. But because it suited certain interests to draft a reluctant candidate, Shagari was preferred. Sule, sensing political subterfuge beat a retreat and honourably stepped down. He was sent to the UN as a permanent representative when Shagari was elected president in 1979.

Yakasai was to become the Presidential Liaison Officer (PLO) National Assembly matters.

Yakasai is a self made man. He taught himself several skills. His autobiography ‘The Story of a humble life’is a story of inspiration. He was editor of the vernacular Comet.

In the ill-fated Third Republic, Danmasani pitched his tent with the defunct NRC. I can’t remember which political party Yakasai belonged to. But in 1999 his support for APP was visible. He played a major role in the appointment of Aisha Ismail from Kano as Minister in Obasanjo first term as elected president.

With such resume’ as these and at this age, I can’t think of any reason they will be running from pillar to post to push an agenda except for the common good. But their action or inaction portrays them as working at cross-purpose.

At times like these, parallels are always drawn. Cynics and critics are unsparing. They likened Yakasai’s Council of Elders to Yoruba Council of Elders. This group was used to counter the rabidly anti Obasanjo, Afenifere. It was alleged then, that YCE received direct funding from the foxy Obasanjo to dilute the influence of Afenifere on the Southwest. Fingered, as the mastermind of YCE was Bola Ige.

A local feud among Yoruba elites that saw Falae emerging as the preferred presidential candidate to Ige, in 1999 fuelled the evolution of YCE.

Yakasai’s Northern Council of Elders bear tell tale signs of YCE. It is alleged by its critics of it being funded directly from the office of the current Vice President, Namadi Sambo and therefore, his sidekick.

Secondly the predictable footwork of its leader doesn’t help in ridding it of the image of a spoiler to the northern cause. Among its leading lights are political ‘have beens’ blissfully disconnected from the region and the people they purportedly are representing.

NEF predated the current regime. Like Afenifere, NEF seeks to protect regional interests. In the late 90s, I recall an instance when late Abdurrahman Okene as Chairman sued for power shift to the South. Several northerners kicked. I was among.

Among the shakers of NEF are men with a mighty political grudge using it as a veneer to settle scores. But for its overtly combative disposition, NEF would have been a dream in truly steering the region away from the present clear and present danger.

These two groups are diametrically opposed. Expectedly, protecting or promoting a common regional cause has been a tower of babel. From where I am seated, I see not elders but politicians involved in subterfuges carried over from years of political disharmony among them.

This is the part where it becomes tough for me as a commentator. Belling this cat is going to be tricky. It involves the ‘elders’. In traditional Africa, it is taboo to speak uncharitably of the elder(s).It is even more so when you do that in full public glare.

I am guilty of both. I imagine my bosses been inundated with calls on account of my temerity in disrobing some of the elders in the market square. Or better, bellyaching to my forebears.

My generation is sired by this lucky lineage. They received the best of western and eastern education. They inherited a ‘workable’ system. After years of calling the shots, they bequeath a wobbly system in which competence and enterprise are poisoned gifts in the hands of the ‘unchosen’.

Unless you are a godson, chances are that you will not advance to anywhere notwithstanding your abilities. They said Sardauna who nurtured these elders wasn’t like this. My generation grew up thinking that it is ‘who you know not what you know’ that matters.

This is their legacy. Look around the region. Look at how new leaders are recruited. Buffoons are promoted well over and above their competence. The express aim? Your guess is as good as mine. All indices of development are depressing. Education has collapsed literally. Infrastructure is kaput. The region economy has been ravaged. Currently the Northeast is at war.

Except for one or two shining examples, governors in the region have become tin-footed gods at whose feet everyone must bow in deference of their awesome power.

Few think ahead. This may not be unconnected to what they subconsciously assimilated from some of the elders while they superintended over our affairs in their prime.

Both groups should heed this. Close your ranks. They only way you could salvage the region are by having one voice. Never mind history. This time around your biggest leverage-political power is missing. You can’t afford the cacophony.

Gone are the days when dissonance paid. Not anymore. NEF behave like elders not like Dokubo gone berserk. Council of elders, conduct you not like a dog at the sight of a bone.


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