By Abu Abdul-Rahman
Next to Independence Day, January 15th is the single most significant date in the political annals of Nigeria. For the North, it was the day it lost its best crop of political leaders till date while the nation forfeited its democratic ‘virginity’ to military takeovers. This is why since 1966, Northerners have always commemorated the day with prayers for the repose of the tragic heroes symbolized by Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and the Sardaunan Sokoto and Premier of the former Northern Region, Sir Ahmadu Bello.
On this 52nd anniversary, the Sir Ahmadu Bello Memorial Foundation (SABMF), the Arewa Research and Development Project (ARDP) and the Arewa Initiative for Good Governance (AI2G) in collaboration with other Northern platforms organised a one-day conference on “The North and the Challenge of Leadership.” The SABMF conference hall, venue of the event, was sparsely populated, but the caliber of discussants and quality of the discourse more than made up for the poor attendance. As one participant remarked, the absence of many and especially the total absence of any elected incumbent leaders at the conference is a pointer to the sore need why such a programme is needed in the first place.
The greatest kudos to the organisers must go for the high class of participants from across the socioeconomic and political spectrum. Thus, while the youth constituted about two-thirds of the audience, both genders and all the generations up to those in their nineties were present. In this light, Justice Muhammad Nasir, the Galadima of Katsina was the unofficial father of the day. His goodwill message consisted of just one request: what we need is peace and unity.
In his welcome address delivered by former Governor Ibrahim Shekarau of Kano State, the chairman of the SABMF Board of Trustees, former Governor Muazu Babangida Aliyu disclosed the foundation’s resolve to use the date ever year to hold discussions on serious issues affecting the region. Urging participants to exert themselves and fashion practical solutions to the leadership challenges bedeviling the north and stultifying its development, the chairman said it is easily possible for the nearly 200 million Nigerians to change the about 11,000 elected office holders nationwide.
A former Inspector-General of Police and chairman of the occasion, Alhaji Ibrahim Coomasie who is also chairman of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) offered the opening remarks by lamenting the rapid deterioration of all aspects of life in the north and the nation generally. In his view, what the nation attained in 1999 was civilian rule. There is now neither democracy nor good governance to show for it hence the pressing need to tackle the critical lacuna.
Professor Alkasum Abba of the Ahmadu Bello University in his keynote address entitled “Leadership Training: the Case of the North,” nicely narrowed the theme by bringing into focus the cause of the current leadership crisis, which is the breakdown of the leadership training programme intrinsic in the local administrative system, which produced the leaders we remain proud of to this day. According to him, the urgency is underlined by the fact that the north is at the bottom of all statistics and may be headed for further anarchy and chaos unless responsible and responsive leaders take charge soonest.
The historian traced the beginning of the decline in leadership quality to the advent of military rule dating from the January 15, 1966 murderous military misadventure. Northern Nigeria was a collection of several organised states brought together under British colonial rule. The Native Authority (NA) was the system of government that came about as a result of the so-called indirect rule in the region and provided excellent leadership recruitment and training mechanism. Thus, the first generation of northern leaders cut across class, creed, ethnicity and religion while commonly excelling in selfless leadership focused on the well-being of the greatest number.
According to Professor Abba, intermittent and prolonged military rule crippled and finally truncated leadership training programme especially in the North by denying civilians the opportunity to run their affairs. The result is the incapability and incompetence being demonstrated by the current crop of leaders at all levels of governance. This is a complete departure from the accountability, composure, skills and discipline displayed by the first generation of northern leaders. His conclusion was that a similar or even better system of leadership recruitment and training must be immediately fashioned out to correct the lacuna before it gets too late to salvage the society from the looming anarchy.
Chaired by Honourable Saudatu Sani, a two-time former member of the House of Representatives, the second panel discussion on the way forward featured Professor Iyorwuese Hagher, Ambassador Abdullahi Omaki, Dr. Abubakar Siddique Mohammed, Dr. Lydia Umar and Dr. Yima Sen. All the panelists agreed that doing nothing about the deteriorating standard of leadership in the north is not an option. According to Dr. Mohammed, bringing back accountability into governance is the barest minimum for the salvation of the sinking nation. Professor Hagher, who was until recently chair of the African Leadership Institute in the USA, called the need to fix northern leadership “a race against time” and advocated for astronomical increase in the education budgets of the 19 northern states. These funds should be partly devoted to comprehensive political education for leaders and followers alike. Such training should, in the next recruitment, result in the choice of capable, conscientious, faithful, humble and patriotic leaders at all strata of governance.
Earlier in an intervention from the floor, Honourable Sani said one of the major reasons for the failure of northern leadership is the fact that women are being left behind in the critical areas of education, employment and politics even though they constitute almost half of the population. In her words: “Leaving the women behind brought us to where we are. Men alone cannot develop the North. We have to do it together.” Sani’s father was killed alongside Sir Ahmadu Bello in the January 15, military coup.
The communiqué of the conference read by Mr. Maiyashi ascertained that the north is indeed suffering deep leadership deficit demonstrated by the worsening conditions of living of the citizens and the bleak future awaiting its teeming youth. That this deficit is the consequence of a flawed leadership recruitment mechanism in our political parties today, precisely the prioritization of money over character, competence and capacity. This justifies the convening of the conference at this point in order to contribute in checkmating the catastrophe at our doorsteps. Identifying leaders and followers as stakeholders, the communiqué called on all northerners to decisively confront the challenge of changing bad leaders at every level by putting some minimum benchmark around character, competence and capacity, irrespective of political parties.The conference resolved to convene every quarter to ensure that we do not rest on our oars and that the North is kept on its toes until this campaign for better leadership impacts on the 2019 elections.
In his closing remarks, Dr. Usman Bugaje, convener of the ARDP and a former member of the House of Representatives reiterated the need for all stakeholders to consider the leadership challenge in the North as a matter of life and death; after all, tens of thousands have died and many more are dying daily or suffering unnecessarily from the poor leadership of elected officials. According to him, it is now time to stop agonizing and start organising for a better leadership to emerge soonest. For this to happen we must mobilize all and sundry, particularly the youth, to ensure that the message for better quality leadership permeates the North. That AI2G is building an infrastructure to coordinate this massive campaign for quality as against moneybags, godfathers and “sak.”
The vote of thanks by the SABMF’s Dr. Shetima Ali was full of appreciation for all participants who invested their time in making the conference a successful outing. He thanked the contributors for the high quality of the presentations and the workable resolutions, which set the stage for successful struggle to enthrone better leadership for the north and the nation.
Abu Abdul-Rahman is a partner in Zakara Communications Ltd., 7, Katuru Road, Kaduna, Nigeria.