By Usman Bugaje,
The events of the post-2011 general elections where the North came out weakened and more divided not only exposed the fault lines but they also revealed the emptiness in our politics. That our politics has not only failed to address the huge developmental challenges facing the North, but, in fact, only generated poverty, decay and decadence; breeding, consequently, a growing army of hungry and angry young people who neither have good education nor employment nor hope. All these have elicited a deep sense of disappointment, despondency and deprivation across the North, making us more vulnerable to conflict and insecurity.
To be more to the point, Northern Nigeria has one of the worst health indices in the world, comparable only to war-torn and crisis-bedeviled countries and regions of the world. In Nigeria, the maternal mortality ratio stands at a worrisome level of 545 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births (NDHS 2008), with even a greater burden borne by the Northern States. The North-East Zone has a Maternal Mortality Ratio of 1549 per 100,000 live births, which markedly exceeds the national average. Risky home deliveries are highly prevalent in the Northern States: North-Central 59%, North-East 87.2%, North-West 91.6%, compared with South-East 26.1% and South-West 305. With an estimated 10.5 million children out of school in the North it is estimated that one out of every three school-age children is out of school. With these kinds of statistics we don’t need a fortuneteller to know that the North and its people have no future in the competitive environment of the 21st century. For the North to survive and thrive in the current global terrain it has to get its acts together and it has to get its governance right.
Governance in the 21st century is a corporate scientific business. We must treat it as such if we are ever to address the huge governance issues that have crippled our development, stunted our growth and lay to waste our most precious assets, our young men and women, our hope and our future. We must endeavour to inject our empty politics with ideas and direction, values and courage and, above all, unflinching determination to succeed. We have to use our knowledge base to find for the North a development agenda with clear strategies sector-by-sector, phase-by-phase, matching efforts with deliverables. We need comprehensive planning based on accurate data and statistics anchored in appropriate monitoring and effective evaluation.
The need for developing blueprint for the North emanated from the two-day conference convened by the ARDP, held on 5th and 6th December 2012, on “The North and Strategies for Sustainable Development” where top-of-the-range experts in different fields of social and economic development presented papers focusing on the development of the region. Following this successful conference the ARDP briefed a stakeholders’ forum and created five syndicate groups to work out the details of the strategies for social, economic, political and ethical recovery. Senator John Shagaya chaired the syndicate on politics and political power; Col. Hameed Ali (Rtd.) chaired the syndicate on peace and security; Prof Mike Kwanashie chaired the Syndicate on economy, and the syndicate the on social sector (health and education) was chaired by Hajiya Rabi Eshak. Engr. Bello Suleiman chaired the syndicate on values and leadership.
From March to about July 2013, the Syndicate groups worked tirelessly to produce drafts of their reports. We have made some reviews to identify gaps and address them. We are now about to complete the compilation of the report. A Committee of five experts is putting together the document, which is expected to be ready in the next few days. The document is coming up into some 16 chapters, which will go through a final editorial review before publication and public presentation.
Today we are gathered here to discuss the Northern response to the proposed National Conference. We are already aware of how the nation was ambushed with the idea of a National Conference and the setting up of a Presidential Committee, which went round to collect views of Nigerians on the need or otherwise of the proposed National Conference. Tacticians and strategists know that ‘when you are ambushed there is no room for retreat’. We are however glad to note that there was a common thread that ran through all the presentations in the North, including some official positions coming from state governments: that a National Conference is not necessary for the resolution of the real issues of governance in the country; that if, however, there has to be one, then it should be a Sovereign National Conference; and that representation to that SNC must be based on population as it is currently reflected in the structure of federal constituency principle.
The ARDP believed that, even as there is unambiguous consensus emerging across the North on the issue of the said National Conference/Dialogue or whatever name it is being called, it is absolutely necessary for the North to come together to brainstorm and harmonize its position on the National Conference and agree on the mode of engaging the Conference as a bloc. The idea is to guard the northern unity and ensure that the northern corporate interest does not suffer in any possible way. Our Conference today, therefore, is precisely to offer us the opportunity to discuss and harmonize our position on very fundamental issues. The first session looks at the structure of the Conference while the second session looks at the content of the Conference and the last session looks at the mode of engagement with the Conference and, perhaps, after. Indeed, the ARDP Newsletter for this quarter is devoted to issues central to this proposed National Conference/Dialogue. It is our hope that we shall digest the issues and come up with a harmonized position that shall inform the participation of the North if and when the Conference holds.
In the last few decades the North has seen such Conferences come and go without much to show for it. It is important that the North, Conference or no Conference, resist any distraction and concentrate on its development agenda. What the North needs today, more than anything else, is a development programme that can unleash its great potential, giving it the enormous competitive advantage, which will reposition it not only in the country but indeed on the African continent and this is what we want to get from the flurry and lofty ideas you would offer at the closing session of this conference.
Excerpts from introductory notes by Dr. Usman Bugaje, a former House of Representatives member, at a recent one-day conference on “The North and Proposed National Conference/Dialogue”, held at Arewa House, Kaduna.