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South-west: The zone to watch (111)

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Emmanuel Yawe

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As the Chairman, Northern Governors Forum, Muazu Babangida Aliyu, has stepped into the big shoes of the late Sardauna of Sokoto who once governed the territory that has been split into 19 states. But the similarity between the two men ends there.

Aliyu, a PhD holder, is a well educated man. The late Sardauna’s highest educational qualification was a teacher’s grade 111 certificate. The Sardauna was a man of few words. In fact, in his book, My Life, he said his shortest speech, delivered during the ill-fated debate on Nigeria’s independence in 1952, was also the most significant in his political life.  “The mistake of 1914 has come to light and I should like to say no further.” This short speech is quoted up till date.

Early in his days as governor, Aliyu took a helicopter to the tip of Zuma rock. Precariously perched there, he delivered a ‘sermon on the mount’. This has become a trade mark of his stewardship – long endless speeches. He promised to turn the place into a tourist masterpiece. Since then, every day I switched on my TV, I see him delivering some powerful speech to some group, somewhere in Nigeria.

The itinerant pedagogue has, however, failed to deliver on his promise of a tourist paradise at Zuma. Down from where he delivered this ‘sermon’, what you see is a sprawling ghetto - Zuba, Madalla and Suleja have merged to become perhaps Africa’s biggest squalor camp. It is now the operational base of Boko Haram. From here they launch deadly bomb attacks on Abuja and its environs.

In its most current statics on poverty level in Nigeria, the National Bureau of Statistics has placed Niger state as the second poorest in the country. Not to worry. The state defeated Sokoto and has taken over as the ‘food basket of the nation’, a title in which Benue state rejoiced until the coming of Gabriel Suswam as governor.

It is not only Benue that has turned a blind eye on agriculture in the North. All northern states have abandoned this big asset. Nature abhors a vacuum and as the massive arable land mass of the north lies idle, desertification has set in. The Sahara desert is moving in at a speed that experts describe to me as “frightening.”

The North has lost not only the groundnut pyramids that raked in generous revenue for the region but is also losing the very land for its cultivation. Every year, elaborate tree planting campaigns are launched to check desert encroachment. State governors turn up at these ceremonies heavily decked and in sleek cars. Immediately the ceremony is over, they drive away in fury, the dust raised by their fast moving cars uproot the feeble, newly planted trees. Those that survive eventually weather away with nobody to tend them. The following year, another venue is chosen for the ceremony.

The short and long term implications of desertification for the North are completely lost on the governors. As the desert eats up the north east and north- west, the sedentary farmers and itinerant cattle Fulani start to compete for arable land. It is an intense competition, often leading to communal fights with rampant killings. Some of the combatants move down south to the North –centre in search of greenery. This further complicates the delicate ethnic and religious equation in this zone. It raises tensions, evident in the situation in Plateau state and the clashes between Tiv farmers and Fulani cattlemen prevalent in Benue, Nasarawa and Taraba. Needles to say, when the north expends all her energy fighting tribal and religious wars as we are doing today, none is left to fight poverty.

The amazing thing about northern governors is that they have no sense of nostalgia.  In 1959, Sir Ahmadu Bello was to head the Nigerian government as Prime Minister. He declined because he felt he had a heavier responsibility to attend to – uplifting the disadvantaged position of the north to catch up with the rest of the country. Forty years after, Atiku Abubakar was elected governor of Adamawa. He was yet to be sworn in when he abdicated the office to become a Vice President to Obasanjo. Could the Sardauna have done that? But our northern governors are too far gone to learn. Even as Obasanjo turned Atiku to a punching bag in the Villa, northern governors, particularly the Moslems were each offering themselves to Obasanjo as possible replacements. None stood by him. They all betrayed him.

Today, we have Sambo who abandoned his gubernatorial duties to play second fiddle to Jonathan. Was he elected to be a governor or to be a Vice President?

The desire to serve and to serve selflessly so that the north will stand shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the country is no longer there. Most governors in the north today are scrambling to dip their hands into the mess of pottage. How that pottage is made is not their problem. They take their allocations; they take Local government allocations too and pocket everything. They are very greedy.

The abandonment of ethical standards is not only prevalent in the north. When the police went to James Ibori’s village to arrest and charge him to court for corrupt practices, his people overwhelmed them and they had to beat a retreat. Ibori had convinced his people that the money he stole was their oil money and since he stole it on their behalf they had a duty to protect him. That is the mentality of the South-south; they care more about resource control than good governance.

The South-east offers a similar situation of hopelessness. None of their governors except the new and energetic Rochas Okorocha offers the hope of something to look up to. They too are not talking about

the great achievements of Zik and Okpara. They are hanging onto the utopia of Biafra, forgetting that the living conditions in that ill fated republic were worse than the Nigeria they were running away from.

In the current scenario, the only reasonable position is the one taken by the South West. They are not asking for cheap oil money. Lagos state has demonstrated that oil is not the only source of wealth. They look back with nostalgia to the days of Awolowo and they want to integrate the old West so that it becomes more viable for the challenges ahead.

Sadly, our northern governors have not taken a lead from what the South West is saying and doing. Somebody should tell Aliyu Babangida that he is irritating more responsible northerners with this his almajiri mentality. After pocketing their allocations, those of the Local Governments and their security votes, they cannot even provide security for northerners. I have said it on this page before: the north can survive without oil money but the north cannot survive with the bad governance that is the fashion in the northern states today.

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