- The North must look inward to fix its own problems
Northern governors, under the auspices of the Northern Governors Forum (NGF), met on September 11 and declared their region was ‘decaying’.
“It has become imperative, especially for northern state governors,” said Kashim Shettima, chair of the forum and governor of Borno State, “to brace up for the challenges ahead.”
The governors’ alarm would elicit varied responses, with not a few claiming it could be another northern ploy to corner more resources, now that the president is from that region.
That would be cynical but not altogether unfounded. But if that is true of the North, it is also true of other parts of the country. The Nigerian political elite, for selfish interests, often regionalise power — the Goodluck Jonathan Presidency’s South-South – South East coalition being the latest example.
But there appears no guarantee that even other regions yet to taste federal power, would not return to such clannishly self-destruct behaviour when they eventually get their chance. Still, that is no path a nation should travel.
That is why it is reassuring that the northern governors themselves, from their resolutions, appear to be looking inward, not towards some federal might (euphemism for loading the dice of federal favours in a regional direction), to solve their present and pressing problems.
Again, from Governor Shettima: “After exhaustive deliberations, the northern state governors have resolved to adopt a holistic approach towards solving the problems. Should the present leaders fail, the consequences would be better be imagined than experienced.”
On this, the NGF is spot on — the region, wilting under numerous crisis, from the economy to security, does need a holistic plan: of the North, for the North, by the North.
Take security. The Boko Haram menace is the North’s most reported security challenge. It is good news the government appears to, at last, be routing the insurgents. But even with that, the terrible scars remain. So, there must be a grand post-militancy resettlement and reorientation programme.
Aside from Boko Haram, ethnic killings, with roots firmly in economic parchment, lay the North prostrate. Even with a reported peace initiative, 20 people, on September 11, were reportedly slain in killings in the Plateau communal crisis, where the Fulani and Berom are falling upon themselves. In Taraba and Adamawa, it is the same gory tale of ethnic killings. This conundrum of inter-ethnic resentment, if not outright hatred, is what the North must sort out — and fast.
But it cannot do that without digging deep into its roots; and a major problem is the fatal match-up between Fulani herdsmen and local farmers. The herdsmen appear to have gifted themselves the divine right to feed their cattle, even if that means wilfully destroying the farmers’ livelihood. The farmers too would appear to take laws into their own hands, pleading criminal collusion from some elements of state, who they allege illicitly embolden the marauding herdsmen.
Yet, both herdsmen and farmers are entitled to legitimate livelihood.
What to do? The northern authorities must come up with a solid plan of building modern ranches, within which the herdsmen can graze their cattle, without endangering farmlands of pastoralists. Aside from doing away with the traditional nomadic grazing, that has triggered so much violence and bloodshed, the modern ranches would come with a sweet value-added: agro-allied processing. That way, the ranchers would get more money for their produce now turned products; but exert less physical energy; and suffer less loss of human lives. The same argument goes for the farmers. But mass enlightenment is needed to sell this new approach, to wean the mind of traditionalists off the old ways.
But more than anything, if the North really is desirous of exiting its present sorry pass, it must make conscious and collective investment in social infrastructure. Encouraging vibes are already coming out of Sokoto and Kaduna states, which governments have declared free and compulsory education to secondary school level. The key word is compulsory, for education in the North has always been largely free; but not many have taken advantage of this precious investment.
This challenge can be confronted with a sound and comprehensive education master plan, under the auspices of northern regional integration. Indeed, integration should be the developmental elixir for other geo-political regions in the country.