The North is ‘Cash and Carry’
In Assemblies of al-Hariri, the narrator, Harith Ibn Hammam, promised Abu Zayd, the central character of book, a gold coin. The condition was that Abu Zayd must compose a poem in its praise. Abu Zayd, anxious to earn the coin, went straight into improvisation.
He described its purity that is yellow, its spread and journey that traverses regions. It is famous and reputable. It accompanies success. “Its bright look is loved by mankind as though its ore had been molten of their hearts.” It makes people bold even in the absence of relatives. It ends grief and softens anger. It delivers a prisoner after his relations have lost hope in his freedom... Finally, Abu Zayd ended his poem by telling the bitter truth in the following wonderful verse:
“Now by the Truth of the Lord whose creation brought it forth, were it not for His fear, I should say its power is supreme.”
We may not be spending gold coins today. However, whatever we use as a medium of exchange, the central issue remains the same: material wealth. I recall the story of a white American who once asked Sayyid Qutb about Islam. After Sayyid has concluded a long lecture to which the American listened attentively, the American looked down and pitifully confessed: “All what you said about Islam and about divinity is true. But the only god I know is the dollar.”
Naira. That is the “gold coin” in Nigeria. For its sake a lot of principles have been compromised. All interests have zeroed and melted away, except its. All values are dwarfed before its magnificence. If it were not for His fear, we would have borrowed from al-Hariri to say that its power is supreme.
Naira is used to reach at different positions in Nigeria. Before, no one will be entrusted with anything except he was respectful. It was difficult to be a leader for example simply because you are rich. In most cases, unless you are born with a blue blood, wealth will not take you an inch closer kingship. Even when monarchies became outmoded, one requires some qualities like honesty, hard work, generosity, etc. to become a leader. He must be respectful in the society for possessing one or more such qualities.
But Naira has changed all this. Leadership today is for the highest bidder. No one is interested in your quality. What you are ready to offer is what matters. Even in places where the greatest restraint is expected, places regarded as the custodians of values and principles, like in the courts and academic circles, no one is interested in the truth. The ‘truth’ is money. Judgement is for the highest bidder. Wherever a rule is to apply, it must be interpreted in his favor. Who said the constitution is supreme?
What is alarming is how fast we are allowing money to dehumanize us. It is not enough to say that we differ from animals by our power to reason. Animals too have the capacity to reason. That is why they have brains and so on. The fundamental difference is in how we use our reason. Man, unlike animals, must always use his reason relevantly in the advancement of both individual and collective interest. The human in us makes us to consider the interest of others, even where it means sacrificing ours, for mutual coexistence and elevation of our society.
Wherever a nation advances materially or spiritually, it is as a result of a sacrifice made by a section of the society for its collective benefit. Consider a scientist in the laboratory spending long hours in pursuit of a solution to a problem regarding ecology, medicine or agriculture. Then imagine a leader fighting for the rights of his people. More often than not, he spends most part of his life in jail such that one-day they will taste the joy of freedom. Imagine also the head of a family. He spends most of his daytime driving a taxi or doing an office job. His motive is to enable his family have a comfortable today and a brighter tomorrow. Sacrifice is a prerequisite of success, wherever the latter is recorded.
The sad thing is how money has tampered with this dialectic. Even the wise, who knows that money is not an end, is tempted to feel that it is the shortest cut to success. Yes. With money one can enjoy many facilities, do many things and solve many problems. He can even command obedience of people and afford to live above the law.
But that is missing the point. It is taking the value of money too far, to the point of criminality. Money can do all the above in decadent societies. Where the rule of law exists and where people are conscious of their freedom and civilization, money though not deprived of any significance, is nevertheless put in its right place. It is a means to some ends. This means that others can never be reached through money.
The worst scenario is where money is accorded a dual role of ‘means’ and ‘end’ at the same time. Here, the society becomes a hostage of its acquisition. Life becomes vicious, starting from acquisition, then consumption, then crime and back to acquisition again. Everything is sacrificed on its behalf. Once money is mentioned, then every other thing, including honor, freedom, scholarship, trust, etc. would come submitting to its majesty. Nothing is seen, except through the prism of material wealth.
The case of the North is this worse scenario. This is a region that has for the past twenty years experienced a sharp decline in values. Nothing of value is on the ascendant except the material. This region was known for its industry whose products traversed regions and continents. Today it has the least number of industries in the country. It was known for its scholarship that was equated to the academic circles of Andalusia and Fatimid Egypt. Today, it is the least educated in the country. We cannot even compete with others to get the cheap certificates of western education. It was also known for its civilization where great cities and Empires flourished and to which others came to find something to survive on. The widely acknowledged generosity of its leaders was only possible from a large reservoir of abundance and hard work. Today, we are the least developed and the least sufficient. We rely on others even on matches and household utensils.
Someone would call the grafting of Western values on our land to explain our decay. This is not true. I am tired of such excuses. My contention has remained that even within the ethical paradigm of the West, our performance in the last twenty years has been woeful. Inquisition, hard work, competition, independence, rule of law, and many other values of civilization are characteristic of the West – from Europe to America. Today, we share none of these. We are blinded, from top to bottom, with the quest of money, without hard work.
I would rather blame us. In the choice of leadership and its woeful performance, we share a collective guilt. Take the highest class of politicians and public ‘servants’. Many see public offices as means of acquiring wealth. People congratulate winners of elections and appointees into public office in crowds. It is no longer seen as a responsibility or a liability. Rather, it is seen as an opportunity to become rich.
As such, whenever elections will hold, there will be a swarm of people ready to contest, all of them are the least qualified. And as soon as they appear, everybody involved in the election process starts to request for his own share. Money therefore becomes imperative in participating in any contest. The more you give, the better are your chances of winning. No one cares about your record, past or present. Your certificates may be forged, yet the security and party officials will stand by your side at all levels. The masses will not bother either. Just distribute N20 notes, some bars of soap or hire some thugs. Suddenly, success will come knocking at your door. Whatever you intend to do in office thereafter is your business. All what the people are asking now is an ‘advance payment’.
Who then is not guilty? Is it the party official, or the security personnel in charge of screening the candidates? Is it the supervisor and returning officers who are mostly teachers and local government officials or the masses who refuse to come out and vote unless they are ‘settled’?
May God have mercy on the Sardauna! He knew that this region was poor. It was in its early stage of growth. Any introduction of money into politics will ruin its chances of independence. He fought against its introduction into the region by the Action Group from the 1953 to 1964. Even NEPU cannot accuse the NPC of using money. They used traditional institutions. Agreed. They won the fight against money. But shortly after them, the candle of responsibility was extinguished. Money was introduced into politics especially during the Second Republic and intensified under the SDP and NRC.
The absence of money from our politics made it possible for ideology to be a determining factor in our politics. NEPU could not have recorded its achievements had the Sardauna resorted to the politics of money. In fact Awolowo could have won right from the beginning, as his kinsmen later did in 1993 and 1999. Now that money has traversed the North, NEPU and PRP are history. Ideology is thrown to the dogs. The dog does not need it either. With its cash in hand, the dog can enjoy the drink of its choice.
I disagree completely with those who claim that June 12 was a national consensus. It was only a consensus in one sense: that the presidency goes to the highest bidder. Almost all our northern politicians were bought over, cash down. We all saw what happened. It was shameful. Those bought openly told the South when June 12 was annulled that they have fulfilled their own part of the bargain. So what else was Abiola demanding from them? They abandoned him and switched over to the highest bidder of that time, Abacha, who gave them cabinet appointments.
The Fourth Republic came through the same barrel. Obasanjo came and these prostitutes were again at their trade. No one could honestly say that money did not determine the result of the Jos Convention in 1999 as it did earlier in 1993. It also determined who was the winner.
The same thing applied to elections at other levels. We have failed to borrow a leaf from the South. When election comes, they know only their own.
If another election were to hold today, these political prostitutes will return and swear by their honor, if they have any, that the real name of Olu Falae is Awwalu Falalu or that of Obasanjo is Baba Sirajo. For the first time in politics, the North is gullible.
They were against Obasanjo when he has not given them political appointments or when he does not threaten their loot. The moment they are promised one or the safety of their loot is assured, they would not mind telling millions of northerners at a NEPU gathering that Obasanjo’s leadership is the best thing that has happened to this country.
The North must shed another tears for the third week in our discourse. It must weep at the preponderance of money politics that has eroded everything its people held valuable after weeping earlier for losing its leadership in 1966 and the rape it underwent under the ruining dynasty.
Here, it is important to recount what Abu Zayd said when Harith Ibn Hammam promised to give him a second coin, this time if could compose another poem blaming it as he did the first in its praise. He immediately started: “Ruin on it for a deceiver and insincere, the yellow one with two faces like a hypocrite…” Finally, he concluded by saying: Well done he who casts it away from a hill-top, and who, when it whispers to him with the whispering of a lover, says to it in the words of the truth-speaking, the veracious, “I have no mind for intimacy with thee, - be gone!”
Northerners and their politicians must return to their senses. We must know that what makes a hero or a good leader is not money, but sacrifice. In the face of filled ‘Ghana must go’, fat foreign accounts and political appointments, we must all be ready to say, “be gone!”
I wish we would do just that before 2003. Right now, we are cash and carry.