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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Tired Elders

Tired Elders

The perceived shift of power to the South has precipitated a self-probe in the North. Who is to blame for its poor state of development?
Since the probe started last year, two groups have been pointing fingers at each other. To one of them belong the surviving elders. They believe that they have labored to build a good foundation for a viable Northern Nigeria. But political catastrophes visited the region. These catastrophes, the elders would argue, have forced the clock of our development to move in the opposite direction. The youth ceased power in 1966. Finally, after thirty-six years of their misrule, the country is in stinking mud. “If the direction of the clock was not changed,” the elders would say, “the North by now would have been at par with America. Forget about Southern Nigeria. It is a small fish that would have been swallowed as a sandwich.”
The second group comprises of the youth. According to the classification of some politicians, it includes even those in their late fifties. They are in turn reproaching the elders. They accuse them of derailing from the course of the great patriarch, the late Sardauna, and succumbing to the pressures of selfish desires.
I do not exonerate myself. I once made a similar charge in Sardauna: the North Since Your Departure, though in my case, unlike in most others, I did allow a room for exceptions.
My accusation was mild. Others were stronger. But the whole scenario, though sincere, is reminiscent of regret. It depicts defeat. To some extent, it describes our state of confusion over the past and our clouded vision of the future. Whether correct or wrong, one thing is clear. We are all honest in expressing our concern. The difference in opinion is natural. We are bound to see things differently, in the moulds of our individual experiences and cognitive abilities. My prayer is that this does not turn out to be a sealed fate, similar to the story of Owners of the Garden in Noun. We cannot help but to pray, as they regretfully did, that God will grant us another chance. Amen.
The self-probe is nevertheless a useful exercise. It is only when we identify the cause of a problem that we can find its effective solution. In my view both groups are right, to a fairly good extent. But I strongly feel that in the end of the analysis, the “youths” would carry most of the blame, if there will be any to apportion.

The elders, I did not say leaders, have a strong defense. There was no way the North could have a second Sardauna. Impossible.
My reasons are simple. First, the Sardauna operated under a different political terrain. The North was one region under a single leadership that was committed to its unity and progress. The region was quickly partitioned after his death to fit into the political calculation of the south and meet the ethnic desires of the middle belt.
The partitioning of the North inevitably led to the loss of a common purpose. No common leadership would emerge since 1966. The governors that took over did not share a common vision. More so when they did not share the same cultural and political background, though they belonged to the same military establishment. Some of them felt it was a duty to dissociate their states further away from the rest of the North.
Also, since the states in the North are administratively not bound to a regional overseer, but to the head of state at the federal level, it was natural for things to fall apart as far as the unity of the North is concerned. And it has never been the same.
Think of this simple logic. It is easy, even for a child, to play with a piece of stone, throwing it just some feet above his palm and catching it as it returns. But playing with two stones will require some good measure of dexterity. By the time the number reaches six, he needs the skill of a magician to play with them simultaneously.
Another important factor, in addition to the numerical one mentioned above, was the military nature of the Gowon administration. It is usual to expect the centralist logic of the military to overrule the principle of true federation. Unity in command was a goal pursued in the aftermath of the 1966 coup, the counter coup that followed the same year and the civil war that lasted for three years. Let all regional inclinations be checked, let regional differences be liquidated. Let a nation arise from those ‘ruins’ that is the same in everything, like the uniform dress of soldiers on a parade ground or in a battlefield.

It was therefore taboo for anybody to identify with a region, particularly the North that was politically ostracized. No leader or civil servant, no matter how highly placed, and more so if he was a northerner, should say anything in support of his region. Even among academicians, until recently, to use the word “north” was a ‘retrogression’ or reactionary, to borrow from the archaic Marxist parlance of those days. It is against the “nationalist” spirit. Thus, with a federal government committed to a strong center, and its lieutenant governors in the state, the idea of a North with a voice was frozen for thirty-three years!
So the expectation that a civil servant at the Federal or state level would identify with the North was simply not there under the military dispensation that consumed 30 out of 34 years since 1966. This was the tide that disciples of the Sardauna found themselves politically. I doubt if any of us could have done better under such a situation.
Even today, the diverse voices coming from the North are in reaction to regional and ethnic sentiments emanating from the South, especially with the impudent injustice brazenly meted against us by President Obasanjo and his cohort. We can now raise our voice, to the surprise of others that thought we would never do so again. This explains why the objections of Shagari and Buhari to the stand of the Federal Government on shariah some months ago raised a lot of dust in the southern media. They thought, as always, that former head of states from the North would shy away from the responsibility of identifying with their people or their wishes. The reaction of the two men was sign of changing perceptions. It was exemplary. That is why I shouted bravo!

The accusation has also been made that northern elders, with the exception of few like the late Malam Aminu Kano, after the First Republic got engulfed in acquisition of wealth. This could be true especially when we realize that Tafawa Balewa, Muhammadu Ribadu and Sardauna left nothing of wealth behind. It is also true that their children today are as ordinary as anyone of us. The same could not be said of some of their disciples among the few elders among us today. Many of us have witnessed them fighting tooth and nail to put themselves and their siblings at a vantage position, over and above the rest of us.
This observation is valid for many cases. They may have their explanation. However, we will be fair to them only if we compare them with their contemporaries in government after the loss of the First Republic. We cannot compare them with the Sardauna and the like because the political orientation of the country and that of its leaders changed totally after the 1966 coup.
There is little doubt that the North was the least corrupt during the First Republic. This had to do with the personality of its leadership then. It drew its inspiration from a culture that emphasizes societal interest and eschews dishonesty and materialism. The Sardauna as a leader set a good example for those who served under him throughout the defunct Northern Region. We have a mountain of testimonies to support that from his followers and opponents alike.
However, with the dissolution of regions, ministers, commissioners and secretaries from the North were absorbed into the Federal Civil Service where the North desperately needed representation. Others were deployed to the new states. One of those who joined the Federal service once told us how he received his first shock at the bizarre corruption displayed right before his eyes in a board meeting. He knew nothing like that while serving under the defunct Northern Region. Others had similar experiences. Many of them were helpless.
Some might have got infected with the virus they contacted in Lagos. However, despite about fifteen years of such contact, an honest eye still views them as saints in comparison to their contemporaries from other regions. The survivors among them still have nothing again when compared with the two generations that followed them. The corruption of the eighties, nineties and today is just maddening.
Another big problem is the loss of confidence in the civil service brought about by successive military coups. Civil servants during the Sardauna saw the civil service as a career from which they will retire only at 60 or shortly thereafter, with full benefits. They needed not to think about their future or that of their children because the state is there to take care of it. The 1975 coup in particular changed all that. Today, this insecurity has dissolved the career status of the civil service. Hence, everybody is trying to provide for a contingency. People today talk about themselves, their children and grandchildren. The nation is forgotten. One wonders what Sardauna, Balewa or Ribadu could have done if they had survived to present day. If we were to compare them with their peers in other countries that were unfortunate to survive, the verdict would not have been interesting. In death there is relief, many times.
Worse still is the privatization policies pursued by the Babangida administration, beginning from 1986 or thereabout. While in the 1950s and 60s services were virtually free, today people are paying through their noses as a result. In addition, inflation, low wages, devaluation of currency and corruption has made nonsense of any savings and reduced these elders to virtual beggars. Survival is the game of nature. We should not blame those of them that have made modest attempts to secure themselves and their families. That is instinctive. We wish they had withstood the difficulties. But to do so under the present situation calls for exceptional sacrifice. And we will not be fair to go by exceptions.

We also accuse such elders of doing nothing to salvage us today. But is it their responsibility to do so? No. It is the responsibility of youth and leaders. However, we do not have leaders, but dealers, as Isyaku Dikko once observed. We prefer liars, cheats and looters to trustworthy people. Let us blame ourselves.
I once heard someone commenting over the BBC, saying, “Imagine a person like Shagari. He has not built a single school in his village.” I think he was severe and unfair to the old man. Shagari has built many schools, the types that existed in those days. If there were the need to build private schools in the North when Shagari was thirty or forty, he would have done so. That much, I do not doubt. But he did what his time required of him: he taught as a primary school teacher, supervised schools and saw the establishment and financing of many.
I can further illustrate my point in many ways. But let me give a single instance, still on Shagari. In Ahmadu Bello, John Paden narrated the following story:
“When Shagari was working in Lagos as Minister of Economic Development he came across some files and reports on the dying rivers of Sokoto Province. (They thought the rivers of Sokoto would dry up and the area would become a desert.) What to do? The questions needed study. He took the file to the Sardauna, who read them, and commented that Waziri Abbas had said that Shehu Usman dan Fodio had said that they would all have to leave the place someday because of lack of water. The Sardauna added, “If Shehu said so, I can’t stop it.” Shagari replied, “But we can delay it.” The Sardauna said, “OK, go and do it.” Shagari noted, “The study will take ten years.” The Sardauna replied, What do you mean? I am not interested. Go away.” (Shagari persisted and the research was undertaken.).. The research.. later becomes the basis of the large-scale irrigation projects in Sokoto State."
The little development we see around us might have been the effort of the same elders we castigate today. We feel they should continue to do our job. They are no longer in that position. They do not possess the resources. Their energy is down. They are tired. So to expect that Shagari should today establish a school in his village is too much. That is the task for his children.
Development is cumulative. We are expected to succeed where our predecessors have failed. But did the leadership that followed that of the Second Republic live up to this expectation? When the Second Republic in which people like Shagari and his like played their last leadership game was toppled, a generation of youth stepped into the position of leadership. They promised correcting the wrongs committed by the elders and their civilian followers. But except for the short-lived attempt of Buhari and Idiagbon, the entire generation of army officers that ruled this country thereafter could only be described as criminals.

My only problem with the generation that we term as elders, people in their seventies and eighties, is when they fail to realize that age is not on their side. I appreciate their effort to solve our problems of today. However, ideally, they should feel compelled to guide younger generations to the path of salvation. To insist that they alone will do it is certainly a mistake.
Still, there is a problem here. To whom do they hand over? Those that followed them, the movers and shakers of today, are a band of rotten leaders who created all the problems that mesmerized this country, beginning from the 1966 coup and the civil war, to the pervasive corruption and erosion of values in our society. The elders have every reason not trust them, just as I don’t either.
In continuation of our probe, I intend to focus on that band that brought this country to its knees, next week, God willing. Watch out.

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