By Adagbo Onoja
Justice Mamman Nasir
In the Daily Trust edition of April 17, 2013 is a story reporting Justice Mamman Nasir, the former President of the Appeal Court, former Attorney-General of the defunct Northern Nigeria and now, Chairman of Board of Trustees (BoT) of the Sir Ahmadu Bello Memorial Foundation (SBMF) as warning that unless the North remains united, its bid to regain power in 2015 would be a mirage. His argument is that the present challenges in the country, particularly in the North, are beyond party politics and, in his words, “unless and until Northerners unite themselves, leadership would elude the region completely”.
According to Daily Trust, the jurist was speaking the previous day at the opening of a workshop on ‘Women Vocational Entrepreneurship Development Programme’, organised by the Foundation at the Maryam Babangida Children’s Centre in Minna, the Niger state capital, where he gave an overview of the legacies of the late premier of the Northern Region, Sir Ahmadu Bello, whom he said united the people and the region as one indivisible entity, adding that the people must continue to live together peacefully with one another.
Reading the electronic version of the story over and over again brought to mind what I would regard as the most memorable attack on Daniel Kanu led Youths Earnestly Asks for Abacha (YEAA) campaign in 1998 which came from Chief Solomon Lar. He said the problem with YEAA is that it amounted to a youth advisory on leadership selection, something he saw as being against the natural order of things for youths to advise elders.
Whenever I think of what Lar said, I instinctively develop cold feet in canvassing own convictions so that I do not end up ‘advising’ elders, especially if it is on leadership selection in Nigeria. But Justice Nasir has so departed from the tradition of shedding crocodile tears about lack of unity in the North by his frankness that I must disobey Lar’s gerontocratic model of the flow of advice in favour of the temptation to shout plenty in agreement with the jurist.
The point is that the North’s disarray is such that nobody can be indifferent. This disarray is so self-evident in the battle ground it has turned into since 1980 and about which no one appears to have a solution. The horrifying degrees to which inter-group violence has gone in the North must be embarrassing to every sane Northerner of whichever ethnic or religious identity. That is simply not the way to go in the 21st Century. The whole of Nigeria has also suffered from this disarray in every way imaginable. So, Northern unity or restoration is really no longer something that can wait.
But Northern unity will not come on its own. It can only be the product of a powerful message. Unfortunately, the only messages have been messages of ethnic, religious and geo-political ideological mobilisation. Reflecting on how the scarcity of an ideologically unifying message could be resolved much, much earlier on, some of us thought that the strategy is to isolate and pose the radical tradition in the North and its message of ‘changi dole” as opposed to the ethnic, religious and geo-political ideologies.
This was how someone like Sule Lamido was calculatedly mediatised, in spite of himself, being the most prominent living legatee of the Aminu Kano tradition in the North, warts and all. In spite of Lamido’s own truncation of this trajectory by his later day infatuation with the “come and see my achievements” model of publicity instead of ideologically symbolic messages, one can say that this agenda was catching on until the recent attack on it by the observable unhealthy competition among the governors for the presidency, come 2015.
The fact of many of these governors being from the same North-West as Lamido has certainly diluted and even undermined this strategy of privileging a historically serious tendency such as the Aminu Kano tradition as answer to disunity in the North because Lamido and the other such contestants become lumped together as continuation of North-West’s perceived monopoly of power.
If resort to an ideological tendency is, therefore, complicated by the unhealthy competition, the only other message is democracy. But as Mamman Nasir correctly pointed out, free wheeling democracy cannot resolve this impasse of a trans-ethnic, trans-geopolitical and trans-religious ideological rallying point or Northern unity. Rather, it will compound it as it did in 2011.
Free wheeling electoral competition will produce a winner whose victory will be hailed as victory for democracy but which will not produce consensus, reconciliation and peace in a region troubled by historical perceptions of hegemony and exclusion along ethnic, religious and geo-political fault lines.
More so that, so far, there is no Hugo Chavez or even a Mugabe anywhere in the North whose victory would automatically dissolve the ethnic, religious and geo-political differences in the region or whose victory will come without dirty fights, costly acrimony and further divisions which we can do without.
So, how does the North achieve unity against the background of the hope that President Jonathan and the PDP will eventually see that zoning is at the heart of the present confusion in that unless there is such an organising framework for predictable and calculable access to power, the elite would destroy the country in their gambling for power?
From the benefit of hindsight, nothing should have justified stopping Jonathan from taking power in 2010 and in 2011 unless he declined. But by 2015, power should return to the North and from there to the South East and so on till such a time that Nigeria has grown out of existing consciousness thereto.
From the way things are, there is very little alternative to conscious and deliberate decision to locate a consensus who becomes a message of oneness, hope and unity for the North as well as successful presidency of Nigeria, come 2015. In the absence of one central political, cultural or religious authority to define the Northern interest, not to talk of enforcing it, a deliberate decision can be a very difficult agenda to achieve.
But this is where people like Justice Mamman should come in with other credible elements and act as a regional conclave of Northern political, business, traditional and religious leaders in resolving the Northern disunity matter. In other words, it is possible to take a political view of the issue and also achieve a political solution via a conclave of actors, each of whom can be presumed to have learnt a lot from his or her own (mis)adventures in power and errors in office as to be in a position to discuss Northern unity in the present context.
It is assumed that all those who could be in the conclave have all undergone the equivalent of the Pauline conversion in the Bible and come to the realization that the anarchy that is going on in the North as well as Nigeria is something they, individually and collectively, contributed to and that this is their last opportunity to contribute to correcting it. In other words, we are assuming that they have realized the limits of authoritarianism, militarism and politricks.
That is to say that Gowon, Shagari, IBB, Abdulsalami, T. Y Danjuma, the Sultan of Sokoto, to mention just a few of the Northern political, business and traditional cum religious leaders can be trusted to go into a conclave and come out with a consensus leadership material in the best interest of reconciliation, integration and cohesion.
That implies someone in whom the entire North would be pleased in the sense that such a person is a product of consensus. As 100% consensus is not possible, 70-80% of informed opinion is good enough. (General Buhari and Atiku Abubakar are excluded from the above list because they are still seeking political office and cannot be judges in their own cases).
With Northern unity through a consensus leader in 2015 and national stability through restoration of zoning, Nigeria would have been re-invented and the minimum condition for pursuit of national big pictures created. That minimum condition is peace, not in the sense that there would be no conflicts anymore but in the sense that no body or groups would have any claims of injustice to press by resorting to violence against the Nigerian State again.