News

Youth as the Engine of the North


By

Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, OON

Yariman Jama’a

KEYNOTE ADDRESS DELIVERED AT THE INAUGURATION OF THE NORTH-WEST CHAPTER OF THE STUDENTS’ WING OF COALITION OF NORTHERN GROUPS (CNG) IN KANO

22ND SEPTEMBER, 2019

I want to thank the Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG) and the authorities of Bayero University for honouring me with the privilege to speak at a forum that holds much promise in keeping our youth focused and disciplined in the pursuit of  edifying goals and living with values that define the Northern character.

I particularly want to thank our father and leader, Professor Ango Abdullahi, Magajin Rafin Zazzau, the Convener of the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) for his inspiring presence at this event and untiring efforts to keep the flames of our dedication to the interests of the people of the North and Nigeria alive.

It is important to place on record our immeasurable gratitude to the late Danmasanin Kano, Alhaji Dr. Yusuf Maitama Sule, whose leadership, sacrifice, statesmanship, patriotism and unwavering commitment to the interests of the people of Northern Nigeria, and citizens of Nigeria as a whole has few parallels in our nation. The Northern Elders Forum and the Coalition of Northern Groups draw inspiration from the life and works of the late Danmasani, and we must strive, in all we do, to live by the personal and social values and standards he lived and set for himself a citizen, subject, leader. May Allah Subhanallahu Wa Ta’ala grant him Aljanna firdausi, Amin.

The late Danmasani was a passionate believer of the organic links between generations. He was always available for young people, and it is no exaggeration to say that the North lost a great statesman when he died, but the youth lost a mentor, a guardian, a living history and an embodiment of all the exemplary qualities young Northerners should strive to achieve. He was alive when this Coalition came to life, and he led the way towards engaging it so that it can benefit from the assets that was available in the NEF. After his death we continued this constructive engagement.   This, as I understand it, is the main reason behind the support and counsel which the NEF has extended to our children and younger Northerners as we deal with some of the most serious challenges facing our region today.

Again, I thank you for affording me an opportunity to contribute to what for me, is distinctly a mentoring process. I hope those among you who think that the North has no leaders will note that leaders of the Northern Elders Forum who are here are with you to encourage you to go beyond where we went; not to lose faith that you can turn our fortunes around. We believe in the idealism of the young, and when you combine this with discipline and knowledge, there is nothing you cannot achieve for the North.

  1. As students who have shown a commitment to the goals and ideals of the Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG), I will start by advising you to familiarize yourselves with its goals and accept to live with them.

The CNG, as I understand it, represents an initiative by younger Northerners, of all faith and all ethnic groups who feel they have a major role to play in rescuing our region from the margins of irrelevance, impotence, inconsequence and decay in the context of the Nigerian nation which currently runs on the basis of values and practices that we need to understand, adapt to or create alternatives that suit our cultures, circumstances and interests.

The CNG has already made a mark as a strong voice, although many would say it is a voice that should speak a different language, or speak in a tone more welcoming to their interests. NEF has had numerous occasions to engage the leadership of the CNG in discussions that are in the best traditions of Northern parents and their children. I have been privileged to be part of most of those engagements, and I will say publicly that we have found the leadership of the CNG respectful and passionate about sharing our values, visions and strategies for dealing with issues that affect Northern interests on security, on our economy, and on the manner we as Northerners relate with fellow Nigerians. On those occasions when, as young people are apt to do, they have acted with impatience and frustration, and even with doubts over the values of waiting for elders to do what is necessary to protect northerners, we have pulled them back and succeeded in creating harmony between the zeal and passion of youth and the counsel and wisdom which God sometimes blesses elders with. As a witness to the many engagements between youth who are impatient and angry with some approaches to our problems, I am happy to say that they have lived up to the expectations of elders and other people with wisdom and responsibilities to advise on courses of action that have proved productive.

  1. This initiative represents a major step up in the activities of the CNG. I understand that as part of the mobilization strategies to involve every significant component of Northern society, the CNG has embarked on a massive campaign to make its presence felt among the Northern intelligentsia, community leaders, students in higher institutions as well as the business community and bring them into the mainstream of its activities. This, without doubt, is a commendable step, because if the North today needs to hear the truth, it should be told that it has lost the energy and some of the courage to take up those issues that were once the major focus of its leaders and its community. Students in our higher institutions are legitimate and natural claimants to shaping the destiny of the North, but they will not do this well unless they begin to join the struggle to identify its weaknesses and the enriching endeavor to find in solutions to them.

My brief contribution at this important event is to raise a number of issues which I hope the CNG will take on board as it becomes more prominent in the lives and activities of Northerners.

First, I believe it is important to lay claim to being Northern and having interests and concerns that are Northern without reluctance or shame. As the late Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello once said, it is neither possible nor necessary to forget our differences as Nigerians, although we  also have to remember the important things we share in common. You are Northerners, with  history,strengths, endowments and challenges that are peculiar to being Northern, in the same manner Southern communities have peculiar problems. So own up to being Northern without arrogance or conceit. Be proud of your cultures and legacies, and accept and deal with your limitations. Respect your identity, and respect the identities of those we share this great nation with. The North is the North of Muslims and Christians, of the largest and the tiniest ethnic groups, of the weak and the strong. It is God’s creation, planned by Him to be big, bountiful and compassionate. The North has what it takes to be great, and it is only as weak as it allows itself to be. So walk tall and own up to your legacies. Remember that unity is the foundation of your corporate existence; diversity is part of your DNA and hardwork, honesty and service to God and the community are the virtues that have been bequeathed to you. Respect other Nigerians’ right to live by their values. Be conscious of your rights and defend them with every legitimate means. Do not be pushed around, and avoid pushing others around. There is enough room for all of us to grow and prosper in Nigeria, but only if we trust each other to play by the rules, and to be fair and just with each other.

  1. Second, be conscious of your history and your destiny. Our past leaders carved a glorious path for our development as a people, and many of them had to pay the supreme price for standing by the  Northern villager, the trader, the teacher, the farmer and the rich merchants against attempts to make Northerners second class citizens? The  North competed with other regions and defended itself very well. It occassionally lost ground when it made massive sacrifices to keep the nation united and push it past critical turning points when national survival was threatened. Learn the history of the North, and draw the appropriate lessons, which must include courageous stands behind values and interests that protected it. Learn from its mistakes and miscalculations, and avoid costly adventures that created disunity and disharmony among its communities.

Participate in the vision of a united North, a region with space for every northerner and every Nigerian who seeks to live with and prosper with us. Work to create the vision of a North that is strong enough to demand for what is it’s,  and concede to others what is theirs. Work to build a nation where a Northerner is safe and secure in the North and wherever he choses to live and work in Nigeria, and  support other Nigerians to benefit from our tolerance and accommodation if they show appropriate respect for the context of their livelihoods. It is in our culture to welcome and live with outsiders, and we must never tire of reminding other Nigerians that the laws of the land demand that every Nigerian lives and earns his legitimate living in any part of Nigeria without discrimination or molestation. Learn the values of defending the rights and privileges of all northerners, and cultivate the belief and practice in co-existence. Speak up for the rights of Northerners to be protected from illegal harassment where they earn their living; their rights to places of worship consistent with their means and the elements of justice; and their rights to full protection when they live as minorities among other communities in Nigeria.

  1. No one wins a religious or ethnic war; no ethnic group can dominate another forever; and no benefit comes from fights and conflicts over what God has blessed us with: our population, our land and its resources and our values. Raise your voices when you perceive an injustice, and cultivate the values of utilizing all options when dealing with challenging problems. Protect the rights of other Nigerians, so that you stand on firmer ground when you demand respect and protection of the rights of the Northerner.Join the fight to bring peace among northern communities from which we are all bleeding. Acknowledge the damage which fights between communities in Taraba and Benue States, in Kaduna State, and in Plateau State are causing the communities and the North.These conflicts, as well as the Boko Haram insurgency, cattle rustling, banditry and kidnappings are our problems as Northerners.The President and Governors may tell us that they are concerned over these, but every Northerner must realize by now that  leaders and governments we elected cannot or will not do enough to bring them to an end.Yet with the right political will and quality of leadership, we can stop the Tiv and Jukun conflicts. We can bring lasting peace to Plateau. We can find solutions to the Fulani and his cattle.We can stop millions of our children living wretched lives in the search for education, and wasting the greatest asset of the North which is its human capital. Only the North can solve its problems, but as should be obvious be now, not all Northern leaders are committed enough to work to solve our basic socio-cultural problems, our regressing economy or address our precarious future. Many of our leaders today will prefer to leave the bulk of Northerners in poverty, fighting each other, so that they can continue to manipulate us during elections. Stand up against these type of leaders. Demand that they show real commitment to reducing youth unemployment, insecurity and poverty.There are voices from some other Nigerians hinting that Northerners are poor leaders because they have spectacularly failed to deal with Northern problems, not to mention national issues.These murmurs hint at the imperative of denying Northerners national leadership positions in future elections. Rise up to counter these damaging insinuations by demanding that elected leaders of the North respond to the basic challenges facing the North today. Educate our people to recognize poor leadership. Politics is an honorable calling, so join and improve its quality. As Northerners, learn the history of the sterling contributions of your past leaders whenever the nation needed statesmanship, courage and commitment to its causes.
  2. Challenge our leaders to protect our weak and vulnerable, and prepare to assume responsibilities to serve our people. Change our political culture from one that serves the leader, to one which creates leaders that serve the people. Understand the nature of our decaying economy and learn trades and skills that will rebuild its foundations. Acquire quality and honest education of all kinds, because you cannot lead if you are both a cheat and a glorified illiterate. Knowledge is the foundation of good leadership, and it has no shortcuts. Understand what needs to be done NOW to begin to address our major problems. Demand from President Buhari action to compel federal agencies located in the North to respect the catchment policy so that Northerners can be employed at all designated levels.Insist on transparent action against illicit drug manufacture and distribution which is destroying the soul of our communities. Raise issues regarding policies that further impoverish the North while it enriches other parts of the nation.Engage other Nigerians who live and prosper in the North over the need to employ Northerners so that they can also learn skills and improve their social roots as they live and work in the North. Challenge Northern governors to act to protect Fulani people and livestock assets of the North.Push our Northern leaders to find solutions to conflicts that can be ended. Celebrate thise among them that do well, and call out those that do not live up to the challenges of leading a people desperately in need of good leadership.
  3. I repeat: Our North today is led by people poorly-prepared and ill-equipped to lead except for their ambitions for power and fantastic wealth. Consequently, our people are left at the mercy of armed crime, unforgiveable poverty and derision from other parts of Nigeria which once held us in awe and marveled at our systems and quality of leadership. Work to replace leaders who think power is an end in itself; who mobilize our people only during elections, sowing seeds of division and leaving everyone poorer and more insecure than they were. Join politics to make a difference; to educate children of the poor; to bring peace to communities; to stop corruption and end insecurity. Learn how to relate with the rest of Nigeria. Threats and conflicts have very little utility value. Learn to be strong through the support of our communities; by building strong economics and enterprising people, and youth that can grow with pride and faith that the foundations you laid for them will endure further development.
  4. Resist the temptation to live in perpetual blame of past leaders. Do better than them, and learn from their mistakes. The past cannot be entirely remedied, but a future can be built on a strong foundation that benefits from a flawed past. Look ahead, be conscious of the present, and draw inspiration from the fact that you, and only you, can make the North better or worth.

I have implicit faith that In Sha Allah the North will overcome its current challenges. If you think my generation has failed you, you should work to ensure that you do not fail the next generation. Watch out for the children who do not go to school; who roam around begging; who are poorly-brought up; who are tempted by crime and drugs because these will be the standard by which the future will judge you. Watch our for disparities between wealth and poverty, and work for a inclusive society that provides at least the most minimal of equal opportunities for all Northerners and Nigerians.

  1. Finally, remain vigilant over the direction and fate of our nation, Nigeria. The North is a major stakeholder in whatever happens in and to Nigeria, but our position on how the nation is structured and operates must be informed by unity and economic strength. The rest of the country will make a terrible mistake if it assumes that our current challenges around security and weak economy has turned us into marginal elements in all calculations on the future of our nation. The North will continue to play a significant role in the affairs of the Nation; and we will remember those who stood with and by us and those who attempted to take advantage of our current challenges.

I hope I have raised issues that will engage you as you embark on this commendable task to awaken and mobilize the greatest asset of the North, its youth.

Thank you.

May God Bless you all.

Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed is Member of Northern Elders Forum and is Chairman of DITV/Alheri Radio.He teaches Public Policy and Administration at BAZE University, Abuja, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and  National Institute for Legislative Studies and Democracy, Abuja.