Backing Obasanjo in 1999 was not the North’s worst blunder. Our worst blunder happened long before then. It happened when some northerners became more Northern than the others. It happened when our leaders put greed and personal ambition before our collective interests. It occurred when the shared values of human dignity and mutual respect were dumped for personal gain. After all, was backing Obasanjo not one northerner’s convoluted calculation to step back to power?
Our worst blunder happened when avarice, discrimination and the politics of exclusion culminated in the tragedy of leadership that we have in the North today. Remember when the North used to be the most peaceful region in Nigeria? Remember when we had leaders totally dedicated to the good of the people and growth of the region? Remember when ethnicity and religion was secondary to being a Northerner?
Once upon a true North, the intrepid Kano trader found accommodation everywhere; the Jukun and the Zuru found natural habitats where they excelled without needing connections; the Nupe founded communities and flourished everywhere; the Kabba could aspire to any position; the migratory Fulani took his cattle everywhere; the Igala took his acumen to every province; the Kanuri took his learning and skills wherever he went and the Tiv had no problems with his neighbours.
Once upon a just North, the Katsina nobleman and the Ilorin scholar; the Jaba worker and the Idoma planter; the Gwari farmer and the Langtang soldier; the princes of great kingdoms and the natives of smaller fiefdoms all shared common privileges. And the children of the North met in the same schools as equals to forge common identities. Destroying that bond was our worst blunder.
Which is why today, the Igala who found work and acceptance in Kano is no more a son of the soil; the Fulani with his cattle has become a target wherever he takes his herd; the descendants of Hausas in Benue can no longer get scholarships; the Ebira in Zaria has to go back to Okene to get a certificate of origin; the Hausa man whose grandfather was born in Jos is now a ‘settler’; Muslims and Christians who lived as one now subsist in mutual fear and distrust. Are these schisms not what Obasanjo, and later, Jonathan exploited to divide and rule?
And while we are it, why has every index of human development in the North gone down since 1999, despite unprecedented oil revenues? According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), average unemployment rate in the North is 27.9 per cent, which is higher than the national average of 23.9 per cent. With a population of over 80 million and a workforce of about 40 million, 27 million people in the North are unemployed. This means that unemployment in the region actually stands at over 50 per cent. What has our high unemployment rate got to do with backing Obasanjo?
And assuming that supporting Obasanjo was a blunder, what about our leaders who stood by and did nothing while the poverty rate in the North grew to an astronomical 73.8 per cent of the population? Why are we poorer than other Nigerians, with more than seven out of every ten persons in the North being poor? To put it differently, why are over 60 million Northerners poor? Is there a worse political, economic and social blunder?
Incidentally, all that the common man in the North wants is an opportunity for honest work to meet to his obligations. He wants a market for his farm produce, a hospital when ill, schools for his children and security of life and property. Is that too much to ask, especially at a time of huge revenues? For your information, between 2009 and 2011 alone, the 19 Northern states received over N1.5 trillion from the Federation Account. They also generated internal revenue and borrowed tens of billions. Show us the money.
There is no doubt that President Goodluck Jonathan is the most incompetent and clueless person to ever preside over the affairs of Nigeria, and it a tragedy that every criticism is robotically interpreted along ethnic and religious lines. A bigger tragedy is that looking at the two most senior Northerners in this government with eyes on 2015 – Vice President Namadi Sambo and Senate President David Mark as Northern options – the incumbent at the Villa might as well continue.
The biggest tragedy is that even when power returns to the North, our current leaders would only lead us to more blunders because they only want to plunder.