Northern Intellectuals Emerge, Sets Three Urgent Tasks for President Buhari
The circle of concerned groups and coalitions over the state of affairs under the President Buhari administration widened with an open letter to the president by non-partisan Northern academics and public intellectuals. They are calling on the president to end what they call the “the internecine and open fights between some leading members of your security team” which they also said is threatening national cohesion as well as destabilizing the ability of the government to work in concert.
Basing its open letter on the assumption that the more people write advisory to the president, the better the chance of the impact, the group drew the president’s attention to the narrow base of his close advisers, contrary to the requirement of a political environment in terms of the participatory approach of all relevant stakeholders. Nigeria, it said, is a large country with a complex history of a commitment to federal governance.
Warning that history is replete with examples in which charisma fails because there is no political machine or process to sustain it, the group drew attention of the president to the geographical limits of his charisma, arguing that what produced victory in 2015 was beyond a charisma-inspired following of that base but the extension of that base “to areas where your charisma is limited”. It, therefore, graded as crucial sustaining the alliance that produced the APC. Observing that the president has kept at arms length large coterie of ‘professional politicians’ who worked hard, invested resources and mobilised to get you him into power, the group asked what might be the president’s alternative if it were that he did not want to work with.
It proceeded to set aside what it considers to be the three urgent issues the president should do. One is to reduce the cost of governance. This, it believes, could be done by carrying out legislation that would address some of the issues already raised in the Orosanye Report. Two, is the Petroleum Industry Bill, which they said candidate Buhari had promised to prioritize within the first quarter of the Administration. Three, is necessary legislation to strengthen the anti-corruption agencies, with the added point that corruption appeared “to have tainted some of your leading subalterns and maintaining them in office gives the impression that you support corruption within your circle”. It moved on to infer how the impression had undermined “the significant success you have achieved in the anti-corruption arena”.
The group called on the president to fill the ‘incredible number of vacancies’ in the administration immediately, with particular reference to the facility of a political and an economic advisory team. Stressing how strategic regular communication with Nigerians should be because “presidential spokespeople appear to talk without full consultation with their principal, often finding themselves on the wrong side of what the President believes”, the group privileged the development of a schedule for regular television appearances and town hall meetings by which the president could account directly to the people on the conduct of government affairs.
Expressing belief in the sincere commitment of the president to taking Nigeria on the path of change, the northern intellectuals, however, went on to say how Buhari’s promise of cleansing the political arena of those who ruled and ruined the country had not materialised, adding that “Today, Nigerians are worried that many such people remain in government”. It pointed out the existence of a “consensus in the country that your economic management team simply does not have the capacity to meet the nation’s expectations”, describing the publication of an economic recovery and growth plan after 20 months in office as indication of the team’s lethargy even if the text were a significant step in the right direction.
Many observers take the letter within the canvass of a widening and deepening critique of what exists. So far, many have traveled this line. Aside from traditional critics of an incumbent such as opposition political parties, others such as the Emir of Kano, former president Obasanjo, Archbishop Okogie, Bishop Mathew Kukah, the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria and even insiders such as Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State have all raised reservations about the grand trajectory. This group fits into the canvass.
Second, the issues about which the critics are concerned are basically the same across. They stretch from the problematique of the president’s political persona – his perceived sense of other politicians as thieves; what now appears a crisis of managing power; skewed nature of government/management of diversity; the crisis of economic model; deteriorating national security even as his regime has dwarfed Boko Haram.
A third point in the open letter is the specification of the location of the group in terms of the territory of northern Nigeria. In this sense, the open letter goes beyond advising president Buhari to also contributing to the on-going debate on territory in the politics of power. It seems safe to argue that the mentioning of territory means that space has lost to place in the language game of the group. Additionally, it speaks to the pragmatism of the group in coming down from the mostly original Marxist homestead that would not have admitted of a secondary contradiction as the north in terms of the collective identity of the letter writers. As academics, they are largely engaged in singing into being a particular kind of world in that open letter and they shouldn’t have made any claim to non-partisanship at all. In fact, that disclaimer works in the opposite direction, contextually.
Fourth is how the letter brings to the fore a trajectory that has thrived in northern Nigerian politics. If an analysis of that is limited to the Second Republic, the first of such groups must be the northern intellectuals of 1983 led by the late General Shehu Yar’Adua, Prof Ango Abdullahi, Dr Saidu Kumo and a host of them. They were mostly in politics but they went by the label of northern intellectuals. Their most memorable public act was the then much celebrated pact with Chief Awolowo in which they hoped to deliver the north to the Unity Party of Nigeria, (UPN) in the 1983 polls. In the words of Dr Junaidu Mohammed, then a PRP fire-eater at the House of Representatives, “the north turned out undeliverable”.
In the mid 1980s, the tradition of northern intellectuals was most signposted by what later became the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria based Bala Mohammed Memorial Committee, (BMMC). Under the leadership of the irrepressible and vocal Bala Usman, they made their voice heard on the key issues of the day, particularly the way to go on the economic crisis which had gripped Nigeria and to which the Babangida regime responded with SAP. They took a stand against OIC and, in the June 12 crisis, Bala granted Tell an interview calling for shutting down of Nigeria. So strong or helped by his intellectual strength, he survived attempts to label him, both by the state and the establishment.
Recently, the Middle Belt intelligentsia surfaced, calling on the government to declare herdsmen violence in the area as terrorism and to set the military on them. It expressed reservations that the president, key members of the northern establishment and the United Nations had kept quiet about the nature and dimensions of the violence across central Nigeria. Paradoxically, they also congratulated the president for dealing with Boko Haram. The writers of the current open letter are, therefore, a continuation of a variegated tradition.
Except if Intervention did not check the list properly, there seems to be no women academics or public intellectuals on the list of the letter writers. Was this tactical or deliberate or a reflection of scarcity of women of that category in the region? It is the same question that has been posed to the central Nigeria intelligentsia which was dominated by intellectuals from very few ethnic groups. In the case of gender, that appears historical in the politics of northern intellectuals but not politics of northern radical politicians. None of the expressions of northern intellectuals listed above paraded women. However, if the Aminu Kano generation could parade women in those days, why might it have become so difficult today?
Finally, what did this expression of northern academics and public intellectuals leave unsaid in their open letter to President Buhari? Where are the observable ‘silences’ in their critique of national leadership? Detecting ‘silences’ is crucial because it is ‘silences’ which makes them accomplices or otherwise in this or that. There is an obvious one in not mentioning the spate of violence in the central Nigeria. Why might a situation which has occasioned so much fear, tension and an atmosphere prohibitive of farming not be worth mentioning among those areas the president should take another look at? Could the academics have found avoidance more convenient? A second point in this regard is this. Assuming the president listens to the intellectuals and fills all vacant positions today, would that solve the problems? Is it filling the appointments that is the issue or bringing in certain type of people whose presence and capabilities or quality of mind could re-legitimate the regime? So, why did the intellectuals stay off that course?
A generally welcome letter but could the spate of the criticisms now be such that the president might become dangerously lonely in a political sense? This is an observation for the whole Nigeria rather than strictly those who signed, sealed and delivered this letter. These are Prof Massaud Omar; Dr. Abubakar Siddique Mohammed; Comrade John Odah; Prof Jibrin Ibrahim; Mallam Y. Z. Ya’u; Mr. Chom Bagu; Prof Mustaha Gwadabe; Dr. Chris Kwaja; Mallam Ibrahim Muazzam; Mallam Auwal Musa Rafsanjani; Dr.Yohanna Kagoro Gandu; Prof Abfulkadir Adamu; Dr.Salihu Zubairu Mustapha; Mallam Danladi Aliyu; Mallam Abubakar Ibrahim; Dr. El Harun Muhammad.