Northern Nigeria: Humpty Dumpty Or Behemoth in the Pangs of Transformation? (Part 2)
The first part of this report identified seven key developments that it graded as frightening and indicative of a northern region which could be seriously bleeding after a great fall. The many sidedness of reality, however, demands turning around the same question as to whether it could be the story of a behemoth in the pangs of transformation. What might be the indicators of such a fascinating north built from converting drawbacks into new strength? The answer would, of course, depend on who is writing. But here is an attempt.
It has been stated many times that the degree to which oil dominates human affairs is such that “aloofness from the politics of oil is the beginning of wisdom much as it is as well the greatest act of foolery”. The Federal Government has overcome that dilemma by actively investigating plausible oil deposits in locations that fall within the northern part of the country. It is a move informed by the discovery of oil in the Republic of Niger, Chad and Cameroun which are within the same geological axis and which suggests there should be oil deposits of commercial quantities within the Chad, Bida, Sokoto and the Benue Trough. At the least, there should be gas, which might even be better. If that happens, then oil would have contributed to not only sustaining the Nigerian State in revenue terms but also stabilising it. It would be stabilising the state by acting as the ultimate reconciler in making all parts of the country oil producers.
In the present context, that one advantage overwhelms the contradiction associated with the enclave nature of an oil economy and the need to get out of that imprisonment. The hope is that Nigeria has suffered enough and would, this time, transcend romanticising oil by bearing in mind that liquid or solid mineral is poison for any technologically backward country which cannot add value to them. That’s the golden rule. Nothing has happened to change it yet. Secondly, oil or gas deposit makes the region adequate in oil/gas, solar, wind and hydro energy, meaning added revenue for FG and prosperity for everyone. Of course, the point bears repeating that energy endowment in itself is nothing if a country has no overall development strategy within which oil will fit as an instrument of transformation.
Next to possible oil find would be the land stock, the water content and the natural resource components within northern Nigeria. It is its major advantage because, it means that there is almost nothing that Nigeria cannot get from the north. There is an argument going on now that there could be more rain in Jigawa than Ibadan if certain things are done. Others are pointing at something going on between Kebbi and Lagos that is not only new but signposts the possibilities that exist. Having a vast expanse of land makes the north a destination of first choice away from the path of Humpty Dumpty.
Third fascination is the population. Some people have the land but lack the population. Some other countries or regions have the population far in excess of the land or natural resources available. In the case of the north, the population and the land are proportional to each other. It is, indeed, rare to find the balance between the land space and the population that exists in northern Nigeria.
In spite of frequent conflicts over sundry disagreements, the last point would be the welcoming nature of the north, northern cities are home to people of diverse ethnic groups in substantial numbers. It is an asset that takes the region straight to the cosmopolitan status that should constitute a breakthrough in itself. Integration has also been high, especially in a place such as Kano, not to talk of Kaduna which served as the headquarters of the old northern region.
These four are considered the most fascinating critique of the seven frightening points about the north. These four are interesting because they are still there in spite of everything. They are inherently vital qualities for the making of any country, not to talk of a region. What the quick survey thus shows are factors for crisis and even more powerful factors for transformation. And the future of the region will be how all these intermesh. What will determine how they intermesh or work out in terms of crisis or transformation then becomes the important question. That should take us to the position that power counts in the determination of reality. Power determines what is proper, what is right or wrong and what is acceptable. If that is correct, then the northern elite would come under focus as the most decisive factor. Although it is argued that power is too diffused to be ascribed in that manner, it doesn’t challenge the preponderance of power aggregated by the elite in most societies.
But, against the baggage of elite failures already pointed out, might a ‘New Beginning’ be in the offing towards calming a deeply divided region? Before now, irrespective of differences among the northern elite, a ‘New Beginning’ appropriate to this moment would most likely already be on its way, somehow. That was the northern elite of power that the British colonialists created or what Professor John Paden later called the northern cohort in his book Ahmadu Bello. In Balarabe Musa’s elegant class analysis, the northern elite of yore knew how to convince its counterparts from other parts of the country and carry them along substantially. He did not mean to sing their praise but to reckon with their induction in standard ruling class approach to the management of power and diversity. It only indicates they could competently sustain the social order as a class, warts and all. That contrasts with the current situation where there is so much tension even within the north though it is still the same north, the same diversity or differences in cultural groups, religions and ethnic identities. That’s strange for an elite whose predecessors skilfully provided leadership not only for the region but also for the entire nation at a more difficult time such as the aftermath of the 1966 crisis.
The hypothesis is that how divided a society is usually depends on the thinking and attitude of the elite because the ordinary people normally live according to the dynamics of livelihood. They rarely go out of their way to manipulate differences and fight identity wars. So, what has happened that class bonds have rapidly weakened as for the centre not to be holding.? Beyond the high impact violence which needs to be more pungently addressed, a careful check shows a number of things that are simply peculiar to the north. They do not happen in any other place in the country. Does anyone find people living in Lagos according to religious creed as is common now across the north arising from persistent conflict?
Almost nothing is happening in the north today that there was no warning about or against twenty years ago, either by way of newspaper pieces, a book or public statement by someone with the credentials. Yet, they came to happen. It is not the mark of a ruling class to leave things undone only to fling the fire to everyone else. Has it reached a point where the northern ruling class could quarrel among themselves, whether along Islam/Christianity, industrial/commercial or far/middle belt fault lines but still run as a ruling class? So much has accumulated that are not right. So much are still happening that are equally not right.
In the current specifically northern chaos, a ‘New Beginning’ would sound ridiculous to many people. Many would say they have passed that stage. They no longer believe in such. But there are good reasons for it. First, the ordinary people still have no problems with each other. Second, there are still very many positive features of diversity that the region has not explored. Third, it won’t be far away before the north faces more challenging contestation for land and water from other regions of the world, a challenge that is better confronted on a region wide response. Four, there is a Pan-African imperative for continued togetherness and, finally, the simultaneous integrating and fragmenting dynamics of globalisation makes it important to even melt into larger units. That there is strength in number is still a valid and relevant assertion. In any case, as pluralistic as the region is, it is also compacted in a way that no group can choose to walk away or build a China Wall. There is almost no state in the north where one doesn’t find indigenous Christians or Muslims. And the challenge should have been the development of superordinate referents which would provide an overarching identity over differences. Has that been done?
What sort of ‘New Beginning’ can be thought of in today’s atmosphere in the region? Not with the fear, hate and tension; the culture of denial of a baggage of aberrations when recognition of such should be the starting point of something new; the fundamental hiatus within the elite itself and some of the observable gaps that can easily be closed at very little or no cost beyond genuine inter-subjective engagement. Instead of any of these, a situation is developing in which enough symbolic actions are not acted out. But nothing removes class leadership and responsibility by the elite in the respective regions even as the Nigerian State is there to cater for the entire country.
Every other region in Nigeria today is certainly challenged. The north is of immediate concern in this report. The north does not even appear to have as much problems in comparative terms except artificial problems. From this survey, high incidence of violence, of poverty and a romanticisation of power have defined the north. These attributes have metamorphosed into an anti-thesis. It is time to do something about the anti-thesis because doing nothing could endanger society. After Boko Haram, this society needs to be more sensitive to certain developments. Humpty Dumpty of a situation is very possible. In fact, some people would say the society is somewhere around that now. But so also is the great chance of remoulding existing pains and pleasure into something for everyone. So much would depend on fleshing out a northern consensus rather than leave everyone to be practicing the art of living dangerously by allowing certain situations to fester. As power over interpretation is not the monopoly of any set of players, the risk of some crazy people seizing the discourse high ground and creating problems for everyone as Boko Haram has done ought to be prevented by all. Preventing such could include shouting plenty for action rather than the nihilistic culture of romanticising the north which has led all of us to what is absolutely a social stalemate.