Can’t the North rise above OBJ? By Adagbo Onoja

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Even though Professor Ango Abdullahi had a history of arbitrary expulsion of students when he was Vice-Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, he is, nevertheless, a leader, for a number of concrete reasons. One of it is what the late Professor Ishaya Audu said about him. Ishaya Audu said Ango was one of the few who heeded the advice of going to get a doctorate degree as opposed to many others of his generation who were relying on ascriptive criteria to make it in academia.  Two, as Vice-Chancellor, Professor Abdullahi never gave any religious zealots the chance to turn the university into anything but a place to go and fetch or deposit knowledge. Three, also as Vice-Chancellor and in league with the late Awo as Pro-Chancellor, they accomplished the Africanisation of the university curriculum and academia, through a deliberate programme of recruiting and training her own best and brightest graduates in France, UK, Japan and so on, among others. Professor Ango Abdullahi is, therefore, eminently quotable in his analysis of the crisis in the North as a sub set of the Nigerian crisis.

There is, however, something to worry about with the regularity and latitude he gives to Obasanjo’s role in what has become of the North today. This should be pointed out because wrong analysis will lead to wrong diagnosis. Whatever animus against Hausa-Fulani that OBJ might have exhibited arising from his own inability or unwillingness to stoically overcome the pains of some aspects of a lived experience cannot account for the peculiar crisis in the North. The percentage will be so small. I don’t think Obasanjo had anything to do, for example, with the failure of the Northern regional elite to insulate Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. And yet, it is the most grievous failing of the Northern elite. It was an elite that had the knowledge, the skills and the power and had read the address of the Sardauna while declaring ABU open. There is hardly any better conceptualization of the university idea anywhere else in the history of mankind than in that speech. But Sardauna’s legates could not see to its operationalization. They keep eulogizing the Sardauna many years after without doing what he did. ABU, Zaria is anything but a university now– academics setting traps for each other, the primacy of sectarian considerations, the most anti-intellectual attitudes, etc. Its cosmopolitanism has been overtaken by newer universities such as Gombe State University, if I must mention one. All the universities in Nigeria are distressed but ABU has a peculiar dimension.

Two, the Structural Adjustment Programme which brought the North to its knees did not start with the Obasanjo administration. It started much, much earlier when a Northerner was in charge. The paper works were also done by a Northerner headship. Even under OBJ when the SAP/market reform went most ridiculous, the two most key actors were Northerners. That is Atiku Abubakar and Nasir el-Rufai. I think I even saw something recently where el-Rufai was glamorizing the atrocity. How could the leaders of the most agrarian part of a country ever accept such a policy line without a bloody defeat? And this was in spite of elaborate warnings by the Bala Mohammed Memorial Committee, led by Bala Usman and his followers against accepting this. No one can forget Bala Usman’s review of the 1986 Budget speech of General Babangida in this regard. He followed it up with a book, Nigeria Against the Home Market Strategy or some title like that. Is Professor Ango saying that the Northern elite were not reading these books? They were certainly reading them. At least, the late Liman Ciroma was reading them and he must be one among so many others.

The third reason for the inappropriateness of giving OBJ too much room in the explanation of the crisis in the North is that it totally ignores the role of external factors in the crisis. Since 1981, the North has been embroiled in violent conflicts characterised by the most horrendous brutality. This cannot be analysed as just communal or ethno-religious conflicts. They must have something to do with weakening the North to get at Nigeria itself. You cannot destroy Nigeria without destroying the North first.

The last but the greatest threat to the North has been leadership failure. Unlike the Northern establishment groomed by the British through Barewa College and the several finishing schools spread in Katsina, Ilorin, Maiduguri, Adamawa, Bida, Zaria Katsina Ala and so on, the emergent power elite from the North didn’t have that pan-Northern orientation to maintain the Sardauna’s sense of inclusiveness. This aggravated the internal discontent that culminated in emancipation politics in the Second Republic and the series of horrendous conflicts of seeming ethno-religious cum communal conflicts across the North since 1981. And for all these years, the leadership has no answer till the deposit of inter-group hatred has reached a level to sustain acrimony among groups in the North for the rest of this century. How could this be so?

OBJ did so many things upside down but this failure of leadership and the cracks it re-enforced in the North long before OBJ’ return to power in 1999 is a better explanation of the crisis in the North now than the former president’s anti Northern animosity. Even the thinking about bringing OBJ in 1998/9 was a manifestation of crisis in the North. On the eve of the Jos Convention of the PDP in February 1999, someone like Adamu Ciroma was still saying that it would be unjust to give the party’s presidential ticket to someone from a political desert as far as support for the party was concerned when there was an aspirant whose area had solidly accepted the party. The story in Weekly Trust then was aptly titled, “Obasanjo may win the battle but lose the war”, WT, February 12, 1999). The North didn’t listen because the North’s sense of justice had been weakened. Wherever that weakness came from is where we should look at more deeply than the machinations of an Obasanjo or anyone else.

In a recent interview, a former Minister of Education, Alhaji Dauda Birmah, told Daily Sun, (September 8, 2012, page 61) that the Northern house is not in order. He gave three reasons for that – the Hausa/Fulani versus others, Christian/Muslim division and the class dimension. Though brilliant and serious, Brimah has no pretensions to radicalism and that might explain his sequence of the problems. I would have considered the class division as the number one threat. That is the problem of the poor versus the rich or what the late Abubakar Gumi called “the bottom against the top” in his biography by Dr. Ismaila Tsiga.

Given the avalanche of experts in the committee set up by Northern governors to look into insecurity in the region, that committee might rescue the situation with a magic formula although reconciliation in the North is more political than technical. Whatever it is, something should be done quickly before the North internalizes violence. It will never come out of it if it does. Please, it shouldn’t happen.

The descent of The Triumph

Kano State owned Triumph Publishing Company has been closed down. It is a temporary measure, says the state Commissioner for Information, Umar Faruk, a professor of Mass Communications. Whether it is temporary or permanent, it is, indeed, sad. That paper had no peers in the newspaper industry in Nigeria. It remains the only one that started business by declaring that it was going to practice journalism in the context of the squalor of the masses of the people. No other paper ever did that. Not only did it make that declaration, it practiced it. You knew it by the kind of stories it published. Two, it is about the only paper published in the North that broke into the Lagos market. The New Nigerian was influential but it was read more in the power circles in the South for their own intelligence about the North. Three, The Triumph was one paper that stood up to its owner, the Kano State Government under Rimi in the Second Republic. Not for The Triumph in its heydays the obsequiousness of government newspapers in Nigeria.

Dr Haroun Adamu once told me that the late Abubakar Rimi never, for once, called him to complain against what the paper was carrying. If any managing director should try that today with any state government newspaper, he risks being charged with subversion and disloyalty by party faithfuls, no matter how broadminded the governor may be.

It is the death of the inter-subjective space that, more than anything else, explain the crisis everywhere in Nigeria. The Triumph prioritized and benefited from the inter-subjective space. By 1985 when some of us arrived at The Triumph, the radicalism of the paper had toned down but it was still cosmopolitan. The staff strength spanned Benue, Plateau, Niger, Sokoto, Cross River, Kogi, Katsina, Adamawa, Borno and Ghana. The Chief Sub-Editors of both the daily and the weekly came from Ghana.

We had conflict in the newsroom but it was along ideological lines. Alhaji Abba Dabo who took me to the paper remains a liberal pragmatist but I am sure I was among the very first set of people he approved their employment on resumption of duty as the managing director.

This closure, as temporary as it might be, makes it difficult for us to look back. I should expect to meet a more prosperous Triumph by now and proudly proclaim, oh, I too worked here years ago. But instead of a more grand headquarter, more cosmopolitan establishment, more and more liberal paper, we are now told it is being shut down so as to revive it.

But for the ideological and professional exceptionalism of The Triumph, the death of all state government owned newspapers in Northern Nigeria is an accepted abnormality. Even newspapers like the New Nigerian, Nigeria Standard, The Herald, The Voice (and which one again?) that had already made professional and commercial names began to collapse one after the other, denying a whole region organs of articulation of its own hopes, aspirations and fears in an exceptionally complex country like Nigeria. That of the New Nigerian whose masterminds had so thoughtfully provided for and pioneered simultaneous printing in Kaduna and Lagos several decades before development came to that level among Nigerian publishers remain the most painful. May God preserve us to witness the triumphant return of The Triumph!

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