From Fred Itua, Abuja
Leading leaders from the three geopolitical zones in the North, yesterday, listed key challenges bedeviling the 19 northern states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
The leaders who met in Abuja, said the challenges include political, economic and social, principal among which are the collapse of traditional values, uncaring leadership, mismanagement of opportunity and inequity.
They claimed the region is sitting on a keg of gunpowder, warning that it may explode sooner than later.
Some of the leaders who attended the meeting included the 1993 presidential candidate of the defunct National Republican Convention (NRC), Ibrahim Tofa, former secretary to Government of the Federation, Yayale Ahmed, former chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Attahiru Jega, former governors, ministers, senators and military officers.
Addressing newsmen after the meeting, Tofa announced the formation of the Roundtable, a new group comprising independent, non-partisan and non-governmental organisations founded by eminent sons and daughters of the region to address the challenges facing the region.
Speaking on behalf the group, Tofa said it was common knowledge that the North has been facing multiple challenges over time, which has escalated into a crisis over the past few years.
“These challenges are many and they cut across the region. These have manifested in the collapse of institutions and services, widespread poverty and inequality, mutual suspicion, endemic insecurity, disunity, despair and dearth of hope across the region. Every community has challenges but to overcome challenges, there is need to admit their existence.”
Tofa said all was not well with the North and urged leaders to take responsibility and proffer solutions.
“We have no difficulty admitting all is not well with Northern Nigeria and taking primary or vicarious responsibility for the current state of affairs. We must all – leaders, followers and passive onlookers – accept our share of responsibility but, beyond that, we must collectively resolve to take action and remedy what went wrong going forward.
“We owe this to ourselves and to succeeding generations who I would bear the consequences of our action and inaction even though they bear no responsibility for how we got here. No parent would wish to bequeath a precarious future to his child and no price is too high to pay to secure the future of succeeding generations of Northerners.
“We are fully aware attaining these objectives will not be easy as the conditions and forces of division have taken root and have been left to fester unchecked over a long period. But the journey of a thousand miles, they say, begins with a single step.
“We are also hopeful that, as collective victims who have paid the price of division, our people have arrived at the realisation that unity is required to resolve other challenges afflicting the region. Recent consultations with eminent political, traditional and religious leaders across the North are encouraging.
“They reveal a strong desire to remove all obstacles to Northern unity and a commitment to overcome its challenges. We will widen and deepen these consultations in the coming weeks, months and, if necessary, years in order to attain our objectives.”
Proferring solutions to the many challenges, Tofa said: “The most urgent task, therefore, facing the peoples of Northern Nigeria is to overcome fear and suspicion, jettison unhealthy division and create consensus around common goals and aspirations. These are necessary for creating the enabling environment to address our most stubborn challenges such as insecurity, widespread poverty, collapse of institutions and services, etc so that order, peace and prosperity may once again return to our region.
“We are the ones who occupy this region, we are the ones who suffer the consequences of its diminution and we are the ones who must remedy the situation. It is in our common and enlightened interest to do so.
“We would like to seize this opportunity to call on all stakeholders, particularly our political, business, technocratic, traditional, religious, community and youth leaders to support this initiative to recreate the entire northern landscape and make it conducive to a future worthy of succeeding generations, regardless of ethnic, sectarian and sectional considerations.
“A new, united, secure and prosperous North is possible but we have to work for it collectively in equity, good faith, mutual respect, love and goodwill towards each other.”
On the state of insecurity, he said: “The state of insecurity across Nigeria is worrisome, but the state of insecurity in Northern Nigeria has reached existential proportions, threatening to render the region hostile to civilized existence. We acknowledge the efforts of the relevant authorities at both the state and federal levels to deal with the difficult, complex and evolving security situation but it is becoming clear on a daily basis that a lot more of these efforts is required.
“The pain, agony and unwarranted suffering of ordinary people across the region has become completely unbearable as agriculture, education, commerce and the normal rhythm of life have been severely disrupted.
“To bring the state of insecurity in Northern Nigeria under control, more and better collaboration among the states across the region and between the states and federal authorities is required. There is also need for more and better coordination among the military and security agencies and between them and the civilian population.
“However, the ultimate remedy to the state of insecurity in Northern Nigeria is a collective resolve by all northern communities to live in peace with each other, in equity and justice, and quality investment by the three tiers of government, as well as the private sector, in human capital, agriculture, healthcare and infrastructure, particularly power, transport and telecommunication.
“These investments are necessary for job creation to catch up with our rapid growth in population. No effort should be spared to bring an end to the wanton death and destruction that have been unleashed on the region.
“We cannot blame anyone for this failure but ourselves. Basic education is the responsibility of local and state authorities. In this respect, our local and state authorities have consistently failed us over the years. We are not building enough classes to cater for our population, which is growing out of control.
“In most communities, the classes are exposed to the weather and not conducive to learning. Our teacher training institutions are too few and poorly funded, while teachers are at the lowest rung of the ladder in our communities and among the worst paid.
“So-called basic education commissions at both the federal and state levels, have become suffocating bureaucracies with little, if any impact, on the quality of basic education in our states.”