From Noah Ebije, Kaduna
Prior to the gathering of the northern elders in Kaduna on Monday, October 10, 2016 for the Pan-Northern Summit, both their body language and utterances indicated that they were not happy with the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), and President Muhammadu Buhari over the deteriorating socio-economic status of the North.
Earlier, in their pre-summit press conference, under the aegis of Northern Elders Forum (NEF), the elders did not hide their feelings about the economic hardship in the region in particular, and Nigeria as a whole.
They regretted that they had kept silent for so long over the seemingly unending socio-economic crisis since APC came to power, admitting that if they didn’t speak up, succeeding generations would not forgive them.
Sunday Sun gathered that the northern elders were also not happy that federal allocations, especially in the 2016 budget, allegedly favoured the southern part of the country more than the entire northern region.
They recalled that they spoke extensively on issues bedeviling the country during the last dispensation, and as such, they admitted that it would be wrong of them to shy away from commenting on current issues unpleasant to the North and the country.
The elders noted that, having supported APC, against all odds, to produce the nation’s president, the ruling party had failed after just one year in office, to manage electoral success recorded at the 2015 polls.
They added that if they had wanted Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to win the election, it would have won because they supported Buhari and not APC.
The Secretary and spokesman of NEF, Professor Ango Abdullahi, in a pre-summit address had said: “As elders of the region, during the last dispensation we were not silent on some issues bedeviling the region as well as the country. We made our voices heard especially during the campaign period. Now we also feel it is time we talked for the progress of the region and the entire country.
“If the North is shivering, by extension the other regions will catch cold. Quote me, because we still believe, we can influence events in the North and to an extent the country.
“Several issues bordering on security, socio-economic and political issues affecting the country make it imperative for northerners from across the board to come together, examine the situation, reassess the northern position and chart a framework for action that will certainly be a key reference point in future national discourse.”
However, during the summit, Professor Ango, who was the chairman, organizing committee of the summit, said the situation, which led to the victory of the APC in the North was not about the party but the fact that the North needed a return of leadership of the country from the South.
He argued that as a founding member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), there was no way he could have worked for the success of another political party.
“With due respect to those of you who are in APC, the APC did not win election here, take it or leave it, it is the resistance groups that mobilised people to really take the election.”
He charged the APC on how to manage the success that the resistance group gave them, adding “now that you’ve won the election it is up to you to manage success, it is one thing to get success and another thing to manage it.
“And this is the stage we are in now, how to manage success, and this is why this summit was convened for people across the North to come and air their views on what really is the problem. Whether you accept it or not there are problems.”
Ango explained that the decision to return power was reached after what happened following the death of former president Umaru Yar’Adua, and some Nigerians including northerners conspired to abort the power sharing agreement reached by the PDP.
“When we saw in 2010, having been denied the chance under the rotation agreement for the North to really provide the president after Umaru’s death, automatically we knew there was grand political conspiracy against Northern Nigeria, no question about that,” Professor Ango said.
In his address to the gathering, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar III dwelt on the state of Northern Nigeria, saying that unity of northern Nigeria was non-negotiable if the region must develop and have a common front. He lamented that the North of today was not the North that the Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello left behind, adding that there was ethnic awareness among northerners more than ever before.
“There is more ethnic awareness now than ever before. The question is why the sudden consciousness in ethnicity and religion? I will not attempt to provide answer to this question, but we must therefore strive to re-unite the North. Only then, can we have a common front and build a united and cohesive North,” he said.
He also decried the poor state of infrastructure in the North, charging northern governors to pay attention to infrastructure, especially roads.
“Governors should build roads, instead of using N28bn to build airport. Common people will feel their impact more on roads than building airport.”
In his remarks at the summit, former Secretary of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed reminded President Buhari that there was hunger and starvation in the land.
He said: “We will not join those who say President Buhari should stop reminding us of the past that is haunting us today. But we will join those who remind him daily that hunger is stalking millions of homes. Inflation is making life difficult by the day. People are losing jobs. Businesses are closing down. Infrastructure is decaying. Young Nigerians are losing hope of being employed. Our hospitals are full of people who suffer mysterious illnesses, and they cannot afford the fees.”
Baba-Ahmed, however, added that despite the current economic woes in the country, the northern votes for Buhari in 2015 were not wasted, pointing out that the region did not make a mistake in voting for the president
“So, those who are disposed to listen, please listen. Northern votes were not wasted in electing President Buhari. In 2019, we will also use our votes in a manner consistent with our interests as northerners. We did not make a mistake in putting up a solid, united front as northerners in spite of our ethno-religious differences,” he said.
Also, the Chairman, Northern Governors Forum and helmsman of Borno State, Alhaji Kashim Shettima called on his colleagues and other elite to reflect on new ways to tackle poverty, which is the major challenge in the region.
“The whole of the north is united by a common heritage of poverty, northern leaders must wear their thinking caps and work for the people of the region,” Shettima said.