On Monday, eminent northerners bared their minds on what they termed the deplorable condition of the region, insisting that leaders of the north must restore its lost glory.
The personalities, who converged for a dinner in Abuja at the behest of the Northern Re-awakening Forum, a socio-political think-tank, attempted to find solutions to the problem of insecurity and poverty ravaging the region.
Former Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) national chairman Chief Audu Ogbe, who was the first of four keynote speakers, warned that the north faced imminent catastrophe unless the leaders take the bull by the horns.
Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, who looked at the economic prospects of the northern region, called for the scrapping of all religious and ethnic groups because, he said, they have contributed to promoting the disunity that threatens the existence of the nation.
The bishop of the Kaduna Diocese of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon, identified lack of knowledge on the part of the leaders and the led as the primary cause of religious intolerance. He called for a broad-based teaching on the tenets of the two major religions to discover their point of harmony.
Elder statesman and former super permanent secretary Alh. Ahmed Joda traced the genesis of the problem of the north and called on the elite to come together to restore the region’s lost glory.
Ogbe expressed regrets that his prediction on the Boko Haram insurgency many years ago came to pass, saying that the leaders could have averted it if they were sincere. Said he: "I see in this crisis an extreme clear sign of economic failure. What happened to us in the north? Why are we slowly becoming Nigeria’s albatross? We are held literally hostage in Abuja, going home is not easy. I warned that alienation, anger and disenchantment in the north would cause the real crises to come from the north. I am not happy that I have been proved right.
"The younger generation is not very pleased with us. Even in our own homes, they are not happy with us. What did we do with our 40 years in power, without long-term investment? We now witness resentment and poverty. The message of peace is not sinking into the heart of the young men who have taken up arms against us. Political leaders are now openly being linked to these groups and their political parties have not condemned it."
The CBN governor, who X-rayed the prospect of the northern economy against the background of the country’s faltering economy, lamented that northern leaders in their quest for sheer political relevance have neglected the viable economic potential of the region.
"At the end of the day it’s about human beings accepting a fundamental fact: that faith is a personal thing. That, I believe, cannot be imposed on the next person. Unfortunately, the elite in northern Nigeria find religion to be a very good instrument in the contestation of space for political power. Do we have education, do we have electricity, do we have health? Whether you are a Muslim or Christian, a hungry man is a hungry man. A hungry Christian is a hungry man and a hungry Muslim is a hungry man.
"Economy is the major cause and answer to these problems. My initial reaction was that I don’t go to these regional and ethnic groups because I have a very strong view against all these Arewa, Afenifere, Ohaneze and other regional and ethnic groups.
"And I think these regional and ethnic groups should be banned, including, by the way, the Ja’amatu Nasril Islam (JNI) and the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN). They should be banned. Because they are not religious organisations, they are not cultural organisations; they are political associations in disguise of religion and region.
"Anybody who wants political relevance sets up a regional group. I could do the same by setting up a Fulani association and become a nuisance. You go to the Villa, you go to the presidency and see somebody walk in freely. The only reason he is there is because he is the leader of a group that is threatening the security of this country. He hasn’t got anything to contribute to this country," he said.
Archbishop Fearon lamented that religious leaders in the country were ignorant of the true teaching of their religion and that of other religions, saying that these religious leaders ignorantly encourage their followers to antagonize and attack followers of other religions. "Religious leaders in the north are as ignorant as their followers. There is so much ignorance in the land and we have to overcome it so that we can develop this nation," he said.
Ahmed Joda said the region must abhor corruption and ensure that education is given uttermost priority. "First among them is that we must take the education of our population most seriously. We must ensure that every child, male and female, is given the opportunity to have a first-class education to the maximum potential.
"As a people we must abhor corruption, the cancer that now afflicts all of us, which, if allowed to persist, will destroy us. The examples of our present leadership to the younger generations, whether in the executive, legislature or the judiciary can only ruin us. As a people we must make clear to our leaders that we can no longer tolerate their unbecoming conduct. We must not leave the situation unattended to, for street mobs to impose a solution," he said.
He also noted that they must allow democratic process to take root via free and fair elections. "That means we must permit true leaders and leadership with great potential to emerge freely without manipulation by remote and anonymous leaderships, operating in the shadows. We must restore faith and confidence in governance and government leadership. Let us permit free and fair election."
According to the chairman of the occasion and deputy governor of Kaduna State, Bajoga, the north might not be the same again. He urged the forum not to be daunted by the huge task before them. He said "It is almost impossible to take us back to the days of old, when we lived like brothers and sisters. This is a huge task before this forum".
The chairman of the NRF, Hon. Mohammed Umara Kumalia, said the formation of the forum as well as its maiden dinner was influenced by the "deep sense of concern of the current challenging situation in which northern Nigeria finds itself".
Prominent northerners at the dinner included the chairman and editor-in chief of the LEADERSHIP newspaper, Mr. Sam Nda-Isaiah; Prof Yusuf Obaje, Dame Pauline Tallen, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, Prof Mohammed Nur Alkali, FCT minister Bala Mohammed, and Dr Muazu Babangida Aliyu.