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Baba-Ahmed: Mandela turns in his grave

DIALOGUE WITH NIGERIA By Akin Osuntokun

In 2013, an indignant Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed wrote of a moving encounter he had with the Madiba, President Nelson Mandela in 2007.The subject matter of the encounter was appropriately Nigeria on which the two shared identical views. I will presently recall excerpts and lessons cited approvingly by Baba-Ahmed of what he correctly celebrated as a one in a lifetime opportunity.

In the light of Baba-Ahmed’s present posturing on Nigerian politics, Mandela, for all his insights on mankind, would have deemed himself a victim of the human proclivity for duplicity. Note, in particular, Mandela’s emphasis on the theme of education and poverty and what he expected Baba-Ahmed to do with it. If the former had any particular society in mind, the Northern region of Nigeria could not be far from top of the list. It was particularly reflective of the deepening crisis of underdevelopment syndrome ravaging Nigeria and the North in particular.

Availed of a unique opportunity to address a demographic of young university students; to put to practice the lessons he had learnt at the feet of the master himself, what would the great man have expected his would be protege to make of the occasion? Mandela did not leave the anticipation to chance but gave a precise notion of what he expected-in his parting admonition to Baba-Ahmed. His charge was: “So if this audience has been useful, I am glad. But it will be more useful to me if you go back to Nigeria and work to give young Nigerians good education.

Teach them the value of hard work and sacrifice, and discourage them from crimes which are destroying your image as a good people. Then you have to spend a lot of your resources for education. Educate the children of the poor, so that they can get out of poverty. Poverty does not breed confidence. Only confident people can bring changes. The black people of the world need Nigeria to be great as a source of pride and confidence. Nigerians love freedom and hate oppression. Why do you do it to yourselves?”

Baba-Ahmed concluded the report of the encounter on a note of self-pity: “If there is any comfort to draw from Mandela’s disappointment, it will be that he may not have observed our free-fall as a nation in the last five years”.

Now, if, in his estimation, the years 2008-2013 represented five years of free fall of Nigeria how would he characterise the last five years of 2016 to 2021? Perhaps we can find an indication in the observation that the difference between the Baba-Ahmed of 2013 and 2021 is the difference between the Mandela disciple of 2013 and the raving ideologue of Northern backwardness of 2021. It is a degeneration that parallels Nigeria’s descent into the present abyss. We are reminded of the parable of the sinner who believes he and his captive political community are victimised by universally applicable development ethics and moral precepts; who, like the defensive radicalism of the Taliban ‘can live with their poverty’ rather than the accountability demands of modern civilisation.

Here he unveils the manifesto of poverty and political leadership from behind. “We will lead Nigeria the way we have led Nigeria before, whether we are President or Vice President, we will lead Nigeria. We have the majority of the votes and the democracy says vote whom you want”, he stated.

“Why should we accept second class position when we know we can buy form and contest for first class and we will win? We will surprise them in 2023 because we will vote for who we want, including the northerners, and nothing will happen. If we choose to vote for a northerner, the heavens will not fall. We will choose who we want in this country… A northerner is a respectable Nigerian. We can live with our poverty, but we cannot live with a sense of disrespect and anybody who toys with our respect. We will fight them to the end. We inherited the North that determined where Nigeria went”.

I have always maintained that regardless of our current nightmare, the tragedy of Nigeria is not so much the challenges we presently grapple with. The real tragedy is what the present omens portend for the future; the projection of hopelessness on the future of Nigeria (as a functional society) inferrable from the mindset and actions of those who will determine that future. One of the veritable harbingers is Baba-Ahmed who speaks for the Northern Elders Forum (NEF)- as the need arose to supplant the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) with a sharply defined irridentist voice of the far North. It cannot be a coincidence that the recession of the latter corresponds to the emergence of Mr Audu Ogbeh and Emmanuel Yaweh as chairman and publicity secretary of the ACF respectively. These gentlemen are Christians from the Middle Belt who belonged to the political periphery in what used to constitute the Northern region. From being deemed second class category in the political pecking order of the regional politics of the North, their status had degenerated into that of the alienated genocidal victims of their erstwhile principal. In the circumstance, it is logical that Ogbeh and Yawey would find it implausible to affect the hawkish ethno religious posturing that comes with the ACF package. Hence the need to fill the role vacuum with the calculated irridentist voice of the NEF. How implausible the incumbency of Audu Ogbeh can get is his rejection of the opaque Buhari orthodoxy of treating the so-called repentant Boko Haram terrorists with kid gloves.

Here is the ACF chairman: “We are currently witnessing large scale surrender of large numbers of Boko Haram insurgents, among whom are bomb makers, commanders, arsorrists, rapists, and child snatchers. Do we have good reason to cheer and hope for an end to this decade-old insanity? Is ‘I am sorry’ enough to bring relief to Nigerians and the thousands of dead and maimed?. What of those victims bombed in the churches, mosques, schools, and markets? What of all the men and women in uniform murdered by them? Who can count the thousands of widows and orphans they have created?”

This definitely is not the stuff anyone would associate with the chairman of the ACF as we know it. The nuanced Ogbeh critique of the status quo was soon reinforced with a scathing no holds barred scrutiny of the North by the eminent veteran columnist, Dan Agbese. In a thumbs down assessment he noted “Audu Ogbeh, immediate past minister of agriculture and chairman, ACF, was recently quoted as saying that politics is the only industry in Northern Nigeria. His statement intrigues me for two reasons. One, I have often wondered why the North which has ruled the country longer than all the other regions put together is in dire straits. If it is only the industry, then it must be an industry that has failed disastrously. The difference between the northern states and the southern states in terms of resources and human development is clear. The south is soaring in modern development and the north is sinking in under-development. But however much we tend to shy away from it, there is no hiding the fact that politics as a northern industry is a failed industry. It has failed where it matters most: lifting the people from illiteracy, poverty and mind-boggling squalor”.

The truth of what Agbese said was so self-evident that I find it surprising that anyone could reflect on the same set of facts and return with a radically divergent judgement. The shrill defensive outburst that issued forth from Hakeem Baba-Ahmed ranks among the most obtuse and undignifying response to the underdevelopment crisis bedevilling Northern Nigeria and is a crude restatement of Maitama Sule’s thesis of the divine right of the North to the leadership of Nigeria. Above all it is outrageously inappropriate for an audience that is in dire need of twenty-first century mentorship in the age of competitive globalisation. It is a measure of Nigeria’s regression that a member of a much younger and supposedly more cosmopolitan and enlightened generation can actually outperform Maitama Sule in a primitive lapse into the dark ages.

It was this kind of crude and opportunistic posturing that provoked the late Chief Richard Akinjide to remonstrate that “every stupid northerner, no matter how ill-prepared for leadership he may be, wants to be head of state. And this for no better reason than that he is a northerner and would always count on the full support of fellow northerners. No northerner I know disagrees with this provocative notion that his right to rule was given from above.”

In the knowledge that many of these guys are auditioning for the role of ideological successor to Buhari (in sheer bigotry and parochialism) there is the element of opportunistic posturing to Baba-Ahmed’s outburst-sort of being catholic than the pope and royalist than the king. Given the appalling standard of education in the North, what subject matter is better priotised and most appropriate to university students than a theme of education? Neither did he find utility in employing the occasion to draw up a list of positive role models (in which the North is not lacking) whom the students can emulate. On the contrary, he chose to misinform, miseducate and incite the students to double down on a self-destructive obsession with political power.

He launched into a tirade of virulent ethnic chauvinism the likes of which are best reserved for a malevolent external aggressor not citizens of the same country. “We will fight them to the end”, he thundered. Why then are we still together as citizens of the same country if the end is to fight till death do us apart? And in something of political perversion, at least to those familiar with the political history of Nigeria, he mouthed the similarly infernal refrain “We will lead Nigeria the way we have led Nigeria before. We inherited the North that determined where Nigeria went.” Which begs the question of how the North has led Nigeria. Well, as the saying goes, the taste of the pudding is in the eating. So how about the toxic pudding with which Nigeria is being force fed by Buhari’s Northern presidency as sample?

John The Baptist

It has now transpired that by design or default, Baba-Ahmed has played the role of John the Baptist to the pronouncement by the Northern Governors’ Forum and the traditional rulers and opinion leaders of the North to the effect that Nigerians should perish the thought of power rotation to the South.

-ThisDay

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