Beginning from May 29, 2011, President Goodluck Jonathan has a new four year mandate as President of Nigeria. His declaration as President-elect by INEC propelled the historic April 17th, 2011, Talakwas revolt against today’s northern Nigerian elites, and violent protests that swept across some states of the region. The protests, which hoodlums and miscreants took advantage of, to kill innocent people and destroy properties, were senseless and regretful occurences that nearly spoilt the joy of the nation.
As a result of this situation, some questions are pertinent-were the protests against Jonathan in person? No they weren’t. Were they purely ethnic, religious or regional? No they weren’t. Were they because Buhari as a northerner was not declared President-elect? Equally they weren’t. Then, why the protests? They were protests triggered and aided by one monster: extreme-abject-poverty.
A great number of Nigerians live below poverty-line, but the poverty level in the north is disturbing-a level that has put the Talakawas in a desperate search for a messiah to free them from the prison of poverty.
Today, the Talakwas and the leadership of the north are no more on the same page. Thus, there is a strong conviction in the hearts of the Talakwas that any interest or individual being promoted by a certain group of the northern leadership, will only aggravate their anguish.
Whoever is the President of Nigeria, is a President for all. The political tradition in Nigeria is, the President, often relates with all sections of the country through their leaders. In case of the north, it is the political, traditional and the religious leaders. This is because, the northern Nigerian culture proposes that everyone accords unalloyed loyalty to these leaders.
The north has changed, the people’s thinking and aspirations have changed. Today, in the north, most of the leaders are no more on same pages with their followership. With this changed situation and the protests that trailed the declaration of Goodluck Jonathan as President-elect, there is a thorny, as well as a golden opportunity for Goodluck Jonathan. The thorny side is that, he has to give the north, a fresh development plan that is truly people-oriented, workable and credible. And trigger a political realignment that may be unpopular with some elites. In addition to this, he has to proffer an alternative education direction that would tackle the peculiar situation in the north. The present situation in the north is also a golden opportunity for President Goodluck Jonathan to show and tell the Talakawas in the region: hey! I have with me that ‘hope’ you see in Muhammadu Buhari. How would the Goodluck Jonathan’s Presidency achieve these? As earlier said, President Goodluck Jonathan should face the north by taking careful and intelligent political and policy steps.
The President has to design some speedy but feasible policies that will break the poverty cycle in the north through economically empowering the poor; introduce agricultural programs that will reach rural, small scale farmers and the youth, as well as, make them feel ownership of these programs.
There is a huge hole in the heart of northern Nigeria’s education system. Thus, the region’s education sector extremely needs restructuring and galvanizing similar to that of Soviet Union 1980’s glasnost and perestroika. So that there will be means of providing adequate funding; tackling the Almajiri phenomenon through workable integration of Quranic schools with formal schools and promotion of girl-child education.
The leadership in the north have woefully failed in freeing their Talakwas from poverty, illiteracy, and underdevelopment. If President Goodluck can demonstrate a little sign of providing practical solutions to these problems, the Talakawas of the north will definitely see in him the ‘Muhammadu Buhari’ they are searching for.
There is a strong urge in the north for a fresh socio-economic and political direction reminiscent of the old north- where; leadership is people oriented; ‘we’ and ‘they’ feelings never exist and life is simple and productive. How would President Goodluck Jonathan contribute to this, when a great number of the leadership in the region is no more revered by the people? Do we expect the President to sideline the political, traditional and religious leaders of the north? Certainly no. The President should employ both systematic and systemic approach- i.e. have in his mind that he has three groups to face in the north: the political elites; the Talakawas and a unique emerging group of educated young northerners who are advocating of a new approach.
The President should face the leadership of the region based on what they know best- the principle and foundation of negotiations and persuasion. It may be unpopular with the elites and may require strong political will. But President Goodluck should be bold enough to tell them- This time is for the Talakwas of the north- because ‘I told the world, I am one of them’ (the poor).
The general opinion in the north is, the region is in need of a paradigm shift in its development and political direction, in such a way that the region will welcome a Nigerian leader who listens to new ideas; accepts new ways of doing things; as well as has a clear and vivid picture of what success looks like and how to achieve it. Someone who can move with a speed commensurate with the expectations of Talakwas in bringing new thinking and synergy to the public sector through feasible ideas that will bring development in all spheres of north’s economy- putting in place systems that would eradicate poverty by uplifting individuals, fight crimes with employments and opportunities; fight official corruption the ways it ought to be and bring dynamism into governance, as well as provide broad variety of services , ranging from health and social programs, electricity, police protection, maintain a sound legal system, and the provision of physical infrastructure including the reinvigoration of the small scale industries, roads construction and human capital development.
The Talakwas of the north are just looking for a Nigerian that will lead Nigeria with honesty, firmness and free them from the prison of abject poverty; not someone who will hide behind regionalism to consolidate on cronyism and self enrichment. Jonathan can give the north such a leadership.
Zayyad I. Muhammad writes from Jimeta, Adamawa State, firstname.lastname@example.org, 08036070980. He blogs at www.zayyaddp.blogspot.com