Northern Nigeria: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

By Ibraheem A. Waziri

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Being a text of "Northern Nigerian Future Leaders Forum's" address, @ Arewa House, Kaduna, December 3, 2011

As I see it, in this small gathering, and given the inexperience and short learning of the speaker, justice to the topic, "Northern Nigeria: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow", may be farfetched. In spite of the broadness of the subject matter it is also an exercise that may require systematic research, abundant data and highly rigorous analysis. This, time has not permitted us to conduct, that we may keep in tandem with most current realities of our times. Yet in the framework of this interaction, the transcendental attributes of human values and their constancy can still enable us to get some arguments right. What forms the human quality that is termed as good has always been good right from time as what is termed as bad has always been bad right from time.

There is a justification for this topic in two ways, first, along the vertical stretch of history as it relates to time and space, who and where were we, then and now and based on that we infer, and a reasonable prediction be made of who and where we will be in future. It is a question of origin, growth and evolution. The second one is along the horizontal stretch. This asks about and evaluates our state of being in relation to our environment, other people, nations and races, then and now, before an inference is made of the future. It is a question of what we are and how we have been able to meet a standard set by us, others of our kind or natural forces around us.

Yesterday: How far back?

In all these, recorded history has not been very kind to us, since even if as it is claimed, that the races of the Lower Egypt, which formed the sub Saharan Africa of today, thousands of years BC, where the pioneers of modern civilization, in the term, Ancient Egyptian Civilization, how much do we see our people, the ethnic groups in Northern Nigeria within this claim? Where are the physical monuments that complete our traces back to that period? Where are the written records of our grandparents that captured their adventures and their lines of lineage? Much of these are left to assumptions as Flora Shaw would once claim that Hausa people were descended from an Egyptian Pharoah, Hausal and others like Major Merrick who said they were Ethiopians. Also since our political structures then resembled that of the Phoenicians, there are some who claim the various ethnic groups forming Northern Nigeria today, may have come from the hybrid of the Egyptians, Phoenicians , Romans, Persians and Central Africans, just as it is said that the Nupe were actually the Nubians of old. Unsubstantiated as that maybe it has the capacity to bridge us with the others of the world and imbue us with some sense of pride that, on the horizontal plane of history ours have once been associated with holding the light for the world to see, in terms of commerce, scholarship and political organization.

It is from700CE that some of our surviving ethnic groups are clearly identified by physical monuments and a written record of adventure and familial link that are clearly established. The Seifawa Dynasty of the Kanem-Bornu Empire, the Hausa City States, and Kwarrafa Kingdoms. It is said that the quality of what was obtained in Seifawa dynasty, of scholarship, commerce and political organization could rival its contemporaries across the globe in terms of finesse and delivery. The Hausa City States and their Kwararrafa neighbors attained the same enviable position around 15th century with a distinction in commerce only, as the communities were actually not able to engage or rival other states of the world in intellectual activism. Even the scholarly revolution that followed upon the Hausa States after the famous 19th century Jihad could not engage the Western World of then in the areas of scholarship.

That, was followed by a period in our history that we suffered from military attacks by the forces of Europeans armies and subsequently, a conquest that culminated into the formation of the British Northern Protectorate and later an amalgamation with the British Southern Protectorate that produced, formally, the Nigerian nation state, in 1914, as a single political and administrative entity that survived till this moment.

Today: Where are we?

I can say to be almost sure that the choice of this topic, by the organizers of this meeting has its primary concern in the period between 1914 to date, or even between the beginnings of our independent rule, in 1960 to date. But following the norm in the study of human history, evolution and achievement, the whole period, which is less than a century or half of it, can only qualify as the present. The period is too narrow to avail us with the tools of making any reasonable prediction regarding the destiny. The ideas and events surrounding us within this period, our vertical position in the stretch of history, put us in the shadows of other world super powers whose actions or inactions determine our direction. So on the horizontal stretch, we ourselves feel inferior by the standard set by us, others around us and the surrounding natural forces. Be it in economic, social or political life. As I am talking now the media is still dominated by comments coming from the reactions generated by the newly passed bill regarding same sex marriage by our national assembly which attracted a reprimand and a threat by the British Government to stop all aid it gives to us. The problems bedeviling our region of insecurity and constant bomb attacks are being negotiated to be addressed by American Military outfits. This is what has characterized our situation since the so called independence to date. This and many other examples that are a common knowledge to all who are keen at reading or listening to the daily re-cap of events from news.

Yet in analyzing this and as a whole, Nigeria, can be likened to a house sheltering an estimated population of over 150 million people. Its problems diverse as it is can be looked at in three dimensions:

  1. Those people saddled with the responsibility of managing the people and maintaining the house, are either not competent or are self serving, hence the house is not serving its purpose fully.
  2. There may be something wrong with the house in its foundation.
  3. Or the inhabitants of the house are carefree and do not care of what becomes of it. In this the complexity of human nature deprives a leader from making reasonable progress no matter his good intentions. In fact a good leader, relative as the term may be, is difficult to obtain.

As future leaders, using this, our analytical framework is likely to be wide and all encompassing and placed beyond personalities and gossips to real issues. Politically we have a very good system, democracy, rule of law and freedom of expression, which has the potential of being the best and of exemplary status in the world. For if we can provide a fertile ground where everybody can become anything regardless of their race, religion, region, gender and social status as our current president elaborated in his famous NTA campaign jingle, then even America will not exceed us in its expression of tolerance culture of accommodation, because our diversity is by far most tangible and expressive then theirs'.


Away from doomsday predictions on one side and empty optimism on the other side, it is a common attribute of being that actions and inactions alter human realities. Even witches and wizards who like to predict the future with maximum accuracy admit to this for they do give instructions in rituals that purportedly abate tragedies and increase the spate of human fortunes. In this our guarantee of a brighter future is in our adherence to the correct ritual of careful analysis of the problem, which in our case refers mostly to the delivery at the level of purpose of governance, having observed earlier that at the level of system we are not found wanting in anyway. Unlike the Arabs who obviously have governments that deliver their purposes but run system that maintained a class variation and keep some at the bottom of the social ladder. That is at the centre of the Arab Spring.

After careful and correct analysis of our situation, action in the right direction can improve our lot. Still from the much of our leaders we tag with the epitaph of incompetence, we daily find many policies in their endeavors that can strengthen and improve the foundation of our house. In the recent effort to sponsor a bill in the federal house of assembly, by the executive arm of the government, there is a suggestion to abolish any traces of indigene ship from the constitution. This, if done has the capacity of solving the indigene/settler conflict that bedevils the country in many dimensions. It will also strengthen the bond among us towards realizing a country of equal opportunities for all. Therefore, even if we don't like other aspects of the proposed amendments, it is our duty to pin point this and project it for appropriate action from the right quarters.

I am aware also that the present Kano State Government makes the minutes of its Council Meetings public, so far I have read the 21st minutes. In it all issues regarding governance, plans of actions, and financial estimates for slated projects are brought up. It is our duty, the future leaders, to seek to read such documents to advice the government in the right direction.

Contrarily, In Kaduna State, my state, the commitment from the present government to its tasks, can be said to be very minimal or even nonexistent. In the public front, little is heard about its programmes, project plans to address its bedeviling security challenges. In fact most of us with an ear to the media will admit of knowing more, the programme of activities of say, Kano State than Kaduna state. We as future leaders need to task ourselves and challenge the government to produce its plan of actions and programmes for our screening and critique.


The beginning of wisdom is for one to know themselves, where they come from and where they want to go. In what preceded, we have tried to understand on both the vertical and horizontal stretches of history, where were we, in relation to who we were, in the times when our place was not clear, when it began to be clear, and now. We have also inferred that the future will seem only the way we want it to be like, by the measure of what we are able to put into it now. The truism remains that the quality of a nation is the sum of its citizen's life style.

I remain most grateful, I ask for your forgivingness.