THE NORTH: WHOSE NORTH? WHOSE MEDIA?
By IS’HAQ MODIBBO KAWU, GENERAL MANAGER/CHIEF EXECUTIVE, KWARA STATE TELEVISION SERVICE, ILORIN, KWARA STATE.
BEING TEXT OF PAPER PRESENTED AT THE CONFERENCE ON “REPORTING THE NORTH: IN SEARCH OF AN OBJECTIVE MEDIA”; NOVEMBER 24 AND 25, 1999, AREWA HOUSE, KADUNA.
Alhaji Sir Ahmadu Bello was one man whom I had very deep respect and admiration for. He believed very much in the Northerner, believing him capable of doing excellently in ANY field… he worked for a balance of opportunities between the provinces of the North without letting his religious preferences get in the way of objectivity…. he did realise that to reach the goal he had set for himself, he had to carry a united North with him.’- YAHAYA KWANDE in THE MAKING OF A NORTHERN NIGERIAN, an Autobiography. 1998.
As a six-year-old child in 1966, one of my earliest recollections of a national event, was the assassination of the Late Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto. I recollect that the atmosphere was a very sad one, and can still see in my minds eyes, how my Uncles and Aunties, Father and Mother cried on being told of the assassination of the Sardauna.
The Sardauna lived far away in Kaduna, but as children growing up in llorin, he seemed to reside right inside our compound; this was because we heard several stories about his activities in the defense and promotion of the values of the peoples of Northern Nigeria. We grew up in the context of the peculiar contradictions of llorin – the frontier Emirate of Northern Nigeria; a town that has always carried a burden of the history which was thrown up by the Jihad of Sheikh Usumanu Bin Fodio, and the contradictions arising out of the interplay of ethnic and religious forces, from the early 19th century till date.
Ilorin is the home of several ethnic groups: Yoruba, Fulani, Hausa, Gobir, Kanuri, Baruba, Nupe, Kamberi and has always been a major setting for the contending values that Islam promoted and which had largely welded these disparate peoples together, and the chauvinistic appeals to ethnicity, that has always been promoted by the political and media circles of the south West of Nigeria on the other
Ilorin’s people have often described their home town as the ‘inverted pyramid’ on which the North balance, or in some other descriptions, it is seen as the
“soft underbelly’ of the North; the battlefield where those who most of all look for vengeance against the North for the historical episodes of the Jihad, believe they can get even with the North, by all means. In their arsenal, they deploy threats, hurl insults, historical distortion of facts and plan elaborately to steal the land & people and upturn the apple cart of history.
It was against this background, that the Sardauna came to play his outstanding roles in history, up to the point of his assassination in 1966. As the quotation from Yahaya Kwande has shown, the Sardauna and his pioneering team, endeavoured to create a formidable spirit of being and togetherness amongst all the peoples of the North.
By opening up the possibilities of advancement for Northerners in the early years of independence, in a fair and just manner, the efforts to tear apart the solidarity of the North, could not have succeeded, because there were abundant illustrations of the gains the peoples made from being part and parcel of the North.
The Sardauna’s masterly presentation to the Minorities Commission in the 1950s was the hallmark of that epoch.
The aftermath of the tragic episodes of 1966, included the creation of States, which tended to tear at the roots of the Northerners that was so much haloed by tradition. The military interregnum nailed the coffin of solidarity, for all intents and purposes.
This was because the succeeding elite in the post-1966 period gradually began to develop a much narrower perspective, located more in their States, but most often to an even narrower field of vision that was usually rooted in the festering of their selfish nests – themselves and their immediate families and a few hangers on. Northern institutions suffered neglect; and a curiously new definition of ‘Northerners’ emerged which was often located only around Kano, Katsina, Sokoto, Yola or Maiduguri – what they now call the “core North’.
The heritage of Sheikh Usumanu Bin Fodio became something that belonged in the hoary past, while the selfless striving of the Sardauna was abandoned as a point of reference by the succeeding clan of leaders who now became the spokesmen of the North. The people in such outlying areas as Ilorin became disoriented and have remained so. We have always been very fanatical in defence of our ‘Northerners’ (afterall many of us have ancestral roots in Gwandu, Sokoto, Kano, Katsina, Borno, etc); growing up in the context of the culture of a Yoruba-speaking environment only serves to strengthen the feeling of brotherhood with our kith and kin across the Niger.
Yet it becomes comfounding to realise day-in day-out, that those we identify with have become so narrow in vision, as not to realise the strategic imperative of taking our needs for advancement, solidarity and oneness into consideration any longer, in the scheme of things.
Against this background, the old, reactionary ethnic chauvinistic circles in the South West have become bolder in their agitations amongst the people of Ilorin in particular, and Kwara State in Nigeria. The argument they posit, is that the North does not accept us as part of them. They add further, that we become Northerners only when we are needed to increase the population of the region vis-a-vis the other regions of the country, while in the distribution of largess, we are always inconsequential.
Caught up in the web of the perceived neglect of our Northern brethren and the vicious anti – Northern propaganda sponsored from the South West, there is a creeping dis-orientation in the younger elements in the Ilorin area. It might have become worse, but for the deep-seated nature of Islam in the city.
THE MEDIA AND THE DEEPENING DISORIENTATION
One of the major problems that we have faced is the dearth of media outlets in Northern Nigeria. In the past couple of years, coinciding with some of the major political developments in Nigeria – the overthrow of Shagari’s government, the return of the military, Babangida’s introduction of the Structural Adjustment Program (SAP), the June 12 debacle, Abacha’s dictatorship and re-introduction of democracy – the North was cast as the villain in all these developments. Northern leaders and institutions were demonized, while the South West press set the agenda, were the judges and executors, rolled up into one!
In these unfolding scenarios, the sources of information available to people in the Kwara area were the anti-Northern mouthpieces such as THE NIGERIAN TRIBUNE, TELL, THE NEWS, and their ilk. These were organs that consciously made the effort to promote the anti-Northern agenda of their owners in the South West. They stridently demand that Kwara State be excised from the North and merged with the South West; in recent times even the OPC has staged provocative rallies within the metropolis of Ilorin. These as we are all aware are pieces in an elaborate jig saw of an eventual dismemberment of the country and the possibility of securing all the land up to the River Niger as part of their much vaunted ODUDUWA REPUBLIC.
The almost total absence of a Northern media presence to articulate an alternative vision of these different developments has been a major source of deepening of disorientation amongst our people. Exploring tactical maneuverings that seemed borrowed from the pages of Goebbels in Nazi Germany, the North continues to be demonized and is perpetually presented as the oppressor that takes everything just for the core “Hausa-Fulani”, to the detriment of all other ‘second – rate’ Northerners.
Those of us who consistently speak out for the heritage of the North, the principles that came from the Jihad and the pioneering endeavours of the Sardauna are particularly at the receiving end of the opprobrium of the South Westerners and their local quislings amongst us. We are held up as the Fulani agents defending the hegemony of the North.
Some of the baggages of recent history have been difficult to carry too. An example is the fallout from the recent Shagamu – Kano crises. Many people from Ilorin and Kwara State became victims of the retaliatory attacks in Kano. Their crime was that they spoke Yoruba and were resident in Yoruba quarters of the city of Kano. How an Ilorin man caught up in such a crisis would respond to calls for a Northern solidarity remains to be seen in the circumstance.
I believe that we reached these depths of disorientation today, because of the general degeneracy that overcame the leadership and elite of the North over the past three decades. In the blind pursuit of individual wealth, the overall well-being of the immediate and general. Northern communities were neglected. The Northern leadership frittered away the currencies of history and took for granted successes won over a long historical period of careful planning and hard work.
The younger generation of Northerners has grown up with an atomised form of consciousness and a regretable parochialism, which has lost a sense of Pan -Northern understanding. Many of our contemporaries do not even have an appreciable sense of history and cannot understand the nature of the links between Ilorin, Bida and Gwandu for example and the overall links to all the other areas of the North: from Ebirra Land to Adamawa or Borno to Kano etc.
RE-DISCOVERING THE NORTHERN IMPERATIVE
We posit that a re-discovery of our history is the first premise that must be conquered before we can meaningfully begin to re-position the North in the next millennium. Historical rediscovery in this sense means that all the component elements of the North must be given a strong sense of belonging as in the days of old. The concerns of Ilorin must have as much legitimacy as those of Katsina, Kano and Borno. The Ebirra and Barba peoples must not be treated as curios or an appendix to the historical march of the North.
When we have consciously begun to re-trace the steps carefully laid out by the pioneering team around the Sardauna, then the North can begin to formidably play an unassailable role in the Nigerian polity once again. The advantages of population and a close-knit community of feelings is already a launch pad that we possess against the tendency towards acrimony that reigns in other parts of the
It must however be pointed out, that in advocating for a re-trace of our steps towards unity, we are not unmindful of the realities of the peculiarities that are present within the general (dialectical) wholesomeness that represents the North.
We believe that unity today would have to take all the shades that are present in the North into cognisance. The North cannot go back to the past, no matter how beautiful that past was.
The North must courageously embrace the possibilities that the future hold, without at the same time, vacating its historical antecedent. Afterall, that antecedent was a most radical rupture with a rotten status quo as it then was. We must marshall our forces of the next millennium on the premise of a highly educated collective that can at the same-time consciously work for the upliftment of the entire community that is Northern Nigeria.
The new Northern imperative must be one that sets out to combat our economic, educational and the new political disadvantage from a premise of well-articulated goals, that should be popularised all over the North, almost in the forms of aNothern Peoples’ Charter. Such a Charter must distill as best as possible the feelings of the peoples of the Region. It must be a Charter that will appeal to the Hausa, the Kanuri, the Fulani, Jaba, Berom, Tiv, Igala, Ebirra, Bokobaru, Yoruba, Tarok, and others in the old Northern Nigeria.
This is the only platform, in my opinion, that will make it difficult for the Lagos/Ibadan press, working at the behest of the political circles in the South West, to achieve their long cherished ambition of playing the different components of the North against each other i.e. Middle Belt against Hausa – Fulani, or excision of Kwara from the North, etc.
From the standpoint of being born in Ilorin and growing up in the cultural melting pot that the city represents, we have always been obliged to fight for our Northern-ness, everyday of our lives. Those of you in Sokoto, Kano, Katsina, Yola, Zaria or Borno, can take that for granted. But we cannot, unfortunately.
That is why there is a sense of urgency about our appeal to all of you to sharpen your sense of history. In Ilorin, history is a living force, because we have had to fight a daily battie to retain the right to bear our history and to be who we are.
THE NORTHERN MEDIA IN THE 21ST CENTURY
The recent appearance of WEEKLY TRUST, came at a time when there was a need for it, as a platform to present a Northern perspective to the different issues on the Nigerian Agenda. Its relevance can be gauged by the niche it has been able to carve for itself, in the space of one year of publication. It has been able to offer the Northern point of view, it is a platform of debate, and most importantly, has endeavoured to cover so-called fringe Northern areas, such as Kwara State.
But it is a matter of regret, that we have not been able to achieve a sustained media industry in the North, over the past 39 years of Nigerian nationhood. The Northern media landscape is like a cemetery for titles such as THE DEMOCRAT THE ANALYST. CITIZEN. etc. Such Government-owned titles like THE HERALD, THE VOICE, NIGERIAN STANDARD, THE TRIUMPH and the once – vibrant NEW NIGERIAN are a pitiable shadow of themselves.
Again, from a lack of consciousness, or an indefensible lack of awareness. Northerners have been unable or unwilling to invest in the media, print or electronic. Yet we would complain about the way the Lagos/Ibadan press reports us; how “…Northern institutions have been systematically degraded, its leadership maligned, ridiculed, and its business potentials weakened”, in the words of the organizers of our conference.
At a time that the Nigerian government has deregulated the broadcasting industry, there is just Desmims Independent Television in the whole of Northern Nigeria, while the Lagos, Ibadan, Benin, Onitsha – Obosi areas are having a surfeit of media. We do not expect these media to present an objective assessment of the North and its aspirations. It is therefore imperative for the North to brace up for the challenges of the new millennium.
We can no longer take anything for granted, where the media is concerned.
We have all witnessed how the Lagos/Ibadan media successfully forced their agenda down everybody’s throats in the past few years. They have cried about the marginalization of the Yoruba, even when they control practically everything in our country: the media, the banking industry, the bureaucracy, commerce, oil industry and now the political power and even command appointments in the Armed Forces.
It is time to let the rich individuals in the North know that they must invest in the making of a vibrant Northern media which will be able to articulate our own Agenda and will also be capable of robustly defending us from the adversarial media in other parts of the country. We shall never regain political relevance in Nigeria, if we have to depend on the media owned and controlled by other sections of our country, especially a section that is so chauvinistically opposed to the North, the South West.
Collectives of Northern professionals in the media must also begin to courageously pursue the possibilities of becoming owners of private radio and television channels too, so that the airwaves are not left to the other parts of the country. Such outfits must consciously set out to be Northern in orientation and thrust.
Furthermore, when we have been able to actualise a more pluralistic Northern presence in the media, an affirmative program of opening up employment opportunities for Northern professionals from all areas of the North must be promoted. This is very important for cohesion and the creation of a sense of belonging to the Northern family.
It will not serve our interest in the long run, if a media practitioner from Kwara, Kogi or Benue finds it much easier to secure employment in a Lagos/Ibadan medium, than in an outfit that is Northern – owned and Kano or Kaduna based.
Issues affecting the people of Kaiama, New Bussa, Offa, Omu-Aran, Ayangba, or Ihima in Kwara and Kogi States, should be as well reported as those of Batagarawa, Sabon Birni and Gaya in Katsina, Sokoto and Kano States.
It is the scenario we have painted here that can assist us to achieve an objective Northern based media that will assist in the positive development of our Region and can help us re-discover the vitality that was located in the bonds that so organically joined us in the historically vibrant community that is Northern Nigeria.
Let us all work with re-newed faith, to rediscover our selves. This is the greatest tribute we can pay to the pioneering spirit of the Late Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto, who worked with courage, and an indomitable spirit for the peoples of Northern Nigeria. That was what the old slogan was about: ONE NORTH, ONE PEOPLE, ONE DESTINY. The new millennium should rekindle the Northern renaissance.
It is on the platform of an inclusive renascent agenda, that the North, our North, can win the battle for an objective media; a media that will report our hopes, aspirations and even foibles, accurately and sympathetically. This Conference has come at a most critical conjuncture for all the sons and daughters of Northern Nigeria- especially those of us with a professional commitment to the media.