At the inception of the current democratic dispensation in 1999, the elected governors of the 19 northern states met at the General Usman Katsina House in Kaduna, where they agreed to form the Northern Governors Forum, NGF. The forum was inaugurated with the aim of addressing among others, the protracted development problems facing the northern states. However, nine years after, impact of the meetings and the over 60 resolutions reached to take northern states out of the quagmire of non-development are yet to be felt by the average northerner. Rather than grow and develop, the North has become a region ravaged by poverty, illiteracy, and economic backwardness. Needless to say, the North, comprising 19 out of the 36 states of the federation, has been adjudged the most backward region after the Niger/Delta area in the South-South geo-political zone. The 2007 National Survey Statistics confirmed this position. Between 1999 and 2007, the NGF met more than 40 times and each time, they engaged in quality debates that helped them to identify the plethora of problems hampering growth and development of the North and its people.
Information gathered by TheNEWS revealed that at all these meetings, plans were carefully mapped out to tackle lingering problems such as education backwardness, high poverty rate, unemployment, collapse of industries, religious crises, generally harsh economic environment among others. However, matching word with action turned out to be a difficult task. In fact, it got a point that people became sick and tired of promises made that never saw the light of day.
So they embarked on a protest to drive home disaffection with the governors .They carried placards, some of which read: “We are tired of your fake promises”; “Enough of your deceit”; Poverty is killing us,” etc. When the protest did not yield much result, they took the law into their hands and resorted to stoning the governors at the venues of their meetings and also at events which any of them and other politicians of northern extraction attended.Victims of these serial stoning have been former governors of Zamfara, Ahmed Sani Yarima; Kaduna, Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi; Senator Ibrahim Mantu and Alhaji Abubakar Rimi. The former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar also got his own share of the stoning. When the stoning continued unabated even with heavy security mounted at venues of their meetings, some of the governors became uncomfortable and avoided high profile meetings to avoid being stonned.
For example, the former governors of Sokoto, Attahiru Bafarawa; Benue, George Akume; Jigawa, Saminu Turaki; Taraba, Jolly Nyame, for fear for of being attacked boycotted the meetings in Kaduna. Among them, Bafarawa was the first to publicly declare the northern governors as leaders that have failed the North. At the last meeting he attended in Kaduna, Bafarawa took time to explain to the press why, as leaders, they failed in their duty to rescue the North and its teeming population from poverty, illiteracy, economic deprivation and unemployment problems facing the region. He described northern leaders as “opportunists who capitalise on the weakness of its people to cheat and embezzle public funds meant for development without recourse to how the people felt”.
According to him, leaders are supposed to be people with sound vision and focus but northern leaders lacked these two core leadership qualities. He did not exclude himself while he apportioned blames. “Blame all of us for failing to deliver the North from it backwardness,” Bafarawa said. Although Bafarawa was chastised for blaming the northern governors and leaders for plunging the North into backwardness, he remained unrepentant. But rather than accuse Bafarawa like his colleagues, former governor of Nasarawa State, Abdullahi Adamu aligned with him in blaming northern leaders for the rot. Adamu believed the North should have been better developed than it is at present. So during his tenure he tried to ensure that the resolutions at the NGF were implemented, but his efforts were thwarted. Most of the governors had stopped attending the meetings. Even when he reminded the few others left to use the opportunity given to them by the people to lead them aright and better the fortunes of the north and its people, the call yielded no result until reality dawned on some of them that time had come for them to quit office.
The big question former governor of old Kaduna State and chairman of People’s Redemption Party, Alhaji Balarabe Musa asked is: “Why must these governors continue to deceive the people when in the actual sense they are in office for their own personal gains rather that the interest of the people?”
Balarabe Musa expressed anger over the lip service governors paid to developing the North. He stated: “If this continues unchecked, the youth might take to the streets one day in revolt and we can’t stop them.” He, therefore, urged the incumbent governors to strive to make a difference by ensuring that resolutions reached are implemented to the letter in their various states. However, the same apathy that characterised previous meetings of the forum seems to be setting in.
This magazine covered the first NGF meeting held in August 2007 at General Usman Katsina House, Kaduna and chaired by Kwara State Governor, Bukola Saraki. And as is the tradition, issues concerning the development of the region dominated the discourse, with the resolve to immediately address the problems of illiteracy, high mortality rate due to poor health facilities, unemployment as a result of collapsed industries and food crisis due to disinterest in farming. And like their predecessors, the governors promised to address all the stated problems facing the North. No gainsaying, they sounded committed and determined to make a change. Three months in office as chairman of the forum, Governor Saraki stepped down for the Chief Servant of Niger State, as he prefers to be called, Governor Babangida Aliyu, to assume office. His election brought an end to the rotational chairmanship.
As the leader of the forum, Babangida Aliyu was saddled with the responsibility of bringing about change that has eluded the forum and the North for several years. To achieve this, his first assignment was to organise a health summit to tackle the issue of high mortality rate in the region. The second task was to organise an agricultural summit. Under Aliyu, the northern governors have met five times, the last of which held on Thursday 6 November 2008. Yet the situation remains the same. At the last meeting, only five attended out of the 19 northern governors. Prominent among the absentees were governors of Jigawa State, Sule Lamido; Taraba State, Danbaba Suntai; Borno, Ali Sheriff; Gombe, Danjuma Goje, and Zamfara, Aliyu Shinkafi. The forum’s Chairman, Governor Aliyu urged the press not to make an issue out the absence of the governors.