I needed to get that out of the way before those who excuse bad behaviors accuse me of abusing an elder.
In Nigeria, an elder is a washed up politician who is too old to be an ambassador and too young to spend his time making peace with his maker for all the iniquities he created. You see them all over Nigeria, east, west, north and south.
They call themselves elders yet their people keep drinking sand. Our people say that an elder does not stay home and allow a goat to give birth while still tethered.
The political history of Prof. Ango Abdullahi has not been an impressive one. The manner in which he treated students at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, where he was Vice Chancellor from 1979 -1986 was horrific. Yet, Abdullahi’s voice is an important voice in the north. It has been for a long time. We dismiss it at our peril.
For seven years, as the vice chancellor of the most important university in Northern Nigeria, he helped mold opinions of many who are today running the affairs of Nigeria. He also had advisory role with various governments in Nigeria, particularly in the north. So if there is a mess out there, he was an integral part of it.
I have carefully followed the utterances of Prof. Abdullahi in recent times. When he presents written speeches, he often sounds articulate and thoughtful. But when he speaks to the BBC/VOA Hausa Service, or a newspaper/radio reporter, his faculty appears to have escaped him.
I must acknowledge that Nigeria has confounded the best of us. But in Abdullahi, the puzzlement is pathetic to observe. In a span of one year, he has sounded like a man having a national conference with the voices in his head.
On May 1, 2012, Ango Abdullahi gave a lecture at the International Conference Center in Abuja called: Nigeria 1914 to date – A Chequered Journey So far.” In Prof. Abdullahi’s assessment, the beginning of the Nigerian journey, the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates “was a great mistake.” Abdullahi wasn’t the first to say that and he would not be the last. He went on to ask Nigerian leaders to take steps to redress the “mistake of 1914.” News reports of that day did not specify what steps the eminent agriculturist recommended. The reports only mentioned that Abdullahi warned that, "delay would be late and dangerous". The only pointer to a solution was his suggestion to his audience to look at similar mistakes by the same British people who amalgamated Nigeria and how the mistakes were resolved with the splitting of India into three countries, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, UK into United Kingdom and Northern Island and Sudan into Sudan and Southern Sudan.
Two weeks before, Prof. Abdullahi had told the Arewa Elder's Forum that the North was not benefitting from her union with the South and would therefore lose nothing if the forced union – amalgamation- of Nigeria was broken up. Prof. Abdullahi rounded his lecture by saying, “things are more likely to become complex in the future. Until the correct things are done, we cannot ignore these facts or we continue to pretend as our leaders that this is a passing phase. The question of a likely disintegration is not a too distant future.”
If anybody paid attention, Abdullahi had made a similar statement to the BBC Hausa Service on April 18, 2012. In advancing his theory that “No one is afraid of Nigeria’s break-up,” Abdullahi told the BBC, “But the southerners that are propounding dividing the country should know that it is also not something that the north will not want. We can be on our own; we have not seen what the north is eating that the south is not eating. That the north is keeping quiet doesn’t mean we don’t know what we are doing. We want peace and unity but no one can intimidate us, let Nigeria be divided, who is afraid if it is divided? We have nothing to lose, and have been on our own for long. We are on our own and not at the mercy of other people.”
Fast forward to April 14, 2013. At the third annual lecture of the Arewa Media Forum, Prof. Ango Abdullahi gave a lecture on, “Crisis of Leadership as a Source of Conflict in Nigeria: The Way Forward.” After over one year of sustained destruction of Northern Nigeria by the Boko Haram group, Prof. Abdullahi became introspective.
“I get angry when I hear northerners complain about what is happening in the country,” he said. “We created the problems. All the groups: ACF, Middle Belt Forum, Northern Union and recently, the younger ones have formed their various groups to speak for them. They said we have failed them. The last time I counted, we have about 16 groups speaking about the challenges facing the north. How do we grow? If we come together under one umbrella, the north will shock the world come 2015.”
“They said we have failed them!” Have you, Prof. Ango Abdullahi? Have you and your generation served the youths well? Did you prepare them for the 21st century?
We have to almost feel sorry for this man. In moments like this he must be wondering if he was losing his mind or losing his world. Not an easy place to be.
And then, Alhaji Asari Dokubo struck. And Abdullahi lost it completely.
In an interview with Sunday Vanguard, as acidic as Dokubo’s press statement was on the end of Nigeria without Jonathan as President, Abdullahi’s reaction betrayed what remained of his intellect. He complained about the performance of President Jonathan, grumbled about the idea that Jonathan ran for president in 2011 and then, he fell on the sword that Dokubo left for him.
“My reaction is that but for the fact that I am aware that Dokubo is a spokesperson for the corridors of powers, I would have ignored him,” Abdullahi said. “But my reaction now is directed to their leaders, elders, including the president, that if it is their feeling that this is the way things should go, I am saying, on behalf of the Northern Elders Forum, NEF, that they should start the crisis now because I’m putting them on notice that Jonathan will not be president in 2015. So they can start now and we in the North are waiting.”
No, professor. You don’t say something like that when tractors are still digging mass graves for scores of people who died in your backyard. You don’t put people who cannot read and write on notice. This renowned agronomist should know that you cannot plant cocoyam and reap cassava.
One can understand the limitations of people like Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha and their likes. But the failure of intellectuals like Ango Abdullahi is unforgivable. Their inability to soar above the cloud enveloping their environs is the bane of African intellectuals. It is the same across Nigeria.
The government of Nigeria has failed all Nigerians- East, North, South and West. If there is any semblance of decent life in any corner of Nigeria, it is life created by Nigerians in spite of their government.
Abdullahi is just being disingenuous when he said that “the north is not afraid of a split.” He knows very well that the North is the only part of the country that can choose to leave the union today and nobody will raise an army to stop them. I must add that a move like that may be more palatable to Boko Haram sect than amnesty. In fact, I make bold to say that the north going its way will end the Boko Haram insurgence overnight.
But the north leaving the union is not what most Nigerians want, not even Ango Abdullahi. The despicable things others did to the North are many. But the despicable things that the North did to itself are more.
In ideological terms, this is how Ango Abdullahi flunked his test. Though it is universally known that 'with privilege comes responsibility,' Abdullahi embraced privilege without responsibility. Given the chance to choose between responsibility and privilege, Abdullahi chose privilege. In practical terms, given the chance to choose between state police and state of emergency, Abdullahi chose state of emergency.
It must be true: old professors do not die- they just lose their faculty. Listening to Ango Abdullahi bark and flap his wings make me miss my good friend, Wada Nas.