To get lost is to find the way — African proverb
In all probability, you are reading my last column in this great paper. I have said goodbyes a number of times from writing for the Vanguard and other papers in the past. The reasons have been mostly related to taking up assignments that could not be reconciled with weekly column-writing, or commenting in public over matters affecting the nation as responsibilities demanded.
At this stage of my life, and looking ahead, it is most unlikely that I will be writing columns anymore. If you have read me in this paper or other papers, this is the time to say thank you. You have indulged me by tolerating my personal opinion from many issues, many of which have had as many angles and those who held them. I will forever be grateful to my role model Nigerian,
Chief Sam Amuka, who had plucked me back to the Vanguard family a number of times. His insistence that a newspaper that claims to reflect the nation must have Nigerian voices from all angles had allowed great writers like Kawu Modibbo and Mohammed Haruna before me, to provide perspectives that enriched arguments, quarrels, analyses and diversity that made Vanguard readers unique in terms of appreciating the great diversity and commonality which makes our country what it is.
This time, I will be engaged in an advisory capacity on politics and governance in the Presidency. This is a move I had given tremendous thought to before finally deciding, under current circumstances, that it represents a much better option to writing columns and making periodic appearances on television and radio to share views of the group I speak for, the Northern Elders Forum, or the teaching I find so inspirational and rewarding. This is not to say that writing columns is to be sniffed at. Few people dare put views clearly and strongly enough to get people to come back for more. Fewer still have the skills and the discipline to sustain it to a level where it represents reasons for buying the entire paper. Even fewer have the stomach for the vitriol that follows what some columnists will claim to be a near-perfect common ground in this country with few common grounds.
In fairness, the vast majority of columnists will admit that they do not even pretend to speak to a common ground on any issues. Most of us are prejudiced, parochial and narrow-minded people who have good writing skills and opportunities to express personal opinions. Perhaps it is a fact that there really are no common ground on weighty matters such as politics or strong social values. For me, this has always been the main attraction in writing columns; that feeling that my view in not the only one, nor, in fact, the most useful to society. If I had to mention the one outstanding attraction for my in-and-out romance with column-writing, I would say it is that it afforded me an opportunity to emphasize the sheer variety of world views, and to amplify the one I most admire.
One group I have come to be identified with, the Northern Elders Forum, thrust me forward from the withdrawn and characteristically restrained posture of serving and retired civil servants into the ring as its face and voice, as well as an advocate for a region, the North. This has been an eventful decade, and it is difficult even for founding members to remember that the Forum was never designed as an opposition instrument. We started as a break-away small group of respected Northerners who thought the North needed a firmer stand on matters that affected its welfare and destiny. These handful of elders attracted others, and a few of us who understood the damage of poor governance on a people already bringing up the rear in a country which was becoming increasingly fractured by small-scale politicians, began to carry bags and walking sticks into meetings.
We have done well, even if I say so myself. We worked hard with others to put President Buhari in power, and worked even harder to insist that he governed well. We collaborated with similar groups from other parts of Nigeria on issues which we believed served all of us as Nigerians. On many occasions, we received and returned hard blows as and when needed. We stood up for the North in circles which thought it was weak enough to be consigned to the status of a nuisance, and we collaborated with the same groups when it became clear that collaboration was what was needed.
We fought President Buhari’s administration when it became clear that it was inept and indifferent, and the North was becoming both its prime victim and a pariah in a country that it had paid more than its dues to build. We put our cases firmly and as logically as the illogical nature of Nigerian politics allowed. We allowed individual members to hold political opinions and engage in partisan politics, but the group was united enough to survive the huge chaos and damaging stresses of Nigeria’s politics.
From a handful of elderly Northerners, we worked hard to create a respected Forum that today embodies the heterogenous, complex and intensely political North. I have grown from invaluable interactions with elders who are some of the best Nigerians I ever had the privilege to associate with, and I feel confident that nothing will change in my commitments to the values of lifetime service to Nigeria and the North.
It is to this same Forum that I took the case of the request of His Excellency, Alhaji Kashim Shettima for me to serve as one of his advisers. I had done a lot of consultation before then, and highly respected and knowledgeable opinions were sharply divided. Basically, one side said stay out. This administration has done enough damage in its first few weeks to last it four years, and they do not see the North healing under it. Stay away, it said, and avoid staining yourself.
Your Forum, for which you are a face and a voice, will be accused of caving in, quite possibly under inducement, and it will leave the North defenceless. Sustain your critical oversight over the quality of governance, it said, and retain your respect. They will say you went after an appointment, abandoning your identity as a crusader of sorts for the poor and weak. They said you will be swallowed by an administration that has an ethnic agenda. They will use and dump you once you provide some cover for the final pillage of the commonwealth and the evaporation of faith in the viability of the Nigerian nation. You will be vilified by political foot soldiers who serve politicians, not the nation.
The other said look around you and see the state of the country. You have no luxury of choosing between helping to rebuild the nation and sustaining criticism of its state. Your Forum is not an opposition party, and it is not a prison holding back those who want to rediscover its mission as a responsible and constructive builder. If the Tinubu administration appears to have put its put wrong in its early days, it was not the North alone that has been affected.
The North will, however, suffer more if the administration reaches out for competent and experienced hands to join the salvaging mission, and it is rebuffed by northerners, particularly those in the position to be useful. There is no room for fence-sitters in Nigeria today, and those who can contribute to turning the country round but refuse are, to use a polite word, irresponsible. You do not refuse to help put out a fire in the village because you did not start it, it advised. The North, and all sections of the country, need to be where the real work of stopping the dangerous decline is being done. The present calls for a national effort, and partisan and sectional resistance to taking a stand for the fight to retrieve the nation and make it work better will have no value.
A lot more was offered to me as advise, including the advise of the Northern Elders Forum and key people in other northern groups. In the end, the decision was always going to be mine. It turned out to be less stressful than I thought. My entire life had been about service to God, the community and the country. There has never been a time when the nation needed more hands on deck. My politics has never been the type that supports destroying the whole because my share is smaller. It has, on the contrary, been about insisting on equity and justice, and the belief that these have to be laboured for.
This is what informs my support of political parties, including the Labour Party on whose ticket my brother, Dr Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed runs as VP candidate, to exhaust the entire gamut of the electoral and judicial process available to them. There are no positions from which one cannot serve the country, and my grouse with many of those who lead us is that nothing has prepared them to lead, and those with some preparation and capacities to lead cannot do so because they lack the financial muscle to buy power or step up and protect the country from those who do.
I also have issues with people who think history and circumstances design roles and positions in a la carte manner, and people like me should sniff at certain opportunities to serve. My 25 years of public service have taught me the value of the public servant and those who advise others with power. I do wish more younger Nigerians have greater space in governance in Nigeria today, and if there are a few things I hope to live to see, it will be Nigeria that has places for its young to shape its own future. Prominent places for elderly Nigerians like me are evidence of a failed system. It has to be fixed, if not by younger Nigerians now, then by elderly Nigerians who see the dangers of recycling decline.
So, as I say goodbye, again, let me thank you, the reader, for tolerating me all these years. I am grateful to the Vanguard family for adopting me without questions or limitations. I am grateful to President Ahmed Bola Tinubu and Vice President Kashim Shettima for affording me an opportunity to serve my country long after I thought I had paid my dues. As I start work with some of the amazing members of teams assembled by the administration, may I request for your prayers to God to see Nigeria through its current tough spot, and go on to become the great country it is destined to be. Thank you.