On behalf of my colleagues, I am honoured to warmly welcome Your Eminence the Sultan of Sokoto and Your Royal Highnesses, our very exalted Chairmen of councils of traditional rulers across the 19 States of northern Nigeria, to this extraordinary meeting of the Northern States Governors’ Forum. This meeting, the first of its kind (at least in recent memory), was convened for us to collectively deliberate and find urgent, practical but lasting solutions to the myriad of socio-economic and political problems besetting our region and which have direct bearing on the well-being and welfare of our teaming people.
Let me place it on record that the decision to invite Your Royal Highnesses and other stakeholders to this crucial meeting was the collective decision of all the 19 Governors under our forum and was borne out of the recognition of the fundamental – if not indispensable – position and role the traditional institution occupy in the grand scheme of things in Nigeria, particularly in the Northern region. For us in Northern Nigeria, our royal fathers are, for the most part, custodians of both our cultural and religious values, highly revered and hold their traditional offices in virtual perpetuity.
Indeed, quite a few instances abound in all parts of our region, like their Highnesses the Emir of Lafiya Dr. Isa Mustapha Agwai, the Emir of Zauzau Dr. Shehu Idris, and the Aku-Uka of Wukari Dr. Shekarau Angyu Masa Ibi Kuvyon ll, where our traditional rulers ascended their thrones long before even the creation of the states where their domains are located, or have so far worked with, and outlasted in office all the governors of their States, military and democratically elected.
Your Royal Highnesses, these three instances, drawn from the lives of our longest serving traditional rulers with first class status, are but few out of many.
Governors of the 19 Northern States do recognize, respect and cherish the fact that while others serve for certain periods, traditional rulers mostly make lifetime commitments to the service of our communities. This naturally make Your Royal Highnesses very significant stakeholders in the affairs of Government across the 19 Northern States.
Even more crucially, it gladdens the heart to note that our traditional rulers have sustained the time tested and noble tradition of championing the causes of their people. To cite one example, only last week, His Royal Highness, the erudite Emir of Kano, Alhaji Muhammadu Sanusi ll spearheaded the thought provoking debate surrounding the significance of the education of the girl-child and how it can positively impact the progress, development, prosperity, peace, security and stability of the North and, by extension, Nigeria.
This very fundamental debate bordering on the educational backwardness, pervasive poverty and underdevelopment as well as persistent insecurity of Northern Nigeria should not only form the underlying basis for holding this extraordinary meeting but must continue, in our enlightened self-interest as leaders, to perpetually preoccupy our our thoughts, plans, programmes and actions.
Managing multiculturalism and heterogeneity is a major challenge and indeed a litmus test for leadership, good governance and progress not just in Northern Nigeria but in the entire global society. However, as leaders of government, traditional rulers and community as well as religious leaders we must unite to tackle the challenges that stare us in the face. Like all the Northern Governors acknowledge, development is not just about building roads, bridges, houses or what we refer to as infrastructure and the provision of social services. Yes, these are very important, but then, there are pro-social livelihoods, peace and good life which are the fundamental attributes of meaningful existence. Our core challenges in the North today revolve around intolerance, absence of peaceful coexistence, poverty, illiteracy and lack of unity. How can we address these critical concerns? We, the 19 Governors of Northern States believe that a gathering of some of the key leaders of the North, is more than able to provide solutions to our problems. As Governors, we are more determined than ever, to sincerely walk the talks generated from this important meeting.
There is no gain saying the North is a poor, pathetic shadow of its former self. A well endowed, promising geographic space which accounts for 70% of Nigeria’s land mass, up to at least 60% of its population, with huge solid minerals resources, with potentials for hydrocarbon resources, a growing mining industry, rich arable lands, a blossoming agro-industrial economy, Nigeria’s wealthiest region by GDP and the region with the brightest prospects for accelerated economic growth; in short, arguably Nigeria’s most thriving region, has literally conspired against itself to be reduced to the laughing stock of the world. Northern Nigeria today is blighted by a deadly (albeit retreating) insurgency, rural armed banditry, cattle rustling, ethnic and religious conflicts, the underlying causes of which are poverty, illiteracy, social exclusivity and severely limited economic opportunities.
We all, of course, know these issues. What is of considerable importance to the Northern Governors Forum and I am sure, to our Royal Highnesses, our most respected elders and other stakeholders, is how to urgently and collectively, address these problems starting with our priorities. While we look forward to tapping from the priceless experiences, vast knowledge and eternal wisdom of Your Royal Highnesses and elder statesmen, we have since began doing some ground work. For instance, the Northern Governors Forum has last year, set up a committee of Attorneys General of the 19 Northern States to review the criminal justice system of Northern Nigeria with a view to amending the penal code to stipulate penalties for criminal offences prevalent in the North today which were not envisaged by the penal code.
The Forum verily recognizes the direct correlation between the collapse of education, industries and agriculture with most of the violence and restiveness in the north. Individual States are deploying different measures to address their peculiarities but as a Forum, we have established the Northern Nigeria Global Economic Re-integration Programme under the leadership of Dr Tanimu Yakubu Kurfi, a very resourceful, internationally connected Northerner, and Chief Economic Adviser to late President Umaru Musa Yar’adua. Dr Kurfi and his team are already following up with the Islamic Development Bank on areas of science education in northern Nigeria. The platform is also driving our ongoing commitment with General Electric for the construction of Solar power plants in five States within the North. Kurfi’s group is also going to drive some funding arrangements with financial institutions and development partners on key areas of Agriculture. Thankfully, Dr Kurfi himself is very keen about the north reclaiming it’s lost glory in cotton production and textiles manufacturing which was the predominant industrial activity in Northern Nigeria, as well as the creation of international markets for our farm produce with emphasis on value chain.
We shall hopefully have Dr Kurfi to give updates on what his group is doing but then, we know for sure, that we cannot achieve much without Your Royal Highnesses and our other valuable elders who not only have so much experiences but also influence public attitude, mobilization for mass participation and other integrated processes of developments at the grassroots. Using your highly organized and time tested system of administration, Your Highnesses are strongly present in all streets, wards, villages and districts under your heritage. We seek to work together in order to deepen the good works majority of our Royal father’s are already doing, so that we can form a stronger front that will strikingly change the narrative of northern Nigeria from being a basket case to that of strength in peace, strength in productive population, strength in economic prosperity and strength in unity.
Our forum’s secretariat has furnished me with a note that gives details of problems confronting most parts of the North and even suggesting ways of addressing them. However, as my colleagues would say, there will be no point inviting Your Royal Highnesses and distinguished elders if we know the problems and the solutions to them. We will rather prefer to hear from you as we go into a closed door session. We look forward to valuable and free minded conversations that should focus on solving our challenges.
Once again, on behalf of the Northern States Governors’ Forum, I welcome Your Royal Highnesses and other invited guests to this meeting. For our good friends and important partners in the Press, we hope to see you when we have a communique either by the end of today’s session or perhaps, tomorrow, after the Governors meet to conclude the two-day session.
Thank you so much for listening.