Professor Ango Abdullahi, chairman, Northern Elders Forum


Professor Ango Abdullahi, current chairman of Northern Elders Forum, is an elder statesman with a difference. He is one of a few Northern leaders that have over the years cultivated an image of a frank talker, one who is ever ready to speak his mind not minding whose ox is gored.

Abdullahi has always for over four decades courted controversy over his stand on burning national issues, often he has stood out as a lone ranger who is ready to stake his head.

A rabid Northern apologist like Sani Kontagora, Abdullahi recently stirred a hornet nest when he accused President Muhammadu Buhari of brazen inertia in the face of mounting security challenges in the northern part of the country. Speaking as the head of the influential Northern Elders Forum, a platform for elder statesmen of the North, he argued that Buhari has not done well in the area of security and governance in general.

Coming from the foremost, influential northern group, such criticism made it the most scathing, even if acerbic of the president from within the president’s constituency, and such rebuke is rare from the conservative North known for political cohesion. Abdullahi known for his proverbial frankness like Tanko Yakassai has transformed the Northern Elders Forum into a potent voice that can no longer remain silent and watch as the country gradually slides into anarchy and failed state.

Speaking for NEF, he had said that President Buhari and the governors in the region have lost the capacity to end insecurity. Abdullahi said his group was alarmed at the rising insecurity in communities in the North. According to him, the Arewa elders are known to be patient and cautious but lamented that they cannot remain silent and watch as the region itch closer to self destruct.

 The Northern elders, and indeed the North in general, are always patient with any adverse situation confronting them, but in the present circumstance of unprecedented security challenge their silence cannot be seen to be golden, saying “our people have been pushed to the wall.”

In a statement, NEF asserted that “recent escalation of attacks by bandits, rustlers and insurgents leave the only conclusion that the people of the North are now completely at the mercy of armed gangs who roam towns and villages at will, wreaking havoc. It would appear that the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari and governors have lost control over the imperatives of protecting people of the North, a constitutional duty that they swore to uphold.

“The situation is getting worse literally by the day. Bandits and insurgents appear to sense a huge vacuum in political will and capacity, which they exploit with disastrous consequences on communities and individuals.”

“It is no exaggeration to say that the people of the North have never experienced this level of exposure to criminals who attack, kill, maim, rape, kidnap, burn villages and rustle cattle, while President Buhari issues threats and promises that do not affect.”

Prof. Abdullahi cited instances where armed bandits have taken initiative, after studying the lack of capacity of Government to protect its people, noting that “the situation under which our communities from Kogi to Borno States, from Sokoto to Taraba States live is no longer tolerable”.

“As a responsible body, the Forum has joined millions of others in prayers and in giving advice and encouragement to all authorities that have the responsibility to protect our communities. It is now time to say, enough is enough.”

“Our people are known for their patience and respect for constituted authorities, but all governments must be aware by now that all Northerners have been pushed to the wall. The Forum is aware that some citizens are contemplating peaceful protests, which are their constitutional rights, to draw the attention of President Buhari and all levels of authority to the plight of people of the North.”

“The Forum urges all citizens to conduct themselves in a peaceful and responsible manner, and it urges governments to respect the rights of citizens to express their opinions peacefully. The Forum is also consulting other groups and organizations which share its goals and concerns to lend our voices to the demands for action and relief from the unremitting assaults on our lives and livelihood as Northerners.”

“The Forum reminds President Buhari that provision of security and pursuit of economy, welfare of citizens are the only two constitutional responsibilities of the state which all leaders must achieve.”

“Our current circumstances in the North clearly demonstrate that President Buhari’s administration has woefully failed to achieve either. This is unacceptable! We demand an immediate and comprehensive improvement of our security in the North”.

“We are tired of excuses and verbal threats which criminals laugh at, and our fellow citizens see as a clear failure of leadership which they see as part of them. Enough is enough”, he added

The NEF’s response to the security challenge is the most audacious and frank to have come from the North in recent time. Such combativeness bore the imprimatur of Abdullahi.

He built his career and reputation as a defender of northern interest, and as a rabid apologist of Arewa irredentism especially in the 80s when he was vice-chancellor of the Ahmadu Bello University Zaria. He remains the most controversial vice-chancellor of the institution on account of his conservative, unpopular decisions he took that bore the imprints of ethnic jingoism in such a catholic, cosmopolitan intellectual melting pot as ABU Zaria. Ever since the return to democracy in 1999, he along with Tanko Yakassai, have not stopped to speak out against poor governance and lapses in the political system.

However, presidential spokesman, Mr Femi Adesina, in a reaction described the man who has become a nemesis of the president as “a general without troops”, implying that Abdullahi has not following like Buhari who enjoys strong support base in the north. But the demonstrations that followed after the statement in Katsina, the president’s state, seems to defeat Adesina’s point. Buhari may be losing much goodwill.

At a function in Bauchi in 2019,  Abdullahi allegedly said that Fulani herdsmen in Nigeria are suffering, calling on President Buhari to address the problems affecting them. He revisits the old grazing reserves about 600 of them, urging the Federal Government to rehabilitate 600 abandoned grazing reserves in the North to address their sufferings. He claimed Fulani were better off during the colonial era.

He said the British created cattle routes, cattle markets and many other facilities because of the importance of the Fulani and their contributions to the Nigerian economy. He said despite the contribution of the Fulani herdsmen, they-(the Fulani ethnic group) have not benefitted anything from the government.

“They have now become an object of politics, for every bad thing that happens in the country, now it is Fulani herdsmen. They have forgotten that the Fulani herdsmen get nothing from the government.

“The Fulani herdsman was better off when the British were here. The British created track roads for Fulani herdsmen created veterinary clinics for them, created cattle markets and so on for them having realised that they contributed significantly to Nigeria’s economy particularly in the agricultural sector and livestock production.

“Look at subsidies that are going to our farmers, you go and check if you will find out what subsidy goes to the herdsmen, nothing. You are having subsidy for electricity, you are having subsidy for water, you are having subsidy for roads, yet the Fulani herdsman has no subsidy whatsoever and he is the most hardworking Nigerian today but he is now being malign as the cause of insecurity.

 Prof. Ango was born December 18, 1938, Zaria, Kaduna State; he obtained  B.Sc. agriculture, M.Sc. agronomy (1967), PhD agronomy (1975); attended Barewa College 1953-1958, Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, Zaria, 1959-1961, University of Ibadan, 1961-1964, Kansas State University, and Ahmadu Bello University.

He was a controversial university administrator, university lecturer, public servant, and was elected member, representing Zaria North-West Federal Constituency, Kaduna State; Commissioner for Economic Planning, North Central State, 1973-1975; director of agricultural research, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, 1977-1979, deputy vice-chancellor 1979, vice-chancellor 1979-1986; he is currently a farmer)

He was Special Advisor to President Olusegun Obasanjo on Food Security. He also served in the constitution conferences of 1978/88, 1994/95 and 2005. Professor Abdullahi, who is also Magajin Rafin Zazzau will turn 82 on December 13, 2020.