The forum originated from a meeting held on 7 March 2000 in Kaduna at the initiative of the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Maccido. The purpose was to establish unity of Northern leaders, working through elected officials to achieve progress in the Arewa area within the democratic framework. In September 2000, former head of state General Yakubu Gowon agreed to act as chairman of the Board of Patrons of the forum. The forum appointed a retired Inspector General of the Nigerian Police, Alhaji Muhammadu Dikko Yusufu, as chairman. Belying its common image as a champion of the interest of the Muslims Hausa and Fulani, the ACF appointed Sunday Awoniyi, a Christian Yoruba as chairman of the Board of Trustees in 2000, a position he held until his death in November 2007.

2000 - 2009

On 8 August 2001, the ACF announced that it was forming three teams to visit the 19 states of the North and Abuja, to be led by All Peope's Party. (APP) leader Olusola Saraki, ACF Chairman M.D. Yusufu and Lt. Gen Jeremiah Useni. The goal was to meet and discuss common goals with state governors and other leaders. The group met a cool reception in Jos,Plateau State from members of the Middle Belt Forum, who felt that they would be marginalized in a forum dominated by northerners.

In August 2001, the forum recommended that former Heads of State, Generals Muhammadu Buhari,Ibrahim Babangida and Abdusalam Abubakar defend themselves against allegations made against them at the Human Rights Investigations Commission, sitting in Abuja, and said the ACF was conducting an independent investigation. In December 2003, the new ACF chairman, Chief Sunday Awoniyi, said the forum would try to persuade Buhari, Babangida and Vice President Atiku Abubakar to resolve their differences for the sake of greater unity of northern leaders.

In March 2009, the ACF expressed concern over deteriorating liquidity in the banking industry and demanded that the Central Bank of Nigeria provide information on the size and origins of the problem.