A deadly cancer in our political system is this lack of political understanding in/of the polity beyond superficial analysis of events.
I can forgive my generation for the lack of depth but with older generations in the polity, I can’t be forgiving; because they should know.
I want to do a thread that I hope many in my generation can learn from and understand the ethnic configuration of Nigeria – it’s history, the threats/opportunities it poses and hopefully show why it leads someone like me to come to the position I take on national issues.
This thread will of necessity be political because the solution is political.
It sadly won’t do Justice enough – that’ll require a book – but it’ll attempt to explain just enough for those who want to see Nigeria on the journey to greatness to find their role and flourish, and perhaps I should start from there: that I was determined ab initio to see an opposition to this Govt, centred around a mass network of Nigerians from all walks of life rather than my party, the PDP.
And not just because PDP needed to go through political purgatory.
It was also because nation-building is a task for those in many spheres but who understand the nation deeply in order to approach the task from a position of knowledge and depth – not just act with passion but ignorance of repercussions based on actual historical events.
The opposition had to range from an agenda-setting media to a rebounding 2015-hoodwinked pastors to Northern Islamic clerics understanding that Northern power blocs can use them then ignore them afterwards:
We had to wait for eyes to open, one by one, group by group.
The Shiites understood it quickly with ElZakZaky’s unfortunate travails.
I should now salute the courage and foresight of Sheikh Gumi who in 2015 asked Buhari and GEJ not to contest the elections and is today at the forefront of Northern Clerics challenging Buhari publicly.
It is clear that his was a principled stand then as it is now and his voice is to be encouraged.
Since 2015, many eyes have been opened to the true nature of Nigeria and it’s diversities with the danger of a sleeping man who is suddenly awake, rushing to nowhere with urgency.
Nigeria is a nation of ethnicities that has gone through wrong/false structural divisions.
The first is this myth of a Northern and Southern Nigeria, arising from the old idea of Protectorates.
There is no “Southern Nigeria” in the sense of there being a Northern Nigeria.
What became known as Northern Nigeria was once a land of diverse cultures where the monarchical line was in some places even matriarchal with Queens and titles such as Magajiya or Kabara.
Until Usman Dan Fodio came and conquered much of the territory, uniting it under Islam.
Understand that Usman Dan Fodio conquered and united most parts of the North many decades ago.
Understand that the South of Nigeria existed as varying peoples all through that time and the Yorubas are as distinct from the Igbos as they are from the Hausa-speaking North.
The North is united in language and religion mainly – most Northerners can speak a common language; which is impossible to say of the South.
Southern similarity comes only from the idea of single colonial administration which saw the South advancing together at the time.
And so you have an equal pursuit of educational achievements, financial prosperity, democratic rights etc across the South.
Whereas, Northerners were left to be governed by the cultural leadership of Emirs imposed by Dan Fodio before colonialism – feudalism.
So where southerners can relate with court systems and Common law, Northerners were left with the Sharia law which had Emirs (with assistance from Sharia learned minds) at the head.
This point is important because I hope to circle back to it to make a point shortly.
When the idea of protectorates was abolished, regions came in and you had Nigeria divided into 3 regions: Northern, Western and Eastern – each region had minorities who didn’t want to belong.
With this foundational understanding, let’s look at some foundational personalities:
Ahmadu Bello, Obafemi Awolowo and Nnamdi Azikiwe were all prominent for their ethnicities and emerged as the leading voices but with differing understandings of Nigeria.
Zik saw a Nigeria without ethnicities.
Awo saw a Nigeria of ethnicities.
Sardauna saw North, then Nigeria.
It is crucial to understand who the Sardauna was though before judging: as a blood descendant of Usman Dan Fodio, he believed it was his destiny – religious and political – to keep the North together and ensure it thrived in Nigeria and if impossible, to stay out of Nigeria.
Zik on his own part saw a Nigeria without ethnicities, a magical belief that the cultural histories of the different ethnicities could be sidelined for the embrace of a new identity – Nigerian.
But Zik was Igbo – and he naturally slipped deeply into his own ethnicity sometimes.
Awolowo took the middle-ground from both: holding on to an idea of a Nigeria in which every ethnicity is allowed to thrive in its own way without hindrance from others but with a centre that managed to keep the idea of Nigeria afloat, without imposing on any ethnicity.
We could say it this way:
Sardauna was for a confederal system with regions stronger than the centre;
Zik was for a unitary system with a stronger centre than the regions and Awo was for a federal system with equal powers between the regions and the centre.
There is so much misconception about the Sardauna today even by his most ardent followers who deliberately emphasise his most religious and ethnic views to achieve political domination in the North and his opponents who emphasise same to stir ethnic loyalty in their own corners.
But thank God for records and history and the ability to analyse both politically:
We know that NEPU had been formed (1950) as a radical political party in the North with Aminu Kano at the head, before Ahmadu Bello was ready to enter politics officially with NPC in 1951.
With NEPU occupying the moral/political ideology of alliance with the masses of the North against the feudalist establishment already, Ahmadu Bello was perhaps politically forced to take the counter ideology: alliance with the feudalist Emirs and an appeal to Islamic dominance.
Because how do you reconcile that a man who was so traditional, rejected the Sharia judgement of his cousin, the Sultan of Sokoto and appealed to a court of British laws for freedom in 1944 and got it?
The action at the time was absolute anathema especially for a Northern Leader
Or how do you explain, that the Sardauna who worked assiduously to reinforce feudalism through alliance with the Emirs, eventually used the local administrative laws to depose more Emirs in the Northern Region, than deposed in the entire regions of the East and West combined?
So I see those and conclude that whatever positions he took, he took to enhance his political standing and strengthen his own political hand. He had to be fiercely Northern to make the Aminu Kano bloc look anti-Northern.
But he understood Nigeria as a nation of ethnicities.
His party was Northern Peoples Congress with the motto “One North, One Destiny” – and this fostered the great feeling of political solidarity, enhanced by his own posturing as a thorough Islamic Leader based on his bloodline.
But it was strongly a political move.
As they made their way out of the parliament one day, Zik turned to Ahmadu Bello and said “Let is ignore our differences” to which the Sardauna replied “Let us understand our differences”; And this is where we keep failing: to understand that Nigeria is a nation of ethnicities.
There are historical events that have shaped the unique approach of the various ethnicities in Nigeria to the political realities of Nigeria, no matter how presently innocuous they seem.
The past shapes the present, as surely as the present shapes the future – we must know this.
A few of these would suffice to understand some political realities which many being ignorant of, assume a position of acting from zeal but without knowledge:
Zik lived in the Western Region but had many Igbo allies and had been close to the Igbo State Union.
A political permutation he almost pulled off would have seen him heading the Western Region, an Easterner heading the Eastern Region and a Northerner heading the Northern Region – clearly something that Awo wasn’t going to stand and he played the ethnicity card.
What Awo did was politically legal and perhaps even commonsensical to the reality of a nation of ethnicities. The idea of Easterners running two regions out of three isn’t what the colonialists who made the rules were hoping for.
But other events also shaped the polity:
Politically expelled from the Western Region and needing to be in position to actualise his political ideals, Zik moved back to the Eastern Region, easily picked a parliament seat and played a race card of his own to remove the then Leader of the parliament in the East, Eyo Ita.
When the time came to form national alliances at the centre, Zik led the Eastern Region to align with the Northern Region and nominate ministers from the South including allies from the West.
That was how he emerged Governor-General at Independence with Balewa as Prime Minister.
So when people refer these days to the SW alliance with the North, I understand it somewhat but see it as half-a-story because I understand historical political alliances across the North and South and also that it is human to all humans to take steps out of personal feelings.
And I say that not because I’m Yoruba but because I understand such alliances historically – I am proud to be Yoruba but I don’t take pride in it in the way one would take pride in something he actually did than in something which happened entirely without his own actions.
Like one is proud to have fathered a child – it’s merely a matter of sexual intercourse but one can take pride in raising children of enviable character – the former is a random event, the latter is something into which you put in work and time.
Anyway, back on track…
Zik’s alliance with the NPC was merely political but it had bigger implications in the polity. The missing part of the story is an electoral alliance of the Niger Delta Congress which delivered votes to the Northern Peoples Congress in 1958, much to the angst of both Awo and Zik
Harold Dappa-Biriye was the core architect of this ND/North alliance which saw Melford Okilo becoming Balewa’s parliamentary secretary and Harold supporting every President/Head of State of Nigeria from the North except Abacha – because Abacha killed an Ijaw man.
Perhaps the biggest event that shaped how the North plays it’s politics in relation to Nigeria today has to be the coup of 1966 where the Sardauna and Tafawa Balewa – the foremost of the North’s political leaders, were killed by someone whom I think merely happened to be Igbo.
Nzeogwu didn’t kill them for the Igbos but it is how many in the North interpreted their deaths.
This was made worse by the open celebration in the North by some and the mockery of his death with some Easterners then living up North being very insensitive about the matter.
An album was waxed which praised the gallantry of Nzeogwu. A portion of that music had gunshot sounds in fact and many openly taunted Northerners that Nzeogwu was coming to kill more of them and that they should be very afraid.
Meanwhile, an Igbo was in power.
Some even went further to say that Nzeogwu had defecated on the bodies of the Sardauna and his wife (who was also killed alongside him) to render them umpire and therefore unfit to enter paradise – a needless provocation for a coup that actually had little to do with ethnicity.
For the North, that period marked a very deep introspection about the entity called Nigeria and some resolved ever since not to be in a position where their leaders could be so killed again.
That is why Power is such an important element to some Northern leaders till this day.
You’ll be shocked in fact – as myself and @Papadonkee were shocked sometime last year on a trip to the core North to hear a Northerner who had no real power standing, talk about the incident with so much feeling as if these things had happened only just recently.
With my knowledge of history though, I wasn’t having any of it and pointed out to him that Northerners had freely killed Easterners in 1953 over Akintola’s political campaign in the North – they hadn’t in fact targeted the Yorubas which Akintola was.
Let’s move on though…
To skip other polity-shaping events and move further along in history, let me say that four strands of political beliefs emerged from the North with Ahmadu Bello producing two of them. I name them colloquially here because there’s no real documentation so far that I know:
You’ll have – the Ahmadu Bello conservative oligarchy, the Ahmadu Bello nationalists, the Aminu Kano radicals/nationalists and the middle belt nationalists who attempted to break away from the North and create their own unique political/ethnic identity outside the generic ‘North’
Important to mention J.S. Tarka who was a famous friend of Bola Ige and prime mover and spirit of the United Middle Belt Congress.
The Ilorin Talaka Parapo movement sought its own identity away from the North and the Middle-Belt, attempting to align with the Western Region.
I should add a sidepoint here with this turn – Awo’s view of Nigeria found him caught in the middle at a point – he advocated for the recognition and distinction of ethnicities within the regions and he advocated that further regions should be carved out of the then existing 3.
The Western Region had ethnic minorities like the Benins and the Deltans;
The Northern Region had ethic minorities like the Tivis, the Igalas etc;
The Eastern Region had ethnic minorities called the COR area for Calabar-Ogoja-Rivers.
Awo wanted the minorities to be distinct.
The powers that then were (NPC-NCNC) agreed with him but split only the Western Region to create the Midwest Region. This part always cracks me up eastern Region held on to the COR areas, Northern Region held on the the Middle-Belt like “shebi its you that wanted division”.
All that ended though when Gowon came in and broke the regions into states with mainly ethnic identities.
Funnily, regions that had claimed single ethnic identities started to agitate for independent ethnic identities: Ekiti-Yorubas for instance wanted out from Ondo-Yorubas.
That Ahmadu Bello produced nationalists was confirmed in the Second Republic – Shagari was a core ally of the Sardauna but the party NPN was a thoroughly nationalist party where all ethnicities were represented – even Odumegwu Ojukwu joined it and Akinloye flourished under it.
But some from the Northern Ahmadu Bello oligarchy never feel comfortable with any power arrangement where others are equal to them – in 1983, even though Shagari was the head of the power arrangement, they struck and put Gen. Buhari in power, using corruption as the excuse.
It took a very long time from 1983 to build another nationalist platform to take over power: 16 years of militarism until G34/PDP emerged.
But even that arrangement had a few feudalists who reveal themselves in actions and words once in a while and we continue to observe/notice.
There was strong opposition to Obasanjo’s second term aspiration from some of the core Northern leaders who by this time (1999 – 2003) had congregated in the ANPP.
We can draw so many similarities from the play and tactics deployed against OBJ as against GEJ in fact.
Where GEJ has to deal with Boko Haram activities, OBJ had to face political Sharia which ordinarily is part of Northern way of life but was codified in the ANPP to provoke a reaction.
OBJ had an actual one-term agreement just like GEJ did but OBJ is ever wily and cunning.
If OBJ had fought Sharia when Zamfara under ANPP brought it to the fore, he would have been depicted as anti-North and may have lost a second term like GEJ.
OBJ went further to raise Northerners as potential successors: Atiku, Hell-Ruffy, Kwankwaso, Makarfi, Sule Lamido etc.
The Northern oligarchy decides to fight back and that is how Buhari came into play.
I watched with my own eyes on TV as the oligarchy reared its head at the ANPP presidential convention which was already set to produce a Southerner as President.
Harry Akande, Pere Ajuwa, Rochas Okorocha etc were all sidelined and they all took to the rostrum one by one to announce their exit from ANPP and denounce the ethnic play.
Buhari walked in majestically to be the presidential candidate – accompanied by Senator Chuba Okadigbo.
So it’s important to recognise what birthed the Buhari Presidency but equally important to remember that not all Northerners subscribed to it.
And this is why diversity in opposition is important: as political players, we have allies up North who unite with us against Buhari.
Will I not be foolish to start screaming “Fulani domination agenda” when I have Fulanis in my corner, calling out Buhari’s misrule and misgovernance?
It’s not just being politically correct, it’s the only way Buhari can be removed without affecting the ideals we preach.
Those who blindly followed an agenda they never understood suddenly have eyes open and are screaming about what we saw…calm down: there are enough Northerners on our side who understand the stakes and see it as we do.
And we know, because we saw the price they paid with us.
The late Emir of Kano – Ado Bayero, stood for Nigeria and supported GEJ in 2011, Buhari zealots burnt down his house as well as that of the Emir of Zaria who also ‘supported’ PDP.
Sule Lamido’s office in Kano was burnt and he was called an infidel, same with Ghali Umar Na’aba.
Some assume that there can be enough “Southern solidarity” to win national elections if you add the North-Central but hope this thread cures such thinking: there is no united South and one zone can decide to align in another direction.
The only way to build is nationally.
Lamido from the Aminu Kano school of politics apart, his solidarity with PDP over the years is something I can’t help but compare with that of other aspirants and wonder if we won’t be making a mistake if we ignore certain truths and fall again for the myth of ‘popularity’.
If I interact with Bafarawa soon as a PDP aspirant, I’ll ask why he brought Buhari into politics in 2003 when he doubled as Sokoto Governor and protem chairman of the ANPP.
If I interact with Kwankwaso soon, I’ll ask why he left a nationalist PDP to join a bi-sectional APC.
If I interact with Atiku soon, I’ll ask why he also went to APC for 2015 but also ask why he accepted to be the candidate of the North in 2011, from among the likes of Saraki, Gusau and Buhari, endorsed by the Northern Political Leaders Forum headed by Adamu Ciroma.
This is a good place to hang those thoughts before I say things I may later be forced to explain or recall – I’ll ask though if I interact with them.
But to the conclusion: there is a Northern oligarchy of power existent till date and their modus operandi is scary.
Not all Northerners though are part of it: to think otherwise is to think foolishly like that all Igbos are separatists or that all Yorubas are Tinubu worshippers.
The pseudo-nationalists screaming “unity” without understanding diversity are very silly and to be denounced.
They are lackeys of power who only defend Nigeria’s unity when they’re eating the crumbs that fall from the table of their paymasters in power.
They do not understand Nigeria and are at best only defending what they imagine it is, not from a nationalist ideal.
They are therefore deserving of all scorn and dragging – and I’m happy to retweet.
So long a thread yet again, thanks for reading and retweeting and engaging.
Still hoping to do that 2011 election thread to demystify the political myth of Buhari which was grounded in 2011.