Some northerners are critical of our approach to recent national issues. The formation of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) and strong views like those expressed on this page have been dismissed as ‘retrogressive’ attempts to shrink of our nationalist horizon. In this passage, I have tried to explain, not defend, the reasons behind our stand.
It is true that recent agitations seem to confirm fears that people are retracing their steps back to pre-1966 days. This claim is often backed by events like the emergence of Afenifere and OPC in the southwest and of Ndigbo and Ohaneze in the southeast. Writers from the South have not helped matters either. In the Southwest, Tribune, Punch, Concord and almost the entire Lagos-Ibadan press have not relented for a day in fighting for the cause of Yoruba supremacy. The same with the southeast where newspapers like The Champion continue to project an Igbo agenda.
The struggle for the supremacy of their tribes was not restricted to their politicians and journalists. Their intellectuals who have never differentiated the academic from the political have equally participated in this micro nationalistic endeavour, serving as its ideologues and scholastic drivers. I have here before me a book titled Federalism and Political Restructuring in Nigeria. This was a publication sponsored by the Institut Francais de Recherche en Afrique (IRFA), Ibadan, and the French Embasssy in Lagos. All the twenty-one chapters, except the one written by Dauda Abuabakar, were written in language full of venom and prejudice against the North. Going through most of the article, one cannot help but wonder whether he was reading a transcribed lecture of a politician or the treatise of an academician. A similar conference focussing on sovereign national conference and related issues held recently in France.
For students of Nigerian history, this is not a surprise, neither is it novel. Nationalism, whether preached by Zik or by Awolowo, has always been projected from the perspective of tribal interests. As quoted by Olawale Albert, one of the contributors to the above referred book, Zik once claimed in the West African Pilot of 8 July 1948 that the Igbo are people chosen by God to lead the African nation and conquer others through their ‘martial prowess’.
Chief Awolowo was no better in modesty than Zik, as shown by the writer. Twelve years later, in 1960, he counteracted the claims of Zik, alleging that the intention of Zik was “to corrode the self-respect of the Yoruba people as a group: to build up the Ibo as a ‘master race.”
The followers of Zik and Awo have not changed their language after decades of independence. I doubt very much if anybody can cite similar passages from the speeches of Balewa, Sardauna or Aminu Kano. What our leaders said, even at that time when regional politics was the order of the day, was simply that the North needs some time to develop such that it can compete on an even political platform with other regions.
I am glad that Olawale Albert did not overlook this point. He quoted the Sardauna where, on 31 March 1953, he rejected the motion in the House of Representatives suggesting that the country be granted independence in 1956. His language did not sound like the claims of Zik and Awo:
“We were late in assimilating western education. Yet within a short time we will catch up with the other regions, and share their lot... We want to be realistic and consolidate our gains. It is our resolute intention to build our development on sound and lasting foundations so that they would be lasting.”
While the North lost Balewa and Sardauna in the January 1966 ‘revolution’, leaders of the southwest and the southeast survived to become advisers, cabinet members and elder statesmen in the subsequent military administration. Within few months, Chief Awolowo achieved his greatest ambition in life – the balkanisation of the North. With the absence of leaders like Sardauna he could then pursue his agenda to weaken the region. He knew very well that it will be difficult for the newly formed states in the North to have a common focus, given the diversity of its culture and peoples and the degree of independence accorded them. Subsequent years witnessed the weakening of all links that would have kept the region together. Even today, thirty-five years later, it is difficult for neighbouring states in the North to partake in a joint development of a common infrastructure. If governor A is interested in constructing a road that links his people with others in an adjacent state, governor B on the other side will be reluctant to finish his won part, no matter how short it could be.
The southerners therefore got what they wanted – domination – knowing very well that the northerners are in no position to compete with them at the federal or state levels, neither in the 1950s when its leaders were literally begging the southerners to allow the region to catch up in education and other sectors, nor in the 1960s and 70s – after the balkanisation – when its states became divided, each with its feelings, plans and priorities.
After the death of Balewa and Sardauna, northern elements especially in NEPU and the socialist inclined academicians, became the champions of Nigerian nationalism. Writers in Northern newspapers and their editorials, including the New Nigerian, faithfully projected the idea of building a unified Nigerian nation as a solution to the political acrimony that led to the 1966 coup and the subsequent civil war over the secession of Biafra.
Unconsciously, some of our politicians walked into the trap of the southerners. With the ascendancy of socialism in our universities and its graduates filling positions of opinion and authority in the larger society, the ideas of Balewa and Sardauna of ‘consolidation’ and ‘bridging the gap’ were ridiculed and castigated as mere efforts aimed at maintaining a ‘feudal hegemony’. Some of the Northern intellectuals believed in the demise of the North as much as to publicly deny the existence of anything called ‘North.’
To be fair to our socialist-oriented brothers, we must hasten to mention that the idea of ‘North’ as an archaic political concept or entity was not peculiar to them. It was shared with rightwing intellectuals. I once got sick listening to an elder academician in Bauchi criticising Arewa Consultative Forum. It amazes me to note that these intellectuals still live in their past, regardless of the new trends in our political landscape. When I drew his attention that how could northerners sit back and watch the ascendancy of regional grouping in the South gaining currency and achieving its goal many times at the expense of their life and property, he simply argued that ‘two wrongs do not make a right.’ They still believe that the solution to the present political crisis is a return to unqualified ‘One Nigeria.’
But lies do not seed, as the Hausa would say; they can only flower. Three and a half decades after the demise of Balewa and Sardauna and the field day that their political opponents had, the sky of Nigerian politics is becoming lucid. It is unambiguous now that people like Bola Ige who were once considered as frontline nationalists in the country meant nothing with the concept beyond the parochial scope of Yoruba chauvinism. After thirty-five years of consolidation of economic prowess and concentrating over seventy percent of the national wealth and over eighty percent of industries in Lagos alone, believing that its status, both as an administrative and business capital of the nation, such chauvinists are claiming that Lagos belongs to them; others must leave. After using the combined resources of the nation to explore oil in the Delta region and fight a civil war to protect and develop the oil fields and save its minority populations at the expense of agriculture and other mineral resources in other regions, the same minorities are today agitating for complete control over their resources. Finally, after abolishing the regional structure and replacing it with a conglomeration of unviable states, southerners are today calling for the restoration of regional governments with the same degree of autonomy that they were opposed to forty years ago.
We see these developments as forming enough ground for re-examination of our stand on the national question though some of our intellectuals, who are fast becoming a dwindling minority, still wants us to fold our arms and preach the same old song of an unqualified ‘One Nigeria.’
No. We must find a platform, regain our voice and rediscover our identity. I am glad with the rate at which this consciousness is being recaptured. From the formation of associations like Gamji and ACF to articles and commentaries that feature in our media, the trend which seeks to once more bring the North together and speak with a common voice before an arrogant and pervasive South is becoming consolidated. No one brought this fact home to me other than a governor of one of the middle belt states whom I incidentally met and had a brief discussion with recently. I was glad that we are fast realizing the necessity to bury our differences, operate on same wavelength and speak with a common voice.
More so when we realize that from 1903 to date, we have shared a common history of calculated underdevelopment and that the future may not be different. History bears witness that the North has always been reacting to situations propped up by the South, sometimes virtually coming down on its knees to beg the South not only for understanding but also for sympathy. These are facts professed by southerners themselves. But understanding and sympathy has been one request that the South never granted the North, no matter who was making the request on its behalf. At the peak of the pressure from the South for Nigerianization of the public service in 1957, a strategy they adopted for their long-term domination of the political economy of the country, the Prime Minister made the following plea:
“…[T]he South should have sympathy for our shortcomings and that they should not be too hasty to condemn our actions… Take the question of staff in our public services. The South, with many schools and colleges, is producing hundreds of academically and technically qualified people for the public services. The common cry now is Nigerianization of the public services. It is most important in a federation that the federal service shall be fully representative of all units which make up the federation. Now, what do we find in Nigeria today? There are 46,000 men and women in the Federal Public Services. I have not been able to obtain the figures of the number of Northerners in the service but I very much doubt if they even amount to one percent… unless some solution is fond it will continue to be a cause of dissatisfaction and friction.”
These are historical facts. In fact, Olawale Albert from whom we quoted the above passage followed it with the following confession:
“The southerners were unsparing in their criticism of their counterparts from the North. The latter were presented as very lazy and unprogressive people for whom the Southerners were not ready to wait. If Nigeria was to progress, the Northerners must be ignored. The Southerners, most especially the Yoruba, thought it would be an abnormality for them to be equated with or asked to serve under the Hausa-Fulani. Therefore one of the popular songs composed by the Yoruba dominated Action Group in the 1950s states that it is: “Better to die than pay homage to a gambari [Hausa person].”
All the quotations of the author which saved us the pain of research were intended by him to prove the mutual fear of domination that existed in pre-independence Nigeria. On our part we have used them to prove the defensive position which the North has always been forced to take. When it became clear that the South was not ready to sympathize with the North, the latter borrowed a leaf from the South and instituted what was called Northernization policy, claiming that what is good for the goose is good for the gander. This was the justice that the South could not swallow, hence its choice to eliminate Northern leaders in 1966 and bring the republic to an end. In the language of Olawale Albert it was “the last straw.”
People should therefore wake up to this reality and know that the arguments used today by the South to dominate our political economy are the same as those of yesterday. As Albert put it, “[the northerners are] very lazy and unprogressive people for whom the southerners were not ready to wait.” Is it not shameful that some northerners are today using the same language to justify the ongoing privatisation exercise? There is little wonder because it is now becoming evident from the accusations and loaming scandals regarding the privatisation of Nigeria Airways and NITEL, that once their interest are taken into consideration, the rest of us can go to hell. ‘The world’ is not ready to wait for us.
Our critiques should please sympathise with the region. They know very well that the North has been hospitable to many people from other regions and countries. It will be the last, following the dictates of its culture and composition, to decline any genuine call for Nigerian unity. However, the fact is that the South has always worked towards the domination of the North by scuttling any effort towards bridging the gap that has existed between the two regions and by stampeding it into accepting national programs for which it is ill prepared. All the call for privatisation, rotational presidency, power shift, resource allocation, and so on are nothing but ploys to ensure permanent consolidation of the gains that have accrued to them for over a century.
We are therefore justified in insisting that the North, despite its balkanisation and cultural heterogeneity must present a united front in the ongoing debate over political and economic programs of this administration and any subsequent one. It must insist that a united Nigeria is only possible in the context of the universal principles of equity and justice. There is no justice amidst calculated impoverishment of our people and reducing them to positions of servitude after they have sacrificed their leaders, lives and values for the unity of the nation.
This is the reason behind our protest and strong language. This is also what informed the formation of ACF. This is the only option left before us after the shrinkage of doyens of Nigerian socialism like Bola Ige back into their tribal shells. Makaho bai san a na ganinsa ba sai an taka shi. We owe no apology to anyone.
15 March 2001