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IBB campaign model and ethnic politics (3)

CAN a man who flies out to Europe or Dubai at the drop of a hat, on one occasion just to repair a torn ligament, can a man who obviously measures his fitness for office in terms of the gap between him and the average citizen, in terms of personal wealth really make a good president? Does Nigeria at this time need a plutocrat or an oligarch as its president?

I cannot recall anything about Atiku that remotely suggests any empathy with Nigeria’s suffering millions. Sometimes it surprises me that someone who has been so exposed and was unable to do anything remarkable at the national level with such exposure continues to presume himself fit for the highest public office in the land?

I have no doubt at all in my mind that if Atiku Abubakar were to become president he would be a monumental tragedy. Alhaji Atiku should forget about being president and concentrate on his jet set life style.

Atiku, up till now, like IBB and Saraki, remains an ardent believer in the potency of the North-South divide politics. It should not be surprising at all if all three end up in the same boat in this election and for much else that will follow. In the case of Bukola however, being much younger than the others, he has more time if he wishes to mend his political ways and clean up his act.

I am not, and I don’t think anyone is saying that a North–South dichotomy does not exist or that it is not a feature of Nigerian politics. The cultural, religious and political differences between most of the Northern and most of the Southern parts of the country have been part of Nigeria’s history since its beginnings as a country.

But today can we honestly say that the nature of the North–South divide in 1966 or 1967 is the same as it is in 2010, or for that matter the same as it was in 1914, or as it will be in 2020 or 2050. Like all human political or social concepts it cannot be static. It is a dynamic concept. It has destructive aspects as well as constructive aspects.

Today we should now be asking ourselves how much of the North-South divide perception is fact and how much is fiction? What in practical terms is a north-south divide? What is its shape and what is its size? How much of it should rule our lives? What colour is it? Is it black, white or black and white, or does its colour depend on the tint of the glasses the viewer is looking through?

Is the divide hard or soft, is it porous or impregnable, is it thermonuclear, is it radioactive, is it merely durable or does it have a near or far ‘use before’ date? Or is it just a bogeyman at the disposal of unscrupulous politicians, to be used to whip up sentiments *and inflame passions. Among ordinary Nigerians, traders, craftsmen, workers, soldiers, etc, the large majority of Nigerians, nobody really cares about a North–South divide as they go about their daily lives and interact with one another.

All they really care about and want is to be left alone to get on with their daily lives. The issue of whether you are from the North or South rarely is an issue with the common man. Most of the time it is treated as an artifact, good for the butt of healthy jokes and banter.

There is no part of Nigeria where you will not find people from all the different parts living together in perfect or near-perfect harmony. When the peace is broken it would usually be the fault of politicians or misguided local leaders looking to whip up ethnic or sectarian sentiments and take advantages of the situation for personal profit on the cheap.

While there may have been a North–South dichotomy, is it not also as much a matter of perception as it is of fact? There may be a North-South divide but is there also not a South-West/South-East divide, a North-East/North-west divide, a North-East/North-Central divide, a South–East/South-South divide?

Are there not possibly thousands of divides between and within the 36 states? In my home state for instance we have the Ebonyi north–south divide, the Afikpo north-south divide, the Ezza-Ezillo divide, the Ezza–Izzi divide and many more.

The sentiments, emotions and allegiances these divides generate are no less intense, or are they less of a consequence than the so-called North-South divide of the nation’s geopolitics. But in Ebonyi State the government is working on it. One of the ways the state government is dealing with it is a programme it calls Attitudinal Change, which is an attempt to provide an ideological platform for people to use to breach these divides, and rise above the petty jealousies that produce them. Even if only symbolic such gestures go a long way.

At the very minimum they set a moral compass bearing, rather than fan embers. Given the benefit of doubt it could also be an indication of a positive commitment to true peace and security in the state. It is these divides throughout the federation that produce the endless agitations for the creation of more states, local governments, wards and autonomous communities.

It is for this reason that it is probably more important to find ways of integrating the country’s myriad tribes and foster national cohesion (for example through massive development of economic and social infrastructure) than to promote attitudes that emphasise these differences as IBB and his cohort tend to do.

One of the greatest strengths of the USA is its profuse network of roads, railways, airports, optical fiber, internet and electricity grids. In Nigeria today whole communities, towns and villages are often cut off from neighbouring communities or for that matter from the rest of the world and civilization by bad roads, poor communication, lack of electricity, natural disasters such as floods, erosion, landslides, etc. Our terrestial fiber optical network is still rudimentary, the cost of broadband and internet still prohibitive and remains among the world’s highest.

This situation is setting back the development of multimedia communication, for example 2.5G to 4G mobile phone communication, which is now being launched around the world, including in other developing nations like Nigeria. It is these infrastructure that allow people and services easy access to one another and with the rest of the world.

It is these infrastructures that bring civilizing culture to the people so that corresponding divisiveness will be de-emphasized in their relationships with one another. These infrastructure are potent agents of national cohesion.

In a country like Nigeria an overwhelming federal presence, in the form of social and economic infrastructure such as roads, airports, police, military, hospitals etc, will have the effect of bringing people together and foster a national identity, rather than a sectional identity. Because of its overwhelming relevance in their lives the people’s first point of reference will be the FG.

In other words the FG has it within its power to dissolve all these divides within the nation’s borders into one huge melting pot like the USA, instead of making it a powder keg about to blow up. But the likes of IBB and his protégé will emphasize the divisions, the powder keg, first by distorting them and using them for scare mongering, then by discriminatory distribution of resources.

For example, the neglect and repression in the Niger Delta and in other selected zones of the country, in the name of North-South divide.In other words IBB has played a leading role in using infrastructure distribution as a tool for political manipulation, not as an agent of development per se. What we should be talking about today is not so much about a North-South dichotomy, rather we should be talking more about making public policy that will give every Nigerian a sense of belonging, how wealth will be more equitably distributed. We should be talking about inclusiveness in government.

Mr. Peter EGBE ULU, a  rtd Lt-Col, writes from Lagos.writes from Lagos.


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