By Jide Ajani & Luka Binniyat
PROLOGUE: Flies in their ointment
The North may be having a bad run; for now, that is. What goes around comes around. Whether its fortunes would migrate sooner than later to a better platform can only remain in the realm of conjecture. The prognosis to this may be stark for some and shrouded for others. One thing that is clear is that the North is having a bad run and its leaders, interestingly, know this; but there are still a few who are unwilling to admit.
Mind you, the problem of the North did not start with the way President Goodluck Jonathan ‘duped’ it through the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and its zoning arrangement. All Jonathan did was to wave the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in the face of the North, claiming that the document remains bigger and more important than any political arrangement of zoning in the PDP.
In contemporary times – not minding the seeds sowed during the First Republic – the North played its over-lordship role in Nigerian politics when it imposed Matthew Okikiolakan Aremu Olusegun Obasanjo on the Yoruba South West. Rather than pay the North back in good coin, Obasanjo paid everybody around him back in bad coin, creating, in the process, multifarious levels of acrimony and animus. He, in turn, imposed Umaru Musa Yar’Adua of blessed memory on the North; as well as imposing a sidekick, Jonathan. Today, Obasanjo feels so comfortable to compare his achievements with what is becoming a growing lack lustre presidential performance.
Back to the North! For its political leaders, 2015 is just tomorrow and getting back to winning ways par presidential power is one thing that they crave more than taming the wild fire of the Jamaatu Ahlil Sunna Lidawati wal Jihad, otherwise known as Boko Haram.
Last December, its political leaders made a move for unity but the results were less than expected. Just last week another attempt at rallying every leader was made. To some extent, it could be termed successful in so far as the absence of leaders from the Middle Belt is not factored in. But that is where the problem of the North begins.
Its job of rally for unity is going to be ever more difficult now. And the reasons are legion. Between 2002 and 2007 while the feud between Obasanjo and his deputy, then Vice President Atiku Abubakar, lasted, over succession, Boko Haram was not a factor in the North.
Today it is; and for the wrong reasons. Rather than rally leaders together because on the surface it is making life hellish for the Jonathan administration, the reality on ground is that it is creating more crisis in the North – what with the attacks on Christians and churches in the North; and the wanton destruction of lives across the board.
Therefore, the political leadership that is largely Muslim is now contending with the angst of Christians. There are also the Fulani herdsmen who continue to make life unbearable for some communities in the Middle Belt region. Not because the herdsmen love violence but because some politicians exploit the ethno-cultural differences to create trouble.
At another level that will make a united North difficult are the greedy fat cats among the politicians who only seek self-serving ideologies. A few of the serving governors in the North are ready to throw that unity out of the window if the prospects of becoming Jonathan’s running mate in 2015 as much as winks at them.
Some pertinent questions arise here: Would General Muhammadu Buhari be told to forget his ambition to become president and join this search for Northern unity? Or would these liberal politicians seeking unity agree to fuse into the highly conservative Congress for Progressive Change, CPC? The latter question poses another challenge: How would the proposed merger between the CPC and the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, accommodate the new entrants?
Last but not the least, the 1999 Constitution is clear about qualification for seeking presidential power and which is to go to the polls not more than two times for that position, a provision that makes, sadly, President Jonathan, qualify to run for president again. Good as the move for a united North is, these concerns represent flies in their ointment.
Again the North moves
Another move by strong interests to unite the North, last week, though deemed successful by some, may still have exposed the existing feeble bond between the far North and the minority tribal grouping of Northern Nigeria easily referred to as the Middle Belt.
This happened at a conference tagged: “North and Strategies for Sustainable Development”, organised by the Centre for Historical Documentation and Research, Ahmadu Bello University, ABU, Zaria, in Kaduna.
At the opening ceremony on Wednesday, chaired by former Vice President Abubakar Atiku, the hall of Arewa House Kaduna was filled to capacity with politicians, retired military top brass, technocrats, academics, youth and women groups, but only from the far North. The Middle Belt was practically absent, with the governors sending no representatives.
Only Senator John Shagaya and Senator George Akume gave the conference a semblance of non-Hausa/Fulani gathering in the long list of Middle Belt leaders, academics and several groups invited.
This was not the first time the Middle Belt will distance itself from the far North, which once formed a formidable alliance under, “one monolithic, indivisible North”.
This time, last year, in Kaduna, the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, organised what turned out to be a large gathering of northerners to seek solution to the crisis of confidence among the various tribes in the zone.
Gen. Yakubu Gowon (rtd), whose moral , political and social authority stands him above being referred to as a ‘Middle Belter’, was the only retired general from the minority areas.
Governors of Kano, Jigawa, Katsina, Zamfara, Sokoto and Yobe were in attendance. The Governor of Niger State, Dr Babangida Aliyu, who is also the Chairman, Northern Governors’ Forum; and the chief host of the event, Governor Ibrahim Yakowa of Kaduna State, also attended.
The only governor from the Middle Belt that identified with the gathering was the Governor of Plateau State, David Jang, who came solely to deliver a rather bellicose message against the far North, through his former Chief of Staff, Mr Gyang Pwajock, now a senator representing Plateau North.
Though the Sultan of Sokoto, Saa’ad Abubakar, led other Emirs of Hausa/Fulani extraction to the occasion, there was virtually no traditional ruler from the Middle Belt, even from Kaduna, the host state. The Sa, Gbagyi, Danjuma Barde, of Kaduna was even absent.
Others who did not attend the well publicised event (from the Middle Belt) include the Attah of Igala, Dr Aliyu Obaje; the Tor Tiv, Dr. Alfred Tokula; the Ochi of Idoma land, Chief Ageba Idu Elias; the Ponzi Tarok of Lantang, Gen. Domkat Bali (rtd); and the Gwatyap of Kataf land, Engr. Harrison Bungwon.
The conference, though based on strict invitation, showed that the response from the Middle Belt bore semblance to that of last December.
And whereas the meeting was expected to be based on finding creative ways of motivating the economy of the North, most of the discussions bordered on northern unity in the face of the ever widening gap between Muslims of the far North and the Christians of the Middle Belt.
Pundits are already looking at this as a move to bring together a very strong united North to fight for Nigeria’s number one job, come 2015. They may be right.
The presence of Atiku and his northern political machine at the event lends credence to this assertion. Although it was a closed door meeting, Sunday Vanguard gathered that those in attendance lamented the sudden dip in the fortunes of the North both on the political and economic fronts.
On the political front, the seeming discombobulate political sphere, which is now dominant in the North, was a serious cause for concern.
Then the violence unleashed by Boko Haram, and which is crippling economic activities in some parts of the North, also came into sharp focus.
However, beneath this veneer of concern was the supposedly unintended issue of the 2015 presidential contest. Sunday Vanguard discovered that Atiku has been on a quiet re-building project for northern political hegemony.
“Before that, the former vice president has been re-invigorating political alliances across the length and breadth of this country. All he is doing is normal as a politician that has succeeded in building bridges”, a close confidant of Atiku said.
There are expected to be follow-ups to the Kaduna meeting.
Why the Middle Belt is crucial
With the sustained campaign of terror targetted at churches in Kaduna, Bauchi, Kano, Yobe, Taraba, Adamwa and Plateau, by Boko Haram; and killings of native farmers in Benue, Nasarawa and Plateau by suspected Fulani herdsmen, the gap between Hausa Fulani Muslims and non-Hausa/Fulani tribal groupings of these states have never been so widened.
“Though we are told by Muslim clerics here that Islam does not condone killing of Christians, we have our doubts now”, said Rev. Markus Shinkut Aboi, of the Good News Foundation Church, Sabo, Kaduna to Sunday Vanguard.
“When someone in far Europe or America makes comments or acts in a manner interpreted by Muslims as insulting to the Holy Prophet, they have the capacity to organise large demonstrations in condemning it here in Kaduna – sometimes with violence. But, we are yet to see them organise even a tiny street procession against Boko Haram, after all the hundreds they have killed in Churches. And they live and dine with them. They are shielding them. How can we trust them, like we used to do long before now?”
Indeed, the mistrust between Muslims and non-Muslims in the North is best demonstrated in Kaduna where people live, and even how they vote.
Though with pockets of Christians inhabiting the north of Kaduna River, and in the barracks and the GRA, the area is almost a Muslim enclave. Christians have sold their homes and moved South of the river after gangatuan losses to many ethno-religious riots.
In the same vein, a few areas south of the river still have Muslims living side by side with Christians; in most places south of the river, Muslims do not live there, after very tragic experiences in riots. The same is being demonstrated in many towns of the North, where Muslims and Christians lived peacefully before waves of violence cast a dark cloud over them.
The socio-political implication of these gaps is that the minority tribal groupings of Northern Nigeria have started radical re-definitions of some of the rules of engagements with the far North. There are several groups now springing up, insisting on more rights for the minority people of the North, and for greater stake in political participation.
For example, the Middle Belt Dialogue (MBD), made up of mainly intellectuals, business men, rising politicians, including members of the National Assembly, state Houses of Assembly and many states cabinet members, all of the Middle Belt, is kicking against the term “Northern minorities”.
“If you aggregate the entire non- Hausa/Fulani tribes within the geo-political definition of the North, you will discover that they make the majority of the population”, said Barrister Thomas Biniyat of Nigerian Law School, Bwari, a member of the MDB. No doubt that Hausa and Fulani make up the two largest languages groups in the North, but pound-to-pound, the so-called minorities are larger when they come as one group,”he stated.
“The Hausa/Fulani is a minority in Niger, Plateau, Borno, Taraba, Adamawa, FCT, Kwara, Benue, Kogi, Kwara and Gombe. They are not a majority in Kaduna State as such. They are not so overwhelming in Kebbi, or even in Bauchi. Go and study the population figure of 2006 National Census. But the press has created the impression, that the Hausa/Fulani are 90% of the population of the North. That is very, very wrong”.
Some pundits are quick to support the notion of the MBD on this by pointing at the voting pattern of the 2011 presidential election. In the North, it would appear that Christian areas went for Goodluck Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), while Muslims went for Gen Mohammadu Buhari of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) who were the two major contenders in the election (See Table).
Thus, Buhari won in Kano, Jigawa, Kebbi, Sokoto, Bauchi, Niger, Borno, Zamafara, Bauchi and Katsina. The votes in Kaduna was split almost into half with Buhari scoring, 1,334, 242 and Jonathan, polling 1,190, 179 votes, to put the facts that Muslims and Christians enjoy a balanced presence in a place where people from the southern part of the state see themselves as fiercely Middle Belt, while the northern part sees itself as the bastion of Sardauana’s North.
But, the lessons are clear here. The Middle Belt voted clearly for the PDP, while the far North opted for Buhari very loudly. Those clamouring for a new identity for the Middle Belt will have to contend with a lot of snags. For example, the Middle Belt, as envisioned by its proponents, does not have a unifying contiguous boundary. There is also a very large number of Muslim population in the Middle Belt, in spite of its Christian lineage.
Again, there are Hausa and Fulani communities in the far North who are completely enstranged from the social and religious practices of the far North, simply because they are Christians, or choose to worship traditional African religion. And they make a good number in Kaduna, Katsina, Kano, Kebbi and even in Zamfara States.
Gen Yakubu Gowon(Represented by Alh. Aliko Mohammed, Chairman of ACF)
Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar.
Speaker Aminu Tambuwal
Gov. Ibrahim Yakowa
Former Gov. Ibrahim Shekarau
ABU V.C. Prof.
Sen. George Akume
Sen. John Shagaya.
Sen. Abdulhamid Hassan Zareku
Sen. Umaru Dahiru Tambawal
Sen. ADAMU Aliero
Sen. Alex Kadiri.
Dr. Ibrahim Yakubu Lame,
Dr ALIYU Modibbo
Dr. Junaid Mohammed
Dr.Abubakar Saddiq Mohammed
Prof. Munzali Jibril,
Prof. J Yayok,
Prof. Gidado Tahir,
Dr. Nasir Sani Gwarzo.
Prof. W, B. Qurix
Prof. Ibrahim Garba.
Dr. UMAR Bashir Bindir,
Prof. Nuhu Yaqub.
Prof. Ango Abdullahi.
Hajiya Rabi Eshaq.
Dr. Mario Mandara.
Gen. Martin Luther Agwai(rtd).
Dr. Hakeem Baba Ahmed.
Prof. KYARI Mohammed.
Alh. Ibrahim Coomassie.
Bishop Idowu Fearon.
Dr. Usman Bugaje.
Sule Yahaya Hamma.
Prof. Mike Kwarnashie.
Hon. Adams Jagaba.
Alh. Ahmed Dalhatu.
AVM. Mouktar Mohammed(rtd)
Dr. Kabir Chafe
Alhaji Wada Maida