By Ochereome Nnanna
I READ Martins Oloja’s front page story on The Guardian (Monday, June 24th, 2013) with interest and decided to put in a word. Oloja, the Editor of the newspaper, interviewed Ambassador John Campbell in Washington DC. Campbell was the chief envoy of the United States of America in Nigeria. When he was through with serving his country, he wrote a controversial book: Nigeria: Dancing on the Brink.
Campbell describes himself as “a friend of Nigeria”, who is so concerned for the unity of the country that he opted to speak “the truth” about the situation in a country bedevilled by instability and threatened with an uncertain future. The aspect of the diplomat’s assertions that tickles my interest is his contention that the “core North” (Arewa, or the Muslim North) is “alienated”.
He is concerned that Nigeria’s leaders are not doing enough to address the “discrepancies in the social statistics” that portray “alienation” of the region. These, he insinuates, manifest in violence, terrorism, mind-boggling poverty and high level illiteracy. He is of the view that “most of the elements in the North do not participate in the modern economy”. The general impression he creates is that the nation has not done enough to carry the North along in its modestly improving circumstances.
I beg to vehemently disagree: I agree with Campbell that the North, particularly the “Core North”, has been manifesting attributes of an alienated entity. Social scientists will tell you that prolonged relative deprivation creates frustration, which in turn causes alienation that often results in violence.
The case of core northern Nigeria is more complex than meets the ordinary eye. It is easy for a foreign envoy to miss the peculiar causative factors troubling the North (and hence Nigeria) and instead focus on the effects.
I am strongly of the view that the North is not a deprived entity. The poverty, illiteracy, destitution and unending chains of religion-driven social conflicts have nothing to do with the marginalisation of the North by the Nigerian nation. If anything at all, overwhelming historical tons of evidence portray the North as the most favoured; in fact, pampered section of this country from the colonial days till tomorrow.
Let us run a brief checklist: The British colonialists gerrymandered the political constituencies and made sure that the Northern Region would be dominant in terms of land mass and real or imagined population; enough to be able to seize control of political power at independence.
The colonialists also created the military institution making sure that North would control military power. Any surprise that after independence, the North went on to dominate the political landscape for a total of thirty nine out of fifty three years.
They ran the country in a manner suggesting they merely replaced the foreign colonialists because emphasis was placed on economic and political exploitation of the South.
They arbitrarily created states, local governments, senatorial and federal constituencies, as well as electoral divisions giving the lion’s share of political power to the North.
They also centralised the economic resources of the country, ensuring that proceeds from the oil and other resources of the Niger Delta and Southern Nigeria are brought into the federation account and shared in a manner whereby the North always carts home by far the largest chunk. Let us take a sampler.
The May 2013 sharing of the federal allocation indicated that non-oil producing Arewa zones (North West: seven states, N157b and North East: six states, N109b) got a combined share of N266 billion. South East with five states, two of which are oil-producing, got a mere N85b.
Others were – South West: six states, N127b; North Central, six states, N105b, and South-South: six states, N285b (because of the derivation principle).
Ironically, within the same period, the National Examination Council (NECO) issued the cut-off points for admission of students into Federal Government (Unity) Colleges. Four states of the South East were given the highest points to attain: Anambra: 139; Enugu: 136; Imo: 135; and Abia: 128 on the one hand. On the other, northern states got as follows: Kebbi: 35; Jigawa: 33; Sokoto: 27 and Yobe: zero! If you are a male from Yobe State seeking admission into a federal college and you score zero in all your papers you will be admitted while an Anambra chap who garners 134 points, which is well above the cut-off allocated South West states, will be denied admission!
By the time you gather all the statistics, the “discrepancies” will startle you. The reality is that Nigeria gives the North everything on a golden platter, while the Igbo people are given the scraps. They are marginalised and oppressed in every conceivable sector while the North is treated like royalty. But despite this, the Igbo people and the South as a whole maintain the lead in vital social indicators of human development. Those who are alienated come out like the privileged, while pampered exhibit attributes of alienated people. It is an irony of Nigeria!
The root cause is easy to locate. While the South has embraced full-scale modernism with social equity ethos, the North is bogged down by an archaic oligarchy that caters to the sweet-tooth comforts of the aristocracy. All the money, all the power that the North takes from Nigeria are used to feather the nests of the upper classes; the traditional, political and bourgeois gentry. The Northern oligarchy tramples upon the masses of the poor (Talakawa), chaining them with the thrall of religion and using them as cannon fodder in political contests. The terrorism in the North East is seen as a sample of such political machination after the North failed to regain power following the death of President Umaru Yar’ Adua.
Ambassador Campbell must take note that the leaders of the “core North” are chiefly responsible for the illiteracy, poverty and violence in the North. Nigeria has given the North more than it deserves. If these resources had been responsibly invested, the North would be light years ahead of the rest of the country.
If Campbell is a genuine “friend of Nigeria” he should campaign for equity and fairness for all Nigerians rather than carrying coal to Newcastle.