By Douglas Anele
Collectively, Igbo politicians, especially since the return to civilian rule in 1999 have failed in this regard. Nothing emblematises the decadent political leadership in Igboland today, and therewith the decline of South East as a liveable human space, more than the horrifying decay of Aba, once a flourishing centre of commerce. Presently, Aba is one of the most neglected urban centres in Nigeria, a paradigm example of arrested development, a glorified refuse dump. Former governor Orji Uzor Kalu and incumbent governor Theodore Orji deserve imprisonment for the deplorable state of Enyimba city. I grew up in Aba, when it was one of the most hospitable places in Igboland. Now, after fifteen years of mediocre governance, the city is a grotesque shadow of its former self. In my home state, Imo, the quality of work done by Rochas Okorocha’s agbata ekee administration is decidedly sub-standard; it is as if good governance has gone holiday. Hence, Igbo youths should rise up now and demand responsible leadership from politicians, instead of accepting crumbs from them euphemistically misnamed “empowerment.”
The national conference, which just ended, has again demonstrated that Nigeria is far from being a united country. Available reports indicate that, because of serious conflict of interest between Northern and Southern delegates, there was no consensus on interconnected fundamental issues such as resource control, restructuring of our unitarist federal system, and derivation. Largely, whereas Southern delegates argued that the current skewed system is detrimental to the South, especially oil-bearing communities, and should be replaced with a more equitable system, Northern delegates wanted the status quo to remain relatively unchanged. According to Anthony Sani, spokesperson of Northern Delegates’ Forum (NDF), “Northern delegates believe in the concept of nationhood, where the people who were brought together to be one nation should be enabled to synergise and unleash their potential to promote balanced development.” Therefore, “any recommendation which hypes the gap of incomes among constituent parts of the country is not good politics or economics. This is because the nation is strong only with balanced development. Wide disparity in incomes among groups and individuals is counterproductive.”
Now, A.B.C. Nwosu, Yinka Odumakin, Annkio Briggs and others have persuasively debunked the submission of Northern delegates by arguing that a move towards genuine federalism and greater control of funds generated from resources by communities where they are derived is just and conducive to national development. The main thrust of Northern delegates’ position at the conference – subordination of the South to Northern interests in the name of “national unity” – should not surprise anyone knowledgeable in Nigerian history.
After all, the amalgamation of Northern and Southern Nigeria was motivated by the selfish interest of Britain to promote economic development in Northern Nigeria and defray administrative costs with funds derived from the relatively more prosperous South. As one perceptive historian put it, “the protectorate of Northern Nigeria was so impoverished that it had to be run with a subsidy by the government of the Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria.” Moreover, core Northern leaders driven by Islamic feudalist ideology, such as Ahmadu Bello, Inua Wada and Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, believed strongly that the North was destined to conquer and dominate the South. For instance, in 1947 when the Richards Constitution came into effect, Balewa, who later became Prime Minister, threatened that “if the British quitted Nigeria now at this stage, the Northern people would continue their interrupted conquest to the sea.” Evidently, Sani and his cohorts forgot that any nation built on injustice, irrationality and obdurate parochialism cannot stand: sustainable national unity depends on truth, fairness, and commitment to patriotism.
Given the stagnation in economic and educational development in the North, educated Northern youths should begin to see themselves as change-agents ready to abolish an oppressive system that has marginalised them for so long. They can start the process by asking searching questions such as, what is responsible for the continued backwardness of Northern Nigeria despite its domination of the highest political office in the country for almost thirty years? To what extent have Northern governors utilised available resources to develop the area? Has deliberate manipulation of the political structure in favour of Northern Nigeria really improved the condition of the masses there or widened further the existential gap between the rich and the poor?
To underscore the futility of discriminatory policies favourable to Northern Nigeria, consider the education sector. The quota system for admission in our educational institutions at all levels has failed to bridge the gap between the North and South. Indeed, the distance has grown wider because, whereas the quest for modern education is an integral part of the culture in the South, Northerners are still largely tied to the rigid apron strings of antiquated cultural and religious practices that consider Western education a taboo, based on hyperbolic strict interpretation of Islamic scripture that provides fertile soil for bloodthirsty organisations like Boko Haram to emerge. Thus, Sani and members of the Northern establishment should stop chasing shadows and face squarely the difficult challenge of inaugurating positive attitudinal change from parasitic dependence on the South to creative utilisation of human and natural resources in the North for rapid development anchored on modern education.
Lack of reasonable consensus on resource control and recalibration of our grotesque federation, I submit, implies that Nigerians have not learnt any lessons from the conflicts which led to the civil war. It is amazing that most members of the Northern establishment still consider Southern Nigeria a junior partner in the colonial amalgam, Nigeria, the very mindset and attitude Biafrans, led by Ojukwu, resisted, and for which the Eastern region paid a heavy price during the war. In my humble opinion, communities in Southern Nigeria that helped Gowon crush Biafra should blame their erstwhile leaders for not appreciating the dangers of hegemonic jihadist ideology espoused by key Northern leaders at the time.
Of course, persistent failure of political leaders in the South to bracket their petty rivalries and speak with one voice has allowed the North to be more brazen in its irrational demands in the pretext of “national unity.” Having said that, it is time our Northern compatriots realised that national unity based on deliberate refusal to give any part of the country its rightful due cannot stand the test of time. The belief that “One Nigeria” must be sustained by exploitation of Southern Nigeria is tantamount to internal colonisation. It is an outdated attitude to nation building which, supported by a rustic feudal system, has left Northern Nigeria chronically underdeveloped and simultaneously produced few oases of extreme wealth in the midst of crushing poverty.
Constructing a great nation out of a conglomeration of different peoples with diverse cultures and historical antecedents is an incredibly daunting and never-ending task that requires extraordinary leadership founded on honesty and reasonableness. The fundamental obstacle to the emergence of Nigeria as a true giant of Africa is mediocre leadership. One of the defining features of our leadership (and followership, I hasten to add) is the toxic combination of dishonesty and unreasonableness. It is sad that, despite the impressive human and natural resources in Nigeria, an overwhelming majority of the people are poor, destitute, unemployed, and dehumanised. Therefore, Nigerians, particularly those in leadership positions, must learn from our chequered history that truth and rationality, as guides to action, are indispensable in nation building and in the quest for a meaningful life. Until we set aside the culture of deceit, irrationality and bulimic egoism and replace it with honesty, reasonableness and patriotism, our desire for a strong, united, just and prosperous nation will remain an illusion. CONCLUDED.