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Nigeria’s North/South divide

By Ochereome Nnanna
NIGERIA is a divided nation in so many ways. It is ethnic, religious, geopolitical, social, economic and professional in nature.

We all know that Nigeria is divided in all the above-mentioned ways except in the professional area, which is often not discussed because its insidious characteristics ensure that it is not obvious to the untutored eye.

On Friday, August 14, 2009, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, called a press conference and announced the sack of chief executives and some board members of five banks for their alleged  mishandling of customers’ funds and poor corporate governance which placed their banks on the verge of distress.

There was uproar across the land as soon as the shock went down. Long before Sanusi was appointed as the CBN helmsman, there were media reports that his predecessor, Professor Chukwuma Soludo, would not be allowed a second term in office.

According to the reports, the North had perfected a scheme to replace him with someone from their section in order to take over five of the biggest banks. The North performed poorly during the highly transparent banks consolidation exercise in that out of the 25 banks in existence it could not boast of substantial control or commanding shareholding in more than three, if at all.

Sanusi was therefore rumoured to be on a mission to weaken the South’s strong presence in the financial system and forcibly bring in the North through the back door.

When Sanusi made his move, those who believed in this line of thought claimed that their prediction was coming true. Sanusi and his team now have no choice but to be mindful of the fact that every bit of their action is being watched for the supposed ethnic blinkers.

Within the same period, the new Head of Service, Mr. Stephen Oronsaye, announced a new measure he says will reinvigorate the Federal Civil Service by creating vacancies and opportunities for more top civil servants to serve their country rather than the same few permanent secretaries “blocking the gates of heaven” as a result of the rule that stipulates they can only retire at 60 or after 35 years in the service.

Oronsaye’s new measure demands that permanent secretaries must retire after a maximum of eight years in that position. It turned out that nine serving permanent secretaries, all Northerners, will be affected by the new measure and forced to retire sooner or later.

The Daily Trust newspaper quotes an unnamed official of describing the reform measure as “a cruel and illegal way of removing the top civil service and an attempt to decimate the highest level of Northerners in the civil service”.

The questions that will drop in the mind of any curious watcher of Nigeria’s public affairs would be: Why would a transparent banks consolidation favour only the South and a move ostensibly to arrest the slide of five or more banks towards distress be seen as anti-South? Are there any inherent barriers against the North’s aspiration to thrive in the financial system?

And why should all nine permanent secretaries who would affected by Oronsaye’s reform be all Northerners in a country that operates a federal character system? Are there inherent rules and barriers that work against the equitable presence of the educationally more advance South in the federal civil service?

The answers to these questions will expose the often overlooked different attitudes of elites of the North and South as to where their educated classes prefer to go in order to consummate a successful professional career. While the South typically eyes the private sector, the North is firmly interested in the government.

While the Southerner soldiers alone, depending on his personal efforts and pursuit of merit to take him to the highest level of his career in business and the professions so that he can compete with his peers from across the world, the Northerner depends chiefly on a well-laid down visionary strategy of career progression hatched and nurtured back in the North to take him to the top.

And when a Southerner finds himself in the Federal Civil Service he brings the private sector lone ranger attitude only to meet Northern colleagues who are working together as a group sent from “home”.

The North plots the careers of their young, brilliant talents, puts them in governmental institutions such as the Army and other security forces, the judiciary, the civil service and so on. That is why over time they are able to take over whole Federal Government establishments in spite of their educational disadvantage relative to the South. They know what they want and they prepare and deploy their youth to go get it.

This is how they were able to take over the oil industry, especially the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). That was how they took over the armed forces, and that is how they have taken over the federal judiciary. In each case, they were late starters, but through group planning and patient plotting of the careers of their young educated people they eventually “overcame”.

And when the beneficiaries “make it” they give back to the source that made them by maintaining that group format throughout their service career.

Up till today, a typical Northerner balks when the word “privatisation” is mentioned, whereas that is exactly what the average Southerner craves. The former wants more government while the latter wants less of it. More government means more job opportunities to the Northerner, while a greater private sector control presents more opportunities to those from the South.

Space constrains me, but we will surely find time to go further into this interesting Nigerian geopolitical phenomenon in greater detail.


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