The North has always claimed to be more than the South in population, an assertion that has often been put in doubt seasonally by the results and processes of succeeding exercises of our population census.
That is a legacy bequeathed to us by our British colonial masters, who definitely had an interest in establishing a more populous Northern portion of Nigeria where they would retain a foothold of control even after the country had gained independence.
The undeniably larger land mass above the Niger River, which forms the natural demarcation between the North and the South, fortuitously lent credence to that assumption on the face of it. Yet the doubt lingers and is coiled up to a wavering question mark, especially in the South, each time we have held a head-count in the country.
But, of course, such a misgiving does not occur in the North, which has been able to spill over across the Niger by a mishap of history, bolstered by the visionary leadership of Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto and First Premier of the Northern Region.
The Yoruba area of Ilorin had been over-run by the powers of the Sultanate, who then had turned their faces towards the sea before they were stopped in Ilorin. An Emirate was established there, all the same, and it was comfortable for the colonial powers to install an official arm of the North by the introduction of governmental patterns and systems of the North.
But it was the Sardauna who absorbed the area into the family of the Northern people by granting the indigenes all opportunities available, and more. He made them feel a part of the region in a full-fledged status, and that put the young elements, who had already absorbed a lot from the contact with the advanced educational structure of the South, at a great advantage.
So it was more sensible for the people to stay within the less progressive North at that time, where they had less competition. With the advent of party politics, it was thus not too difficult to resist, and even reject, the blandishments with which Southern politicians attempted to reclaim what they felt belonged to them – at least culturally, since the florin language is a Yoruba dialect.
The North has always preserved this enlarged structure of the region, like any other heritage granted by the Sardauna era. It unabashedly claimed every right and privilege for its size in population and area and made sure that it proportionately improved in the number of States as the South increased its areas of administrative divisions.
It had never been in doubt that it was in competition with the South, and was determined not to be bested. With the stabilization(?) of States at 36, it made sure that it had no less than 19.
The 19 Governors of those states have gradually constituted themselves into arguably the most powerful force on our political terrain today. And they know it.
And so the Northern governors have everything, or almost everything, going for them.
They pay some attention, all the same, to the fact that they are on the same street with the vibrant Arewa Youth Council, which seeks unity within itself, and Nigeria for us all. That is almost a statement of the guiding principle of the 19 Governors of the North too. In fact, it has always been thus with the political organizations with a Northern bias, or origin.
The West has not come up yet with such an obvious statement of parochialism about its distinctiveness except in the nomenclature of its cultural organizations, nor has the East usually tagged a sectional character to its political organizations. But the North has had no qualms in that regard, claiming for itself, at every turn, a uniqueness that tends to separate, rather than distinguish it, from the rest of the country.
Little wonder then, that the Northern governors incline towards paying the least regard to what the other state governments hold out as national concerns – which is seldom anyway. It is the North from where proposals on national propositions seem to emanate. They seem confident in the power of the political clout they hold to take a bold stand together, while other state governments are still mulling over the subject.
How wonderful this country would be if only this massive political force could be turned to the use of creating goodwill and good governance for all.
Just imagine! The issue of the minimum wage would have been settled even before it began if all the 19 “Excellencies” from the North had stepped in on the side of the workers. Or if all the 19 governors had spread the gospel of agricultural development right through the country with one voice, would not the pyramids of groundnuts have emerged again to dominate the precincts around Kano City and almost put oil in the shade; or would Boko Haram exist for even one more week if the “nineteen” only did as much as put their feet down against it?
But someone has truly said we “have two countries – one up, one down.” For as long as the present situation in which the 19 governors of the North congregate always to hold themselves aloof like veritable mandarins among peasants, the cause of unity in this country may continue to strive in vain.
On the other hand, if other regions could follow the example of solidarity (it is nothing less) so clearly shown by the North, agriculture in each region would become king again; education could develop along its own peculiar way; commerce would receive a boost; the economy would speak development to its region; and no particular section would virtually disregard any other. With growing mutual respect, “mandarinism” would yield to the more excellent cause of unity.
I have a feeling that this would be the ultimate achievement of the move to resuscitate the spirit of progressiveness, which is a heritage from the old West, as initiated by Chief Obafemi Awolowo, First Premier of the Region.