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Ethnicity in Nigeria’s governance

By Tonnie Iredia

On Thursday October 4, 2012, the Taraba State House of Assembly impeached the then Deputy Governor of the state, Sani Abubakar Danladi. His unproven misconduct which was serious enough to the legislators to warrant his impeachment was that he allegedly used his office to attract favours and development to himself and his local community.

In other words, Taraba legislators relied on nepotism, another word for zoning, as an impeachable offence–a rather common short coming of every Nigerian politician. Thus, a few people saw the impeachment as suspect. In earnest, ethnicity is one of the ‘settled’ issues of our federalism hence every President we have had, usually went to his ‘place’ to register and to vote during elections, notwithstanding that the entire nation is his constituency.

It is also an open secret that the state of origin of every Nigerian has remained the most important ticket for getting anything.  At youth level, many Nigerians are favoured or deprived by the quota system of admission to schools- a system which accepts a scenario where two pupils of the same school write the same examination for admission into the same college and it is the pupil with the lower score that gets admitted because of his state of origin! At adult level, the situation is no less alarming. The other day, I read the story of an engineer in one organization complaining that his assistant was lifted to become his head of section. In the past, that could only happen where the position concerned was political. Now that there are examples of the trend at a technocrat and purely professional position there is cause for worry. But our politicians are not worried because to them, political expediency covers anything under the sun. For instance, in October, 2011, 1800 Nigerian citizens in the Abia State Public Service were “back-loaded” to Anambra State. The state government told critics that Imo State had earlier dismissed all Abia indigenes in its public service in 2002. What makes this example apt is that although different ethnic groups are guilty of such discrimination, Abia, Anambra and Imo states are all Igbo speaking.

Nigerian citizens are subjected to differential treatment like non-indigene students paying fees different from those paid by the sons of the soil in the same public schools. The reality therefore is that Nigerians love their tribes or ethnic categories more than their nation but everyone mouths the pragmatism of patriotism. An average Nigerian in a leadership position usually rationalizes the location of government projects in his part of a state especially where it is an institution of higher learning. This probably explains why Keffi and not Lafia the state capital of Nasarawa state was seen as the best site for the state university when a Keffi indigene, Abdullahi Adamu was governor. When Ekiti was carved out of the old Ondo state, the then Governor Adebayo Adefarati, easily located the state university in his domain– Akungba Akoko. Later, a second institution in the state-the University of Science and Technology, Okitipupa was piloted by Okitipupa-born, Governor Segun Agagu. Former Governor Chimaroke Nnamani was similarly well positioned to settle the Enugu State University in his own Agbani. Osun State University was set up by Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola at Oke-Baale in Osogbo, the state capital, but those in power did not lose out as the university was structured to have 5 campuses. One of them was established in Okuku, Oyinlola’s home town, while another was put in Ipetu-Ijesha, the home town of Erelu Obada, the former Deputy Governor.

Edo State has an interesting scenario. During the Gowon military era, the Midwest Institute of Technology (MIT) now the University of Benin was established by the Benin-born General Samuel Ogbemudia. He also set up a Polytechnic which was still being nurtured in Benin City, when Governor George Innih (late) relocated it to Auchi as soon as Ogbemudia was overthrown in the 1975 coup. During the Second Republic a state university was established by Professor Ambrose Alli, the then state governor. It is now named after him. In later years, a teaching hospital was set up by the Federal government of President Ibrahim Babangida in Irrua, a few kilometers from Ekpoma. The then Vice President, Augustus Aikhomu hails from Irrua. Again, a few kilometres from Irrua, President Goodluck Jonathan towards the end of his administration approved a National Institute of Construction Technology in Uromi, the home town of Chief Tony Anenih, a man acknowledged in PDP circles as Leader.

In the last few months, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, the current edo governor has been working assiduously to establish another university also for edo state in his own village-Iyamho. What this suggests is that the Comrade Governor contrary to popular beliefs can fit squarely into the league of ethnic champions who use their positions to attract favours and development home. The existing Ambrose Alli University Ekpoma cannot in any way compete with the new Iyamho University whose structures are patently intimidating. Indeed, the Tayo Akpata University of Education, Ekiadolor which was conceived by the same governor at the same time as that of Iyamho is still in its dilapidated previous primary school-like buildings. Meanwhile Iyamho has more than buildings. On the basis of what the National Universities Commission calls “the formal presentation of the relevant gazetted law, Academic Brief and Physical Master Plan and satisfactory report from the Advisory resource assessment visit” the university has been approved as the 41st State University and 142nd University in Nigeria

As a role model to many, the Comrade Governor has unwittingly confirmed that in heterogeneous societies, competitive ethnicity is inevitable and that political leaders can hardly rise above such chauvinism. The Tayo Akpata University is located in Edo South, the Benin area with the largest population and land mass in the state. It is also the area from where the bulk of the state’s revenue is generated. As the people get set to elect a new governor in a couple of months, the Iyamho University story no doubt tells the Benin people that as the majority, they should not cede the position to any other minority candidate no matter how eloquent such campaigners are .


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