People & Politics

July 31, 2017

Our intractable Northern burdens



By Ochereome Nnanna

WHAT happened at the Senate on Wednesday, 26th July 2017 infuriated those who have been clamouring for restructuring and true federalism.  But, it elated two other segments of the Nigerian society which, funny enough, see each other as sworn enemies: (a) those who want to maintain the status quo, and (b) the separatists. Those who want to maintain the status quo got what they wanted when the Senate voted 48 to 46 to throw out the proposal for the devolution of powers to the states. It required 72 votes to alter the constitution, subject to the verdict of Members of the House of Representatives.

The separatists also rejoiced because, having lost faith in the possibility of restructuring and devolution of powers, they want complete separation from Nigeria to establish their own sovereign republic where they can swim or sink based on their abilities. The separatists know that the failure of the vote for restructuring and devolution of powers will vindicate their position. It will win them more converts in the East and nudge more groups outside the East to also seek self determination.

I would have been surprised if the vote had turned out differently. Just before that day when the Senate had to vote electronically to avoid controversy as to where majority of their members stood, Arewa Youth Forum, AYF) responded to the move towards restructuring by issuing death threats. Some newspapers simply captured their threat with this headline: “Support Restructuring and Die, Northern Youths Warn Northern Politicians, Leaders”.

A statement signed by an individual I don’t want to glorify by mentioning his name here said: “Any Northern politician who ever (sic) participate in the restructuring of this country must pay with his/her life. We are speaking the minds of the poor suffering Northerners not the rich enjoying Northerners… restructuring is the last thing that will happen in this country, you politicians have enjoyed your days so much that you now want to turn Nigeria upside down against we the younger citizens of Northern extraction…”

The Arewa Youth’s violent threat was not really necessary; they were preaching to already hardened converts. They were preaching to those who actually initiated them into the cult of reactionary conservatism. The Northern political elite, whether they were wearing military uniform or babanriga as civilian politicians, have always said no to any attempt to change the political structure of Nigeria. To be fair to them, this vexatious political structure was not created by the North. It was created by the defunct British colonial masters way back 103 years ago. The North never begged for it. In fact, most Northern Emirs and the Sultan of that time were very suspicious and uncomfortable about being lumped with a largely non-Muslim South that already had a Westernised mindset.

But the colonialists gummed the two sides together for their own interests. They were spending too much from the royal purse to maintain the huge region as opposed to a more economically-flourishing South. In fact, the primary reason for the amalgamation was to use Southern wealth to support the North and reduce its drain on the Royal British coffers. Forget about Professor Ango Abdullahi’s lies about the North “sustaining” the South. The second reason was to enable the colonial masters through the North to maintain their strategic interests in Nigeria long after the end of their colonial adventure.

So, it is not really the fault of Nigerians that we are fighting one another. We were wired from the start to fight and hate one another by an outside power which imposed a Northern burden on the South, using its massive land resources and largely fake population majority to ensure that there can never be peaceful, democratic change in the political structure of the country. In fact, the North, for decades, foot-dragged about going with the South. It showed with bloody consequences in 1954 when Southern leaders moved for independence and their Northern counterparts, cognisant of their educational disadvantages relative to the South, demanded that it should be postponed till they were ready.

Even after the first coup of 1966 when many Northern leaders were killed, the North would have seceded if they had their way. It was the same ex-colonial power that chided them that they cannot run away from their own bowl of pepper soup which had been prepared and set for them. The oil resources of the defunct Eastern Region were just about to come into the centre-stage of the Nigerian economy. When the North realised that with its control of the Army it could become the new colonial master of the resource-wealthy South, they simply took over the British colonial heritage. They started insisting on the control of Nigeria’s political leadership, as that would guarantee them access to its oil resources. From that moment, there was no longer any need for leaders to stress themselves about creating wealth. All they needed was to wait every month for proceeds from the oil rents, and share using the political structure that ensured the North would always get the lion’s share.

The Arewa Youths feel their time has come to inherit this booty, and so, any talk of restructuring to force them to think and work hard to create wealth before they can “enjoy” is not acceptable to them. The youths from the East are ready to struggle for themselves. Those from the West don’t mind it if they have to struggle for themselves. The people of the Niger Delta, who have been bearing the burden of Nigeria for 50 years, want freedom to control their resources and determine their own future.

The truth (and tragedy) of the matter is that it is almost impossible to effect restructuring and devolution of powers under our democratic dispensation. Only the military can do it, and when it had the opportunity it merely reinforced its pro-North colonial heritage. The impediment to restructuring, when it starts, will not be from the North alone. The laziness among political leadership has become a widespread national phenomenon. Even if the Senate had voted for devolution of powers it could still be stopped at the House of Representatives. For sure, restructuring and devolution of powers will fail likely in the Houses of Assembly of most states, including many states in the geopolitical zones where the clamour for them have been loudest.

Recently, Vanguard published a revenue outlook that is sure to work against restructuring and devolution of powers if pursued through the constitutionally-prescribed processes. If restructuring and devolution of powers are carried out today, only six states – Lagos, Rivers, Ogun, Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom and Delta – will be able to survive over the foreseeable short term. The first three have relatively high internal revenue profile, while all the four South-South states are oil-rich. All the Northern and Southern States except those aforementioned will collapse unless there is an interim arrangement to tide them over the shock period. Even the Federal Government might collapse unless adequate care is taken. To succeed, restructuring and devolution must be achieved by national consensus.

It is the only path to an assured future for Nigeria because the sole commodity that feeds the current political structure – oil – is seriously endangered. Acting President Yemi Osinbajo recently spoke appropriately of an impending “zero oil” era. More oil is being discovered around the world, while less uses are being found for it. More non-oil, environmentally-friendly alternatives are being innovated.

In about ten years, what will become of our monthly revenue sharing routine? There may be nothing to share! The call for devolution is a call to secure the future of Nigeria as a united country. Today, it is unpopular. What shall we do when no one will buy our oil anymore? Arewa youths, what will you “enjoy”?