By Professor Ben Nwabueze
Viewed simply as a physical entity encompassing 75 per cent of the territorial area of the state called Nigeria and 60 per cent of its population, a united Northern Nigeria poses no necessary incompatibility with the unity of the country.
The incompatibility lies not so much in the physical characteristics of the entity known as Northern Nigeria, with its massive territorial area and population; it lies more essentially in what the entity has come to signify.
It signifies a segment of the country that is separated and disunited in interest, attitude, outlook and vision from the rest of the country by an arbitrary, artificially created boundary line erected by British colonialism.
The effect, indeed the purpose, of the British Government’s 1914 Amalgamation of its Protectorates of Northern and Southern Nigeria is to keep the northern segment apart from the south as a people with separate identity – separate interests, attitude, outlook and vision, and to nurture in its inhabitants a sense or feeling of such separateness by deliberate policy and actions. And so has the entity “Northern Nigeria” come, over the years from 1914, to have such a powerful hold on the thoughts, attitudes and vision of people in the area, and to inculcate in them a desire for the preservation of its unity against the southern peoples.
Northern Nigeria ceased to be a single governmental unit after it was split into six autonomous States, later increased to the present nineteen States, as a result of the states creation exercise by the military government in 1967. But, strangely enough, the idea of a “united” Northern Nigeria has persisted as an entrenched fact of life, even after it (i.e. Northern Nigeria) has ceased to be a single governmental unit, and – the point deserving to be specially stressed and noted as the really significant aspect of the matter – has continued to exercise a firm hold on the thinking, mentality and vocabulary of the ruling and political class in that part of the country.
Regrettably, the entity, “Northern Nigeria,” after it ceased to be a governmental unit, has been kept alive, in part, by the formation and activities of certain non-governmental or civil society organisations; these organisations have been deliberately and consciously created and nurtured as instruments of power politics in the country’s affairs. The entire territory and peoples in the northern part of Nigeria are embraced within the domain of these organisations.
Such are the Arewa (meaning Northern Peoples) Consultative Forum (ACF) of which a man of Yoruba extraction from Kwara State, Sunday Awoniyi, was Chairman for some years; Northern Elders Forum (NEF) comprising in its present membership some notable people from the minority ethnic groups in the Middle Belt area, among whom is Paul Unongo, a Tiv man and a Christian from Benue State, now the Forum’s Chairman after the death recently of Alhaji Maitama Sule; the Northern Traditional Rulers Council, with the Sultan of Sokoto as Chairman; the Northern Governors Forum; the Northern Delegates Forum; Arewa Reawakening; the Arewa Youths; the Northern Senators Forum, among others.
The so-called common destiny claimed for the peoples in northern Nigeria is something tendentiously invented to serve the purpose of political domination, control and manipulation by Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto, and his exclusively northern political party, the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC). His consolidation and perpetuation of the idea of Northern Nigeria, we are told by Sheikh Gumi, “was not borne out of political consideration only”, but was also conceived as “a personal mission” handed down to him by a his forbear, Sheikh dan Fodio. According to Gumi, the Sardauna had “pledged and dedicated himself to work untiringly for the progress and happiness of the North”, thereby creating in the different peoples of the North and inculcating in them, the binding sense of solidarity and unity of the North as one entity with one destiny. The sense of solidarity and unity thus created and studiously nurtured in the different peoples of the North was his distinctive legacy, the effect of which was to deepen the North-South Divide resulting from Lugard’s 1914 amalgamation. His legacy gave impetus to the persistence of the idea of “Northern Nigeria” as one entity, which (i.e. his legacy) inspired the formation and activities of the non-governmental or civil society organisations mentioned above.
The detrimental impact on the unity of Nigeria created by the actions of these organisations is well attested by the reaction of the Northern Senators Forum at its meeting in Katsina, Katsina State, on 12 December, 2017 to a resolution by its southern counterpart at its own meeting in Calabar, Cross River State, in November 2017 calling on President Buhari to implement the 2014 National Conference Report.
The Northern Senators Forum is entitled to react to the call to the President by its southern counterpart. Its reaction is amazing because of the reasons given for it by its chairman, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, former Governor of Zamfara State, in his Opening Address at the Katsina meeting. He said : “It is unfair to ask President Muhammadu Buhari to implement a report to which he was not a party. He was not privy to its underlying philosophy or its primary objectives.”
President Buhari is certainly at liberty to refuse to implement the 2014 Conference Report, but not for the reason that “he was not a party to it….. or privy to its underlying philosophy or primary objectives.”
The call was not made to General Buhari as an individual, but to him as successor to the government in office when the conference held and issued its report. The continuity of government or its endurance for an indefinitude of time is a basic principle of public administration. Individual presidents come and go but their decisions and actions remain in existence as acts of state, leaving those in control of the government for the time being to act or not to act on them within the framework of the rule of law.
Senator Abdullahi Adamu, as a two-time State Governor and a refined, knowlegible gentleman, is supposed to be familiar with this basic principle of public administration. He could only have made the statement quoted above, not out of ignorance, but from a desire to support a President who belongs to the same Moslem North as himself and who is imbued with the same desire to support and promote the idea of a united Northern Nigeria and its interests.
The language of the communiqué issued by the Forum at the end of its Katsina Meeting betrays, perhaps unwittingly, a certain confrontational stance. It affirmed that the “North is not afraid of restructuring”, and that “there is need for the North to stand united, irrespective of political, ethnic or religious differences,” and then goes on to accuse the southern political elites of “intimidating the North with the term restructuring” and of “painting the region as a weak link, parasitic and unproductive region that brings nothing to the table.”
But that is not all. The idea of a united Northern Nigeria is based, not alone on the objectives mentioned above, but also on an accompanying ideology, which was powerfully articulated as far back as October 1960 by Sir Ahmadu Bello himself, and studiously implanted in the minds and thoughts of northerners.
As so articulated, the object of the ideology is to maintain Northern Nigeria as a theocracy ruled by a Moslem claiming to be divinely directed, with utter disdain for democracy, and with the Sharia as the supreme governing law; the non-Moslem minority ethnic groups in the North are to be used as “willing tools”, and the South is to be subjugated and reduced to “a conquered territory”, which is not to be allowed to “have control over their future.” The Sarduana had conceived a kind of jihad, for which Fulani herdmen, originally lone individuals moving on foot with cattle but now operating as armed militia, are being recruited as advance foot soldiers armed with Ak47 guns.
The theocracy ideology was reaffirmed in 2005 by the then Emir of Gwandu, Mustapha Jokolo, and is now being carried into execution through armed insurgency by a Moslem fundamentalist sect called Boko Haram, with the sponsorship of some northern political, traditional and religious leaders.
The danger posed to the unity, security, stability and progress of Nigeria by the Boko Haram insurgency, sponsored, as testified by credible sources, by some Northern political, traditional and religious leaders, is more grave than we seem prepared to acknowledge to ourselves. Chinweizu highlights the danger in telling words thus:
“These two ideological versions of Nigeria [the other version being the secular – democracy ideology] have been locked in struggle, and until one ideology defeats the other, or until Nigeria divides into two separate entities for those aspiring to each of those incompatible versions, Nigeria will remain unstable, backward; a theatre for recurring bloodbaths; a disgrace to itself and the Black World; and a breeding ground for international terrorism.”
The idea of “a united Northern Nigeria” as one entity poses yet another danger to the unity of Nigeria, in that the solidarity and unity of the North is aimed, not only at putting political power in the hands of people from the geographic North, but also at putting control of the strategic function of security in their hands, thereby making the security of the Nigerian state and its people a northern affair.
This insidious and pernicious northern design is attested by Bishop Matthew Kukah in his book, Witness to Justice: An Insider’s Account of Nigeria’s Truth Commission. As the Bishop tells us, the design is given maxim implementation under the regime of Gen. Sanni Abacha. The General had, in furtherance of that design, appointed Major Hamza Al-Mustapha, as the Chief Security Officer to the Head of State; Alhaji Ismaila Gwarzo, as the National Security Adviser; Brigadier Gen Sabo, as the Director of Military Intelligence; AVM Idi Musa, as Chief of Defence Intelligence; Alhaji Ibrahim Commassie, as the Inspector-General of Police; and Alhaji Zakari Biu as the Head of the newly created Counter Terrorism Agency, which was assigned “the responsibility of keeping watch over enemies within who might be collaborating with enemies without to destabilize the nation”.
As all these appointees were northerners, northern control of the security of the Nigerian state and its people was complete, and has remained largely undismantled uptil now (August 2013). The dream of one Nigeria thus confronts a serious threat, given the incompatibility between it and a security apparatus controlled by just one segment of the country – the northern segment. Those behind the design cannot have meant well for, or cared much about, the unity of the country. President Buhari’s northern – controlled security apparatus simply re-activates Abacha’s design, and is geared towards the same purpose.
Perhaps, we may note another disquieting instance (one other instance will be mentioned later) of the adverse impact of a united Northern Nigeria on the unity of the country, viz the manipulation of power to favour the geographic North in the appointment of justices to our apex Court, the Supreme Court. Solomon Asemota SAN affirms:
“The long rule of Northern military Heads of State, Murtala Mohammed, Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida, and Abdulsalami Abubakar was used to fashion a constitution tilted in favour of Muslims. The Islamic Judicial system was elevated to the advantage of Islamic jurists who are not so learned in Western education not to talk of the inherited English common law. Today, we have courts and a Judicial system where a Muslim cleric can rise to the Supreme Court from the lower tiers of sharia courts created for them, a feat which a Christian cleric cannot attain because no special court is established for them as was done for the Muslim clerics. Muslim clerics became a special specie of Nigerian Judges.”
The manipulated appointments to the Supreme Court, which seem to evince a gerrymandering intent somewhat akin to Lugard’s boundary gerrymandering at the time of the 1914 Amalgamation and after have ensured an unbroken succession for the past 26 years of eight Chief Justices of Nigeria from the North, seven of whom are Moslems, namely Bello 1987 – 95; Lawal Uwais 1995 – 2006; Alfa Belgore 2006 – 2007; Legbo Kutigi 2007 – 2009; Katsina – Alu 2009 – 2011; Dahiru Musdapher 2011 – 2012; Mariam Mukhtar 2012 – 2015; and Mahmud Mohamed 2015 – 2017.
As Solomon Asemota further affirms, “The Council of States was established under the Constitution with the biased intention that it should be dominated more or less permanently by members from the True North.
Six months as Chief Justice of Nigeria earns a Northerner, after retirement, a place as member of the Council of State, thus making the Council of State a “Northern” Council of State,” as is borne out by the fact that, except for former President Obasanjo, former President Jonathan, both southerners, the Vice-President and the Governors of the 17 States in the South, all the other present (i.e. as at today) members are from the North – one civilian former President, four former military Heads of State, the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Governors of the 19 States in the North, five former Chief Justices of Nigeria, and the serving Attorney-General of the Federation. In the result, a body conceived as a powerful and crucial stabilising force in the government of the country’s affairs has been turned into a largely Northern Council and thereby deprived of serious reckoning in the eyes of Nigerians.
The overwhelming evidence and testimonies adduced above compel acceptance of the incompatibility of a “united” Northern Nigeria with the unity of Nigeria. The incompatibility results, as earlier stated, not so much from the mere existence of Northern Nigeria as a physical entity encompassing 75 per cent of the territorial area of Nigeria and 60 per cent of its population, as from the erection of the North as an entity inhabited by peoples marked apart from those in the South by differences in interests, attitude, outlook, vision and even destiny and in whom sentiments based on their separateness from the South have been nurtured in the years since the 1914 Amalgamation.
The incompatibility is made more evident when a “united” Northern Nigeria forms an agenda in the programme of an incumbent President of Nigeria, and is implemented by concentrating a great majority of the strategic and other key appointments in the North and other acts of unfair favouritism done with unabashed disdain.
The glaring incompatibility makes the much-vaunted talk about the unity of Nigeria not being negotiable and about nation-building generally sound more like a farce. Unity may continue to elude us and become an unattainable object unless and until the idea of a united Northern Nigeria is exorcised from our minds, thought and vocabulary.
It is in the context of the objectives, philosophy and ideology underlying the idea of a “united” Northern Nigeria and its practical effects on political life in the country that General Buhari’s first major policy statement as President-elect must be viewed. In a speech delivered before an audience of exclusively prominent Northern Moslem leaders on 2 May, 2015 at Queen Amina Hall, Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, and which demands recalling here because of its frightful bearing on the issue under discussion, he said:
“I charge you to join me as we build a new Northern Nigeria in a generation…..the best investment we can make in the North is not finding oil in the Chad Basin….we will start with one local government in each state until we get to every school in all of Northern Nigeria…..To achieve this, I have secured a Northern rehabilitation fund…..to rebuild the North after the devastation of Boko Haram insurgency…..Join me my brothers and sisters and let us finish the work our forefather, Ahmadu Bello, started.”
The speech portrays the picture of someone driven by something more than the ordinary ambition to become President of Nigeria. Besides, it requires something more than that to drive a person to contest presidential election for four consecutive times winning it in the fourth contest.
Buhari was driven by a passion, the passion of religious fanaticism or a religious zealot, to become President of Nigeria in order to carry on and finish the work started by his forebear, Sir Ahmadu Bello, including the Sardauna’s fond idea to extend the rule of the Moslem North throughout the country by means of a jihad. This is a factor that must be taken into account as we seek explanation for some of his actions, utterances and postures since assumption of office as President on 29 May, 2015.
One last evil consequence of a united Northern Nigeria for the unity of the country remains to be noted. It has trigged the formation in July 2012 of a countervailing pan-Southern Nigeria civil society organisation by the name the Southern Nigeria Peoples Assembly (SNPA), which held its third General Conference in Lagos on May 20, 2012 attended by a South-East delegation led by former Vice-President, Dr Alex Ekwueme, a South-West delegation led by Rt. Rev. Emmanual Bolanle Gbomigi, while the South-South delegation was led by Chief Edwin Clark. (The earlier General Conferences were held in Uyo and Enugu).
The formation of the SNPA is significant because it was triggered by the existence and activities of the pan-Northern Nigerian organisations mentioned above, and was meant to serve as a counterpoise, a counter-vailing platform, to them, as emerges from the speeches by the three delegations.
The creation of a pan-southern organisation to match those in the North is a threat to Nigerian unity because of the conflict-laden polarisation of the country into two antagonistic camps of North versus South, which is implied in the statements of SNPA’s objectives, as declared in speeches delivered at the Lagos General Conference.
Whilst in his speech, Dr Alex Ekwueme, as leader of the South-East delegation, spoke of “the need for the South to come together and speak with one voice,” which is worrying enough, Bishop Gbonigi, speaking as leader of the South-West delegation, went further to say: “Now that we have a counterpart in the South to the Arewa Consultative Forum, namely the Southern Nigeria Peoples Assembly, future meetings with the ACF should be with SNPA only and we should put an end to the practice of ACF holding separate meetings with our various zones. We strongly recommend that this Conference should adopt this position.”
But it was Chief Edwin Clark, as leader of the South-South delegation, that gave forceful expression to the spectre of antagonistic relations between the North and the South when he said:
“We are convinced that if our political leaders and forebears had invested some of their energies, exceptional brilliance and wits in fostering a united Southern Nigeria, the challenges of fragmentation and distrust which have been very clearly exploited by the North to supplant us in virtually all aspects of our political lives would have been avoided.
“The unfortunate result was the lack of unity, cohesion and solidarity among their people. Because we could not speak with one voice in matters of common interest, the South became easily manipulated and preyed upon by our detractors whose tactics has always been to divide and rule. Despite their political differences, the North is always united in matters of common interest. This unarguably has remained our albatross.”
The creation of SNPA with the unity of the South as its objective raises the question whether the unity of the North against the South, and the unity of the South against the North, translate to the unity of Nigeria or to a drag on it.
The question is discomforting. Borrowing Sir Frederick Maitland’s famous aphorism about the continuing dominating influence of the forms of action in English law notwithstanding their abolition and demise, we may say that we have buried Northern and Southern Nigeria as governmental entities, but they still continue to rule us, to dominate our thinking and attitude, from their graves.
This is a great tragedy indeed. What should engage our concern and concerted effort is how to bridge the chasm resulting from the North-South Dividecreated by the 1914 Amalgamation of the Protectorates of Northern and Southern Nigeria. The matter calls for the creation of a national front for the activist pursuit of the National Integration Agenda.
It is important to correct the erroneous statement above that Southern Nigerian was ever a single governmental entity except for the 8 year period 1906 – 1914. Before 1914, the South had comprised three distinct political entities, namely the territory under the jurisdiction and administration of the Royal Niger Company, the Niger Coast Protectorate, and the Colony and Protectorate of Lagos, all three of which were amalgamated in 1906 as the Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria, divided, for administrative purposes, into three provinces – Eastern, Central and Western provinces.
And so did the political entity known as the Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria, or Southern Nigeria for short, come into existence. As a separate political entity, it existed until 1914 – a period of 8 years – when it was amalgamated with the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria as the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria.
For the eight years of its existence as a distinct political entity, the inhabitants of Southern Nigeria did not have implanted in them the idea of a separate identity or a sense of solidarity as a people marked apart from the inhabitants of the North by differences in interests, attitudes, outlook, vision, not to say destiny.
After its amalgamation in 1914 with the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria, the South ceased to exist as single political or governmental entity while the North continued to so exist until 1967. Its ceasing to exist as a separate political or governmental entity after the 1914 Amalgamation meant that there was no time or opportunity to sow the seed of a common identity or sense of solidarity among its inhabitants or to nurture it. Not being a single political or governmental entity, and since its inhabitants are not held together by a sense of common identity or a sense of solidarity, Southern Nigeria imports no incompatibility with the unity of Nigeria.
It seems pertinent to end the discussion on this critical issue with the following observation put in the form of a question. Fully aware, as he is, of the incompatibility of a united Northern Nigeria with the unity of Nigeria, is it not a palpable contradiction, a disingenuous double-talk, that President Buhari should, while championing a united Northern Nigeria by his actions and utterances, at the same time maintain that the unity of Nigeria is not negotiable – a unity stifled by his Northernisation Agenda?
Professor Ben Nwabueze