By Kabiru Muhammed Gwangwazo
As a Form One student of Governmant College (Rumfa College) Kano I was at the 1972 national MSS convention at Mushin, in Lagos. I was also in the college photography club, the scrabble and Judo clubs and the badmington team, as I was later in the swimming club at tertiary level. That was belonging.
We had a mixed bag of friends from all parts. We had Emeka Awobokun, Denis Anekwe (now Dendis Anes), Paul Manyan Dogo, Ishaya Adamu (later Ishaya Chikale Chori) who was my chief protector from fellow Muslim school bullies, notably Lamido and Dutse and Shehu. We had Elias Maza and Andrew Liman and Monday Tunuwam. Filibus Gajere, the gentle giant who was the champ of schools shot put was a kindly senior, as kindly as any Muslim from Gwangwazo and other areas of Kano city. Anyway that was before the Orkar madness let the genie out.
The first wake-up call for activist Islam in the North after the colonials had gone, was at the prompting and with the support of the Sardauna, who sought to use Islam, and successfully too, to uplift the many backward pagan tribes of the North during his days as Premier. Late Abubakar Mahmoud Gummi was the modernist Islamic preacher as Grand Khadi who led that phase of activism at the intellectual level. Gummi was to Sardauna what his ideological forebear and mentor Sheik Muhammad bn Abdulwahab of the Wahabbist fame was to the pioneer of the Al-Saud family King Faisal, founder of Saudi Arabia. But that notwithstanding, Islam as a religion was never used to trample on the minorities and their rights. If anything it was used to pull them up to the level of decency assumed for all Northerners by architects of the Monolithic North, Sardauna Ahmadu Bello and his peers.
The North thus kept its identity intact despite all the onslaughts from political adventurers of the South up to the end of the First Republic. In fact the Sardaunan Sakkwato Ahmadu Bello, the first and last Premier of the Region kept it so. His life was snuffed out by a Major of the Nigeria Army, said to be his own protege, Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu as part of a larger conspiracy to access and balkanize the tight-knit North by its opponents, for political ends. Sardauna was very successful in managing a live-and-let-live relationship with Christians. He’d always insisted that his aides and ministers who were Christians should go out to engage those of their faith or tribes as he often did with Muslims and many who were animists that he converted to Islam.
After the massacre of Sardauna and the events following the first coup, during the ensuing civil war, most of the Federal troops were from the North, with really a very negligble few from the South-West. Of those from the North a distinct majority of the fighting forces and those who led them were minority tribesmen, mostly Christians.
There was hardly any complaint throughout Gowon’s eight year regime even when majority of key posts were occupied by Christians including very many of them from the North. The story was the same with Murtala and more so Obasanjo. Christians were in majority of posts and expectedly beneficiaries of most patronage across board nationwide.
Even the alarm of fear of domination by Christians raised by Late Sheikh Abubakar Mahmoud Gumi after the assassination of General Murtala was not very noticeable. This is in spite of the fact of Colonel Bukar Suka Dimka’s failed coup attempt on the General Murtala Government having Christians as the preponderant majority of its executors and leaders.
Het, in the Obasanjo government, General Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma as Chief of Army Staff, a Christian from the North remained the power behind the throne. General Obasanjo, also a Christian was Head of State. There was no ruckus at all from Muslims.
But with the return to civil rule in 1979 and the overthrow of the Shagari Government and subsequent ouster of General Buhari and the very few military officers eased out of the government, General Babangida’s use of mainly minority officers as the face of his ouster, craftily noting the dispersal of population, tribe and religion in key posts and the lay troops of the Nigeria Army, minority sentiments appeared boldly. And the Army that had before then remained the main unifier of the Nigerian nation was then turned a tool for politicking. This was for the second time. The first was Nzeogwu and of Ironsi, obviously with inputs of their leading elite particularly Late Chief Azikiwe, as recently captured in an interview by Late Danmasanin Kano, Yusuf Maitama Sule shortly before he died.
That IBB intervention using minority sentiments to seize power from his then naive friend, General Buhari and consolidate his hold on it, in my view and that of many northerners opened the gates for destroying the Monolithic North. What Obafemi Awolowo and Azikiwe couldn’t achieve with a focused Sardauna and an educated elite was achieved as an own goal by IBB, simply to get to power.
IBB’s own boys, just like Sardauna’s Nzeogwu led the attempt to silence him and take over. IBB boy Orkar’s coup failed for misuse of minority Christian sentiments as a weapon. That not only stopped the coup from succeeding, (despite the massive unpopularity of IBB then even in, or rather in particular, then in the core North,) it also nailed the final coffin on that Northern and indeed Nigerian unity we had all always taken for granted. The unity of the North is what has consistently kept the nation united as any elementary history teacher can tell. Gideon Orkar who’d displayed unprecedented madness was a military officer, colleagues and superiors had described as “very intelligent” in several reports on the media and in publications. He expelled landlocked core North States from his Nigeria of madness, from a nation they had laboured to build and had sacrificed everything for, including a proud heritage they love and a distinct identity they cherish.
That loss of innocence of the North caused by a crazy Major that occured on April 22nd, 1990 is one anniversary no northerner will easily forget, if ever.
That is why it is worrying today to see the ongoing manipulation of Christian and minority sentiments by some top Christian politicians with the backing of the same set of leaders who’d always been at the takeoff point whenever Nigeria is at a crossroads. They are now talking of some third option is an unthinking and selfish maneuver that will surely backfire on its actors unless properly handled. The use of religion and minority sentiments has always led to unwarranted trouble.
But then, the good thing here is that unlike military politics, civilian politics is about votes. And the votes are clearly counted. It is fortunate that we now have the newly introduced parameters in Nigerian politics that after all numbers matter. The 2015 elections confirmed that.
It actually doesn’t matter what your religion is or that of your running mate if you are going for elections. In Plateau it has always happened that way. Awolowo was even more adventurous when in 1979 he took his political experimentation to the limit, appointing his Vice President from the East while he was of the West. He was probably hypnotised by the wishful thinking then that the figures of the national population census were untrue to a ridiculous extent. Abiola and Kingibe in SDP victory confirm that what matters really is can you command the votes? If anything for us in the core North today the main benefit we derived from that Orkar lunacy, the Orkar April Anniversay of madness is that return to basics that numbers matter. If nothing else.