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Muhammadu Buhari and Nigeria’s tribal politics

By Rotimi Fasan

NIGERIA is reeling in the throes of age-long tribal politics, now made worse by the provincial instincts of a president who lacks the capacity to see the country beyond the constricted lenses of his small part of our richly diverse society. The last four years of the Muhammadu Buhari presidency has mostly served to sharpen Nigerians’ sense of identity. Rather than coming together in a demonstration of our much touted ‘unity in diversity’, the people of this country have grown more apart than together.

Buhari

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There was perhaps never a time, save during the events of the civil war and the worst months of the June 12 struggles, when the people of this country self-identify as Yoruba, Tiv, Birom, Igbo, Esan and Hausa or Fulani more than the times we live in. When historians of Nigeria’s unfolding history look back in years to come, this willful failure to govern Nigeria along the fault lines of ethnic belonging will be one of the worst legacies of the Buhari years.

President Buhari came into office proclaiming “I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody” but immediately goes into overdrive to prove by almost every single action of his, since that May 29, 2015 proclamation, that he belongs to his own ethnic Fulani and the Hausa in sections of the far north with which the Fulani share ethnic, religious and political affinity, three of the major dimensions along which Nigeria’s tribalisms are defined. In the light of what Nigerians have so far experienced under Muhammadu Buhari, four more years of this administration portends grave danger for the continued corporate existence of this country.

Which is not the same thing as saying that the alternative being offered by the Peoples Democratic Party , PDP, is to be preferred. An Atiku Abubakar-led PDP government will offer nothing more than the same vacuous promises that saw many Nigerians, who knew the grave personal limitations of Muhammadu Buhari, giving him a second chance at this country’s leadership only to be plagued by arguably the worst tribal jihadist that would ever find himself in the saddle of the presidency.

The promise to restructure Nigeria, one of the key attractions of the Atiku/Obi candidacy, was a major element of the All Progressives Congress manifesto that Nigerians bought into. The same way Buhari has found a convenient excuse not to activate this section of the APC manifesto is how Atiku would turn a blind eye to it. What is worse, the auguries are that an Atiku government would be a worse specimen of the corruption-ridden, buccaneer-led contraptions that were previous PDP administrations, especially the ‘no-brake-no-jam’ Jonathan-led house that held forth between 2011 and 2015. Like Buhari, Atiku Abubakar would find a reason to seek a second term in office in spite of his campaign promises not to on grounds of age. To all intents and purposes, then, an Atiku administration cannot be qualitatively different from the present Buhari maladministration.

Yes, like Yemi Osinbajo Peter Obi would be around to act like a stabilising force and give a ‘national’, intellectual face to a Fulani dominated administration but it is the president that will call the shots and the now unseen cabal that would sprout around Atiku in the event he succeeds at the polls would ensure that Obi is kept in check the same way Osinbajo is under Buhari.  Yet, we all know that neither Buhari nor Atiku can hold a candle to the individuals nominated as their deputies. They are indeed far from the best the north can offer but their high name recognition and tribal affiliation has done for them what they neither deserve nor are qualified for by merit.

Nigerians were forced by the unimaginable and freewheeling corruption of the Goodluck Jonathan presidency to cast a benevolent eye on Buhari and entrust their fate in the hands of a former ruler who promised change from our corrupt past- a man who thrice offered to serve but was spurned, and whose supposed integrity made him a perfect foil to the brigands of the Jonathan administration, providing additional reason to give him a second chance. He came into office only to exhibit the worst aspects of those very qualities that discredited his regime as a soldier and led to his ouster from power.

He trusts no Nigerian but those who are Fulani, proclaim the Islamic faith and come from the Hausa-Fulani dominated geographical north. While he seeks the votes of all Nigerians,he is overwhelmingly surrounded by Nigerians who share those same affinities as I have listed above. We should not be measuring our Nigerianness or involvement in governance simply by the number of members of our ethnic, religious or political stock in positions of authority. But it would be both difficult and impossible to look beyond these when a president is so completely shameless and unembarrassed as Buhari is as to find the most competent Nigerians, those fit to occupy every available office, to be Nigerians only from the most educationally backward region of the country.

Where no northerner is immediately available, Buhari stalls until one is found or looks for a reason, however, puerile to shove off the non-Hausa-Fulani occupier of an office. This is no longer a country for all. Buhari is on a project in which he is fast turning Nigerians from other parts of the country into subjects of the Hausa-Fulani. A situation like this, executed in the name of fishing for merit or fighting corruption, can only be acceptable to those tongue-tied by the crumbs they are getting from their master’s table.

It was in the name of corruption that Buhari ousted Walter Onnoghen, the suspended Chief Justice of the Federation. But Onnoghen was never Buhari’s favourite: his was perhaps the one appointment that was made in Buhari’s absence that he did not reverse. He waited until he could find a convenient reason that was tainted with tribal politics, bile and self-interest, to send him packing.

Let’s be clear: Walter Onnoghen was already morally tainted and the only place for him was outside the judiciary. A fair trial following due process can hardly return a different verdict. But Buhari for reasons aimed, among others, at ensuring victory for his party in the February elections chose to jump the gun, leading to the chaotic issuance of injunctions and counter injunctions by elements motivated by mostly tribal considerations. A president that should be the barometer of order is at the very centre of a tribal chaos. In addition to previous flouting of court orders, Buhari’s present actions can only lead him into taking more draconian steps that will undermine his moral authority, leading ultimately to another Venezuela situation in which an opposition is supported by extraneous forces to challenge the legitimacy of an incumbent leader.

 


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