By Rotimi Fasan
ONE of the immediate gains of the pro-democracy fight against military rule was the shift of power from the north to the south. At the time Olusegun Obasanjo was inaugurated as an elected president in 1999, the country had been under northern leadership for about thirty-five years!
There was no way such an arrangement could have engendered any sense of belonging in the people excluded from power.
Although some northerners were and are still disingenuous enough to argue that most of those who presided for those thirty-five years of northern dominance were unelected dictators, what they cannot deny is the glaring fact that the benefits of those decades of northern leadership, most of which never reached the average northerner on the street, went to the north. If nothing else, those years gave the north an unfair advantage in shaping or determining the contours of political power and the gains (personal or collective) from there.
It also imbued the northern politician, if not the average northerner, with a sense of entitlement to leadership positions in the country. It was, therefore, a matter of time before the likes of Maitama Sule, a northern politician and former Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the United Nations, drew up an invidious bucket list of qualities that Nigerians from each of the dominant parts of the country are best endowed with.
The minority groups, as far as Sule’s list is concerned, do not appear to possess those carefully chosen qualities he had ascribed to the majority. Thus for him, the Yoruba West should, with their educational advantage and technocratic skills, be in charge of the country’s economy, its business and banking sectors. The Igbo East, again for Sule, have qualities that conduce with managing the commercial sector- buying and selling. Note that the West and the East are ascribed largely economic and by that definition productive responsibilities.
But for the north, Sule announced without any sense of irony, the political leadership of the country should be in their hands. If ours was Plato’s Republic, in other words, the north should produce the philosopher-king. In the peculiar Nigerian system, this is a figurehead position that is in sync with the monkey-dey-work-baboon-dey-chop governance model that had subsisted up till the end of twentieth century Nigerian history and which the reconditioned soldier, Muhammadu Buhari, is again trying dangerously to reinvigorate with his pattern of appointments that is largely skewed to favour members of his family and/or Nigerians from the north. For a man like Buhari who thrice contested and failed to win the presidency on the sole mandate of the north, this is like biting to the marrow the fingers that fed him.
Although he parades himself as the Nigerian president who fights corruption but Major-General Buhari cannot trust Nigerians from outside the north and so he surrounds himself with his family members and associates from the north. To every twenty northerners he appoints to national positions, he appoints one southerner- usually from the Yoruba west to provide sop for his political supporters from that part. The Igbo East, for being among the “five per cent” that did not vote for him, as against the “97 per cent” (not 95 per cent as opposed to Buhari’s strange arithmetic) who did, must continue to languish in the outer darkness of political exclusion. Nothing could be more mean-spirited.
Following the shift of power from the north in 1999, it became something of an unwritten rule among the dominant political parties that, thenceforth, the presidency should rotate between the north and the south. This template has been followed until Goodluck Jonathan, by no design of his, took over as vice president to finish Umar Yar’Adua’s unfinished term. Ever since some northerners have been clamouring to claim and finish up Yar’Adua’s unused years including, apparently, the second term nobody was sure he would have won. Jonathan was badgered and harassed with all kinds of distractions. Both subtle and open encouragement was provided to the insurgents in the north-east until the insurgents started turning on some of their northern sponsors/supporters. Jonathan’s own inability to manage power lead to the emergence of Buhari in 2015. Now Buhari’s second term is coming to an end, the groundwork is already on to throw up another northerner to replace him if he could not extend his tenure.
Let those who want to continue to deceive themselves, let them choose to be blind to the glaring injustice of the Buhari regime that is programmed to ensure northern, specifically Fulani, ascendancy. Let the patriots who want continue to disparage others they describe as ethnic champions or tribalists while being blind to the polarisation being caused by arguably the most narrow-minded ruler that ever blighted the leadership of Nigeria. One that is carelessly fomenting disaffection among otherwise friendly Nigerians. Today states like Niger describe themselves as “power state” and elsewhere from the north, Nigerians are inundated with the “born-to-rule” legend of rogue politicians.
Suddenly, we now hear northern politicians boldly rejecting rotation as an unwritten rule of governance. They posture as advocates of merit and objectivity in their open disavowal of “rotational presidency”. The likes of Nasir El Rufai, whose ambition to be president is well known is committing to “competence” and “merit”. Just this past Sunday, another northern politician, so-called buharist simply named Umar, waxed eloquent on the issue to The Sun: “Why should Nigerians be afraid that power will still return to the North?… I don’t support the zoning of national elections of political offices. After 20 years of democracy, we should be looking for competence and not zone… I still feel we should have a patriotic Nigerian, nationalist, selfless person as president, if he comes from the North, so be it!”
Is it not curious that the same northerners who were the leading, if not, the sole advocates of the federal character principle have now found a favourite song in merit? Quota system is no longer useful or en vogue, it is now southerners that are invoking this affirmative principle of belonging. What happened? Is it because the educational gulf between the north and the south has been closed in a single leap? Far from it!
The point is that over the years northerners, with their stranglehold on political power and their shamelessly nepotistic exercise of it, have filled every significant positions with their ilk. They can afford to do without “quota” now while mouthing “One Nigeria” that is controlled from Abuja. This is what Buhari is about. It’s now no-man’s-land with “RUGA” and “visa-on arrival” policy. They’ve scrapped the “catchment area” requirement for admission into federal universities, imposed the IPPIS on them because Abuja is corruption-free, and can withhold funding from any southern university bold enough to question their moves.