Candid Notes

June 23, 2020

Nigeria on the brink

DEMOCRACY, SOVEREIGNTY AND A UNITED NIGERIA: Is right to self-determination a viable option?



By Yinka Odumakin

“If by the year 2000 AD

The unmarried maiden of Samaru

Resolves to remain in purdah

Despite Farida Mustapha

Who cares?

Certainly not Ife”.

THOSE were the closing lines of Yinka Tella’s “Samaru: The Aftermath”. It was written after the nationwide students protests that followed the killing of Farida Mustapha and her colleagues at the Samaru Campus of the Ahmadu Bello University, ABU, in 1986 by trigger-happy policemen.

The killings angered us their colleagues across the country. It was made worse by the insensitive comments of the then Vice-Chancellor of the University, Prof. Ango Abdullahi (now Leader of Northern Elders Forum) on Nigerian Television Authority, NTA, that “only four students were killed”.

Students hit the streets all over the land. I remember how we invaded the prison in Ife and amnestied all the inmates to prove that a criminal state that kills innocent citizens has no moral right to lock up people for petty crimes.

National action

I wonder today what would happen in a different part of the country that would provoke the kind of reaction we showed in another part of the country after the ABU killings.

Do not mistake me as saying that we didn’t have challenges in Nigeria then. Only it was not so manifest as it is today. Those of us who were active in the students movement in the 80s remember clearly how we would call a national action and we would take trains to the North to get a few schools shut after we had put all major schools under lock and key in the South so as to make our action “national”.

Activists of the South would consider it a criminal offence to stage a protest without having some Northern participants even when there may be no such mutual feeling from their counterparts. Nothing typifies what I am saying here than the current wave of protests going on in the North over insecurity there when it is evident that the challenge is all over the country.

That some citizens could actually form “Coalition Against Killings in Northern Nigeria” in the midst of insecurity all over the country is a clear signal that Nigeria has not gone beyond the dual mandate of Lord Lugard who did not seek a nation here but getting “a Northern husband for the Southern lady of means” in a country put together for British sole interest.

Just like Nigeria was only attractive to Lugard in using a section to subsidize the other, post-independence Nigeria has followed that pattern: finding only “national unity” when taking advantage of the other. At every major juncture, we have shown ourselves in unmistakable terms that a Fulani man in Katsina has more sense of belonging and solidarity with a Fulani man from Niger Republic than with a Yoruba, Igbo, Ijaw or even a Tiv man.

This was why the motion moved by Mr. Anthony Enahoro in 1953 that Nigeria should become Independent in 1956 led to division in the parliament, cascading into killings in Kano because there was no sense of solidarity towards nationhood. It was the Action Group, AG and the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroons, NCNC, that were ready for Independence, while the Northern Peoples Congress, NPC and the Northern Element Progressive Union, NEPU, opposed.

Eternal divisions

The eternal divisions by the fault lines of the country came out sharply in the period between the first coup of 1966 and the commencement of the civil war. Thanks to Odia Ofeimun who brought out materials to show that it was the progressives of the North that the conservatives recruited to carry out the pogrom.

In his “Awo and the forgotten documents of the civil war”, he recorded the following: “Allan Feinstein, Mallam’s biographer, had given enough leads to explain the radical leader’s mobilisation of the North before the pogrom. On page 225 of The African Revolutionary, the autobiography of Mallam Aminu Kano, he writes that his subject ‘had to decide what was right for his country and his North… Aminu Kano’s smouldering fear of Southern domination had finally culminated in what he considered a genuine and serious threat to the development of his first love: Northern Nigeria’.

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As it happened, Aminu Kano was arrested in connection with the pogrom in the North but was promptly released for want of evidence. Decades later, as the issues are being memorialised by key actors of that era, the post-coup mobilisation has been coming under new lights. As happened, it was Alhaji Ahmed Joda, a top aide to Major Hassan Usman Katsina, Governor of Northern Region, who was sent by ‘top civil servants’ in Kaduna to meet with Alhaji Maitama Sule in Kano to ‘initiate leadership in getting the people of the North to understand the aims of government’ after the January 1966 coup.

On pages 211-212 of the biography, Maitama Sule, Danmasanin Kano by Ayuba T. Abubakar, it is told of how it was Maitama Sule, an NPC stalwart before the coup, whosuggested that Mallam Aminu Kano was the most suitable, because he was widely respected, never held a government leadership appointment and had the people behind him. Again, he was a leading figure in UPGA…So Maitama arranged for Mallam Aminu to meet Alhaji Joda the following day. Thereafter, Mallam Aminu Kano became the leading consultant for the government and top civil servants and their link with the rest of the North’.  

 In The Story of a Humble Life: An Autobiography, Tanko Yakasai, an Aminu Kano deputy in the Northern Elements Progressive Union, NEPU, authenticates the story: ‘At the beginning, most NEPU members were happy with the military take over. It was only after some few days that they started to think twice about the situation…the way some Igbo traders at Sabongari market in Kano started to treat Northerners’. A meeting was then held in Aminu Kano’s house in Sudawa by old NEPU stalwarts. Aminu Kano ‘drew the attention of the meeting to the apathy pervading the political scene in the North and urged those present to rise up to the occasion; otherwise, it would be difficult to rejuvenate political interest in the people.

The meeting then decided that a tour of the Northern Region should be undertaken to make contact with opinion leaders with a view to alerting them of the danger posed by that situation. The tour was to be undertaken under the guise of paying condolence visits to the families and traditional rulers of those killed during the military take-over… We started from Sokoto, followed by Bauchi and Maiduguri. Within a few weeks, we covered the whole region’(page 221).

Although accused of having joined the NPC, ‘we continued with our mobilisation campaign’, writes Tanko Yakasai. Of course, there were different contact groups mobilizing, sometimes with cross-cutting memberships. They were all to make what seemed a consensual response to Major General Aguiyi Ironsi’s Unification Decree which according to Tanko Yakasai ‘created a lot of fear in the minds of the civil servants and traditional rulers….’. 

Resolving the mess

A protest rally organised in Kano against the Unification Decree turned the seething anger into a region-wide prairie fire that grew into the pogrom against the Igbo and those associated with them. As it happened, the pogrom preceded and accompanied the Revenge Coup of July 29 1966.”

Anybody who understands the history of this country would not find it difficult to understand the baiting that is going on in the North today along the lines of “power is ours for keeps” and the possibility of wanting to resolve the mess we are in for the interest of a section of the country.

It would be difficult to do that given the way Nigeria has been run in the last five years. The ruling party’s victory of 2015 which saw more brooms in the air in the Southern part has been treated as a Jihad victory over the goose that lays the golden egg.

Col. Abubakar Umar has been the lone voice from Arewaland who has spoken so eloquently that this is not how to run a multi-ethnic country. His recent open letter shows this man was no fake in 1993 and most original in 2020.

The North will need several Col.Umars to be able to renew the confidence of the South in common nationhood with the North given the damage that has been done.

This is why any genuine effort to pull Nigeria from the brink must be a joint DEMOCRATIC decision between the North and the South that places great emphasis on federalism based on a truly “We,the people constitution”. Any other thing is a waste of time .