By Ochereome Nnanna
It was a Sunday morning as I came awake shortly after 6.00 am. As usual, I switched on my radio. In those days, it was Radio Nigeria AM and FM channels you were likely to tune to, or BBC Africa. I was just less than four months old as a resident of Lagos, having transferred my services from Minna, Niger State to The Sunday Magazine, TSM, published by Chris Anyanwu and edited by the late Ely Obasi.
The sound of martial music met my ears. Radio Nigeria played classical music a lot. So, when you heard that sort of music you needed to listen for a little while to be sure it was classical music, not martial music, which Nigerian coup plotters delighted in using to announce the change of government. It was not long before the voice of Major Gideon Orkar came on. As a young reporter, I quickly dressed, jumped into the next available yellow bus (molue) and headed for Obalende to cover the coup live! Obviously, few of the commuters knew what was going on.
At that time, Lagos was still the capital of Nigeria. General Ibrahim Babangida’s Federal Military Government was based in Dodan Barracks which is next door to Radio Nigeria and the defunct Federal Secretariat in Ikoyi. What interests me most here is the message that the coup plotters broadcast through Orkar. In terms of objective, it was mostly gibberish, obviously hurriedly cobbled. Three portions of that coup speech are of historical interest because they are very vividly playing out today. According to Orkar: “Another reason for the change is the need to stop intrigues, domination and internal colonisation of the Nigerian state by the so-called chosen few. This, in our view, has been and is still responsible for 90 per cent of the problems of Nigerians”.
“…In recognition of the negativeness (sic) of the aforementioned aristocratic factor, the overall progress of the Nigerian state, a temporary decision to excise the following states, namely: Sokoto, Borno, Katsina, Kano and Bauchi from the Federal Republic of Nigeria comes into effect immediately until the following conditions are met… This clique (what we now call cabal) has an unabated penchant for domination and unrivalled fostering of mediocrity and outright detest (sic) for accountability…”
For the sake of the “millennials”, Sokoto State still had Kebbi and Zamfara in it. Yobe had not been split from Borno State. Jigawa was still part of Kano State, while Gombe had not been carved out of Bauchi State. Instructively, these were 10 of the 12 states that unconstitutionally embraced full sharia law after Governor Ahmed Yerima of Zamfara State launched it in September 1999. This is the core of the Muslim North, Arewa- the territorial theatre of the problematic Sokoto Caliphate.
The coup was not popular because you cannot just dissolve a country like Nigeria at that time with a mere radio broadcast. The students and the masses that Orkar called to come out in their support did not respond. Nigerians were complaining about Northern domination, but they were not ready to do more than that. Had the coup plotters succeeded in toppling Babangida and taking over, the chances were that internal disagreements alone (based on the analysis of Orkar’s indecisive speech) would have undermined them.
Certainly, the excised states would have fiercely responded. In fact, the military governor of the defunct Northern Region, retired Major General Usman Katsina, was reported to have stormed a military facility in Kaduna and comically demanded the key to an armoured car. Whether this happened or not, there would have been serious bloodshed. It is 30 years since this speech was broadcast. What has changed? Was any lesson learned? Haven’t things not gone from bad to worse? Have the germs cultivated by those being accused by Orkar and his comrades not morphed into the monsters that are now destroying the “excised” part of the country from inside? Is Nigeria not on the brink of collapse, as acknowledged by even Buhari’s Minister of Defence, Bashir Magashi?
Orkar hadn’t even seen anything, because now we are no longer just talking about Northern domination, we are now talking about Islamisation and Fulanisation of Nigeria. The sad thing is that a large chunk of the indigenous people being Islamised and Fulanised are still not ready to stand up and defend their lives, property and ancestral patrimonies. Armed strangers have seized their farmlands and forests. Rather than join in the efforts to get rid of these terrorist vermin, they are forming laughable security outfits to fight those who are fighting for them.
As confused as Orkar and his colleagues appeared, they (for the first time in Nigeria’s history) dared to draw a map that vividly existed in the minds of all informed Nigerians but which most of us were too cowardly to admit. Nigeria was divided into the Muslim/Sharia North and the rest: the “Middle Belt and South”. That was long before the formation of the Northern Elders Forum and Arewa Consultative Forum, both of which champion the cause of the old Sokoto Caliphate with pan-Fulani interests at the core of it.
On the other hand, we now have the Southern and Middle Belt Leadership Forum, SMBLF, which now shares common views about the present and future of Nigeria, particularly the “restructuring” agitation. The North and South have continued to drift apart, particularly now that some Northern elements have gone beyond domination and are now claiming to “own” Nigeria as Kano State governor, Abdullahi Ganduje recently told Igbo and Yoruba people.
Northerners are claiming ownership of the resources belonging to the South, including their ancestral lands. When your land and resources now belong to imperialists masquerading as your fellow countrymen, it simply means you are now also their property – slaves!
How much more insults are we willing to swallow? Aisha Buhari once asked: “Where are the men?” Good question!