By Patrick Dele Cole
The first part of this piece published last week underlined the irony of an educationally-disadvantaged North producing majority of personnel in Nigeria’s federal ministries
IS this true or a mere perception, which is intensified when one is in Abuja? The Southerners on the other hand, are never willing to accept their own prejudices viz every Northerner they have seen are the maiguards(security men), money changers, butchers and suya sellers, occasionally a yoghurt or milk seller or itinerant tailor.
By 1970 many Northerners had good degrees from good universities- (again the Southerners would beg to defer, arguing that they got into the university as special case students). How do I know the same preferential treatment was not given them in the final year exams?
I demur, but the perception continued so strongly that the Federal Government sought through education to reduce tribal tension and breed the authentic Nigerian. The Federal Government in the 1970s set up Unity Schools where students from different parts were sent off to.
Those who oppose zoning claim that it is against democracy which is the rule of the majority. If the majority of Nigerians are from the North why should they be denied the right to be president? (Is the Prime Ministership of UK zoned to the Ox-bridge graduates? Over 50 per cent of the UK are from Ox bridge. Is this really an argument, an objection? How does the prime minister of UK emerge from both parties?
Why do we need a leader of Nigeria not a leader of the North ruling over the South and North? Perception is all important in politics; if some sizeable groups feel that they would never be President, to that extent is their ministership of the Nigeria project questionable. Zoning encourages xenophobia: Students from different parts were sent off to school so as to ensure enforced meeting of up and coming Nigerian class. After secondary school, universities were encouraged to accept students from outside the catchment area location of the university, at the National Youth Service Corps one year programme; again working in this scheme of producing true Nigerians, government encouraged the youth corps members to train in states other than their own original states, thereby learning new culture and creating a better rounded Nigerian.
Moreover during the civil war, Nigerian soldiers had been posted around, especially in the East where a large number of senior officers married local women out of love and circumstances. After all, the officers considered themselves Nigerian officers not Igbo, Yoruba or Hausa officers.
Even the perception that the Northern officers were given preferential treatment could not be erased from the minds of non-Northern officers, who constantly, in private conversations, noted how Northern officers flew past them upward of the officer ranks despite earlier qualification, training and excellent record and reports that fried up the files. Too often they complained that when a Chief of Army, Navy, Air Force is chosen, a relatively junior officer is chosen necessitating the mass retirement of all officers senior to the incoming Chief in that arm of the military. Non-Northern officers complained of the insecurity of their tenures to no avail.
The Northern officers were seemingly more modest, less flamboyant. If the officer was not his shortcoming is usually traced to his Southern wife or to some other tryst that he had with a Southern woman- pushy, flashy, get-rich-quick women- impatient for their man’s success. (In a closed society nothing is stronger than rumours; there is no society more closed than the military: there rumours take on the strength, the fervour, the authenticity of the Holy Grail or the commentaries.
Need for healthy competition and answers to the fears of the Northerners or the Southerners and vice versa, to ignore doing so smacks of arrogance- why should I waste my time explaining that Southern or Northern view of each other is wrong, childish. (Try not to explain a suspicion to your wife on the grounds that such suspicion is childish and watch what will happen to your house, family, friends.)
The Southerner and Northerner need to constantly reassure one another of their devotion and their love.
Even so, there are two other toxins in the life of the Nigerian: religion and Middle Belt who to the Northerner is a mongrel, not a pure breed and does not deserve the time and attention of the super Northern pure breed. This veneer, and that is all it is, breaks down when into the Northern toxidity you now add a highly indescribable non- academically provable- the Hausa-Fulani. Where in God’s name do you include a Middle Belter in that categorisation?
Democracy is clear as to race, geography, freedom to elect, equality and tolerance. That freedom includes freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom not to be jailed or arrested when you have broken no law, freedom of worship and assembly. (It is of course true that the father of democracy, the US, failed in all the above instances: jailed people because of the color of their skin, jailed people they did not like, failed to give any American the right to live and do whatever his ability could get him, sold slaves and deprived them of all the elements of democracy). They built institutions, supported robust guard rails to maintain democracy.