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March 23, 2024

Why nobody is talking about yorubanisation after fulanisation, by Ugoji Egbujo

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Ugoji Egbujo

Before becoming the President, Tinubu was well-known for his ability to discover and nurture talents. He didn’t discriminate based on religion or tribe. Despite being a Muslim, his wife was a Pentecostal pastor. During his tenure as governor, he appointed an Igbo commissioner, proving that ethnic and religious affiliations didn’t hold any meaning for him.

As the governor of Lagos, he handpicked skilled and talented individuals from across the region, regardless of their background. Tinubu was known for being open-minded, businesslike, and cosmopolitan. Executive positions were given to those who had earned them. Everyone, settlers and indigenes, belonged. Lackeys were given redundant positions in the state legislature and tasked with managing the motor parks. Although critics were quick to point out land-grabbing shenanigans, no one ever accused him of tribalism.

Now, the man is President. The Chief of Army Staff, the Police Inspector General, the Customs Comptroller General, the Comptroller General of Immigration and the EFCC chairman are all from one tribe. Some of the president’s kinsmen cringe at the scale of tribalism in the air. In many African countries, the distribution of economic and security positions among different ethnic groups affects the balance of power. While uneven distributions do not always lead to development and benefits for the poor, they can cause feelings of marginalization and affect the country’s stability and unity. The combined weight of an astute political President, Chief Justice of the federation, Police Inspector General, Attorney General and EFCC Chairman is an inequitable concentration of criminal justice powers in the hands of a single ethnic group. This is the precise mischief the federal character law was supposed to cure. 

Tribalism  in this administration is often overlooked because Tinubu  presents it in an intellectual way. He is not accused of promoting Yoruba dominance, as the Yoruba culture values equality and progress. However, Tinubu has successfully placed many of his tribe’s members in critical positions, such as the CBN governor, Finance Minister, CG Customs, Minister of Blue Economy, and Minister of Solid Minerals. Together with the President, who also holds the position of substantive Oil and Gas minister, they control the economy. Despite this, the public does not seem to be agitated by  tribalism, as he is seen as a talent hunter who simply wants to work with the best people, albeit from his tribe. So unlike Buhari who was accused of Fulanization nobody talks Yorubanization.

There are those who argue that the Chief of Defense Staff, the Minister of Defense, and the National Security Adviser are from other ethnic groups. These positions are vital to security. However, it’s easy to see that the most crucial security positions are held by the President, Chief of Army Staff and Police Inspector General. When all three of these positions are occupied by members of the same ethnic group, it effectively concentrates security power within a single tribe.

More was expected from Tinubu. Seasoned politicians are eternally conscious of optics. Balancing is critical for national unity in multiethnic states. Much more was expected of Tinubu. Tafawa Balewa was Prime Minster, but the Sarduana, Ahmadu Bello, was the politician. Shagari was a teacher and didn’t have the gravitas. Abiola didn’t happen. Obasanjo was shooed in by the military and lacked the temperament and experience in party politics, yet his outlook was totally national. Yaradua seemed broad-minded in the short time he was there. Jonathan was accidental, and the shoes seemed too big for him. But he didn’t concentrate power in any one region. Buhari was a soldier who liked to be aloof to party politics to retain righteousness. His outlook was narrow, partly clannish. Tinubu was supposed to be the man who knew the terrain and would bring the best hands from all sides and unite the country. But he has started predominantly with his people. 

When Buhari practised his tribalism, it often came off as coarse. Malami was made Attorney General. He was haphazard and didn’t inspire anyone. Yet he lasted eight years. Many felt that Buhari’s sectional bias was complicated by the tolerance of mediocrity. But  tribalism under Tinubu is a bit different. Yes, another Yoruba man is now the DG of NIMASA in a seemingly unending furtherance of the awalokan philosophy. And yes, nobody bothers to keep count of how many cash cows are sent Southwestward any longer. However, only a few have accused Tinubu of foisting abject mediocrity on the country by his tribalis. Tinubu’s worst appointments have been those he picked from elsewhere. A certain loquacious woman from Anambra for minster. Because those he picked from the Southwest appear more acceptable on paper than many of those from other places, his tribalism appears purposeful, sophisticated.

The Attorney General’s credentials are beyond questioning. The Inspector General of Police appears well-groomed and intelligent. Despite initial doubts, the EFCC Chairman comes across as intelligent. The Chief of Army Staff has a background in combat and had dealt with bandits in the Northwest. The Finance Minister and CBN Governor had worked with the President on the Lagos project and received praise. However, when Tinubu selected a minister from Kano, he chose a nondescript individual with colourless pedigree. From Zamfara, he chose Matawalle. The outcome of selecting more individuals from Yorubaland and choosing the better ones from there is a relentless concentration of power in that ethnic group. 

Tinubu’s tribalism might appear innocuous, but it’s a dangerous furtherance of a bad precedent. Nigeria is not Turn By Turn PLC. It can’t be a coincidence that all the positions and more that folks had accused Buhari of cornering for the North have fallen to the Yoruba. If every president secures the most critical security and economic positions for his tribe, then the country is in deep trouble. Tribalism, even the colourful ones like Tinubu’s, deepens divides. If the government seeks all-out merit, then we must abolish federal character and pursue merit with dispassionate honesty. So we can select players like the Super Eagles and Olympic contingents. But suppose we still feel that all sections must be carried along until we achieve the degree of cohesion that will allow absolute and blind meritocracy. In that case, we must allow all tribes to get equal portions of meat, soup and fufu, in democratised meritocracy.  

But why is Tinubu now a practical apostle of tribalism? Some had blamed Buhari’s tribalism on his desire to compensate the North for always voting him. Some had argued that he had always haboured a provincial mindset with which he championed Miyetti Allah interests. Others said it was down to the born-to-rule mentality. Whatever it was, Buhari always looked uninterested in politicking and cornering advantages for any ulterior aims. In contrast, Tinubu’s tribalism can’t be about rewarding electoral support from his region. He lost his home state, Lagos. Yet most of the juicy appointments have gone to those associated with Lagos. Some say his tribalism flows from his desperation for trusted hands, ending with people who had worked with him and those they recommended. This untenable altruistic explanation casts Tinubu as a sectional politician in the eyes of some people. The character of his tribalism, many now believe, reveals a kingmaker attribute seeking to dominate by cementing and empowering a political dynasty. 

Regardless of the logic behind tribalism, when a president defies optics, equity, unity, and posterity to concentrate economic and security positions in his tribe, dismissing criticism as ignorance or meddlesomeness, he must be carefully watched. His statesmanship has depreciated.