With the swearing of Muhammadu Buhari, the old-guard representing the military clique that mostly ruined the nation and the Northern cabal that has disastrously dominated Nigeria’s leadership since independence has effectively returned to power. Some say it’s a step backwards, some others say Buhari in particular represents change. Whatever people agree or disagree on, the jury is out and in a few days, weeks, months and years Buhari’s actions and inactions will provide a conclusive verdict. Whatever happens, the fact remains that Nigeria is a strange/confused nation that continuously gropes in darkness, this is after all a nation in which the military was rejected and blamed for all the nations woes, yet as democracy returned we have ended up returning the same military personalities we blamed for the nations woes and that their ouster was once celebrated on the streets. A friend of mine lamented that at this rate, General Ibrahim Babangida might yet be recycled to rule the country. And so we ramble on and on with a younger generation that faults the old but cannot find anyone within its ranks to provide leadership.
Buhari for all intents and purposes represents the Northern cabal and his return is yet another example of how Nigeria rambles confusingly. No one can deny that the North and erstwhile successive Northern leaders do not have a good or enviable record in ruling Nigeria. In everything from justice and equality to the economy, nation building and ethnic harmony, infrastructure provision and social justice amongst others, successive Northern leadership was an abject failure. From the pre and post independence leadership of Ahmadu Bello/Balewa, Nigeria’s demise began when both leaders ignored the challenges of ethnic diversity and refused to invest in nation building. Both were rather famous for being inclined to tribalism and for supporting ethnic/regional separateness which largely influenced their pronouncements, policies, actions and inactions. Thus the early opportunity for nation building which would have birthed a harmonious nation was lost and Nigeria has since increasingly evolved into a deeply divided ethnic jungle.
Subsequent Northern leaders such as Ibrahim Babangida, Sanni Abacha et all, fared no better than the Ahmadu Bello/ Tafawa Balewa duo. Indeed, overtime, Northern rule became synonymous with the “born to rule” agenda as discrimination, exclusion, and marginalisation of other ethnic groups became the order of the day. The creation of more states and local governments by fiat in favour of the North, deliberate excision of oil producing areas in the Southeast into neighbouring states, and a systematic domination of strategic federal establishments in the military and elsewhere by Northerners became the norm, while the idea that power was the exclusive birthright of the North was actively pursued, culminating in the annulation of the June 12 elections won by Chief Moshood Abiola and his subsequent murder. Nigeria was thus effectively re-colonised by the North. The resort by Northern leaders to dominate, oppress and exclude other ethnic groups in place of investing in justice, equality, inclusion and other critical aspects of nation building widened ethno-religious cleavages and led to the decades old subsisting campaign for a sovereign national conference (SNC).
The situation was not helped by the fact that Northern leadership and religious leaders tacitly tolerated and even encouraged the frequent slaying of Christians and people of other ethnic groups in the ever so common riots in the North. With apartheid policies of exclusion, injustice and inequality, ethnic militias and other self determination groups began to emerge in response to Northern misrule. In no time, MOSOP, OPC, MASSOB, MEND amongst others grew to become formidable ethnic militias and self determination groups in their respective enclaves owing to the failure to invest in nation building by successive Northern leaders. It is notable, that the peoples and regions that rejected Buhari at the polls did so because of a morbid fear of past injustices by Northern leaders. For many of such people, asking them to vote for Buhari was like asking the Jews to vote for Hitler.
On the social and economic front, Northern rule was similarly a byword for failure. In the 16 year period between 1983 and 1999 of Buhari, Babangida, Abacha and Abdulsalami Abubakar’s successive military administrations, not a single investment in “generative” capacity building infrastructure was made even as the population was growing. For example, not a single refinery, power plant, dam, railway line, sea and river port, telecoms infrastructure, industrial park, federal highways etc was built. At the same time critical infrastructure such as universities, steel plants, textile mills, hospitals, schools etc were allowed to crumble. With Nigeria named for the first time as the most corrupt country in the world in 1996 by transparency international, the toxic malaise of corruption also became consolidated under Northern rule. These acts of omission by Northern leaders led to the beginning stages of the now apocalyptic incidence of youth unemployment and pervasive poverty.
Northern leaders thus failed in all critical areas, which have predictably engendered an existential crisis. The nation is now rocked by terrorism, widening ethnic cleavages and separatist militias. Muhammadu Buhari’s return to power gives both Buhari and the North what is perhaps the last chance to right the wrongs of the past. The North stridently opposed the call for a sovereign national conference fearing as they claimed that it would lead to Nigeria’s break-up, yet the fact remains that the clamour for an SNC and concomitant emergence of ethnic militias was occasioned by the infamous misrule and lack of investment in nation building by past Northern leaders. They now have the chance to invest aggressively in nation building and remove every incentive for break-up if they do not want to ever oppose an SNC or outright push for self determination again.
Nigeria’s remains very fragile due to years of injustice and any major upheaval would no doubt lead to break-up. Running away from a problem or being in denial will not make the problem go away; it will only make the consequence inevitable. All pointers suggest Nigeria is on tenterhooks and denying it just to preserve an unsustainable status quo as some in the North are inclined to do is simply suicidal. Buhari and the North now have the chance to do things differently. They must do away with the born to rule illogicality, shed their discriminatory tendencies and begin a process that emphasises inclusion, equality, social justice and brotherhood. They must urgently undertake the restructuring of Nigeria to allow for adequate levels of true federalism. They must implement the national conference report, the first genuine effort in this democracy for constructive dialogue (unlike Obasanjo’s conference that had the third term agenda hidden within) that individuals from across the country drew up as a panacea to Nigeria’s existential problems. In everything from the appointment of principal officers of the administration, service chiefs, ministers, board directors, ambassadors and the provision of infrastructure across the country they must now demonstrate total inclusion.
After decades of misrule, discrimination, exclusion and marginalisation the North now has a golden opportunity to do things right in the spirit of change with which Buhari campaigned. It’s a simple choice between moving Nigeria forward with nation building or moving backwards with the same old methods of exclusion and born to rule mindset of entitlement. Either way there will be a consequence for good or bad. The jury is out and time will tell!
Lawrence Chinedu Nwobu