Tuesday, May 20, 2014 5:44 pm
By Kanayo Esinulo
Some say with a remarkable measure of historical accuracy that it would be very difficult for the peoples of southern part of Nigeria to ever unite. They argue that if the components that make up South of the republic try to achieve any form of unity, there are political forces in the North whose specific assignment is to ensure that ‘our brothers in the South remain divided because any unity of the South derails our ambition to continue to preside over the affairs of Nigeria’.
It is this fear that if the southern part achieves unity and pursues political goals as a united geo-political entity, the North would be unable to monopolise power, as it has done for 40 years since 1959, and dictate who heads what in the federal bureaucracy, the economy and the military and intelligence services. For decades, this British script worked perfectly for the North, but the events that followed June 12, 1993 presidential election in Nigeria clearly opened the eyes of those who believed that northern political leaders were willing to share political power with their compatriots in the South.
Interestingly, the North was willing and prepared to share power with the only man that its leaders have ever trusted, Olusegun Obasanjo. That is the man the North has confidence in, and can do business with if that would make the southern part a little happy and pacified. When General Murtala Muhammed died in the circumstance in which he did, the North reluctantly accepted Obasanjo as a successor. It wanted General T.Y. Danjuma to take over. When it finally made up its mind to allow Obasanjo to hold power in trust, it quickly gave Colonel Shehu Musa Yar’Aduah double promotion, appointed him second-in-command, obviously to be its eyes and ears at the seat of power, but more importantly, to checkmate any possible excesses by Obasanjo or any departure from the northern script.
In the intervening years, the formation of Northern Governors’ Forum should be seen, not as an accident or a mechanical workshop put in place to construct ideas for development. It is essentially a political machine that pursues the political agenda of the North and to ensure that the South is properly kept in check.
The North has always been smarter and more futuristic in its thinking and pursuits than the southern part. When it decided to release Chief Obafemi Awolowo from prison in August 1966, it was clearly a deft political move that oiled the strategic alliance the North needed in its determination to deal with the Eastern Region at the time for the sad events of Saturday, 15 January 1966 – a military coup led by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, a native of Okpanam in the then Mid-West Region, an igbo, but born and brought up in Kaduna. The North needed the friendship of the popular Obafemi Awolowo and his Western Region.
And it worked out as planned. But soon after Awolowo’s usefulness was fully utilised, and was no longer important to its political calculations and strategic interests, the sage was frustrated out of the Federal Executive Council, and the North continued its internal colonisation of the South, as planned. By mid-1975, every suggestion by democratic forces for military rule to end was rebuffed by Yakubu Gowon and the forces he controlled. Then, serious cracks occurred in the northern military establishment and Gowon was sacked. Another northerner, Murtala Muhammed, took over power.
It has always been the same brand of music. When the civilian fraction of northern political establishment appeared to be losing power, as was the case with President Shehu Shagari, its military wing would come to its rescue. That was what happened in December 1983 when General Muhammadu Buhari and forces loyal to him sacked Shagari. When a crack again occurred within the military wing, Buhari was removed, detained and General Ibrahim Babangida took over and remained there for nine years. That was the ping-pong game that the North played with Nigeria and with our future.
Northern political elite determined what particular political direction Nigeria should go, and only if it suited the North’s political calculations and agendum. I recall that when Nigerians went to the London Constitutional Conference, the three major political parties then were there with three different positions about the future of Nigeria. The Northern People’s Congress, NPC, was in favour of confederation. The National Council of Nigeria and Camerouns, NCNC, wanted unitary form of government. The Action Group, AG, wanted nothing but federalism.
When confederation and unitary forms failed to fly at the Conference, NCNC and NPC had to accept federalism. It was Awolowo’s federal position that carried the day. When Major-General JTU Aguiyi-Ironsi took over power after the January 1966 coup, he wanted to try the unitary system after promulgating Decree 34. The North kicked. Its top civil servants in Kaduna and Lagos activated their military wing, and on 29 May 1966, the North struck, but only to test the waters.
Ironsi’s response was to try to placate and pacify them. They then struck decisively in the early hours of 29 July, seized Ironsi while he was in Ibadan on an official visit, and also took along his host, good man Col. Adekunle Fajuiyi, when the latter insisted that the Supreme Commander should not be humiliated that way. Within hours, the two men were brutally murdered. The pogrom had started. Gowon emerged and tried to calm the rampaging northern troops by explaining that they should stop “now that power has gone back into the hands of another northerner”.
For Nigeria, it has been one crisis after another. And these crises are traceable to the feeling within the conservative circles in the North that power has slipped off their hands for long. This can be seen from the treasonable letter by the governor of Adamawa State, Murtala Nyako, a retired Vice-Admiral and former Chief of Defence Staff, to his brother governors of the 19 northern states, in which he accused the federal government of ‘genocide’. It is characters like Nyako that have brought Nigeria to where it is today. It is ‘leaders’ like Nyako and the Lamido of Adamawa, Alhaji Dansido, a Camerounian and Nyako’s townsman, that have caused Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and even Ghana to overtake us. They were all post-colonial territories almost at the time as Nigeria.
The on-going National Conference in Abuja, in my view, offers the people of the South a unique and historic opportunity to liberate the southern area from decades of internal colonialism, by insisting that Nigeria should move back to the 1963 Constitution. Anything short of that would mean the continuation of the existing contradictions in our society. Every region or state should develop at its own pace and with its resources pursue its preferred route to development. True federalism or even the confederation the North canvassed at the London Conference should be on the table. We expect so much from southern delegates, who must constantly read the body language of those that believe that Nigeria is for them to rule, dominate and exploit.
– Kanayo Esinulo, kanayoesinulo.com