The Northernisation of 2023: DIALOGUE WITH NIGERIA By Akin Osuntokun

Akin Osuntokun


“Conscious of this (Northern) hegemony and the fact that it does not have to be incompatible with the progress of Nigeria I have always argued that Northern hegemony per se is not the problem of Nigeria. It is the double jeopardy indicated in its abuse and wanton mismanagement that is the problem”.

Whenever I write on the subject of Northern hegemony in Nigerian politics, I have always found the need to enter this rider to guarantee a fulsome understanding of my premises on the subject matter.
An underlying theme of the post independent political history of Nigeria is what has come to be characterised as a northern agenda and strategy whose defining feature is regional hegemony and supremacy. And it is deployed through three major instruments.

First is the attribution of higher population to the North.

Second is wielding the upper hand in the balance of terror equation.This objective was set in motion by the vision and calculation of the first generation of pre and post colonial northern political elite.
According to the Shehu Yaradua foundation “For the generation of the late Shehu Yar’adua for instance, ‘joining the army in 1962 was a statement of political faith. A politically better informed Northern elite had come to recognise the neglected significance of the military in independent Nigeria. President Mohammadu Buhari equally weighed in ‘”the Emir of kano told one of us that if soldiers could overthrow a line of kings descended directly from the prophet in Syria, it could happen anywhere. So we should go and join the army’”.

Third is a pan Islamic isolation and insulation of the northern region from the cosmopolitan accretion of european modernisation especially British missionary activities (with the inherent effect of rendering the masses malleable and captive to politico-religious manipulation).This was the condition precedent that the northern traditional and political elite requested at the entry point of their colonial incorporation into amalgamated Nigeria. The request suited the ulterior motive of the colonialists to be spared the burden of direct governance of the region-on account of which the British readily acquiesced.

The ensuing rapport marked the commencement of a mentor/protege relationship between the two that views Nigeria through the prism of the Northern standpoint.
The deleterious effect of this dispensation (to which the British are complicit) is the attendant weaponisation of ignorance and stratified class system predicated on a pseudo theocratic order. These three elements: a permanently contrived higher population advantage; stranglehold over the powers of coercion and the insulation of the electorate from extra regional political mobilisation and recruitment, have combined to vest the regional political elite with the semblance of a veto power over the political direction of Nigeria. The power rotation convention was directed at the mitigation of making this veto a relative rather than an absolute power politics instrument. The question that arises is how has this foregoing understanding play out in the current electoral cycle?

The first significant categorical challenge to the power rotation assumption emanated from the ranks of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP with the show stopper postulation by my big brother Raymond Dokpesi. In playing John the baptist to the candidacy of vice-president Atiku Abubakar he advanced the thesis ‘that the only chance the PDP has in winning the 2023 presidential election is by fielding in a northern candidate, specifically from the North-east zone and preferably the former Vice President Atiku Abubakar’.

Prior to this statement of intent, the Atiku Abubakar faction of the party had railroaded Dr Iyorchia Ayu into office as party chairman. With Ayu (from the North) as chairman, the two-plus-two-equals-four-equation is the presupposition that the presidential candidate of the party will emerge from the other half of the country. Right? Wrong.

Impervious to the supposition and the bigger assumption of power rotation, Abubakar emerged the presidential flag bearer of the PDP.

Lurking in the corner and aiming to take a cue from the outcome of the PDP presidential primaries, the APC actually postponed its presidential primaries to tailor its political calculations accordingly. Regardless of the twists and turns on the road to the primaries, the APC passed the muster test of the power rotation political correctness with the emergence of Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu as the presidential candidate. Or so it seemed.
What the party gave with the right hand, it took back with the left hand when Tinubu and the party caucus settled for a Muslim as his vice-presidential candidate namely Senator Kashim Shettima.

Now, the former governor of Borno state is not just another Northern muslim, he came loaded. He was governor of the Borno state epicentre at the height of the fury of the insurgency. If the suspicion is correct that there was an opaque relationship between the northern political elite and the Boko Haram insurgents, all fingers point at Shettima as the manager of such a pact. For good measure, he has let the cat out of the bag that as potential vice-president he is going to usurp the powers of his health compromised principal and function as the defacto president.
The inference from the pandering of these two presidential tickets is that the Muslim North electorate has become a deity whose wrath can only be appeased with a clear political acknowledgement of its preeminence and superiority to the other segments comprising the Nigerian population.

If the PDP had chosen a northern muslim as its candidate, the APC believes the only way it can match this appeasement is by doubling down on its Islamic credentials. Hence the Muslim Muslim presidential ticket of Tinubu and Shettima. Which leaves us with the only balanced ticket among the contenders, the Peter Obi/Baba-Ahmed pair and to which any hope of the salvation of Nigeria belongs.

Governor Nyesome Wike is not my cup of tea but regardless of his motives, he is spot on with the categorical request that once Abubakar emerged as the PDP presidential candidate, Ayu, from the north, should not hold the position of the party chairman, a minute longer. I cannot imagine any wanton abuse of the winner takes all mentality worse than an argument to the contrary.

If ever there was a needless provocation, this is one. By what definition of equity and justice can we claim the retention of Ayu is the right thing to do? How does the resultant aggravation of the North/South divide square with the advertisement of Vice-President Atiku Abubakar as a political unifier? Wike has thus been handed full measure of the propaganda field and has ceased it with characteristic indignation and bluster. He rails
“We have finished presidential primaries, we have a presidential candidate. Is Wike saying remove presidential candidate? Is Wike saying remove vice & presidential candidate? So, what are you begging me for? All I am saying, and I will continue to say is that you have taken president, give us (national) chairman.
“I’ve accepted the presidential candidate, I have accepted the vice-presidential candidate, what’s the problem again. You, fulfil your part. Let the South have something, that is all I’m preaching. You cannot have presidential candidate, national chairman, director general of the campaign.”
‘The Governor said it was hypocritical for some people in the PDP to criticise Muslim/Muslim ticket, while supporting that a particular region of the country should retain the presidency for another eight years’ He insisted that for the sake of holistic peace, PDP should adhere to the tenets of its constitution, which explicitly recommended that when a presidential candidate emerged from the north, the national chairman should be from the South’. In the event, the PDP presidential ticket has been hemorrhaging profusely in the South partly of its own making and partly on account of the inadvertent factor of the Peter Obi presidential run.

Smarting from this pressure, Abubakar has found the compulsion to play the northern ethnic card by increasingly casting himself as the northern candidate out to do battle with the Igbo and Yoruba. Not quite in character, Abubakar charged “I think what an average northerner needs is somebody from the north who understands other parts of Nigeria and who has been able to build bridges across the country. That is what the north needs,” Mr Abubakar said in a now viral video. “It (Northern Nigeria) doesn’t need a Yoruba candidate or an Igbo candidate. This is what the northerners need. So I believe I stand before you as a pan-Nigerian of Northern origin.” You get the drift?

The 2023 Census

It has been announced that the census exercise schedule for April 2023 will cost Nigeria one hundred and ninety billion naira. Given the reputation of the Mohammadu Buhari presidency for profligacy, corruption and crass ineptitude, the chances are that the Nigerian census scheduled for April 2023 may not hold or that the exercise will end up in shambles and a substantial fraction of the budgeted amount would have found its way into private pockets. Why the stampede?. Why not leave the task to the incoming administration?

Against the background of the excitement and alacrity with which the Attorney General, Abubakar Malami typically rushed to announce the acceptance to pay an alarming judgment debt of four hundred and ninety six million dollars in dubious circumstances not long ago, it seems that the expenditure this government prioritises are those that are amenable to the rule of kleptocracy.
Speaking to the tragic circumstances Nigeria finds itself, my friend, the 14th Emir of kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi ” says our problem are of our own making where a small number of rent seekers become billionaires just from FX arbiratage and oil subsidies. CBN gives you $1 million at 400 Naira, you round trip and sell for 700 Naira, making N300 million profit, round tripping, for doing nothing”.
Characterising the oil subsidy regime in which it is claimed that Nigeria consumes 66 million barrels a day as massive fraud, Sanusi compares Nigeria to Pakistan.”Nearly same population, yet Nigeria claims to consume 3 times more fuel than Pakistan. How? You need 2,000 tankers of 33,000 liters to be moving daily, to distribute 66 million liters a day. All this does not make any sense at all”

In tandem with the removal of the notoriously fraudulent oil subsidy; a global encompassing economic recession and its domestically manufactured counterpart; the prevalence of a mishmash of terrorism and banditry that pervades the country; and the big elephant in the room namely the February general elections, you do not need a crystal ball to project that Nigeria is headed for a massive turbulence of mayday proportions.

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