BasseyUbong

THE NIGERIA PROJECT AND THE MYTH OF NORTHERN DOMINATION

Few analyses of the Nigerian story and situation have been as incisive and robust as the one in a video clip sent to me by a colleague and friend, Dr Amini. It is the work of Barrister Tony Nnadi, who says he is the Secretary of Lower Niger Congress as well as Movement for New Nigeria (I hope I’m right). It is detailed and factual though as in every human effort, it has limitations which some people would term fatal flaws. Nonetheless, it is one in the series of posts that highlight the Nigerian condition with the central issue being Fulani hegemony or domination now or in the near future. My thesis is that this position is a myth rather than reality.

The first thing in this brief is to place two things in context. The first is the word myth. Myth in ordinary, regular use refers to something imagined and which is not verifiable. My position – very personal – is that Northern domination is an imagination, cannot be statistically proved and is basically a dream or wishful thinking. This position is based on the assumption that domination in a political setting should be seen primarily in the context of economics and state power. Others are secondary. The second context is on the concept of ‘nation.’ I first became intrigued by this concept when Professor J. D. Okoh submitted during the 3rd Sir Francis Ellah Memorial Lecture at the Federal College of Education (Technical), Omoku that Nigeria is yet to attain nationhood. As at now, it is better to call it a country. Why this shocking position? Read the definition of Wikipedia’s 2020 definition of the word nation: “A nation is a stable community of people formed on the basis of a common language, territory, history, ethnicity, or psychological make-up manifested in a common culture.” Really? Does dear Nigeria manifest any of the above characteristics? The clear answer is no. Stability? No, for there are pockets of wars everywhere, within tribes and religions and between tribes and religions. Language? No, for we have more than 500.  Territory? No, for demarcation can be established even using land except that Abuja appears to have provided a bridge head between the North and the South. History? No, for our history is as diverse as our languages. My Ibo brethren say they are from Israel for instance and Middle Belters make various claims. Ethnicity? Absolute no, for within Ibibio ‘nation’ alone one can count Annang, Oron, Eket, Ibeno, Uruan, Okobo, all with distinct languages and cultures making us wonder whether there really is an Ibibio nation.

The critical characteristic of “psychological make-up” to create a national culture or world view should have defined Nigeria and made it a nation the way the USA is a nation.

The founding fathers of the US accepted the diversity in race, nationality, and culture and went on to craft a constitution that announced equality of persons and the American dream. Continue to be Caucasian, African, Chinese, Indian, European but pledge allegiance to the flag, the national anthem, and the principles of democracy and unity of purpose, excellence, and the desire to attain any height. With these, you are an American. All individual characteristics are given second place. In spite of everything, arrest an American citizen at Abuja or London or Beijing today, the American President will issue a statement. Arrest a Nigerian? Even the Embassy at the location would likely ask first of your surname before acting.

 Yes, discrimination in the US continues on the basis of race, tribe, tongue, and economic status yet a commanding majority hold onto the founding ideals and practice it.

This is where Nigeria is currently failing and remains a country and even the unfinished project of 1914 (which Tony Nnadi argues expired in December 2013 after 100 years).

Let me argue on the phrase “currently failing” used above. In 2017 or thereabout an airport staff at Port Harcourt came to me to appeal that I should temporarily adopt a girl, about 12 years old so that she could be allowed to fly because underaged children are not allowed to fly unaccompanied. The girl, Hauwa, was going to Abuja for holidays. She is from Adamawa State. I accepted but felt intrigued and asked the bold baby girl why she was in Port Harcourt. She said she was attending a private secondary school and was in JSS 1. Why not Abuja or North with schools of equivalent quality? She did not know. I delivered her to her elder siblings at the airport and left.

By sheer coincidence, a man joined me at dinner at Akwa Ibom Guest House opposite NCCE, Abuja that evening. He introduced himself as the incumbent Nigerian Ambassador to Libya at that time. I told him my experience earlier that day and he sighed and asked me whether I was aware that once upon a time a Fulani was the Mayor of Enugu. I said no. He then told me that when he informed his parents that he had been posted to Anambra State they simply prayed for him and sent him off. There was no fear, no misgivings. He made permanent friends there as I did in Ondo State about four decades ago when I went for NYSC. He confessed that it is difficult to know where things went wrong and why we are so disunited today. Evidently Hauwa’s family is comfortable with Nigeria. The ‘currently’ above implies that the intense divisions in Nigeria are mostly post-Civil War developments.  Now some persons in the North have planted so much fear in Southerners that the idea of NYSC beyond Middle Belt is objectionable. How many Northern youths dare to attend school in the South now? Nigerians used their arrows to shoot themselves on the thigh. One day the correct, unemotional history of commencement of destructive ethnicity in Nigeria will be told.

Now to my main point. The hue and cry over dominance by the North and specifically the Fulani, in my opinion, is a myth. You dominate a group when you control the economy and the bureaucracy. The ongoing outcry is based mainly on the appointment of Northerners and in particular Fulanis to top offices and headship of Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs) by President Buhari. But who executes policy? Is it not public servants? And who dominates in that group? I recall for instance when IBB came to Akwa Ibom and announced the establishment of the Federal University of Technology at Uyo. It was the public servants that eventually set up the University of Uyo as a regular, not technical university.

There is no doubt that heads do have a strong influence on the policy which includes the allocation of resources. But there is a limit to such powers.

My argument that North is at present not dominating based on two planks: 1st, to see absolute poverty in Nigeria, go northwards. For example, with so much ado about Kaduna, the real city is evident at the outskirts. There is grinding poverty. Whatever the oligarchs have taken from the national purse have gone to their families, not the majority. How many villages in the North have electricity and pipe-borne water to date? Several communities in the West had two, four decades ago.

My second plank is derived from the first. The bourgeois families have made no effort to position the North for socioeconomic development as a basis for dominance. How many people know that in spite of the worldwide effort of Rotary and other organizations, the wild poliovirus exists in only three countries today – Nigeria, Pakistan, and Bangladesh? The Northern elite and religious leaders failed to counter the rumour that vaccines have religious purposes (unfortunately some Christians have joined this war cry on vaccines that are yet to be developed). Who knows whether the elite purposely allows these things so as to perpetuate their dominance, the reason you have the almajeris? Why should the North harbour a poverty-entrenched class called almajeris after the trillions of oil money pumped into the North? Why would the North not by now provide free education, good jobs, and houses for their youths the way it is done in Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and other Arab states that are rich in crude petroleum?

A week ago, I read a social media post of intense interest. A Northerner announced plans to use crude oil money to build industries and infrastructure up North. My question was, where were these people all these years? Are they just waking up from sleep? Some Northern oligarchs own oil blocks in the Niger Delta. What have they been doing with the money? How many factories are in the North? Why should they not have built factories to process groundnuts and export the finished products? Is there any effort towards sustainable groundnut pyramids anywhere?

Meanwhile, the failure of the Northern elite is the failure of Nigeria. Other than Lagos State, which other states can survive for one month without Federal allocation? Darkness is falling, not only where I am writing this piece but in entire Nigeria. Reason? Not only is crude oil a wasting asset and reserves will be depleted in about 25 years but as at today, no one is buying what has been mined while the tankers we hired are incurring demurrage in dollars! To compound the problem, developed countries are desperately researching into alternative, cleaner sources of energy. If found, our reserves will become local resources attracting zero dollars. Bear in mind that crude oil generates 90% of Nigeria’s foreign exchange and we import everything from a toothpick to SUVs (the houses on wheels we wrongly call Jeep). The bleak future of crude petroleum informed the decision of the USA to start extraction of crude oil from shale and to reduce the stock of US oil reserves because crude oil could become dispensable in one or two decades.  They are now importing less and less oil thus depending on their reserves.

United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain and others have ploughed their oil wealth into money- generating businesses of and for the future. Nigeria is spending hers renovating National Assembly building and paying each legislator over a billion Naira every year. And we keep shouting Northern domination. Is the current Speaker of House of Representatives not a Yoruba man? If the House legislates new, realistic, and sustainable salaries will it give them cough? The sparrow in the fire is disappearing into the ash yet those waiting to eat it are clapping, saying it is only giving out the oil.

My people, there is no Northern domination because even their elite do not have the capacity for long term control reason being misapplication of funds at their disposal. They literarily ‘eat’ the cash! What the Northerners at the fringe should do is to go to school. The opportunities over there are vast. Then they should expand their coasts individually. Those who look at Federal appointments and believe that the North is dominating are into self-deceit. The select families since independence are the select beneficiaries till date while the poor have been successfully fed the idea of divinely ordained poverty.

For Southerners, education must continue to be a priority along with self-development economically. Government of States should plough the little allocation they receive into long term productive projects that have multiplier potentials. There are too many uncompleted projects and waste of funds in the South. During my last visit to Imo State, I was sad that well-conceived and beautifully constructed hospitals started by Governor Okorocha are in bush in I think all the LGAs. He had eight years yet did not complete those hospitals and believe it or don’t, Ibos have the poorest road networks in Nigeria. What do they their governments do? Blame Federal government of course. Aba under Sam Mbakwe became so clean; immediately he left, it sank back into filth. Is the mega poultry project still functioning? Completion of the hospitals in Imo State will be costlier now than starting afresh. Should we blame Fulanis for that? The Holy Book says when you use the little you have been given; more will be given to you.

Then, it is normal that after elections governance takes place. States play politics of attrition for four years and now, 2023 election is in the air with money stashed away for it. Come to Akwa Ibom – there are newspapers and radio stations set up and dedicated to abusing the Governor and his government. Nobody puts forward workable ideas for the common good as is done in Britain by opposition parties.

Let us reduce the decibel on politics and concentrate on responsible governance. Governments are meant to provide enabling environment for private or individual effort for government cannot do everything. Crying wolf where there is none is an avoidable distraction.

One more thing. What about the argument that Nigeria is not yet a nation? I think it has to with the issue of “common interest” which a dictionary attached to the concept of nation. Common interest should arise when the groups comprising the entity have agreed on the reason for their coming together and the terms and conditions thereof. There is indeed no rallying point or commonality of interests in the Nigeria Project. The interests of the units are as diverse as the peoples, the tribes, and the tongues. The current talk, for instance, is that some persons want to actualize the dream of Uthman dan Fodio to make Nigeria a Fulani Caliphate. I have no proof of that as yet. This is regarded as the preeminent interest of the Fulanis.

 Some people basically want the oil wealth and so they hobble on till oil is exhausted before they declare which fragment, they want to be part of. That is an interest. Some Nigerians just want to live and enjoy what the Creator has to offer. They don’t have any compelling interest that should warrant emotional attachment to the extent of being ready to take or give life for the country.

 In essence, the interests are so diverse it is crucial to sit together to streamline things. Agreement therefrom should lead us to nationhood. This is what happened in USA, (incidentally it is the country we borrowed the Presidential system of government from).

The need to talk brings up such concepts as Sovereign National Conference and federalism. Tony Nnadi says President Buhari has agreed to another round of talks. What he did not mention is that no Northern oligarch will accept it other than having an opportunity to spend Federal Government money. Fiscal federalism which will come up will never be accepted by the North. During the last outing, an attempt to increase allocation to oil-producing States (derivation) was strongly opposed by Northern representatives in the Committee. They fought for themselves and immediate families of course, not for the almajeris of this world.

Is the status of a nation unrealizable? I think so, at least until crude oil and natural gas cease to play the dominant role in the economy of Nigeria. By then people will have a clear head to see where their interests lie and whether they will be willing to give part of their state revenue to maintain a central government. By then, people will go to legislative houses to make laws for the good governance of the nation rather than legislating only on what will touch them, their families, their tribes and their religions.

 If you don’t like my argument, rather than throw them away, make them food for thought while you pull me close to yourself.

I rest my case and look forward to “a nation where peace and justice (in all its ramifications) shall reign.”

God bless Nigeria.

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