Poor Northerners! (2 & 3) By Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde
The first part of this discourse that was published last week has generated a lot of interest among readers. One person, Folake Olarenwaju, at least was able to write a rejoinder in Saharareporters accusing me of double standards though it was based
almost entirely on a mixed up in identity. Her charge: how can I, who was the CSO of Yar'adua, who connived with Turai to hold this country at ransom, turnaround now and accuse southerners of hating northerners? Just imagine! Her rejoinder was dead on arrival because I am not the Tilde who was the CSO of Yar'adua. I wonder why the editor of Saharareporters did not call her attention to this scandalous assertion before publishing her rejoinder. Other respondents who objected to the article through my email did not dispute its arguments but advised that we, as Nigerians, should focus on what will bring us together. I agree. I am only trying to dispel the lazy notion that the problems of Nigeria are northern and appealing, using facts, for a democratic sharing of blame, if there is the need to apportion any.
We will now briefly discuss the issues of governance and democracy before we dwell on the reasons behind the unwarranted vilification. Northerners are often reminded that their leaders have left them wallowing in poverty while the leaders enjoy their loot. On the surface, the accusation may carry some truth. The North is indeed wallowing in poverty. However, there are many reasons for more poverty in the North, which I have dwelt on in many previous writings in addition to the one I just recently discovered: the inability of having many thieves who can steal colossal sums at the national level. That is why I appeal to Jonathan, the new saviour of the North, to allow it the means to acquire the skill and the opportunity to steal in the next 100 years as much as would be needed to put the region at par with the rest of the country. An affirmative clause guarding this objective would be needed in the constitution.
On a serious note, the poverty argument is often quoted to disrepute northern politicians when they are contesting against a southerner. History however has proved that southern leaders have not proved to be kinder to the North. Under Obasanjo, for example, poverty in the North continued to increase. Throughout his tenure, allocation to agriculture was meagre compared to other major sectors. The North also saw a sharp fall in electricity supply. Kano was especially treated as a target until virtually all its factories closed down when at the same time his home state witnessed a surge in electricity supply and many northern factories belonging to Lebanese relocated there. In fact, how the condition of the North worsened under Obasanjo calls for a doctoral thesis. Jonathan, his scion, can hardly do better from the attitudes he is exhibiting so far.
And how could the ordinary Northerner be rich when after being bombarded by advertisement from banks and the stock market he sold his yams, potatoes, donkeys, cattle and goats and invested the money in the banks (all of which are southern) only to see it stolen away by the MDs who launder it in acquisition of more shares and houses overseas? So he would be better off with livestock and agricultural produce. However, even there Nigeria has set a limit to how much he can earn by preventing him from selling the produce to neighbouring countries where it would fetch him more money. Thus, farmers, who constitute the largest population of the North, are forced to subsidize life for people like me who do not farm.
Also, I have come across many commentators, largely of the Christian Right, who think that chopping the Muslim North off Nigeria would make the country better. A coup was even attempted on this pretext two decades ago. (One of my online publishers of southeastern origin use on its site a new logo of the North that excludes Taraba, Adamawa, Plateau, Benue, Nasarwa, Kogi, Niger and Kwara states. I laughed.) This argument emanates more from bigotry and fascism than from facts. Agreed that Borno, Kano and Sokoto may not be democratic. We saw how 'Malam' Shekarau's government rigged local government elections in Kano, for example. But elections are just as much rigged in Christian states like Rivers and Imo. Linking the argument to the Muslim World and Islam is equally and totally false. I agree that countries in the Muslim world are not democratic and they represent perhaps some of the worst living specimens of tyranny and oppression. However, that is neither the tenet of Islam nor the choice of its Muslim citizens. It is the practice of their puppet leaders in strong collaboration with the western powers that support them with aid, intelligence, equipments of torture, guns, AWACS, etc. Take Saudi Arabia for example. That kingdom is a monarchy which, in the first place, could not have come into existence without the support of the British or survived this long without deploying American might. In fact this is the root cause of the terrorism that America so much complains about these days. The same thing applies to Egypt and other tyrannical regimes in the Muslim world. Let America and the Western world support the democratization of the Muslim world by withdrawing its support for those oppressive regimes and you will see them collapse in less than five years. But the West cannot risk that because of its entrenched strategic and economic interests.
In the same vein, the people who sabotage the will of Nigerians and impede its progress by rigging elections and entrenching corruption come from various religions, regions and ethnic groups. In fact, they are more united in their undertakings than we are in our camp of those who want a free, democratic and progressive Nigeria. If we had had a situation whereby Christian states like Rivers or Imo were more committed to democratic ideals - expressed in free and fair elections, good governance, rule of law, human rights, etc - than Muslim states of Kano and Sokoto, then the adherents of one religion would have had sufficient ground to point fingers at others. But here we are, drown in the same dirty pool of corruption and poverty and persecuted by the same corrupt minority, which is ever eager to see us divided.
On the plane of governance, southern governors have proved to at least be at par, with their northern counterparts. No one is left behind. There is an equal amount of dissatisfaction among their citizens as it is amongst us here in the North. In fact, some of the southern states have reached levels of insecurity that is alarming. The inhabitants of Aba and Nnewi can tell us better. Listen to Dominic Ogbonna, a discussant in , on the state of insecurity in the commercial town of Aba as at 9 October 2010: 'Aba has completely unravelled. Businesses, including banks, are totally closed. ¾ of the residents have left town and many of them will never come back. Many of those remaining spend the day inside their house, or sleep in the bush at night. Rape and impunity is a daily occurrence.' It is a pity. I recall with nostalgia how the Ariaria market was my favourite shopping area in the early eighties.
In the North, the times when such level of insecurity is reached are during the debut of religious and communal clashes before calm is restored in two or three days normally. The Boko Haram is a different matter. They are zeroing their attacks on only two governors, law enforcement agents and government informants among the civilian population who jointly persecuted them last year. Why crime could reach such a threshold in some southern states is largely because of money, the root of all evils. The more you steal, the less comfortable you become due to the intolerable imbalance you create among citizens. The North is quieter because there is little money to display compared to the South, not because Northerners are pious. It is the issue of access. Let Jonathan answer my call and appoint Dr. Aliyu Tilde as the GMD of NNPC and about 1000 more Northerners into similar positions in bsiness and government. We would not hesitate, under his protection, to cart away with everything, like how Saminu Turaki did to Jigwa State, and run down the Nigerian economy. It is not only Mama Ibru. It is Nigerian. After all, the consequence would only be a six months prison term and an inability to visit my village since it will be besieged by kidnappers. I would stay put in Abuja until MEND arrives.
We can now in the final part of this discourse give specific answers to the question posed at its beginning: Why are northerners made the target of hate and hate speech by some Nigerians? I would like to adduce a number of reasons: leadership tenure, opposition politics, civil war, partition politics, and, now, zoning.
Northerners must admit that while their number has legitimately given them some advantage in politics for quite sometime, it has also made them an object of criticism. Nobody in any poverty-ridden society is a target of hate as much as the leader. In a normal civilized society, such criticisms would be limited to the leaders. However, Nigeria is not a normal, civilized society. That is why the sin of one man, the leader, is readily lumped on his entire region. The rules of logic cannot be applied to a primitive environment like ours. This is our quarrel with the broadcasters of hate speech. The crimes and shortcomings of any leader should be restricted to him and not to his people. It is a simple rule in logic, but for obvious reasons, some people are finding it difficult to apply.
It is this primitivism or our reluctance to embrace the dictates of civilization that engenders other factors. We continue to cling to the primordial instincts of tribe, religion and survival even when they are clearly detrimental to our survival as a nation. Here, it is apt to point at the influence of the Civil War. The memory and 'ideals' of that war still linger in the minds of many such hate mongers in a negative way. They still see the North as an enemy simply because they perceive it to be the greatest culprit in blocking their dream of Biafra. Radio Biafra is still broadcasting. And some are eager for the world to recognize them as Biafrans, like my friend, a medical doctor, who often replies me with mails carrying the following signature at the bottom: 'Nwa Biafra, A Biafran Citizen'. He is reminding people like me, who would like a strong multiethnic modern Nigeria, that Biafra is still alive in the hearts and dreams of some of its former citizens. I told Dr. Nkwocha that I will not discuss anything further him on Nigeria until he becomes a Nigerian!
Others are less audacious. They use anonymous names and hide under the freedom and protection that cyberspace provides to launch their missiles of hate speech against others. For them, the war is not over. If it cannot be waged with the gun anymore, the propaganda must continue using the same language against the same perceived enemy. Nigerians, not northerners alone, must beware of these elements. There is no harm in anyone wanting to secede from Nigeria. It is not a divine creation. However, one does not need to wear a mask and think that he is doing any justice to his cause by unjustifiably vilifying other ordinary Nigerians.
Poor Northerners! (3)
There are also those who have never moderated on the partisan propaganda of the First Republic. Mostly in the Southwest, they perceive their region as still in opposition. A lot of lies were written during that period against northerners, the Balewa regime and whoever was in speaking terms with it even among citizens of the Southwest. This much has been admitted in the contributions to the ongoing debate between supporters of late Samuel Akintola and those of late Obafemi Awolowo on the internet. This propaganda polluted the minds of many Southerners with the hatred that eventually brought about the coup that ousted that Republic. Unfortunately, despite the demise of the Republic these old political viruses have replicated their DNA in the genomes of many youths and the tradition continues unabated. They continue to inject that venom into the minds of their youths, telling them about the peculiarities of their 'race' and the evil of their principal enemy, the North. These youths would spend their adult life as lecturers, journalists, politicians and businessmen unable to see themselves as Nigerians.
That was the point made by Sanusi Lamido Sanusi when he was invited to speak at a book launch by one of them a year ago. I doubt if his message that Nigerians of his age should be allowed to be Nigerians rather than northerners or southerners was well received by the audience at that event. Every act and every candidate must be for us or against us. I have been following the debate over the approval of Buhari by Pastor Tunde Bakare among members of the Save Nigeria Group. The most adamant opponent of Bakare's endorsement in the exchange was Dayo Ogunlana. He wrote Egbon Sowumumi saying, 'Don't forget that Buhari has his own k-leg too. He is too tribalistic. I doubt if he has programs that will be of benefit to us in the southwest. He has no soft spot for us in the S/W.' There you are. The urge to return the Yoruba 'race' back to the old politics of ethnicity, away from mainstream politics, is strong among many. They hide behind the corruption of Obasanjo and the PDP and interpret the recent successes of AC as an signal that the Southwest is finally regaining its regional consciousness.
Then there is the partition politics of the so-called Sovereign National Conference (SNC). I will discuss its merits and demerits in a later article. Here, I will confine myself to saying that proponents of the conference have always viewed the North as an impediment to the success of their agenda. That assumption may be wrong. Rather than argue with them, I suggest that they come over and conduct an opinion poll among northerners to find out the level of support they may have here. The poll must give three options: a strong centre, as it is now; a loose federation with a weak centre; and partitioning of the country into smaller independent states. I am ready to support whatever would be the outcome of the poll and work hard towards its achievement. I will even switch to supporting a partition once the result of such a poll prefers that. The result of the poll would be a strong argument that will convince many other unionists. Without it, however, I remain committed to one Nigeria.
I have mentioned the aggravated case of the northern Muslim when religion is conscripted to serve political ends in the country. Then, many of his Christian counterparts, will join in the smear and missile hauling against him. The fact is that under such circumstance, the northern Christian is only used as a tool to support the various agenda we described above. The identity of the so-called Middle Belt was reinvented by Obasanjo to divide the North and serve his interest during his first term. He left office without doing anything better for the Middle Belt than the rest of the North. He cancelled the contract for dredging River Niger and Benue immediately he assumed power in 1999. Even now under Jonathan the dredging has stopped, as indicated by the recent appeal for it's resumption by a Lokoja traditional titleholder to the Senate President. In the end, when the chips are down, such Middlebelters suffer from the same injustice, as do the northern Muslims. When it comes to the Niger Delta, TY Danjuma is bombarded as a northerner for declaring profits worth billions of dollars from 'his' oil blocks. But when it comes to the power, he is a Christian who would be instigated to support the 'Christian' south, like in the ongoing opportunistic power struggle to win the Presidency in 2011 for Goodluck Jonathan.
The Jonathan campaign is unfortunately taking that turn. Emphasizing his minority identity is unwarranted if his intention were to capture the support of every part of the country. He did not need to be so dishonest to dispute the existence of zoning since it is there in Section 7 of the PDP constitution and currently in practice. Otherwise, why aren't there PDP aspirants from the Southwest, for example? Its obviously because Obasanjo has just spent eight years. Jonathan has not proved to be clever at all. He could not even outsmart his opponents by conceding that he will return the PDP ticket to the North, anywhere in the North, in 2015. No. He is bulldozing his way with the might of incumbency. His supporters among southern politicians know this. That is why in spite of thousands of southerners who are more competent than Jonathan; they would rather cling to him. Who can claim that the Yoruba 'race' and the Igbo 'nation' are bereft of a better person than Jonathan? Incumbency is the answer. As the President, he has the resources of state at his disposal. He can dish out money. He will rig elections. And he will allow his people to loot the treasury, a motive encapsulated in the ambiguous language of 'our interest'. If free and fair elections were entrenched in our political culture, it would be difficult for any incumbent to win such unconditional support.
Ironically, belief in incumbency, I must hasten to point out, is not limited to supporters of Jonathan in the South. Northerners in the PDP who are opposed to Jonathan are staunch believers in incumbency too. Adamu Ciroma it was who told Nigerians opposed to the re-election of Obasanjo in 2003 that PDP couldn't be defeated by virtue of its incumbency. 'In 1999, we were not defeated before we came to power, how can we be defeated when we are in power?' he reminded his opponents.
The crisis in PDP is over incumbency. It did not have to be shared by every northerner. Unfortunately, the common northerner has to again be brought in the line of fire before the equation could square up. Point a finger at him and many in the South would be eager to rally around you, by instinct, training or design. And that is when people like me take offence. Poor Northerners. Come rain, come shine, as a group, they must be fired at.
From the foregoing, I think I have made my point clear that the allegations labelled against northerners are really unfounded; if northerners have committed a sin, others have not proved to be saints. In these articles, the ordinary Northerner will find sufficient explanation on the roots of his disparagement. If he is hit by any missile again, as he would surely be, he can now say where it is coming from and why. I hope the victim of these wild accusations and unjust generalizations will continue to ignore them, as he has constantly done. He must not forget that much of these baseless allegations are coming from people who have never visited the North or lived among its people, even though their emails do carry 'Sent From My Blackberry MTN' signature.
For those who deliberately do so to vent their anger on a section of the Nigerian population, they must realize that there is a growing number of Nigerians among their kinsmen who are desirous of the unity and progress of this country. To the latter I wish every well-meaning Nigerian would extend his hand of love and support. One day, together we shall leave behind the old Nigeria of religious bigotry and ethnic chauvinism to embrace the new one of love, unity and progress. Then, there will be no North, East or West, but a Nigeria ready to embrace the tenets of civilization, of respect to humanity and transparency in governance. This is the venture in which we must partake with perseverance despite the reluctance of retrogressive forces.
I must confess that this series was difficult to write because of the conscious effort to avoid hurting the feelings of many of my readers. Its length, however, was informed by the desire to forsake brevity for understanding. If you are among progressive Nigerians, you would not find much of its contents hurtful. However, if you are among those who propagate hate, please take delight, as usual, in writing a blistering rejoinder to serve your agenda. I will, however, welcome with equanimity both the praise of the companion and the scold of the rival. The former I receive with caution, the latter with pity.