BOKO HARAM INSURGENCY AND THE MYTH OF NORTHERN MARGINALIZATION BY UGOCHUKWU RAYMOND OGUBUARIRI
As Nigerians of good conscience strive to come to terms with the nasty tale of bloodletting and vandalism inflicted on the country by the daredevil bombings of Boko Haram insurgents on Easter Sunday which also led to the annihilation of innocent human lives and valuable properties, it has become pertinent to examine the war-like conflagration currently raging in some parts of the North. In doing so, the purpose here shall be to interrogate the logic that has framed the emergence of Boko Haram and has invariably legitimized its persistence as a social scourge.
Not too long ago, prominent Northern leaders such as the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor, Mallam Lamido Sanusi and the Niger State governor, Bagangida Aliyu, had argued that “the insurgency might be directly linked to gross inequality, widespread poverty and unjust national revenue sharing formula.” Impliedly, they have had to rationalize the terrorism of Boko Haram by contriving the notion of a “marginalized North” and have generally suggested the funnelling of more resources to the region in the form of greater revenue allocations.
Because of the palpable tendency - especially, on the part of the elite - to distort reality, misinform the uninformed, and generally diver public attention to the symptom rather than the causative problem, it has become imperative to engage and challenge the obvious misconceptions and aberrations inherent in the marginalization discourse as currently being propagated by some Northern elites. I do so in the hope that such analytic engagement will provide some useful contributions in our overall quest to resolve and liquidate the monstrous spectre of terrorism which Boko Haram has come to personify.
When the Northern elites (especially, those of Hausa-Fulani extraction) posit that “the North is marginalized,” who exactly in the North is being marginalized? Who is responsible for the marginalization? Most importantly, what is the specific character of such marginalization and in what particular ways does it gain manifestation? Amazingly, the notion of marginalization as conceived by Sanusi's school of thought focuses essentially and exclusively on “fiscal gerrymandering,” i.e. the conscious alteration of national revenue sharing formula as presently constituted to secure more share for Northern states, and to justify such increment by considerations of population size, land mass and other politically favourable criteria. By reducing the problem of poverty in the north to a matter of allocative relationship between the Northern and Southern regions of the country, the analysis of these proponents of northern marginalization suffers from a major handicap, namely: it is utterly blind to both historical reality and the sociology of political governance in the North!
Realistically, there is a problem of marginalization in the North - in fact, a huge one at that. But the problem certainly is not about the marginality of the North relative to any other region or state in the country but about the marginalization of ordinary citizens in the North (often referred to as the talakawas) by a thieving, corrupt and inept ruling oligarchy whose political hegemony and religious dynasty has been erected and sustained by the sweat, enslavement, and mindless pauperization of the weak, the poor, the uneducated and the defenceless subjects in their fiefdoms.
How can the likes of Sanusi and Aliyu allege marginalization when history itself is copiously replete with ample facts which undeniably reveal that the Hausa-Fulani oligarchy from the North have enjoyed a commanding dominance of the country's politics and economy right from the days of political independence in 1960. Illustratively, out of the Nigeria's 51 years of existence as a sovereign entity, it has been governed politically by rulers from the Northern region for an approximate total of 49 years and 3 months. Today, the North has a total of 409 local government areas as against 387 by the rest of the Southern region which comprises South-East, South-South and South-West. Similarly, the Northern region accounts for 19 states in the country's state structure, leaving the South with 17 states. Added to this is the fact that most of the Northern states have always enjoyed the benefits of superior population size (even if questionable), larger land mass etc. - factors which are highly decisive for determining the quantum of national resources / revenues that are allocated to any state or local government in the country.
In spite of such generous benevolence of Nigeria's political history in favour of the North, what has the average peasantized Northerner benefited from the combined despotic rule of Babangida, Abacha, Abdulsalami, Buhari, Gowon, or even from the ineffectual, stillborn regime of late President Yaradua? It is a terrific scandal that a region that has colonized and dominated a preponderant part of Nigeria's political life will, today, be practically sitting on a keg of gunpowder as a result of the miserable and appalling state of every conceivable index of social and economic development: Educationally, the mass of ordinary citizens in the North have become so much de-linked from contemporary civilization due to entrenched, mass illiteracy that the World Bank had to warn in June, 2011that “Northern Nigeria has the highest number of children not going to school in the entire world.”
In the area of health facilities and the provision of basic social amenities, the situation is even more horrendous. In the 21st century, lives of ordinary citizens in the North are being threatened by cholera and other avoidable killer diseases. In certain areas of the region, the dispossessed indigenes of some communities compete with cows and donkeys for drinking water in unhygienic wells. Access to well-equipped hospitals and other vital amenities of life by the marginalized poor are considered as “aristocratic luxury” and, in most cases, totally non-existent. To borrow the words of the iconic philosopher and political thinker, Thomas Hobbes, the existential condition of the ordinary man in the North has remained “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” Worse, his impoverishment has existed side by side with the obscene opulence and sybaritic indulgences of his aristocratic rulers.
It is precisely this culture of entrenched and festering inequality between him and his supposed leaders that he considers to be more ominous and life-threatening than the ill-conceived misfire of Sanusi and the Northern governors. Above all, the talakawa on the streets and remote suburbs of Northern Nigeria is more worried by the fact that the current democracy with is being glorified as a “marvellous watershed” is utterly meaningless to him and totally unhelpful to his pitiable condition. He is disappointed by a democracy that hardly offers him any prospect of emancipation from the clutches of his precarious existence; a democracy that has only succeeded in legitimizing his political marginality and economic disempowerment.
As I posited earlier, there is a real problem of marginalization in the North. But it is a marginalization that embodies the chronic misgovernance and corrupt tendencies of the Northern political (and non-political) leaders both past and present which has created an insidious inequality between the rulers and the ruled and has inevitably sentenced the latter to harrowing poverty and banished him to a life of squalor and misery.
What is the way out of this ugly quagmire? Well, if we understand that the marginalization question is wrongly posed by its proponents, it also becomes easier to appreciate that the solution to the problem cannot be more revenue allocation to the North as contemplated by Sanusi and his band of like-minded choreographers. For to entrust greater revenues in the hands of a prodigal and corrupt-minded leadership is simply akin to “asking a toothless child to chew meat when he is supposed to be sipping porridge.” What ordinary citizens in the North – as elsewhere in the country – should desire (and are indeed clamouring for) is their immediate de-colonization from state and local government leaderships whose incompetence, misrule and brazen stealing of their citizens' commonwealth have assumed a frighteningly pathological dimension.
Once democracy - conceived as social empowerment - is activated and domesticated internally within the various states and local governments, the maniacal struggle for revenue sharing at the centre will naturally fizzle out because inherent in the domestication of people-centred democracy within the states lies the impetus for unleashing the productive capacity of the states and the valuable ingenuity of its hitherto marginalized populace which will induce self sufficiency and self-reliance.
In plain terms, what the states of the Northern region – as every other region in the country – need is not a system that is conducive to economic parasitism but one that encourages economic autonomy and viability of states. Noticeably, there is a tendency on the part of the proponents of Northern marginalization to confuse and reduce the whole question of fiscal federalism to just revenue allocation and/or derivation. But Prof. Femi Mimiko had argued quite impeccably that “fiscal federalism is deeper in meaning than derivation. It is an arrangement under which federating units operate and enjoy a substantial degree of autonomy of one another and of the central government in fiscal and general monetary and economic matters. This is the benchmark by which a good federal system is known and it is precisely this that Nigeria requires to make its claim to being a federal republic credible.”
Today, Boko Haram has become such a Frankenstein monster due largely to the inordinate political intrigues and brinkmanship of some disgruntled elites in the North. It is a known fact that the Boko Haram killings gained impetus in audacity and grotesqueness shortly after the veiled threat by some Northern political leaders to “make the country ungovernable” for the incumbent administration. Instructively, in failing to develop their society and empower their people, the Northern governors and erstwhile Presidents as well as other non-political leaders from the region are the biggest culprits in the fertilization of the seed of terrorism which Boko Haram has come to symbolize. Not surprisingly, there has been a conspiratorial silence from these leaders in face of the maddening, gruesome carnage from Boko Haram.
Accordingly, the incongruous relation of the Boko Haram menace to inequitable revenue sharing formula is typically a deliberate and disingenuous ploy to divert attention away from the culpability of these perfidious Northern leaders who are the progenitors of the present anomie which is tearing the country apart.