Let me point out, from the start, that Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, an intellectual of repute and director, publicity bureau of the Northern Elders Forum (NEF), is, in my reckoning, one of the most progressive minded Northerners you will ever find. He is one man who takes a stand on principles, and bravely speaks his mind even when what he has to say is sure to rattle the Northern political establishment.
Baba-Ahmed has over the years, shown himself to be a true believer in the Nigerian project, not in the manner that is pretentious or sef-serving as is often the case with many who mouth one Nigeria only to the extent that they believe such entity serves their selfish interests. He is fair minded, mostly balanced and indeed one of the staunchest advocates for a truly federal and progressive Nigeria.
The above clarification is to help establish the fact that this intervention is by no means an effort to call his person or what he stands for to question, but simply an attempt to disagree with some of his arguments, particularly those he made while appearing on Arise TV breakfast programme, “The Morning Show,” today.
Analysing the country’s security challenges and the growing threats to its continued existence as one entity, Baba-Ahmed, of course, tried to be as objective as his geopolitical origin’s induced perspectives would allow him. But even so, he made a number of remarks that clearly portrayed his lack of grasp of the emerging issues in the South.
While addressing, in particular, the emergence of Yoruba nationalist, Sunday Adeyemo, otherwise called Sunday Igboho, with respect to the growing agitations for a Yoruba nation, Baba-Ahmed tried to blame it largely on some political leaders of the Southwest, who according to him, had failed to provide direction, or are in fact, backing the idea of secession. He went on to express surprise that the South Westerners who, according to him, are some of most enlightened Nigerians, with huge stake in the Nigerian project, would allow the rhetoric of secession to take root amongst them. He then suggested that people of his region, the Northerners, are the target of the growing nationalist tendencies in the South, to which he hinted at the North is quite capable of holding its own ground, but that the region is only interested in peace.
His arguments in this regard are quite simplistic, and amount to somewhat playing the ostrich. While it is true that Northerners have been targeted more recently during crisis situations in the South, what he doesn’t seem to be able take into cognisance is that the rise of nationalism which fuels these reactions did not emerge from thin air. They are, in fact, a response to initial aggressions by elements from the North. Thus, it would be disingenuous to portray the North as the entity being cool headed here when the reverse is actually the case.
The Sunday Igbohos of this world did not emerge from a vacuum, they emerged as a response to the activities of bandits, mostly identified as Fulani herdsmen from the North, but more importantly, the inability of the government headed by a Fulani Northerner to rein in on the bandits. To be sure, the North won’t take one quarter of what the South has taken from these bandits. Conceded that these are just criminals who do not represent the North, but they represent their interests and coincidentally, they are identified as “Northerners,” so their interests are still in some ways “Northern.”
But the emphasis must be made that the bandits are criminals who have committed worse atrocities in the North than in the South, still the pattern of their banditry has given rise to a growing suspicion that it’s an ethnic agenda, perhaps an effort to grab lands for the purpose of resettlement and ultimately altering the country’s demographics. Unfortunately, the government which should have dealt with the matter by simply reigning in on them, chose to treat them perceivably with kid gloves. Coincidentally, the government is headed by a Fulani man in President Muhammadu Buhari. His action or lack of it in this regard, is therefore being interpreted as part of an ethnic agenda, hence the responses.
Yet, to add insult to injury, the same government which had failed to stop the carnage of bandits, started coming up with such insulting policies as Ruga, cattle colony, grazing reserves and so on. Policies which in their nature are basically about acquiring land to settle one ethnic group in every part of the country. The idea of cattle colony or Ruga is deeply insulting, especially coming as a response to the murderous activities of bandits mostly identified as herdsmen.
Imagine that criminals, perhaps Igbo people who came to the North as traders, but subsequently decided to organize themselves into criminal gangs to terrorise communities, then an Igbo president who had failed to crush them, decided to ask Northerners to create permanent residential areas for them as solution to their activities. The North, to put it mildly, won’t take such nonsense.
Baba-Ahmed also tried to suggest that in the enveloping madness across the country, the North is the entity maintaining resolute stance on one Nigeria. This is true on the surface, but again, he failed to go deep enough to tell us why it is the case. The fact is that the North has more interest in one Nigeria than any other group based on the advantages it enjoys. The oil, which is the bedrock of the economy is in the South, but just go to NNPC, it is mostly Northern affair. Beyond that, the North is in a very advantageous position in Nigeria. So, it’s quite easy to explain why the region is more interested in the Nigerian project than anyone else. On the other hand, those who feel that they are disadvantaged, or are facing injustice are never happy with the status quo. This explains the agitations in the South, particularly Southeast and to an extent, the South South, but now even in the Southwest.
Obviously, one fallout of the civil war is that the country essentially fell into the hands of the North. So, yes, the North has benefitted more from the country. However, what it has done with this benefit is another question entirely. It is easy to see, as Baba-Ahmed also hinted, that the years of being in charge of Nigeria has not helped to improve the socioeconomic condition of the North, and in fact, the region is worse off for than the South in practically all developmental indices. But this is only a question for the elite of the region to answer, not just to the masses of there, but to the rest of Nigeria.
Baba-Ahmed, as I noted earlier, also made allusion to a certain Northern levelheadedness, which he gave as reason the region is not responding in kind to the perceived targeting of its people in the South. This, again, falls flat on both logic and history. The North has historically been the more volatile part of the country, with a rich history of ethnic crisis to boot. Actually, if there is any explanation to be offered with respect to why the region has not been keen on retaliating perceived attacks in the South, it would be two-pronged. First, the North already has its hands full with mounting insecurity; Boko Haram to its east and banditry to the west, which has also taken ethnic colouration. Thus, for many groups in the North, there is now a more potent enemy within than the South.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the Northerners will not be keen on triggering a crisis because one of their own is in power. I had written elsewhere that Nigeria’s political crisis are predictable. When power was in the south, Northerners were quite intolerant of Southerners in their region and simple matters quickly tool violent turns. From the Sharia crisis of year 2000, to the post election violence of 2011, Southerners in the North paid hefty price for the administrations of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. Now, that Buhari, a Northerner in power, Southerners are somewhat becoming more intolerant of Northerners, and seem ever eager to take out their frustrations with Buhari on people from his region.
It is also noteworthy that Buhari has, more than any president before him, inflamed ethnic passions in the country with the lopsided pattern of his government. And specifically, it is his inability to act proactively to end the daring attacks by bandits that has brought us here. In addition to his policy of treating Nigerians unequally.
To his credit, however, Baba-Ahmed has not absorbed the president of blame in this respect. He remains one of the most vocal critics of Buhari, even going as far as asking him to step aside if he couldn’t resolve the security situation in the country. Indeed, he was one of the few voices in the North that opposed Buhari’s reelection in 2019 for the same reason. Regardless, it is out of place on his part to try to absorb the North as an entity of blame for the growing threat to Nigeria’s continued existence. The fact is that bandits in, or from the North, are as much threats to the country – if not worse – as the Igbohos of the South. As a matter of fact, the latter emerged in response to the actions of the former.
In the final analysis, what has become quite clear is that the country urgently needs to sit round the table to evolve a workable system for a sustainable future. To continue to apportion blames at this stage will be unhelpful. And this applies to everyone who is a position to add a voice to the Nigerian situation.
Obinna Ezugwu can be reached via his email: [email protected]