The geopolitical entity in Nigeria called “The North” or “Northern Region,” or “Northern Nigeria” has never had it so bad. The security situation in the region has deteriorated, especially in the last three years. On a daily basis, the blood of innocent citizens is shed in the name of Boko Haram insurgency. Properties worth billions of naira are destroyed while young schoolgirls are abducted with little or no resistance from Nigerian troops who are operating in the region. We should also not forget that those states in the North-east are effectively under emergency rule!
This is the territory that Professor Abdullahi Ashafa has argued was created by “mere arbitrary line of parallels of latitude, not a true division between the North and the South.” This region, the North, had a landmass of 255,700 square miles. The Western Region called the West, and the Eastern Region called the East, collectively, were called the South which had a land mass of 76,700 square miles.This is the greatest thorn in the flesh of the political gladiators, who work tirelessly to change the perceived unfair “advantage” of the “uneducated” North, since the amalgamation of 1914. The central assignment is how to divide and destroy the advantage of the North.
It can be realistically inferred that one of the remote (and direct) causes of the military coup of January 15th, 1966 and the subsequent very destructive 3-year Nigerian Civil War is traceable to preoccupation with attempts to alter this perceived “unfair advantage” conferred on the North by the 1914 amalgamation.
Constant outbursts of denials of the existence of the “so-called North” as epitomized by Prof. Ben Nwabueze’s treaties, the sudden convocation of the “National Conference/Dialogue” – burning billions of naira in a space of just 3 months – and talk of restructuring, resource control, and fiscal federalism are all aspects of the sustained programmeand efforts to effect a change in this “historical mistake”—the “gerrymandering of Lugard”, to use Nwabueze’s lexicon! Consistent with this contention, somebody must have knowingly made sure that the National Conference members from the entire North are far less than those from the South.
The persistent attempts by “renowned”academics such as Nwabuezeto doubt the existence of a Northern Nigeria, and conclude that the “divide” has constituted “an obstacle to the creation of a nation and a national front” and, therefore, any references to a “Northern Nigeria” must be discarded, for new, smaller arrangements, confirm the seriousness of this issue, which the North, meaning the leadership of the North, must treat as serious and attend to proactively and creatively, as the late Sardauna of Sokoto did! The North, indeed, existed harmoniously as a Regional Government, with the Sardauna as the Premier, despite our numerous tribes and the different religious persuasions, inclusive of class struggles by the Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) in tandem with state-creation agitations by the United Middle Belt Congress (UMBC) and the Bornu Youth Movement (BYM)!
Returning to Nwabueze’s lead paper presented to the President and which has influenced significantly the President’s transformation to supporting a National Conference, you will see that the kernel of his arguments rests on the denotative meaning of the term “divide” while also trying to squeeze out a connotative meaning of the word to suit his preconceived notion about events. According to him, the term “Divide” as here used needs to be explained. It is used as meaning not just a twofold division, a bifurcation or dualism; it connotes more than that, viz, a separation, by division, into two or more or less exclusive segments, that is to say, a dichotomy. In other words, the effect of the 1914 Amalgamation, indeed its purpose, is to dichotomize the country from its inception; to keep its northern and southern segments apart by an imaginary, artificially created boundary line, and consequently to disunite them in interest, attitude, outlook and vision. That defines the magnitude, the enormity, of the problem bequeathed to us by Lugard and his 1914 Amalgamation.
Prof. Nwabueze and others like him claim that areas such as the “Middle Belt Region” cannot claim to be part of the “true” North. Therefore, the so-called Northern Nigeria is comprised of heterogeneous entities and cannot be subsumed under the rubric of “Northern Nigeria.”
Can he apply this criterion to the Eastern Region or Eastern Nigeria, with the Ibos, the Bekwaras, the Ishibori of Ogoja, the Anangs, the Kalabaris, the Ekois, the Bougomas, the Ijaws, the Ibibios, etc., which he is comfortable with as people of the Eastern Region or Eastern Nigeria? What about the federating region of Western Nigeria or Western Region domiciled by the Yorubas, the Binis, the Ijaws, the Itshekiris, the Urhobos, etc.? Are these homogenous in tribal or ethnic colouration? Do they profess one common religion?
Despite these glaring contradictions and the standing of logic on its head, Nwabueze proceeds to offer six reasons for not recognizing the existence of a “Northern Nigeria”:
“(1) the North consists, not of one tribe, but of various tribes marked apart from each other by fundamental differences in culture, customs and traditions, way of life, traditional occupation, etc, just like the tribes in the South;(2) the Hausa language, though widely used, is not indigenous to many of the tribes; (3) each of the tribes inhabits and lives in its own traditional territory under its own traditional system of rule, separate from the others;
(4) though the tribes in the “True North” (whatever that means), are adherents of the Moslem religion, with a small admixture of Christians, the Moslem religion is not the common traditional religion of the entire North, since many of the tribes in the North Central Region adhere to animism as their traditional religion, with some now converting to the Christian faith; (5) there is no common traditional heritage, cultural or otherwise, binding together the various ethnic communities inhabiting the different territorial areas comprised in the North, such as to set them apart from those in the South; and(6) Northern Nigeria is not one solid, unbroken landmass sharing physical or geographical features.”
It is arguments such as Nwabueze’s, couched in decadent pseudo-intellectualism that seem to represent the thinking of “enlightened” Nigerians outside Northern Nigeria, and even those pseudo-intellectuals living within the same geopolitical area called Northern Nigeria.
These arguments are patently hollow, incontinent, inappropriate, deceitful, and without merit, because the same conditions prescribed by Nwabueze do not hold in the other two regions—Eastern Nigeria and Western Nigeria—and yet, he, after advocating for the dismantling of Northern Nigerian unity, aggressively turns around to call for Southern Nigerian unity!
This has exposed the true intentions of the tremendous efforts being made to disunite the peoples of the North. Can a discerning true leadership from the North arise and see the true reasons why the current dispensation is encouraging all forces working tirelessly to weaken the concept of a unified Northern Nigeria?Is it not the fear of the tremendous clout a united Northern Nigeria will wield in the life of this terribly mismanaged Nigeria that is motivating interested parties to fan the embers of disunity and sponsoring violence across the whole territory of Northern Nigeria?
The Tiv and Fulani of Northern Nigeria, having lived together for over 200 years as brothers, friends, and playmates, are now sold a dummy, that they are “enemies” and must slaughter each other to defend against forceful conversion to the religion of the foreign enemy, the Fulani, we have existed under one administration for over 100 years! Do we have a leadership that can rise to this existential threat to us Northern Nigerians, as the late Sardauna would have arisen as he did in 1953, 1954, 1956, and 1957/1958?
So, should we stray from Sir Ahmadu Bello’s guiding vision of a united Northern Nigeria as succinctly put by my friend Prof. Nwabueze, quoting Sheik Gumi “. . . the Sardauna had “pledged and dedicated himself to work untiringly for the progress and happiness of the North”, thereby creating in the different peoples of the North and inculcating in them the binding sense of solidarity and unity of the North as one entity with one destiny”? The answer ought to be ABSOLUTELY NOT! We must continuously work to fulfill this vision of balanced development of our people, which has been completely neglected for over 15 years!
With the debacle of Boko Haram now comes the “trumped up” conflict between Tiv farmers and Fulani herdsmen. As if to lend credence to Nwabueze’s theory of a separation between the entities that comprise Northern Nigeria, the Fulani are said to be invading and occupying Tiv territory in a quest to Islamize the rest of Nigeria. Consequently, the Tiv farmers and the Fulani herdsmen have experienced devastating losses in both life and property. The campaign of calumny has continued unabated, with pundits claiming that the Fulani are on a mission to “cleanse” the Tiv of their ancestral home. We beg to differ from these opinions. In addition, several war fronts have been created between Fulanis and other Northern minorities (in Southern Kaduna, Taraba, Nasarawa) and even between the Hausa Muslims and the Fulanis, as in the case of Zamfara and Katsina, where all are realistically Muslim! Or are Katsina and Zamfara states not well Islamized already?
Secondly, if the essence of the Fulani ‘invasion’ is to Islamize Tiv land, Berom land, and “minority” lands in Southern Zaria, and elsewhere in Nigeria, as we are made to believe, is there any Tiv settlement captured by the Fulanis where Sharia Islamic law is administered, as it is done by the Taliban in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Syria?It must be re-stressed that the Tiv and Fulani, for example, have co-existed for over 200 years without any skirmishes of the type we are now forced by our rulers to witness.
The Fulani herdsmen have had unfettered access to Tivland, and indeed Benue State, without the devastating incidents we are now experiencing in the State. The herdsmen have lost hundreds of cows and lives, while the Tiv have been dispossessed of their farmlands, their villages razed, and hundreds killed. An added dimension to the wanton destruction of property in Tivland has been the presence of militias that intermingle with the herdsmen to sack Tiv communities, and help plunder Fulani herds. Guns are being freely distributed to fuel this mayhem by people who pose as agents of government, a government which swore to protect the lives and properties of all Nigerian citizens!
We know that these activities are designed to paint Prof. Nwabueze’s “true North” as the aggressors against the Tiv who are “resisting” the so-called Islamization agenda of the “true North.” Nothing could be farther from the truth! Yet churches are urged to spread this monstrosity and the situation is reaching proportions where Nigerians are pulled out of travelling vehicles and murdered on the basis of tribe and/or religion! THIS MUST STOP! Northern authentic leadership must rise and stop this madness! Yet, we believe that the conflict in Benue State, Nasarawa and Taraba states, involving Fulani herdsmen and Tiv/Jukun farmers, is politically-induced, and is being manipulated to show that the entire territory of Northern Nigeria is at war and is ungovernable, owing to the prevalence of ethnic and religious conflicts in the entire region.
It is violence-prone, and therefore, no election should be conducted throughout the territory of Northern Nigeria in 2015! This is complete falsehood. The leadership of the North must rise to its obligations and reject this. We, with one mind and voice, MUST resist and reject these assertions because evidence on the ground does not support this monstrous touted lie. So, in practical terms, what should be our action plan—the way forward to allay fears and place the North on the path to redemption?A unified, reconciled, progressive, transparent, and prosperous North cannot happen by chance. A deliberate policy, creative and strategic actions, must be pursued, implemented, monitored, and evaluated transparently with the following considerations:•The North must work hard and produce within the dictates of democracy and the law, a genuinely national leadership, come the elections of 2015.
•The North must put in place mechanisms/logistics to extol the virtues of a united Northern Nigeria of equal brothers and sisters, as a solution to our endemic crises in the region – strangulating poverty, unemployment, underdevelopment in all aspects of our infrastructure, lack of access to quality educational facilities, lack of meaningful access to economic opportunities, etc.
•The North must work assiduously to correct the current imbalance in our federal civil service sector. The skewed representation in the federal civil service is a cause for concern.
•The North must plan deliberately to create more high value entrepreneurs of international repute, across the whole spectrum of Northern diversity and religious plurality.
•The North must work to ensure that every part of Northern Nigeria is represented equitably in all of our development efforts—planning, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation. The “core North” is often accused of using and dumping the Middle belt areas, an accusation used by our detractors to divide the North. Let us embrace the Sardauna Model, where all Northerners are at the baking of the cake, at the sharing, and at the actual eating irrespective of tribe, tongue, and religion. The Sardauna did it and it worked and produced tremendous results which some of us remain till today, grateful beneficiaries.
•Transparent efforts must be made to ensure that from now on, all elements in our Northern Nigeria are well represented in all of our dealings and in all our activities irrespective of our tribe and/or religion; we must act as our brothers’ and sisters’ keeper.
•Regardless of the political party controlling the state, each Northern state must be prepared to embrace the concept of Northern unity and use it as leverage for developing the region. Consequently, we MUST launch a Northern Region Relief Fund to which all Northern States Governments and peoples would contribute.
•The North must act in practical ways to mobilize public opinion, and relief materials to support all Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Northern Nigeria affected by either the Boko Haram saga, or the Tiv/Fulani conflict, or the Berom/Fulani conflict/Southern Kaduna/Fulani, and other conflicts, regardless of religious or ethnic consideration. This act should be actively used to inform, and educate, build bridges and confidence amongst our various communities and peoples.
•The North should set up a Strategic Committee to adduce facts to allay fears of an Islamization propaganda being aggressively pursued by our recruited, financed, and sponsored sons from the Northern Region and outside. Such a Strategic Committee should sponsor dialogue, conferences, meetings, and joint activities across the religious divide. The Strategic Committee should be more proactive than reactive.
•The North must mobilize to rehabilitate all those who have lost their properties and/or primary means of livelihood, regardless of religious or ethnic affiliations in the induced mayhem that has spread across the whole of Northern Nigeria.
•The North must swiftly condemn any act of aggression against any part of the North. Each part of the North must be sensitive to the needs of other areas of the North. We must embrace the mantra of being “my brother’s keeper.”
In this regard, and arising from the above, the North MUST speak straight to the endowed children of the North whom God has blessed and allowed some of them to have become Heads of State, some of them billionaires, who continue to enjoy and command the respect of the vast majority of the peoples of this country and foreign countries. They must speak out, unequivocally, against some of the terrible things, the mayhem, the slaughter, and the abominations involving losses of trillions of naira, billions of dollars, that have become daily occurrences in their beloved country, particularly the North. Our Northern Nigeria is suffocating now to a point of coma. We shall soon be extinct; so shall Nigeria! They should speak and support the North and Nigeria in clear, practical terms, and opt for the Nigeria some of them sacrificed limb and blood to preserve. They must exhibit the courage (and YES, the humility) so typical of the peoples of the North. This is a MUST appeal, if we must evoke the spirit of the late Sardauna of Sokoto and our ancestors. Silence now, is NOT golden!
Wantaregh Paul Unongo, OFR, is a former federal minister and nowDeputy Leader, Northern Elders Forum