By Ado Umar Muhammad
Ever since General TY Danjuma spoke at Taraba State University few months ago on the need for Nigerians to defend themselves from bandits because the Army has allegedly failed to do so, there has been expression of serious concern in certain quarters regarding the implication of that advice. Other people worry about the drift to anarchy and loss of the unity in diversity that the North was known for in the years before and after independence in 1960. Some say they could not fathom out why Danjuma, who symbolized Northern unity, is now proposing a recipe for disaster and total destruction of the North – and Nigeria as a whole. They recalled that in July, 1966 the man led a revolt by Northern officers to resist the attempt by a section of the country to subjugate the North, which was then tottering and trying to stand on its feet.
That was the golden age of the legendary ‘monolithic North,’ which was greatly feared by its powerful political foes. Luckily for them that feared North gradually became a shadow of its former self after the creation of states and the civil war. This was because through extraneous instigation and sustained media campaign, elites of minority tribes began to complain of neglect and abandonment by their fellow Northerners, particularly leaders of military regimes that succeeded General Yakubu Gowon who was ousted in a bloodless coup in 1975. But how did this sorry pass come about? What is the genesis of this unwarranted disharmony prevailing in the geo-political North?
It is a bleak picture but facts that have to be recalled to show how bad the situation is. In the First Republic, political leaders of the Western and Eastern Regions sought ways to whittle down the powers of Northern Region which they considered inimical to their political ambitions. With two-thirds of the country’s landmass and a population that seemed to suggest that its candidate would always emerge as Nigeria’s leader in a free and fair election, the “juggernauts” of the East and West feared that they would never be able to assume power at national level. Then there was the suspicion that the North helped a part of the West to secede and become Midwest Region which made Western leaders to take actions sowed the seed of disunity in the North. They openly encouraged Joseph Tarka’s United Middle Belt Congress (UMBC) to also push for the creation of Middle-Belt Region in the North. This started the rebellion by Middle Belt elites against their Northern compatriots.
Despite this however, throughout the First Republic Northern unity remained intact – thanks to the foresight and sagacity of the colossus Alhaji Sir Ahmadu Bello, Sardauna of Sokoto and Premier of Northern Region. As later testified by several minority/Christian leaders, Sardauna carried all Northern peoples along and never discriminated on the basis of religious or tribal considerations. And so when he and other political and military leaders from the region were murdered in cold blood during the first coup led by Major Chukwuma Nzegwu and other Igbo officers on January 15, 1966, Northern officers led by notably Danjuma, Murtala and Babangida rose up to face the challenge of saving the dignity of the North and the nation as a whole.
Nonetheless, the disunity seed sowed in the 1960s germinated and ultimately snowballed into what it is today. As part of its strategy to weaken the North, the South used the media as propaganda tool spanning through the past five decades. They caused havoc here and there but the recent outburst by Danjuma is perhaps the biggest reward the South got since the vile propaganda began after independence.
In his lamentation, one Aliyu A. Ammani of Unguwar Shanu Kaduna wrote a piece titled, “General TY Danjuma: Let’s not throw the baby with the bath water.” In it he expressed the opinion that if Northern leaders were to search themselves they would find that it is their fault that these things have been happening. He said rather than dissipating energy on mudslinging, bickering and treading the path of disunity by championing ethnic and religious interests our leaders should strive to unite us and find means of “salvaging what remains of the once monolithic North.” His exhortation prompted this write-up.
Although he circulated the piece in the social media, I opted to use print media so as to reach all concerned stakeholders. I am talking about political and spiritual leaders, some of whom may not be accessing the social media. One fundamental question raised by Aliyu is: “What must have happened between 1966 and today that made most Northern ‘minorities,’ including Danjuma, to no longer feel at home with their fellow Northerners and vice versa?” Beside the historical background given above, I think the drift was boosted by the bad blood that was caused by events such as the unsuccessful coup that took place on February 13, 1976 in which the then Head of State, General Murtala Ramat Muhammad, was brutally murdered in the streets of Lagos.
That coup attempt was hatched by renegade military officers of Northern minority extraction. Majority of the military officers and their civilian collaborators that were arrested, court-marshaled and executed were Christians from Northern minority tribes. The old Plateau state, for example, lost about 20 officers including the coup leader, Lt.-Col. Bukar Suka Dimka. Thus there was hue and cry throughout Christian North, particularly in Plateau state, as most people there assumed that Northern Muslims had conspired to eliminate their officers from the Army. In April, 1990 other Northern minority officers led by Major Gideon Orkar collaborated with officers from the South-South to stage another violent coup against General Ibrahim Babangida’s government because he is a Northerner. Announcing the coup on national radio before it was crushed, Orkar revealed the planned excision from Nigeria of five Muslim states of the far North. This carried the mutual suspicion even further.
Eventually, the complaints of religious discrimination and political marginalization by Christian leaders gave way to intense feeling of distrust and hatred. This gave rise to the emergence of vociferous champions of minority/Christian interest in the 1980s/90s, like the late Jolly Tanko Yusuf and Dr. Chris Abashiya. Their combative posture over issues such as the Sharia and Nigeria’s membership of OIC at a point heightened the ominous tension to fever pitch.
What is to be done to in our own interest, revive the ‘monolithic North’? As seen above, our foes have consistently planned to destabilize us. In that case, why can’t we also plan – if not against them – to at least defend ourselves? Firstly, a conference of leaders and elders from all nooks and crannies of the North should be convened summarily with a view to finding a lasting solution to the problem of disunity. It should recommend the setting up of a Northern Peace and Reconciliation Commission where long-lasting grievances (religious, political and otherwise) can freely be expressed so that solutions can be proffered. The conference should also produce two leaders, a Muslim and a Christian, who would jointly lead in the reconciliation effort.
Muhammad, a journalist and former Permanent Secretary, wrote from Kano.