Issues in Restructuring Corporate Nigeria – Sanusi Lamido Sanusi

“Restructuring the Federation” is a term which has gained wide currency in the nation’s political discourse, having been popularised through its indiscriminate and lugubrious use by the most vocal sections of the Nigerian elite.

Being a paper presented at the “National Conference on the 1999 Constitution” jointly organised by the Network for justice and the Vision Trust Foundation, at the Arewa House, Kaduna from 11th –12th September, 1999.

I.  Introduction : On Restructuring The Superstructure

“Restructuring the Federation” is a term which has gained wide currency in the nation’s political discourse, having been popularised through its indiscriminate and lugubrious use by the most vocal sections of the Nigerian elite. Like all popular concepts, it has hardly ever been clearly defined and its nebulousness has been congenial to the slippery nature of its proponents. “Restructuring” has come to represent, in reality an omnibus word for all forms of adjustments, alterations and cosmetic manipulations aimed at changing the formula on the basis of which economic resources and political power are shared or distributed among the Nigerian elite. Each section traditionally defends the area of its comparative advantage at any given time, standing by the status quo when it serves its purposes and asking for “restructuring” when it does not.

Let me illustrate these introductory remarks by sharing with the audience a recent experience I had in Lagos. It will be recalled that before the elections which brought Obasanjo to power, the Alliance for Democracy and Afenifere had made strident calls for “restructuring” the Nigerian Armed Forces. They were of course very unclear about what exactly was meant by “restructuring”. Initially, it sounded like they wanted regional armies. Subsequently, leaders of Afenifere denied this and insisted they wanted regional commands. Reminded that the nation had commands in Kaduna, Jos, Enugu, Ibadan and Lagos, they said the commands should be manned and headed by “indigenes” while denying that this was the same as a call for a regional army.

Now, a day after Gen. Obasanjo announced his top military appointments I was at a small get-together in Lagos. As I sat there quietly listening to groups conversing, my attention came to and settled on a particularly excited Yoruba friend who was briefing his audience on the military postings which he said amounted to a “complete restructuring of the Armed Forces. Kosi Aausa kpata kpata.” In this friend’s view, Obasanjo had restructured the Armed Forces by not appointing “Aausa” to the top commands. In actual fact Obasanjo has restructured nothing. He has merely reallocated offices (and the spoils of those offices like contracts and licences) to his own preferred sections of the elite. Those complaining now are sections which have now been eclipsed through what they see as prestidigitation.

I recall this experience because it is instructive and illuminating. It dramatises the reality that restructuring is primarily about providing a constitutional frame-work, a formula for sharing the spoils of power. It is about ensuring that the spoils of office do not go to Mohammed, Abubakar, Musa and Umar but to Mohammed, Obafemi, Chukwuma, Ishaya and Ekpeyong.

This notwithstanding, it is a subject that must be discussed. It is true that conferences cannot on their own ever solve the fundamental problems of nation-building and national unity. It is also true that those currently championing for a conference and some paper restructuring of the superstructure know this. But it is also true that this nation has the misfortune of having produced an elite whose selfishness and greed know no bounds. Unless they are able to agree on how to accommodate each other they are willing to tear this country apart and lead us into a meaningless war.

But there is a second, perhaps more fundamental reason, for discussing the structure of the federation. It is the reality that the elite merely exploit or manipulate the secondary contradictions in our polity. They neither created nor concocted them. The contradictions are in themselves a historical reality. We are all Nigerians. But we are also Fulbe, Yoruba, Igbo, Kanuri, Efik, etc. as well as Muslims, Christians, animists, etc. The historical process which brought together these heterogeneous groups was never destined to achieve a magical and immediate erosion of their histories and a total submersion of their individual identities into a common national milieu. Several facets of counterposing cultures and beliefs were always bound to be incompatible, if not irreconcilable. Many of the groups forming the new nation would jealously guard what they considered to be essential aspects of their primary identity.  The task of nation-building does not lie in ignoring these differences, as the military have tried to do. Unity is not necessarily synonymous with uniformity. But it also does not lie in a defeatist attitude of despair, or a return to a nihilist era of ethnic agendas and tribal warfare. It lies, instead, in an intelligent appreciation of the complexity of the problem, a capitalisation on areas of core concurrence, a sober reflection on areas of distinction and a partial liberalisation of constituent parts all within the context of a sincere and total commitment to our corporate existence as a unity.

When we blame our elite for ethnic chauvinism and religious intolerance, therefore, we blame them, not for the caducity, but for the endurance of these reactionary ideologies.  The tragedy of Nigeria does not lie in its diversity, nor in its population, nor in its resources. Our tragedy lies in the lack of a truly nationalist and visionary leadership, an elite that harnesses the diverse streams that flow into the melting pot called Nigeria. The loudest proponents of a conference today are those sections of the elite who are incapable of imagining a nation that is greater than their tribes, who take pride in being leaders of their own primary nationality, and who have long ago given up all hope of acquiring the positive attitudes of broad-mindedness and sincerity without which broad-based acceptance is impossible. I doubt that the present crop of leaders has what it takes to address these questions fully and honestly. Nevertheless, I will try to the best of my ability to share with you some of my views on restructuring the federation.

II. Restructuring the Federation: A historical perspective.

The term “restructuring” presupposes the existence of a “structure”, which we can reasonably understand to mean a set format defining the corporate entity in terms of two principal elements:

1) the delineation of its individual parts and 2) the nature and limits of their interconnectivity.

Most of the discussion on “restructuring” has focused on the second of these elements, and even then in an oblique and reactionary manner. In the first Republic there clearly were divergent views among leaders of the various regions on precisely how the different power-centres in the country were to be positioned or balanced. It seems, in the main, that northern politicians preferred very strong regional capitals and a relatively weak centre, a view that is consistent with what is currently bandied around as “loose Federation”. To indicate this, the Northern Premier, Sir Ahmadu Bello, having won national elections, chose to remain in Kaduna as Premier while letting his deputy heads the Federal Government as Prime Minister. Ahmadu Bello and his NPC were then labeled “feudalists” and “reactionaries” whose nationalist and patriotic credentials were questionable.

Southern politicians, on the other hand, (who were considered” progressive”) were in the main, in support of a strong Federal Centre and faster national integration. Chief Awolowo and Dr Azikiwe both left the regions for Lagos, allowing more junior officers in their respective parties’ hierarchies to run regional affairs as premiers in Ibadan and Enugu. They thus indicated the direction in which they felt power should gravitate: to the centre.

Contemporary wisdom now tends to suggest that this difference in position had nothing to do with Ahmadu Bello being “reactionary” or Chief Awolowo and Dr Azikiwe being “progressive”. Otherwise we should be constrained to label the Alliance for Democracy which is now canvassing for the same position held by Sardauna as a reactionary and retrogressive element in Nigerian politics, a label that will most certainly be met with an attitude of complete repudiation and considered a slanderous affront to the country’s “most progressive nationality”.  It reflected, it is now said, the perception of leaders on where the advantages lay for the elite of their respective regions in the political equation.

The north was the largest region, in terms of size, population and economic resources. Unfortunately it lagged behind in terms of infrastructure and, most important, qualified manpower. The interest of the Northern elite therefore lay in a closed region, which afforded the north the opportunity of deploying its resources to the rapid development of its own manpower, and infrastructure – in other words exploit its areas of strength for purposes of addressing its areas of weakness ( and thus play ” catch-up”.)

For the South, on the other hand, the converse was true. Rich in qualified personnel, the regional set-up was a constraining factor for the elite. The Igbos in particular ( and to a much greater extent than the Yoruba) had neither the natural economic resources to exploit nor the history of political and social organization which tends to blunt the edges of poverty and create a form of social contract between the individual and the society that facilitates provision for the welfare of the deprived.

It is, therefore, not surprising that the Igbo were the prime movers of the first successful military mutiny which eliminated the political leaders and senior officers of the North and West while letting-off those of the East. It is also not surprising that the transformation of the polity from a Federation to a Unitary State was the handiwork of an Igbo leader, Gen. Ironsi by military decree (Decree No 34 of May, 1966). These developments were viewed with fear and suspicion by the North as an attempt by a predatory Southern elite to gain control of all aspects of national life and thus marginalise the Northern elite. Decree No.34 and a leaked document called Cabinet Paper No.10, represented the articulation of this attempt at “restructuring” the Federation in a manner unacceptable to the North.

The consequences of these policies which were seen as part of the effort to complete what had been started by Operation Damisa on 15th January, 1966 by implementing, at later stages, Operation Kura, Operation Zaki and Operation Giwa which would allegedly culminate in the murder of northern emirs and top civil servants led to the pre-emptive counter-coup of 29th July, 1966 and the civil war. The rest is now history. The point, however, is that Ironsi’s political programme, as far as the structure of the Federation was concerned, seems to have met with the approval of the political leadership of the South. For this reason, the South supported the military and saw in the government an opportunity for progress. The north, on the other hand, led the protests against military government insisting that the government was illegal and that a referendum was required before the Unitary system  could claim legitimacy. Riots occurred in Kano, Kaduna, Zaria, Katsina, Jos, and Bukuru. This point becomes clear to the student of history on going through Peter Pan’s column in the Daily Times of 26 April, 1966. The editorial stated that in the South, most people regarded army rule as the beginning of a brighter future. In the North, however, political thinking had not faded and there was an undercurrent of dissatisfaction.

Many northerners would like to claim that this was evidence of the democratic credentials of northern politicians. Unfortunately, this is not so. In 1966, Northern society stood for democracy, organized riots and fought against a military dictatorship it did not control and which seemed to encroach on the privileges of its elite. This elite, (including Emirs), was in the vanguard of protests against the abolition of regions and the “restructuring” of the Federation in the manner pursued by Ironsi.

Thirty years later, by 1996, the Southern elite became the vanguard for a democratic society, rioting and demanding for a restructured federation, for a return to the first Republic and that mythical epoch where the regions developed in what is now called “healthy rivalry”. All of this against a Military Dictatorship seemingly dominated by the North.  Meanwhile, the northern political class was the main accomplice of these latter day dictators.

In 1966, the security services ransacked and searched the houses of prominent northern politicians-among them Inuwa Wada and Ibrahim Musa Gashash (NPC) and Aminu Kano and Abubakar Zukogi (NEPU). These were political opponents who had found a common denominator in their “northernness” when faced with a strong Federal Government dominated by non-northerners. We may consider these leaders of NADECO of 1966. In much the same way, the radical and reactionary wings of the Yoruba political class have recently managed to find common ground under the tribal umbrella of Afenifere when faced by a northern-dominated military government.

The point, therefore, made by conventional wisdom is that neither northerners nor southerners have a monopoly of love for democracy or progress and the call for “restructuring” is usually a clarion call raised by the section of the elite which feels disadvantaged in the status quo. The elite in different parts of the country, like chameleons, change their colour and their ideology when it suits them.

It is my considered view, however, that conventional wisdom misses the point. We may conclude from the above analysis that the Nigerian political elite in the main, lacks consistency and that no section can claim to have monopoly of principles. The recent political acrobatics of the AD, and their seeming mollification once Bola Ige and the two First Daughters (Miss Awolowo and Miss Adesanya) landed plum jobs is sufficient evidence of this. But this inconsistency  must not be confused with the particular views held at various times in themselves.

The truth is that irrespective of the motives which drove Chief Awolowo and Dr. Azikiwe to hold strong nationalist views, their position was indeed progressive. Similarly, irrespective of the motives that drove Ahmadu Bello and the NPC to emphasize the differences between our peoples and resist the progress towards integration, those views in as far as nation-building is concerned, were reactionary. The fact that Afenifere and AD are today championing the views of the Sardauna should not lead us down the path of historical revisionism. Ethnic and Religious chauvinism, in all epochs, are reactionary doctrines. Nationalism and the quest for an egalitarian society are progressive doctrines. Zik and Awo were in this case, progressives. This is not to say that they were not leaders of their tribes. But they had a vision of a Nigeria that was greater than their regions. Unlike the Sardauna, neither Awo nor Zik could have even contemplated being a Premier rather than Prime Minister. Those championing for restructuring the Federation, restructuring the Armed Forces, tribalization of the political process, zoning of the presidency, etc, even if they claim to be Awo’s successors, have not kept faith with his nationalist ideology, and are therefore, ideological successors of the northern feudal establishment whom they so much detest. It is against this background that my recommendations in this paper are to be viewed. I do not believe that either Chief Awolowo or Dr Azikiwe ever wanted a Unitary State of the type started by Ironsi and which we seem to have had up to Obasanjo I and still have under Obasanjo II (with the President still talking about UPE and environmental sanitation).

What they wanted was a federation, but not quite the “loose” federation being canvassed today by Afenifere and AD. They both wanted retention of exclusive jurisdiction for states/regions in their areas of primary competence: Health, Agriculture and Social Welfare, for example. However, they knew that a strong Federal Government was indispensable to national unity  and integration. True, it would also serve as a vehicle for the emergence of the South as the dominant political power. What we need, as a nation, is to develop this Federation of their dreams, but stripped of the desire by a section of the elite to dominate others.

But to develop this argument step by step, we should start at the beginning, with the “structure” of Nigeria in the First Republic, and which we all seem to be looking back to with misguided nostalgia, in spite of the tragic end of that structure.

III The “ Loose” Federation: Between Myth and Reality

In the last section, I defined the structure, for our purposes, in terms of two principal elements:

1. The delineation of individual parts and
2. The nature and limits of their interconnectivity.

We can therefore say, that the “structure” of Nigeria, in 1966 was as follows:

a) A country made up of four regions. One of them, the North, was a virtual monolith, bigger, geographically, than the other three combined and larger in terms of population, resources and income than any other region.

b) A legal system which conferred all residual legislative powers on the regions, subject only to the paramouncy to the Federal Law in case of any conflict of interest with regional law. Federal government had exclusive competence in a very restricted list of subjects of a fiscal or semi-technical nature. The only politically sensitive areas   among these were Defense, Emergency Powers over regions and Foreign Relations. All other areas were either exclusively regional, or on the Concurrent list.

What we propose to do is to critically review the strengths and weaknesses of this “structure”, to guide us in our discussion of restructuring the Federation. To facilitate analysis, it is broken into one of “objective” and “subjective” variables. The first deals with material issues, removed from secondary contradictions. The second deals with the complex interplay of ethnic and religious identities.

Objective Variables

First, the Federating units.

1. We note that one of the major strengths of the structure of Nigeria in 1966 was that it was made up of economically viable and self-sufficient Federating units. It is indeed true, as later developments showed that each unit could even be broken into sub-units and with each remaining viable. However, this process which, in my opinion, should have stopped with the creation of 12 states by Gowon, continued in  a ridiculous fashion until we find ourselves today with 36 glorified latifundia called states and a Federal Capital Territory. Each state has a bloated civil service, a governor and his deputy, commissioners, state assembly, Judiciary, etc, such that its total revenue is insufficient for prompt payment of salaries and the states have to run to the Federal Government or to banks for assistance or loans.

As my own bank’s Credit Risk Manager, the moment a borrowing company is not doing the business it was set up to do, and needs an overdraft to pay salaries, I know that that company is bankrupt and it is time to appoint a receiver for its liquidation. I do not  know how long it will take for our politicians to face this reality and abolish many of these small-holdings and fiefs by reconsolidating them into viable entities. This is what I meant at the beginning of the last section when I said no one seems to be paying attention to the first component of structure, i.e. the Federating Units themselves. The sine qua non for any viable “restructuring” is a viable “structure” which is , by definition, impossible if its constituent parts are not themselves viable.

2. A second objective factor in the structure of the First Republic which is, this time, a draw-back, was the lack of equity in the delineation of its constituent parts. The North was too large compared to the other regions and it was, in reality as well as perception, preponderant and overbearing. By his refusal to go down to Lagos and his decision to send Tafawa Balewa to be Prime Minister, the Federal Government itself seemed subject to dictation from Ahmadu Bello in Kaduna. Northern politicians staunchly deny that the Sardauna controlled Federal Policy from his Northern base. It is however, difficult to believe this fully, especially in view of certain instances of bias.

As an example, Mid-Western Region was carved out of both the Western and Eastern regions in 1965 ostensibly to fulfill the desire of the minorities for self government and free them from marginalisation from the dominant Yoruba and Igbo. However, despite the very large area covered by the North and in spite of tensions and perennial crises led by the United Middle-Belt Congress and the Borno Youth Movement, neither the middle-belt nor old Bornu was able to obtain autonomy from subjugation to the old Sokoto Caliphate. The Tiv riots were brutally suppressed and Sardauna, officially a leader of
the whole North, carried on for all intents and purposes as the inheritor of the mantle of Uthman Danfodio with little regard for the sensitivities of citizens of those areas like Bornu and to a larger extent, the Middle Belt which were never conquered by his ancestors and their Fulani protégées. The West and East can therefore be forgiven for taking all arguments proffered for creation of the Mid-West with a pinch of salt given that the same objective conditions obtained in the North, and no similar action was taken.

A second example is the crisis in the Western region which created a fertile environment for the Nzeogwu-led intervention. Irrespective of what the facts of the case were, the position, as far as the Action Group was concerned, is that elections were being consistently rigged in favour of allies of the dominant North. There was also the wide perception, perhaps unfounded, that the Federal Government was unable to take decisive actions and remedial steps because the Premier in Kaduna had not yet firmed up on a decision to dump his ally, Akintola, as a sacrificial lamb for bringing peace to the region.

The lesson in all of this is that the Federating Units must be such as not to give any one unit or group of units, dominance over others. It is my opinion that this condition can only be fulfilled with a strong Federal Government. In a “loose” Federation, with a weak centre, the various units forming a historical block will just as soon conglomerate into something similar to what obtained in 1966 and negate the very purpose of their delineation.

We therefore take with us from the discussion so far the following points:

1. That the first point of departure in restructuring Nigeria is the reconsolidation of its balkanized constituent parts into individual entities that are economically viable and amenable to smooth administration. Only such units would be able to carry out functions assigned to them.

2. That these entities must be balanced and none of them should be able to dominate or destabilize others, or make possible the unjust oppression of ethnic and religious minorities. This condition is best fulfilled where the monopoly of instruments of repression is in the hands of a broad-based and representative federal government.

This, in turn, immediately leads to a number of other issues. First, the creation of states based primarily (or solely)on the desire to achieve ethnic or religious homogeneity only serves to provide a platform for effective domination of ethnic and religious minorities by more populous groups. There is no doubt that, especially with large groups, some states will turn out to be ethnically or religiously homogeneous e.g. Yoruba in the south-west, Muslim in the far north, Igbo in the south-east, Christian in the south-south, e.t.c. However, this should not be the primary objective and the tendency of “like” states to come together as a group perpetuates the sense that we are not one nation but a collection of tribes. I would strongly advise outlawing tribal and sectional groups with overt political agendas such as Northern Elders’ Forum, Afenifere and Ohaneze. These are dubious organizations that have only served to breed tension and disharmony in the country.

A second issue that comes up is the recent decision by the Federal government to support amendments to the constitution aimed at allowing states set up their own police force. No doubt this reflects general dissatisfaction with a corrupt and incompetent Federal Force. The decision is however precipitate. Historical experience with the N.A. police in the north for instance, was that the police was a mere extension of the palace,  often the instrument for harassing radical elements. A police force funded  by a state, manned and controlled by indigenes, can never protect the interest of ethnic, religious and ideological minorities. What do we expect  a Yoruba police force to do if Oodua Peoples’ Congress area boys decide to attack the Hausa or Ijaw community? What will a Hausa, Muslim police force  do if Kano urchins decide to attack Christians?

It is clear to me that the relations between various ethnic and religious groups contributed, as much as ( if not more than) objective defects to the  collapse of the First Republic. In 1999, the country is faced with the same generic problems although they clearly vary in concrete and specific  historical form. These problems, which the nation has to address as an integral part of any restructuring are the subject of the next sub-section.

Subjective Variables

The former civilian governor of Kaduna State, Alhaji Abdulkadir Balarabe Musa, in a recent Newspaper interview, declared that the Northern Bourgeoisie and the Yoruba Bourgeoisie were Nigeria’s principal problem. Of the two, he said the Yoruba Bourgeoisie are an even greater problem because of their tribalism and selfishness.

I will take this as my basis for my analysis of subjective factors. Let us begin by stating that  the bane of the Nigerian elite can be condensed into three elements:-

1. Ethnic chauvinism and Religious Intolerance;
2. Selfishness and the inordinate desire for dominating others, and
3. Short-sightedness.

As we prepare for the possibility of a national conference, I believe four issues will remain central to the success or otherwise of whatever Federal Structure comes up. I also agree with Balarabe Musa that the Northern bourgeoisie and the Yoruba bourgeoisie  hold the key to these issues and the manner in which they are handled will to a large extent determine progress made towards our ideal structure. These issues are:-

i. The Sharia and religious intolerance in the North;
ii. The Yoruba elite and area-boy politics;
iii. Igbo marginalisation and the responsible limits of retribution; and
iv. The Niger-Delta and the need for justice.

i. The Sharia and religious intolerance in the North

The Islamic faith has never accepted the dichotomy between Religion and Politics. Political life for a Muslim is guided by Sharia and in all those aspects of law where an explicit religious injunction exists, a Muslim expects this to be held as valid above any other law. Fortunately, most of the areas of conflict between Islamic Law and Secular Law have to do with the law of personal states (including inheritance), some aspects of contract, and criminal law, especially as it pertains to capital punishment. If muslims wish to have these laws applied on them, and promulgated by their elected representatives, there is no reason why this should pose a problem. There is likely to be a problem however, with punishment for certain civil and criminal offences such as libel, theft and adultery if a non-Muslim is involved. My own feeling is that anyone living in a state should acquaint himself with the operative law in that State before committing a crime. We are all subject to that when we go to other countries. Indeed, the law we have in Nigeria is made for us and we are subject to it. This is one major area that needs to be talked about at any conference and this explains why the Sharia issue always comes up in constitutional conferences. To ask Muslims to abandon Sharia in the name of a Secular Nigeria is to give them an unjust choice. The matter is not one of being either Muslim or Nigerian when they can be both Muslim and Nigerian. The attempt to turn Nigeria into a Secular State seeks the erosion of Muslim identity and history. This will continue to be a source of conflict as Muslims will always resist it, with justification. Nigeria is a multi-religious state which should, however, ensure that no religion is given preference over others.

While the insistence of Muslim North on Sharia is thus understandable, it however, seems that all too often, the northern bourgeoisie ignores a number of key points. First, the Sharia as far as the government is concerned, is not just about the courts and sanctions. It is primarily about providing the people with the best material and spiritual conditions the resources of state can provide. It is about honestly managing their resources, about giving them services in education, health, agriculture, etc. It is all well to ban the sale of alcohol, but this does not take the place of, or have priority over, meeting the material needs of the people. Our elite use the Sharia debate to divert attention from their own corruption, nepotism, abuse of office and un-Islamic conduct.

The second point, which the Muslim elite ignores, is the dividing line between commitment to Sharia and encroachment on the religious rights and dignity of others.

I will give a few examples:-

Very recently, the Katsina State Government tried to pass Bills banning the sale of alcohol and the operation of whore-houses in the metropolis. As a consequence of this move (and, it is said, failure of the House to approve the Bill), irate Muslim youth, shouting Allahu Akbar decided to burn not just beer parlours, hotels and whorehouses, but also Christian churches.

Now, the Qur’an (Hajj. (ch. 22): 40) specifically forbids tearing down monasteries, churches, synagogues and mosques. Yet the leaders of Muslims have not come out strongly enough to condemn this violation of the rights of Christians, nor considered the implications of Christians in turn burning mosques in retaliation. It is also worthy of note, that christian morality does not approve of alcoholism and prostitution.

A second example is the recent furore over Obasanjo’s appointment of northern Christians into his cabinet. I have elsewhere made my views on this known although several people have branded me, and others like Col. Umar, anti-Islamic or anti-north for not joining this hypocritical farce

In failing to rise above bigotry and chauvinism, northern Muslims act against injunctions of their faith. The Qur’an expressly preaches freedom of religion

[see, for example: Al-Baqarah (ch.2): 256; Yunus (ch.10): 108; Hud (ch.11):
121-122; Kahf(ch18):29;  andAl-Ghashiyah (ch.88) :21-24]

It is also pertinent for those who criticize us to recall that Allah specifically instructed that trust and leadership should be given only to those worthy of them and to judge between men with justice (Al-Nisa (ch.4): 58). Also, if anyone believes that false witness should be given for or against a man simply because he is a Muslim or Non-Muslim, he should read [Al-Nisa (ch4): 135; also 105and Al-Ma’idah ((ch.5): 6]. Finally for those who object to our inviting good muslims and good christians to come together and give the poor people of this country the good government preached by both faiths, please read [Al-Imran (ch3): 64] which provides a basis for coming together on common ground.

I do not mean by this that only Muslims show intolerance in the North. Muslims in certain areas have been the subject of Christian attacks, such as what happened in Zangon-Kataf and Kafanchan. In the main, those attacks seem to have taken two major forms. The first, and this is common, reflects attacks instigated by Christian leaders who are looking for political and economic space in the North. Retired Christian generals, from Takum to Zangon-Kataf, who find themselves overshadowed by more junior, but Muslim, generals in the North, take out their frustration by financing and co-ordinating religious conflicts. One of them has already been convicted once.

The second form they have taken is one of a genuine protest, an expression of frustration with their consignment to the role of second-class northerners in their homeland, in spite of everything they have given for the North. They have sacrificed their sons in the war against Biafra. They have organized and toppled coups to bring and sustain Northern Muslim generals to and in power. Yet, they are treated with disdain and derision, as we saw in the recent ministerial lists. The violence of northern Christians, therefore, while we condemn it, may be seen as sometimes, being a reaction to the violence inflicted on them, like the violence of the native in Frantz Fanon’s “ The Wretched of the Earth”.

In the history of the world, it has long been established that intolerance and religious bigotry stultify the development of society. One of the secrets of the greatness of Rome in antiquity lies in the religious tolerance of the Barbarians and their ability to look for common grounds among their faiths.

In the ‘History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’, Edward Gibbon tells us:

 “ Such was the mild spirit of antiquity, that the nations were less attentive to the difference, than to the resemblance, of their religious worship. The Greek,  the Roman, and the Barbarian, as they met before their respective altars,  easily persuaded themselves that under various names, and with various  ceremonies, they adored the same deities. The elegant mythology of Homer  gave a beautiful, and almost regular form, to the polytheism of the ancient  world” (Vol. 1:p.57)

Similarly, those who fail to recognise virtue and merit, and adopt it  wherever it is found in the interest of the ambitions of their nation, will  never find progress.

Again, Gibbon tells us in the DF:

“ The narrow policy of preserving, without any foreign mixture, the pure  blood of the ancient citizens, had checked the fortune, and hastened the  ruin, of Athens and Sparta. The aspiring genius of Rome sacrificed vanity to  ambition, and deemed it more prudent, as well as honourable, to adopt virtue  and merit for her own wheresoever they were found, among slaves or strangers, enemies or barbarians”  (Vol.1: p.61)

How much lower can a people sink, when they need lessons in culture and civilization from the history of barbarians? Muslims will recall that the freedom and tolerance of the Islamic State was what led to the glory and flourishing of the Caliphate in both the early Abbasid and Ottoman phases, while Rome declined with the intolerance and bigotry of the Catholic Church.

Indeed, one of the acclaimed attributes of the late Sardauna is that in spite of his very open commitment to and zeal for Islam, he did not show intolerance for other faiths or disdain for others simply because they did not share his faith. This has been acknowledged widely by northern Christians like Jolly Tanko Yusuf, Ishaya Audu, and Sunday Awoniyi. Present-day northern leaders, however, seem characterized by a fake commitment to their religions which only finds expression in antagonising other faiths. They sing the Sardauna’s praises but cannot live up to his standards, like the Greeks of Constantinople described by Gibbon in the following words:

“ They held in their lifeless hands the riches of their fathers, without  inheriting the spirit which had created and improved that sacred patrimony:  they read, they praised, they compiled, but their languid souls seemed alike  incapable of thought and action”.   (Vol III: P.420)

So much for our new-breed northern leaders, now to their opposite numbers in the South-West.

ii. The Yoruba Factor and “Area-boy” Politics.

My views on the Yoruba political leadership have been thoroughly articulated in some of my writings, prime among which was “ Afenifere: Syllabus of Errors” published by This Day (The Sunday Newspaper) on Sept 27, 1998. There was also an earlier publication in the weekly Trust entitled “ The Igbo, the Yoruba and History”  (Aug. 21, 1998).

In sum, the Yoruba political leadership, as mentioned by Balarabe Musa, has shown itself over the years to be incapable of rising above narrow tribal interests and reciprocating goodwill from other sections of the country by treating other groups with respect. Practically every crisis in Nigeria since independence has its roots in this attitude.

The Yoruba elite were the first, in 1962, to attempt a violent overthrow of an elected government in this country. In 1966, it was the violence in the West which provided an avenue for the putsch of 15th January. After Chief Awolowo lost to Shagari in 1983 elections, it was the discontent and bad publicity in the South-West which led to the Buhari intervention. When Buhari jailed UPN governors like Ige and Onabanjo, the South-Western press castigated that good government and provided the right mood for IBB to take over power. As soon as IBB cleared UPN governors of charges against them in a politically motivated retrial, he became the darling of the South-West. When IBB annulled the primaries in which Adamu Ciroma and Shehu Yar Adua emerged as presidential candidates in the NRC and SDP, he was hailed by the South-West. When the same man annulled the June 12, 1993 elections in which Abiola was the front-runner, the South-West now became defenders of democracy. When it seemed Sani Abacha was sympathetic to Abiola, the South-West supported his take-over. He was in fact invited by a prominent NADECO member to take over in a published letter shortly before the event. Even though Abiola had won the elections in the North, the North was blamed for its annulment. When Abdulsalam Abubakar started his transition, the Yoruba political leadership through NADECO presented a memorandum on a Government of National Unity that showed complete disrespect for the intelligence and liberties of other Nigerians. Subsequently, they formed a tribal party which failed to meet minimum requirements for registration, but was registered all the same to avoid the violence that was bound to follow non-registration, given the area-boy mentality of South-West politicians. Having rejected an Obasanjo candidacy and challenged the election as a fraud in court, we now find a leading member of the AD in the government, a daughter of an Afenifere leader as Minister of State, and Awolowo’s daughter as Ambassador, all appointed by a man who won the election through fraud. Meanwhile, nothing has been negotiated for the children of Abiola, the focus of Yoruba political activity. In return for these favours, the AD solidly voted for Evan Enwerem as Senate President. This is a man who participated in the two-million-man March for Abacha’s self-succession. He also is reputed to have hosted a meeting of governors during IBB’s transition, demanding that June 12 elections should never be de-annulled and threatening that the East would go to war if this was done. When Ibrahim Salisu Buhari was accused of swearing to a false affidavit, the Yoruba political elite correctly took up the gauntlet for his resignation. When an AD governor, Bola Tinubu, swears to a false affidavit that he attended an Ivy League University which he did not attend, we hear excuses.

For so many years, the Yoruba have inundated this country with stories of being marginalised and of a civil service dominated by northerners through quota system. The Federal Character Commission has recently released a report which shows that the  South-West accounts for 27.8% of civil servants in the range GL08 to GL14 and a full 29.5% of GL 15 and above. One zone out of six zones controls a full 30% of the civil service leaving the other five zones to share the remaining 70%. We find the same story in the economy, in academia, in parastatals.

Yet in spite of being so dominant, the Yoruba complained and complained of marginalization. Of recent, in recognition of the trauma which hit the South-West after June 12, the rest of the country forced everyone out of the race to ensure that a South-Westerner emerged, often against the best advice of political activists. Instead of leading a path of reconciliation and strong appreciation, the Yoruba have embarked on short-sighted triumphalism, threatening other “nationalities” that they ( who after all lost the election) will protect Obasanjo ( who was forced on them). No less a person than Bola Ige has made such utterances. To further show that they were in charge, they led a cult into the Hausa area of Sagamu, murdered a Hausa woman and nothing happened. In the violence that followed, they killed several Hausa residents, with Yoruba leaders like Segun Osoba, reminding Nigerians of the need to respect the culture of their host communities.  This would have continued were it not for the people of Kano who showed that they could also create their own Oro who would only be appeased through the shedding of innocent Yoruba blood.

I say all this, to support Balarabe Musa’s statement, that the greatest problem to nation-building in Nigeria are the Yoruba Bourgeoisie. I say this also to underscore my point that until they change this attitude, no conference can solve the problems of Nigeria. We cannot move forward if the leadership of one of the largest ethnic groups continues to operate, not like statesmen, but like common area boys.

iii. The Igbo Factor and the Reasonable Limits of Retribution.

The Igbo people of Nigeria have made a mark in the history of this nation. They led the first successful military coup which eliminated the Military and Political leaders of other regions while letting off Igbo leaders. Nwafor Orizu, then Senate President, in consultation with President Azikiwe, subverted the constitution and handed over power to Aguiyi-Ironsi.  Subsequent developments, including attempts at humiliating other peoples, led to the counter-coup and later the civil war. The Igbos themselves must acknowledge that they have a large part of the blame for shattering the unity of this country.

Having said that, this nation must realise that Igbos have more than paid for their foolishness. They have been defeated in war, rendered paupers by monetary policy fiat, their properties declared abandoned and confiscated, kept out of strategic public sector appointments and deprived of public services. The rest of the country forced them to remain in Nigeria and has continued to deny them equity.

The Northern Bourgeoisie and the Yoruba Bourgeoisie have conspired to keep the Igbo out of the scheme of things. In the recent transition when the Igbo solidly supported the PDP in the hope of an Ekwueme presidency, the North and South-West treated this as a Biafra agenda. Every rule set for the primaries, every gentleman’s agreement was set aside to ensure that Obasanjo, not Ekwueme emerged as the candidate. Things went as far as getting the Federal Government to hurriedly gazette a pardon. Now, with this government, the marginalistion of the Igbo is more complete than ever before. The Igbos have taken all these quietly because, they reason, they brought it upon themselves. But the nation is sitting on a time-bomb.

After the First World War, the victors treated Germany with the same contempt Nigeria is treating Igbos. Two decades later, there was a Second World War, far costlier than the first. Germany was again defeated, but this time, they won a more honourable peace. Our present political leaders have no sense of History. There is a new Igbo man, who was not born in 1966 and neither knows nor cares about Nzeogwu and Ojukwu. There are Igbo men on the street who were never Biafrans. They were born Nigerians, are Nigerians, but suffer because of actions of earlier generations. They will soon decide that it is better to fight their own war, and may be find an honourable peace, than to remain in this contemptible state in perpetuity.

The Northern Bourgeoisie and the Yoruba Bourgeoisie have exacted their pound of flesh from the Igbos. For one Sardauna, one Tafawa Balewa, one Akintola and one Okotie-Eboh, hundreds of thousands have died and suffered.

If this issue is not addressed immediately, no conference will solve Nigeria’s problems.

iv. The Niger-Delta and The Need For Justice.

This is the final subjective variable I wish to mention. I will not say anything on this because it seems, finally, it has caught the attention of the nation and something is being done about it.


I started this paper by saying that restructuring the Federation was not a simple task, and should be considered only as part of the process of nation-building. The message I have carried all my life is that all Nigerians have a right to maintain their diversity but this should only be on the basis of respect of the same rights for other Nigerians. No nation can be built on the platform of inequity, intolerance and selfishness.

I am Fulani. I am Muslim. But I am able to relate to every Nigerian as a fellow Nigerian and respect his ethnicity and his faith.  I am also convinced that we tend to exaggerate our differences for selfish ends and this applies even to matters of faith.

I have no doubt in my mind that the leadership of Nigerian politics in all parts of the country today, is in the main, reactionary, greedy, corrupt and bankrupt. Brought up in the era of tribal warlords, most political leaders are unable to think first and foremost like Nigerians. To this extent, any conference held today may be a waste of time.

But the audience may ask “Is there any hope for this Country”?  My answer is yes!  I rest my hope partly on personal experience. In every part of the country, I come across young Nigerians who do not agree with their elders. In the North, there is a new northerner, throwing off the yoke of irredentism, the toga of nepotism and the image of being a beneficiary of quota system. In the South-West, I find many young Yoruba citizens who frown at the rabid tribalism and provincialism of their leaders. In Igboland, we see young Igbos who regret the past and look forward to a brighter future. I have indeed received several letters from Nigerians, northerners and southerners, christians and muslims, encouraging me in the fight against the twin vices of religious intolerance and ethnic chauvinism.

But I rest my hope on a much deeper and profound base than these fleeting impressions. The hope for this Country is founded on the existence of the very problems we have just examined. The people of this Country have a long history of being together. Yet each group jealously guards its own identity, be it ethnic or religious. This is so only because our cultures, our religions, teach us core values within which we find full expression of our humanity. If only we would look, we would find that the values that make a good Fulani, Yoruba, Kanuri or Bini man; the values that make a good Christian and a good Muslim; are the same. If only we had in each part of this country, a leadership with the vision to recognize this, to harness this, to bring together good Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo, Ogoni and Angas men and women; good Christians and Muslims; to run the affairs of this country, we would find peace.

I rest my hope, finally on my generation. A generation of young, educated Nigerians, brought up in luxury, weaned by the traumatic experiences of the last two decades, and ready to take up the gauntlet, and ignite the hopes, for a renewed Nigeria. This is the generation much maligned by the present administration of septuagenarians. The generation discarded and treated like a pack of potential thieves. The only truly marginalized generation. This is the generation that will pick up the pieces and by the grace of Allah, leave those coming behind with a legacy far more progressive than the one we inherited.

Thank you.


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