Nigeria is at an inflection point. It’s becoming even more febrile with the politics of 2023 elections already playing out in high octane. That’s a pivotal year that could determine whether the country still stands any chance of surviving as one nation. Or dissolve chaotically into many.
Our third-eleven leaders are ignoring the existential problems besetting the country. Their singular focus is on how to get power. It’s not pulling the country – bastardized, maltreated and badly misgoverned – from the brink of political and economic turmoil threatening to blow it apart.
When southern governors met recently in Enugu and reiterated their demand for the next president to come from the south, all hell broke loose in the north. How dare the governors indulge in such impudence by making the demand? That’s how many northern spokesmen expressed their outrage, rudely reminding the governors that, beyond their whining, there’s nothing they could do to actualize their demand.
One of those who challenged the southern governors’ position that the presidency be zoned to the south in 2023 is Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed. Suave and affecting some sophistication, he carries himself with an air and speaks with the tone of someone who feels entitled. He’s an archetype of the northern bourgeoisie, who genuinely believe that Nigeria is theirs to pillage and mismanage without any challenge.
If you’re from anywhere outside the north-west, particularly the south and north-central, and you want to be president, you have to genuflect before them and kowtow to their whims. When you dare to stake a claim to the country’s apex leadership position outside their own terms and endorsement, you’re given a stern lecture on their divine ownership and control of power.
That’s what Baba-Ahmed did in reaction to the southern governors’ demand. Speaking at the maiden Maitama Sule leadership lecture in Zaria, he declared magisterially that no group could threaten the north to yield its stranglehold on the levers of power.
In the mean time, the country is literally falling apart under their watch. President Mohammadu Buhari is one of them, who they all supported to get to Aso Rock. And the federal government is firmly in their grip, with nearly all the key ministries and agencies controlled by them.
Baba-Ahmed has admitted that they did everything to demonize President Goodluck Jonathan and defeat him in 2015. But to be fair to him, he’s severally called out Buhari for his failures and expressed regrets that their support for, and trust in him to provide some purposeful leadership was a fatal error. One for which the country is paying heavily in blood, tears and mass sorrow.
Notwithstanding their angst over Buhari’s bumbling and the pathetic state of the country now, the northern political elite are still playing their usual game of political brinksmanship. They obsess, which is their default mindset, over retaining control of the behemoth that’s the federal government with its innumerable, voracious agencies that suck the country of financial oxygen to thrive.
They see controlling power as their birthright. And controlling power means determining how every resource will be shared. The political and governmental architecture emplaced by military regimes controlled and run by mostly northerners, was designed to legalize their unfair prime access to these resources.
The result today is their unjustifiably disproportionate share of them. This glaring injustice of those contributing far less to the national coffers getting far more, is one major driver of the seething agitations in many parts of the country for things to change. But the clamour for restructuring the country to make it less dysfunctional is being stoutly resisted by the north.
So when the southern governors demanded that Buhari’s successor should, of necessity and fairness, be a southerner, the power mongers in the north went ballistic in their reaction. They were, as usual, dismissive of the governors’ demand.
Particularly galling is the insufferable arrogance of people like Baba-Ahmed, who said that nothing could move the north to give up what it considers its special advantage of numerical superiority. According to this warped logic, democracy is merely a game of numbers. Those who have the numbers will always cast majority votes and therefore win elections or influence their outcomes.
Implicit in this claim of the north’s numerical superiority that entitles it to determine who will be president, is the imperative of the south begging the ‘owners of power’ to loan it out for a while. If the governors or other groups insist that equity, fairness and the overarching need to arrest the growing divide in the country should foreclose a northern president after Buhari, then the north would fight to keep hold of Aso Rock.
Let’s just remember that the governors didn’t ask Buhari to resign for the gross incompetence and monumental failures of his administration. They only asked that the principle and convention of rotating power between the north and south, that’s been in play since the beginning of the current political dispensation, be respected and maintained. Especially more so at a time when Buhari’s unbridled and extremely provocative parochialism has dangerously divided the country.
Baba-Ahmed and his ilk are inebriated by their too-easy access to all the prime cuts of the national steak, with the resultant flatulence they suffer from scrambling their brains. That’s why they’re unable to think beyond merely controlling power even when they don’t know what to do with it, apart from feeding the seemingly insatiable appetite of the effete elite among them for public appointments, contracts and other government patronages.
While they obsess over controlling power, the north remains far behind the south as constantly validated by all indices of measuring development and social progress. Making the situation even more unpalatable, nearly six and a half years of Buhari’s presidency has turned most of the north into a killing field, the kidnapping capital of the world and stamped mass misery on the country. The economy is a complete shambles and Nigeria is once again a heavily indebted country. One whose president shamelessly goes begging for forgiveness of the debts he has recklessly accumulated.
How could anyone take him seriously when he indulged his fancy by authorizing a rail line to be built to connect his state of Katsina to Maradi in Niger Republic? And the $2 billion-project will be funded with borrowed money. One doesn’t need to first be an economist to see clearly that the rail line will be economically unviable. Which means that it’s potentially a huge financial burden on Nigeria.
One of the few northern leaders, who have tried to speak forcefully to this reality of the present turmoil in the north and the myth that controlling power is best for it, is Mohammadu Sanusi, the immediate past emir of Kano. With every opportunity he gets to address the problem, he’s never failed to decry the irresponsibility of northern leaders in creating and neglecting the chaos that’s wracking the region today.
For his boldness in ventilating the truth to the discomfort of those who don’t want to hear it, he paid a heavy price. He was peremptorily deposed from his throne.
But the urgency of the problems of development in the north he has been crying about remains unaddressed. Even Buhari, in whom virtually the whole north and a significant proportion of the south-west invested their hope in 2015, has compounded the problems in the north with his lack of serious engagement with the issues, and reduced the country to a state that’s rapidly failing.
So let’s be clear about one thing: elections alone, whose outcomes are determined by the majority, don’t represent the real essence of democracy. Majority can in and by itself promote tyranny and legalize injustices. As it’s so manifestly the case in Nigeria.
This is why democracy is actually more about equity and everybody getting a fair shake. It isn’t about one section manipulating the instruments of government to control power, unfairly appropriate and live off of the resources of others. That’s just the recipe for distrust and disharmony among the various sections of the country.
As the north has upped its power game and raised the stakes for all those challenging its political dominance, the south is unsurprisingly again in disarray. That’s why the Baba-Ahmeds and others like him will continue to talk down to its leaders and dismiss them as clowns.
However, if by any act of omission and commission, the governors and all those clamoring for power shift don’t go beyond whining about it and nothing changes in 2023, then they’ll be complicit in the continuing shortchanging of the south and debasement of the country. And the verdict of history would be unforgiving of them. Just as it would be harsh on all those who have neglected the challenges of the north and held the country hostage to their whimsical and capricious scheming for power.
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