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On the North’s Dominance of Nigeria, By Uddin Ifeanyi


Northern Nigeria Map

…what we are witnessing today as Nigeria appears finally prepared to go over the famed precipice is not evidence of the strength of northern politics. But of their weakness. If their management of resources in the north is a measure of how they would prosecute a programme for the colonisation of southern Nigerian, we might as well go to sleep with both eyes wide shut.

If the Buhari administration achieves anything of significance after eight years in office, it might be in the extent to which it has driven wedges into the country’s social fabric. Separatist tendencies have moved so aggressively to the fore and centre of public debate, that even matters of serious economic concern (frightfully high inflation numbers, numbing unemployment rate, and a debt burden that should do in the back of the famed camel) now take back seat. No meeting is complete without debate over the feasibility of the nation’s constituent parts were they to go their separate ways.

To be fair to the administration, crevices have always existed in what we prefer to describe as the “national body polity”. Indeed, it could be argued that even the process of amalgamation in 1914 was achieved more with sticking plaster than epoxy glue. Understandably, in this reading, purported and real differences between the northern and southern parts of the country were often the more visible of our differences as a people. There are also religious differences. Not as prominent in the 1970s and 1980s, but increasingly impossible to ignore today, this new difference fault line is incIdentally between the two Abrahamic religions, rather than between both on one hand and the traditional animist variety on the other.

And then, there is the tension (increasingly antagonistic, if the response to the latest wave of rural migration to our cities is any measure) between our urban and rural areas. Whereas the two previous fault lines are often of a political variety, the rural-urban disagreement has been largely economic ― although the language of the conversation around it leans heavily on security and policing registers. Until recently, officialdom has tried to solve this contradiction (some will argue that it has ended up exacerbating it, instead) through policies skewed to mollifying urban interests (fuel and exchange rate subsidies designed to keep the urban rich and middle class in fine fettle) but ultimately responsible for today’s shocking impoverishment of our rural areas.

There have been several attempts to stitch up these oozing sores. From mythologising the notion of “de-tribalisation” (meaning a compatriot’s transcendence of the limits of his or her tribe) through the fiction of a monolithic “North”. Yet, the principle behind and practice of the concept of “Federal character” (official affirmative action policy) remains the poster candidate of our continuing efforts to keep the genie of harmful difference in the lamp.

…in conversations at the community level…I regularly hear admonitions for extra wariness of northern Muslims. Apparently, the latter are on a mission to dip al-Qurʼān in the Atlantic Ocean. “Why is this a worthwhile political, religious, social, or economic project?” And I am pointed to the influx of young, barely-(Western)educated northerners into the State as evidence of the impending invasion.

An easy charge against the Buhari administration is that it gave short shrift to the idea that for Nigeria to keep trudging on as gingerly as it has since 1960, we need the “balance” in official appointments that lies at the heart of the federal character concept not just to be in place, but to be seen by all to be in place. In this sense, it matters that our echo chambers have fissured along geographic and religious lines. Northern conservatives, on one hand, versus Southern liberals, on the other. The Muslim north versus Christian south divide like the icing on any cake only adds a different flavour. Fictional, some would add, given how long ago Malian merchants introduced Islam to the Yoruba.

Yet, in conversations at the community level (in Lagos State, at least) I regularly hear admonitions for extra wariness of northern Muslims. Apparently, the latter are on a mission to dip al-Qurʼān in the Atlantic Ocean. “Why is this a worthwhile political, religious, social, or economic project?” And I am pointed to the influx of young, barely-(Western)educated northerners into the State as evidence of the impending invasion. “Do you not see that they carry concealed daggers, and shortwave radio sets?”, I’m asked. “Or how do you think the Interahamwe organised the 1994 pogroms in Rwanda?”

For as long as I can remember, “Mallam”, “Aboki”, call him what you will, has always carried concealed weapons and a radio set. And he’d always set himself up in some business ― hewing wood, fetching water, or prime mover of the corner shop where, as children, we bought scads of “Bazooka Joe” chewing gum. What has changed? About a year ago, now, driving towards Fagba-Iju (a pretend Lagos suburb), I had the good fortune of another type of conversation around this topic. The traffic congestion along that route is better imagined than experienced. And he had just, literally, climbed down from the heavy goods vehicle in front of me.

Sadly, the only group more inept than the northern cohort, is their southern counterparts. For with a thriving industrial base, and strong education sector, the influx of cheap labour from the north would have been a net positive for us down south!

He looked anything from 13 years old to 18. He’d travelled a week in the company of cows from Numan in Adamawa State. “Why go through so much wahala?”, I enquired. There was concern with security, he admitted. But food is a bigger problem. It had become increasingly difficult to assure a meal in two days in Numan. But his cousin who stays somewhere in Agege reports “doing” two meals a day, and more on sunny days. “What do you intend to do to pay for these meals?” “Oh! Ride ‘Achaba’ like my cousin”, was the answer.

It hurt then. And it still hurts now. How a nation could squat on its haunches and supervise the underutilisation, nay, gratuitous abuse, of its most sacred endowment. Within this reading of the dilemma faced by a large proportion of our youth, what we are witnessing today as Nigeria appears finally prepared to go over the famed precipice is not evidence of the strength of northern politics. But of their weakness. If their management of resources in the north is a measure of how they would prosecute a programme for the colonisation of southern Nigerian, we might as well go to sleep with both eyes wide shut.

Sadly, the only group more inept than the northern cohort, is their southern counterparts. For with a thriving industrial base, and strong education sector, the influx of cheap labour from the north would have been a net positive for us down south!

Uddin Ifeanyi, journalist manqué and retired civil servant, can be reached @IfeanyiUddin.

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