A very striking symbolic assessment of the Presidency of General Muhammadu Buhari was highlighted in the decision of all the former Presidents/Heads of State of Nigeria to stay away from the June 12 Democracy Day celebrations which the President inaugurated with so much pomp. It symbolised a negative perception of Buhari across board. Note that these luminaries didn’t converge at any meeting point to take a collective decision. Each, of his own accord, arrived at the same conclusion and took the decision not to honour his invitation. If he was alive and free, perhaps the late General Sani Abacha would most likely be the sole exception to this rule. In substance and style, the Abacha military dictatorship is the only precedent that the Buhari dispensation tends to evoke. Unlike Abacha, our wish is that President Buhari concludes his tenure on the high note of public goodwill and appreciation and there is still sufficient time and space for him to do a course reversal.
More than all else, the signature trademark of the Buhari Presidency is the tired but totally germane citation as personification of Hausa/Fulani hegemony. No other political leader, with the possible exception of Sir Ahmadu Bello, is so fixated on seeing Nigeria from the prism of Pan Islamic Northern hegemony but by the same token, he has equally become its nemesis. The crude, insensitive and extremist manner this hegemony has bared its fangs at his bidding has woken up the demons of Nigerian politics in a manner not seen since 1966. It has provoked paranoia and widespread revulsion at the cause and constituency he seeks to promote and he has done this with reckless abandon. The genie is out of the bottle and after he leaves the stage, it is inconceivable that any such hegemony can ever be reestablished in these shores. Just how Nigeria has degenerated is also indicated in the spectre of Mr. Nigeria himself, President Olusegun Obasanjo, feeling compelled to publicly raise the alarm at the trend of the “Fulanisation and Islamisation of Nigeria”. My enduring political association with the former President is largely borne of my perception of him as the foremost ideologue and promoter of contemporary Nigerian nationalism. I wanted to understand and work through him towards the realisation of the objective of making a nation of Nigeria. The current trajectory of Nigerian politics suggests that this objective is trending towards becoming a mission impossible.
By default, President Buhari has done the most damage to the cause of the Fulani in Nigeria. He has isolated and exposed them to criminalisation and ethnic stereotype of the worst order. Ominously, the enactment of the Rwanda model suddenly does not look that remote any longer, it is becoming increasingly plausible. The President has become a toxic brand that stigmatises and delegitimises his political allies and associates all over the country. It is difficult to see how Nigeria can recover from the deluge of deep seated bitterness and outrage emanating from the broken dam of inter-ethnic relations without re-examining the basis of our association as Nigerians. Only so far can you buy time with the tactics of kicking down the can and muddling through. There are not many precedents comparable to the unraveling and demystification that the Buhari brand has suffered. From the self-interested academic packaging and generous portrayal bestowed on him by his lifelong buddy, Mahmud Tukur, in his book, ‘Leadership and Governance in Nigeria: the relevance of Values’ to the unsolicited revisionist and unexamined positive mischaracterization he received from the Southern intelligentsia on his way to the Presidency, it is a litany of buyers’ remorse and disappointment.
Nostalgia for the heydays of the Sokoto caliphate resulted in seeing in him the ghosts of Usman Dan Fodio’s qualities of asceticism and integrity. When, however, confronted with the analogous sociopolitical degeneration that provoked the Jihad of Dan Fodio, he proved to be no more the reincarnation of the reformer than Alexander the first, the 13th century pagan Pope was a disciple of the first Vicar of Christ, Saint Peter the apostle. As proof, we need look no further than the typical evidence of Abdullahi Ganduje, the dollar hungry Governor of Kano State. No Governor of a prime estate of the Sokoto caliphate has reinvented the conditions precedent to the Dan fodio jihad more than Ganduje, but rather than sanction and banish him from his company, President Buhari went out of his way to adopt him as a favoured protégé.
The nation that was bequeathed to Nigerians by the British colonialists at independence in 1960 was a country that was politically lopsided in favour of the Northern region. There is no gainsaying the fact that Northern hegemony was built into the independence constitution of Nigeria. To say this is to acknowledge the reality of Nigeria’s power politics but there was nothing inexorable about its degeneration and the negative motive force identity it assumed in the subsequent political history of Nigeria. The hegemony was given bark and bite in the attribution of a population that dwarfed those of the Eastern and Western regions combined. On the basis of the majoritarian principle, the practice of democracy in Nigeria became thereby synonymous with Northern regional domination. Writing as a student of political science, I do not proceed with bias, either way, in making this acknowledgement. For my purposes, it is not necessary to do so.
The reasoned and inevitable adoption of federalism-predicated on the semi-autonomous status of the comprising three regions, at independence served to mitigate and check this political imbalance. Each region, to a considerable extent was accorded the latitude to operate independent of the federal government. To a large extent, the latter was rendered inconsequential to the development prospects and political fortunes of the regions. To drive home the point, the leader of the Northern Peoples’ Congress (NPC), Sir Ahmadu Bello, determined that being Premier of the Northern region was of more consequence than the office of the Prime Minister of Nigeria. Hence he delegated his lieutenant, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa to assume the latter office whilst he stayed back at Kaduna as Premier. The leaders of the two other political parties (Chief Obafemi Awolowo of the Action Group and Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe of the NCNC) followed suit and equally assumed the Premiership of the Western and Eastern regions respectively.
The circumstances that brought about the first experience of the overreach and abuse of Northern hegemony were unique to that historical moment. The degree of culpability was akin to the distinction between murder and manslaughter in criminal jurisprudence. It was not premeditated. It was more of the metaphor of going to fish in the troubled waters of the Western region- occasioned by the supremacist struggle gone sour within the ranks of the leadership of the governing political party, the AG. And the intervention was undertaken at the beckoning of a leading protagonist to the dispute. Similarly, the military wing of the Northern political establishment did not initiate the balance of terror contest of 1966 (the coup and counter coup)-which thenceforth fostered the brazen abuse of the hegemony as the new normal of Nigerian politics. The triumph of the military wing resulted in the seizure of the federal government and the subordination of Nigeria to its dictatorship. The ensuing triumphalism was further reinforced by the outcome of the civil war. The essence of this dictatorship, in regard of the preponderant centralisation of powers in the Presidency, was renewed in the adoption of the presidential system of government in the Nigerian constitution of 1979 and as it morphed into the 1999 Constitution.
Before now, I have advanced the argument that Northern Hegemony is not so much the problem of Nigeria, the abuse and the continued aggravation of this abuse is the problem. This liability can be studied in the thesis of the leveling down syndrome- choosing to hold back the development of the country rather than play catch up. In the dysfunctional manner it has been applied, the constitutional mandate of reflecting the quota and federal character principle in all federal public service appointments is the most visible example of this syndrome. Less advertised are the struggles behind the scenes among policy makers pitching the status quo conservatives against the ‘progressive’ visionaries. As it is has been frequently his lot so it became with Obasanjo in the drama behind the introduction of the school of basic studies educational policy in the 70s. High ranking federal government functionaries of Fulani origin had approached him in his capacity as the military head of state to lodge a concern on the wide educational disparity, especially in tertiary education, between the North and the South. Against the proposal of deliberately slowing down the progress of tertiary education (as suggested by the emissary of the conservatives), he countered with the proposition of fast tracking University education in the North through the facility of school of basic studies.
Time is running out and the stock of options available for rekindling the dying embers of Nigerian unity is getting steadily depleted. I have argued elsewhere that the failure of Nigeria cannot be remedied by hopes of the arrival of the elusive good leadership alighting on our shores to incrementally tackle the myriad of problems and crisis afflicting this country. What we are confronted with is systemic failure and it directly results from the extent of our constitutional deviation from the practice of federalism-which requires no less a holistic constitutional response and reversal to what the President himself called ‘true federalism’. The constitutional vehicle of Nigeria suffered an accident at the error of the road rule violation of a group of young military officers in 1966. Rather than repair and restore the vehicle, we kept on piling on the damaged vehicle until it becomes a near complete wreck that constitutes a present danger to the safety and security of the passengers. Going forward, we are left with two options, we can deconstruct and reassemble the vehicle and make it whole again-a feat that is not beyond the trademark ingenuity of Nigerian mechanics or we can abandon the wreckage altogether and get another one. The first option amounts to deferring to the logic of restructuring (understood as the restoration of federalism) while the latter represents the abandonment of Nigeria altogether to seek new nations.