Nigeria: The North and Culture of Violence as a Political Tool
by Eyenisong Ibibio
By now the sponsors and promoters of the Islamic group known as “Boko Haram” would have seen the futility of their ambition if the aims were to seek relevance and attention or to achieve outright political power levers. Boko Haram has become a monster, an uncontrollable monster threatening to swallow the sponsors and supporters of the insurgents.
At the point we are now, it is almost certain that leaders of Boko Haram are no longer listening to their “original” promoters having in themselves created and nurtured an agenda seemingly different from what might earlier have been the intentions of sponsors.
It is an indisputable fact that Jonathan is the President and Commander –in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces and therefore answerable to the Nigerian people in matters of safety of lives and property among other constitutional obligations. And when law and order have broken down almost irretrievably as is the case in some parts of the Northern region, then government would seem to have failed to live up to its responsibilities to the citizenry. It is even more pathetic when the party in power plays the tom-tom game when its house is on fire. PDP has instead of hiding its face in shame (if any trace of shame is left in it) has shockingly indulged itself by blaming the opposition! And one would ask: are members of opposition not Nigerian citizens and therefore subject to our laws and institutions guiding them? If they know the perpetrators of this madness of bombing innocent citizens by a group of mentally deranged individuals, then the property thing to do would have been to allow the law enforcement agencies do their work by arresting and prosecuting the offenders. By not facing up to the challenges of leadership as required by the times we now live in, PDP has abdicated its responsibilities and therefore unworthy to be trusted any further in future elections. I digress a little.
It is not a fact to be argued that some prominent Northerners are not only aware of who the leaders of Boko Haram are, but most possibly had offered one assistance or the other to the group in the hope of gaining political advantage; whether this has worked out for them or not is another matter altogether.
Why is the North always instigating violence when issues are not in their favour or when they want something that ordinarily could have been achieved through dialogue?
Let us remember that the North was ardently opposed to the idea of one Nigeria and did everything it could to hinder its realization. It therefore became fashionable for them to call for violent protests to register their objection to any issue.
When in 1957 the Britain offered to grant independence individually to the Regions, provided two of the three regions accepted it, the North vehemently rejected it saying it was not ready while the West accepted the offer. A tie. It now needed the East to declare a stand that would inevitably break the tie. In a surprise and unbelievable statement, Nnamdi Azikiwe, without consultation and assent by the people of the East, was to declare the stand of the Eastern region in these words”Although the Eastern Region was ready to assume independence, its attainment without the North would lead to balkanization of the country. The Eastern region would therefore rather suppress its appetite for independence and the obvious gains it would entail, until the Northern region is ready”. Thus Nnamdi Azikiwe sold out the right of the people to determine what they wanted in place of seeking unattainable unity which results still haunt us today. And one would further add that we have paid a price too heavy for this understanding.
Rather strangely and true to the culture of applying violent conduct to push its argument, the North in 1945 sponsored “anti-independence” riots in Jos and later in Kano in 1953 where hundreds of Easterners (Southerners) were murdered. After these, it became routine that the North would take over the streets in Northern cites, in violent protests on any issue seemingly against their interest. The Northern region did not want Nigeria and ultimately its independence hence riots were used as a tool for registering its un-acceptance.
While addressing the Legislative council in 1948, the then Prime Minister, Abubakar Tafawa Belewa had this to say of Nigerian unity: “Since 1914, the British Government has been trying to make Nigeria into one country, but the Nigerian people themselves are historically different in their backgrounds, in their religious beliefs and customs and do not show themselves any sign of willingness to unite. Nigerian unity is only a British intention for the country.”
As can be seen above, no top Northern leader made any pretence about Nigeria being one country. And they said so emphatically. The position taken by Abubakar Belewa was amplified by Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Premier of Northern region, who also voiced his resentment for Nigeria’s unity in his autobiography published in 1961 titled “My Life”. He described the amalgamation of Northern and Southern Nigeria as “the mistake of 1914”. He went further to demonstrate his disdain for one Nigeria by decreeing that all available job vacancies be filled by only Northerners and where there were no qualified Northerners, the jobs should be offered to Europeans/Arabs instead of his fellow Nigerians of Southern descent. In addition, he also created apartheid enclaves in the North by restricting the Southerners to residential areas known as “Sabo gari” as a deliberate policy which has endured till date. It is worthy of note that in the event of any riots, the “Sabo gari” areas were the most vulnerable as rioters would have unhindered access to carry out their murders!.
Another opportunity to violently protest and kill innocent Southerners presented itself in 1966 when Major Kaduna Nzeogwu led a coup that killed prominent Northern leaders. In response, the North not only countered the coup killing Ironsi who emerged as the Head of state in the process but went on a killing spree of especially Easterners (“ya miri’) in most Northern cities and towns. The, rest you would say, became history. It is important and pertinent to note that they had tagged this counter coup “Araba” meaning separation or segregation.
In the heat of the crisis that followed these upheavals, the Northern military officers subsequently prepared the North for secession from the “haruna(s)” or “infidels” of the South; this being their original philosophy and ultimate goals.
They were only prevailed upon by the British to abandon the idea of seceding from the rest of Nigeria. In his book “The Biafran War”, Michael Gould, in page 43 stated: “Cumming Bruce was able to persuade the Emirs that secession would be an economic disaster”. Cumming Bruce, the British High Commissioner in Nigeria then, confirmed the above: “It wasn’t on the face of it easy to get them (the North) to change, but I managed to do it over night. I drafted letters to the British Prime Minister to send to Gowon as Nigeria’s Head of state and for my Secretary (Michael Stewart) to send the letters to each of the Emirs. I wrote an accompanying letter to each of them because I knew them personally….. the whole thing was done at overnight and it did the trick of stopping them (the Emirs) dividing Nigeria up”.
After this, the North became the ultimate beneficiaries of Nigerian unity holding on to its political leadership for over 38 years of its 56 years of independence.
What really became and has remained the attractive package to Northerners over this façade called “Nigerian unity” was ostensibly the discovery of oil in the Niger Delta in 1956. And to control, manage and possess all of it, emergency laws transferring ownership of land and all is contents to the Unitary Federal government at the centre were promulgated. It has remained so till date against Federalism practices all over the world.
It is ironical that the same North is now threatening fire and brimstone over Nigeria’s unworkable unity.
Decades of pretence to unity and inability to accept to do the necessary by facing our areas of frictions squarely, has now returned us to the path of organized violence. And so enter Boko Haram as first a political tool, later as religious jihad and now operating on a totally different agenda, its leadership having been infiltrated by all manners of soldiers of fortune.
It has been said the North has been uncomfortable with the leadership style of Jonathan and so had to take steps to checkmate him by creating the monster that is advancing rapidly to engulf the whole country. God forbid!
Could the North or more appropriately, the sponsors of Boko Haram not wait till election time to vote Jonathan out with their so called numerical voting strength?
I hate to use one blanket to cover the entire North in this saga but notice that prominent Northerners have variously spoken in favour of the insurgents (Boko Haram), labeling them products of mis-governance and neglect as if these conditions are only applicable to the North. To appease them, they have argued, Jonathan must create a ministry or an agency to hear them out and possibly treat them as the Niger Delta militants by making budgetary allocations for them; but who are the leaders and what do they want? Silence and more silence. And secondly, the North as a bloc has refused till date to openly condemn the atrocities of Boko Haram except for pockets of subdued voices coming from there.
The North would easily choose to forget that during the era of Professor Jubril Aminu as the Minister of Education, billions of Naira budgetary allocation was spent on nomadic education policy – a program that teachers chased children in their grazing fields to give them education. But this same favour was not extended to the children of fishermen and other farmers in the South. They have conveniently ignored the fact that Jonathan has taken out thousands of under aged kids abandoned in the streets of mostly Northern states practicing “religious or customs” injunction known as “almajiri(s)” by building and equipping special schools for them. The The South is not asking for a reciprocal treatment but has managed through its state governors to offer education no matter how defective, to its youths.
And so it is that anytime the North wants something from this “mistake of 1914”, they would blackmail, instigate riots and threaten the whole of the country.
Luckily, we are now in the National Confab. We must talk. We must address this constant resort to violent arm-twisting conduct in achieving set goals. Time is now.