Despite Sir Frederick Lord Luggard’s unification of Nigeria as a single entity in 1914 Nigeria is still battling with imbalance in representation.
This development has precipitated agitation from different ethnic nationalities and regions that presumably feel short-changed in the running of their country’s affairs.
Nigeria, as a united territory, has failed to move to the peak of development owing to the failure of successive leaderships despite her possession of natural resources needed to grow the economy and create jobs.
At the moment, Nigerians are of the opinion that the last time they tasted true leadership representation was during the First Republic. Leaders of this era did remarkably well to lay a solid foundation for phases of development in all spheres of Nigeria where ethnicity, religion and regionalism were not the basis of consideration.
This is very true because it was only the great Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto that kept the northern Nigeria united despite the multi-ethnic and pluralistic cleavages of the North.
Nigeria, the giant of Africa, is becoming increasingly complex for us to fathom as a result of the direction and the shape our politics has taken.
Then, emphasis was being placed on a leader’s region, religion and tribe instead of his or her willingness to rule on the fundamental principles of justice, fairness and equity. So far, this unpleasant narrative has led to the disintegration of the united territory called Nigeria, a legacy left behind by the late Luggard 107 years ago.
It is evident that the consistent failure of successive governments to provide quality leadership that would have proffered solutions to the problems of an average Nigerian, whether in the South or the North birthed “We Want Our Own” syndrome. Let’s think of supporting political candidates beyond regional and religious lines. Let’s decide to stand with Nigerians who have the love of this country at heart, even if they worship the ghost.
This “We Want Our Own” syndrome has, to say the least, destroyed the relationship fostered between the leaders of the First Republic and the people. Today, such healthy relationship has been replaced with bad blood, so much which it has become practically impossible for leaders of today to succeed.
The question of loyalty as against credibility of candidates to deliver on their mandates is now the order of the day, as far as the Nigerian political climate is concerned. The foundation of oneness laid by such unforgettable heroes as Ahmadu Bello, Nnamdi Azikwe and Obafemi Awolowo has been eroded by division and divisiveness coined by the current political elite to perpetuate, in style, their divide and rule system.
Nigeria would have been one of the best democracies in the world and we would have been rubbing shoulders to shoulders with the American democracy of today if the tempo of Abiola-Tofa leadership maturity had been sustained.
The June 12, 1993 presidential election that brought about the victory of Abiola unarguably remains the best in the history of Nigeria’s fledgling democracy. It was such a victory which no ethnic difference could restrain, as M.K.O. Abiola won Bashir Tofa in the latter’s home state by 57 to 45 per cent victory margin. This was possible in the face of patriotism as opposed to ethnic sentiment.
The most interesting of this narrative was the fact that both Abiola and his running mate, Kingibe, share the same faith, as both were Muslims. The truth here is that Nigerians voted for the best candidates and not for their tribe or religion. This is the tempo of oneness, national cohesion and patriotic zeal that the current Nigerian political elite failed to sustain in the journey of Nigeria towards democracy after military incursions.
The 1979 Shagari/Ekwueme era followed very strictly ethnic and regional pattern, as Shagari lost woefully in the Southeast, the political base of Ekwueme, his Vice. The 1993 Abiola/Kingibe launch assumed a different pattern. But for the fact that the former President Ibrahim Banbagida-led military government annulled the historic presidential election, it would have gone down in history as a clear departure from this current unwholesome pattern of voting along the ethnic, regional and religious lines.
And that was why the annulment, condemned by both the national and the international communities, sparked off a wave of protest and violence, especially in the southern part of the country. It was a fierce political test for the IBB-led military government, as it fought hard to stand firm against the foreign powers in order to decide Nigeria’s fate as an independent and sovereign state.
The Obasanjo/Atiku PDP ticket in 1999 was more of the north and the south contest. However, both Olusegun Obasanjo and Olu Falae, as major contestants in the presidential elections, are of Yoruba extraction. Obasanjo scored the highest number of votes from the northern region because of his alliance with the northern oligarchy while more votes of the south-western region went Olu Falae, his closest rival. The results of the elections were slightly different when compared with the 1979 Shagari/Ekwueme ticket that completely followed regional pattern.
The Yar’adua/Jonathan ticket in 2007 was clearly a northern contest, as the results declared showed the late President Yar’adua scoring 70 per cent of the total votes cast, thus leaving the remaining 30 per cent to be shared by the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar who respectively clinched the second and the third positions. The greatest percentage of the votes came from the north because the people from the south saw the contest as more of the northern affairs.
The Jonathan/Sambo ticket in 2011 had both ethnic and religious colourations. While Jonathan won convincingly in some states of the north, the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari lost woefully to Jonathan in the south.
The aftermath of the announcement of the presidential election results sparked off a wave of protest in some northern states, an ugly development which left many innocent Nigerians, including certain corps members that were posted to the north for national youths service dead. This was the time when “We Want Our Own” syndrome created by the Nigerian political power blocks began to hunt everyone, not sparing its creators.
The Buhari/Osinbajo ticket in 2015 portended a real political fight among the three different political groups that merged into the All Progressives Congress (APC). The political forces which regrouped to wrest power from former President Jonathan were made up of three different groups. While the first group comprised those that shared the same ideology with President Muhammadu Buhari; the second were made up of those whose aim was to send Jonathan out of office and the last group was peopled by those who joined the first two groups only to win the elections at all costs.
Alhough the forces had all the tribes, religions and regions represented in their train, it was very difficult for APC to win both the south-south and the south-east geo-political zones because of Jonathan. The APC recorded an emphatic win in almost all the states in the north and in the southwest. The party’s victory in the southwest was on the strength of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s political clout. The election in this phase had both religious and tribal undertones though it came with a nationalistic approach.
It is incontestable that Nigeria is currently at the centre of the heat, trying to manage the internal conflicts from combating the Boko Haram insurgents in the north east , bandits/kidnappers in the north west, farmers-herders’ face-off in the southwest and armed militia in the nooks and crannies of the country. Regional agitations, from such separatists groups as the Biafra and the Oduduwa Republic continue to take different shapes, as clamour for power sharing, resources control, restructuring, regional security outfits and, above all, regional autonomy persists.
Similarly, there are regional actors championing the cause for Sovereign National Conference where deliberations can be made as to whether or not the federating units of the country can still live together. There is a fairly generalized feeling of alienation and dissatisfaction among the various constituents of the Nigerian federation, a situation that has also deepened mistrust and incentivized separatist agitations.
The above mentioned agitations have so far retarded the growth of Nigeria on both economic and political fronts. The state apparatus is currently tested like the ‘sit at home order’ is one of the many tensions by regional forces. What about the dreaded Boko Haram kingpins who, before now, were in control of strategic towns in Borno? We are all aware of the current happenings and challenges posed by bandits in the North West and many of its kind.
It has been proven beyond any reasonable doubt that most of these agitations do not reflect the wishes and aspirations of the right-thinking Nigerians who need security, food, shelter, good roads, infrastructures, affordable healthcare services, quality education, electricity and portable drinking water among other social amenities that an ordinary Nigerian needs to survive. Misinformed Nigerians have been made to believe that those in control of government resources are the brain behind these current happenings in the country.
We cannot deny the fact that those in the corridors of power have succeeded in injecting, into our blood streams, this ethnic hatred so that, as we continue to argue along the lines of our faiths and regions, their divide and rule tactics continue to gain momentum.
The political elite cannot be shielded from the greater percentage of the blame, even though as citizens we have keyed into this myopic plight to allow loyalty to triumph over competency in the process of selecting those that we want to put in the position of authority.
As the 2023 presidential elections draw near, it is only when we replicate the Abiola/Kingibe political experience of 1993 in today’s political firmament that we can prevent Nigeria from being overwhelmed by ethnic and religious incubi. Unless and until “We Want Our Own” syndrome is eradicated, development will continue to elude us. And where loyalty triumphs over competency, the ordinary Nigerian always pays the price.
Mohammed, the National President, Arewa Youth Advocate for Peace and Unity Initiative, writes from Bauchi, Nigeria.