AKIN OSUNTOKUN: DIALOGUE WITH NIGERIA , Email: akin.osuntokun@thisdaylive.com

First, my sympathies to Yusuf Buhari of whom I learnt from unimpeachable sources, is a sober and level headed guy contrary to the impression given by the circumstances of his unfortunate accident.

I pride myself in having a wide ranging circle of friends and family from the North. Among the publicly identified ones are Dangiwa Umar, Mahmud Tukur, Nuhu Ribadu, Nasir El Rufai, Aliko Dangote, Ibrahim Babangida, Kashim Imam, Awwal Tukur, Chubadu Modibbo, Mohammad Jibrin and the Emir of Kano. One of them is the closest confidante I have anywhere in the world. By inclination and intellectual persuasion I consider myself a Nigerian nationalist. In my considered opinion, anyone identified as a genuine Nigerian nationalist would and should have problems with President Mohammadu Buhari. So far as I can see, he has the richest credentials as a career and vocational Northern (or to be more exact) Fulani irredentist. It is quite difficult to separate the deepening ethnic division and hostility in contemporary Nigeria from the predilections of his incumbency. It has gotten to a stage where divisive politics has become so second nature to him that he has grown incapable of recognizing the obvious-where a divisive omission or commission stares every objective Nigerian in the face.

As the assault on Nigeria nationhood gathers pace it has become necessary to salvage whatever remains of our national bond with the disclaimer that there is a yawning distinction between opposition to Buhari and ethnicity spurred antagonism towards the North. On the template of the perennial ethnicity laden characteristic of Nigerian politics, I rate him the cleverest Nigerian politician. Like Donald Trump, the way his we versus them politics puts many Nigerian off is precisely the same measure with which he secures his blind followership. Addressing Nigeria in Hausa language during his prolonged hospitalization, for instance, is a calculated ploy to pander to his base and rouse their already overflowing defensive and clannish sympathy.

It is with extreme reluctance and concern that I criticize him-ever worrying lest such habitual criticism be misconstrued for antipathy towards the North. All it takes for the so called Fulani herdsmen reign of terror to subside is to borrow from a cultural virtue that was in conspicuous display during the presidency of Olusegun Obasanjo. It is called tough love. If a member of your family is engaged in an unseemly altercation with an outsider, you prioritize the admonition and rebuke of the former as a preferred and community ennobling strategy of conflict resolution. It did not endear him to the Yoruba and the Christian community but Nigerians would remember the overboard public display of Obasanjo’s red eye towards the Oodua Peoples Congress OPC and the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN in plateau state re-‘anyone who calls himself OPC should be shot on sight’ and ‘CAN my foot’ to the latter in Jos.

The disappointment with Buhari is beyond measure. Emerging from the criminally weak leadership of President Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria gave a messianic latitude to the incoming Buhari to exercise his famed strong moral leadership and he made a fiasco of it. His presidency would be remembered as a comprehensive exercise in self-demystification. Which other Nigerian President would be so obdurate and inciting (as) to appoint Dan Alli, Lawan Danbazzau, Babagana Monguno, Tukur Buratai, Ibrahim Idris, Lawal Daura and now Ahmed Abubakar as Minister of defence, Minister of interior, National security adviser, chief of Army staff, Inspector general of Police, Director general of the State security services and Director general of Nigeria intelligence agency? Regardless, I am by no means implying that he is without virtue. Even in the face of his brazen parochial nepotism and relative to the abysmal standard of public probity in Nigeria, his battered reputation for integrity is not without redeeming feature.


One abiding marker of Nigerian politics is the penchant for going round in circles. At independence in 1960, Nigeria started out with a multi-party political system comprising, in the main, three major political parties, namely the Action Group, AG, Northern Peoples’ Congress, NPC and the National Council of Nigerian citizens, NCNC. Individually they were the embodiment of the ethno regional nationalism of the three major ethnic groups of Yoruba, Hausa-Fulani and Ndigbo-within which territory they were the dominant parties.

Unlike the other two, the NCNC was distinguished by its Nigeria wide nationalistic origins. Until 1963 (when the Northern Cameroons in the Adamawa province, voted in a referendum to opt out of the Nigerian federation), the NCNC used to be the acronym for the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons. The party was specifically established as an instrument of prosecuting Nigerian nationalist struggle against British colonialism and was a competitive rival (against the AG) for political dominance in the Western region. Whereas the NPC and the AG originated and evolved as the political party arms of the Arewa and Yoruba ethno national unions.

The history of the Nigerian political party system is the chronology of the mutations of these parties in the second, third and fourth republics. In 1979, they transmuted into the National Party of Nigeria, NPN; Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN, and the Nigerian Peoples Party, NPP corresponding to the defunct Northern, Western and Eastern regions. This recurring tendency for the political parties to overlap regional identity is the political reality of Nigeria and constituted the premise for the prescription of the regionalist model of Nigerian federalism.

As argued by Chief Obafemi Awolowo “First, in any country where there are divergences of language and of nationality- particularly of language- a unitary constitution is always a source of bitterness and hostility on the part of linguistic or national minority groups. On the other hand, as soon as a federal constitution is introduced in which each linguistic or national group is recognized and accorded regional autonomy, any bitterness and hostility against the constitutional arrangement must disappear’.

How to reconcile this reality with the aspiration for Nigerian national integration is the crucial challenge of Nigerian politics. Since 1966, the tendency of the protracted rule of military dictatorship to seek to recreate Nigeria in its own image has resulted in the trend towards centralization and unification and the mismanagement of this challenge. As we have come to learn, the divergence from federalism has served many purposes other than the socio economic development of Nigeria. At the outbreak of the Nigerian civil war (and mistaking the symptom for the disease), starry eyed pan Africanist Nigerian intellectuals formulated the political problem of Nigeria as arising from the regional autonomy model of Nigerian federalism. They argued that the ample sizes and semi-autonomous status of the regions constituted a threat and disincentive to national integration-and thus provided the intellectual legitimation for the unification disposition of the military lawgivers.

Buyers beware, the road to hell is oftentimes paved with good intentions. The Nigerian nationalist ideology was germane to the successful prosecution of the civil war and the legitimation of the extra constitutional rule of military dictatorship. But the civil war and the allied military dictatorship are aberrations by definition and the political culture it spawned is not meant for adoption and perpetuation as a constitutional norm.

In their origins, there is a discernable echo of the NCNC of yore in the PDP. They both originated as pan Nigerian nationalist rally-the former against the British colonialists and the latter against the perpetuation of military dictatorship. Owing largely to circumstances beyond its control, the NCNC eventually ended as little more than the dominant party in the Igbo writ large Eastern region and the PDP has followed suit. The reduction of the two parties followed from a retreat from the South West-with the qualifier that whereas the NCNC was compelled to so retreat, the reduction of the PDP was the deliberate choice of the contemporary movers and shakers in the PDP.
Following from its ouster from power in 2015, the PDP has consistently suffered diminution-commensurate with its hobbled capacity to spread largesse. Borrowing a leaf from the playbook of how the APC mastered the politics of brinkmanship to outmaneuver former President Goodluck Jonathan, there was the fleeting hope that maybe the PDP can endure long enough to pay back the APC in its own coin in 2019. Any such hope was dashed by the coronation of Prince Uche Secondus as the new PDP king at its last national convention.

In order for there to be national balance inclusive of fostering a sense of belonging for the south west zone in the party, the chairmanship had been ceded to the zone. The contrary decision to so deprive the zone of the chairmanship amounted to the effective belittling of the party to the demarcations of the defunct Eastern region. The significance of this development resides in how it is complemented and enhanced by the equivalent decline in the fortunes of the south west in the ruling national coalition. On account of the casual relegation of the south west and a corresponding overcompensation and ascendance of the Moslem North in the APC, the party has been reshaped to effectively become the Hausa Fulani dominant party.

This development has logically prompted political introspection among the Yoruba on how best to chart a course going forward. Coincidentally there is new found opportunity in the pervasive dissatisfaction with the APC controlled federal government-opening up the party to a successful challenge in the forthcoming 2019 elections. A beckoning vacuum has thereby emerged both at the level of forging a credible SPV for challenging the APC and at the level of securing a political sanctuary for the south west.

This political market forces of demand and supply has precipitated a flurry of activities directed at floating a third party. Following from the tradition of the three pronged regional party default mode, any realistic prospect for the emergence of a third party will be predicated on its utility to provide political sanctuary for a stranded Yoruba electorate. The most important personality in the APC, President Buhari has already issued a persona non grata to the advocacy of restructuring-effectively ruling out his party as a sanctuary for the topmost priority of the Yoruba. By this happenstance, Nigeria has all but reverted to its regional party system default mode.