Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim, Businessman, Politician, veteran Civil Right Leader; who was also a presidential candidate in the 2019 general elections catalogues instances of support for a united country from Northern Nigeria
The heroic Nigeria youths in the two weeks long #ENDSARS protest which erupted like a hurricane in most Nigerian cities, have started a healing process, in a way. The first been the breaking of a 25-year-old silence to myriad of injustices in the land. The second was breaking the cycle of ethno-religious narratives encouraged by unscrupulous politicians, as if Nigerians from Northern and Southern Nigeria are divided on the question of justice and good governance.
The youths from most of the Northern States disappointed some politicians when they launched #EndInsecurity protests in Kaduna, Kano, Gombe, Plateau, Adamawa, Katsina, Niger, Abuja, etc. The Northern youths have creatively, adapted the protest to the realities of Northern Nigeria.
Before the redemptive action of the now resurgent Nigerian youths, the polity has been toxic and corrosive, centered mainly on various propositions on the structure of Nigerian State and the louder voices being the call for Restructuring of the Federation while some fringe voices agitate for the dissolution of the union.
On October 12, a group of Northern intellectuals and political activists under the aegis of Friends of Democracy sent a memo to the Constitution Review Panel of the National Assembly echoing what several opinion leaders, largely from the south and middle belt have been agitating for. The group even went further by advocating 100% resource control by the State, as it was under the independence constitution of Nigeria and a return to the 1967 state structure in Nigeria. Amongst the signatories were Alhaji Othman Tofa, Ambassador Fatimah Ballah, Mr. Sam Nda-Isaiah, Prof. Jibrin Ibrahim, Dr. Usman Bugaje, etc.
When the story broke in the media, the dominant reportage in a section of the press ,was that “some southern leaders suspected the Friends of Democracy’s intention, given the fact that several authors of this new memo are probably from the same ethnic group from President Buhari whose clannish and lopsided appointments have been generally perceived as a corporate Fulanization agenda. Perhaps, if the polity has not been broken along North versus South as the major gladiators have tried to make it particularly in the past seven years, no one should have expressed suspicion at the genuine intentions of the Friends of Democracy.
Historically, the political leaders of Northern Nigeria were federalists who believed in resource control and a Police Force controlled by the regions, at least that is what the archives say for those of us who were not around at the Lancaster Conference of 1958.
According to the extract of an editorial of Times Magazine dated 10th November 1958, “Awolowo suggested creating three new states. The North’s Sardauna not wishing to relinquish any of his territory refused the idea, nor did he like the idea for a centralized police force under the Federal Government .
At the conference, Northern delegates insisted each region should have its police, the acceptance of the existence of the Federal Police side by side with the Regional Police was only an act of compromise conceded to accommodate the Southern delegates who were routing for a Federal Police, (This is history, not politics). Ironically too, the overthrow of the Independent constitution which is seen by the restructuring advocates as the model for Nigeria’s federalism was caused by a military coup led by officers ,predominantly from the South, East and not Northern Nigeria.
It will take Yakubu Gowon (a Northern officer) after the countercoup of July 1966 to begin a slow process of decentralization with the creation of 12 States. Gowon also used a lot of the political leaders of the First Republic and civil servants who tempered the command structure of the military government.
The 1975 Murtala Mohammed coup steered the country away from the moderate approach of Gowon, through a purge of the civil service, judiciary and other vital institutions of state that provided balance. The new Nigeria rulers, the1975 coupists, used the same mantra of anti-corruption that the coupists of January 1966 used. These 1975 coupists reinforced over centralization, fueled by cheap oil revenue. An ideology of state management totalitarian in texture was instituted. The actors in this era regardless of their ethnic origin were committed to a centralized federalism. It was an ideological thing, not a South or North thing. But for many people who admired overcentralization of power in the North, so also were many genuine patriots who advocated the opposite.
Like federalism, there are many Northerners committed to the ideals of national unity and inclusiveness as much as their southern counterparts, the body language, actions and clannish innuendoes of Buhari notwithstanding, that is who Buhari is; that is not what the North is. In the 1980s, when yours truly was a student and youth leader, our anti-military actions got enthusiastic support from all Nigerian universities and citizens anytime we called out the people there.There was no south or north; Kano answered our call, at the same time Lagos did, Maiduguri, Nsukka, Ibadan, Jos etc., poured to the street simultaneously.
At every stage of the struggle against military rule, there were northern political actors, playing a central role. We had Ajibade (Westerner, a Journalist), incarcerated in the anti-Abacha struggle. There was a Bagauda Kaltho (Northerner) blown up by a bomb. For every bold Chima Ubani, Femi Falana and Odion Akhaine in the Campaign for Democracy, there were and still a Chom Bagu (from Plateau), Tony Akika (Nasarawa), a Lukman Salihu (Kaduna) etc., etc.
In the chronicles of the role of the media in the struggle for democracy, particularly in the mid-1990’s, it is now practically known that two titles–The News and Tempo Magazines played prominent roles. What is scant knowledge is that the son of the Seriki Hausawa of Lagos, Kabir- a prominent cadre of the Movement for Progressive Nigeria (MPN), ABU Zaria was one of the earliest major investors in those titles.
In the last days of the Abacha dictatorship, the political initiatives from the North was crucial. The first salvo was from G-12 in a letter signed by 12 Northern eminent persons, including Alhaji Abubakar Rimi from Kano, where Abacha came from. Others were Sule Lamido, Iyorchia Ayu, Jerry Gana, Dr. Sule Kumo, Chief Solomon Lar, etc. The letter which asked Abacha not to succeed himself was hand-delivered to the Aso Rock Villa by the indomitable emancipator, former governor of old Plateau State, Chief Solomon Daushep Lar (Wali Langtang). When some people were drinking cognac in the struggle for democracy in some western capital, Alhaji Rimi was in Ilorin prison for his opposition against Abacha. Other unsung Northerners, such as Air Commodore Dan Suleiman and Jonah Jang, were detained and later put on trial for treason.
The night Abacha died, the fate of the nation was at a balance. Armed with a memo drafted to be hand-delivered to the military High Command at Fort IBB on the way forward for the country were three of us, of which two were Northerners. We were not just couriers but signatories to the memo which was drafted at Professor Jerry Gana’s house, another northerner. The third signatory was a patriotic Nigerian, Dan Nwuanyanwu (a southerner). Not that where we came from mattered. Thankfully, our mission succeeded. 80% of what we wanted in the new transition programme sailed through. We delivered the memo to General Ishaya Bamaiyi, the then Chief of Army Staff, amid heavy troop movement and military assets.
In the memo we submitted, we asked from the Military High Command for a brief, inclusive political transition programme. We suggested that they allow for the formation of new independent political parties away from the five parties registered by Abacha to facilitate his self-transmutation programme to a civilian president. We requested for immediate release of Chief MKO Abiola from detention and other political detainees which included Beko Ransome Kuti, Alhaji Abubakar Rimi, Femi Falana, Odion Akhaine, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Dr. Frederick Fasehun, etc. etc. We suggested that the National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (NECON) now be called Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). We wanted it to be independent, like the South African electoral body. On this point, the Military High Command took the name only and in their own wisdom made some other provisions which they believe will be enough to guarantee the independence of the electoral body.
Northerners want a good president regardless of where he or she comes from; this has been demonstrated many times in the past, when the people of Kano voted for Bashorun Abiola, a Yoruba man on the platform of Social Democratic Party (SDP) against their son from Kano State, Alhaji Bashir Tofa, the presidential candidate of the National Republican Convention (NRC) in the 1993 general election. Alhaji Dr. Abubakar Rimi, Sule Lamido and others made this happen in Kano and Jigawa. The North repeated this when the North, just like the South-East and South-South, made Obasanjo President in the 1999 presidential election when his ethnic base, South-West massively rejected him.
Similarly, too, the desire for a return to parliamentary system which has been misconstrued as an advocacy in which Northern Nigeria is not interested, is an error. As a matter of historical fact, the Architect of Nigeria’s Presidential System is President Olusegun Obasanjo and the chief proponents of the presidential system were southwest delegates in the 1978 constituent assembly; like Chief Richard Akinjide and the chief drafter of the constitution, Chief Rotimi Williams. Educated delegates from the North such as Dr. Ibrahim Tahir argued vigorously for a parliamentary system.
The North accepts and believes in Nigeria political pluralism and true federalism dictated by Nigeria’s multi-ethnic composition. Despite the towering influence of the power of Sir Ahmadu Bello in the Northern region, in the first republic, the North was not a one-man show or one-party show. The Middle Belt Congress (MBC) politically controlled the provinces that fall within their area, that is now Plateau, Benue, Nasarawa, part of Adamawa, Taraba and Gombe. While the provinces that fall in today’s Kano, Jigawa and Kaduna by the Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU), were led by Aminu Kano. Similarly, the Bornu area was controlled by the Bornu Peoples’ Congress (BPC).
The control of the Northern government by Northern Peoples’ Congress (NPC) was more as a result of skillful political balancing, compromise and accommodation. Not because of any “Fulanization or hegemonic control”. It was ‘give and take’ in the first republic. The Prime Minister on the Platform of the NPC was not a Fulani man, he was from the “Gere ethnic group”, one of the 200 ethnic groups of Northern Nigeria. The lesson is simple; any political group that aspires to National power must construct a National Platform.
The North desires accountable and transparent government like all Nigerians. It desires efficient political management as provided by her leaders in the first republic whose lifestyles were decent and austere. Despite all the propaganda of the coupist in January 1966, Sir Ahmadu Bello was found several years not to own a single house anywhere. Likewise, the late Prime Minister, Sir Tafawa Balewa. The simple lifestyles of these first republic leaders robbed off on most second republic political leaders; some of whom, like Alhaji Abubakar Rimi; Chief Solomon Lar, former governor of old Plateau State; Chief S.B. Awoniyi and former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria and Minister of Finance, Alhaji Adamu Ciroma. I had the privilege of having these great Nigerians as mentors.
Despite having been governor, minister, chairman of the ruling party, Chief Solomon Lar died in good old age without having a plot of land in Abuja. The disgusting opulence amid poverty which is the new lifestyle of some new Northern political leaders, despite their wealth not being traceable to legitimate business, is un-Northern. To escape accountability, most of these political neophytes have to hide behind ethnicity and religious bigotry. These current behaviour of the new Mandarins of the North is not traditionally Northern.
In Sardana’s North, Sharia was not a tool in the hand of the corrupt and the inept to wipe up cheap support through hollow religious rhetoric. No one lost his life or a limb through the decision of suspicious court and no one was sentenced to death for making a song. Christians and Muslims worked and lived peacefully, and both religions were represented in government. Chief Sunday Bolorunduro Awoniyi, the Aro of Mopa – a Christian Northerner and accomplished technocrat was as influential in the Sardauna administration as any talented Muslim Northerner could be. He played the role of the Chief of Staff in a clime when even Easterners and Southerner were judges and administrators in Northern Nigeria.
Damning all the shenanigans of the Dividers-in-Chief of the past seven years which has worsened particularly in the past five years, the actions of the EndSARS movement and the EndINSECURITY protests in Northern Nigeria ,have helped to again refocus our politics on important issues beyond ethnic divide. It would have been tragic if what some political leaders wanted to happen had happened; i.e. protest in South and silence in the North. Thank God Almighty who Himself is stirring up the people and blunting the edges of division. I felt taller as a Nigerian (even though I am 6.2 feet tall) when I saw the pictures of Lekki protesting youths having their Jumaat prayers some distance from their Christian counterparts who were doing prayer walks and Praise-worship. We are once again back as one united people. Our young ones have done what some current political leaders have failed to do.
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Just when I concluded this piece, the tragic news of massacre of peaceful protesters, allegedly by some soldiers, occurred at the Lekki toll gate in Lagos.
The killings in Lekki as well as other places are crimes under Nigerian laws as well as the Rome statutes for which everyone involved must be identified, found and punished. It is what it is, crime against humanity!
Those killed are martyrs and the injured are Heroes of Democracy who should be properly honoured and buried with dignity. I expect the nation to be in a mourning state. The deceased must be properly celebrated, and the ideal for which they died kept alive. It is now the responsibility of all of us to prevail on the Buhari regime to put a stop to any more deaths on our streets.
The freedom of peaceful assembly is a Fundamental Human Right