The Frontlines By Joseph Ushigiale
During the course of the week, I stumbled on a trending video containing the recorded interview of the late Premier of Northern Nigeria, Ahmadu Bello with a foreign journalist shortly before his assassination by Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu’s coup of January 1966.
The short interview clip had the journalist asking the premier: Why northerners have the worst kind of obsession with the Igbos? And the Premier replied by saying: Well, the Igbos are more or less the type of people whose desire is to dominate everybody. If they go to a village or town, they want to monopolize everything in that area. If you put them in a labor camp as a laborer, within a year, they would try to emerge as a headman of that camp. And so on and so forth. Well, in the past, our people were not alive to their responsibilities, because you can see from our northernization policy that in 1952 when I came here, there weren’t up to ten northerners in our civil service here. Now I tried to northernize the service and now all the important posts are held by northerners.
Again he was asked whether this policy of filling all important posts with northerners only instead of Nigerians a temporary or permanent one? The Premier answered: As a matter of fact, what it is, is the northerner first. If we can’t get a northerner, then we take an expatriate, like yourself on contract. If we can’t then we can employ another Nigerian but on contract too. This is going to be a permanent policy for as far as I can foresee because it would rather be dangerous to see the number of our boys turning out of our tertiary institutions coming without work to do. I am sure whichever govt of the day would feel embarrassed and it might even lead to bloodshed. Lastly, he was asked if his northernization policy in Nigeria would not damage the idea that all peoples from all regions see themselves as citizens of one country? Here was his response: Well it might but how many northerners are employed in the east or west? The answer is none and if they are, they are employed as labour.
It has been food for thought for me since listening to this short but power-packed interview clip which lays bare the very reason why some northerners view Nigeria as its piece of estate. If the Premier of the north could grant this sort of explosive interview to a foreign journalist way back in the ’60s, it is also evident why Nigeria has perpetually been in reverse mood as the Nigerian project was ultimately dead on arrival and killed by the north.
It has been over five decades since the premier made this declaration and within this space of time and in line with the northernization policy, the north has produced Yakubu Gowon, Murtala Mohammed, Shehu Shagari, Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha, Abdulsalami Abubakar, Umaru Yar’Adua and Buhari again as heads of state from the north while the south has produced Obasanjo twice, Ernest Shonekan, Goodluck Jonathan as heads of state.
One would have thought that with its north first policy and given its claims to controlling 75% of landmass and population, the north would have used its ascendence to power to make the north an eldorado transformed by development. Today, after being in power for over 40 years, instead of widespread development, the reverse is the case. The north is steeped in an insurgency, poverty, hunger, drug addiction, kidnapping, banditry, cattle rustling, and armed robbery. It is on record that in Borno and several other states, Boko Haram terrorists controlled swathes of land, kidnapped hundreds of school children, and states like Zamfara, Katsina and Kaduna are danger zones because of activities of criminals. The north has emerged as the most unsafe place in the entire country. Where then are the people whom the late premier was protecting jobs for?
So in whose interest is the projection of a One Nigeria if northern interest and not Nigeria’s comes first? To answer this question, it is pertinent to also verify who is the north? The north simply refers to a combination of the Hausa and Fulani tribes. The Hausa believed to be larger in number and controlling a population of over 50m, were believed to be overpowered by the Jihad of Uthman Dan Fodio in 1804.
According to Britannica “The Fulani, a people of obscure origins expanded eastward from Futa Toro in Lower Senegal in the 14th century. By the 16th century they had established themselves at Macina (upstream from the Niger Bend) and were proceeding eastward into Hausaland. Some settled in the 19th century at Adamawa (in the northern Cameroons). Many of the Fulani continued to pursue a pastoral life; some, however, particularly in Hausaland, gave up their nomadic pursuits, settled into existing urban communities, and were converted to Islām.
“In the 1790s a Fulani divine, Usman dan Fodio (1754–1817), who lived in the northern Hausa state of Gobir (northeast of Sokoto) quarreled with its rulers. Accusing the Hausa kings of being little more than pagans, he encouraged the Hausa people to revolt. Joined both by Hausa commoners and by Fulani pastoralists alike, the jihad, or holy war, swept through Hausaland and, repulsed only by the eastern empire of Kanem-Bornu, engulfed Adamawa, Nupe, and Yorubaland to the south.
“After the invasion by the Fulani of the northern provinces of the Oyo, the emirate of Ilorin to the northeast became the base from which Islām was to spread among the Yoruba. Usman, who was more a scholar than a statesman, ceded the practical direction of the eastern part of the empire to his son Muḥammad Bello, who settled in Sokoto, and the western (with its capital at Gwandu) to his brother Abdullahi. All three continued the Fulani denunciation of Bornu. The empire reached its zenith under Muḥammad Bello, who, like Usman, administered it according to the principles of Muslim law. The decay of this system was to aid the establishment in the late 19th century of British rule over what was later to be known as Northern Nigeria.”
Therefore the north simply means the Fulani hegemony which has literally subsumed the Hausas under its tutelage. So why are the Fulanis laying claim to Nigeria? The Fulanis, given their jihad antecedent, see themselves side by side with the British colonial rulers. Although operating with different ideologies of Islam and Christianity, their missions were the same: to conquer new territories and plunder their resources. While the British operated in the South part of Nigeria through direct rule, the Fulanis were raiding the seven Hausa vassal states up to Ilorin and what is today known as the Middle Belt. When the British confronted the Jihadists, instead of war, because they still wanted to maintain their feudal system of administration, the Jihadists decided to settle with the British for an indirect rule in the north which still gave them some firm control of their conquered territories.
Therefore, at independence in 1960, the British found a willing ally in the Fulanis to whom they entrusted the Nigerian project for safekeeping. This is why the Fulanis still regard the rest of Nigerians as a conquered people and seeing themselves as entitled and ‘born to rule’. It is for this reason that a hitherto unknown group, Miyetti Allah under the present regime of President Muhammadu Buhari has become a parallel government arrogating itself the power to challenge constituted authority.
It is therefore in the north’s interest for a united Nigeria where there is no justice and equity, where the government supports terrorists and insurgents and declares amnesty for known criminals instead of persecuting them. In a united Nigeria, Fulani herdsmen bearing arms can attack farmers in their farms, kill them and dispose them of their land and the government would back the criminals up with security agents to seek out those protesting against heinous crimes to punish them for daring to complain.
Worse of all, these criminals are being supported by people like the Attorney and Minister of Justice, Ababakar Malami, and governor of Bauchi state, Bala Mohammed. While Malami advocates for setting-up of a commission for pastoralism regulated by law, Mohammed is justifying the bearing of sophisticated Ak-47 rifles by herders to protect themselves and their cows.
There are already enough laws for the regulation of pastoralism. One important law that the federal government ought to pass is to outlaw open grazing in the entire country. The second most important process is to abrogate all the colonial laws on grazing routes across the country. Cattle rearing is a private business and therefore the owners of cows should embrace modern ranching and respect the new laws banning open grazing in some states.
The suggestion by Mohammed that Fulani herdsmen should be allowed to carry guns is counterproductive and would lead to anarchy. On one hand, the President is asking private citizens with arms to turn them in, why should herders be allowed to bear arms? Are they not being bequeathed special privileges?
However, there are two voices from the north, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai and Abdullahi Ganduje of Kaduna and Kano states respectively that have stood out from the cacophony of voices to speak truth to power. Both of them have weighed in to bring some sanity into the discourse.
El-Rufai has vehemently distanced himself from the current peace move by Sheik Gumi to placate bandits and other criminals that have held some states hostage over time. He is of the view that criminals should not be placated with amnesty but dealt with according to the law.
Ganduje on the other hand has also warned against the unrestrained influx of foreign herders from ECOWAS states into Nigeria. He has also advocated for the banning of open grazing and for cattle rearers to embrace modern ranching techniques to douse the current tension enveloping the country.
But as the Buhari regime continues to turn a blind eye to the murderous atrocities of his kinsmen, choosing to use security agents to terrorize communities Benue, Imo, and Ondo, tension is gradually brewing and soon Nigerians would have to choose between restructuring or secession.
According to Arne Mulders, Open Doors’ West Africa research expert:
“These herders have historically played a role in jihad, and they have grown increasingly radical in recent times due to the influx of radical Islamist preaching by missionaries from Saudi Arabia and Iran. The radicalization in the Fulani has also kept pace with the Boko Haram radicalization. The Fulanis’ actions are also shaped by concept of Darul Islam, where everything belongs to Allah directly and to his followers indirectly–including the land where they want to let their cattle craze. They believe it is right for them to take those resources by force from infidels and apostates.”
As the herders continue to be brazen, using impunity to take resources from ‘infidels and apostates’ and those in authority turn a blind eye to a drumbeats of war, because of a dysfunctioning state, they should bear in mind that no region has monopoly of violence and should be mindful that the American prediction in 2015 of the possible implosion of Nigeria string rings true.
Although it was dismissed by many who said Nigeria can not implode, it is possible that given the ethnic tensions that were building up in the build up to the 2015 presidential elections, the American prediction may have been influenced by the expiration in 2014 of the1914 amalgamation agreement.
Today, IPOB, Oodua Movement, Middle Belt and South South Movements are calling for talks to renegotiate how the different ethnic groups could co-exist, now that the amalgamation agreement has expired. These agitations would not stop until either Nigerians go their separate ways or restructure.