By Abba Mahmood –
On Sunday, October 1, 2017, two things of great interest happened in two different continents as Nigerians were celebrating the 57th anniversary of their independence here. In Spain, on the European continent, authorities were busy that day trying to prevent the people of Catalonia from voting in a referendum which they organised to express their willingness to separate from Spain and for their country Catalonia. The country’s Constitutional Court declared the vote illegal. Police prevented people from voting, seized ballot papers and boxes at polling stations. In the end, 90 per cent of the over 2 million people who were able to vote opted for separation.
In neighbouring Cameroon, on the same day, soldiers shot dead at least eight people and wounded several others during protests in that country’s English-speaking regions by activists calling for its independence from the Francophone majority. Due to perceived marginalization, the protests, which began last year, against the 35-year rule of President Paul Biya have become persistent with the protesters raising the blue and white flag of the Amazonia separatist movement during the October 1 protest in Kumbo town.
What came out of all these is the inescapable fact that separatist tendencies are now universal; no country is actually immured from it. And anyone who thinks this will go away anytime soon is just living in denial. It therefore came as no surprise when Chief Richard Akinjide said in his interview published by Punch newspaper on October 1 thus:
Question. How do you think it can be corrected?
Chief Akinjide answered in one word: “Separation”.
Chief Akinjide is an establishment person and an accomplished one as well, who was minister in both the Balewa and Shagari governments. If he thinks that way at this time, then something is definitely wrong somewhere and the earlier this is realized the better for all. But we must realize that no boundary is sacrosanct and must begin to prepare for the inevitable.
To many discerning analysts, the breakup of many nations in this century is just a matter of time. Scotland in the UK is already considering another referendum to opt out of the “United” Kingdom, especially after the Brexit miscalculation. States like California in the “United” States of America are considering opting out of the union, especially after the Trump election. The Kurds have just had a referendum asking for their own country out of Iran, in the midst of the crisis in the Middle East. Here in Africa, at least 13 countries have separatist movements but the only successful change to the colonial boundaries was that of South Sudan about six years ago. Clearly everyone has to sit up and prepare before it is too late.
The common denominator in all these agitations is the issue of “marginalization”, perceived or real. Here in Nigeria virtually every group is complaining of marginalization and almost all heap their blame on the so-called “Hausa Fulani”, as if there has been any government in Nigeria that does not include every section of Nigeria. In fact, the reality is quite the contrary for those who care to investigate and understand, objectively. Even in this dispensation, where is the presence of the “Hausa Fulani” or even their cousins the Tiv in this government ? The chief of staff, Kyari, is Shuwa; the SGF who is on suspension, BD Lawal, is Kilba; the head of service is Calabar; the NSA, Monguno, is Kanuri; the IGP Idris is Nupe; the CDS, Olanishakin, is Yoruba; the army chief, Buratai, is Babur; while the president and vice president were not appointed but elected by all. So where is this ubiquitous Hausa Fulani? Or is every northerner Hausa Fulani because most speak Hausa?
The most politically sophisticated and strategic state in Nigeria is Kano. It is also the most predominant Hausa Fulani state. In the June 12, 1993, presidential election, the people of Kano voted overwhelmingly for Chief MKO Abiola, a southerner who was contesting against Alhaji Bashir Tofa who is from Kano. Abiola’s military friends annulled that election but the blame was put on those ordinary voters who actually voted for him just because they are “Hausa Fulani”. The military eventually handed over to a southerner, Chief Shonekan, the first one to come to power not through the ballot or the bullet.
In 1999 when the military decided to hand over power to civilians, the northern elite, in a most gentlemanly spirit of give and take, decided that power should be given to a southerner. To ensure that happened, the two candidates who contested for the 1999 presidential election were both southerners. Obasanjo was rejected by his people but was overwhelmingly voted for by the rest of Nigeria. He was president for the maximum of two terms of eight years.
In less than a decade in politics, Dr Goodluck Jonathan emerged president of Nigeria. God made it possible but it was his closest Fulani friend that was the instrument and he remained loyal to him till the end. In 2010, even a so-called northern “consensus” candidate was rejected by the northern delegates in the ruling party’s presidential primaries in favour of Jonathan who was subsequently elected by the whole country in 2011, the first time in his own right. Some sectionalists and anarchists hijacked him and his government, terribly mismanaging the country in the process which culminated in his defeat in the 2015 presidential election.
So the average northerner thinks that all his or her good gesture and good nature is being reciprocated with insults and assaults, while all along he is only holding the horns for others to milk as the poverty rate and economic structure of the country indicate. Those who got oil in their backyard not through any of their efforts are accusing him who toils on farmlands and grazing lands to feed the nation’s population and raw materials for its industries as a ”parasite”!
The worst marginalization is the marginalization of self-expression through lack of media outlet. Poorly educated northerners who are traditionally polite do not even state their case clearly. They watch in dismay as others accuse them, who already have so little, of denying opportunities to others or practising discrimination against non- northerners and of domination in politics. How ridiculous the accusations against them are is shown by the fact that there is no single northern village where southerners do not come empty-handed mostly and prosper into millionaires, acquiring properties without any discrimination but open affection.
These who complain loudest about marginalization are indeed the greatest beneficiaries of Nigeria. They control all the commercial activities in the country; they control most of the banks in the country; they represent Nigeria in almost all the international agencies; they have the highest purchasing power. Question will soon be asked to know what they are bringing to the table to contribute to the national wealth for all that they are getting? Do they have solid minerals, oil and gas or agricultural products that are contributing to the wealth of the nation?
At least from 1907, cattle tax was introduced by the colonial administration so that apart from personal income tax those who have cattle pay taxes on each cow; crop producers also pay tax in markets when they take their crops to sell. But these cattle rearers do not own any land; now even the right to graze in government-reserved lands is being denied them. They are not complaining of not being given school, hospital, road or electricity by the government for producing over 90 per cent of the protein needs of the nation; but even to graze their animals in God-given grasslands is being denied them with no alternatives provided for them, and others are saying they are not marginalized? In short, we shall soon know who is taking the lion’s share and, as President Mugabe said, those who are taking baboon’s share.
History is on the side of the oppressed.