How Fares The Northern Hegemony? Olusegun Adeniyi
The deaths of General Sani Abacha and Chief Moshood Abiola in 1998 resolved a problem and gave rise to another. The figure of Abacha represented the banishment of the aspirations and agitations anchored on the 1993 Presidential elections as the basis of resolving the conflict posed by the annulment of its outcome– the election of Abiola as the President of Nigeria. Abiola embodied the opposite wisdom.
The two deaths, from different perspectives, were politically expedient for Nigeria and perhaps the international community. Both departures were convenient, too convenient, for us not to believe that there was the hand of a master manipulator at play. Abiola had been taking tea all his life including the period of his incarceration, yet it was only after Abacha’s death and the awkward inevitability of a categorical response to the annulment crisis, that tea suddenly became a poisonous brew for him. I always remember him with pride and sorrow. Pride at the nobility of the choice he made especially against the contradictory background of his epicurean lifestyle. Who would have thought that Abiola of his own freewill would choose to sacrifice all in pursuit of political virtue? Not to talk of his Kudirat, his spouse and our heroine. Sorrow at the enfeeblement of the family estate they left behind and our culpable neglect and indifference to its prospects.
The end of this chapter-depicted in the exit of the two protagonists, gave rise to the question of how Nigeria would proceed from thereon. The genteel temperament of the successor Military head of state General Abdulsalam Abubakar and the unsustainability of the prevalent culture of military repression resulted in the prescription of appeasing the Yoruba\National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) alliance. Included in the bargain was the positive pressure of the determination of Abubakar to vacate power without delay. With the ball thus thrown into its court, the response from the Abiola camp was awaited with apprehension by the Abubakar regime.
The intramural argument within the camp centered on whether to accept the olive branch and participate– as the much desirable suitor, in the Military disengagement political transition program or demand for the convocation of a meaningful National conference as the condition precedent.
The argument for participation was predicated on the logic that nature abhors a vacuum; that non participation would result in the ascendance of the Yoruba political faction that was ideologically different from those who fought the political struggle. This faction was derisively christened the Abacha politicians; those who for whatever excuse, pragmatic and ideological, cooperated with the late Abacha.
The advocates of the convocation of National conference as condition precedent reasoned that participation amounted to putting the cart before the horse; that the annulment crisis was itself a symptom of a deep and fundamental malaise-which needed to be addressed if history was not to repeat itself over and over again. This advocacy was accepted by the other half but they argued that the same objective could be achieved with pressure from within-especially if the anointed Yoruba candidate carries the day at the Presidential election.
They were proven wrong by the reality that followed. First the Yoruba candidate who also doubled as the candidate of National conference lost the election. The program of continuous agitation was undermined by the emergence of a President of Yoruba origin who does not share a belief in the prospects of a National conference and restructuring agenda.
For good or bad, President Olusegun Obasanjo is committed to the political status quo of quasi federalist structure. Much has been made of the proposition that this attitude is a reflection of the notion that the Military is a bastion of Nigerian nationalism. This portrayal is more of myth than reality. On the contrary, the tendency towards ethno regional disintegration was fostered by the Military and no other substantiation is needed than the coup and counter coup of 1966.
The fact that there was no presence or participation of officers from the Northern region in the first coup is evidence enough that it was a sectional intervention. The dialectics of this sectionalism rapidly progressed with the counter coup of July the same year. The interpretation and practical manifestation of the success of the counter coup was that the control of the Military institution in Nigeria resides ad infinitum in the custody of the Northern military-political establishment. It is this establishment that has been the guarantor and purveyor of the notion of Nigerian nationalism as synonymous with the acceptance of the status quo that emerged at the end of the civil war. This status quo was considerably legitimized by the collaboration of the South West in the civil war effort of the Federal government and personified by the active allegiance of Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
The Nigeria that emerged from the civil war was at variance with Awolowo’s postulation of decentralized federalism but this antithesis could be rationalized as a fall out of the unitary command structure of Military rule. He probably was optimistic that this would be addressed in a comprehensive package of a transition to civil democratic rule transition program on which he could bring to bear the force of his personality. It is equally true that a broad spectrum of Nigerian intellectuals were actually at the vanguard of the propagation of a nationalist ideology that was rooted in the radical anti-imperialist worldview of Third World intellectuals. The strategic break-up of the regions-Eastern, Western and Northern regions, was given theoretical boost by America based Nigerian intellectuals who argued that the regions had become rival competitors to the center for the allegiance and loyalty of citizens; and that this tension was in part responsible for secessionist tendencies hence they should be broken up as a remedy and in anticipation of a recurrence.
This apparent convergence between the intellectual class and the Military institution got its most conspicuous manifestation in the Murtala-Obasanjo Military government. Beneath the surface of this seemingly autonomous nationalism however were some unpalatable contradictions. In Military and governance rank, Obasanjo was next in rank to General Murtala Mohammed yet we have been repeatedly told by the main actor himself that he- Theophilus Danjuma was the one who imposed Obasanjo as successor against the norm of a ‘Northern’ replacement. In the same breadth it should be recalled that it was in deference to this reality that Lieutenant Colonel Shehu Yar’adua was doubly promoted over his seniors to become the deputy to Obasanjo.
Awolowo may, arguably, be regarded as the most accomplished public office holder in the history of Nigeria but he was not a pragmatist and realist. After taking due cognizance of his political flight of fancy in choosing a running mate from the South East in the Presidential election of 1979, how did he convince himself that a successor President would emerge without the ultimate veto of the Military political establishment in power?
Let me be clear, am proposing the thesis that all Nigerian governments from 1966 to 2003 were proxies of the victorious Northern political/Military establishment that emerged from the counter coup of 1966. By itself, this hegemony, for me, is not the problem. After all it would not have endured without the tacit and happy collaboration of other periphery Nigerians, who thrived under its expansive and protective custody. The truth also is that it has the potential to stabilize and set Nigeria on the part of gradual evolutionary development. The problem really is the self-destructive mismanagement of this mandate. The first gross misconduct was the ill-advised and megalomaniac annulment of the 1993 Presidential election. And in a manner of speaking this was the beginning of the end of the hegemony as it acquired a downward spiral momentum.
How would the Presidency of Abiola have constituted a threat to the ruling oligarchy? I mean the pre 1993 Abiola-who was a known proxy of Islam, the military in general and President Ibrahim Babangida in particular. The annulment was the first surface manifestation of the decay within and the cancerous tumor only metastasized with the advent of Abacha.
As the virulence of the Abacha dictatorship unfolded, it became clear that Northern military-regional hegemony had run its course and had given way to heedless and malevolent personal dictatorship. Abiola was persecuted unto death but so was Shehu Yaradua; Obasanjo was publicly disrobed but Sultan Ibrahim Dasuki had also been peremptorily deposed. And for the first time in the history of the Nigerian military, Army Generals started genuflecting and prostrating before Majors.
Howsoever it came to be, the contrivance of the successive demise of Abacha and Abiola in 1998 was a face saving grace. And with the return of Obasanjo in 1999 it appears as if the respite from the self-inflicted crisis was being well managed. And then in a fit of childish petulance, Obasanjo started being defined as an enemy of the North. And then Sharia! The immediate effect of this definition was that Obasanjo’s estranged ethnic kit and kin started taking a second look at him. But we thought he was their stooge? They wondered. It may suit media sensational disposition otherwise but this was the beginning of the success recorded by the Peoples Democratic People, PDP, in the 2003 general elections.
How did the hegemony ushered in by the likes of Theophilus Danjuma and Jeremiah Useni in 1966 degenerate to a situation where a former Military head of state of Northern origin started campaigning that Muslims should vote for Muslims? And the last time I read a statement from General Domkat Bali the identification of his trench enemies had come a complete circle from Biafra to his erstwhile Northern comrades on the civil war battlefield. And now we contend with the disintegrative threat of the criminal offspring of the Sharia casus belli–Boko Haram
Next to the outcome of the civil war, the other development that had come to shape Nigerian nationalism is nothing less crude than crude oil-the oracle at whose altar we presently worship.
It is the glue that presently binds Nigeria together and by the same token holds the potential to unravel the country. Asari Dokubo has been threatening fire and brimstone should power take leave of President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015 and he has a sparring partner in Professor Ango Abdullahi but between a loud mouth of doubtful education and a former University Vice Chancellor, at whom should I be more disappointed?
The strategic error that was made with Abiola is about to be repeated with the incumbent President. Hateful and intolerable as he and the prevailing dispensation may appear to some Nigerians, there is little doubt that the fragile unity we have will ultimately be decided on how well the question of his exit from the Aso villa is managed. Hypocritical societies like ours endure on how adept we prove in enacting elite conspiracy and consensus not on relentless fratricidal naked dance at the market square. Or maybe it is the case that we can no longer postpone the evil day.
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