The South West vs the Core North By Akin Osuntokun
Let me begin with a necessary clarification. The title above is not original to me and I would have been reluctant to use it even though it speaks well to the column discourse of today. I felt persuaded to use it because it was specifically stated and rationalised as such by a relatively informed personality in the ongoing theatre of ethno regional engagement among Nigerians. I speak of the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee on the National Conference, Dr. Femi Okunronmu.
There has been a tendentious formulae proposed as facility for the political stability of Nigeria. It is to the effect that the prospect for Nigeria’s stability can only be assured by a political alliance of the core North and the South-west. The corollary of this proposition is that for so long as the two remain unreconciled Nigeria may not settle down.
The sociological warrant for this prescription is predicated on the cultural contiguity of feudalism and semi feudalism that defined the monarchical governance of the pre-colonial societies of the North and the South-west especially the Sokoto caliphate and the Oyo empire. This affinity was affirmed in the adoption and successful adaptation of the extant traditional governance institutions operative in the Northern and Western regions as instruments of the indirect rule policy of the British colonialists.
You will recall that British colonialism adopted the traditional rulership institution as proxy rulers as opposed to the direct administration of the colonial officials. This sociological backdrop was reinforced by the cross cutting Islamic religious overlap evident in the substantial Muslim population straddling both regions. Further rationale for the prescription was provided by the power politics advantage implied in the observation that between them they account for the larger proportion of the territorial space and human population of Nigeria.
This stability utility recommendation took on accelerated momentum after the collapse of the first republic and the descent into civil war. In extrapolation, the failure of the first republic was retroactively attributed to the absence of this political rapport.
This ideology of legitimation (of the potential alliance) is controverted by equally powerful counter currents. There is the Westernisation/modernisation gap and lack of socio-economic development parity between the two societies. The centuries old cautionary tale was the pre-colonial history of prolonged warfare and hostility between the two as represented in the conflict of the jihadist expansionism of the Sokoto caliphate against the resistance of the Oyo empire forces spearheaded by the Ibadan professional army.
The enduring monument to this historical antagonism is the loss of Ilorin (a treasured Oyo-empire North gate military outpost) to the caliphate through the self-destructive rebellion of Kankanfo Afonja and the treacherous subversion of his Fulani spiritual counsellor, Alimi. The powerful symbolism of this loss is illustrated in its persistent resonance down the ages particularly in the Yoruba tendency to view suggestions of political outreach to the Hausa-Fulani with utmost distrust and suspicion. It was within this historical context that the factional crisis of the dominant political party in the Western region, the Action Group (AG) of 1962 took on a particularly ominous tone.
The covert and overt involvement of the Northern region-controlled federal government of Sir Tafawa Balewa in the crisis was interpreted as a replay of the 19th century political machinations that culminated in the loss of Ilorin and the allied political implosion of the Yoruba country. The psychological renewal of this historical tension was, however, swallowed in the enormity of the sequence of events unleashed by the January 1966 military coup.
The coup fomented the unintended consequence of sowing the seed of a sense of common adversity between the North and the West by the geo-political distribution of the casualties resulting from the military action. This inadvertent shared negative experience would soon be pressed to service. Uneasy at best, the handshake across the Niger was initiated at the commencement of the civil war hostilities in 1967 with the cooptation of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo into the federal war cabinet of General Yakubu Gowon.
The outcome of the civil war was a major boost to the ideological prescription of a North/South-west alliance as guarantor of Nigeria’s political stability. It was in fact the victorious alliance. The ascension of General Olusegun Obasanjo to the position of the military head of state following the assassination of General Murtala Mohammed was the climax of the vaunted North\South-west partnership ideal.
The authenticity of the partnership was put to test in the general election of 1979 and its inherent hollowness was revealed in the failure and frustration of the presidential ambition of Awolowo in 1979. This reality was a delayed manifestation of the civil war syndrome which had been somewhat obscured by three factors. First was the triumphalism induced false interpretation and acceptance of the civil war outcome as the triumph of pan Nigerian nationalism. Second was the unitary ideology and unified command rule of military dictatorship. Third was the Nigeria-wide economic largesse and social liberalism (the feel good factor) fostered by the oil boom that attended the aftermath of the civil war.
The return to civil democratic rule in the second republic reaffirmed the status-quo ante of the first republic illustrated in the dominance of the conservative wing of the Northern ruling oligarchy over the dissonance and vulnerability of the liberal South-west and South-east political establishment. Recall the interplay among the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), UPN and the Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP).
To the extent that the South-east was degraded and the South-west left relatively unscathed by the civil war, it is logical to infer that the latter remained the more viable power bloc and realistically positioned to contest in the power politics arena against the North. The singular opportunity to act this adult role presented itself in the outcome and the annulment of the June 1993 presidential election. It was a power politics situation that pitted Chief Moshood Abiola writ large South-west against the core North personified military dictatorship of Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha.
The massive lot of water that had since (seemingly) passed under the bridge of the annulment crisis did nothing to preclude this political dichotomy from resurfacing in the recent example of the National Conference. In a news-report captioned ‘June 12 polarises the Confab’, it was reported that:
‘A delegate from Cross River State, Orok Duke, had, upon resumption of the plenary session proposed that the Conference should cause the authorities to always remember June 12 as a watershed in the history of Nigeria. He also prayed that a monument in tandem with what the conference had proposed for other heroes and heroines should be recommended in honour of Mr. Abiola. Soon after he brought the motion, some delegates majorly from the northern part of the country and led by Naseer Kura, a Civil Society delegate, opposed it. Mohamed Hadajia, a delegate from Jigawa State was heard shouting in opposition of the motion. But for the wisdom that the Conference Chairman, Idris Kutigi applied in handling the disagreement that followed, the delegates would have exchanged blows.’
More or less, the annulment crisis played out as a contest of will, a supremacist struggle between the two sparring partners. The reciprocal elimination of Abiola and Abacha as condition precedent to the resolution of the crisis represented a kind of no victor no vanquished power equilibrium. This ascription was further enacted in the subsequent concession of the presidency to the South-west with the proviso that the North played the role of kingmaker in the choice of the preferred candidate. It was a veritable instance of consummate and successful application of the theory of conflict management and resolution to the Nigeria reality.
The paradox of the political power relationship between the two protagonists is at play again. The dominant core North political players and a substantial segment of the political ruling class in the South-west have found themselves closeted together in a tentative political marriage of convenience in the All Progressives Congress (APC)-right at the same time that the two regions are furthermost apart in their visions of Nigeria at the National Conference.
The supreme irony of the position of the South-west faction of the APC is that the most cogent and unambiguous statement of the South-west agenda at the National Conference is articulated and championed by its own baby namely the Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG). Attestation to this is a rider (with the sub title of regionalism or nothing) given a permanent pride of place in the home page of the Punch newspaper which goes thus ‘Three Yoruba socio-political organisations, led by the Afenifere Renewal Group, on Monday unveiled a 58-page document, demanding regional autonomy, right to self-determination, resource control and fiscal federalism among several demands. They described their call, among others, as the “minimum and irreducible demand” of the Yoruba from the ongoing national conference.’
At a lecture to the old boys of the Government College, Ibadan, Okunronmu made the following remarks : “If the attitude of the core-North delegates could be translated into an agenda, that agenda will have the following components, namely: frustrate regionalism, frustrate the reduction of presidential powers, resist the call for a referendum, frustrate the emergence of a new constitution, ensure minimal, if any departures from the 1999 Constitution and ensure that all the outcomes of the conference go to the National Assembly where the North, of course, has the numbers to frustrate those it considers antagonistic to its interests.”
“So, the conference has mostly been a clash of the South-west against the core North. While the South-west pushed forcefully for the realisation of all the elements of their agenda, they found themselves almost in every case pitted against the core North, enjoying only lukewarm support from the South-east and a near total indifference from the rest of the country.
“Thus, the Middle Belt opposed a return to regionalism, fearing they may once again come under the domination of the ethnic nationalities in their zones, from which state creation had freed them. The South-south on its part was fixated on the issue of resource control and resource ownership.”
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