I believe the idea of a conference of ethnic nationalities, sovereign or otherwise, couldn’t be more reactionary. I shall, however, discuss this only next week, God willing.
For today I will round up my critique of the last two weeks of Professor Ben Nwabueze’s thesis in his recent essay on the 1914 amalgamation of Nigeria that Northern Nigerian unity and identity was a dubious British fabrication which was, and remains, a threat to the country’s unity because, by its sheer size and population, the British intended it to hold a veto over the country’s politics.
Our learned senior academic lawyer claims the idea of a “Northern Nigeria” has “impacted adversely on the unity of Nigeria and the evolution of one Nigerian nation…through (its) persistent demand for power shift to the North which reared its head since the end in 2007of the eight year rule of President Olusegun Obasanjo, a southerner.”
Apart from his contention that the North had monopolised power for 30 of the 33-year period between 1966 and 1999, he said, in effect, the region has no moral right to demand for power shift back to it because, first, it had, and continues to date to, monopolise military and security power and, second, some of its political, traditional and religious leaders have sponsored the current Boko Haram insurgency “in pursuance of an agenda aimed at promoting northern domination and the supremacy of the Moslem religion in the affairs of Nigeria.”
When the professor says the North has “monopolised” power for 30 of the 33 years between 1966 and 1999, the man is clearly indulging in an abuse of language. The common sense definition of the word monopoly is complete possession or control of something by an individual, group or organization. By this definition it is obviously wrong to say the North ever monopolized power in the country.
Dominated power, yes. But as the professor knows all too well as a senior lawyer who knows the importance of precision and clarity in language and as the minister of education under General Babangida, no military head of state ever ruled this country without consulting and sharing power with his military colleagues from other parts of the country, at least most of the time. Second, our learned lawyer cannot eat his cake and still have it; he cannot divide the North into “True North”, Middle Belt and other states without a label in between the two and still insist that the region had “monopolized” or even dominated power. He cannot, in other words, talk of a united North when it suits his argument and a divided one when it doesn’t.
It is precisely because he has tied himself into knots over this that he finds it difficult, if not impossible, to understand why someone like Chief Paul Unongo, would insist, quite rightly, that being a Middle Belter and a Northerner are not necessarily mutually exclusive. It is also why the professor is baffled by how the much lamented late Chief Sunday Awoniyi, a Yoruba Christian from the North, would gladly accept to chair the Arewa Consultative Forum for years and eventually die on active service trying to strengthen the region’s unity in all its diversity.
The professor also objects to power shift to the North any time soon because of what he calls the region’s “complete” control of the security of the Nigerian state, something which he adds “has remained largely undismantled up till now (August 2013)”.
The only evidence he presents for this sweeping statement is a quotation from Bishop Mathew Kukah’s book, Witness to Justice: An Insider’s Account of Nigeria’s Truth Commission, in which the bishop listed General Abacha’s chief security officer, national security adviser, chief of defence intelligence, inspector general of police and head of a then newly created counter-terrorism agency, as all Northerners. The man’s insinuation in listing the Muslim sounding names of all these officers was obvious; they were all not only Northerners, they were also all Muslims
The problem with this evidence was that one of the Muslim sounding names, AVM Idi Musa, the chief of defence intelligence, was a Christian. It also conveniently ignored other security services like the Navy, the Air Force, the State Security Services and the National Intelligence Agency, whose officers and other ranks were, and are, hardly dominated by Northerners or Muslims.
Another problem with the learned professor’s evidence is that in the case of the army, where Northerners had dominated coup making, he did not do a count of the country’s army chiefs since Major-General J. T. U. Aguiyi-Ironsi took over from Major-General C. B. Welbey, as the first indigenous army chief in 1965. If he did, he would have found out that of the 24 army chiefs we have had between Ironsi and Lieutenant-General Ihejirika today, six were from the South.
However, out of the 18 from the North only five (Hassan Usman Katsina, Abacha, Mohammed Aliyu, Alwali Kazir, and A. B. Dambazau) were from the “True North” the professor apparently loves to hate. Of the remaining 13, eight were Christians from his beloved Middle-Belt, with the remaining five being Muslims from the same sub-region. All of which is to say that to date Nigeria has had 14 Christian army chiefs and ten Muslim; hardly the stuff of monopoly by any group.
As to the man’s claim that the “True North’s” so-called monopoly of the military and security services has remained “undismantled to date”, anyone who has been living in Nigeria since President Obasanjo returned to power in 1999 knows that officers from the region were by far the hardest hit by his massive purge of so-called political soldiers from the military no sooner than he moved into his office. Since then only one “True Northerner”, (Dambazau), has been an army chief.
It is also interesting to note that the current army chief should have retired more than a year ago, having since served out the 35 years of service for mandatory retirement. Under him it is a notorious fact that recruitment into the rank and file of the army has been blatantly skewed against Muslims, North and South.
Also the army chief’s retention beyond his 35 years of service has fuelled speculations of the possible, even probable, use of the military, along with other security services, to rig the 2015 elections and violently suppress any attempt at protest against any such rigging.
Not only does our professor claim, obviously wrongly, that the predominantly Muslim North has monopolized the country’s security services. He also claims that Muslims have been given an undue advantage in the country’s judiciary through “the long rule of Northern military heads of state.” Few claims could be more tendentious, if not downright dishonest.
The learned senior lawyer’s evidence is the fact, as he put it, that except for one Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) from the Middle Belt, who he himself said was “a northerner” – there we go again with his self-inflicted confusion about whether there is only one North or two or even three – all our CJNs “for the past nearly twenty years” have been Muslims.
As in the case of the security services, a more balanced examination of the Supreme Court should have included its history from our independence in 1960 up to 1987 during which all the CJNs were from the South, and, except for Atanda Fatai-Williams and Taslim Olawole Elias, were also all Christians. Equally, a more honest view would have acknowledged the fact that since 1987 when Mohammed Bello became the first Northerner Muslim CJN, the unbroken string of Northern CJNs has come about not by design but because, on average, most justices of the court from the South have been older before joining the court than those from the North due essentially to the longer history of Western education in the South. As our legal professor knows all too well, it is the combination of this and the court’s mandatory age of retirement at 70 that has led to a higher turnover of Southern and Christian justices of the court than Northern and Muslim.
Still on his claim about Muslim judges being favoured in the judiciary, if our learned senior lawyer was honest with himself he would not have isolated the more visible Supreme Court but would’ve included the Court of Appeal and the Federal High Courts where Northerners and Muslims are clearly the underdogs in number.
Again a more honest view would have acknowledged the fact that the CJN, like all his colleagues in the Supreme Court, has only one vote and cannot veto the majority which had been and, with its present number of 19 justices, remains Southern and Christian. Besides, whatever anyone may say of our courts, the last thing they can be accused of is voting for ethnic or sectarian considerations. For example, in the General Muhammadu Buhari versus President Olusegun Obasanjo case of Election 2003, the panel of judges voted unanimously for Obasanjo regardless of their region or religion. Again, in the 2007 case between the two where the panel split evenly between the two, the CJN, Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi, a Northerner and a Muslim broke the tie in favour of Obasanjo.
Finally, to our learned senior lawyer’s claim that Northern politicians, traditional rulers and Muslim leaders are the sponsors of Boko Haram in pursuit of an agenda of Northern domination of, and Islamic supremacy in, the country.
Of all his reasons for North- and Islamophobia, this one is the most absurd. Next week, God willing, I’ll attempt to show why before discussing the fallacy of a “conference/dialogue/conversation” of ethnic groups which our learned professor is a great champion of.