NIGERIA: The problems of the North: The caliphate in politics

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As many attempts has been made by the political leaders of the North to forge unity in order to bring power back to the North in 2015, the question is being asked, why the Northern political leaders want power so desperately?.  The answer is that the ‘North‘ is so used to having an exercising ‘political power‘ that it feels unfulfilled without it.  It is a matter of fact that since independence, power (headship of Federal Government) has resided in the North for more than three quarters of the period.

Though the North is made up of several tribes and cultures, political power in Nigeria has always been in the hands of the Hausa/Fulani elites.  The Sokoto ‘Caliphate‘ was established in the early 19th century as a result of cultural and religious jihad.  It covered a large portion of the old Northern part of Nigeria and Ilorin, except Bornu, Borgu, Igalla, Idoma, Tiv, Jukum and most of Plateau area.  The illustrious founder, Shehu Usman Dan Fodio (1754-1814) was a religious crusader without any dynastic orientation.  The military wing of the Religious and Cultural Revolution was led by his brother Abdullah (1756-1828).

The Sokoto ‘Caliphate‘ which later became a powerful religious, political and dynastic power spreading its tentacles to many parts of the country throughout the 19th century was conquered in 1903 by the British.  Though it had lost its political hegemony in the Northern region, it had been able to retain and keep its administration intact, especially in the former Sokoto Province through the Emirates headed by Sokoto Princes.  Thus, as I have noted in this column, in the political history of modern Nigeria, the ‘Caliphate‘ (represented by Hausa/Fulani political leaders) have exercised great political power since 1960 and up to the present time.

Many analysts, in the past, have tended to attribute the supremacy of the Northern political leaders to many reasons, some of which were based on myth of administrative capability.  Mallam Maitama Sule was once reported to have said that, “Northerners are endowed by God with leadership quality” That statement, though offensive to others, has some semblance of truth.  The question is how could the political dominance by a section of the country for more than four decades could be explained or rationalized?

Some examples of political ingenuity of the Hausa/Fulani leaders could be inferred from the past political settings.  In the 1959 elections, the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) won 134 seats in the House of Representatives – all won in the North (scoring 43% of the total votes) while the NCNC, the Action Group (AG) and all others combined won 176 seats all over the country.

The story was that the NPC with 134 seats (all in the North) had no over-all majority, and it could have been possible for the Action Group (AG) and NCNC to form the Federal Government.  But for some selfish reasons, the NCNC leader, (late Dr Azikiwe) became a strange “beautiful bride” to be courted by both the North and the West.  The roving eyes of the `beautiful bride` caught the fancy of the North and the post independence government was formed by the NPC and NCNC, with the AG of the West pushed into opposition.

It was no surprise also that the Federal Government of 1979 was formed between Shagari`s NPN and Dr Azikiwe`s party (NPP), with Shehu Shagari as the President.  The UPN under late Chief Awolowo was thrown into political wilderness.  In that election, Shagari of the North scored 163,164 votes against Awolowo`s score of 9,063 votes in Anambra State.  Viewed from any angle, the political machine of the time oiled by Hausa/Fulani elite showed ingenuity.

Some have attributed the earlier rise in the fortunes of the Hausa/Fulani leaders on the Nigeria‘s political horizon to the formidable personality, political sagacity and strong character of the late Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto, a great grandson of that religious legend, Uthman Dan Fodio, the founder of Sokoto Caliphate. As an astute politician and devout Muslim, Sir Ahmadu Bello was associated with an open door policy which embraced and recognized Christian talents in his administration and in his party, the Northern Peoples‘ Congress (NPC).

If the foundation of political hegemony of the North was laid by Sir Ahmadu Bello with his northernisation policy based on the common concept of ‘One North, One Destiny‘, his lieutenants in the Federal Government complemented that concept with an agenda of ‘facilitating a national balance‘ within the Federal Ministries, thus allowing northerners to be appointed into top positions in various Ministries, irrespective of year of service or qualifications.

The hegemony of Hausa/Fulani political leaders had been based on solid ground supported by disunity and acrimony among Southern leaders.  Having tasted power and enjoyed the sweetness of it, perhaps it might be too late to deny the North that aroma which is not only pleasing but also refreshing. That is the essence of the 1999 Constitution.

If the often quoted statement of Mallam Maitama Sule is correct that, “The Northerners are endowed by God with leadership qualities; the Yoruba man knows how to earn a living and has diplomatic qualities; the Igbo man is gifted in Commerce, Trade and Technological innovations”.  Where then lies the position of Igbo President of Nigeria?

At times, I am amused by the comments of the supporters of the former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar on his former friend and boss, former President of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo.   The pertinent question is, will our politicians ever learn?  It was the view of former Vice President Atiku‘s supporters that former President Obasanjo stood between their hero and the prime position of PRESIDENT.  Many political comments have been made against the former President several times without a reply by the retired General.

It was Sir Winston Churchill, a soldier and statesman, who was a former British Prime Minister who noted that, “But in craft, in slow intrigue, in strength of personality, in doubtful dangerous manoeuvres the soldiers beat the politician every time.”  One can conveniently conclude, Anytime.  However, former President Obasanjo will be remembered for not allowing Military adventurer to pollute the nascent political waters.

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