Saturday, August 7, 2010

North and South

By Obi Nwakanma, The Orbit/Vanguard

For most Nigerians from the South, anybody above ridge of the Benue is a “northerner” – Ndi-Hausa – as the Igbo used to say. They were lazy cattle-rearers, and illiterate.

They were generally all religious fanatics. In more recent times, they are the trouble with Nigeria, since “they” have “ruled” Nigeria for much of its postcolonial years. This means, only the northerners have caused Nigeria’s troubles and dragged us all back because of the North’s absolute lack of commitment to Nigeria, and their absolute lack of know-how about how to govern a modern nation.

This is absolutely false. It is as false as the general image in the mind of other Nigerians of the Yoruba – whom I have been told, even by so-called educated and, you might think, sophisticated Nigerians, as “dirty, fun-loving, corrupt and clannish.” This too is absolute nonsense. It is as nonsensical as the image of the Igbo whom many Nigerians see as money-grabbing, greedy, and lawless.

In the past, it was the Igbo who were often described as “clannish.” But that aspect of their national character has been displaced by the Yoruba in the popular Nigerian imagination. It is clear that Nigerians hardly or genuinely know each other.

Every minority from the south is the “Niger delta” – oppressed, and blameless; a victim of Nigeria’s cruel majority ethnic groups. This, of course, is not true. Very key members of the minority groups – north and south – have been complicit in the Nigerian crisis. Minorities have also governed as Heads of the government of Nigeria – Balewa, Gowon and Babangida. Now, Jonathan, is a Southern minority. The image of the southern minorities has been the result of the certain fervour of the Nigerian media which has basically also made the “minorities” question a regional question rather than a situation of human injustice.

There are religious minorities in many places; there are ethnic minorities. For instance, if you have one thousand Yoruba or Efik or Hausa people living in Owerri with an overwhelming Igbo population, they constitute a minority population irrespective of where they come from.

If you have ten Igbo living in Obubra, the Igbo are minority irrespective of their general or putative number in Nigeria. There are other kinds of minorities: paraplegics for instance are minorities. There is a Lebanese-Nigerian minority living in Kano and Ibadan, and such places. These minority populations have questions which ought to be fully addressed with the context of the polity. How we treat the infirm and the weak define the quality of our consciousness.

Those too have rights and ought to be protected by law where the provisions of law are inadequate. But I was talking about this divide – the national divide that makes Nigeria schizophrenic. I have had cause to enter very furious and testy debates on the question of Nigeria with regards to its imbalances. First let me say that the current talk by many southerners that the North, especially through the military ran Nigeria and underdeveloped it is false.

The closer truth is that a very complex alliance of business interests from the North and the South, with their international banking and security links ran Nigeria, and continues to run Nigeria. The ordinary northerner – Hausa or Fulani or Berom or even Tiv – has not benefited in any significant way from the so-called rule of Northerners. Individual northerners and southerners have benefited in immense ways, from their close associations and links with power, and we must pay heed to this fact.

The perplexing level of hatred we promote about each other has made it impossible for Nigerians –North and South – to take ownership of their nation, and to establish a clear reason for taking this country beyond its origin as a contraption of the British. Let me of course say that we have unburied ghosts: the Igbo still feel betrayed by the massive loss of lives from the pogroms and the civil war, and to the various religious riots in which they were targeted.

The image of the North of Nigeria as the hotbed of religious fanaticism and intolerance persists. In the northern mind, the South exists as a greedy, troublesome, cunning, oppressive and inhospitable lot. The South sees the North as a useless drainpipe on Nigeria.

They view the North from the prism that shows us its indolent elite or rulers. There are many truths in the broad canvas of images, but there are also many norths as there are many souths. Nigeria is made of people – complex and varied: kind, cruel, greedy, industrious; the zealot and the one of measured faith.

Nigeria’s diversity is both rich and troubling. There are currently serious separatists movements, North and south, and we all think that each of us keep the other from a certain manifest destiny

There may be truth in all that. But there is also truth in the possibility of what might become Nigeria if it is truly and properly governed. The evolution of modern Nigeria must come with our overcoming these forms of estrangements and a willingness to deal with the question of power – for at the core of the Nigerian crisis is the question of power: who has it and who does what with it. Perhaps we might learn something from Kenyans this week, who went peacefully to the polls to vote for a reduction in the power of the president.

Perhaps Nigerians must place this question of executive power before a ballot. Nigeria must also come to terms with the other issues of political reform: a restructuring of the nation into six regions to reduce both the cost of administering Nigeria, and to create serious institutions, stronger and more competitive than the current postage-stamp sized states that drain the national wealth through unnecessary administrative costs.

Nigeria also needs a new kind of leadership. As analysts follow the current elections, two candidates seem immediately viable: the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan, and former military head of state, Mr. Muhamadu Buhari, a retired Major-General of the Nigerian Army. Nigerians must ignore the North-South question in making their choice. Let us examine each of these men by the contents of their character and the quality of their service.

Goodluck Jonathan is highly educated – a research scientist, and also from the Niger Delta – a region which makes a claim for a historical debt owed to it by Nigeria. Buhari comes with a past of stern and disciplined leadership, although there are those who claim that there many chips in his armour. Perhaps many more might emerge for this race. Nigerians owe it to themselves to hold each man who comes to serve to account for their past, and for their vision of the future.

The question of North and South – the inchoate binary that symbolizes our discontent with each other and with this inheritance from the British called Nigeria – must come close a bit. This is the year of our jubilee. Let it be the year of our renewal too. Whoever wins in this election must convene a conference of the nations in search of healing and reconciliation. Otherwise there will be no point wasting our time.

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