The Problematics of Northern Leadership in Nigeria
The north has wielded political power in the country to the effect of the under-development of the north.
Nigeria is a federal republic. According to the 1999 Constitution, no part of the country is ineligible to produce the president in our presidential system of government. Accordingly, northern Nigeria is entitled to produce elected presidents. Notwithstanding, the president is elected to govern the country in the best ways and promote citizens' welfare and security.
It is about two years since President Muhammadu Buhari came into office. In these two years, the President has brought to the fore, once again, the key problems with Nigerian presidents – and heads of state – from the northern part of the country. These issues are summed up in two: northernisation of the federal government and failure of northern leaders to develop the north.
In the early days of appointing his aides, President Buhari said he was appointing people he knows. This was pragmatic,
except that the people Buhari knows are his kith and kin. In the context that he had to leverage a coalition with a major southern power base and southern politicians, Buhari's nepotism was always going to constitute a conundrum in forging his national leadership and government.
When confronted with this faux pas, coming in the first weeks of a four-year term of his administration, he doubled down. Buhari issued his infamous response that he could not treat the constituency that gave him 97 percent electoral support equally as the constituency that gave him five percent. But the whole country is one constituency in electing the president. Moreover, the president is mandated constitutionally to rule the country as one entity.
President Buhari has gone ahead to fill major cabinet positions with fellow citizens of northern extraction. His kith and kin now dominate the management and boards of the federal agencies being reconstituted by his administration. The same tendency of regionalising key government appointments was noted with the government of President Umaru Yar'Adua, between 2007 and May 2010.
Yar'Adua's and Buhari's ethnically lopsided appointments were/are in contradistinction to the governments of Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo (1999 – 2007) and Goodluck Jonathan (2010 – 2015). A lot of the influential officials in the administrations of Obasanjo and Jonathan were from regions different from the two former presidents'. Some of the most influential officials in the Obasanjo administration were Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nasir El-rufai, Oby Ezekwesili, Charles Soludo and Shamsuddeen Usman. Those in Jonathan's administration, apart from Diezani Alison-Madueke, were Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Akinwumi Adesina, Bala Mohammed, Mohammed Bello Adoke and Sambo Dasuki.
Until the fourth republic, the combination of the machinations of the British colonialists and the subsequent “born to rule” posturing of the northern oligarchs almost completely 'northernised' the position of Head of State and Commander of the Armed Forces. Between independence in 1960, and before the inception of the fourth republic on May 29, 1999, the north ruled Nigeria for approximately 34 out of the 39 years.
Beyond being insensitive to any backlash to the monopolisation of executive powers, the northern leaders – especially the military dictators – took various decisions that undermined the unity of the country and peaceful coexistence of Nigerians. General Ibrahim Babangida annulled the June 12, 1993 presidential election. Popular Nigerian philanthropist and businessman from the South West of the country, MKO Abiola, was on his way to officially win the election when Babangida halted further announcement of the results and cancelled the election outright for inexplicable reasons. General Sani Abacha threw General Olusegun Obasanjo, also from South West Nigeria, in detention for trumped up involvement in a coup d'état.
Besides the marginalisation of the South East and South South geopolitical zones in his appointments, the government of President Buhari has been insensitive to the atrocities of the Fulani herdsmen. The herdsmen, who are pictured carrying military-grade weapons, have been on a killing rampage since 2015. The death toll in southern communities and Christian sections of the north have long reached alarming levels. But the Buhari administration seems anything but perturbed, and has done little to stem the crisis.
Given the insensitivity to the geopolitical dynamics of the country this term, there has been tension in the country. Agitation for a sovereign state of Biafra received a new impetus. The economy slipped into recession last year, in part because of low oil production caused by the attacks on oil installations in the Niger Delta.
Given the appeal to the narrow northern power base and nepotistic appointments, the national economy tends to underperform with the northern leaders. Last year, Buhari led the economy into the first recession in 25 years. The rail revolution that started with the Goodluck Jonathan's administration would have been afoot at least three years earlier, but for the cancellation of the contracts President Yar'Adua inherited from his predecessor. The same is true with the recent efforts to move forward reform in the power sector and get private sector participation in petroleum refining.
But the brunt of the misgovernance has been felt the most in the north. The north has wielded political power in the country to the effect of the under-development of the north. In vital areas of development, including access to education, and broader development indicators, the north is behind the southern part of the country.
In a 2015 article, I raised the point that the new administration of President Buhari should try to reverse the pattern whereby the northern populace – especially the youth – is merely an appendage of the political ambitions of the northern elites. In 2013, girls from Yobe State, northeast Nigeria, needed only two marks in the common entrance examination to enter the Unity Schools. Their counterparts from Anambra State needed 138 marks. Little wonder then, the Chibok girls that were freed from Boko Haram's abduction, could not speak English. But the girls were preparing for their WAEC physics examination – which is set in English -when they were forcibly removed from their hostel to captivity in 2014.
According to 2015 United Nations Human Development Report for Nigeria (UNDP HDR), “across the geo-political zones, data for 2013 shows that mean years of schooling was highest in the South-South zone (10.664), and followed by the South West Zone. It is lowest in the North-West zone (3.8126).The North-East and NorthWest zones had values lower than the national average figure, while the southern zones all had higher values than the national average figure.”
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari