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Monthly Archives: July 2011

Nigeria-Is it Time for “the” Sovereign National Conference?: The North and Federalism

“Truth is bitter,”  goes that well-known aphorism.And,no wonder.For like medicine,which is also bitter,truth boasts great curative power: it can save you,it can turn your life around and it can set you free.To benefit from that power,however,requires a willingness on the part of the concerned person,to accept the truth and imbibe the lessons that it teaches,just as an individual profits from medicine,only after an ingestive encounter with it.The first step,in effecting a positive change in any life,is to do an accurate,truthful,diagnosis of that life.Only then,can efficacious remedies be proffered.But,this is easier said than done,and for good reason; as we have noted,truth after all is bitter.Given that bitterness,it should come as no surprise that truth is,most of the time,mightily resisted.And,what goes for individuals,is also applicable to societies and nations.

The average Nigerian believes that Nigeria is broken,and in need of radical surgery.He also believes that the political class resists this truth,for the simple reason that a broken Nigeria lends itself to plunder,the preferred occupation of Nigerian elites.The truth is that,finding it too bitter to even contemplate giving up it’s “right” to plunder,as would be entailed by radical surgery,the Nigerian political class instead resorted to gimmickry and fudge.In place of that surgery,it instituted zoning,an arrangement ostensibly designed to ensure geo-political “fairness” by rotating the presidency between the South and the North,but which in fact seems more of an attempt to bring “order” to the “feeding frenzy”,in order to avoid self-destruction by a loot-crazed political class,by  rotating power between Northern and Southern members of that class,in a clear rejection of the principle of meritocracy,and to the detriment of ordinary Nigerians.

Radical surgery,in the opinion of the average Nigerian,would entail drastic restructuring of Nigeria,resulting in either true federalism or balkanization.Most Southerners believe that the main stumbling-block to restructuring Nigeria is the North.According to this view,given that Nigeria’s oil is concentrated in the South,the North,realizing that restructuring would be attended by the significant loss of  it’s oil-receipts, is opposed to any significant restructuring of the country.Cited in favour of this analysis is the fact that between 1967 and 1999,when the North had almost unbroken domination of Nigeria,it did everything to keep Nigeria a de facto unitary state,with centralized control of it’s oil resources.The evidence so far would seem to suggest that Northerners are die-hard unitarists.That is misleading.If we re-examine the evidence,we might find that,on the contrary,Northerners are unrepentant federalists.

A clue of the North’s innate federalist instinct,emerges from an examination of it’s behaviour when it is not in power.Once out of power,the North’s innate fear and distrust of the unitary Nigerian state emerge.It is this fear that finds expression in violent and provocative behaviour.Consider the evidence: when General Aguiyi-ironsi,a Southerner,promulgated the unification decree of 1967,the North erupted in violence,during which Southerners were massacred; when Olusegun Obasanjo,a Southerner,become president in 1999,the hard-core Northern states petulantly responded by adopting Sharia law,in flagrant violation of the constitution; and now that another Southerner,Goodluck Jonathan,is president,the air itself is thick with chants and threats of violence.The North fears that a unitary Nigerian state outside it’s direct control,would lead to the imposition of secularism,Westernization.And with Westernization,Southern “domination” of the North.

And,make no mistake about it,the North may loathe the South,but it also fears it,and it’s education,in equal measure.The truth is that the North would like nothing better than to be shot of the South or at least put itself in a position,where it can more fruitfully resist Southern “domination”.It this fear of the South that is “forcing” the North to flirt with Islamism: the North’s recourse to the Sharia law is an attempt to ward off the “rampaging” South; the fervent Northern support for Islamic banking is another example of this phenomenon.I believe the North’s fears can only be allayed either by a federal arrangement,which gives it the power to make far-reaching laws for the itself or perpetual leadership of  Nigeria.In other words,the North would opportunistically subsume it’s federalist instinct only when in power,as we saw between 1960 and 1999.It is this “my way or the highway” thinking that is described by  Southerners as the  “born-to-rule” mentality.

Now that the South is no longer willing to keep the North happy,by  “bribing” it with the leadership of  Nigeria,what happens? If the victory of Goodluck Jonathan in the 2011 presidential election proved anything,it is that the hard-core Northern states are in no position to elect anybody to Nigeria’s presidency.This means the prospects of a “Northern” president in the next 20 years are dim.If that is so,the North can only get progressively unhappier.And with good reason.Despite being in power for over three decades,the North lagged the South in development.Out of power,and still analphabetic,what are it’s chances? Southern “domination” threatens.And the “highway” beckons: balkanization or true federalism. We can choose the smart option,true federalism based on resource control,by sitting round a table and “talking”.For it’s “freedom” from looming Southern “domination”,the North,in my view,would be willing to pay a huge price: the loss of it’s oil-receipts.I believe the North is ready for a parley.But is the South also ready? That is the question.