By Mohammed Haruna
Last week in this column, entitled “Jonathan’s fair-weather friends,” I said Dr. Reuben Abati, former spokesman of President Goodluck Jonathan, was wrong to subscribe to the popular belief that a section of this country, specifically the North – for which read the so-called Hausa/Fulani – believed it is, to use the hackneyed expression, “born to rule.”
Abati did not use exactly those words in his well-publicised sharp reprimand of Chief Edwin Clark over the godfather’s recent denunciation of his erstwhile godson, Jonathan. But the difference between the words he used and the hackneyed phrase was more or less like that between half a dozen of one and six of the other. The only difference this time was that Abati stretched the presumed Northern superiority complex to include others outside the region.
The betrayal of Jonathan’s confidence by the likes of Clark, Abati said in his putdown of the old man, was one reason “why the existent power blocs that consider themselves most fit to rule, continue to believe that those whose ancestors never ran empires can never be trusted with power.”
Abati’s reference to “those whose ancestors never ran empires” obviously would include at least the Jukuns who once ran the mighty Kwararafa Empire, the Yoruba who ran the Oyo Empire and the Edo who ran the Benin Empire. Abati, I am sure, knows very well that none of these three nationalities, or for that matter any other nationality, would agree that it suffers from any superiority complex, along with the Hausa/Fulani. But then even the Hausa/Fulani themselves would deny they suffer from this complex and even go further to accuse others of the same complex.
The fact is that every nationality in the world, no matter how small, thinks it is superior to others – hence its faith in preserving its language and culture – but paradoxically also accuses others of the same complex. This clearly makes the notion of ethnic superiority, and by the same token, ethnic inferiority complex, more subjective than objective.
Take, for example, Nigeria’s political-economy which has rested on a tripod of its three biggest ethnic groups, the Hausa/Fulani in the North, the Yoruba in the West and the Igbo in the East. In his 1987 autobiography, the late Alhaji Babatunde Jose, post Independent Nigeria’s greatest newspaperman, provided what I believe is probably the greatest insight into the country’s tripod-based politics.
This was in Chapter 7 where he shed some light in what led to the infamous Kano Riots of May 18, 1953 which started from Sabon Gari, the mainly Igbo settlement on the city’s outskirts. Jose was at that time on tour of the North as a senior reporter of Daily Times. He had, he said, arrived Zaria from Kano by train when he heard that a riot had broken out in Kano following a campaign rally addressed by Chief Ladoke Akintola, then Deputy Leader of Action Group, in which he disparaged the Northern leadership “in fluent Hausa” for opposing the independence motion that had been moved in parliament in Lagos by his party.
As a resourceful reporter, Jose persuaded a senior railway officer to allow him to double-back to Kano on a goods train that night. He then filed an eye-witness account of the riot in which he reported that it was one between the Hausa and the Yoruba. “Somehow,” Jose said, “it appeared in the Daily Times as a riot between Hausa and Ibos, a very different matter, and potentially a very dangerous error.” So dangerous that Percy Roberts, the expatriate boss of the newspaper, was summoned by the Chief Secretary of the Government (today’s equivalent of Secretary of the Government of the Federation) and persuaded to withdraw the entire edition and reprint it with the correct story.
“We,” Jose said, “never found out how the mistake occurred. Was it an accident or was it a deliberate attempt to foment trouble?”
Whatever it was, the incident provided an insight into how politics in this country has revolved around the three biggest ethnic groups in the country. As Jose pointed out in that chapter, “The Yorubas had literally ruled Nigeria since the British came to the exclusion of the Hausa and the Ibos. While the Yorubas had produced the second generation of graduates in law, medicine and engineering, the Ibos were just starting with the first generation. But the Hausas had not started at all… Lagos was Nigeria and there was resistance to the backward provincials coming to share power in Lagos.”
So Nigeria’s predicament has been one in which democracy, as essentially a game of numbers, has pitted the elites of one big ethnic group who think they have the numbers to dictate the shots against the elites of the other two big groups who believe they have the Western education to be the rightful heirs to the departing colonialists. And until Jonathan, an Ijaw, came along in 2011, the other smaller ethnic groups were supposed to be little more than bit players in the country’s political drama.
Numbers may have trumped Western education in the politics of this country since Independence, but neither the West (Yoruba) nor the East (Igbo) have the moral right to accuse the North (Hausa/Fulani) of thinking it is “born to rule.” If nothing else, the victory of Chief M. K. O. Abiola, a Yoruba, against Alhaji Bashir Tofa, a “Hausa” in the now famous June 12, 1993 presidential election even in the North, and the support his victory got from leading Northern elites like late Major-General Hassan Usman Katsina, Malam Adamu Ciroma and Alhaji Balarabe Musa, has since debunked the notion that Northerners alone believe they are born to rule.
Of course, a Northerner, military president, General Ibrahim Babangida, annulled the election and another Northerner, General Sani Abacha, buried the struggle for its realization as military head of state. But none of them had any one’s mandate to do so. And they only succeeded with the active support of elites from all over the country.
The fact is that few of our elites, whatever their ethnicity, believe in democracy as a means to power through the popular will. Fewer still are prepared to work long and hard to cultivate any reasonable level of popular support across ethnic, regional and religious lines. Instead they’ll sooner use all three, and others more, to divide us in order to rule us.
Anyone inclined to accuse only the North of a “born to rule complex” should remember how, in an interview in Sunday Vanguard of July 21, 2002, Mr Femi Fani-Kayode, then a spokesman of President Olusegun Obasanjo, declared that whether anyone liked it or not the South would rule Nigeria for “close to 50 years.” He even argued that the North would “actually be better-off being ruled by people from the South” because the benefits of good governance, which, presumably, was a Southern preserve, would “flow down.”
It should also be remembered that three years after Fani-Kayode’s declaration, the Southern Leaders Forum met in Enugu and demanded that power remained in the South beyond the 2007 elections and threatened otherwise to boycott the elections.
So if the so-called Hausa/Fulani, and by extension, the North, appear more guilty of a “born to rule” syndrome than the other big ethnic groups – and remember as we have seen in several multi-ethnic states like Benue, Kogi, Delta and Bayelsa, one man’s minority group is another’s majority – it is not because it is the veritable truth. It is simply because as Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. the American historian once said, “Karl Marx held that history is shaped by those who control the means of production. In our times history is shaped by those who control the means of communication.”
In Nigeria’s information and communication order, the North has clearly been grossly disadvantaged historically and has remained so even today. For this, however, the region can have only itself to blame because it has had more than 50 years to catch up or at least narrow the gap significantly but has failed to do so.
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