Professor Ango Abdullahi, former vice chancellor of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, is fast acquiring notoriety not just as a northern irredentist, but also as a political irritant. Nothing best captures this assertion than his reported declaration recently that the North would not only withhold support for the South in the 2015 presidential election, but also that once political power returns to that section of the country, it would remain there forever. The statement is supposed to reflect the position of a coalition of some northern groups.
In a country where ethno-religious factors, not merit, determine who holds the office of president in our peculiar brand of democracy, it is quite normal and therefore legitimate for the Abdullahis of the North to insist that come 2015, it should be their ‘turn’ to produce the occupant of Aso Rock. Other sections with equal right and legitimacy also have a similar argument, especially the South-east, which has never had what, in Nigeria, is considered an opportunity. It, however, becomes a different matter altogether, one that borders on the ridiculous and the absurd, for the former don to even suggest that political power could remain in the North for as long as that section desires, bragging about its so-called voting power.
The problem with those obsessed with the notion of political dominance is that they see it less from the point of view of the uplift of the standard of living of the people, but more from the standpoint of the opportunity it provides them, a tiny few, to perpetually live in the corridors of power, with its attendant benefits. These include opportunity to have their children in the best schools in the world, while the overwhelming majority of kids in that section of the country wallow in ignorance. They can point to mansions that dot the landscape in Abuja, Kaduna, Kano, Sokoto, Yola and other northern cities as benefits of the North’s dominance of political power, while their people live in squalor. A handful of them have oil blocks to show for the many years that the region has held political power.
But it should be to their eternal shame that despite more than three decades of that region’s stranglehold on political power, it accounts for the highest rate of poverty, illiteracy and disease in the country.
A recent study showed that 75 per cent of young men in the North have no skill. Nothing best proves the veracity of this study than the army of able-bodied young men who daily struggle with one another to carry wares with wheelbarrows in markets all over Lagos and, I believe, other parts of the country. Those who do not have the nerves to engage in this kind of struggle are content to hawk sugarcane in wheelbarrows, or become emergency shoe menders, trekking long distances, just to eke out a living. I look at these young men and wonder what future they have in a country where the Abdullahis – their leaders – are ready to go to war to preserve their supposed right to hold political power for life.
Quite a good number of Nigerians must have been amused when governors in some parts of the North with indices that should qualify Nigeria as a failed state; governors who have proved incapable of rescuing their states from poverty, ignorance, disease and insecurity, teamed up with relatively successful governors in the South-west to form the All Peoples Congress (APC), to rescue the country from the dominance of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). I am one of those who wonder if Sule Lamido and Ibrahim Shema, two governors who are said to excel, are not in the North. Or is federal allocation also shared on party basis?
It is the failure of the Ango Abdullahis of the North who have a misconception of the purpose of political power, that has resulted in a bizarre situation in which a boy from Yobe State needs only to score two over 200 in an entrance examination to gain admission into the same school in which another boy from Anambra State has to score a minimum of 139 to qualify for admission. This policy that stands logic on its head is known as federal character, an abnormality that epitomizes everything that is wrong with Nigeria. The policy will ensure that when the boy from Yobe gets literally held by the hand through the different levels of education, he will find himself holding a job for which he is certainly not qualified.
Many years ago, when General Ibrahim Babangida was still playing hide and seek with Nigerians on the issue of democratic rule, General T. Y. Danjuma was reported as saying, with resignation, that he would not witness democracy in his lifetime (I wonder if the revered former general still holds that view today).
I worry about the fact that with our deliberate adoption of mediocrity as a policy for deciding qualification for elective offices, in the name of rotation, this generation of Nigerians may never witness the era when such offices would be for the best hands only. I worry myself sick about the possibility that Nigeria may grope in the dark indefinitely, as long as we ignore what is right and continue to settle for what is convenient.
If America had continued to place emphasis on colour, there is no way a Barack Obama would have dreamt of being in the White House as its occupant. But because the people of that country decided it was time to actualise the dream of Martin Luther King, Jr, of a country where people are judged only by the contents of their character, he ended up achieving two firsts – the first black man to be elected president and the first sitting president to be re-elected against the background of a virtually battered economy.
It is time people like Ango Abdullahi realise the futility of clinging to primordial sentiments that have served the people of the region no good. They should ask themselves how it happened that despite the fact that political power remained the birthright of that region during the military era, the worst indices of human existence are found there.
It should matter very little the part of the country a person aspiring to be president comes from. The consideration should be ability to deliver, which should be based on performance in a previous public office.
The erroneous belief that unless a region produces the country’s president, it cannot be guaranteed the benefits of belonging to the commonwealth should be discarded. In a democracy, such that we are labouring to build, a president would be hard-pressed to ignore any section of the country in the spread of development, especially since we seem to perfect the electoral process with each election. It needs not be mentioned here that a Nigerian president of southern origin – Jonathan – is the one that has deemed it necessary to give almajiris, those long forgotten by the Ango Abdullahis, the chance of a life time to receive education.
The Abdullahis should be concerned about building a Nigeria where a George W. Bush would be judged by his own suitability for the same office that his father held, whether or not the latter was a success story, without anybody asking if the office of the president is the birthright of one family; a country where a Hilary Clinton could end up holding the same office that her husband held for eight years.
It serves a better purpose than make statements that smack of arrogance; statements that suggest that holding of the office of president by anybody from the South is an act of benevolence by the North.
• Ukpaukure lives in Lagos
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