The Insight by Lateef Adewole
There was an incident on Sunday 4th of October, 2020, that broke my heart. I had an interaction with a long time good friend of mine when he commented on my previous Saturday’s article: “NIGERIA @60: WHO STOLE MY COUNTRY?”. The discussion dovetailed into how we are now so divided as a country by tribes and religions. He concluded that the country needs urgent restructuring, just like many have been clamouring for.
He narrated a recent experience of his when he attended an interview. It was for a top position in a downstream Oil and Gas company. Despite being young (in my age bracket), he is eminently qualified for the post. He is a very brilliant, industrious, experienced and resilient person. He currently works as a member of top management in a company, a position he attained by dint of hard work and grace!
He told me that despite his impressive CV, his brilliant performances at the series of interviews they organised and the consensus on his suitability, the company’s CEO said he would not employ him because he comes from a particular tribe. That was how his chance of landing such a lofty job went up in flame. My heart was shattered. I imagined what he must have felt when he had that encounter.
This immediately prompted me to revive an article I had wanted to write over a year ago but other events overtook it. There and then, I drafted this article. Unfortunately, since that week, series of other events pushed this article aside that I could not published it. His fear, just like many of us, is what fate awaits his children in this country? And to say that this happened in a private sector company where many thought employments are based on merit. Such experience cast aspersion on that.
Had it been it was a government establishment, especially federal at this time, I would not have been surprised. If there is anything this administration has been accused of and has been guilty many times of, it is nepotism. Many defined the government by that. Tribalism, clannishness, jingoism, are associated with the administration.
And sadly, President Buhari and his administration do not make much efforts to dispel such accusations or prove people wrong. “Res ipsa loquitur” (the fact speaks for itself). Continuously, the appointments regularly made by the president usually followed in the pattern of what he was accused of. And his appointees often followed in that footsteps. “Kaka k’ewe agbon ro, lile l’on le si (rather than things to get better, they got worse).
Some months ago, it was reported that about seven senior officers were promoted to the position of Deputy and Assistant Comptroller General of Custom and they all happened to be from the north! Outrageous! To still see people defend such most insensitive action was beyond my comprehension. There is still controversy about the 400 Civilian JTF being employed into the Nigerian Army now. All from the North! This is the common practice of the administration in the past five years.
The clamour for rejigging of the security architecture and replacement of service chiefs and all heads of security agencies who are from only one section of Nigeria except one or two, fell on deaf ears. Worse still, they have performed woefully below expectations, especially in the past few years, going by the escalation of insecurities, and largely from the same part of the country from where they all came, including Mr. President.
This also brings me to a point I have insisted on that appointments from a particular section or tribe do not really translate to the betterment of the ordinary citizens of that region. The security situation is a typical example of such. The Army, Airforce, Police, Civil Defence, DSS, NIA, Customs, Immigration, are all headed by northerners. The NSA, Minister of Defence, Minister of Police Affairs, Minister for Justice are northerners. The heads of the three arms of government; executive, legislative and judiciary are all from the north. But what have all these benefitted the ordinary northerners now? Nothing or not much. I know because I lived in the north for many years. All these are just for the benefits of the elites from that region.
Now, let’s look at the issue holistically and historically. Were our forefathers who fought for Nigerian independence really about “one Nigeria”? Were they nationalistic as we are made to assume or believe? The bitter truth is no. They were not! They were as tribalistc as they came. The truth is that, each of the prominent leaders from each region in Nigeria then was looking out more for their people than for the country as a whole. The only difference is that, the situation was not as bad as we have now because the system, they operated then helped them to actualise those tribalistc interests in more positive ways.
It worked in favour of the country and the people largely because, there was serious competition among the three and later four regions. Chief Awolowo was a champion of the Yoruba cause. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe wanted the best for the Igbos even while he presented an Africanism front. Sir Ahmadu Bello and Tafawa Balewa were more about northern interests. They all competed to make their region best among others. The regional system under a parliamentary government was better for Nigeria.
Then happened, the unfortunate coup of January 15, 1966. Sadly, many key figures in that coup were from the South, and more from Eastern region. This made the coup to be laballed an “Igbo coup” by the northerners. From many accounts I have read about the coup, especially written by non-Igbos, I disagree with that insinuation.
However, two incidents compounded the woes. One, the only tribe whose leaders were not killed by the coup plotters was the Igbo. The president, Dr. Azikiwe and the premier of Eastern region, Sir Michael Opara were not killed. Ahmadu Bello (Premier of the Northern region), Tafawa Balewa (Prime Minister), Ladoke Akintola (Premier of the Western region), and many Senior military leaders from the north were killed. Chief Awolowo was already in prison in Calabar at the time.
Secondly, by coincidence, after other military officers foiled the coup and it failed, the most senior officer who took over was an Igbo man, General Aguyi Ironsi. History, has it that he mismanaged the ensued situation. He acted in non-nationalistic ways that did not assuage the aggrieved northerners who felt cheated. It was reported that majority of his appointments were from Eastern Nigeria. In fact, the suspension of the democratic constitution and crushing of the existing democratic structure by him, and replacement by a unitary constitution, was based on the advice he received from his tribesman, Professor Ben Nwabueze (SAN).
This degenerated into series of crisis across the northern states where many southerners, particularly the Igbos were massacred in cold blood. At a time during this crisis, it was the northerners who wanted to leave Nigeria. This was exact opposite of what has been happening now, where Igbos felt marginalised and a section of them was demanding for succession. The crisis later led to a counter-coup where Gen. Ironsi was killed along side his host Lt. Col. Adekunle Fajuyi, the Military Governor of Western Region, in Ibadan. Col. Yakubu Gowon became the new head of state and the unrests eventually led to the unfortunate 30-month civil war.
Coming back to my friend’s story. In Nigeria today, we are all clannish one way or the other. It is often based on tribes and religions. This is very well pronounced in the private sector but because they are “private”, many Nigerians do not get to know about them. How many companies owned by a person from a tribe have their top management not dominated by people from their tribe? No too many, though there are some. My friend exempted his current company owner as one he respects for his detrabalised nature. Another person I have read about was also late Chief MKO Abiola. Only few can actually match him in this respect. That explained what happened in June 12, 1993 election where he got massive votes across the country.
Many companies owned by Yorubas will be dominated at management level by Yorubas. those owned /controlled by Igbos are populated at management level by the Igbos. Top positions in companies owned by northerners are occupied by people of their tribes. Even Dangote companies, despite operating across Nigeria. Top managers are more from the north. All these organisations do have people from other tribes different from the owners at the top management, but they are often very few. That’s the truth.
And for such people to accuse Buhari of tribalism is preposterous. Inside our hearts, most of us are like him. Either we have not had opportunity to exhibit such character or we have the luxury of doing so in private, far away from public scrutiny.
Within each region, this still happens. South-South and South-east are predominantly Christians while the northern Nigeria is predominantly Muslims. Only south-west has a balance between Muslims and Christians. Hardly can one see generations of a family without a mix of the two religions. For years, the region remains the stabilising factor in the Nigerian state. But, that is being destroyed gradually now due to religious jingoism of some irredentists.
Muslims and Islamic organisations accused political leadership in the South-West states of marginalisation in appointments and government attentions. Five out of the six governors of the region are Christians while only one is a Muslim. But, the same people easily forgot when four of the governors were also Muslims with only two Christians previously.
In schools, despite the constitutionality of allowing students in secondary schools to use hijabs, Christians who are principals of many secondary schools took laws into their hands and sent students away from schools because they wear hijabs. Court pronouncements were made on the legality of it in Lagos and Osun. The case with The International School, University of Ibadan, is still ongoing. Likewise in many government offices. That’s “religious terrorism” of sort.
Among Muslims, some sects will claim others are not practising “pure” Islam. They criticise and condemn their practices. Some Christian denominations will never have anything to do with others. Imagine a worshiper travelling several kilometres, passing hundreds of churches along the way, just to worship in his or her own particular church. Is God not in all these other churches? Same goes for some Muslim sects who are like that. All these are exhibitions of our clannishness.
Let me not begin with the intra-tribal clannishness. Egba vs Ijebu. Ife-Modakeke. Oyo-Ekiti, Ngwa vs Abriba. Mbano vs Mbise. Urhobo vs Itsekiri. Hausa vs Fulani. Hausa vs Nupe. Ibibio vs Efik. One can go on and on.
Whenever we find ourselves in position of authority, how many of us truly rise up above tribalism and religious jingoism? Yet, we abuse others of doing the same, all because they are holding public offices. Were they not from among us? It only showed we all have tendencies to do same, though, one could be worse than another, as we are experiencing in Nigeria today. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, warts and all, remained the most detrabalised among past and present presidents and heads of state in Nigeria. And his Yoruba people never loved him for that. Although, he too might not have done that for altruism completely.
Most of political parties in Nigeria are also built on clannishness. AG, NPC, NEPU, AD, CPC, and APGA. The ruling party APC was formed from these clanish parties. That is the reason for all the unending crisis that have befallen it. Component party members often reverted to their based party interests. PDP remains the only true national party we have had since 1999. The SDP and NRC of 1993 were “forced” national parties since politicians had no choice outside them.
Nigeria was never a nation. It is a confederate of nations brought together to satisfy the interest of the colonialists. And even after they left the different composite nations could not melt to become one. We have only been forcing the togetherness in the past 60 years. While we do not necessarily have to break up the country to progress, a loose federalism or regional parliamentary system as practised up to 1966 worked worked for us and can still work with modifications, rather than this pretence. We will be better together within such arrangement not like this unwieldy federal system. It is not working.
There are people who will always be against this. They are the real enemies of this country. Most of them do so out of selfishness. They have pecuniary interests they want to protect which are better done under this non-functional system. Claims that God wanted us together like this is a big lie. Does God want us to remain stagnant despite blessing us with everything apart from true leadership? God will never come down to change the condition of a people. They must change themselves.
It is time we live our true lives. No need pretending to be nationalistic when underneath, we are all clanish!
May God continue to protect us and guide us aright.
God Bless Nigeria.