Before Arewa Re-thinks Jonathan: A Rejoinder to Garba Shehu-By Adagbo Onoja



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My core contention here, prompted by Mallam Garba Shehu’s piece, “Why Arewa Needs to Re-think Jonathan” published here late last night is that the region’s rethinking of Jonathan, crucial as it is, must be preceded by Arewa re-thinking itself. This is the extent to which this is a rejoinder. Otherwise, I have no fundamental disagreement with the piece in question.

I consider my contention important enough to pose it against Mallam Garba’s because, from my own assessment, the North has almost lost out to Jonathan already, whether in terms of what is on the ground now and even on 2015 if we take note of the incredible incoherence among the Northern governors as a starting point. It is clear to all that they are sworn to a Mutual Assured Destruction pact the way they are going about it. That is happening precisely because Arewa has not re-thought itself.

As the penalty for being alive is to continue solving problems, Northern Nigeria must occupy our minds, particularly the Northern intelligentsia which has the responsibility of reflecting on the society for the society. Mallam Garba’s roots in the political configuration at the moment is that he is informed but probably in deference to propriety or diplomacy in public intellectualism, he steered away from the home truths such as why Arewa is in its current disarray and how should we think about it. But without this, re-thinking Jonathan could end up in further disarray and fragmentation.

Mallam Garba is the right person to kick starts the re-thinking in this direction because, apart from his journalistic responsibility to the society, he is also a member of the Atiku Abubakar intellectual squad with an obligation to clarify our existential crisis as a key stakeholder. The sense of finesse or objectivity that might have constrained Mallam Garba from going full throttle is the kind of unhelpful objectivity that has contributed to our landing where we are. So, the first re-thinking should be why is the North where it is?

One major explanation must be the weakening of solidaristic ties in the North by the creation of states. While the exercise left the South East and the West culturally and territorially intact, it achieved the exact opposites in the North. The geo-cultural and elite fragmentation that followed state creation in the case of the Northern region made impossible the balancer role of the North in Nigerian politics, a role placed on it by being the only one of the three regions which was heterogeneous and, therefore,  incapable of regional agenda based on ethnic or religious essentialism. The South West has religious diversity but it is culturally coherent. The North’s predicament was accentuated by the collapse of the educational arrangement with which the British wield into being a Northern cohort capable of ruling class politics, (balancing, co-optation, symbolic gestures, etc).

Related Article:Why Arewa Needs to Re-think Jonathan By Garba Shehu

I am not against the autonomy and emancipation, (apologies to Chief Lar) which the creation of states brought about especially for people surviving under the yoke of emiral authority. But creation of states equally removed one of the tripods upon which stability of Nigeria rested in the face of two other regions remaining homogenous, ethnically, culturally and territorially. It is such that, today, any part of the South can gain and retain power by identifying, selecting and aligning one or two geo-political units from the North.

One may ask: what is wrong with that? Everything is wrong with it because it means a large swathe of human beings in the Northern geo-political zones that may be out of power at any one time have lost out. Since politics is a game of interest, any geo-political zone in the North could lose out and suffer exclusion any time in this kind of situation.

A second major explanation must be the rupture in systematic application of power occasioned by the military intervention in politics. This is not a position against military intervention in politics which is a much larger topic but a recognition that the military framework of power is so anti-thetical to mobilizational and consensus building leadership which would have better mitigated the inter-group relations in the North and inter-regional relations in the country. Beyond this, military rule removed people-oriented leadership in favour of leadership conferred only by one’s office. But political office holders are not necessarily leaders. This is not a problem peculiar to the North but the North has an unfair share of it.

Manipulation of ethno-religious identities is so self-evident an explanation of the current crisis in the North that one does not have to go far. I will, therefore, only say more on this when I come to my suggested solutions.

The last is the class dimension, the poor versus the rich. Clever societies never allow the gap to become too wide because of the dangers in that. We didn’t care here. Now, we are paying very dearly for it. This has been aggravated by the collapse of the national economy with the ill advised Structural Adjustment regime, especially as it affected the agrarian North. The last phase of this is the accumulated effect of the rentier state – the state of no production and no redistribution except by one’s share of oil revenue accessed via patron-client relationship. So, to feed, one has to be a thug client, sycophant, pimp or sundry errand boy for one political office holder or the other. The consequences are dealing with us now in the sense that those we have been misusing to execute right wing backlashes have suddenly realized their strength and have come after us.


In real life, there are no answers. There are only plausible answers because what one may call answers here could crumble in the face of vigorous interrogation at the other end.

Be that as it may, the class dimension of the crisis compels a straightforward and systematic social welfare schemes on a historical scale throughout Northern Nigeria. Where would the money come from? We can ask Sule Lamido how Jigawa is funding theirs or even Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State in the South West. It is a matter of how we define our priorities. Two is to bring back the agro-industrial strategy on the agenda of development because there is no alternative to it for a completely agrarian economy like Northern Nigeria with particular reference to job creation on the scale that will mitigate current level of hopelessness. Three is the immediate rehabilitation of the educational system to produce individuals with the capacity to critically appraise the world and our location in it. We run the greatest risk if we continue to produce illiterate graduates who cannot fit into modernity and who would turn back to hit at this system sooner than later.

When we come to the religious dimension of the crisis, the only plausible answer I see is a uniquely Northern Nigerian religious regulatory agency headed by someone like Adamu Adamu. I know that Adamu Adamu must have his critics but it is not required that he appeals to all of us to head such an agency. What is important is that he appears to be like someone who can pin down anyone who sets out to misuse religion and square up with him or her even up to The Hague. Unless we succeed in jailing the most blatant manipulators of religion and religious differences, we are doomed.

Next to a regulatory agency is mobilizational leadership. This is where quality governors come in. If a bulk of the governors is people who lack political education, we would still be in problem even if 90% of them parade PhD. If we have governors most of whom have not the skill to address a rally of 100 persons and move them, we are in trouble. If most of the governors are the kind of individuals who become the problem itself, we are in trouble. The governors are so strategic to social mobilisation within the present configuration of power. Can we do anything about selection of governors in the North as things are now, Mallam Garba? Because without deliberate conscientisation and re-politicization of the populace, the existing deposit of religious resentment in the North is enough to keep the Northerners in turmoil for the next century.

Finally, at the level of restoring Northern regional integrity, this is where understanding and unity of purpose through reconciliation is required. Since the basic sentiment on the ground is that the North West has monopolized political power in the North, a starting point is to put this on the agenda instead of pretending that this is not being said here and there. If the North were a university, the approach would be to organise a seminar and interrogate the concept and parameters of domination, perhaps beyond the statistical evidence. But we are in politics and it is about speaking tongues in cheek even as that creates more problems. Nothing is too difficult in a deliberate exercise in power shift from the North West elsewhere if, in the situation in which we find ourselves, that will actually achieve a restoration of the North. If the entire North achieved this for Nigeria itself in 1999, why can it not do so for itself now?

Some of these issues are, however, not issues for the kind of conference taking place later tomorrow in Kaduna. Some of these are issues for deep reflections by people whose experience in life is such that, in spite of themselves, they must take the correct position. I cannot imagine a Committee of Northern Elders made up of General Gowon, Shehu Shagari, IBB (because he is not a contestant for any office in any future elections again), Abdulsalami Abubakar, Maitama Sule, Adamu Ciroma, Umaru Shinkafi, (because Ciroma and Shinkafi are exemplars in the politics of sacrifice and power shift), Solomon Lar and Tanko Yakassai not competently handling such a thing better than any other process. General Buhari, Atiku Abubakar and Bamanga Tukur are not on this list because they are potential aspirants or a clear partisan but the Chairman of Arewa Consultative Forum would belong here.

The North has had great leaders from every zone of the region and ability to unite and produce a credible rallying point if need be should not be such a complex problem in the face of increasing regional depreciation. Ahmadu Bello and Murtala Mohammed are by common consensus great leaders. They came from the North West. Tafawa Balewa was equally great –peaceful, humble, radical and eloquent. He came from the North East. Jack, (permit the impudence but that name is part of the mystique about him) is the archtype boy child leader by becoming Nigeria’s leader at mere 32 and successfully keeping Nigeria one. The institutions must have contributed to accomplishing this but the temperament that sustained it is uniquely Gowonite. He came from the North Central.

It is not true that religious, ethnic and cultural diversity explains the crisis in the North. It is the mismanagement of diversity that is always the problem, never the diversity itself. Unless the current set of Northern elders, just like elders everywhere else, are able to sort out the disarray in the North now before they finally bow out, then the Northern elite would just have to prepare to play second fiddle in Nigeria. I do not say second fiddle in a chauvinistic, anti-Southern sense but in the sense that no elite from a chaotic Northern base will overcome that psychological baggage and be able to compete with anybody elsewhere. And this I think was the thesis of Garba Shehu’s piece to the effect that apathy or withdrawl from the centre because of Jonathan is an investment in danger. I am only adding that changing from apathy to engagement with the centre without confronting and sorting out the regional front will prove even more dangerous at the end of the day, both for the North and the entire Nigeria because if the North should explode, Nigeria itself will equally explode, even at the level of migration alone, not to talk of land squabbles, host/stranger conflicts and all of that. May God continue to bless Nigeria!



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