Government 101 teaches that a government has three branches: Legislature (to make laws); Executive (to implement laws) and Judiciary (to interpret laws).
In modern states with complex socio-ethnic settings, the political elite try to let political offices enjoy as much geographical spread as possible.
That's why when, say in Ghana, the President comes from the Southern part, the Vice President is invariably from the North. And whenever the President is a Christian, you can safely bet that the vice would be a Moslem.
No one says that the world is perfect, but one would be courting serious trouble were one to refuse to balance these delicate socio cum religious cum ethnic settings.
How then do we explain the situation in Nigeria where the heads of all the three branches of government are from the geographic North of the country?
People from the southern half of the geographic hocus-pocus called Nigeria do not find anything funny that the President, Umar Yar'adua; the President of the Senate, Senator David Mark and the Chief justice of the Federation, Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi, are all from the North.
In addition to these powerful positions the awesomely powerful Secretary to the Federal Government is also a Northerner. Ditto the National Security Adviser who wields enormous power in any government. As though that were not enough, the president’s Chief of Staff is also a northerner! And we have not begin to count the Ministers, Special Advisers, Heads of parastatals yet!!!
Nigerians are simply world champions when it comes to word-smithing. The latest coinage from our Alata brothers is Mallamocracy*. It is the word Nigerians coined to describe their form of government whereby almost every important official of state is a Northern Mallam. Democracy is said to be government of the people by the people and for the people (however inane that may look upon close scrutiny). We can thus define ‘mallamocracy’ as the government of the mallams by the mallams and for the mallams.
Southern Nigerians are not miffed for the fun of it. It happened during the madness of Abacha when power-intoxicated Northern Nigerian officials posted to the South start behaving like army of occupation and start treating Southern Nigerians like vassals.
This writer was not at all amused when at the Seme (between Nigeria and the Republic of Benin) border an Immigration officer of Northern extract started asking me questions in Hausas.
He, of course, took offense when I replied him in Yoruba. His colleagues had to take him away when I told him in a very loud voice that as far as I am concern the Caliphate hasn’t extended to Yorubaland.
For those not versed in the history of our giant neighbor, Nigeria, like Ghana, is an amalgamation of diverse and different ethnic and national groupings grouped together to serve British colonial interests. The three biggest of these national groups are the Hausa\Fulanis who formed the majority in the Northern half of the country; the Yorubas occupy the Western half of Southern Nigeria whilst the Igbos are the major group in Eastern Nigeria.
By an act of God or nature or both the rivers Niger and Benue carved the country into three neat parts. However, but by some curious colonial logic, the British decided that what God and nature had put asunder, they are going to put together. In 1914, British Colonial Governor Lugard decided that the colonial interests of her Majesty’s government would be best served by uniting the three parts and his wife, Lady Flora, coined the name: Nigeria (from Niger area; why she forgot the Benue remained a mystery!).
Since that colonial fiat in 1914, the various tribes of Nigeria have been struggling to build a viable nation state. Also by some mystifying logic of colonialism, the British found an ally in the feudal rulers of Northern Nigeria. Recently released Secret British papers informed us about how British colonial officials falsified both census figures and election results to ensure that Northern feudal elite emerge as the rulers of post-colonial Nigeria.
Nigeria gained political independence in 1960 but it has since been battling with gigantic attempt to rectify the anomalies created by British colonial shenanigans. To date, the country has been unable to conduct a credible census. And apart from the annulled 1996 elections, every election in Nigeria has been hotly disputed. Demographers studying Nigeria must be scratching their heads in bafflement: it remains the only place on earth where more people are said to reside in arid, Sahel regions than in savannah and tropical environments
It so happen that in all her forty eight years of nationhood, Nigeria has been ruled by leaders of Northern extraction for about thirty six years. So firm is the Northern grip of the governance of the country that a Northern state, Sokoto, has as its state’s motto: ‘BORN TO RULE.’
Sokoto is the capital of the powerful Usman dan Fodio Caliphate. Usman Dan Fodio was the Islamic warrior who believed that it is the divine call of Muslims to dip the Koran in the Atlantic. The expansionistic drive of the Mohameddans collided head on with British colonial ambitions. The rest, as they say, is history.
General Olusegun Obasanjo, a Yoruba, is the only non-Northerner to have ruled Nigeria for any length of time. His tenure (two of them) were purely accidents of history and has nothing to do with his or the Yorubas calculations.
The Hausa\Fulani who have now come to think of the Nigerian Presidency as their birthright couldn’t wait until Obasanjo’s tenure ended before foisting on the unfortunate nation another northern ruler.
What peeved Southern Nigerians most is that it appears that the Northern rulers are interested in dragging the nation backward. Few Nigerians will complain if the rulers are seen to be making efforts to build progressive, modern technological state. But the country is regressing at a rate that is truly alarming. 1970’s Nigeria boasts of super highways to rival the best in Europe and the USA. Today, due to negligence and mis-management those highways have become death traps daily claiming the lives of Nigerians. The latest casualties were 46 troops of the Nigerian army.
The 1970s Nigeria was an upwardly mobile nation with regional, continental even global ambitions. With collapsed infrastructures, Nigeria is today a sad shell of a dream gone awry.
As mentioned above, Northern Nigeria is still, essentially, a feudal society where armies of beggars are daily singing praises to a few otiose elite in order to earn their daily nourishment. Southern Nigerians, assertive and supremely self-confident believe that their country has no business being in the category of ‘Third World’ or any other negative moniker. Sadly, they are saddled with the albatross of an archaic political system that allows a few elite to steal national patrimony and firmly esconded their nation in the bracket of the world’s wretched.
General Obasanjo first ruled Nigeria in the late 70s (1976-1979). He handed power to Northern Shehu Shagari. On handing over, Obasanjo boasted among other things a sizable foreign reserves, a national airline boasting of some thirty six planes, a national shipping line with some ships. Shehu Shagari five years rule was characterized by colossal corruption. He was followed by General Buhari (a Northerner) who in turn was followed by General Babangida (another Northerner). It was Babangida who annulled the 1992 elections believed to have been won by Moshood Abiola (a Yoruba). To appease the Yorubas, Shonekan (a Yoruba) was installed as Nigerian leader for six month until he was pushed aside by that muscular dictator, General Abacha. Nigeria was thrown into limbo when powerful forces conspired to off both Abiola and Abacha. A Northern General, Abdulsalam, was selected to organize a smooth transition which saw the emergence of Olusegun Obasanjo as Nigeria president in 1999.
During his tenure a visibly irked Obasanjo queried those who criticized the pace of his administration to tell him what happened to all the viable projects he left behind in 1979. When Obasanjo came back to power twenty odd years after he handed over to Shagari, Nigeria Airways with its 36 planes had been ran aground. The Nigerian National Shipping Line was bankrupt and the nation was a pariah state tottering under a 46 billion dollars foreign debt. No one could answer Obasanjo.
Obasanjo’s tenure ended in May 2007 and he handed over to a Northerner Musa Yar’Adua. It is almost one year since ‘Baba Go glow,’ was elected President and Nigerians are asking if they have not got another Shagari on their hand. It was well-meaning but supremely mediocre Shagari who ran Nigeria aground and it was under his rule that Ghanaians (and other Africans) were expelled from Nigeria.
Nigerians have got another alias for their President: ‘President No Motion.’ So pedestrian is Yar’Adua administration that the rule of the former Chemistry Lecturer is virtually inertia. There is absolutely so sense of purpose or direction. From Economic to Financial to Foreign Policies, it has been a succession of flip flops.
Examples: When the Governor of Nigeria’s Central Bank announced plans to emulate Ghana and change the currency (the Naira), his idea was swiftly shot down. When Uncle Sam announced plans to create an African Command, Africans roundly condemned it. Nigerians were badly embarrassed when their President was summoned to the White House where he enthusiastically supported the US plans. On returning home, Yar’dua did another somersault; announcing Nigeria’s opposition. It was the same lack of consistency that characterizes the government’s treatment of the sale of the NITEL (Nigeria’s telecommunication company). Whatever their disagreement with Obasanjo, Nigerians generally agree that his creation of the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) was the best legacy he left the country. Headed by the fearless Ribadu, a scion of the famous Ribadu family, the EFCC put the fear of God into the mindless rulers who believed that state’s funds are bounties to be looted with the utmost dispatch. Yar’dua managed to pick quarrel with Ribadu and forced his removal under the pretense of sending him on study leave.
Few months after he relinquished power, Nigerians seem to have forgotten what Obasanjo accomplished. Some commentators even went as far as saying that his was the worst government. This prompted yours truly to write ‘Obasanjo Agonistes,’ a piece that provoked much ire on the Nigerian Cyberspace. I did nothing but listed some of Obasanjo accomplishments which included (setting up the EFCC, total re-payment of Nigeria’s external debt, a 40+ billion dollars foreign reserves, the reintegration of Nigeria into the world’s community etc, etc) and prompted his critic to tell us which other Nigerian leader has accomplished as much. Many replied with verbal jibes but none was able to counter the facts I presented. It might be true that the one-eyed is the king in the land of the blinds, but the truth remains that Obasanjo is the most accomplished Nigerian leader.
In the piece, ‘Nigeria: a curse of reluctant leaders,’ I posited that Nigeria’s woes stemmed primarily from having the bad luck of never having a leader fully prepared for the presidency. Alas, the same is true of President Yar’dua. He was a governor of a backward sate in the North before he was plucked by Obasanjo and foisted on the nation. Yar’dua never had the ambition to rule Nigeria. It shouldn’t therefore be surprising that he hasn’t got the faintest clue about what to do once there.
Aside from systematically dismantling all that Obasanjo managed to build, Yar’dua does not appear to have accomplished much. Aside from his health which remains worrisomely comatose, Yar’dua’s economic, political and foreign policy thrust remains enigmatically opaque.
Another word that has just entered into the Nigerian political lexicon is: ‘Mallamadministration,’ a surely negative moniker that neatly sums up what Nigerians think of their current leader’s style of governance.
*Actually, I made the word up.