Handshake Across the Niger: New game plan in Nigeria

By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor

Today’s meeting of Yoruba and Igbo socio-political leaders framed as Handshake Across the Niger is bound to review and possibly upset the traditional pattern of political power arrangement that has kept the Igbo and Yoruba taking turns to form partnerships with the Hausa-Fulani in the North.

Handshake Across the Niger summit
Handshake Across the Niger 

Despite its early starts and advantages in education and business, the Yoruba and Igbo have over the years continued to act as minions to the Hausa Fulani in Nigeria’s political arrangements. The advantage was also even in the army, where the Igbo until the civil war had a clear superiority in numbers in the officers’ ranks.

It was as such not surprising that at the onset of the Nigerian political crisis in 1966, that the North was in favour of separation, a cliché that was echoed in the Northern phrase, Araba.

That momentum towards separation was, however, altered following the intervention of some moderate elements from the south and allegedly, by the British which it is claimed believed that its economic and political interests in Nigeria would be better protected in a united Nigeria with the Hausa-Fulani in control.

The North’s claim to national leadership has, however, been pushed by claims on demographic advantages. With a land size of almost about 70% of the entire national land space and population figure that have over the period been shown to be more than that of the combined population of the South, the North has continued to canvass demographic factors to its claim to leadership.

However, Nigeria’s constitutional and political framework did not allow the North to run the game alone; hence over a period since independence, the North has continuously framed alliances between the different ethnic blocs in the South to sustain its hold on national leadership.

1960 to 1966

The Northern People’s Congress, NPC which formed the government at the centre was able to prevail through its alliance with the National Council of Nigerian Citizens, NCNC which following Independence in 1960 dominated the Eastern Region.

The Yoruba dominated Action Group led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo was at the receiving end in this period.

During this period there were clear efforts to weaken AG’s influence in the Western Region through several attempts. One was the crisis within the AG that led to the factionalisation of the party, and another was the fragmentation of the region through the creation of the Mid-West Region.

1966 to 1979

Though there were four different military regimes in this period, the ascendancy of the North over the polity was firmly established during this period even though there were two heads of state from the South ( Gen. Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi -1966- and Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo 1976 to 1979).

1979 to 1983

Just as during the First Republic, a Northern driven National Party of Nigeria, NPN emerged as winner of the presidential elections. The NPN was helped with a national outlook with alliances in the South-South in the old Rivers State and the old Cross Rivers State that came to underline what came to be seen as a historic alliance between the North and the peoples of the South-South.

In forming government, the NPN went into an accord with the Nigerian Peoples Party, NPP which dominated the two eastern states of Anambra and Imo and also on the plateau.

Again, the Yoruba centred Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN was left out of the political power calculation.

1984 to 1999

During this period of military interregnum, the political configuration of the country was clearly altered to the advantage of the North through the creation of local governments in a way that many in the South till today continue to complain left them to a disadvantage.

 1999 to 2017 Fourth Republic

At the inception of the Fourth Republic, the decision of certain Northern political power brokers to advance the case for a Yoruba man to be president was seen as a way of mollifying the region after one of its leading lights, Chief Moshood Abiola had been  denied the presidency after one of the country’s freest and fairest elections in 1993.

The emergence of General Obasanjo as president seemed to draw back the influence of the North and helped to push forward a sort of balance in the polity with all parts of the country having a sense of belonging.

That the PDP was a clearly national party was seen in the way it distributed power among the six geopolitical zones in the country.

That demonstration of fairness prevailed through the Obasanjo, Umaru Yar‘adua and the Goodluck Jonathan years.

However, the advent of the All Progressives Congress, APC administration with another former head of state, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari seemed to have shaken to the foundations the principles of fair power-sharing, an issue that has lately divided the country.

The sense of division was underscored by Buhari’s assertion in Washington D.C. at a town-hall meeting at the United States Institute for Peace in July 2015 on his first visit to the United States as president.

Asked on his policy on inclusiveness including women, the president replied:

“I hope you have a copy of the election results. The constituents, for example, gave me 97% [of the vote] cannot, in all honesty, be treated on some issues with constituencies that gave me 5%. I think these are political reality,” the President added.

That the security architecture of government and appointments made by the administration have been condemned as favouring one part of the country has not helped issues.

It is against this background of seeming abandonment that Southwest and Southeast political leaders who have at several times taken turns to form alliances with the Hausa-Fulani oligarchy are coming together to forge a possible alliance.

Their quest is troubling for the Hausa-Fulani oligarchy in the sense that the Middle-Belt which historically followed the Hausa-Fulani can no longer be counted upon to do so especially given recent spates of violence between the Fulani herdsmen and Middle Belt communities in Benue, Plateau and Taraba States.


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