Jide Akintunde, Managing Editor/CEO, Financial Nigeria International Limited

Follow Jide Akintunde

View Profile

Subjects of Interest

  • Financial Market
  • Fiscal Policy

The problematics of northern leadership in Nigeria 15 May 2017

Nigeria is a federal republic. According to the 1999 Constitution, no part of the country is ineligible to produce the president in our presidential system of government. Accordingly, northern Nigeria is entitled to produce elected presidents. Notwithstanding, the president is elected to govern the country in the best ways and promote citizens' welfare and security.
It is about two years since President Muhammadu Buhari came into office. In these two years, the President has brought to the fore, once again, the key problems with Nigerian presidents – and heads of state – from the northern part of the country. These issues are summed up in two: northernisation of the federal government and failure of northern leaders to develop the north.

In the early days of appointing his aides, President Buhari said he was appointing people he knows. This was pragmatic, except that the people Buhari knows are his kith and kin. In the context that he had to leverage a coalition with a major southern power base and southern politicians, Buhari's nepotism was always going to constitute a conundrum in forging his national leadership and government.

When confronted with this faux pas, coming in the first weeks of a four-year term of his administration, he doubled down. Buhari issued his infamous response that he could not treat the constituency that gave him 97 percent electoral support equally as the constituency that gave him five percent. But the whole country is one constituency in electing the president. Moreover, the president is mandated by the constitution to rule the country as one entity.

President Buhari has gone ahead to fill major cabinet positions with fellow citizens of northern extraction. His kith and kin now dominate the management and boards of the federal agencies being reconstituted by his administration. The same tendency of regionalising key government appointments was noted with the government of President Umaru Yar'Adua, between 2007 and May 2010.

Yar'Adua's and Buhari's ethnically lopsided appointments were/are in contradistinction to the governments of Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo (1999 – 2007) and Goodluck Jonathan (2010 – 2015). A lot of the influential officials in the administrations of Obasanjo and Jonathan were from regions different from the two former presidents'. Some of the most influential officials in the Obasanjo administration were Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nasir El-rufai, Oby Ezekwesili, Charles Soludo and Shamsuddeen Usman. Those in Jonathan's administration, apart from Diezani Alison-Madueke, were Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Akinwumi Adesina, Bala Mohammed, Mohammed Bello Adoke and Sambo Dasuki.

Until the fourth republic, the combination of the machinations of the British colonialists and the subsequent “born to rule” posturing of the northern oligarchs almost completely 'northernised' the position of Head of State and Commander of the Armed Forces. Between independence in 1960, and before the inception of the fourth republic on May 29, 1999, the north ruled Nigeria for approximately 34 out of the 39 years.

Beyond being insensitive to any backlash to the monopolisation of executive powers, the northern leaders – especially the military dictators – took various decisions that undermined the unity of the country and peaceful coexistence of Nigerians. General Ibrahim Babangida annulled the June 12, 1993 presidential election. Popular Nigerian philanthropist and businessman from the South West of the country, MKO Abiola, was on his way to officially win the election when Babangida halted further announcement of the results and cancelled the election outright for inexplicable reasons. General Sani Abacha threw General Olusegun Obasanjo, also from South West Nigeria, in detention for trumped up involvement in a coup d'état.   

Besides the marginalisation of the South East and South South geopolitical zones in his appointments, the government of President Buhari has been insensitive to the atrocities of the Fulani herdsmen. The herdsmen, who are pictured carrying military-grade weapons, have been on a killing rampage since 2015. The death toll in southern communities and Christian sections of the north have long reached alarming levels. But the Buhari administration seems anything but perturbed, and has done little to stem the crisis.

Given the insensitivity to the geopolitical dynamics of the country this term, there has been tension in the country. Agitation for a sovereign state of Biafra received a new impetus. The economy slipped into recession last year, in part because of low oil production caused by the attacks on oil installations in the Niger Delta.

Given the appeal to the narrow northern power base and nepotistic appointments, the national economy tends to underperform with the northern leaders. Last year, Buhari led the economy into the first recession in 25 years. The rail revolution that started with the Goodluck Jonathan's administration would have been afoot at least three years earlier, but for the cancellation of the contracts President Yar'Adua inherited from his predecessor. The same is true with the recent efforts to move forward reform in the power sector and get private sector participation in petroleum refining.

But the brunt of the misgovernance has been felt the most in the north. The north has wielded political power in the country to the effect of the under-development of the north. In vital areas of development, including access to education, and broader development indicators, the north is behind the southern part of the country.

In a 2015 article, I raised the point that the new administration of President Buhari should try to reverse the pattern whereby the northern populace – especially the youth – is merely an appendage of the political ambitions of the northern elites. In 2013, girls from Yobe State, northeast Nigeria, needed only two marks in the common entrance examination to enter the Unity Schools. Their counterparts from Anambra State needed 138 marks. Little wonder then, the Chibok girls that were freed from Boko Haram's abduction, could not speak English. But the girls were preparing for their WAEC physics examination – which is set in English -- when they were forcibly removed from their hostel to captivity in 2014.

According to 2015 United Nations Human Development Report for Nigeria (UNDP HDR), “across the geo-political zones, data for 2013 shows that mean years of schooling was highest in the South-South zone (10.664), and followed by the South West Zone. It is lowest in the North-West zone (3.8126).The North-East and North-West zones had values lower than the national average figure, while the southern zones all had higher values than the national average figure.”

Northern Nigeria Development Indicators 
Two years into the current administration, the long overdue state of emergency in northern education has yet to be declared. Indeed, recent developments suggest the northern ruling elites have continued to take their hapless people for granted. The Zamfara State Governor, Abdulaziz Yari, said the recent outbreak of meningitis in the north (now spread to about 16 states) was God's punishment for fornication. The Emir of Kano, Lamido Sanusi also called Muhammadu Sanusi II, who had challenged the northern ruling class to rise to the need of education of their people, now faces a conspiracy by some northern governors for his dethronement.

The north that is a laggard, even in the context of Nigeria's under-development, is a further challenge to the development of the country. The country is still grappling with the threat of Boko Haram and its ravages. The Islamist terrorist group has continued to draw its guerrilla attackers and suicide bombers from the predominantly uneducated youth population of the north. Boko Haram itself roughly translates to “Western education is a sin.”

Nigeria cannot be a meritocracy because of the allowance for lower standards that must be made to accommodate the inadequacies of its northern constituent part, like the situation with admission into the Unity Schools. Although the “Federal Character” is not necessarily anti-merits, it has played out to be so. It is now a framework for bringing otherwise unqualified people into federal positions. In essence, the country cannot talk of unified federal standards.

Workable solutions to the acquisition of political power by the northern elites without salutary effects on the northern populace has to be found. One aspect to the solution is electing northern presidents from among the well-educated, progressive northern elites. This is not a classical ideological prescription. It is born out of the need identified by Emir Sanusi on removing the religious barriers to education in the north.

However, electing such presidents will not be the sole responsibility of the northern political elites and the northern electorate. Constitutional mandate that a president would be elected with majority votes and at least 25% of the votes in two thirds of the states of the country defines a role for the southern political elites and the southern electorate. It is a collective responsibility that must be recognised and not shirked for cheap political gains as contemplated in the southern power bases ahead of the 2015 election. This solution is as much for Nigeria as it is for the north.

Whereas the president exerts policy influence on the states of the federation, and whereas the federal budget has significant implications for development across the country, a president from any part of the geopolitical divides cannot alone bring about development in the north. The governors of the northern states have a huge role to play. But given the existing conditions in the north, it is in vain to hope that the change can come from within the states. Essential catalysts for change – including strong civil society organisations and independent media – are lacking in the north. This is why this article is a national advocacy, which must include forging the framework for holding the northern governors to public accountability.

The sound and fury of President Buhari's so-called war against corruption has led to the omission of many real issues to be addressed in fostering good governance in the country. It is high time the development of human infrastructure took the centre stage in the north. And the next presidents from the north must be true national leaders.