At the best of time, Nigeria has never been an easy country to govern since the 1914 amalgamation of the northern and southern parts of the country. A very prominent northern leader in his lifetime called this 1914 amalgamation, a mistake and recent events in the country seem to corroborate this leader’s assertion that the amalgamation was really a fatal mistake. Another prominent leader, from the southern part of the country also called the country a mere geographical expression similar to the way Sir Winston Churchill described India sub-continent. Our usual rancorous and ethnic-based politics, is a clear justification for this statement. Even the British found the country a bit confounding with more than 250 ethnic nationalities. The British when they were ruling the country, had to contend with the 1929 Aba women riot, 1949 Enugu Iva Valley coal mine massacre of 21 coal miners, the 1945 general strike led by the patriotic Michael Imoudu and persistent agitations by anti-imperialist nationalists backed by vocal press like the defunct Daily Service and West African Pilot.
The first major political crisis that engulfed the country before independence was the 1953 Kano riot. The riot stemmed from the crisis that followed Chief Anthony Enahoro’s motion in the then House of Representatives urging the British to grant independence to Nigeria in 1956. The motion was opposed by northern members of the House but supported by southern members. However, the motion could not be passed, and the northern members of the House were booed in Lagos on their way to their base in the North for their opposition to the motion of independence. This did not go down with their supporters in the North who started to kill southerners in the ancient city of Kano. The then British colonial authority, managed to control the situation before it degenerated into serious inter-tribal war. However, our political fault line, quickly came to the fore immediately the country became an independent nation in 1960. The new nation was riddled with numerous political crises such as census crisis in 1962, the federal election debacle of 1964, political crises in Western Region, Middle Belt and Niger Delta between 1962 and 1965, the coup and counter coup of 1966, and the massacres and the political crisis that followed, which led to the unfortunate civil war in 1967.
The long, oppressive and dictatorial military regimes that took over from the civilians from 1966 did not bring respite to our political crises. It was during the military rule, that we had the unending and deceitful transition programmes engineered by the devious General Ibrahim Babangida, culminating in the annulment in 1993 of the freest election ever conducted in the country. After the annulment, the country groaned to the point of breakup under the dictatorship of the malevolent Sani Abacha whose inglorious regime came to abrupt end on June 8, 1998. The country’s political crises under the military were so acute that many people started to question the rationale of a united Nigeria and even at this time, the international press dubbed Nigeria as ‘a land of constant strife’. One cannot forget also that the military administrations institutionalized corruption in the country. However, despite the fact that the long military administration consolidated politically the grip of the north over the rest of Nigeria, surprisingly, nobody openly called for secession as we have nowadays.
However, despite our woes under the military, the country survived and people looked forward with hope that the ensuing civilian administration in 1999 would bring political stability. Unfortunately, this was not to be, as the 1999 constitution that ushered in the civilian administration was flawed as it was not in consonance with the true federalism needed to govern the country fairly. It was also, skewed to favour a particular part of the country. Apart from the obvious defects of the constitution, the civilian administrations unfortunately started with frightening insecurity challenges. The Boko Haram plague started in 2002 and since then it has ravaged the north-eastern part of the country with unrelenting ferocity. The Boko Haram insurrectionists, have killed tens of thousands of people with about three million people displaced from their homes.
In addition to the Boko Haram menace, the northern part of the country has been mercilessly invaded by bandits who are nothing but terrorists who callously extort money from people and communities. There are also Fulani herdsmen, who regularly wreak gory havoc on people in the middle belt and southern part of the country, where they kill and drive farmers from their farmers. In some cases, they occupied people’s farms and homesteads with impunity. Kidnapping of innocent people for ransom, has also become cottage industry in many parts of the country. Particularly vulnerable to the kidnappers, are students whose parents have to pay huge ransoms for their release.
The present federal government under President Muhammadu, from all indications appears helpless in confronting these security challenges all over the country. Majority of Nigerians voted for him in 2015 because they believed that as a former military officer, he would be able to deal decisively with the Boko Haram. This hope has not been met, despite the fact that President Buhari has been in the saddle for the past six years. A lot of money that could have otherwise been used to develop the country has been diverted to combat the debilitating menace of Boko Haram and other security challenges in the country with minimal success.
At present, apart from the political and security challenges facing the country, the country under Buhari is under the grip of unwholesome paralysis of governance. Buhari’s administration at the federal level has shown undisguised bias in favour of Fulani ethnic group to the consternation of other ethnic groups in the country. This has been a potent recipe for frustrations and violence in a multi-ethnic country like Nigeria. The administration has also compounded the polity with unbridled nepotism, the type of which has not been experienced in a fragile country like Nigeria before. Majority of appointments in the civil service and government agencies are now reserved and given with impunity to people of Fulani stock to which the President belongs. Up till now, there is no record that the government has prosecuted the herdsmen who have been causing mayhem and destruction in the middle belt and southern part of the country.
From the political doldrum we are witnessing in Nigeria presently, it seems our past political misfortunes are child play when compared with the present situation. Our present torrid political situation is characterised by economic dislocation, insecurity, religious bigotry, nepotism parochialism and administrative paralysis. Most Nigerians are despondent as they feel that they have never had it so bad, and many of them do not see any redeeming future for Nigeria. This unfortunate situation, coupled with lack of any concrete actions to change the situation have led to agitations by well-meaning Nigeria to call for a drastic change of direction in Nigeria as a country.
One does not need to be a expert in politics or nation-building to know that the present political system in the country cannot work and is not working. Only an equitable system, where there is no baron or serf and where everybody is given a sense of belonging can work. This is the only way to mute the various agitations for secession going on in many parts of the country. The present dreary political situation in Nigeria can only be changed by a selfless leader who has prepared himself to be above primordial ethnic sentiment. Nigeria has not been blessed with that type of leader who would show the light for the people to follow. Many people feel that President Buhari has shown through his actions in the past six years, that he is not the leader that can redeem the country from the present political quagmire. However, it is still possible that he can change to the surprise his detractors. The late Harold Wilson, a former Prime Minister said that a week is a long time in politics. Two years can also be a long time in politics, and so President Buhari could still rise up and use the remaining two years of his administration to be on the good side of history.