Over the years, we always hear about Northern Governors’ Forum, one north, and northern interest among other names. The north positioned themselves as a united region in politics and aspiration summed up as; “One North.”
One north is a culmination of the policies, politics and ethnoreligious unification of the region. It was under the leadership of Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto, a descendant of Usman dan Fodio, and the leader of Northern People’s Congress (NPC), the region’s main political party under which the ‘northernisation’ policy was enacted. It was termed an ambitious and controversial policy, which was guided by the Sardauna’s nationalistic grand vision of ‘One North, One Destiny’ and aimed at unifying the region under one destiny. It is a policy that seeks the interest of the north first.
Based on this vision, the north has pursued with vigour their political, economic, religious and social interests. It was geared towards enabling the northerners to gain control of the sectors of public service and institutions as it concerned the north. This policy was enacted based on the perceived domination of the north by the south. The policy, though set up in 1954 by which southerners were dismissed from the public service across the north, is still very active till present time. The north dominates the polity as the south collectively has fewer representations especially in the national assembly and federal appointments.
For the most part of the life of Nigeria as an independent country, the north has piloted the affairs of the country both as military rule as well as civil rule. Northern interest has inadvertently been translated as national interest and the rest of the country is cajoled to abide by that.
When President Buhari assumed office, he was dressed-up as a detribalized Fulani northerner who will look after the country as a one nation. In his inaugural speech of 2015, he declared, “I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody”, a statement though plagiarized, could be translated as a pledge to not adopt favoritism for any particular person, interest or region. The reverse has been witnessed. The Buhari Administration has been a nepotistic administration, which has placed the northerners in strategic positions and institutions of authority with the southerners merely watching from the sidewalk.
His administration has emboldened the Fulani herdsmen and importance attached to their business of cattle rearing even in the face of wanton killings across the country attributable to the herdsmen who in search of grazing grasses for the herd attack farms and host communities. The search for the grazing lands has taken them to the south.
The south which is viewed as fragmented with each region fending for itself and each ethnic nationality dealing with its interest, have been brought together by the nepotistic approach of the Buhari Administration towards several federal appointments including the security agencies, allocation of funds for infrastructure as well as protecting the interest of the herdsmen.
The north dominates the security apparatus of the country. Since the killings escalated across the nation and in particular in the south, with no arrests made and northern politicians making efforts to explain without concrete actions to stop the march of the herdsmen down south as they caused havoc along the way, the southern governors decided to come together to find southern interest.
This is not the first of such meetings by the southern leaders. The southern governors have been meeting with other governors within the Nigerian Governors Forum. Governors meet across regional lines under the umbrella of North East, North West, North Central, South South, South East or South West Governors Forum and even the northern governors meet under the aegis of Northern Governors Forum. They meet to discuss the peculiar interests of their respective regions.
On May 11, 2021, the Governors of the southern states met at Asaba, Delta state to discuss issues of common interest. The bi-partisan meeting came up with a resolution where they banned open grazing by the herders in the southern states, called for restructuring of the nation, called for national dialogue on the need for greater inclusiveness of the peoples, demanded federal appointments in line with Federal Character, recommended the activation and establishment of ports in other states of the federation among others.
The Governors, “Observed that the incursion of armed herders, criminals, and bandits into the southern part of the country has presented a severe security challenge such that citizens are not able to live their normal lives including pursuing various productive activities leading to a threat to food supply and general security. Consequently, the meeting resolved that open grazing of cattle be banned across southern Nigeria.”
The open grazing ban therefore has caused furor in the polity as northern establishments have raised eyebrows. They see the meeting of the governors without consultation of the northern leaders as an affront. The Senate President, Senator Ahmad Lawan, Tanko Yakassai, Professor Usman Yusuf, Senator Ali Ndume, have condemned the meeting and curiously Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Shehu Malami SAN said, ‘open grazing ban is the same thing as Northern governors banning spare parts trading in their own region considering the fact that Southerners comprise a majority of spare parts traders in the North.” The Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) says the meeting of the Southern Governors is “a call for secession.” This comes as the Southern governors “Affirmed that the peoples of Southern Nigeria remain committed to the unity of Nigeria on the basis of justice, fairness, equity and oneness, and peaceful co-existence between and among its peoples with a focus on the attainment of shared goals for economic development and prosperity.”
The statement attributed to the Attorney General is divisive, insensitive and sinister. The statement shows the use of the country’s justice system for the interest of a region or ethnic group thereby supporting the notion of national interest being supplanted with northern interest. It shows further that the country’s justice system may not be neutral and is biased as regards the southern interest.
These northern leaders who demand that the southern leaders should have invited them to the meeting where issues of national interest are discussed, have been having meetings on security, socio-political, socio-economic and ethnoreligious issues among other issues that affect the north as well as the national interest without consultation of the southern leaders and governors. On February 8, the Northern States Governors’ Forum met and resolved that “open grazing is no longer sustainable.”
There has been harsh criticism and intimidation as well as support for the southern governors. There has also been solidarity along the north vs. south divide with southern leaders supporting the south and northern leaders supporting the north. Nevertheless, some northern leaders support the southern governors’ resolution. Sokoto state governor, Aminu Tambuwal in his capacity as the Chairman of Peoples Democratic Party Governors Forum has voiced support.
The southern governors’ resolutions are more patriotic than what it is portrayed. Nigeria is in a precarious situation where there is no cohesion. President Buhari who doubled as the president of the country and patron of the Fulani is seen as biased at the time of urgent national security. His reluctance to fight insecurity and his nepotistic approach to governance is what fueled the desire for the regions and ethnic nationalities to seek how to protect their interests. Nigeria has become polarized along geographical and ethnic lines. If we desire national cohesion, the regions and ethnic nationalities should be equal stakeholders. Upholding the domination of one region or ethnicity above others will not and cannot save the country.
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