BY HENRY OMOREGIE
As the National Conference gathers steam, it will be an end game for Nigeria if we allow this opportunity to build trust and engender real unity (as opposed to the surreal marriage we have) slip us by.
In trying to build consensus, I am of the view that delegates, especially those from the North, must consider the political philosophy of the late Sardauna of Sokoto with a view to drawing needed lessons on how he was able to build unity amongst the disparate people of Arewa.
An expert at building consensus, Ahmadu Bello did not practice isolationist politics. He was very inclusive in his administration and outlook and realised that a leader must be conscious of posterity not prosperity.
Ahmadu Bello was so altruistic that even when power was within his grasp, he restrained himself just like Gandhi did and empowered a Northern minority, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, from the Northeast, assisting him to become the first Prime Minister of Nigeria as Gandhi did for Jawaharlal Nehru.
The Sardauna was a believer in dialogue which is the spirit behind the National Conference. Historians have written severally about how Ahmadu Bello won the great Zik’s heart when he had the following conversation with the Owele; Azikiwe: “Let us forget our differences.”
Ahmadu Bello: “No, let us understand our differences. I am a Muslim and a Northerner. You are a Christian, an Easterner. By understanding our differences, we can build unity in our country.”
But it is sad to see that the apple did not fall near the tree in the case of Sardauna’s sons.
Today, when offered a platform to understand the issues of other Nigerians, the sons of Sardauna are making light of the opportunity and are turning the National Conference into an arena for political brinksmanship. It is their way or the high way!
I mean, take the Northwest region, which is the heartland of the Sokoto caliphate, of which Ahmadu Bello was Sardauna. It would shock my readers to know that of the 15 delegates nominated by Socio-cultural associations from the Northwest region, 14 are Muslim men while the last is a Christian Fulani woman.
Does it mean that they could not spare even one slot for minorities from the Northwest? Would Sardauna have behaved this way?
How do they expect the Zuru, Kataf, Jaba, Atyap, Koro, and other ethnic nationalities to feel?
Yet this is a region that produced no less a personality than the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah.
Don’t forget that in his life time the Sardauna was the epitome of one North. His private secretary was a Christian Yoruba, the late Chief Sunday Awoniyi. His driver was Alhaji Musa Gombe, a Northern minority from Yarwa Gana in the Northeast state of Gombe which is in the sphere of influence of the Kanem-Bornu empire. His associates were from every nook and cranny of the North.
Where Ahmadu Bello, preached one North for the entire North, his successors practice one North for Northern Muslims of the Northwest.
This should not be! The idea of talakawa and the master must be ditched for good. You must give people a sense of belonging otherwise they will give you a sense of insecurity.
Today, the pre occupation of the elite of the North is to blame President Goodluck Jonathan each time there is a terrorist attack in the North because they want to score political points. But anyone who thinks like this is showing a very shallow understanding of the issues involved.
This alienation of all other ethnicities of the North by the elite Hausa-Fulani Muslims of the Northwest is at the root of the Boko Haram insurgency. If truth be told, the insurgency is actually a Kanuri rebellion against the caliphate.
For those who don’t know, the Kanem Bornu empire which at its height encompassed what is now the Northeast of Nigeria and parts of Niger, Chad and Cameroun, were the first group of people to bring Islam into what is now Nigeria in an organized manner. The Kanem-Bornu kingdom is now about a thousand years old compared to the two hundred years of existence of the caliphate.
Every young Kanuri is brought up with the history of his or her people from early childhood. The expectation of the Kanem Bornu or Kanembu people is that they would be treated as the equals and partners they truly were by the successors of Ahmadu Bello who met them on the ground when they came invading from their ancestral lands in the Futa Jallon regions of Guinea in 1804.
Their disappointment at being treated as second class Northerners and Muslims by the elite of the Northwest led to a barely concealed grudge being carried by the Kanuris for over thirty years after the death of the Sardauna and culminated in the temporary shift of power in the North when Sani Abacha rose to power.
They had watched as their Northeast Kanem Bornu enclave was shut out of political power from the 1966 death of the Sardauna until the rise of Abacha by stealth in 1993.
That grudge was at the heart of the deposition of Sultan Dasuki by Abacha in 1996. Abacha himself was a Kanuri from Yobe who claimed Kano as his state of origin because he was more likely to secure political advantages if he claimed to be from the caliphate.
Only a Kanuri man, pained by the historical injustice against his people, could have deposed a sultan!
After the respite which they thought they had with the rise of Abacha to power in 1993, the Kanuri people felt short changed by the death of Abacha and rather than wait for another 30 years in the political wilderness, they began to prepare and anyone who read Ambassador Bola Dada’s interview in The Punch of April 12 2014 will see that their preparation led them to The Sudan and Libya.
For those who do not know, Muhammad al-Kânemî, the progenitor of the al-Kânemî dynasty of the Kanem-Bornu empire was born to a Kanembu father and an Arab mother near Murzuk in what is today Libya. The present President of the Sudan, Omar Al-Bashir, has Kanembu origin and can trace his origins to Borno.
It is not for nothing that every reliable intelligence detailing the source of the arms flow to the Boko Haram insurgents have suggested that it comes from Libya and The Sudan. Blood is after all thicker than water!
It is necessary at this point to explain to local imperialists that when you don’t have a national or even regional view that makes room for other peoples outside your kith and kin, the alienation it will cause will have unintended consequences that may even threaten your survival.
The thing to do is to prove to the Kanuris and other blocs of the North that they are also blood to the ruling elite so that they look inwards rather than outwards.
Even the White Anglo Saxon Protestants (WASPs) who established the modern hegemony in the Western Hemisphere understood that their self preservation was better guaranteed by the gradual opening up of the political space to women and minorities and now they have a president of black origin and may even have their First Lady president by 2016. In The United Kingdom, Prince Charles married a commoner in the person of Lady Diana Spencer and that union ensured the retention of the British Monarchy by endearing it to the British public, after the dip in the popularity of the House of Windsor, in the 1970s.
Today, the negotiating position of the Northwest is severely weakened because they did not sustain the one North vision of the Sardauna and now that the National Conference is offering them an opportunity to redeem themselves, what do they do?
They are trying to revamp their hegemony blinded by their sense of superiority and oblivious to the crumbling of the once united enclave that their ancestor, Ahmadu Bello, bequeathed to them. What a pity!
The rivalry between the Northwest and the Northeast that is fueling the insurgency in the North is annually brought to the fore as the Sultan of Sokoto and the Shehu of Borno compete on which date should be the official flag off of Ramadan based on the new moon sighting and who should be the official amirul hajj at the head of Nigeria’s official delegation to the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.
Unhealthy rivalry is not good for any region and it is not good for Nigeria.
At the height of the militancy, the elders and youths of the Niger Delta took the initiative and suggested a home grown plan for an amnesty program. The initiative was sold to President Yar’adua who embraced it and today, everyone is enjoying as Nigeria now lifts 2.5 million Barrels Per Day of crude oil whereas she was lucky to lift 700 thousand during the militancy.
If the North has any chance of ending the insurgency in the North, rebuilding trust amongst the Northwest, Northeast and Northern minorities, the Northwest elite must get off its high horse and realize that they are not superior or inferior to anyone else in the Nigerian project.
The mentality of ‘born to rule’ must be dismantled. The elite of the Northwest must shed this toga that they are either at your throat or at your feet.
The place to be is at the negotiating table and the thing to do is to talk and come to an understanding with other Nigerians, otherwise they face a future of resistance within the North and suspicion from the South.
Threats of a walk out or politically motivated motions are not what Sir Ahmadu Bello would have advocated.
I urge my brothers from the North not to dismiss my advice because I am from the South. As a student of history, I recall the words of George Santayana who wrote “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. We must not repeat our mistakes.
This is more so as history supports the argument for a rapprochement in the North.
Recall that when Shehu Othman Dan Fodio’s jihad was sweeping through what is now Northern Nigeria, Muhammad al-Kânemî, who was at the head of the Kanem-Bornu empire dialogued with Shehu Othman dan Fodio, and later with his son, Sultan Muhammed Bello via a series of letters which resulted in a negotiated peace between the caliphate and the Kanem-Bornu empire.
Surely, having these types of examples, our brethren in the North have a well beaten path laid out for them from which they do not need to deviate.
In fact, I posit that if a genuine rapprochement can be had between the Sokoto Caliphate of the Northwest and the Kanem-Bornu enclave of the Northeast and then between these two power blocs and the minorities in the North, then not only would religious and ethnic tensions be a thing of the past, but the trillions of Naira currently being spent on security can be better applied to social and economic services that will greatly improve the Human Development Indices in the North.
And this is possible. Thank God for the vision of President Goodluck Jonathan who has made it easier to have this detente by picking both his Minister of Defense and National Security Adviser from the Sardauna’s home region. Both Gen. Aliyu Mohammed Gusau and Col. Sambo Dasuki are well entrenched in the Sokoto Caliphate.
I hazard a guess that in making such appointments, it might have been the expectation of the President that these sons of the Sardauna would do what the other sons have not done and solidify the handshake across the Sahara.
If there is no strong handshake across the Sahara, the dream of the handshake across the Niger would continue to be a pipe dream for the foreseeable future.
And the way to do this, the only way, is to tow the path of inclusivity which was the hallmark of the late Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello!
•Omoregie is a citizen journalist from the Niger Delta