Prior to 1999, there was only one narrative that supported the clamour for power shift from the north to the south. The narrative was that the north had destroyed Nigeria. Behind this narrative was the argument, of fact, that power had domiciled in the north, and had been used in such a manner to suggest that southern Nigeria was a mere appendage. Of course, except for the stillbirth interim presidency of Ernest Shonekan, power had remained in the north of Nigeria.
That development, though accentuated, not by democratic election but by military adventurism, heightened the fact of mutual suspicion which fuelled the narrative that the north had held the presidency for far too long, and to the disadvantage of the south. Evidences later showed that the north did not achieve much in infrastructural development on account of holding the presidency for too long.
However, the achievement of power shift through an election, in which Olusegun Obasanjo was handpicked, in a manner that suggested that his mission was to protect interests of those who forgave his sins, freed him from jail and crowned him president exposed the rot in Nigeria’s infrastructure and social fabric.
The discoveries, by Obasanjo, were startling that he expressed surprise that there had been no significant investment in the power sector since 1979 when he left office as military head of state. Much of what Obasanjo exposed as the rot, and corruption, in the polity, were blamed on the north. For long, northern leaders were kept busy defending themselves and the region. The allegations against some of the leaders became so loud that they shied away from public office. Somehow, some northern leaders retired quietly while some stood firm in defence of their integrity. At the time, no one had any premonition that the same Obasanjo, who razzmatazzed Nigerians with ‘exposition’ of corruption and vowed to ‘fight’ same, would end up having difficulties purging himself of the temptation to join the fray.
He succumbed. His deputy followed suit. Others danced along. Alhaji Ibrahim Coomasie, who is Chairman of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), would in a recent interview published in Daily Trust, complain about the negative characterization of the north, by the south. He said that constant allegations against the north, and its leaders, as having destroyed the country, became so worrisome that northern leaders decided to fight back. The only tool they could fight with was their voices.
For this reason, he said, they converged at Kaduna and the result was ACF. According to him, ACF worked hard to tackle the negative characterization of the north and its leaders. They spoke with one voice and countered every further effort to blame Nigeria’s failures on the north and persons from the region who had had the opportunity to lead the country. They succeeded gradually. Umaru Yar’Adua’s presidency was to consolidate on that but his untimely demise forced a break in an agreed power rotation between north and south. It also heightened agitation for equity.
That agitation grew to become one for power return to the north. That was achieved in the last general elections. As Sen. Seidu Dansadau argued, also in an interview with Daily Trust, the election was not just about Buhari, but for one north. He expressed joy that the entire north voted as one political bloc irrespective of party affiliation. In other words, the north was able to change the narrative of a divided north, which some politicians in the south believed, and, traded with. Severally, the notion of an impossible monolithic north was believed. But it was proved wrong. With that achieved, and power now firmly domiciled in the north, the narrative changes.
Now, it is about blaming whatever that had been wrong with Nigeria on the fact that presidential power domiciled in the south for 16 years. Each time President Buhari talks about the enormity of the task ahead, he makes reference to 16 years of destruction under PDP. This means 16 years of Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan.
But whenever ACF leaders comment, or analyze the narratives of the past 16 years, they subtly erase the Obasanjo and Yar’Adua years and zero in on the six years of Jonathan. This shows a deliberate action to change the story and hold a few persons responsible for Nigeria’s woes. When efforts are made to look at Jonathan’s years, there appears a more deliberate effort to zero in on a few individuals namely his petroleum minister and his finance minister. Deliberate efforts are made to erase roles played by key northern elements in the administration. So far, all talk is about oil sector and the finance ministry. None focuses attention on other key agencies including Customs, Transportation, Ports etc. None wants a review of how FCT had been administered since after Nasir El- Rufai.
Again, mutual suspicion heightens. In this changed narrative, we hear that the south had destroyed Nigeria and that corruption became a norm because southerners held sway. Without asking questions, some join the fray and remind ourselves that corruption became a phenomenon in Nigeria’s politics because people from the south came to the centre. But how do we forget that “10 per centers” provided reason for the first military coup in Nigeria; and had provided ground for every subsequent military coup. With Buhari steadily taking stock, we read of Lai Mohammed reeling out figures he probably manufactured from his laboratory as stolen money.
He provides no backgrounds as to how he arrived at such. We read of a Permanent Secretary reeling out figures of allegedly diverted loan. And we also read of the former finance minister’s defence and the silence that follows, an indication that some diversions may have occurred after May 29. As it is now, the popular refrain would be to blame it on the past administration and get going.
But I am learning new lessons from the developments. Those currently in office, and those who would still be appointed, should learn to keep copies of every document they sign and also details of every transaction they approve. Someday in the future, someone is going to attempt to change the narrative and negatively characterize you. But until the truth is eventually told, if ever, let’s just blame the ills, even of outright stealing by governors and council chairmen, on Jonathan and get on.
-ACHILLEUS-CHUD UCHEGBU e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org