By Kabiru Danguguwa
January 15, 1966, was the beginning of ethnopolitical division in Nigeria, followed by a civil war a year later. One may argue that colonialists initiated this division when they amalgamated the two, perhaps unrelated, protectorates for easy administration and exploitation in 1914. This manifested in the political parties formed on ethnic lines as a prerequisite for self-rule. Whatever the genesis of our division might be, January 15 1966, has been instrumental.
Different regimes have made several attempts, perhaps in vain, to create unity in diversity to address the above issue. Unfortunately, our democracy has not been a solution either. In a book chapter published in 2018, I argued that Nigeria’s democracy had recorded only one achievement. That’s the sustenance of “democratic rule” since 1999 without the return of the military. This is an outstanding achievement indeed. Thus, I conceptualised Nigeria’s democracy as an electoral democracy.
One of the most critical steps in electoral democracy is the transfer of power from the military to civilians, which happened in Nigeria in 1999. The remaining significant features are conducting elections as provided by the constitution and governing citizens with at least some concern of the process of law. From 1999 to 2019, we witnessed six general elections every four years as the constitution demands. The government also, to some extent, care about the citizens. Political science students may agree that we are operating above a facade democracy and, of course, below the liberal democracy found in the West. Put simply, unlike some countries in Africa and Latin America; we keep our military in the barracks and other places they constitutionally belong.
On the other side of the coin, the 23-year old Nigeria’s democracy is full of conundrums. The democracy is so illiberal that some citizens think of going back to the colonial era or the least, returning to military dictatorship. We often celebrate former military heads of state, especially when comparing them with civilian leaders. We almost unanimously prefer the military personalities of the people that ruled as military heads of state to their characters as civilian leaders. What is wrong with our democracy?
As 2023 approaches, just like the previous general elections, Nigerians are being divided over the choices of political parties and candidates that will govern the county. Several divisions emerged; some have been with us since the 1960s, while others were recently created. The North-South division might have come to stay. Southwest-Southeast has also been there for decades. There’s also Igbo versus the rest of Nigeria, mainly connected to January 15, 1966, and the Civil War.
There are at least two recently created or popularised divisions: Yoruba versus the rest of Nigeria and Yoruba versus the North. The duo, especially the former, is connected to the alleged concentration of the present government’s efforts on the welfare and well-being of Lagos and Lagosians.
Other popular divisions are APC-PDP and intra-political party rivalry between camps and political groups. I don’t believe in the religious division, for there are many Christians in the North and numerous Muslims in the South. There is Nigerian youth versus old-timers rift.
Political trends show that Northern Nigeria is more united politically. The North showcased its unity in 2015 when Boko Haram was on the verge of crippling socio-economic activities in the region. Out of optimism, people hated the regime of the day in favour of a Northern candidate. Forgive my conceptualisation of the North to include those who see themselves as Northerners.
There is a need for another unity as the region faces another severe problem mightier than pre-2015 general elections. In 2023, we must gear our unity using our strengths to present candidates who can deliver irrespective of their backgrounds and political parties. The South has never, since 1999, been united, but Yorubas have been. Look at how Southwest (Lagos), with Vice President, has been benefiting from this administration at the expense of the entire country. I firmly believe that we should only be united, not too ambitious. They say “politics is a game of numbers”, and we have the “numbers”.
Kabiru Ibrahim Danguguwa lectures at the Department of History and International Studies, Yusuf Maitama Sule University, Kano. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.