As far back as I can remember, Nigerian politics has always had that odious and ominous whiff of violence. My people come from the populous city of Ibadan, an ancient city northwest of the former Nigerian capital, Lagos. It’s a ferociously political hub, being the capital of Oyo State. In ancient times ‘Oyo’ used to be a Yoruba empire, and Ibadan was the empire’s mercenary recruiting center.
Though born in England, during my early teens I went to school in Ibadan living in close proximity to two political party bosses, who housed up to 20 hoodlums ready to do their masters’ bidding during elections. Luckily, both these bosses were members of the same party. Nevertheless, there’s always sporadic violence during, and in the aftermath of elections in Nigeria, but nothing comparable to the savagery on display in the North these past few days.
Roots of the problem
Muhammadu Buhari, the presidential candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), has made a bid to distance himself from the death and chaos in northern Nigeria caused in part by his overwhelming defeat by Goodluck Jonathan. However, in the same breath, Buhari insists he was cheated out of the presidency through voting irregularities in the south. He alleges the southeast and Niger-Delta region (south-south) of Nigeria shut down his party’s vote, saying ‘there were no elections and our people weren’t allowed to vote’.
To understand the mayhem that has engulfed some parts of northern Nigeria post Goodluck Jonathan’s presidential election win, it’s important to understand that Nigeria is divided along multiple layers of ethnic, religious, cultural and ideological lines. Added to these complexities is a sophisticated society influenced by Western Secular, Judeo Christian and Islamic thought; all for the better, and worse.
Goodwin Jonathan who won the election for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is from the Niger-Delta region, hence his ethnicity is Ijaw. The Ijaw people are ethnically close to ‘Igbo’ people who populate the southeast. He’s also a practising Christian, as an overwhelming majority of the southeastern populace happen to be. The southeast temporarily broke away from Nigeria in 1967 as a result of a regional struggle which resulted in an Islamic-influenced pogrom launched against their people in the north, followed by the infamous Biafran war.
Buhari’s CPC stronghold is the northern region of Nigeria. While people in the southwest are ethnic Yoruba all the way into Nigeria’s western neighbour the Republic of Benin; northern Nigeria is populated by Hausa and the Fulani people, extending into the Republic of Niger (pronounced Nee-jay), and Chad (pronounced…Chad). This region has largest ethnic population in Nigeria. Crucially, it’s a region defined by Islam. To get a sense of the dominance of northern region of which the south is weary, you’ll need to find a Nigerian map pre-1967.
Despite Buhari’s rejection of the 2011 election results, the U.S and the international community has commended its adherence to the principle of being fair and free; albeit imperfect. Many Nigerians both north and south see this as a triumph of the democratic spirit, as past Nigerian elections have been notoriously rife with election fraud.
Buhari, a retired army General who seized power in a military coup in 1984 before being ousted a year later, must have been shaken to the core by the size of Goodluck Johnathan’s win. He’s now gone on record to question the outcome of 22 out of Nigeria’s 36 states.
Nonetheless, many believe Buhari is grasping at straws. There’s ‘northern pride’ at stake here, but nothing more. Firstly, Goodluck Jonathan piously sought and got endorsement from powerful Islamic power brokers in the north. Secondly, Buhari did not carry the entire northern vote, the overall northern electorate was split almost four ways, even though CPC had a significant majority.
In short, despite the many complexities of religion and race that have dogged Nigeria since its inception 50 years ago, this election is being heralded as a giant step forward. Violence is reprehensible. But the struggle for Nigeria’s growth has only just begun, the next step, to quote Mao, must be a ‘great leap forward’ in economic development. Hopefully economic growth will slam the door shut on northern Nigeria’s version of the Taliban, ‘Boko Haram’.