Home Opinion el-Rufai’s ‘Two Countries’ In One Perception | ‘Gbade Ojo

el-Rufai’s ‘Two Countries’ In One Perception | ‘Gbade Ojo

The recent outburst of Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, in his characteristic manner of being down-to-earth in his comments on national issues and at the same time not taking adequate cognisance of such for national integration in a plural and deeply divided country like Nigeria is unfortunate.
While addressing the Northern Youth Forum in Kaduna recently, at a programme organised by a Non-Governmental Organisation, he painted a picture of Nigeria as ‘two countries in one’. ‘A developing South and a backward, less educated and unhealthy North’ with the highest number of poor people in the world; in his juxtaposition of both the North and the South. He went further to state that the North had a lot to be proud of most especially Northern culture, language and tradition. He said, ‘We are generally considered to be more honest and less corrupt than other Nigerians’
Perhaps more ostensibly, the ebullient former Minister of the Federal Character Territory, Abuja, and the serving governor of Kaduna State; bearing upon the existing comments or historicity has resurrected the often dormant yet relevant thesis in Prof. Peter Ekeh’s theory of The Two Publics. In the conception of  the eminent professor of Political Sociology, Nigerians’ social public life and primordial institutions correlated with the tendencies, values and attitudes in the  political system had been trapped in what the bourgeon literature call the clash or even mismatch of traditionalism and modernisation.
Without gainsaying, his perception no doubt is a glaring manifestation of failure of national integration efforts. It is unfortunate that both in pre-independence and post-independence Nigeria, the developmental gap between the North and the South still subsists. It is absurd to blame colonialism for the fate of a country that got flag independence since 1960 without any appreciable improvement in virtually all spheres of life. All development indices ranked contemporary Nigeria as world capital of poverty.
Meanwhile, historians would agree that prior to the formal occupation of Nigeria by the British, the component units of the present federation were separate entities which had almost little or nothing in common. In the documentations of the colonial social anthropologists, each of these entities, though aware of the existence of one another, developed its own civilisation independently and, had retained absolute autonomy on all spheres of human activities. Despite the 1914 amalgamation, colonial masters did not attempt to amalgamate the communities. As if to underline the separateness of the various communities, the colonialists did not attempt to impose a uniform system of administration too.
Consequently, different sets of Nigerians started to emerge to the extent that the two administrations –North and South– were hostile to each other and uncooperative. Regional feelings were so strong that even competing railway systems were built. Nonetheless, lending credence to el-Rufai’s perception, both the colonial masters and nationalist leaders never for once agreed that Nigeria was one. Sir Arthur Richard’s belief in the desirability of the federal solution to Nigeria’s constitutional problems is illustrated in one of his statements in 1948 thus ‘…it is only the accident of British suzerainty which has made Nigeria one country or one nation … there are deep differences between the major tribal groups’.
To the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo in his oft-quoted statement that ‘Nigeria is not a nation it is a geographical expression, there are no ‘Nigerians’ in the same sense as there are ‘English’ or ‘Welsh’ or ‘French’. He went further to note that the word ‘Nigeria’ is merely a distinctive appellation to distinguish those who live within the boundaries of Nigeria from those who don’t’.  The late Tafawa Balewa too who later became prime minister agreed with both Awolowo and Richards when he also asserted in 1947 that ‘since the amalgamation of Southern and Northern provinces in 1914, Nigeria has existed as a country only on paper; it is still far from being united. Nigerian unity is only a British intention for the country.
With that historical background, one fundamental question el-Rufai did not attempt to answer in his controversial outburst to the Northern youths is the fact that who is responsible for North’s underdevelopment? He has been at the corridors of power for a while including the federal level. The British colonial masters handed over an asymmetric country with close to 70 per cent of the landmass to the North; the concomitant effects are more states and local government areas allotted to the North. This is a negation of John Stuart Mill’s law of federal stability. In terms of representation, more senators and members of the Federal House of Representatives thus more resources being sunk into the Northern region of the country; still palpable underdevelopment that is unforgiveable still steer them in the face.
Whereas, the genesis of Northern underdevelopment is firmly rooted in the ‘Nigerianisation Policy’ between 1960 and 1966. The policy was meant to replace foreigners or expatriates as they were called, who occupied positions of prominence in the public service and bureaucracy with qualified Nigerians. Later a department was created in the prime minister’s office to oversee the implementation of the policy. The policy could have enhanced better interaction between the North and South, as it could have made the labour of southerners who were better educated to be much more mobile within the framework of a federal set-up. The consequence could also have been a better understanding of the cultures of one another at least by the elite while working in a milieu quite different from their places of birth.
Surprisingly, side-by-side with this policy was also the ‘Northernisation’ policy. Foreigners that were intended to be replaced in the public service were later preferred to the much ‘dreaded’ Southerners in the Northern public service. Thus, the Nigerianisation policy became a bastion to correct North/South imbalance in both bureaucracy and political participation; historically generated by the early exposure of the South to western education.
It is amusing that Southerners were regarded as invaders in the North.  Despite structural changes vis-à-vis creation of states and local government areas over time, the North still pretends to be monolithic displaying same attitude. The North needs to open up and be more tolerant and accommodating so that the region could begin to develop much as the South has been doing.
The new leaders have betrayed the legacies of the late Nnamdi Azikiwe and the late sage Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Three factors are sufficient to buttress this assertion. In education, enrolment rates are getting truncated each year both in the primary and secondary school levels. Large percentages of our youths are now commercial bike riders popularly called okada. Aside from few new roads in urban centres, not much attention is being paid to human development capital. The health sector is nothing to write home about. In the employ of most states in the South, one can hardly find any with 50 qualified medical doctors. Closely related to this is the high rate of unemployment. With several tertiary institutions turning out graduates’ year-in-year-out, not much is done to diversify the economy to absorb skilled manpower. With arable land that should be an envy of other parts of the country, no meaningful agricultural enterprise is going on in the South. This is the basis of the excruciating poverty in the zone.
The second issue raised by el-Rufai is a fallacy that northerners are generally considered to be more honest and less corrupt than other Nigerians. The truth is that corruption is neither ethnic nor region bound. It manifests in all regions and climes of the country. It is not even gender specific.
Finally, if the country would not go the way of the former Soviet Union that disintegrated, the gulf of development between the North and the South may have to be sincerely addressed by Northern leaders collectively or else the perceived sense of social stratification within the same country may boomerang one day. The cheering news is that el-Rufai called on his colleagues to heed the clarion call for the development of the Northern region. Ab initio, they are responsible for the North’s inability to catch-up since independence. The truth, however, is that all the regions of the country need to develop pari-pasu.
Dr. Ojo is the immediate past Chief of Staff to former Governor of Oyo State.
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