Since the return of democratic rule in 1999, the clamour for the respect for an unwritten agreement to rotate power at the centre between the North and the South appears to increase with each election cycle.
It was the decision of self-styled military President, General Ibrahim Babangida (retd.), to annul what local and international observers described as Nigeria’s freest and fairest election presumably won by the late business mogul and philanthropist, Chief MKO Abiola, on June 12, 1993, that set off a chain of events which led to the eventual hurried departure of politicians in military uniforms from Nigeria’s political scene.
In an attempt by the military to make right the unjust annulment, the then military Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, held a series of meetings with the political class most of whom became members of the Peoples Democratic Party and it was agreed that power should rotate between the North and the South, starting from the South.
Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, a retired military general and civil war hero, was elected president in 1999 and he ruled for two consecutive terms of four years each until he handed over to Umaru Yar’Adua, a northerner, in 2007.
Yar’Adua’s sudden death two years into his first four-year term and the succession battle which followed led to the PDP losing power to invigorated opposition politicians who joined forces to form the All Progressives Congress.
There has been a debate within the APC over whether or not there was a power rotation/sharing agreement.
Amidst this debate, governance and service delivery appear to have taken the back seat, and national unity has come under severe threat.
The actions and inactions of the regime of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), have exacerbated the crisis.
A public affairs analyst and Director-General of Heritage Centre, an Abuja-based political think tank, Dr Kachi Onunoju, argued that Nigerians had never had it this bad in terms of divisiveness.
He said, “This regime has taken Nigeria back to the dark ages with its clannishness, nepotism and lack of respect for the federal character principle which by the way is provided for in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“We cannot be running a federation where a whole region is left out of the equation when you are talking about the security architecture of the country.
“Since the Fulani militia has been maiming and killing Nigerians in their quest for land, what has the government done? First, we were told they were Fulani from Libya, Mali, Senegal or Burkina Faso, now they are asking that we should give them amnesty.
He added, “Is the amnesty for foreign bandits? Is this happening because elections are around the corner? You can see all kinds of deceitful government schemes under the guise of poverty alleviation. You will soon start hearing about trader money which disappeared soon after the 2019 elections. We cannot continue to run a country like this.”
However, a Gombe State chieftain of the All Progressives Congress, Abdullahi Jalo, said it would be wrong to accuse Buhari of going soft on criminals because he shares some cultural affiliations with alleged perpetrators of heinous crimes against the populace.
He said, “We have a security problem which we must all admit. It is however wrong to accuse the president of doing nothing to solve it. The president’s kinsmen are the worst hit in all these attacks.
“For President Buhari, every Nigerian is his kinsman. He sees Nigerians as one. There is no section of this country that is not represented in his cabinet. We must shun divisiveness and work for the unity of this country. People like us who have no other country want this country to work.”
Although the 2023 elections are still roughly two years away, groups and individuals have started mobilising support for persons they feel deserve to be given a chance to use their bridge-building skills to unite the country.
One of several pressure groups within the APC, the Progressives Consolidation Group, which is at the forefront of advocacy to push for the candidacy of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, is of the view that building bridges across ethnoreligious divides is required to rebuild public trust among Nigerians.
The leader of the PCG, Aliyu Kurfi, on his part, explained that Nigerians should take a lesson from the working relationship between Buhari and Osinbajo.
While on advocacy visits to some northern states including Katsina recently, the PCG noted that a window of opportunity exists for Nigerians to rebuild trust among themselves.
He said, “When we started our awareness campaign for good governance in March 2019, our main focus and resolve was to continue to promote the APC. It is our hope, prayer and desire to ensure that the APC retains power beyond 2023. But for this to happen, peace and unity is a major requirement.”
Although the office of the Vice President has since distanced Osinbajo from the activities of the group, its position on national unity is a shared one.
Osinbajo had in an address at the National Social Cohesion Dialogue in Abuja recently noted that there was more for everyone to gain within a united Nigeria than a fragmented country.
The dialogue, which was organised by the Africa Polling Institute and Ford Foundation, was held at the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Centre and featured the presentation of the 2021 edition of the Nigeria Social Cohesion Survey Report.
Osinbajo, who was the special guest of honour, noted that Nigeria’s challenges were not insoluble and that many countries had undergone and were still undergoing similar trials as part of their historical evolution.
The vice president, who has been an advocate of Nigeria’s unity in diversity, traced separatist agitations to a feeling of alienation among the citizenry.
He said, “In many quarters, there are genuine feelings of alienation and exclusion. We must strengthen institutions which at every level can deliver justice, inclusion, and mutual security.”
Osinbajo decried the classification of Nigerian citizens as indigenes, non-indigenes and settlers on the basis of which states relate to residents.
He argued that “all Nigerians have a constitutional right to live, work and enjoy their lives in peace and safety under the law.”
Addressing the growing incidence of crimes across Nigeria, the vice president noted that dealing with the situation would require a collective response.
He observed that governments at all levels were adopting more local and decentralised policing strategies but noted that for these initiatives to succeed, such security arrangements must be all-inclusive.
Osinbajo noted that the diversity within each state and community must be taken into account, adding that societies worked better when every part felt a sense of belonging in terms of shared responsibility.
He said, “This way, the whole community will gain a sense of belonging and more importantly feel that they have a stake in protecting their homesteads from criminals. No truly sustainable security umbrella can be built on the basis of exclusion.”
He expressed the opinion that criminals must be treated as what they are without recourse to their ethnic or religious affiliation.