With about four months to the end of his constitutionally allowed two-term tenure as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari and his close associates in the presidential villa, from indications, appear ready to force Godwin Emefiele out of office in order to create the path for the appointment of a northerner into that office in a move that completes this administration’s northernisation policy and ensures that northerners control the strategic Central Bank for the next five years no matter the outcome of the February 25, 2023 presidential election. As at this time, all the eleven agencies under the Central Bank have northerners as their heads – AMCON, MINTS, NIRSAL, NEXIM, NDIC, AFC, NFIU, FSS2020, WAIFEM, NIRSAL Micro-Finance Bank and INFRACORP.
Also, all the major federal financial/revenue generating agencies are firmly under the firm grip of northerners – FIRS, SEC, NPA, NIMASA, Customs, NNPCL and the Ministry of Finance, where the Minister and Permanent Secretary are northerners. What about the strategic Ministries with huge budgets? Defence, Education, Agriculture, Transport, Petroleum, Water Resources, Humanitarian Affairs, FCT, Power, etc are all headed by northerners.
The implementation of the northernisation agenda started as far back as 2015 when Buhari, a Fulani Muslim from Katsina State, with family ties with neighbouring Niger Republic, shockingly defeated incumbent President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, from Bayelsa State, recording the first opposition victory over an incumbent in Nigeria’s democracy.
Emefiele, from Delta State, has been under fire from different fronts since he announced the redesign of the naira and the implementation of a very strict cashless policy aimed at curbing vote buying and reducing corruption. These forces are using the DSS and a member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Gudaji Kazuare, to hound Emefiele whilst alleging that he and other collaborators stole a phantom N89 trillion naira from Stamp Duty collected by banks on behalf of the federal government. This of course is untrue even though they have successfully pushed this narrative in a country where corruption thrives mostly unchecked and people are very suspicious of public servants. The total assets of all Nigerian banks combined as at June 2022 stood at N65.48 trillion naira. Banks are required to charge N50 as Stamp Duty on transactions above N1000. Do Emefiele’s accusers realise how many transactions would have to take place to generate the trillions of naira in Stamp Duty that this so-called N89 trillion would vanish from? This cannot possibly happen in our lifetime.
If you happen to be a guest of Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue state at any of the swank restaurants in Makurdi where pounded yam tops the menu, then you can be sure of a hearty meal with the two-term governor of a state with the very apt motto “Food Basket of the Nation.”
Throw in some talk, however casual or serious, of rampaging Fulani herdsmen and their Fulanisation agenda in his state in particular and the country in general and you would have spoiled a good lunch or dinner. If you watched him closely, you would have seen the previously jolly mien of your companion and host turn into a combo of sullen silence and impotent rage resulting in a rictus of anguish. It is not hard to see why.
WHEN BLESSING BECOMES A CURSE
Like the curse of the black gold to Nigeria, Benue state has had more than its share of misfortune thanks to a very fertile soil yielding over a hundred and forty agricultural produce round the year. The rich variety of food crops has also drawn the attention of those who are least friendly to farmers in the state – marauding Fulani herdsmen and their herd of cattle. It has also turned Benue into one of the most pillaged states in the country. Only Plateau, perhaps, comes a close second.
For the two-term governor of Benue since 2015, it has been maddening to witness the wilful destruction of lives and property of a state under his watch by Fulani herdsmen. It has caused the 18th governor of Benue state considerable concern. Worse still, the sitting president and chief security officer of the country, Buhari appears to pay no mind to the atrocities his fellow-tribesmen are committing in Benue and elsewhere around the country in a carefully calibrated attempt to take over land that is not theirs in the first place.
Ortom has never minced words about the deliberate Fulanisation/northernisation of Nigeria, starting with his own state. For him, the spectre of Fulanisation is so real and frightening that if you argue otherwise he would probably conclude you’re not here on planet earth. Can’t you see the evidence of the serial bloodletting and carnage caused by the roving herdsmen in agrarian communities in Benue? What about their lowing herds plodding through acres and acres of farmland munching verdant cassava leaves, lush maize cobs, yam tendrils or just about any edible crop within reach? And almost insultingly so, as if there’s nothing anyone can do about it!
When the hapless and defenseless farmers resist them, the herdsmen whip out their AK-47s, point them at the meddlesome farmers and then cut them down to size. Such acts of premeditated and casual killings occur every now and then thus making them commonplace in modern Nigerian history.
In the last couple of years, for instance, no week passed without a report or so in the papers and magazines, radio and television of such one-sided confrontation between farmers in Benue state and the peripatetic Fulani herdsmen. In nearly all of them, the nomads almost always have the upper hand. Again, it is not hard to see why.
Armed to the teeth with sophisticated weapons, the Fulani herders ordinarily don’t announce their coming. They surprise the communities and farmlands already in their sightline. Thus caught unawares, the farmers are most often no match for the invading forces with superior fire power. And by the time the herders are done with one community they march on to their next target, to start all over again a never-ending vicious cycle of destruction and killings, from week to week, month to month and all year round.
Unable to stomach the wanton destruction caused by the Fulani herdsmen, Ortom himself has complained severally. In a publication of June 29, 2022, for instance, the governor even called out Buhari for supporting Fulanis in their relentless march to take over Nigeria.
Reported by a journalist Don Silas after Ortom appeared on television the day before to condemn the killing of farmers in Edumoga, Okpokwu local government area by gunmen believed to be herdsmen, annihilating 24 more people asleep in their homes in another community, and eight others in Mbadwem, Guma local council and 16 in Tiortyu in Tarka local council along Makurdi – Gboko road, the governor stated inter alia: “It is not just about a certain local government area. It is about the entire state. It is about the entire country, Nigeria,” Ortom lamented. “Tell me where else, is it in Zamfara, where the Hausa people live and the Fulanis have decided to take over the land? Is it in Kaduna, where the indigenous people were either traditionalist or Christians now they have been taken over?
“Is it in the South East or in the Middle Belt where the Fulanis have decided that they are going to take over this country and actively they have been supported by the present government of President Muhammadu Buhari?”
“Like I said, I know they are not happy, we know they are angry. But that is the truth. Even if I am dead, let it be on record just like Martin Luther King Junior of America who said the truth. I am ready to do it. This is the truth. The Fulanis have made up their mind to take Nigeria as their own country and using Islam as a tool to ensure that they are in control.”
Apart from the apprehensive Benue state governor, other prominent Nigerians had voiced the same concern in the past about the Fulanis roaming free in the country in their bid to “ensure that they are in control.”
In a seminal essay written by Professor Bola Akinteriwa published in THISDAY a year ago headlined “Buhari’s Fulanisation Scheme: Manifestations and Foreign Policy Dimensions,” the professor of International Relations and former DG of Nigeria Institute of International Affairs faulted PMB’s implicit endorsement of the Fulanisation process. “Is there any official Fulanisation Policy or Scheme,” Akinteriwa wondered, “under President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) in Nigeria?”
Such an agenda, the professor of international relations suggests, “necessarily exists, especially on the basis of deductive methodology,” insisting that “the hypothesis is further justified by PMB’s attitude of indifference, when allegations of such acts of Fulanisation are publicly raised before the eyes of PMB. This is an acquiescence on the basis of which we believe that PMB cannot but have a Fulanisation agenda.”
Governor Ortom agrees completely with the academics. In Ortom’s reckoning, the response from the presidency is proof enough. Buhari, the governor said, “kept mum when herdsmen killed and maimed Nigerians but was swift to order the arrest of persons who resisted the criminal activities of the killer herdsmen.” From PMB’s disposition, Ortom went on, he has appeared as the President of only the Fulani people and not the President of Nigeria.
Reminding Buhari of his avowal soon after his election in 2015 that he would be for everybody and nobody Ortom pointedly noted that “no Nigerian is a second-class citizen or slave to the Fulani people.”
“Why is the Federal Government being silent about these Fulani herdsmen? When will the Federal Government come out and criticise and arrest herdsmen carrying AK-47? When are they going to do that? Are we second-class citizens in this country? Why (is) the Fulani man superior to a Tiv man? I am not their slave, a Benue man is not a slave to any Fulani man in this country.
“We stand for justice, equity and fairness. Whatever is happening to a Fulani man should also happen to a Tiv man. That was why I called the Federal Government to license me and many others to have guns, to have AK-47 too. Because if I have my AK-47 and a Fulani man is coming there, he knows that I have and he has, then we can fight each other.
“But you can’t disarm me and arm a Fulani man. This is not right. The Federal Government is biased, it is unfair. The failure in security is caused by the Federal Government. Mr. President, in case you are listening to me, I want you to know that your people, Nigerians, you promised Nigerians that you will be fair to all.
“You said that you will be for everybody and for nobody, and now it will appear that you are for Fulani people because nothing is coming from you to give the people confidence that you are their President.
“You are the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, you are not the President of Fulani. You are the President of everybody and I owe you a duty as a stakeholder in this nation to let you know that what is going on is wrong and this has the potential of dividing this country which will not be in the interest of anyone – some of us believe in the unity of this country.”
Continuing, the governor said: “Mr. President, if some people are deceiving you that all is well, it is not well with us in Benue state and from what I can hear from other states, it is not well with Nigeria today. You must act fast before it is late.”
To any discerning reader of Akinteriwa’s brilliantly researched and illuminating essay in THISDAY, “you must act fast,” Mr. President, “before it is too late” is the core message. The northernisation policy, whether denied or not, does not bode well for the survival of Nigeria, Akinteriwa warns. It is not only “creating animosity between and among the peoples of Nigeria, it is also seriously threatening national cohesion. Fulanisation agenda has the potential to precipitate a new civil war in the country.”
In short, the professor envisages what a second civil war (after the first from ‘67-‘70) can do to Nigeria and its consequent foreign policy dimensions. Unlike the first that was fought basically between Igbos of the south east and a combined force of the north and the west, a second with any shade of northernisation or Fulanisation precipitating it will be much different.
“A new civil war is not always limited to the domestic level,” Akinteriwa contends,” but generally also extended to the external level. Put differently, the battle fields can be geo-politically located within Nigeria, but mercenaries can come from outside. Aiding and abetting, especially in terms of funding, supply of arms and propaganda, can have international character. This is why every war always has a foreign policy dimension.”
One of the possible foreign policy dimensions, in the professor’s view, is that much of the Islamic world will naturally lend a sympathetic ear to whatever Fulanisation hopes to achieve while there will be a corresponding alliance from Christians all over the world (read the West) with the southern part of Nigeria. It is a scary scenario in which no one is likely to come out victorious.
ANTECEDENTS TO NORTHERNISATION
Professor Akinterinwa’s piece is also remarkable for referencing antecedents of Fulanisation/northernisation. One of them is implementing Sharia Law in parts of the north and then quickly endorsed by governors from there. Mr. Bichi Obadiah is the Legal Representative of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in Bauchi state. As he once stated in an interview quoted by Akinteriwa, Sharia Commission has been created and Area Courts have been abolished and replaced with Sharia Courts. The provision of Sharia Courts and Sharia Commission without corresponding ecclesiastical Courts and Commission to attend to the yearning of Christian citizens, has served as (an expression of) great marginalization, discrimination.
In accordance with the northernisation/Fulanisation agenda of Buhari, Akinteriwa alludes to another source, this time Hon. Jonathan Asake, National President of the Southern Kaduna People Union (SOKAPU). Asake has said that PMB’s aim is “to sub-plant indigenous communities in Nigeria and then bring the Fulani communities in, to change the demography of the country.” That, in his reckoning, “is a sad situation in our beloved country, Nigeria, and unfortunate that our founding (fathers) will wake up and see the mess that is going on in the country that we found ourselves.”
Also worrisome to Asake is how governors from the north (Mohammed Bala of Bauchi State, for example) could have the effrontery to tell the general public that it is a right for the killer Fulani to carry an AK-47 to defend themselves. “Where is the right of other citizens that are being killed? Do they also have the right to carry AK-47 to defend themselves?” Apparently, “it is right for the bandits and the cattle herders to carry prohibited weapons but not right for all others that are law abiding. This is one major problem that requires being attended to.”
Hon. Asake also recalled the situation in his community and some other communities in Southern Kaduna. He said: “Youths and vigilantes are being killed and when they respond by taking up machetes, sticks, bows and arrows to defend their communities against these killer Fulani herdsmen, they are oftentimes arrested and thrown into detention.”
With this type of development, he believes that “there will be hunger in the land and when there is hunger in the land, there will be anger, there will be a strike and people have to rise up and fight whatever thing that is making them hungry.”
MUHAMMADU BUHARI LIKE SIR AHMADU BELLO
If anyone has done more to fuel the spectre of northernisation in Nigeria, it is none other than President Buhari himself, who is fully implementing the teachings and philosophy of the late Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sarduana of Sokoto and then Premier of Northern Nigeria, who openly canvassed for and implemented his highly controversial northernisation policy between 1954 to January 1966, when he was assassinated in the first military coup in the country.
Writing for the International Center for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), Olayinka Shehu surmised in 2021 that Buhari’s appointment of ministers showed his bias for the north. “Since his inauguration in 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari’s appointment has continued to generate controversy among Nigerians who accuse him of marginalisation and disregard for Federal Character policy.
“Though he swore to belong to everybody and belong to nobody, many Nigerians think he has not lived up to his promise…Nigeria is a diverse country, comprising multi-ethic groups in the North and the South. The framers of the constitution recognised this diversity and enacted Federal Character Commission Act” which seeks “to promote, monitor and enforce compliance with the principles of the proportional sharing of all bureaucratic, economic, media and political posts at all levels of government.”
Continuing, Shehu cited an instance in June 2020 when some Southern leaders took their case against the president to court before the Abuja Division of a Federal High Court. What was their grievance?
“The present composition of the government of the federation, and most of its agencies especially as regards the composition of the security and quasi-security architecture do not reflect the Federal Character of Nigeria but rather there is a predominance of persons from a few states and sectional groups dominating the opportunities and threatening national unity and integration.”
And what was PMB’s response? He replied that he nominated those he could trust and who had worked with him for years, insisting that “the Constitution allows him complete control over his closest officials’ choice and made it clear the appointments also served as a reward for those who remained loyal to him for years, who refused to be lured by power or material wealth.”
As at 2021, as Shehu reported, most of Buhari’s appointments indicate a bias for the north, from the military to para-military agencies and government parastatals. This was not a coincidence.
“A regional analysis of the heads of security agencies conducted by The ICIR, including paramilitary and anti-graft agencies based on their state of origin shows that 12 out of 16 of them (75 percent) are from the northern part of the country,” Shehu observed, “while just four (25 percent) are from the southern part of the country.”
The reporter painstakingly listed the agencies as follows: “Defence, Nigeria Army, Nigeria Air Force, Nigeria Navy, Nigeria Police Force, Department of State Security (DSS), National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Nigerian Correctional Service, Nigeria Immigration Service, and Nigeria Customs Service.
“Others are Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), Federal Fire Service, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), and the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA)…the president’s approval of the list of Justices of the Court of Appeal released in 2021 reflects staggering inequality, with 61 percent of jurists coming from the North versus 39 per cent from the South.”
The president, according to the journalist, also showed his hand in his appointment of managerial staff of NNPCL. “Out of 40 senior management positions within the NNPC ranging from chief operating officers and managing directors of its subsidiaries to general managers’ roles in the corporation, 24 are occupied by Nigerians from the North while those from the South head 16.”
Does this show a president who swore to belong to everybody and nobody? Certainly not!
As anyone would imagine, the appointments received condemnation from other Nigerians as well. One of them is the late rights activist Yinka Odumakin. In one interview with BusinessDay, Odumakin described the situation as “unfortunate,” adding that “various agitations to end the entity called Nigeria are directly linked to issues of Buhari’s appointment.”
“We have not run an inclusive government in the last two-and-a-half-years or so and that is evident,” Odumakin had said then. “And when you look at Nigeria, when they hold a meeting of the Security Council today, apart from one or two nominal people, the whole people there are all from one section of the country. If you look at other appointees, every agency that bears arms is headed by people from one section of the country. This is why Nigeria is so fragile at the moment.”
The late human rights activist was not alone. CAN also panned PMB’s appointments. In a report in 2018, the religious body pointedly accused the president of favouring northern Muslims. CAN president, Samson Ayokunle, had said in a statement then: “Mr. Buhari on September 1 appointed Abbas Umar as the Managing Director of the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Company, on September 13 he appointed Yusuf Magaji Bichi, from Kano State to replace Matthew Seiyefa from Bayelsa who had been operating in an acting capacity since Lawal Daura was sacked in his absence; and on September 14, he also appointed Zainab Ahmed as the acting Finance Minister to replace Mrs. Kemi Adeosun who resigned as a result of her failure to participate in the NYSC programme and for parading a forged NYSC Certificate of Exemption.
“The composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few state or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that Government or in any of its agencies.”
Former president Olusegun Obasanjo and onetime military governor of Kaduna state, Abubakar Umar, took exception to Buhari’s lopsided appointments. OBJ described it as a “nepotistic deployment bordering on clannishness.” According to the outspoken former governor in an open letter to Buhari in 2018, “Nigeria has become dangerously polarised and risks sliding into crisis on account of your administration’s lopsided appointments, which continue to give undue preference to some sections of the country over others.”
To one of PMB’s staunchest critics, Farooq Kperogi, the president’s appointments smacks of “Arewaization.”
Though he apologised for misleading Nigerians as a member of the All Progressives Congress and Buhari apologist during the 2019 presidential election, Dele Momodu has now turned around full circle to decry PMB and whatever the Fulanisation/northrnisation policy stands for. In his back page column Pendulum in THISDAY two years ago, Momodu bared his mind via a letter to his compatriots headlined “The Truth My Fulani Friends Must Accept.”
“I know and have many of them as buddies,” Momodu began his epistle. “They are naturally handsome and beautiful depending on the sex. This is not a stereotype. The educated ones are mostly so sweet natured and mild mannered. The unlettered ones are mostly the exact opposite…They pride themselves as warriors and the advent of Major General Muhammadu Buhari – a man seen as epitomising all the virtues and vices ascribed to the Fulani, and who they see as an Icon and a Messiah – as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has really emboldened the Fulani. The result is that more than ever before, because of the manner of governance of Mr. President, the Fulani now arrogantly consider themselves as being superior to other tribes that make up Nigeria including their other Northern brethren.
“I used to argue that Nigeria is indivisible, and we must protect its unity with everything we have but not any longer. While I may not yet have crossed the Rubicon, I’m sufficiently convinced and reasonably assured that Nigeria is truly on the fringe of another civil war if we do not push back. I know that those in government are not likely to see or feel the heat like most of us watching from the sidelines. President Buhari has obviously driven Nigeria closer to war than any of our leaders since 1967. What is worse is his nonchalant and reckless demeanour and outlook. He just does not seem to care about whatever happens to the country he campaigned vigorously and beguilingly to lead and on which basis the unsuspecting majority of Nigerians entrusted their future to him! This is a man who appeared to wear his patriotism on his sleeve when he cried bitterly after being adjudged as having lost the 2011 Presidential elections. He cut a sorry, pathetic figure then. It now appears that this was all part of a charade aimed at wooing and ingratiating himself into the hearts of Nigerians who naturally sympathised with him.”
In Momodu’s view, those most sympathetic to PMB, those who voted for him were left in the lurch. Contrarily, he aligned himself more and more to his tribesmen. “The Fulani have been over-pampered in Nigeria. We have ascribed to them humongous mythical powers which they do not possess. Because of our conciliatory nature and disposition, we have been complicit in elevating their status and position in the country. For this reason, it has been easy for them to manipulate us into the position where we find ourselves today. Based on this false premise on invincibility, we have allowed the Fulani to hold power for periods much longer than all other ethnic groups in our country. They have almost erroneously come to consider it their birthright to lead Nigeria to the detriment of other sections of the country.”
Till date and with about 130 days to the end of his tenure, Buhari has not appointed any one from the south as head of any security agency in the country.
Let me make this clear, I am not holding brief for Emefiele. He is not a saint and neither are his traducers including President Buhari, who pressured him to loan over N23 trillion to the federal government through Ways and Means in breach of the CBN Act which clearly stipulates that the total amount of borrowing from the CBN shall not at anytime exceed 5 percent of the previous year’s actual revenue of the federal government.
With the sinister attacks on Emefiele, it is clear that Buhari is keen on seizing the Holy Grail in order to complete his northernisation policy, but will this bigoted policy endure? Will it survive in the next administration? Only time can tell.
*The author, Latifat A. Muhammad writes from Abuja.