Abuja and the two Nigerias

Abuja and the two Nigerias


By Lasisi Olagunju,


If we take the Central Bank of Nigeria to Sokoto, will that translate to wellness for the seat of the caliphate? The Central Bank of Nigeria recently announced a decision to send back to Lagos some of its departments. The Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) also announced a decision to go back to its natural habitat, which is Lagos. The elites of the north are not happy; they are, in fact, angry. They allege a plot by the Yoruba, through Bola Tinubu, to under-develop the north by taking the capital out of Abuja. But what did Lagos lose by having the Federal Capital moved to Abuja in 1991? What has corporate north gained by having the nation’s capital in Abuja since 1991? Has Abuja’s existence closed, by even one inch, the progress/knowledge gap between the north and Sir Lewis Harcourt’s “southern lady of means”?


People who knew what Lagos was in 1991 and who know what it is now laugh at insinuations that Lagos wants Nigeria’s capital once more in order to develop itself. With the capital in Abuja, is there any major investment which Nigeria, Nigerians – and even foreigners – make that is not Lagos-dependent or determined? Why didn’t Aliko Dangote site his refinery in Kano or Kaduna or even in Abuja?


They are threatening Bola Tinubu with “consequences” if he goes ahead with the movement of those agencies to Lagos. Shouldn’t they have learnt from the Olusegun Obasanjo years that you don’t threaten an elephant with a cane? On October 3, 2016, I wrote a column with the title ‘Tinubu’s dance of the elephants’. I anchored it on that year’s Eid el Kabir celebration and how Tinubu marked it with deep dance steps. An itinerant band of talking drummers was in Tinubu’s Bourdillon home in Lagos. They sang and gave him drumbeats of meaning: Òpè ni wón o, won ò mo nkankan/ Àjànàkú yo l’ókèèrè wón lo m’óré dání/ Erin k’ojá eran à nf’òpá lù…(They are novices, they don’t know anything/ Ajanaku (elephant) emerges from a distance, they went for canes/ The Elephant is more than an animal you beat with sticks…). Tinubu danced; stopped; danced, smiled and danced. Those threatening him should go and watch that video. If they like, they may also read my ‘Tinubu’s dance of the elephants’.


Where I encountered dawn, there is a bird that threatens to leave the forest whenever it is hungry; it announces its commitment to the forest as soon as its hunger is gone. Nigeria will never stop having issues that threaten its oneness. When a northerner is the president, the south demands, stridently, restructuring and true federalism. That noise is still now because a southern Daniel is holding court. And it is a shame. When a southerner is in power, the north shouts marginalization. I listened to the Arise News television interview of Alhaji Bashir Dalhatu, chairman, Board of Trustees of the Arewa Consultative Forum, on these issues. He said the north was “apprehensive” over the relocation of those agencies out of Abuja and was opposed to the decisions. He described the decisions as a continuation of what started in 1999 by Olusegun Obasanjo (another Yoruba man). Dalhatu said: “In 1999, part of the ports authority was moved from Abuja to Lagos. It was not a well-intentioned thing to do at that time…” His interviewer reminded him that the ports authority should actually be where the ports are. The ACF chief went on to other things and recalled “other government actions that have put us backwards like the privatization programme.” He said the north was not positioned to participate in getting the government enterprises because they were far from “the social wealth.” He said over 80 percent of the businesses that were sold went to the south. Again, was it not a northerner (Nasir El-Rufai) that was in charge of that programme? When you are used to being spoon-fed, you would complain when you are asked to feed yourself. Dalhatu also had issues with recapitalization of banks. He said the north lost nine banks because it could not raise the required N25 billion to recapitalize each of them. How is that the problem of the south?


The interviewer asked Dalhatu why the north always whips up divisive sentiments only when it is out of power at the centre. You’ve had Yar’Adua; you’ve had insular Muhammadu Buhari for eight years. You’ve had years and years of north-led military governments. You thoroughly enjoyed their acts while they were up there in power. Today you complain about being disadvantaged, you threaten everyone.


Poor eunuch is asked to thread what he has on his bed, he switches off the light and starts threading a needle. Of all the problems wrecking the north, should the location of a federal agency or a department be its leaders’ topmost priority? Plateau State is supposed to be a valuable part of the north. A campaign of mass murder is being waged against the people there by a pack of pampered wolves from the north. There has not been a drop of tears from leaders who are crying blue murder over what is ordinarily FAAN and CBN’s internal matters.


There was a time the north and the east threatened to break up Nigeria if the federal capital was moved out of Lagos. Today, the descendants of those who wanted Lagos to remain the federal capital are threatening the descendants of those who championed the making of what we now know as Abuja. Abuja is a child of the West. History says this is not just about the Akinola Aguda panel which finished the job in 1976. It goes as far back as the London constitutional conference of 1953 at which Western Nigeria called for a neutral capital outside Lagos. The West published a pamphlet which articulated this position: “A large area of land should be acquired by the Federal Government near Kafanchan which is almost central geographically, and strategically safe comparatively, for the purpose of building a new and neutral capital. The new capital should be built on a site entirely separate from an existing town, so that its absolute neutrality may be assured. Being the property of the Federal Government, it would automatically be administered by the Federal Government in the same way as Washington, D.C. in the USA or Canberra in Australia. Such a capital would be a neutral place…” (See ‘Lagos Belongs to the West’, 1953, page 27, cited in Jonathan Moore’s ‘The Political History of Nigeria’s New Capital’; 1984). The north and Nnamdi Azikiwe’s Eastern Nigeria said no to that proposal. They would have no capital for Nigeria outside Lagos. So many interesting events later followed that era of intriguing politics. The neutral place was eventually chosen in 1976 by a government panel made up of majority Yoruba. A brand new city of gilded beauty was built out of the panel’s recommendations; it was called Abuja and was effectively occupied by the government in 1991. Today, the north owns that ‘neutral’ Abuja and loves it so much that it threatens us with “consequences” if every federal toilet is not located there.


Nigeria is a marriage of convenience – a marriage in which the partners are married not because they love each other, but in order to get an advantage (Cambridge English dictionary). The British did not create Nigeria so that it could work for Nigerians. It was purely a business decision. They were clear about their objectives and the reason for forcing cohabitation on two strange fellows.


Have you asked, as I did, why the British chose the long word, ‘amalgamation’ to describe what they did with their two possessions – northern and southern Nigeria – in 1914? Why ‘amalgamation’ and why not the shorter, simpler word ‘unification’? The Economic Times, in a piece, discusses amalgamation as a business concept. It describes ‘amalgamation’ as “the merging of two corporations, destroying both in the process and creating an entirely new entity.” Then, it explains as it asks: “Have you ever played with clay before? Or water? Or sand? If you have, you might know that putting two pieces of clay together forms a new piece of clay much bigger than both…” But what are the prerequisites required for two objects like clay to combine and form the same but bigger object? The Economic Times says for amalgamation to work, the two entities must be identical “since we know that only clay and clay makes clay…two companies while merging should have identical goals…only two companies dealing with finance can make a financial company…” Were the entities amalgamated in 1914 “clay and clay”? Were the aspirations of the two the same?


In 1912 (two years before the 1914 amalgamation), there were series of meetings in London of the Royal Geographical Society for briefings on the kind of country they wanted to create. At those events, attendees thoroughly discussed and analyzed the profitability of the country. They looked at the figures, identified the loss centre and the profit zone. Because the proposed one Nigeria was a business for them, they examined all the ‘feasibility studies’ they had commissioned. The man who was being prepared to rule over the new country as Governor-General, Lord Lugard, at one of the meetings, referred to the “two Nigerias” as his country’s “possession.” Lugard called the attention of the meeting to an earlier report which showed that “the revenue from Customs in Southern Nigeria had increased from one million to two million (pounds) in five years” and that “land revenue of Northern Nigeria had increased from £16,000 to £460,000 in eight years.” These figures, Lugard said, “show that the country has enormous possibilities if only the merchants and the people of the country itself will realize the outstanding fact that it is all one country, and each part of it is interested in the development of the other…” They discussed all those details and more. If you want more than I have told here, you can read Frederick Lugard, Hasketh Bell and Wyndham Dunstan’s ‘Northern Nigeria Discussion’ published in the August 2012 edition of The Geographical Journal. But the summary of that and other sessions was that the two unrelated ‘businesses’ would yield better if they were merged into ‘one Nigeria.’


But, can a hut harbour rats and harbour snakes at the same time? At the close of the 19th century, the British spoke of “the three Nigerias”. By the beginning of the 20th century, they spoke of “the two Nigerias.” On January 1, 1914, Lord Lugard’s amalgamation speech contained an admission that what was being made to become one were two distinct countries. Where I come from, we say Ilé ò ní gba eku kó tún gba ejò. The translation is the logical answer to that question about rats cohabiting with snakes. The British, in 1914, built a house for snakes and rats.


There has never been, and there may never be, a national consensus on anything that will benefit the country. In the house of commotion, the only product they brew is chaos. The Merriam Webster dictionary says amalgamation “refers to a blending of cultures.” Since 1914, a clash of cultures and civilizations has robbed us of the much-needed peace and progress as a country. We roll from one crisis to another and waste generations after generations fighting friends and foes over inanities. PwC Nigeria on Thursday released its 2024 economic outlook. Its projection is that poverty levels will increase to 38.8% in the new year. I have not heard our ethnic champions express worry on how this will impact the vulnerable mass of the people. They have erections only when the vital interests of the power elites are not served. The PwC Nigeria report says further that “security spending in the past nine years amounted to N14.8 trillion.” A simple check will tell us that the collapse of everything in the north accounts for 80 percent of that spending. The report laments that “despite increased spending, insecurity remains a challenge and jeopardises national stability, negatively affects economic activities and undermines investor confidence.” The N14.8 trillion expenditure has been money spent without results. And that is because the last two decades have been years of self-destruction in the north.


Bob Marley asks you to “open your eyes and look within.” The prophet of Reggae also asks us to “light up the darkness.” The north has been fighting itself while it blames others. Its ways have made for it a deadly, cancerous colada of urban and rural terrorism, unremitting illiteracy and grinding poverty. Northern leaders do not see the odious choices they made (and still make) as the real enemy; the enemy they know is anyone who tells them the truth. Some words of Socrates should ring for them – and for us: “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.” We will keep talking.


(Published in the Nigerian Tribune on Monday, 29 January, 2024)

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