History is important. Northern political hegemony in Nigeria over the past 60 years or so has simply been a child of circumstances. It was serendipitous. Of course, the region’s elite has since been making a show of being political strategists beyond comparison. That is not entirely the case.
We will discuss the historical facts in due course. What the northern elite has done well is to deftly maintain the advantages they were able to secure during the colonial era and military rule, and humbly correct themselves whenever they overstepped.
Take the case of Mr Moshood Abiola, the Democracy Day hero from the Yoruba southwest in Nigeria. The north recognised the self-interested importance of compensating the southwest for the excesses of their sons, Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha, and Abdulsalami Abubakar, all military heads of state, who respectively, annulled the 1993 presidential election, incarcerated Mr Abiola, and only returned Mr Abiola’s corpse in the aftermath.
The restraint of the north and its self-correction over the years are not easily appreciated because of their unabashed clannish tendencies. But we may be about to realise how so, as the new people in town from the Yoruba southwest will characteristically show.
It is important to remember that a Yoruba Nigerian presidency is no longer a novelty. That ship sailed a long time ago with the presidency of Olusegun Obasanjo, a Yoruba man from Ogun state, in 1999-2007. What is novel is a tribalistic Yoruba as president, whose supporters have been unabashedly displaying their flawed idea of “Yorubaness” of exclusivity and faux exceptionalism.
The sheer barbarism of the anti-Igbo violence in the March 18th gubernatorial polls in Lagos by Yoruba supporters of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) laid bare for all to see the real political ideology of Mr Tinubu, the self-acclaimed landlord of Lagos, who is now about to be president of Nigeria.
The results of the February 25th presidential election showed not only that Mr Tinubu does not have pan-Yoruba support, but that he does not really have mass support in Lagos itself, where he lost to Mr Obi. This is a huge vulnerability that his opponents will milk with likely success.
As Mr Tinubu will discover, a president is a manager of various complex spheres of power that can only be effectively done with credible support of his home region. Unlike Mr Buhari, Mr Tinubu will not be missed should he lose at the courts, nor will anyone with a functional brain risk their lives and reputation for him. This is sometimes shocking to rookie presidents.
They go into office thinking they will have all this power and end up realising that they can only get as far as their support with the masses allows them. Mr Obi has the support of the majority youth and is backed by a political party founded by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC). You do not have to be a genius to know that it is only a matter of time before something gives. This is why Mr Obi is being pummelled with entreaties to negotiate with Mr Tinubu.
But Mr Tinubu is probably the least of Mr Obi’s adversaries. The real ones are his Igbo kinsmen, who see their political futures being totally eclipsed by Mr Obi’s shining light. To dim that light, they will try to water him down with entreaties of negotiations and compromises to a point that there is just so much noise and “see finish” that people will simply move on. Mr Obi must anticipate and resist such antics.
Thankfully, he has done that thus far. There is a reason why this is important. Mr Obi currently has political leverage that is unprecedented in contemporary Nigerian history. Deftly deployed, long-relegated Igbos will re-acquire what is rightly theirs: an equal share in the Nigerian commonwealth.
A historical case in America is pertinent and instructive. This is the so-called “Hayes-Tillerson election debacle” which sent black rights back to the dark ages at a time when not only had they gained their economic freedom, they had election-turning suffrage. American blacks could decide elections, as the 1876-1877 presidential election showed.
The compromise that allowed that controversial election to stand, which to this day has the most voter turnout in the history of American elections, seemed reasonable at the time. But it ultimately relegated black rights to a very dark place that persists to this day. Yes, to this day, even after a Barack Obama presidency.