THE ETHNIC PRESIDENTS OF NIGERIA
Since independence fifty-nine years ago, we have not yet produced a Nigerian President, a President that towers above regional or ethnic considerations, a President that is accepted all over the country, and that takes the entire Nigeria as his constituency.
Rather, what we have been having are ethnic Presidents or ethnic Heads of State who were seen or recognized according to their ethnic or geographical base, either as Hausa/Fulani President, Yoruba President, Igbo President, Ijaw President, Northern President, or Southern President, etc.
Every ethnic group, every region, wants to have its own President, and not a Nigerian President. They each aim to personalize the Presidency, to appropriate it, to have it as their property. Nobody talks about a Nigerian President, a President universally accepted as belonging to all Nigerians, irrespective of ethnic, geographical, or religious considerations.
As we journey towards 2023, the prevailing political discussion all over the place is where will the next President come from? Will the North still retain the Presidency, or will it move down South, either to the West, or to the East? Will it be a Yoruba President, or an Igbo President, etc?
For 59 years of independence, the Northern Region of Nigeria has ruled the country for a total of about 41 years, with only 18 or so years ruled by the South. That is to say, if we calculate Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa’s more than five years rule, Yakubu Gowon’ s nine years rule, Murtala Muhammed’s six months rule, Shehu Shagari’ s more than four years rule, Muhammadu Buhari’s 20 months rule as military Head of State, Babangida’s eight years rule, Sani Abacha’s more than four years rule, Abdulsalami Abubakar’s one year rule, Umaru Yar’Adua’s two years rule, and now President Muhammadu Buhari’s five years rule as civilian President, and still counting, they will add up to a total of about 41 years.
For the Hausa/Fulani ethnic group in particular, represented by Tafawa Balewa, Murtala Muhammed, Shehu Shagari, Muhammadu Buhari and Umaru Yar’Adua, they presided over the affairs of the country for a total of about 19 years, while the Gwari ethnic group, represented by Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalami Abubakar, ruled Nigeria for nine years, the Birom ethnic group, represented by Yakubu Gowon, ruled for nine years, and the Kanuri ethnic group which had Sani Abacha, ruled for more than four years.
If we still break this down further, Plateau State (Gowon), Niger State (Babangida and Abdulsalami), and Katsina State (Buhari and Yar’Adua), all ruled Nigeria for a total of about nine years each, while both Bauchi State (Tafawa Balewa) and Sokoto State (Shehu Shagari) ruled for more than five years and four years each respectively, and Kano State (Murtala Muhammed and Sani Abacha), ruled for a total of about five years. All these put together will give a total of more than 41 years, that the Northern Nigeria has been in the saddle.
Conversely, the entire Southern region represented by General Aguiyi Ironsi (six months), Obasanjo (eleven and half years, that is, three and half years as military Head of State and eight years as civilian President), Shonekan (three months), and Jonathan (six years), will come up to a total of about 18 years.
In all, the Yoruba ethnic group, and Ogun State in particular, which had Olusegun Obasanjo and Ernest Shonekan, ruled Nigeria for almost 14 years; while the Ijaw ethnic group and Bayelsa State in particular, which had Goodluck Jonathan, ruled for six years; and the Igbo ethnic group and Abia State in particular, ruled for only six months.
From the above analysis, we saw that the Northern Region in general, and the Hausa/Fulani ethnic group in particular, has produced more civilian Presidents or military Heads of State than any other region or ethnic group in the country.
In spite of that, however, recent statistical data from the Geneva based World Poverty Clock that monitors global poverty, reveals that poverty is more endemic in the North, and among the Hausa/Fulani ethnic group in particular, than among the other ethnic groups and regions, which had produced fewer Presidents and had spent fewer number of years in governance.
In that case, our argument is that for a particular ethnic group or region to have produced more Presidents or occupied more years in office as President, was never a guarantee that the people from the area would fair better than the other regions or ethnic groups that produced fewer Presidents or spent fewer number of years in governance.
Therefore, the clamour for a President coming from one’s geographical area or ethnic group is only but ephemeral or gives only emotional or psychological satisfaction, since such a President would not be sharing his salaries and other perquisites of office with people from his ethnic group or region.
Is it not curious or an irony that while the Northern Region and the Hausa/Fulani ethnic group in particular, has produced more Presidents or Heads of State, it equally has produced more poor people in the country. You then begin to ask, what is the value or import of the ethnic Presidents?
Not that the other regions are immune to poverty. On the contrary, poverty is a common denominator among Nigerians across all the ethnic groups and regions in the country. It is what unites the Nigerian people whether they are from the North, or from the South, or Hausa, Igbo or Yoruba, etc.
In other words, those who now champion or campaign for ethnic Presidents are doing so for their own selfish ends. But they will not let the people know about this. They will be busy exploiting the people, while talking about the President coming from the North, from the South, or from their individual ethnic groups.
In the same way as the Hausa/Fulani ethnic group or the Northern ruling class are feeding on the ignorance of their people by campaigning for the Presidency coming from their area, so also are the South, the Yoruba, the Igbo, etc., doing the same for their people. But when they get to the office, it will be business as usual. They will close their eyes to the needs and sufferings of their people. Therein lies the poverty of the Ethnic Presidents of Nigeria.
This is my Food for Thought.