Opinion: The Yoruba, Northern Nigeria and a relationship gone awry

By Niran Adedokun


I agree with those who impugned arguments that designating Vice President Yemi Osinbajo as the person who “will co-ordinate the activities of the government,” while President Muhammadu Buhari is away on medical leave could derogate from Osinbajo’s active position as Acting President.

These people hinge their position on the provisions of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). In Section 145, the constitution says: “Whenever the President transmits to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives a written declaration that he is proceeding on vacation or that he is otherwise unable to discharge the functions of his office, until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, such functions shall be discharged by the Vice-President as Acting President.”

The letter of the constitution is therefore explicit: the President’s only obligation is to transmit a letter. That done, the VP automatically assumes the acting position. It is, as a result,ultra vires for the President to suggest any role or designation, whether in sync or contradictory to the responsibility amply bestowed on the VP by the constitution.

But an objective analysis of the issue should demonstrate that the Presidency, once again, gave ammunition to those who queried the content of the letter transmitted to the legislature.

The first question to ask is why the correspondence had to designate Osinbajo, one way or the other, when the constitution, as quoted in the same letter, did not require that. Couldn’t that be an attempt to detract from the legitimate role, which the constitution assigns to the VP, even if by just playing on his psychology? Only time will tell whether the Acting President will deploy the same gusto that we saw in January to his duties this time or whether the letter has inflicted his mind with wariness.

The second thing to wonder about is why the choice of words in the May letter differs from that of the one written for the same reason and to the same people four months back. You will recall that while communicating with the legislature on January, 23, Buhari had written inter alia: “…while I am away, the Vice President will perform the functions of my office.” The marked difference in the wording of the two letters should therefore draw curiosity from socially alert citizens. To query the right of any Nigerian to such rationalisation is to impede the spirit of responsible citizenship.

I also think that rather than our usual impulsive dismissal of alternative critical reasoning, the dust raised by this letter, even on the floor of the Senate, should have encouraged us to interrogate our standing as a country of people with a common destiny.

Were we not just used to burying our heads in the sand, we would realise that the phrasing of the letter and the furore that followed seem like a huge expression of the mutual suspicion and distrust that exist among ethnic nationalities in Nigeria. This distrust and our refusal to address it, once and for all, define our politics, our peculiar shade of governance and it is ultimately evident in our perpetual state of underdevelopment.

Precisely one week before the President’s letter was read at the national assembly, founding National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Chief Bisi Akande issued a statement in which, after raising alarm about the health of Buhari, rang the warning bell on no one in particular, about not making political gains from the President’s ill health.

His statement said amongst other things that:“The greatest danger, however, is for political interests at the corridor of power attempting to feast on the health of Mr President in a dangerous manner… Certain Nigerian leaders… assume the possibility of using money in manipulating the national security agencies to intimidate, suppress and hold down certain ethnic nationalities or playing one ethnic nationality against the other with a view to undermining the constitution and perversely upturning the rule of law.”  He went on to say that Nigeria has moved far away from 1993 and that anyone trying to make gains of Buhari’s health challenges would fail.

Although Akande mentioned no names, the Northern Patriotic Assembly picked up the gauntlet and threw back the accusations at Akande. In a statement published on May 3, the group insinuated that Akande spoke by proxy and out of frustration at the inability to “corner the government to themselves.”

After asserting that Akande’s statement was a “Yoruba plan against the rest of Nigeria,” the group alleged that he spoke “for the self-appointed Yoruba Leader, Bola Tinubu, whose protégé is the next in line to benefit, if President Buhari can be shoved aside on health grounds.”

The nation had some respite until the eve of President Buhari’s departure when Tinubu issued a statement, which literarily repudiated Akande’s and warned against running into a panic because of Buhari’s reported ill health.

Playing the peacemaker, Tinubu said; “By fomenting animosity among groups that have before now been allied, those who hold to the bankrupt politics of yesterday seek to thwart the President’s mission while claiming to support him…” He even dismissed the age-long speculation that a cabal existed at the Presidency.

But it seemed that damage control came too late in the day. On the following day, the letter designating Osinbajo, described by the NPA as  Tinubu’s protégé  and “next in line to benefit if President Buhari can be shoved aside on health grounds”, as coordinator of the activities of the government” was sealed and delivered to the legislature.

While all this sounds like a gigantic conspiracy theory concocted by a fertile mind, we deny the existence of a tense relationship between ethnic groups in Nigeria to the country’s eternal peril.

Reading through the communique recently issued by the Northern Elders Forum, you would discern a deep sense of unspoken ethnical resentment. Although the group gave the assurance that the North supports Osinbajo and welcomes honest and sincere discussions on the structure of Nigeria, it served notice on those alleged to be profiteering from the President’s ill health.

The statement reads: “We are aware that attempts are being made to exploit the absence of President Muhammadu Buhari to achieve dubious political goals. We, therefore, warn those seeking an undeserved political advantage to desist. The north is conscious of its obligations as well as rights and will discharge and defend same without reservations.”

Now, although I admit that the NEF said a lot of comely things in this communique, I find the portion quoted above very disturbing and illustrative of the reasons why Nigeria may remain backward.

The question that this paragraph raises is why any ethnic group imagines that it has the obligation to defend the President. It is obviously this same mind-set that governs the President’s lack of display of pan-Nigerian affection since he was sworn in about two years back.

While the NEF takes more than 95 per cent of it communique to address national issues, which should ordinary be on the fringe in a federal system, it dedicates just a few lines to address the gross irresponsibility that is evident in the states.One would have expected direct interventions on the educational, health and welfare needs of northern states like the Emir of Kano, Muhammad Lamidi Sanusi II has recently spearheaded.

When leaders of ethnic nationalities engage in these divisive exchanges, they heat up the polity and push development to the background. For instance, while nearly one decade of evil by the Boko Haram Islamist group is almost becoming history, we currently face a greater evil perpetrated by people believed to be Fulani herdsmen. This portends greater danger for Nigeria because unlike the Boko Haram insurgency that remained largely in the North-East, this current terrorism spreads around the country.Punch

Follow me on Twitter @niranadedokun

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