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Atiku Abubakar And the Northern Question

By Stephen Longe, Post Express (Lagos), 8 November 2000

Lagos—How can a true and proud Northerner hold his head high in a government that is allegedly marginalising the North? As the Vice-President in the Obasanjo regime, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar is in the eye of fire. How does he address the much orchestrated issue of maginalisation of the North without ruffling feathers, without kicking up a political storm?

The issues are quite intricate, and Atiku Abubakar needs all the political sagacity in the books to answer his critics. A school of thought argues that Northerners are not in any way marginalised in the Obsanjo's government given that most of the service chiefs are from the North.

Also, the Minister of Defence and other key ministries such as Foreign Affairs, Communications, Agriculture and Natural Resources, Environment, Finance, Industries, Establishment etc are manned by Northerners. What actually is at issue is that the Hausa - Fulani majority is not the section holding these important positions. To that extent, it is not that the North is marginalised. It is the Hausa - Fulani that feels it is not well-represented in the government. As things are, if the Hausa-Fulani appears cheated out, then it is the entire North that is denied.

According to the former President of the Federal Court of Appeal, Justice Mamman Nasir, in an April 7 interview with The Weekly Trust: If today you go to Tinubu Square (Lagos) or International Conference Centre in Abuja and shout Northerner! Any person from Oturkpo to Sokoto will turn, anybody from Offa to Lake Chad will turn as Northerners. But latter-day activists like Commodore Dan Suleiman would rather argue that the myth of the monolithic one north is dead forever. Why would the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) of which Justice Mamman Nasir is an influential member make a case of the sidelining of Northerners in the security service's When the Chief of Army Staff, Chief of Defence Staff and Chief of Air Staff are all Northerners but from the Middle Belt? Incidentally, when Northern minorities gather together in, for example, the Dan Suleiman-led Middle Belt Forum, the Champions of the North waste no time at all in informing them that they can only get together as Northerners not as a splinter group. But when the self-same minority elements are appointed to posts in the federal cabinet they are not seen as representing the North; hence the cry of the marginalisation of the North.

It is in the centre of the whirlpool that Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, being the highest-ranking Northerner in the Obasanjo's regime, finds himself. He cannot possibly deny the Middle Belt or the minorities and it would amount to committing political suicide not to address the marginalisation cry of the Hausa - Fulani or the core - North. What is to be done? Atiku Abubakar should insist that the imbalance of Christians and Muslims in the Obasanjo cabinet is addressed in the next cabinet reshuffle. It does not make for equity when Christians are nearly double the number of muslims in the cabinet. Atiku Abubakar should not in his drive to be seen as a truly detribalised Nigeria forgo the needs of the Hausa-Fulani: The North should not by any barometer be less of his constituency than the entire country.

The Hausa-Fulani is still the majority in the North, if not the entire country. For such a large group to feel marginalised may not augur well for the body politic of Nigeria. There is an urgent need for the President and the Vice- President to re-assess the political appointments. Things have to be more equitably done, for the minorities of the Middle Belt cannot in the end be the replacement for the Hausa - Fulani. The Core-North has always wielded the power and has carved a niche for itself as the power behind the throne. Any neglect of them can become a potent danger to the entire country. Atiku Abubakar understands the suspicions and contradictions in the region, and it is incumbent on him to influence Obasanjo to see that the gap is closed and not widened.

The urgency of the matter has led to the extreme of some zealots accusing Atiku Abubakar of being anti-Sharia. It has to be understood that it is the frustration within the policy that led to the celebrated adoption of Sharia across the North. No true Muslim, least of all Atiku Abubakar, can be anti- Sharia. It is fundamental to Islam, and Atiku Abubakar understands this. But what is happening is that Sharia has been transferred into the realms of politics and partisanship. The Vice-President is caught in a web and is thus threading warily. A diverse nation like Nigeria cannot easily adopt Sharia like a mono-religious country like Saudi Arabia.

But beyond the question of Sharia, what the critics are saying is that Atiku Abubakar has not adequately represented Northern interests in Obasanjo's administration. The answer is neither here not there, but Atiku Abubakar can only genuinely address the Northern question when he positively tackles the fact that the North cannot be less his constituency than the rest of the country.