By Zacharys Anger Gundu
Nigeria’s swing nationalities are what others ‘wrongly’ refer to as the country’s minorities. Their unique identity disambiguates them from the three major groups in the country who exist as an unholy trinity, which continues to haunt the country’s unity and development.
Though the swing nationalities exist in all parts of the country and can be a potent political force, they have been overrun and choked in many states making it difficult for them to cohere into a formidable political force. This is unfortunate because put together, these swing nationalities are bigger than the South and the North. Their numbers and the land mass they occupy are more than 51% of the country. Potentially, this makes them a major power broker in Nigeria. Their inability to leverage this advantage in the Nigerian Project has placed them at a disadvantage even though they have continued ironically to be the glue holding the country together. Their lack of awareness about their immense potentials and the pressures that keep mounting on them has distorted their identities, culture and self esteem. Instead of liberating them, their identities have been used against them. Continued reference to them by others and their acceptance of the minority tag is disempowering. When others refer to them as ‘minorities’, the goal is to disempower them and the more they accept the ‘minority’ identity, the more their self esteem is eroded making it difficult for them to organize for political effect.
There must be the acceptance of the concept of swing nationalities as a valid attempt to construct a political identity to include all marginalized others in the country especially those in the South South, North Central, North East and North West. Incidentally, this is what Senator JS Tarka of blessed memory sought to achieve in his early political career. This is also what Governor Aper Aku also of blessed memory sought to do in his career as Governor of Benue State. Governor Aper argued that if the swing nationalities were able to stand together and organize for effect, they would have in their hands the power to broker leadership and direction in the Nigerian Project.
Today, the type of leadership Aper Aku rose to give to the swing nationalities is lacking and the capacity for these nationalities to rise strategically and start to act locally and think globally is lacking. Their many and complex challenges in the Nigerian project remain.
One of these challenges that comes to mind is the challenge of identity and history. Many may not know, but history is central to the struggle we have in the country to build a just and equitable society. What we know (and do not know) about others and ourselves affects our ability to liberate ourselves from political bondage. The general knowledge we have on swing nationalities of the north for example is skewed and slanted to justify Hausa Fulani interest in the area. The history of the North is told from the Hausa Fulani perspective including strategic silences that tend to cover up and sometimes neglect the rich and deep history of the area. This is more so with their attempt to impose an arbitrary Sokoto Caliphate imagery on parts of the Middle Belt in their discourse on the North. Mohammed Bello’s Infakul Maisuri is the first ever treatise to bring different parts of the Middle Belt under the armbit of Sokoto hegemony. Though the claims of Bello in the Infakul Maisuri as far as the Middle Belt is concerned are substantially false, they have been reified and were in fact uncritically accepted by the British who saw the people of the Middle Belt generally as ‘pagans’ who were ‘inferior’ to the Hausa Fulani.
The British position that considered the Caliphate ‘civilized’ and as the core of the North heightened the undue ‘advantages’ appropriated by the Hausa Fulani over parts of the North following the events of 1804. When Lugard appropriated the Caliphate as the model for Indirect Rule in Northern Nigeria, he had in a single stroke literally enslaved the swing nationalities of the North in the household of Dan Fodio. Historians and scholars in the North who are from the swing nationalities must begin to contest the many myths and silences that have been propagated and reinforced against their nationalities. The post Jihad narrative of northern Nigerian identity aimed at undermining and isolating them must be contested. They must begin to valorize their history and construct an identity to include ALL the marginalized others in the North and ultimately in other parts of the country. They must resist the temptation to become Hausa Fulani in name and self-portrayal as a condition for accessing privileges that come with the Hausa Fulani identity. This resistance in our opinion will jump start their liberation in the North, create synergy and boost self-confidence. The swing nationalities of the South- South must also seek strategic alliances with each other making it possible for them to carve an identity distinct from the Ibo and Yoruba. Their children must know where they are coming from and the significance of the struggles embarked on by people like Jaja of Opobo, Nana of the Benin River, Isaac Adaka Boro, Ken Saro Wiwa, Melford Okilo and many others.
There is also the challenge of access to power and economic resources. The denial of access to swing nationalities in terms of political and economic resources started right from the Colonial period when the entire administrative machinery was exclusively in the hands of the Hausa Fulani in the North and the Yoruba and Ibo in the South. This exclusion which was reinforced after independence and in the Military era has continued in the present. All exceptions here especially Sir Patrick Yakowa and Jonathan Goodluck are accidents. Sir Patrick Yakowa was an accident (more than 20 years after the creation of Kaduna State). Sadly, he was also cancelled by another accident. President Jonathan Goodluck was also another accident and we are witnesses to how he was pushed out of the way.
Another pertinent challenge facing the swing nationalities is the challenge of unity. The swing nationalities are a babel of languages and cultures. Because they have not found strength in their diversity, they are still disunited. The nationalities often pursue parallel and sometimes conflicting interests. It is lack of unity that is making it impossible for the swing nationalities to leverage their numerical advantage over the country. It is also lack of unity that is behind the proliferation of interest groups amongst the swing nationalities most of which are at each other’s throat scrambling for specks from the dinner table of the unholy trinity. Lack of unity will continue to cost the swing nationalities in many ways. Disunity is capable of undermining collective interest at the expense of self-interest. Unity as we understand it is not about joining one political party nor is it about the absence of disagreement. It is also not about belonging to the same religious community. It is about buying into some common interest in such a way that we are unable to deploy self interest and other differences to undermine the common interest.
There is also the challenge of leadership recruitment amongst swing nationalities. The swing nationalities, in my opinion are not yet clear on who their leaders are and how they can sustain a credible leadership cadre that will protect the area and always stand for its interests. The history of leadership recruitment amongst the swing nationalities clearly shows manipulations by the unholy trinity in their attempts to undermine the emergence of genuine leadership in the country. The Middle Zone League (MZL), illustrates what we are saying here clearly. Formed as a political association in 1950 to fight colonial exploitation, the MZL later merged with the United Middle Belt Congress (UMBC). It was however effectively compromised when both the British and the Hausa Fulani targeted its leadership buying them over to the extent that by 1960, the MZL had severed links with the UMBC to become a political bed mate of the Northern People’s Congress(NPC). A leading member of the MZL, Maude Gyani who had turned full circle was heard praising and thanking the Hausa Fulani for ‘civilizing’ and ‘uplifting’ Southern Kaduna!!.It is also quite clear that the cadre of leadership that has come recently from states like Benue, Plateau, Kogi, Nasarawa and Taraba is well below expectations and worthy of concern. This is a leadership cadre more interested in personal profit instead of the collective good. Every keen observer of Nigerian politics since 1999, knows that Jonathan Goodluck was strategically manipulated to emerge as Vice President by President Olusegun Obasanjo. No attempts were made to consult widely and require the South -South to step forward with their best foot. President Obasanjo was not altruistic and it is not surprising that today, he is the vilest critic of the man he manipulated and singularly imposed on the country.
Then there is the lack of political focus. What do the swing nationalities of the country want? Is it just about leading this country? Is it about controlling the states they have influence in and also lording it over others as is happening in Benue and Kogi states? These are very loaded questions but unless they are properly answered, it will be difficult to know whether the swing nationalities are prepared for the things that can place them on equitable grounds to contribute to the development of Nigeria in the 21st century. The swing nationalities of the country must urgently engage with each other to clarify their political focus and strategize how they can bargain and get to where they want to be in the Nigerian Project. Without unity and focus, the swing nationalities will be merely used and dumped as has been the case in the past.
The swing nationalities will also have to overcome the challenge of ignorance of how the Nigerian Project works. They must be familiar with the antics of the unholy trinity predators and learn some quick lessons. They must seek to know why the Hausa Fulani for example will ask for ‘rights’ in other parts of the country and are unwilling to concede similar rights to others who choose to settle in the ‘core north’. Why would a migrant from Mali, Niger and Chad who settles in a typical city environment in the core north become more Nigerian than a Southern Kaduna person or another Nigerian?. Why would an Architect Namadi Sambo and a Suleiman Othman Hunkuyi claim Kaduna Central and contest the governorship election as from that area when an Isaiah Balat could not? What is the logic of a Jemaa Emirate when we can count streets as its boundaries? Why is the core north very jittery and threatened when people they have excluded and treated with contempt are suddenly waking from slumber and articulating identities outside the Hausa Fulani shadow? The incessant clashes between ‘Fulani herdsmen’ and farmers across all states of the Federation are the modern face of Hausa Fulani Caliphate threat. So is the steady influx of Hausa Fulani elements into both rural and urban areas of the country.
If and when the swing nationalities overcome these challenges, they will be on the threshold of enabling national rebirth in the country.