The media has been awash with the postulation by the Northern Nigeria Christian Politicians (NNCP) that the former presidents of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan failed the northern Christians.
This hypothesis puts me in a fix. I am sure that many free-minded socio-political and religious analysts would battle to find the implication of this accusation, or to best put it, blackmail. We must, however, not be in a hurry to forget that the two accused presidents who openly showed their strong attachment to Christianity, had the longest period of leadership of Nigeria since 1999 when Nigeria returned to democratic governance. Obasanjo had a good 8-year lordship over Nigeria. Jonathan cruised on the nation’s leadership for six years. Between both presidents was the ascertained ailing president, Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua who battled for his life throughout a large period of his leadership. Let us not stress our brains on the gains and pains of the northern Christians during the military regimes which were mostly headed by northern Muslims. What the condition of northern Christians was during those military eras is another topic for discussion.
The Chairman of NNCP, Keftin Amuga said at a press conference in Abuja that the duo failed to address peculiar challenges of northern Christians while in office. I do not know the best figure of speech that describes this claim. It is an irony or oxymoron or understatement. I am particularly flabbergasted by this claim because as a critical follower of socio-political development, sometime gang-ups in Nigeria, it is the veiling of truth in the broad day light. But it is clearer the import of this claim by the group’s appreciation of President Muhammadu Buhari for appointing northern Christians into key positions, not into ordinary positions. This assertion exposes the whole truth on what NNCP wants. It is good for the minority to be encouraged in the political existence of Nigeria. But it has not been total.
The group however, unveiled some facts that I wholeheartedly appreciate. It recognized the northern Christians as a political factor and political force in Nigeria and that for the first time, a northern Muslim president has uplifted the northern Christians through very decisive political appointments. “This is a signal which could lead to the emergence of a truly united Northern Nigeria people, devoid of religious bigotry”, it opined.
Amuga said: “Since the third republic, the Christian North has variously given its support to our Southern Christian brothers, the likes of Obasanjo and Goodluck to be President of Nigeria, but unfortunately, because they have limited knowledge and do not appreciate our challenges, they have variously failed to address the peculiarity of the Northern Nigerian Christian population. This is in sharp contrast to what PMB promised and has done for the Christian North.” He lambasted some of the Northern Christian politicians who seek political relevance, but get involved in several political alliance without directional focus, which at the end achieve no tangible result. He said: “For more than half a century (56years) since Nigeria got her independence, the Northern Nigeria Christian politicians in spite of the demographic consideration never cultivated the required self confidence in the political activities of Nigeria.”
I do not know how best to describe these facts and assertions. While the Christian majority of the south is crying foul over alleged attempts by President Buhari to Christianize Nigeria, the minority of the north which is supposed to feel the alleged oppression more is eulogizing the president. The northern minority have peculiarities which the past democratic Christian Presidents failed to address, now a Muslim President is tactfully addressing them. The Christian North openly gave its support to their Southern Christian brothers, Obasanjo and Goodluck to be Presidents despite they knew that both “had limited knowledge and do not appreciate their challenges”.
Without mincing words, I salute the courage and conjecture of the NNCP. It is often said that who does not appreciate a small favour will not be thankful for a big one. President Buhari has shown that he belongs to all Nigerians, including the northern minority Christians. The question is: Does President Buhari also belong to the minority of the South especially the Igbo Muslims who have carried their own burdens of political exclusion since the birth of Nigeria? I know what my colleagues and I underwent from 2003 to 2015 in our own villages voting for him, not because of religion but on the account of our convictions that he was the best of all the contesting candidates to salvage Nigeria. Yet, the past presidents dealt with us mercilessly.
The NNCP should have chosen an appropriate epithet. Failure was a too damning abstraction. It was an irony of failure that Obasanjo picked Alhaji Atiku Abubakar as his vice, tactfully to upgrade Boni Haruna to the high position of the governor of Adamawa state and still ensured (un)failingly that Boni had eight year leadership of the state. It was further an irony of failure that the same Obasanjo tactfully forced Namadi Sambo into Aso Rock as vice president to Goodluck Jonathan to pave way for the governorship of Ibrahim Yakowa in Kaduna state. Again, it was an irony of failure that of all northern clerics, Bishop Matthew Kuka was a “General” in Obasanjo’s government. Both of them gave the bargaining powers to many northern Christians in the national assembly. Nonetheless, the explicit connotation of failure by the NNCP is limitless to the aforementioned.
In the north of today, the effect of the two regimes of Obasanjo and Jonathan is crystal clear. The two did religiously put a mark for the recognition, empowerment and uplift of the Christians in the region. During their tenures, every state of the north that is highly dominated by Muslims was able to produce a Christian minister, director-general or chairmen/CEO of federal agencies and parastatals. The two made is possible that in most states of the north today, no Muslim-Muslim ticket wins an electoral position. That is the peculiar way both of them failed the northern Christians. I surmise that the only thing they failed, which was greatly a failure, was to impose a northern Christian president on Nigeria. Another great failure, which I noticed too, was that they failed to Christianize the northern Nigeria or Nigeria as a whole. But there is still a great chance to do that, especially with the unflinching support of the Southern Christian political blocs and the northern Muslim politicians. God is watching.
The great thing about this minority religious group of Nigerians is the lack of stigmatization over their spiritual inclination. I doubt if I have heard any reference to a northern Christian as “Hausa Christian”, “Fulani Christian”, or something of such. Though as a minority they have limitations, they have gotten a stake in the Nigerian socio-economic and political existence. Their brethren from the South, excluding Obasanjo and Jonathan who allegedly sabotaged them, have them in their minds and plans. Yes, the apex Christian umbrella, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has a well-mapped out and thought-out short and long terms plan for them, gradually but steadily implemented. Yes, their brethren would utilize any slight opportunity to put a smile on their faces. Their brethren do understand the difficult situation they find themselves in the midst of Muslims. If it were possible to assemble them and create a place for them in the south, their brethren will do it. But nature has made them – the Christians of the north – Hausas, Fulanis, Gwaris, Katafs and so on. For the mere reason that they were created in the north by God, they must be recognized and cared for.
This is the opposition situation the Muslim minority of the south find themselves. They have been entirely left alone to carry the shame ascribed to them for being Muslims. They are “Igbo Muslims, Ijaw Muslims, Ikwerre Muslims” and so on. Their own brethren of the north are complacent with amassing all the wealth and positions. Their brethren do not want to associate with them openly, not to talk of supporting them to vie for political positions or appointing them in Nigeria’s federal organs. The key appointments which have been occupied by northern minority Christians are national taboos for the Muslim minority of the south. Who can tell when this political trend will change?
In Nigeria, distribution or allocation of political positions are based on party, zonal, religious and tribal affiliations. The federal government which is made up of people from across the country would sit down and share the positions. Christians of the south would identify their brethren in the north and would insist that certain positions be given to them. In some cases, the president utilized his veto powers as enshrined in the constitution to pick a northern Christian from the homes of first class emirs to head a federal establishment, even against the will of the state governor. That was commonplace during the periods of Obasanjo and Jonathan. The northern minority has been largely blessed in this way. The southern minority has, on the other hand, been largely neglected. The governors, the traditional rulers and the religious leaders of the south make vibrant cases for their brethren in the north. The reality on ground portrays that it is not the same for the southern minority? If so, why the total neglect and oppression in the south?
I am sure that if the NNCP would report both former presidents to God for their “failure” to the northern Christians, He (God) would have a different opinion as a Just God. God Who completely knew the intentions and actions of the two former presidents would have rebuked the NNCP and warned them not to castigate both on the accounts of seeking more favour from President Buhari. But in the real sense, the central point of the federal government is the office of the secretary to the government of the federation (SGF) which is occupied by a Christian minority of the north. The national assembly is another living witness.
Being a member of the southern minority, I want to congratulate my counterpart of the north for their political and economical growth. We have found ourselves where we are today, not by our choice. Changing faith at old age is God’s Desire and Plan. No man should accept a faith without inner conviction that it is the best to reach his God. Those who feel that a religion belongs to them should have a rethink and exorcise themselves from such parochial conception. All prevalent religions in Nigeria today were imported. The Almighty is watching and the phrase “if I (we) had known” is always an irredeemable remorse.
By Muhammad Ajah