LET me start with an apology. I cannot discuss the father of Lasisi Olagunju because I respect fathers, and I have never heard of him. I hope Lasisi knows him, because you make a bad case for attempting to trash other people’s fathers when you do not even know your own. In my culture, it is evidence of poor upbringing to disrespect parents, even when you only go through parents to settle scores. Less charitable adults will tut-tut and suggest that you are badly brought up, or you did it all on your own. Honestly, I had no idea Lasisi had descended to his current level. Having a migrant father who sold cows is not an insult. It is a reminder of a humbling and honest heritage I was brought up to build on. I suspect this will be lost on Lasisi.
More cultured and educated people would take me up in an important debate over the best way Nigeria’s democratic process will address its pluralism, diversity and the damaging pursuit of elective offices in the lives of Nigerians. Lasisi had no such pretensions. Instead, he introduced an educated Mauritanian who chose to make Nigeria a home, and spent his life at its service. Then Lasisi dipped his hands generously in pedestrian social media language and imagery to locate this Mauritanian whose Nigerian descendants now number in hundreds: a North as the land of beggars, procreating in millions and dumping them on the South. The legacy of northern leadership is insecurity and poverty, for which it forfeits all claims to aspire to lead the country. It is the type of drivel that will find applause in circles groomed in anemic political shorthand. It is possible that he never really had a good argument to make over rotational presidency in the first place, so insulting superiors and other northerners came in handy.
Northerners took due notice. Many saw this lazy sketch as further evidence of the low quality of people who aspire to speak for a South desperate for a shortcut, and they have lined up to take it up. They are accustomed to trashing from people like Lasisi who make the case that people they insult are unfit to claim rights or demand dignity. As they agonise under crushing poverty and run from marauding bandits and kidnappers and ethnic and religious militias, northerners watch a South pretend to a higher pedestal, laboured by liabilities such as Igboho, IPOB, vicious and deeply rooted intra and inter-ethnic rivalry, a bleeding exodus and alienation of young people who are literally pushed by bitter elders to become criminals, or leave and develop other lands as their own decays, and a shocking poverty of political leadership. Northerners keep a level head and refuse to behave like cows they are familiar with.
Coincidence or not, the position of Northern Elders Forum and many prominent Northerners over the self-defeating tendency of southern governors and poorly-clad cheerleaders like Lasisi to demand that the democratic process should be compelled to yield the next President from the South is now even more widely supported. Northern governors have joined the queue. More circumspect southern politicians know that this primitive approach to a complex process will cost them dearly, but this is what happens when experienced politicians yield the ground to governors and thugs who attempt to paper over intense hostility and competition with plastic unity, and columnists like Lasisi pollute the air, PEOPLE like Lasisi do great service to northern political fortunes and tremendous injustice to southern politicians.
There are a lot more northern voters than low-grade columnists who tell them that they are unfit to offer opinions on matters that affect them. The northerner has a long memory and a tendency towards informed flexibility. Some still hear stories of insults thrown at their leaders by people who bear uncanny resemblance to Lasisi’s progenitors when the north and south disagreed on major issues on the journey to independence. On special occasions, northerners remember the murder of their leaders, the sacrifices and the pains of keeping the country from breaking up, the historic heroism of choosing Abiola against one of their very own, the hijack of the national outrage against the abortion of the election and its tribalisation by Yoruba elite, the overwhelming support for Obasanjo’s presidency when his own people turned their backs at him in favour of another Yoruba, and again in 2003 against Buhari.
Northern politicians committed huge political capital to steering the country away from dangerous drift and crisis to engineer a smooth ‘Yar Adua/Jonathan succession; northern voters stood by Jonathan against Buhari for his own full term, and they rejected him in 2015 for Buhari.
They did not do this alone, of course. Other Nigerians voted with them and some against their choices. Nor did the North always vote in the same direction. The political plurality and diversity of the North is legendary, but it is miles ahead of other regions in terms of its respect for the democratic process. Its traducers see child and imported voters when they cannot make sense of votes and turnouts. When people poo-poo a region that substantially contributed to the election of two presidents from the South, and two from the North since 1999, and they dismiss any insistence on respect for the rights of all political parties to field candidates of their choice, and the right of voters to choose which candidates they want as unjust, unfair and arrogant, they do serious injury to the foundational principles of the democratic system.
It annoys people like Lasisi when they hear words that suggest that the North will not be pushed around, certainly not further than organised violence and poor governance have pushed all Nigerians to the margins of existence. They are offended by talk that inspires young northerners with history of their leaders and the sacrifices they made for the country, and encourages them to resist being bullied. They resent any references to the strengths of the North, some of which it shares with Nigeria, some unique to it. They cannot understand why the North does not shiver when they threaten to leave Nigeria to northerners unless the country is redesigned exactly the way they want it. They are puzzled by the fact that the combination of crippling insecurity and a crumbling economy have not provided them a submissive North on a platter. They resent the profound commitment of northerners to the survival of a country which has them near the bottom of most of the important national socioeconomic indices. The vandalised speech I delivered to young northerners and the fictional report released by Channels TV after an hour of interview that looked more like an attempted lynching were designed to play into the hands of people like Lasisi who will lose much sleep if they did not have a North to demonise.
Lazy politicians using poorly-equipped proxies like Lasisi represent the biggest threat to the country today. Every part of Nigeria will benefit from the emergence of a leadership that will do much better than the current lot. We can all benefit from rebuilding the place of equity, fairness and justice into the heart of resolution of current disagreements over the next leadership. Serious and responsible Nigerians should step up. This task is not for minions like Lasisi Olagunju.
- Dr. Baba-Ahmed is Director, Publicity and Advocacy, Northern Elders Forum.