Thursday, October 19, 2017

President Buhari’s Race To Develop The North

By Paul Onomuakpokpo
With the seemingly irreversible flight of a pan-Nigerian vision from the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, he continues to flail about in a bid to give the impression to the less discerning among us that he is committed to the unity of the nation. He emotes about the censure of hate speech that threatens the oneness of the country that was cobbled together by some foreign invaders and that has remained so for over a century. He fumes at the citizens’ obliviousness of not only his visions but projects that have overwhelmed the landscape, all aimed at improving their lot that has been negated by years of neglect and misrule of past state helmsmen.
*President Buhari 

Yet, what the citizens see beyond this veneer of Buhari’s self-confessed love for his country is the urgent need for him to preserve the nation not by being obsessed with the hunt for some elusive enemies of their collective wellbeing who spew hate. Rather, he must consider himself as the enemy of the nation whose actions have worsened the fissures which his utterances have inflicted.
In the past two years since Buhari emerged as the nation’s president, he has translated into reality his apocalyptic prediction conveyed in the mathematical absurdity of consigning those who gave him five per cent of his votes to immiseration while sparing those who gave him 97 per cent. This bifurcation of the citizenry for the purpose of punishing some and rewarding others has clearly stoked mutual suspicion. 
And no matter how much the citizens themselves are enamoured of the need to live together as one nation, the fact that Buhari is creating two nations out of Nigeria is increasingly becoming intolerable. However, there is also the grim reality that in Buhari’s reckoning, all the givers of the 95 per cent votes come from the north. Thus, while the north should be given privileges, all those outside that region can continue to exist at the margins of his goodwill. To enable him to confer such privileges on his brothers and sisters from the north, Buhari continues to fill vacant federal positions with only northerners.
No one makes the indefensible case that the privileging of the north began with Buhari. There has always been this pattern of giving the northerners unfair advantage. After all, northerners have been allowed to secure admission to federal educational institutions with a two per cent score while other citizens from other sections of the country who scored seventy per cent are denied admission. But what is troubling now is that Buhari has made this giving of an unfair advantage a central policy of his administration and he does not care about how the other parts of the country feel about this.
Buhari set this as the tone of his administration by filling his kitchen cabinet with people from his northern region. He continued in this direction by allowing the Department of State Service (DSS) to employ most of its personnel from the north. The government unabashedly responded to criticism of this development by arguing that the Goodluck Jonathan administration did the same thing. Even if it were true that the Jonathan administration did this, must the Buhari government repeat it? Where then is Buhari’s claim to moral superiority over the much-disparaged Jonathan government?
The citizens observed this policy in full display in the appointments of senior managers of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). Buhari approved the appointments of most of the managers from the north while the south, especially the Niger Delta that produces the oil was given a paltry percentage of the appointments. Thus, it was not really surprising when the World Bank revealed that Buhari asked it to focus its developmental efforts on the north. The result of the Buhari’s directive, according to a report, is that out of 14 World Bank’s projects, the north alone has seven while it again shares the remaining seven with the other parts of the country. The explanation by the presidency that Buhari only told the World Bank to focus attention on the north-east that has been devastated by Boko Haram does not pass muster. For, we cannot see the difference between what the World Bank said and what Buhari has been doing in the country.
It is the same way Buhari has through the NNPC compelled each oil company in the country to pay $100 million yearly towards the development of the north-east. This is despite the fact that the government has set up a Presidential Committee on North East Initiative (PCNEI) for intervention in the region. The programme being led by Gen. Theophilus Danjuma has attracted so much support from prominent Nigerians who have generously donated to it. The government that was quick to clarify its request to the World Bank has not come out to deny forcing oil companies to develop the north-east. When it comes to the north, Buhari demonstrates a sense of urgency. But he does not bring such urgency to the other parts of the country. While Buhari deems it urgent to develop the north-east, he does not consider it equally urgent to develop the Niger Delta from which the oil companies would get the money to develop his part of the country. As far as Buhari is concerned, all the south-south needs are vacuous promises to stop the agitations of the region. This is why since last year that Buhari went to Ogoni, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report that requires the cleanup of the region has not been implemented. In the case of Ogoniland, it is only a cleanup that is required; not the building of schools, hospitals and houses for the people as in the case of the north-east. Yet, Buhari who demands that oil companies which were not responsible for the devastation of the north-east should develop the region, cannot give a similar directive to them not only to clean up the Niger Delta but to develop the areas where their activities have devastated lives and livelihoods.
Indeed, if there is an area to be focused on, it is the Niger Delta and not the north-east. The north-east is the architect of its own doom. It failed to provide opportunities for its youths to be gainfully engaged even though northern leaders have largely been in control of the central government. It is this failure to provide educational and employment opportunities that has made the youths pliable at the hands of religious bigots and misguided politicians. But the despoliation of the Niger Delta has been caused by the activities of oil companies that provide revenue for the country.
Since Buhari became president, there has been increase in the efforts to search for oil in the north. It was in the course of the search that Boko Haram attacked and killed some lecturers of the University of Maiduguri and workers of NNPC. Billions have been sunk into this search even though it has not been fruitful. And these billions come from the south-south. This concentration on the search for oil in the north while the Niger Delta is neglected provokes the suspicion that the north is only waiting to discover oil before it tells the south that they should go their separate ways. However, some northerners like Ango Abdullahi are becoming impatient to go their separate ways even before the discovery of oil in the north. Worse, while Buhari is busy developing the north, he is allowing herdsmen to destroy farms, rape, maim and kill in the middle belt and south. He does not see the need to send the police, military and other security agencies to rein in the herdsmen. Yet, the fact is that in view of the extent of havoc the herdsmen have inflicted on their victims, the government needs to set up a special scheme for them to mitigate their misfortune.
Unfortunately, considering the utterances and actions of Buhari, there is the consciousness of the tragic fact that he is not likely to change despite the citizens’ protests against his concentration of developmental efforts on the north. He would continue to give the strong impression that he believes that very soon Nigeria would no longer exist as one nation – so he has to hurry up to plunder the rest part of the country to develop the north before this national disintegration. Thus, until Buhari weans himself off this disposition not to see the whole country as his constituency, the charge of his immersion in rabid sectionalism and parochialism would continue to be justifiably levelled against him.
*Dr. Onomuapkokpo is on the Editorial Board of  The Guardian

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