Tunde Fagbenle: The Northerner and the rest of us

by Tunde Fagbenle


 Has anyone wondered, for example, how and why the powerful media machine of an Atiku Abubakar remains solid and perennial? How and why Sultan Abubakar III (and those before him) commands unflinching devotion?

A disclosure, which may not be much of one: I am (also) a ‘northerner’ – as readers of my column may already know. Were Nigeria to be a country where one’s place of birth, rather than one’s ethnic origin or ancestral hometown, is where one may claim, I would be, first and foremost, a northerner: born in Zaria and grew up in Minna.

In the nostalgic Minna of my early years I grew up amongst the Ibo (now Igbo) and amidst the Hausa and Nupe. And we came into regular contact with the nomadic Fulani and native Gwari. As a result I can confidently claim to be a well-grounded Nigerian with enough knowledge of, and empathy with, Nigerians from different ethnic origins.

Last Tuesday (27th)’s column of Dr. Femi Aribisala in the VANGUARD newspaper, titled The Boko Haram Are Not Northern Nigerians was as emotive and controversial as ever [READ HERE] . Femi spent most of the essay narrating some personal and uncharitable experiences during his time as a top civil servant in the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) where he was a Research Fellow under Prof. Gabriel Olusanya, a fellow Yoruba, who was the Director-General.

Olusanya wouldn’t like it, but it was Femi Aribisala’s ‘pay-back’ time for the professor who, from Aribisala’s account, was mean and vindictive against him for no apparent reason; a harrowing experience (together with another example he gave) that brought Aribisala to agree – quoting Alhaji Alhaji (of ‘Triple A’ fame) – that “Yorubas don’t help (their) own people.” Conversely, according to Aribisala, those we call ‘Northerners,’ particularly people from the North-West, North-East, and North-Central, are ‘simply fantastic human-beings’ and by far ‘the kindest Nigerians.’ He asserts further that, “They (the northerners) are the most honest. They are far more giving and open-handed than Southerners.”

Whilst most of the Yoruba at the top who Aribisala had experience with were unsupportive and even unkind, almost in all instances the ‘northerners,’ from Babangida, to Alhaji Abubakar Alhaji, to Joe Garba etc, were kind, gentle, and ready to lend a hand in lifting someone else up. (I am not going to repeat the stories Aribisala told of his experiences, I urge you to go find the article yourself online).

This theme of Dr. Aribisala resonates with me and I am inclined to agreeing with him. Indeed, it is something of concern that has often come up amongst the Yoruba intelligentsia and middle class, especially when matters of the Yoruba ‘nation’ and progress are being discussed. The Yoruba are considered their own worst enemies. And examples abound.

If you were looking for an example of people who act out the ‘crabs in a basket’ syndrome, look no farther than the Yoruba. It is said that they typify the PhD (Pull-Him-Down) disorder. I have encountered many sad examples personally which I won’t bother to recount here – perhaps some other day. It is as if ‘helping a brother rise’ takes away from their individual worth. Perpetually measuring themselves and assessing their individual achievement against what the next man has or does not have, it is important to them not only to deny others any helping hand but, indeed, to impede their progress. Some have blamed the syndrome, though speciously, on nasty experiences of ingratitude or even outright being undermined by those they have helped in the past.

The Yoruba leadership, especially their political leadership, by and large, are of the use-and-dump mentality; seeking you out and being ‘nice and kind’ when and if they need you, only to trash you the moment they are done with you, effusive with excuses when next you are needed. In general, they lack in good human relations and see no farther than the moment.

On the contrary, our northern brethren, again in general, are as Dr. Aribisala has described. Has anyone wondered, for example, how and why the powerful media machine of an Atiku Abubakar remains solid and perennial? How and why Sultan Abubakar III (and those before him) commands unflinching devotion?

I will tell you why. It is because these people are great leaders who have sincere empathy with their followers. They do not hold back favours, the giving of which is not about the immediate returns. They sow for the future that may come or may not come. They see helping to build others as part of the long chain of human development. They are genuinely concerned about the welfare of their followers: asking after your spouse and children; remembering little things that have to do with you; sitting and eating with you; and generally being there for you.

Let me quickly add that we are talking in general here both about the Northerner and the Yoruba (or Southerners as Dr. Aribisala sweepingly alludes, although in my own observation the Igbo exhibit more kin-support especially after, or because of, the civil war), for exceptions can also be found – happy or disappointing exceptions! I have, in my time, met great and supportive Yoruba and other southerners; and I have met some northerners who have been the antithesis of nobility and sincerity.

The question many would then ask is why these great attributes of leadership and of empathy with the followers in our northern leaders did not over the course of our country’s (long or short) history translate into commensurate development of their areas? Why has the north, by and large, remained the least developed and least educated of all areas of the country? Why have the majority of their people remained in staggering and abject poverty? Why is the beggar and almajir circumstance so pervasive and enduring? Is there no contradiction here? Is it not because whilst these northern leaders empathise with their aides and subordinates they are content to keep the masses under subjugation and in darkness? Our sociologists have to help here!

Dr. Femi Aribisala’s article was meant to help us in dissociating the present madness of the Boko Haram from the true character of our northern brethren. “These (Boko Haram) marauders,” he asserts,“are the antithesis of everything noble; everything decent; and everything godly about Northerners. We also need to keep stating it emphatically. The Boko Haram are not Muslims: they are just using the Muslim faith as a crutch. Abubakar Shekau claimed his god told him to sell the Chibok girls into slavery. Whichever god told him this; it cannot be the Muslim God.”

Aribisala then implored the Northerners: “Most important of all, Northerners need to rise up with one voice to decry all those who go round maiming and killing under whatever pretext. These people are a blemish on the Northern image and heritage.”

He concluded, just as he began: “True Northerners are the most upright, most accommodating and most humane of Nigerians. Without Northerners, Nigeria would be a very poor country indeed.”

I concur. And that’s saying it the way it is!



Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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