Northern Nigeria used to have a cult of power called the Kaduna Mafia. The Kaduna Mafia decided who would become the Nigerian president, which road to build, which to abandon, which industries to be cited and where. When it couldn’t help but hand the reins of power to the south, it determined which weakest link to exploit. The 1976 assassination of Murtala Muhammed and the handing over of power to Olusegun Obasanjo explains this. If the Kaduna Mafia was bothered about the north-centric disposition of Obasanjo, it could have defiantly handed over the reins of the military government to Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, at that time a lieutenant colonel in the army. Nothing would have happened. When it handed power to Obasanjo, it had to ensure a triple promotion for Yar’Adua, the Fulani scion whose stock needed placation. He was named Chief of Staff Supreme Military Headquarters, with the brief to curtail Obasanjo’s probable excesses against the north.
Though the Kaduna Mafia seemed to have hit its expiry at the time Muhammadu Buhari came into office, the northern oligarchy was resolute about the Daura General’s emergence. And Buhari didn’t disappoint. His administration inflicted one of the most atrocious ethnic and cronyistic governments on Nigeria.
But today, the North is angry. This time, the subject of its annoyance is the planned relocation of some key departments of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) from Abuja to Lagos State. In time past, when the north got annoyed, it was akin to the shrill cry of the pied crow. The crow is a bird the Yoruba call the Kannakanna. So many myths surround this strange bird. The most outstanding of its mysterious features is its queer and unusual cries. These, the Yoruba, in their deep into mystical beliefs, associate with calamities. Yet, the Kannakanna has other features, one of which is that, it does not lay own eggs but rather chooses to harry other birds off their own egg nests. This bit about harrying other birds seems to be true. It, however, has no known explicable biological reasons. The other myth woven round the bird is that the Kannakanna does not lay its own eggs. This has been disproved by ornithologists.
When you compare the ancientness of northern elders’ cries in Nigeria whenever they feel things are not going their way with this strange bird, you will find out that the Kannakanna has a lot in common with the elders of the north. This mysterious bird is known among the Yoruba to be the bird of the elders; elders in this wise, witches and wizards. In some other instances, obeisance is paid to witches through chanting of their cognomen. One of these chants is that the witch is the owl with copper-like eyes – owiwi oloju ide. Witches are also simultaneously reputed to have their legs bespattered with camwood – osun. Beliefs in witches say that the crow is a messenger of these unique beings of African women. It is the animal they send on their mysterious, most times destructive assignments. Always decked in black apparel – its quills – a few other species of crows have white apron-like quills on their chests. Though it feeds mostly on ants, the Kannakanna’s most cherished meal is the hatchling of a sparrow (eye ega). The sparrow itself is a social, homely, very small, seed-eating bird with conical bills. It will fight its assailant to a standstill if annoyed. That is why when a spat is in the offing between two groups or individuals, the Yoruba will say that they smell a fight in the proportion of what happens when the crow attempts to beat the hatchling of a sparrow – “Kannakanna na omo ega…”
So, the north is annoyed. This time, the north that is annoyed is represented by the Northern Elders Forum (NEF). A few other voices have spat into the void and lapped the sky-spiraling spittle with their faces. One of them was Ali Ndume, the senator representing Borno South in the National Assembly. While the NEF, through its Director of Publicity and Advocacy, Abdul-Azeez Suleiman, said that the relocation of the CBN departments would lead to brain drain, Ndume delivered his in form of a subtle threat. He said, if the Yoruba-born president of Nigeria goes ahead with the relocation of those departments, this “move would have consequences.”
For Ndume, who is today the self-appointed one-man squad spearheading the north’s dissonance with government’s policies, the president is being ill-advised by the people he derogatorily labeled “Lagos boys” in the corridors of power. Hear him: “All these Lagos boys who are thinking that Lagos is Nigeria are just misinforming and advising the President wrongly. Those political cartels that are in the corridors of power are trying to misinform the President and we will tell the President. The President will take action. They are not doing any favour to Mr President because this will have political consequences”.
If you are imbued with the steady eyes to see the unseen, ears to hear the unsaid and ability to penetrate the thin veneer of today to arrive at Nigeria’s atrocious past, Ndume will remind you of the ubiquitous Kaduna Mafia. The only difference is that the Kaduna Mafia was not as loquacious, nor visible as the Borno senator. In Bala Takaya and Sonni Gwanle Tyoden (eds) book, The Kaduna Mafia: A Study of the Rise, Development and Consolidation of a Nigerian Power Elite, (1987) this mythical, sect-like northern Nigeria powerful force’s role in Nigeria’s political economy was rightly dissected. Operating under similar historical evolution and characteristics as the Mafia in Italy, Spain and the United States of America, the book used the septic-tank darkness nature of the Italian Mafia to explain the Kaduna Mafia. It said it “is such that for (the Kaduna Mafia) to continue its existence and pursue its objectives with the required effectiveness, it cannot but subject its identity, nature and activities to obscurity. (Secrecy) is one of the hallmarks of a successful mafia set-up”.
The Kaduna Mafia, a faction of the Nigerian bourgeois class and northern oligarchy, escalated the ethnic politics between the north and the south in the 1970s to the 1990s. The Mafia was a set of amorphous but lethal power-baiting individuals. Within this period in the life of Nigeria, this narrow group interest held the rest of Nigeria to ransom. It dictated the political and economic barometer of the country and blithely decreed the future of Nigeria. It perfected underdevelopment, focusing solely on development of the north and like godfathers in today’s politics, was narrow-minded and self-centered. Like the roach, the Kaduna Mafia had very sensitive political antennae with which it sniffed the pendulum of power and ethnic gains. Realizing that the best place to manipulate power was outside the locus of power, the Mafia fiddled with policies in such a way as to ensure that the north made maximum benefits through strategic positioning of policies and structures. Using the façade of Islamic puritanic posture, the Kaduna Mafia was be able to conceal its selfish political and economic interests before the overall intent got exposed to a larger Nigeria.
The overall effects of the Kaduna Mafia’s ethnic politics were negatively consequential for Nigeria. In the military, for instance, the first and only Premier of the Northern Region, Sir Ahmadu Bello, was clairvoyant about the future hegemonic hold of uniformed men on the running and ruining of Nigeria. Thus, he ensured that a number of qualifications for entrance into the military were waived for northern boys enlisting in the military in 1959 to the 1960s. In height, education and mental acuity criteria, many northern boys who didn’t measure up became soldiers, rising to become military governors and even Heads of State. This ultimately inflicted colossal damage on the future of the country. One of such boys was Muhammadu Buhari. In terms of academic qualifications, he obviously didn’t have the school certificate requirement. He also ranked very low in terms of depth. How was anyone, even Bello, who had much charisma and depth, to imagine that someday, Nigeria would be in the hands of a Buhari? The rest, as they say, is history.
So, when Ndume and the NEF began the resurgence of their crow cry about a north under siege, what came to the minds of other parts of Nigeria is similar to the cry of a butcher who is being stalked by a threat of death. So when the butcher screams that death was about to take hold of him, the question people ask is, didn’t the animals he had mercilessly butchered too have blood flowing in their veins? Yoruba render this as, “Iku fe pa alapata, o nkigbe; omo eranko t’o ti da l’oro nko?” What this pithy saying advocates is the need for fairness at all times as whatever one is unwilling to stomach, they should refrain from imposing it on others.
The current federal government is trying to relocate CBN departments like the Banking Supervision, Other Financial Institutions Supervision, Consumer Protection Department, Payment System Management Department, and Financial Policy Regulations Department from Abuja to Lagos? Ex-CBN Deputy Governor, Kingsley Moghalu, was the first to thaw its ice by labeling it an unnecessary wolf cry. In a tweet on X, he claimed the Lagos office, which he said had been completed and inaugurated approximately 12 years back, was underutilized while the staff of the CBN at the Abuja headquarters “exceed the health and safety limits of the building, hence the need to relocate.” He said the relocation was “rational, given that the market entities supervised by these departments are predominantly located in Lagos.”
While corroborating Moghalu, CBN former governor and ex-emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, said “Northern politicians will shout that this is moving from Abuja to Lagos. Abuja is a federal capital not a northern issue. So long as this is a principled decision, the noise should be ignored.” According to him, “All this noise is absolutely unnecessary. The CBN has staff manning its branches and cash offices across the Federation. Moving staff to the Lagos office to streamline operations and make them more effective and reduce cost is a normal prerogative of management.”
Now, why does the NEF relish this idea of northernizing Abuja? Does this Kaduna Mafia-incarnate think that localization means ownership? Countless times, the South-South people have cautioned those who see the FCT as their patrimony, reminding them that the glittering roads of Abuja were paved with oil money from their soil. It was this same northernization of Abuja reasoning that bred the vacuous clamour for a northerner to be FCT Minister at the beginning of this present government and the gas-lighting of the incumbent.
Before the February 4, 1976 promulgation of Decree No 6 by the Federal Military Government of Nigeria which initiated the removal of the national capital from Lagos to Abuja, there had been previous advocacy for its relocation. One of such was made by Chief Obafemi Awolowo at the 1953 constitutional conference held in London. It was Awolowo and his Action Group’s contention that Lagos must be merged with the Western Region while a new federal capital should be built in central Nigeria.
Following this up, the Action Group published a pamphlet in 1953 with the title Lagos Belongs to the West, where it articulated that “(Lagos) is strategically… highly vulnerable. Geographically, it is not by any means properly suited to serve as the headquarters of the Central or Federal Government. Lagos is to Nigeria what Calcutta is to India. What we need now, to pursue this analogy, is a New Delhi.” The party then made this proposal: “A large area of land should be acquired by the Federal Government near Kafanchan, which is almost central geographically, and strategically safe comparatively, for the purpose of building a new and neutral capital. The new capital should be built on a site entirely separate from an existing town, so that its absolute neutrality may be assured. Being the property of the Federal Government, it would automatically be administered by it in the same way as Washington, D.C. in USA or Canberra in Australia. Such a capital would be a neutral place indeed.”
In August I975, the Supreme Military Council formed a Committee on the Location of the Federal Capital, one of whose members was Dr. Tai Solarin, Headmaster of Mayfair College, Ikenne, who had written many articles in the Tribune newspapers advocating relocation of the capital from Lagos to the north. One of such was a 197I article he wrote with the title Lagos ‘should go’. Other members of the committee were Dr Ajato Gando, the only member with a background in geography and urban planning; Reverend Colonel Pedro Martins from Lagos, and Justice T. Akinola Aguda as Chairman. The Aguda committee, made up mostly of westerners, recommended Abuja as the FCT. If the SMC had northernization of Abuja in mind, it probably would have made the committee an all-north affair. While its initial planning and implementation were undertaken by the Military Government of Generals Murtala Muhammed and Obasanjo, Gen Ibrahim Babangida eventually relocated Nigeria’s capital to Abuja.
One of the terms of reference for the establishment of the new capital was to ensure that it was a truly neutral city which would accommodate Northern, Eastern, and Western peoples and where these peoples would co-exist in harmony. The SMC was wary of the new capital not being free from the rancorous historical legacies of state capitals where dominant groups imposed themselves on previous urban centres. Today, with the nauseating ethnicization of Abuja and an opaque reading of sentiments into national policy matters like the FAAN and CBN relocation by northern crows, the fact that there was a predominant Northern influence in the process of construction of Abuja has made the noxious perception rife today that the FCT is a northern bequeathal. What NEF, Ndume and others are doing by locating ulterior motives in the relocations from Abuja to Lagos is northernizing the ownership of the FCT. Otherwise, the president should be left with the prerogative to decide what policies best suits its administration. What Nigeria needs now is healing. What the framers of the FCT establishment and Awolowo’s Action Group envisaged was a neutral capital which it no longer is. NEF, Ndume and the likes are curating an Abuja that is a threat to unity and indeed a potential symbol of the escalation of the North-South discord.
Should Abuja ever be an issue for ethno-religious claim? It was conceived to be a city of love and not hate. It was conceived as a city of equality and not of superiority of one part over another. That was why the Federal Government paid off the original owners of the land and created Suleja for them. As Nigerians, we owe one another that duty of respect and love – and Nigerians can love! I experienced it last Friday during the burial of my mother. Nigerians of all classes and ethnicities, public figures, private figures helped me in seeing my mother off to eternity. Governors who I, at one time or the other, wrote against; senators I once queried their patriotism to Nigeria; captains of industry, North and South; farmers , artisans, white collar, blue collar people – everybody from everywhere gave my mother a state burial. I thank them immensely. The lesson for me there is that I should stay on the track I have chosen for myself while I plead that we work harder to make Nigeria a haven for all Nigerians who are still alive. Enough of bickering over nothing – not over Abuja, especially!