Race For 2023: Survival Of Yoruba In A Deeply Divided Nigeria Amidst Buhari’s Fulanisation Agenda


By Muyiwa Olayinka

Nigeria is a peculiar African nation that has a large population of more than 200 million with 250 ethnic groups. However it has three major populous and politically active ethnic groups, namely, the Hausa and Fulani, Yoruba and Igbo (Ibo).

According to Wikipedia, the demographics of these three are: Hausa Fulani 29%, Yoruba 21%, Igbo (Ibo) 18%, the fourth largest group, Ijaw 10% while others are Kanuri 4%, Ibibio 2.5% and others make up the total.

After gaining independence in 1960, Nigeria adopted the parliamentary system of the British colonial model. Unfortunately this system did not work and it led to the collapse of the first republic in 1966, which ushered in a military system of governance after a bloody coup that claimed many lives.

Democratic system of governance was put in abeyance until Nigeria adopted American’s presidential system governance in 1979. The second republic was short-lived after the military struck on 31st December 1983, and the nation was returned to military rule for uninterrupted 16 years, though short-lived diarchy (abridged military and democracy) of third republic class of 1992 to 1993 before the eventual return of democracy in 1999  

The largest ethnic group, Hausa and Fulani has the highest dominance of political leadership since 1960. It has cumulatively ruled for more than 43 years, followed by Yoruba (11 years 6 months), Ijaw (5 years) and lastly Igbo barely 6 months.

Democracy is a game of numbers and as a result of this, the Hausa Fulani that are predominantly from the north being politically savvy, have for a long time realized the fact that holding on to political power or headship of Nigeria is the only means of survival in a heterogeneous and divisive Nigeria. The divide and rule tactic combined with a highly potent weapon of religion and ethnicity, and the perpetuating of military rule in governance helped the northern’s course tremendously.

This potent weapon of divide and rule tactic has been successfully deployed repeatedly for the two major ethnic groups of Yoruba and Igbo of southern Nigeria.

Some examples suffice

In the first republic, the NPC (Northern People’s Congress) entered a coalition agreement with the Igbo dominated NCNC (National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons) against the newly formed Action Group AG of Yoruba to form the first government from 1960 to 1965. Be reminded that AG was a breakaway faction of NCNC. AG became the opposition party at the federal level in Lagos.

Secondly the alliance of the breakaway group of Chief S L Akintola’s party Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) group from Obafemi Awolowo’s Action Group caused political fracas at the western region of Nigeria, went on to merged with other parties like NPC to form the central government. That republic could not manage the crisis successfully; it led to the first military coup of 1966 that ended the first republic. This crisis spiralled to a major crisis that snowballed to civil war of 1967 to 1970, fueling the political enmity and distrust between Yoruba and Igbo. The north has explored this distrust to their advantage.

Thirdly in the second republic of 1979, this political distrust reared its ugly head again, making it difficult for the Obafemi Awolowo led UPN and NPP’s Nnamdi Azikwe to have another working coalition. The short-lived democratic return to power lasted for four years with Usman Aliyu Shagari of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), a northerner becoming the first democratically elected president. NPN did not have the majority both in the senate and the house or representative, had to form a coalition with Nnamdi Azikwe led Nigerian People’s Party (NPP) to form a broad base government so also at the national assembly. The Obafemi Awolowo led Unity Party of Nigeria UPN was left in the cold to become the opposition party.  

The military struck on 31st December 1983 and another northerner (Major General Buhari) became the Head of state, providing another opportunity for the northerners to hold sway and ruled uninterrupted from 1979 to 1999) with an interregnum of the Ernest Shonekan led interim government that lasted only for five months.

The Gentleman Agreement of Rotational Presidency.

The return of President Olusegun Obasanjo, a Yoruba man in 1999, was to serve as a compromise to douse the crisis, ill feelings and misgivings generated from the annulment of June 12 presidential elections believed to have been won by late Chief MKO Abiola. Obasanjo and Abiola are kinsmen from Ogun state but his (Obasanjo) election was not favorably disposed to by the Yoruba political establishment. This is why Obasanjo could not garner substantial votes from his state and region; he lost both at his ward and local government elections.

Yoruba saw Obasanjo as a stooge of the north as he was supported and propped up by the north. His ethnic stock saw in him a usurper benefitting from where he did not sow and as a result of this, he got the fiercest opposition from his kinsmen throughout his eight years in office.

The election of Obasanjo brought to the fore the gentleman agreement of rotational presidency adopted between the north and south by the ruling party (PDP). Other parties embraced it in their manifestos and in sharing of political posts. The rotational presidency made Umaru Musa Yar’adua to succeed Obasanjo after eight years in office and the succession of Goodluck Jonathan after the demise of the former.

Goodluck Jonathan an Ijaw man from one of the smallest states in Nigeria, Bayelsa state, completed Yar’adua’s term and ruled for another four years. A bid to tamper with the gentleman’s agreement made him to lose his reelection to Muhammadu Buhari in the 2015 presidential election.

The Coming On Board of Muhammadu Buhari .

Buhari was a former military head of state that ruled from December 31st 1983 to August 27th 1985. He was removed from office through a palace coup by his then Chief of Army staff, Major General Ibrahim Babangida. He retired to private life until he came out of retirement to contest in 2003, 2007 and 2011 presidential elections but lost in all.

The campaign of candidate, a northerner, Muhammadu Buhari in 2015 was packaged by his party to be a turning point, breadth of fresh air and a new beginning for Nigeria. Buhari’s party, APC campaigned vigorously on issues like wanton and unchallenged corruption in public life, especially at the Federal level, insecurity arising from the murderous campaigns and blood lettings of Boko Haram insurgency, loss of drift in the management of public to endear votes. The political machinery of Buhari, APC, rolled out well-oiled propagandist machinery, making empty and phantom promises to hoodwink Nigerian citizens. It paid off when Buhari won election by defeating the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan establishing a watershed in Nigeria’s political history

It is easy to win elections with propaganda but it is not possible to rule with it. Buhari’s five years have set Nigeria back in all ramifications and human parameters. Corruption is rife, poverty is high (Nigeria has the highest concentration of poor people on earth!!). The state is experiencing worse security challenges: banditry, kidnapping, communal strife, cross border crimes, herdsmen killings, highway killings, Boko haram insurgency is still potent, famine and high cost of goods and services.

Under Buhari’s presidency, Nigeria experienced the highest level of nepotism, a situation where almost powerful public posts and sensitive security architecture are concentrated in the hands of the north. Despite this, the whole of Northern Nigeria is engulfed in security challenges and turmoil. Currently the citizens of the core north could not sleep with two eyes closed. Katsina, the home state of President Buhari is under siege of security challenge of banditry. Many Nigerians have lost faith, confused and despondent with this government, they are anxiously looking forward to 2023 to stem the tide of drift. 

The Road to 2023 Is Laced With Confusion

The gentleman agreement is expected to come to force in 2023. The north occupying the highest political office by President Buhari is expected to transfer power to the south. The south south could not aspire as a result of the Goodluck Jonathan presidency, the battle should be between the south west (Yoruba) and the South east (Igbo). Ideally the south east is more than qualified to take the shot because the region had been marginalised for too long in the power equation.

You may recall that Gen Aguiyi Ironsi (an Igbo man) spent barely six months in office before he was assassinated. Unfortunately for the Igbo, they are not playing the right politics to actualize this ambition. The Igbo nation is factionalized, lacking a rallying point. The demand and quest for Biafra republic by the secessionist group IPOB had taken the sail off the wind for Igbo presidency. 

Yoruba has taken the advantage of the lacuna created by lack of unity of purpose of Igbo, thus intensifying its effort to cash in on the opportunity. Unfortunately too, Yoruba is fractionalized into three distinct groups namely:

1.     The pro Oduduwa group is currently demanding for the independent state of Oduduwa, similar to Biafra republic. The creation of Oduduwa republic is promoted by Yoruba World Congress that comprises intelligentsia groups both at home and in the diaspora. The demand is more fuelled by the nepotistic and clandestine Fulanisation agenda of Buhari’s government that suggests the political annihilation of other ethnic groups.

2.     The second group is pushing for federalism and restructuring. This group is of the view that Nigeria as it is presently constituted cannot move forward and experience a forward leap to development. The belief is that the structure which Nigeria currently rests is faulty and needs a bit of panel beating and tinkering. They are fully convinced there are national questions and internal contradictions that must be addressed and tackled thoroughly. 

3.     The third and the last group is the pro Tinubu group. Bola Ahmed Tinubu, a two term governor is the political godfather of Lagos state (the commercial and the richest state in Nigeria). Tinubu is a political juggernaut, a national leader of the ruling party APC that is instrumental to Buhari’s success at the polls in 2015. He provided the needed elusive southern bulwark votes to give Buhari victory after three failed attempts. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, this group with the leader, Bola Ahmed Tinubu is well positioned, expectant and hopeful to succeed Buhari in 2023.

The pro Tinubu group infact believes President Buhari owes them a political debt and should be favorably disposed, but unfortunately recent political permutations suggest otherwise. In Buhari’s first term, Tinubu was sidelined in the affairs of government; it made his wife, Senator Oluremi Tinubu to complain publicly and bitterly.

Tinubu was pacified and for political exigency had to support Buhari’s reelection. The northern political establishment has reignited the divide and rule tactic by tacitly supporting Governor Kayode Fayemi to undermine Tinubu’s ambition. This is meant to ruffle feathers and deliberately cause disaffection within the pro Tinubu bloc.

Not leaving anything to chance, the north has other political permutations to retain power by clandestinely supporting Governor Nasir El Rufai of Kaduna state as a presidential candidate with a running mate of southern politician to succeed Buhari. This led to the decampment of South East Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi state to the ruling party. The rationale behind this deft move is to romance the South East in the event that the South West may not want to continue with the working relationship of 201t. It is becoming clearer that with the current power tussle, the North has used and dumped Yoruba in the race for who gets the plum job in 2023.

What is the way forward for Yoruba?

Bola Ahmed Tinubu remains the towering political figure in Yoruba and in Nigeria despite his unilateral selfish ambition to succeed Buhari. He had shown lack of disdain in supporting the interest of Yoruba in some instances. For instance he did not commit himseld totally to the establishment of Amotekun, the parallel security arrangement promoted by his kinsmen.

Although he remains a political force but he’s not the leader of Yoruba that could command the respect Yoruba had for the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo or late Chief Abraham Adesanya.

However, there is a saying in Yoruba: “Omo eni kii buru, ka fifun ekun pa”. It means you cannot feed a prodigal child to a leopard. Tinubu’s travail in the hands of double faced political chicanery of the north may eventually unite Yoruba to determine the political future of Nigeria in 2023. The three distinct groups in Yoruba may unite to fight for survival in a deeply fractionalized Nigeria taking into cognizance of Buhari’s Fulanisation agenda.

The rehash of Wild Wild West of the turbulent fracas at the western region of Nigeria in 1963 may be reignited and if it is not carefully handled, may spell doom for Nigeria. Nigeria is deeply divided along ethnic lines under Buhari’s presidency and if the noticeable cracks are not carefully cemented, it may signal the end of the corporate existence of Nigeria.

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