Living history | Dailytrust

Living history

“Around a flowering tree there are many insects”. African proverb

A few weeks ago, an event with great symbolism took place in Kaduna. It was the 50th Anniversary of the founding of Arewa House, the name for Center for Historical Research and Documentation of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.

The Center itself is located in Kaduna. Its size and  elaborate structures will defy understanding without the explanation that its nucleus used the official residence of the murdered Premier of Northern Nigeria,Sir Ahmadu Bello, Sardaunan Sokoto. The actual building where he was shot along with his wife has been preserved to serve as a piece of physical history and a tourist attraction. In reality, it serves as a poignant reminder of  a period and a personality that has always been larger-than-life to northerners.

The Sardauna has become a myth invoked to serve so many purposes by generations that had only heard of him. Arewa House keeps that myth alive, a contrivance of a regional elite that had clung to a past to remind itself of a strong symbol of northern unity, a model of good governance and an event of great injustice to the North around which so much of the history that followed his murder is hung by popular and scholarly historians.

To celebrate 50 years since the Sardauna’s Spartan official residence became a unit under Ahmadu Bello University, the drums were rolled out. Management of the Center,  leadership of the university and the State Governors who now run the 19 States from the  one region he led until the night of January 15,1966 were small children when he died. Many were starting school when the decision was taken in 1970 to donate his official residence to the University he founded in 1963.Yet, they all knew enough of the power of the mystique around the hallowed establishment to engineer an impressive series of activities to remind northerners and the country of a past and a person whose half- myth, half- reality character represents a key part of North’s version of its journey into modern Nigeria. It was also turned into an occasion to celebrate the achievement of a Center which started as a political statement and became a strong evidence that good scholarship can have strong roots in politics.

A key element in the celebrations was the decision to yield its highest point to Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State to deliver a lecture with the theme, ”Unfinished Greatness: Towards a More Perfect Union.’’ The lecture itself was a master class, and it will stand as a reference point to excellence in scholarly research feeding a political project. The selection of Governor Fayemi raised a few eyebrows owing to its audacity in flying  in the face of history of the Sardauna’s fabled cat-and-mouse with Yoruba politicians, especially Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Peddlers of political maneuvres and dispositions saw the hands of host Governor Nasir el-Rufai in the decision to give Fayemi such prominence at an event with significant emotional attachment to a past carefully protected by northerners. A few indignant voices murmured disapproval, but these were smothered by the huge turn-out of northern governors who sat through an unusual event that delivered a powerful message in velvet gloves. The message was the imperative of restructuring the nation, an idea that the bulk of the northern elite agrees with, but is uncomfortable  with the manner it is being owned as a lethal weapon by the south.

It is quite possible that the event at the Sardauna’s residence served to invite more attention to a kite and a rumoured alliance that will  make  bold statements about the nature of the competition for the country’s presidency in 2023. One among many of these statements will strengthen the hand of the real  ‘progressive’ elements in the APC who el-Rufai and Fayemi think they are. For Fayemi, it will highlight his incipient challenge of  received wisdom that Tinubu is and will continue to be the only game in the south west until he flies the party’s flag or hands it over to a favoured loyalist, which Fayemi is not. For el-Rufai, it will strengthen his  impatience and exasperation at the drift in his party and his characteristic contempt for waiting in line for tradition to open doors. A Fayemi-el-Rufai  ticket would tap into the stronghold of the APC, but it will have to step on some big toes. It will have to hope it has enough clout and traction to withstand powerful assaults with a formidable national army of progressives, or at least their versions of progressives. It will also count on the mass loss of memory by people of Kaduna State who lived through el-Rufai’s rule, and the abdication of the considerable opposition from the south west to the emergence of a bloc that is bent on re-inventing Yoruba politics.

There will be people who will remember that el-Rufai chose the residence of the Sardauna to signal a northern capitulation in the battle over rotation. He was one of the first northern politicians to make the case for  his party to concede its presidential ticket to the south. Whether he wants to be number two, or pave the way to another northerner as deputy, he has gone on record for making the case for a southern presidency in 2023.Other politicians from the south would  kiss and hug el-Rufai, but will hold back because he takes it to a person of his choice from the wrong part of the South. The cacophony of voices in support of an Igbo presidency without preconditions may have noted the arrival of a new threat. These are voices that trace the foundational case for  justice in a national consensus for an  Igbo presidency in 2023 all the way back to  1966. Places like Arewa House tend to create difficult obstacles to a smooth narrative on a deliberate, sustained and unimpeachable offensive at  Igbo peoples’ fortunes in Nigeria starting with the pogroms, the civil war and everything else that followed to date. Some Northerners insist that the story must start from the night of January 15,1966 with the murder of the Sardauna. They tend to tally up numbers of federal soldiers who fell in an avoidable war; the post-war reintegration processes, the reinvention of Igbo politicians and businessmen in the Nigerian political economy and the pride of place which Igbo enterprise occupies in every inch of the country.

The invocation of experiences of the Igbo in Nigeria as justification for rotating the presidency to the East suffers from weak foundations in many quarters. When it is reinforced by ‘shortchanging’ the Igbo with only five States  and the failure of other Nigerians to accord the Igbo their right to have one of them become president like other groups, it waxes stronger in circles that have become increasingly hardened by repetition and fringe politics which offers alternatives to live in an unjust nation. It is only weakened by the poor quality of Igbo political leadership which seeks concessions and benefits from the rest of Nigeria only by drawing attention to its wounds and tolerating  crippling tendencies that weaken the Igbo claim that it is overwhelming in favour of remaining in and with Nigeria.

There are many issues that represent major challenges to political and elite cohesion, and these will get worse as we move nearer to 2023.The past will always be an asset and a liability for all groups as politicians compete against each other. There will be great benefits in addressing today’s challenges with today’s solutions.

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