Last Thursday morning, President Jonathan Goodluck sat under a giant rotund canopy among some of Nigeria’s most important political leaders in the remote Fadadn Kagoma village, in Jema’a Local Government Area of Kaduna State, as part of record breaking crowd in the history of the village, for a grim event as Kaduna State first and only Christian to be elected governor, Sir Patrick Ibrahim Yakowa, was being buried after 64 years on Earth.
Yakowa was killed with five others penultimate Saturday, when the Naval helicopter they were flying in crashed in Okoroba creek of Bayelsa State, as they were returning from the burial ceremony of Comrade Oronta Douglas’ father – Oronto is an aide to President Jonathan Goodluck.
While many have propounded all kinds of conspiracy theories about the incident, even before the panel set up by the Presidency to find out what caused the accident, this is the second time a Christian governor from the North will be involved in a plane crash within two months.
Governor Danbaba Suntai of Taraba state crashed in a Cessna plane near Yola, Adamawa State, while personally piloting the aircraft. Suntai’s razor thin escape from death with his three aides has generated anger and admonition from a section of the state who saw his penchant for flying himself as a dangerous hobby that should not be engaged in by a sitting governor.
There were also the governor’s supporters who think that, as a pilot, the accident was like any other and should be seen as that. Yet, some people were said to have celebrated the near fatal crash, because his deputy, a Muslim, sworn in just two weeks after the removal of his erstwhile Christian deputy, would now become acting governor.
Suntai is temporarily out of power as he recuperates.
That brings to two the number of Christian governors that have been put out of power from among the four of the 19 northern states.
Last week, Governor Gabriel Suswan of Benue State cried out that there was a plot to kill him by the terror group, Boko Haram. He said it was part of a plot to eliminate Christians from being governors in the North.
"Going by security reports available to me, I may be attacked any day, anywhere, anytime and this is the reason I call on you Christians to pray for me and my family," Suswam told a congregation of NKSTA Church in Makurdi, the state capital.
This claim, however, should not hold steam, because the deputy governor of Benue State is also a Christian. It is also highly most improbable, based on religious consideration, that a Muslim would ever become governor or deputy in Benue State, which population is overwhelmingly Christian.
Governor David Jang of Plateau State, clearly maligned, detested and accused by Northern Muslims as a hater of Hausa/Fulani, and whose Berom people have been under perennial deadly siege by alleged Fulani gunmen, has severally alleged that his life was under threat.
Jang has been accused by Muslims in the state of genocide and for excluding them from power, a charge he and his followers strongly deny, accusing Muslims in the state of instigating violence on the Jos plateau.
Nasarawa State, with a clearly majority Christian population, has never produced a Christian governor. Successive elected governors of the state are Muslims to give credence to the claim that religion may not be such a factor after all in the state. Though many do not share this idea.
Niger State, which has an impressive Christian population, has not produced a Christian governor or deputy in the last two terms, as both governor and deputy are Muslims.
In Kwara and Kogi, where religion does not seem to be such an important factor than in other northern states, Muslims have continued to emerge as governors since 1979.
The non-Hausa/Fulani population of Adamwa State have always claimed that the state is dominated by Christians, but Christians only succeeded in producing Mr. Bonny Haruna as governor in 1999, when Alhaji Abubakar Atiku, who was elected governor , dumped the seat to become the Vice President under President Olusegun Obasanjo. Haruna, who was Atiku’s deputy, became governor and later contested and won a second term in 2003.
Rear Admiral Murtala Nyako, a Fulani, became governor of the state in very controversial circumstances in 2007. He beat all the legal hurdles put up by his foes. His election was annulled by a tribunal and another election scheduled. He won. His opponents cried foul again. In his bid to return for second tenure, he faced a daunting challenge, but again he won. The legal moves to remove him all suffered setbacks. Nyako, even among his Adamawa Muslims, agree that his government is very much unabashedly exclusive of even Muslims who are not Fulani.
It would seem that the Muslims of Northern Nigeria, even where they are not in majority, have the political deftness, strong will and the means to clinch power. Sometimes, it is by fate, like we now see in Taraba, a mainly Christian state.
In Northern Nigeria, the issue of religion seems to matter greatly on how the spoils and bounty of power are shared since the demise of the first republic in 1966 and the advent of military rule afterwards.
This was aptly put by Bishop Hassan Mathew Kukah during his sermon at Yakowa funeral mass on Thursday, a gathering that had President Jonathan, the Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, National Security Adviser and some of other Nigeria’s VIPs in attendance.
Speaking on the ascension of the deceased governor of Kaduna State to power, Kukah told the audience his summary of the struggle between the north and south of the state.
"It was historic at his swearing-in as the governor of Kaduna State. It was an event that was quite spectacular”, he noted.
"From the creation of the state in 1987, the northern ruling class, by a policy, seemed to have applied an invisible sign that read, ‘no vacancy, Christians need not apply in what later came to be know as Sir Ibrahim Kashim House’ (Kaduna Government House) to represent the state at the highest level”.
"Despite that fact that all states were open to Christian military officers, it was only Kaduna, and perhaps, Sokoto that were never governed by non-Muslims.
"This policy of non-inclusion against non-Muslims turned Kaduna into a political Mecca and laid the foundation for unnecessary and sad religious tension that has continued to bog the state down. That was why a routine change from a deputy governor to a governor, that should be taken as given, had generated the kind of interest right across the country because first in history was attained.
"Mr Yakowa’s ascentsion to power bears little resemblance to Nelson Mandela whose ascension to power in South Africa in 1994 was a matter of international interest. President Jonathan did for us what President De Klerk did to end apartheid in South Africa as with Mandela.
"Kaduna State has very balanced population between the Hausa/Fulani Muslims of the North, and the rest native tribal groupings in the state who are mainly Christians.
"We no longer trust each other, only those who worship with us, feed like us and dress like us are those we trust.
"Those who project Islam as the basis for power have now created crisis that has threatened the foundation of our society, especially in Northern Nigeria.
"And that is hardly contestable, in view of the fact that virtually all religious inspired violence in post-colonial Northern Nigeria was started by a group of Muslims, in which Christians would, in most cases, react, and sometimes more violently where they have the numbers and will.
"I supposed that our society should be using men and women of integrity, as opposed to using religion as labels.
"Our project for building a one-just society is irreversible. I want to challenge all of us, to rise to the challenge of building one united country. A country of love. A country where indeed we are all God’s children. We must aspire to build a country where we see ourselves first as human beings who just happen to be Muslims or Christians by perhaps by birth".
Kukah said further: "Because Mr Yakowa passed through politics in Kaduna State, politics would never ever be the same again. Indeed, many of us are now going to define politics in Kaduna, as politics before Yakowa, and politics after Yakowa.
"And to you the people of Southern Kaduna, especially the youth, I encourage you to rise up. Fear is dead, and it will never return to our land again.
"Before Yakowa, you were poor, you were weak, you felt defeated, now after Yakowa, the world is yours to conquer. Wake up, rise up, light up the candle because we have seen the light, and it is a star located in Southern Kaduna.
"Go forward, mix up with other young men and women across the North. Free yourself from the religious bigotry of your fathers. Dream big dreams, dream beautiful dreams, a wonderful, peaceful, just non-discriminatory, unselfish world lies ahead of you.
"Conquer fear, get a torch, march forward; whether you are Christopher or Mustapha, march on. Whether you are Mary or Maraimu, march ahead. Because this is why Yakowa died for all of you".
To the new governor of Kaduna State, Muktay Ramallan Yero, Kukah warned of the evil of the past and advised Yero thus: "To you the new governor sir, the world looks up to you, never to be seduced by the whispers of the wicked, whose selfish and devilish hold on power has held our society down. Do not be taken by the notion that Muslims again have taken the price which normally belongs to them.
"You have taken over the steering wheel, you must obey all the traffic signs, so that we can all arrive at our destination. Balancing our dreams together can make us one of the greatest states in Nigeria.
"Let us revise the ugly pernicious past which was constructed by men who have the hearts of apartheid. By pursuing the policy of exclusion, these men and women nearly destroyed the noble faith of Islam and the north that Sardauna dreamt of us..."
"Other nations have achieved greatness by managing diversity. Those who sowed the seed of exclusion have abandoned the state. Some of them have fled the state and are living in other parts of the world, where they continue to live unproductive lifestyles, heating up the North where they pretend to represent the North an Islam.
"We must reverse this ugly trend and create a just society that belongs to the children of God.
"Now that the members of the so-called Kaduna Mafia, whose selfishness hindered the development of Kaduna in particular and the North in general, have either died or fled, Mr Yakowa’s ascent to power has broken the jinx. You can never attempt to return the jinx without breaking the bottle.
"Before Yakowa, Kaduna State was surviving on a single lung. Now that political surgery has corrected this anomaly, it is hoped that now we shall lay a successful foundation of ascension and transition to power and it will be clear to everybody that power would no longer be a monopoly of any exclusive group, whether on basis of ethnicity, on the basis of religion or on the basis of region, or on the basis of gender".
As rash as Kukah sounded to Muslims who have had and are having a grab on power in Northern Nigeria, the wider Muslim population has not benefited from the largesse from this monopoly. Apart from a few hangers on, who fight over crumbs from the masters’ tables, northerners remain among the most backward in the world, especially the Hausa/Fulani Muslim populated areas, according to human development index.
Every rational thinking northerner would not mind to be governed by anyone irrespective of religion or gender if such person improves his well-being. But the issue of faith in most part of the North usually forms the first line of thinking on who to vote for, before other considerations, especially where there is a good mix of Hausa/Fulani Muslims and non-Muslims.
The non-Kanuri minority tribes of Borno and Yobe States are wont to experience the same thing with other minority tribes of the North.
However in northern societies that are not Hausa/Fulani, but are Muslims or mixed, one’s intrinsic qualities, or connections and wealth matter in ascension to power. Not really religion. But with religion as a strong basis for negotiation and contest for power, the loss of two Christian governors is drawing strong sentiments among Christians.
In truth however, the emotions expressed by Christains in the North in support of one of their own to become governor does really translate to improved welfare, even to Christians. They have proven to be as disappointing as their long ruling Muslims counterparts.
Crashes in Nigeria
*Six of the crashes involved military helicopters or airplanes