Reflection: Why Does The North Hate The Southeast?

By Mohammed Bello Doka, Political editor, Abuja Network News. 

In the landscape of Nigerian politics, the question of why the North dislikes Peter Obi, a prominent politician from the Southeast, has been the subject of much speculation. This inquiry often extends to questioning why there seems to be animosity towards the Igbo race as a whole. As a reporter who has heard these questions repeatedly, I feel compelled to shed light on this contentious issue.

Ethno-religious politics is not a new phenomenon in Nigeria. From the earliest days of the first republic to the present day, regional, ethnic, and religious factors have exerted influence over political decisions. However, up until recently, these dynamics did not pose a significant threat to the unity of the Nigerian state. It is the unholy alliance between politicians and clergy from the Southeast, backed by their attack dogs in the form of IPOB, that has successfully convinced many in the region that they are universally hated.

It is important to note that historical alliances between different regions and ethnic groups have been instrumental in forming various administrations. Nnamdi Azikiwe, an Igbo, and Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, a Northerner, formed a winning coalition during Nigeria's first republic. Similarly, the Southeast-Northern ticket of late President Shagari and Alex Ekwueme formed another successful administration years later. Even the popular Arewa candidate, former President Muhammadu Buhari, had two unsuccessful attempts at the presidency where he chose an Igbo running mate.

So, what happened to the previously strong political alliance between the North and the Igbo? When did this trust begin to erode? In 1999, Nigeria transitioned to another democratic dispensation, with the People's Democratic Party (PDP) assuming power. The PDP initially enjoyed overwhelming support in both the North and Southeast. However, this dominance started to wane when former President Muhammadu Buhari, a Northern strongman, emerged as a challenger.

To maintain their grip on power, the PDP recognized the need to secure their hold in the Southeast and South-South, especially considering the opposition party's growing popularity in the Southwest. As a result, a narrative was crafted that the newly-formed All Progressives Congress (APC), which emerged from the merger of Nigeria's top opposition parties, was a Muslim party with an alleged Islamization agenda. Unfortunately, this propaganda gained traction among certain church groups, secessionist organizations like MEND, and other Biafran agitators. The 2015 general elections witnessed a highly divisive campaign along ethno-religious lines.

Previously, voters in Nigeria were more rational and pragmatic in their decision-making. They considered a candidate's credentials and policies rather than being swayed predominantly by religious or ethnic affiliations. For instance, the candidacy of Abiola from the Southwest defeated Bashir Tofa in Kano during the transition to democracy. This trend continued with the popularity of Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian, who secured more Northern votes than from his own Southwest zone during the 2011 elections. Unfortunately, the Southeast took things to the extreme, causing a rupture in this sensibility.

The 2015 general elections marked a turning point as the newly-formed APC emerged victorious, with a Muslim Northerner defeating the assumed Christian candidate, Jonathan. Both the political elite and the church refused to accept defeat, fueling a continuing campaign of calumny against President Muhammadu Buhari's administration. The proliferation of conspiracy theories, centered around the supposed Islamization of Nigeria and the actions of Fulani herdsmen, further deepened the mistrust between the North and the Southeast.

The 2023 general elections only exacerbated the existing crises. The church became a prominent campaign ground, with numerous influential Christian politicians openly threatening the majority Muslim North and their candidates. Peter Obi, unfortunately, failed to alleviate the fears of the North. In his campaign, he appeared to disregard the region entirely while making controversial statements that further polarized the nation along ethnic lines.

It is important to clarify that Peter Obi and the "Obidient" movement should not be seen as representing the entire Igbo race. However, it is crucial for politicians to prioritize the interests of the country over their personal ambitions. Unless this shift occurs, Nigeria will remain a deeply polarized nation, sitting on a powder keg of tension.

As the nation looks towards the future, it is imperative to acknowledge the root causes of this animosity and work towards healing the divides that have emerged. Only through inclusive and responsible politics can Nigeria move forward as a united and prosperous nation.

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