Re-emergence of One and United Northern Region in the Nigerian State and Politics: Challenges and Prospects


General Studies Department, the Federal Polytechnic, Bauchi, Bauchi State – Nigeria 


The Northern Region of Nigeria is the largest of all the three in geographical size, human and material resources. It was the most prominent and influential region in Nigeria’s political affairs during the pre and post-independence periods. These have, however, been waning over time and it is so intense that the region is today despised, manipulated and politically relegated to the background of the national political economy… The Northern region is in a dilemma as regards multitudinous problems it is facing. This article used secondary sources of data and explored the emergence, nature and history, significance, past and present state of the Northern Region in relation to unity, prosperity and peaceful being of Nigeria. The North was prominent because of the purposeful internal leadership and to some degree the justice it had enjoyed and enjoined; its ability to make proper exploitation of its both human and material resources, the ability of its people to weld under one umbrella irrespective of internal heterogeneities, abandoning agriculture for commercial oil has largely contributed to the present state of affairs, the North has every potential to make of a nation or state if properly explored and harnessed as the lost glory can still be revived, the level of poverty and backwardness of the North are not natural but for the negligence, indolence and negligence of its subsequent leadership. The article recommended among others, full exploitation of both human and material resources bestowed to the region, re-establishment of true and purposeful leadership and then unity in the entire region, and building of trust, justice among all the regional people, development, strict implementation and sustenance of a comprehensive plan for the development of the region and the issue of education should be given a top priority throughout the region. 

The processes of evolution, growth and development of states and societies are through a process that is dependent on socio-economic, geo-political, cultural and other factors. Whether the process is gradual or fast, cooperation, unity and dedication to the purposes and goals for the overall development of a state or society are the major ingredients to be used in achieving collective goals. This evolutionary process also compels a state/society to subject itself to the forces of change which involves accepting and co-opting some others’ principles, values and ideals and at the same time retaining some ones’ own. This has been the experience undergone by the present geographical parts of Nigeria – the result of the British January 1, 1914 amalgamation of Northern and Southern areas of River Niger which marked the evolution of new geographic, political and socio-economic setting of people hitherto not bound under any single or united administration. But it has been clearly maintained that various peoples who were occupying the areas made to be one Nigeria by 1914 were not consulted or their respective peculiarities considered during the amalgamation by the colonial masters (Nnoli, 1978; Falola, Mahdi, Uhomoibhi & Anyanwu, 1991:113; Amuwo, Agbale, Suberu & Herault, 1998:15; Oyovbaire, 1979). 

Regions and regional tendencies often affect and determine the socio-economic and political structures that make up a political system (Caramani, 2008:369). There exist two/three main regions in Nigeria’s political geography (dependent upon the context and approach to the categorization of North and South or North, East and West). One of the regions (Northern Nigeria) occupies a strategic position in the geography, politics and unity and peaceful co-existence of Nigeria, which faced struggles in two respects of colonialism and internal competition for development with its Southern counterpart. These and the heterogeneous composition in terms of religion, population, culture necessitated the need for and evolution of a common front with which the North could foster and assert its interest, prosperity and ensure the overall unity and development of the region within a united Nigeria. 

The leaders, traditional rulers, educationists and politicians of the colonial and early independence period realised the need for unity of purpose, cooperation and the formation of a single regional, political, economic bloc for the Northerners to participate, act and react to issues in the Nigerian national affairs with their background experience. Regions and tendencies towards regionalism are not only a practical part of but a reality in politics of states, essential to understanding and practice of politics at local and national levels of states and governments but with a complicated dynamism (Caramani, 2008:369). This study examined the possibility, challenges and strategies for the re-evolution of such a single and united Northern region within the Nigerian state of the overall unity, stability and development of the Nigerian state. 

1.1 Statement of the Problem: 

Ever since the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates of the Niger River by the British colonial masters on January 1, 1914, Northern Nigeria, which currently comprises 19 Northern states has been embroiled in numerous problems and challenges. Some of these problems and challenges are internal, while others are external in their relation and coexistence with its Southern counterpart or rival as the case may be. Internally and at the initial stage, Northern Nigeria faced the problem of western educational disadvantages, domination of the Northern Public Service, which prompted the Northern Regional Government’s Northernisation Policy, the problems of resentment, despise and contempt, the issues related to Self-Government timing; and during the late pre-independence to independence and post independence era, the unfortunate coup of January 15, 1966, which hit the region worst in its history, problems of internal unity within the North, increased resistance to the perceived and fuelled Hausa/Fulani/Islamic hegemony, the attempts by the Middle Belt to have a separate region and identity from the original North, the influence and orchestrations of some Southern Nigerian politicians and parties to see to the break-up of the North and then dismantles its political hegemony in the Nigerian state; coupled with other later emerged problems of socio-economic, political and ethno-religious strife, the Al-majiri syndrome found only in the North (Mohammed, 2018:117-118; Wada, 2012:120; Turaki, 1993:145, 153; Kukah, 1993:7-10; Ajayi, 2009:28, 1449-178; Rimi in Onu, 1981:167-173; Paden, 1986:350). 

The North has as a result of these, lost its original sense, focus and resources of leadership, a united front and common interest – North irrespective of ethnoreligious, socio-economic and political differences and status. What obtains today is a different occurrence in which the Northerners themselves are internally divided along ethnoreligious, socio-cultural and economic lines and have ignored common and united cause to see, act and react to both intraregional and national issues. 

The leadership of the North is today, unable to give a focused and acceptable direction for the Region; it is the region also is no longer able to fully assert interests in the Nigerian affairs due to the manifest disunity and incoherence within the region and so the North had overtime nearly lost its once flourished identity, hegemony and prestige in the Nigerian national affairs. Thus Watts (2013: xiv & ixxxiii), has decried that Northern Nigeria is undergoing a blizzard of political and economic turmoil, rapid and unchecked population growth, general youth protuberance and religious communities’ disharmony and then asserted that Northern Nigeria is in a packed state of emergency. 

1.2 Objectives of the Study: 

The main objectives of this article are to trace and reflect the history, composition and life patterns of both Northern and Nigerian people; account for the reasons why the once-dominant and hegemonic Northern Region in Nigerian affairs are now poor and economically less productive, politically unstable, ethnoreligious divided, socially despised in national affairs and then relegated to the background of Nigerian political-economy; expose those forces of unity that made Northern Nigeria what it was, especially in the 1950s and ’60s; and recommend what could be done to revive the past glory and make the North regain its former and rightful position in Nigerian affairs, being the largest, the most populous, the richest and most diverse region in Nigeria. 

1.3 Theoretical Framework: 

Studies and theories on regions are more popular and associated with the modernisation theory and development with great influences of Weber (1968), Caramani (2004) and Markusen (1987), whose theory is based on pre-industrial and industrial society’s political-economic relations. This study is, however, premised on two theories of Pluralism and cultural nationalism associated with Almond & Verba (1963), Lipset (1990) & Wiseman (1981). The Pluralist theory maintains that societies are plural in nature and powers in such states and societies are shared among heterogeneous groups characterised by differences of religion, tribe, geography, cultural norms and values. In such circumstances and as usual, there are needs for articulation/aggregation of many and varied interests as well as the representation of all the groups in the process of governance. However, it is not possible for all and sundry to be directly involved in decision-making processes and this necessitates the emergence of the few (elites) among the many. 

The elites are then saddled with the responsibility of governing the affairs of all. Theory of cultural nationalism associated with the writings Almond & Verba (1963), Lipset (1990) & Wiseman (1981) on regionalism reveals that cultural heterogeneities in a state are a major determinant of adopting regional arrangement based on differences in life and approach to national values as a result of having different historical and cultural background. Regionalism within a country is thus determined by differences in political culture and cultural provisions in the native life of the people. These differences, therefore, result in heterogeneous value systems, which make the regions adopt different regional arrangements in policies and programmes. The major factors that influence regionalism and regions under this theory are communal settings, economy, political geography, social characteristics – religion, ethnicity and language as noted by Soja, (1989). 

2. Background of the Nigerian State: 

Nigeria occupies a total area of about 923,768 sq km and was not a single and united political entity until after the British Colonial amalgamation of January 1, 1914. Prior to the British occupation and amalgamation, there were several nationalities that lived around the Niger and Benue Rivers. Nigeria is the world’s single biggest black nation with the largest population in Africa (Mundt, Aborishade & Le Van 2008:661; Shehu & Buba, 2016:1-4; Mohammed, 2018:1- 3). According to Kwanashie (2002) & Roskin (2016:424-27), the Europeans commenced direct activities in present Nigeria around the 15th century first by the Portuguese who arrived in Nigeria in 1471 via sea expeditions then followed by other European imperial powers and finally imperial conquest of most places as Lagos, Niger Coast, Sokoto Caliphate, etc, by the end of 17th Century through the colonial agencies of British trade companies and imperialism with Lagos first haunted by the British in 1851 and then occupied in 1861. Obikeze & Anthony (2003:1) additionally noted that Nigeria is constituted through the British making, because before January 1914, the entity now known as Nigeria was not one, but many independent ethnic groups which had little in common, except in trade and commerce. Usman (1979) also maintained that unlike most other countries in Africa, amalgamated Nigeria has within its territory, a substantial number of speakers of three out of the five families of languages found in Africa (Afro-Asiatic, Niger-Congo and Nilo-Saharan). The only language families in Africa not found in Nigeria are the very small Khoisan, spoken by the Khoi, the San of the Kalahari Desert, and the Asian Indo- Malay languages of Madagascar. The post-2006 population projections reveal that Kano, Lagos and Kaduna states have the highest population in Nigeria and a puts a forecast of 3.2% annual increase, thus expecting the country’s population to be around 221 million by the year 2020 (Elaigwu & Garba in Chakrabarti & Srivastava, 2015:82). Nigeria is generally split into the Muslim North and Christian South though the adherents of both (Islam and Christianity) are found in both Southern and Northern regions, while the Southern and coastline is mainly Christian, the interior North is mostly Muslim, which becomes an ironic as Most West African coastal states have Muslims in their interior and Christians in the coastal region, because Islam came by land from North Africa and Sudan, while Christianity came from Europe and through the sea. This is the opposite in East Africa with a Muslim coast and Christian interior (see Roskin, 2016:424, 531). 

2.1 Nigeria’s Regions – East, North and West. 

As observed by Keating (1997:17), the region is a politically and functionally contested area, which spatially exists between national and the local as a scene of intervention by actors from all levels, national, local, regional in an environment where different and many individuals, institutions and interests interact in a condition of competition among themselves. Hooghe, Marks & Schakel (2010:4) have defined a region as a specified territory with a single, continuous and non-intersecting boundary as well as a peculiar economic, social and cultural identity. While Pace (2006:1) sees a region as a uniform area with characteristics distinct from those that are around or bordering it with a particular pattern of regular relations and interaction with its occupants. A region is a politically autonomous entity with constitutionally guaranteed powers as well as rights to participate in national governance and politics through the legislature or institutional cooperation between and among governments. In political geography, regions’ stand and struggles are determined by regional inequality, dependence and independence, the indigenous character of its people, and as well, external conditions and structures which exist outside, but around the region (Caramani, 2008:381-84). There were three (3) regions that made up Nigeria after the 1914 amalgamation and were each (especially the North and East), also composed of several nationalities themselves with the majority and minority groups co-habiting the areas as observed by Whitaker (1970:597) who also noted that each of the three regions has a dual cultural make-up, a preponderant majority of culturally related tribes speaking the same language and a heterogeneous group of culturally linguistic minorities. Although the Mid West Region was created on August 17, 1963, the first military coup of January 15, 1966, greatly helped in eroding the political history and its map. The three major cultural groups, i.e. Hausa-Fulani in the North, the Igbo people in the East and the Yoruba people in the West are the majority in these regions and have divergent histories and traditions, including dissimilar traditions of political organizations, long and rich history of traditional and cultural heritage. 

Nigeria has about 730,885 sq km of arable land and substantially located in the North, which produces various agricultural products (cash and food) – grains, fruits, vegetables and cattle (about 3⁄4 of the nations domestic agricultural production) thereby feeding itself, other populations and creating employment opportunities, particularly as the majority of its population, especially at the grassroots are farmers and was once, a major exporter of groundnut and cotton, among others until the collapsed of same in the 1970s due to oil discovery and boom (Watts, 2013: iv). Northern Nigeria also has one of the largest deposits of solid minerals in Africa, which include: limestone in Enugu, Sokoto, Gombe, Kogi, Ogun; nickel in Kaduna; Gold in Zamfara and Kano; tin in Plateau; coal in Nassarawa and Benue; as well as deposits of oil in Borno (Lake Chad), Bauchi and Gombe states (see also Agboola, 1979:17; Nigeria Handbook, 1982:5-7; Mohammed, 2018:27-29). 

Although Nigerians have been interacting with various ethnoreligious groups and peoples, weak and unpopular government laws, policies and programmes have led to competition and violence among the peoples. Similarly, because people use religion as a political tool, manipulate and then discard it, overlapping religion and politics in ethnically plural states such as Nigeria easily leads to rivalry and even breakaway tendencies (Roskin, 2007:531 & 558). 

2.2 Northern Nigeria: Geography, Peoples and Culture
The geographical location of an area matters a lot in determining its survival, growth and development (vast land, strategic location, favourable atmosphere, fertile land, water bodies, etc.) of a people. Northern Nigeria has a landmass of about 300, 000 square miles and 720 miles wide in addition to larger populations and deposits of natural resources (Whitaker, 1970:15). The area was also earlier being referred to as Central Sudan, Northern Protectorate of Nigeria, Northern Province and Northern Region It currently comprises 19 out of 36 states of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and also has 413 out of the 768 Local Government Areas in the Federation of Nigeria – Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Benue, Gombe, Jigawa, Katsina, Kaduna, Kano, Kebbi, Kogi, Kwara, Nassarawa, Niger, Plateau, Sokoto, Taraba, Yobe and Zamfara (Mohammed, 2018:18-19, 25-26). However, the Northern region is, itself, heterogeneous and comprised of the far North, the controversial Middle Belt, the riverine states, the North Central, and other divisions as determined geopolitical and other circumstances. In fact, one of the Northern states alone (Adamawa) has over 100 ethnic groups in it (see Paden, 1986:322). 

The North has historically been dominant in Nigerian affairs as noted by Whitaker (1970:15), because of its geographical size, and largest endowment of human and material resources. Hoben & Greene (1966:3), while tracing the history and geography’s of North and Northerners stated that the area belongs to the Sudan South of Sahara with features of the people and their cultures largely influenced by contact with their neighbours, especially from the North and West with large landlocked island, and while tracing the historical, biological and Trans-Sahara origin and a mixture of the Northern Nigerian people, they added that people of today’s Northern Nigeria carry chromosomes of the ancient Berber, Jewish and Arab immigrants from North Africa, while their civilisation and traditions from the Mediterranean and Rome, Greece and Byzantine, through the Islamic Empire of Spain, the Maghreb, Syria and Egypt. These, they maintained are mixed with the heredity stains of the Sudanese people. There is, therefore, a geographical and biological affinity and links between the people of today’s Northern Nigeria with those of many different peoples, such as Jews, Arabs, Romans, as well as the indigenous black peoples of Sudan, which is largely as a result of many factors – influences of Islamic religion, and Trans- Sahara contact and trade with North Africa and Middle-East, which also came with the religion of Islam around 700 A.D as the Arabs came in search of and trade in pepper, slaves, leather, ostrich feathers and ivory from Arabia through North Africa (Theen & Wilson, 2001:476; McCormick, 2010:438; Dudley, 1968:3-5). There are profound influences of Arabs and Islam on the people of Northern Nigeria, especially the upper part of the North. Tafawa Balewa as cited in Clark (1991) who noted that the history of the people of the North dated back to the 10th century and that it was around that period that records of invasions and contacts with foreign people were recorded and Islamic religion came in around the 13th Century from North Africa and Arabia. Paden (1986:131) has observed that around the period of Nigeria’s independence, the Northern Region of Nigeria was the largest single political unit in Africa comprising hundreds of languages and heterogeneous religious groups. By that submission, the Northern Region was not only the single largest political unit in the Nigerian federation but also in the whole of Africa. However, despite the various political developments witnessed over the period of time (coups, states and local governments creations), the North still remains the largest region when compared with the Southern part of Nigeria and during the First Republic. For example, the North alone had 174, while the South (East and West) together had 138 of the then 312 members of the then Central Parliament – House of Representatives, Lagos. The membership of that House has, since its establishment to date, been based on population size (Dudley, 1968:26; Constitutions of Nigeria, 1960, 1963, 1979, 1989 and 1999). 

The North has been having the largest population in all the censuses conducted throughout the history of the Nigerian state (Dudley, 1968:26). This is just as the North, prior to the coming of the colonial masters, was comprised of many groups, political settings and organisations and that there were also Igala, Jukun, large ethnic clusters of Gbayi, Igbirra, Idoma, Tiv, The Bura, Bata and some other smaller tribes and socio-political organisations at different levels of political formation and development. While some of the peoples had attained a high degree of statehood and fell such as Kwararrafa/Jukun state, others were at varying levels of political and economic achievements before the European contact, colonisation and subsequent amalgamation Kwanashie (2005:1). One of those on forefront among the various Northern pre-colonial states and nationalities was the Sokoto Caliphate founded during the revival Jihad in 1804 and led by Shehu Usman Bn Fodio, which (the Jihad) is one of the momentous events of modern history as noted by Dudley (1968:5). The Jihad affected most Hausa land and was thus described by Roskin (2016:426) as the single most important event in the history of Hausa land and the biggest of all its associates in the 17th Century, because of the fundamental political, religious and sociological changes it brought on most parts, North of River Niger, parts of the Republics of Cameroon, Niger, Chad and Benin. 

The socio-economic and political structures of the various peoples of the later Northern Nigeria, were, however, influenced and in some cases altered by the British colonial masters, who first hoisted the British flag in Northern Nigeria in January, 1900 at Lokoja (Dudley, 1968:26). By January, March and July 1903 act and encounters in Lokoja, Sokoto and Burmi (a village in Gombe State, Nigeria) respectively, between the British led forces and some of the religious leaders, Emirs and chiefs, the whole of Northern Nigeria was brought under British colonial control (Clark, 1991: xxxv). The Fall of Sokoto into the hands of British colonial forces on March 15, 1903 at Gindin Giginya in the outskirts of Sokoto town marked the total conquering and occupation of Northern Nigeria, as well as the once largest Islamic state in West Africa – the Sokoto Caliphate (Johnston, 1967). 

2.3 Economy (Human and Material Resources) 

Resources are according to Rodee (1975:23) important as an area itself, is in any state, for they provide security and sustenance. In terms of both human and material resources, the area is most endowed than any other part in Nigeria with larger populations, abundant solid and untapped liquid minerals, vast and fertile arable land (over 255,700 square miles), abundant sunshine and favourable climate. The Lagos Standard as cited in Kwanashie (2005:5) once reported that the potentialities of Northern Nigeria comprising of active and industrious population that is well advanced in arts, manufacturing and civilised, with its commercial capital Kano as the trade centre of the whole Soudan and the rendezvous of caravans to and from Egypt, offers the world new trade markets and commercial prospects, the boundary of which would be difficult to demarcate. It also continued that the resources of Northern Nigeria are practically unlimited, rich as the country is in agricultural and mineral products of considerable value. Such potentialities are enormous and very promising upon proper exploitation and harnessing. From untapped oil resources in Lake Chad, Bauchi, Gombe and Benue States to solid minerals in Nassarawa, Bauchi, Plateau, Gombe, Yobe states (Coal, Tin, Limestone and Kaolin, Uranium et cetera). Every single part of the Northern Region (local governments), and also the whole of Nigeria, is blessed with one natural resource or the other, but it is a matter of efficient exploitation and harnessing of such resource (Raw Materials Research and Development Council, 2011). Agriculturally, over two-third of Nigeria’s total arable land is located on the Northern part, but only a little part of it is exploited for agricultural and other related purpose, and thus leaving surplus land area for the agriculture and other purposes (Agboola, 1979:17). The combined human and material resources of vast, surplus and fertile land, endowment of solid/liquid minerals, largest population far above the other Regions, make the North the most fortunate and most advantaged Region if its resource endowments are to be fully exploited and harnessed. 

3. Emergence of One North: Roles of Elites/Politicians and Parties and Traditional Rulers 

Isah Shehu Mohammed, General Studies Department, the Federal Polytechnic, Bauchi, Bauchi State – Nigeria 

Mohammed is a Principal Lecturer and also the Head, GNS Department at the Federal Polytechnic, Bauchi, Bauchi State – Nigeria. His hobbies are reading, research, travels and gardening. 

Supervisors: Prof. Muhammad Fuad bn Othman & Dr. Nazariah Binti Osman and Dr Nazariah Binti Osman

Address: School of Int. Studies, College of Law, Government &  Int. Studies, University Utara, 06010, Sintok, Kedah Darul Aman, Malaysia. General Studies Department, School of General Studies, the Federal Polytechnic, PMB 0231, Bauchi, Bauchi State-Nigeria

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