"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta: February 2020

Saturday, February 15, 2020

True Ethnic Origins of Nigeria’s Past Presidents and Heads of State

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
Twitter: @farooqkperogi

Nigeria’s education system robs Nigerians of basic knowledge about their country and its people. That’s why although ethnic identity is a central part of Nigeria’s national imagination, most Nigerians know awfully little about the ethnic identities of their rulers.

 In the absence of accurate, official information, most people have resorted to assumptions, guesswork, and outright falsehoods on the ethnic origins of their rulers—and on most things about the country, leading me to once characterize Nigeria as a “know-nothing nation” in my August 10, 2013 column.

I have chosen to dedicate today’s column to providing accurate, verifiable information about the ethnic identities of Nigeria’s past presidents and heads of state.

1. Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. Several people, particularly in the South, have assigned a Hausa, Fulani, or “Hausa-Fulani” ethnic identity to Nigeria’s first Prime Minister. But he was neither ethnically Hausa nor Fulani. Of course, if he was neither Hausa nor Fulani, he couldn’t conceivably be “Hausa-Fulani.”

He came from a small ethnic minority group called the Gere, whom Hausa people call Bagere or Bageri (singular) and Gerawa (plural). Gere is not mutually intelligible with Hausa or Fulfulde. It’s a wholly separate ethnic group that traces distant roots from what is now Chad.

As I pointed out in my January 23, 2016 column titled “Gere:Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa’s Real Ethnic Group,” a 1905 Journal of the Royal African Society article by a G. Merrick titled “Languages in Northern Nigeria” said the Gere are “closely related to the Bolewa [a minority language spoken mostly in Fika Emirate in Yobe State] and living to the west of them.”

2. Thomas Aguiyi-Ironsi: There is no question that Aguiyi-Ironsi, who became Head of State after Tafawa Balewa’s assassination, was Igbo from Umuahia in what is now Abia State.

3. Yakubu Gowon: Although he was raised in Wusasa near Zaria, which is home to Fulani Christians, his parents were Angas (also called Ngas) from what is now Plateau State. Angas is an Afro-Asiatic language like Hausa, but it is mutually unintelligible with Hausa.

As I pointed out in my April 3, 2016 column titled “Nigerian Languages are More Closely Related Than You Think,” “Another surprising fact about Nigeria’s language family classification is that Hausa, the most prominent member of the Afro-Asiatic family in Nigeria, shares the same ancestor with the Angas of Plateau State. In fact, just like Hausa, Angas belongs to the Chadic subfamily of the Afro-Asiatic language family. Yet two ethnic groups couldn’t be more culturally different than the Hausa and the Angas.”

4. Murtala Mohammed:  Murtala Mohammed's paternal identity is the subject of elaborate, long-standing speculations. Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, who is now Emir Muhammadu Sanusi II, once wrote that Murtala Mohammed was Fulani. A few other people from Kano say the same thing. But several other people say it was only Murtala’s mother that was Fulani from Kano.

His paternal identity is shrouded in controversy. But the most credible clue to his paternal identity, in my opinion, is the assertion that his father was from northern Edo State. A man by the name of Austin Braimoh, who says he is Murtala’s paternal first cousin, wrote in a February 19, 2016 Vanguard article titled “Remembering Murtala Mohammed” that Murtala’s father's name was Dako Mohammed and that he migrated to Kano from the village of Igbe in the Auchi area of Edo State after briefly living in Lagos.

“It is well documented that General Murtala Mohammed made efforts to reach out to his paternal relations before his demise,” he wrote. “Two months into his tenure as Head of State, he was at Auchi to confer with the Otaru of Auchi Alhaji Guruza Momoh. He invited him to join him to that year’s Hajj in Mecca. On his way out of Auchi, he directed that a mosque be erected at Aviele, near Auchi in a predominantly Muslim settlement. The mosque was completed after his death and named after him.”

Given the number of people with “Auchi” ancestry who rose to prominence in the Kano society, including the legendary Isyaku Rabiu, this claim isn't far-fetched.

5. Olusegun Obasanjo: Obasanjo’s Owu ethnicity is well-known. There is nothing to add or take away from it. Of course, the Owu are a subgroup of the Yoruba ethnic group.

6. Shehu Shagari: Shehu Shagari’s Fulani ethnicity is also well-known. Although he also spoke Hausa, he self-identified as Fulani. His great-grandfather founded the town whose name he adopted as his last name.

7. Muhammadu Buhari: Apart from being phenotypically Fulani like Shagari, Buhari also never missed an opportunity to proclaim his Fulani ethnic identity. In fact, at 18, when he applied to enlist in the Nigerian military, he gratuitously mentioned his ethnicity. “I have the honour to apply for regular service in the Royal Nigerian Army,” he wrote on October 18, 1961. “My name is Muhammadu Buhari and I am a Fulani.”

8. Ibrahim Babangida: IBB’s ethnic identity is surprisingly a magnet for controversy and speculations. He has been called Gbagyi (whom Hausa people call Gwari), Nupe, and even Yoruba from Ogbomoso or Osogbo. But he told journalists and his biographers at different times that his immediate ancestors were Hausas from Kano who migrated to what is now Niger State.

I’d rather go with his self-definition of his ethnic identity than the evidence-free claims of others.



9. Abdulsalami Abubakar: Because Minna, where Abubakar was born, was founded by the Gbagyi, people have also assumed that he is Gbagyi. But he told a biographer that he was born to Hausa parents. Since Hausas are not native to Minna, it must mean that, like IBB, his immediate ancestors came to Minna from Nigeria’s northwest.

10. Umaru Musa Yar’adua: Yar’adua has been erroneously called “Fulani” because of his phenotypic features, but his immediate paternal ancestors are actually Tuaregs, possibly from Mauritania. The Tuaregs are a branch of the Berber cluster in North Africa. Many Tuaregs (whom Hausa people call Buzu) in northern Nigeria tend to be mistaken for Fulani because of the similarities in their physical features. I got to know that the Yar’Adua family are Tuaregs when I lived in Katsina town in the late 1990s.

Another prominent Tuareg family in northern Nigeria that people mistake for Fulani is the Baba-Ahmed family in Kaduna State.

11. Goodluck Jonathan: Jonathan is often mistaken for an Ijaw, but he is not. He is from a small ethnic group called the Ogbia (or Ogbinya), which is linguistically and ethnically unrelated to Ijaw. As of 2006, according to records, the Ogbia were a little over 266,000.

As I pointed out in my August 3, 2013 column titled “What’s REALLY President Goodluck Jonathan’s Ethnic Group?” while Ijaw belongs to the Atlantic-Congo branch of the Niger-Congo language family, Ogbia belongs to the Central Delta subphyla, but historians say the ancestors of the Ogbia people most likely migrated to their present location from present-day Edo State. Ogbia has its own dialects, which are all mutually intelligible, according to Ethnologue. They are Agholo (or Kolo), Oloibiri, and Anyama.

Concluding Thoughts
A distribution of the paternal ethnic identities of Nigeria’s presidents and heads of state shows that the Hausa and the Fulani each had two, and Yoruba, Igbo, Angas, Ogbia, Tuareg, and Etsako (or Afenmai) each had one.

Of course, that’s simplistic. Identity in northern Nigeria is more complex than that. Religion is a more important marker of identity than ethnicity is. For instance, although Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was Gere, he was culturally Hausa and was indistinguishable from a Hausa or Fulani Muslim. 

Nonetheless, in the interest of historical accuracy, it doesn’t hurt to be familiar with the facts about the ethnic identities of Nigeria’s past and present presidents and heads of states.

Postscript:
The omission of Sani Abacha from the list wasn't deliberate; it was an oversight. Abacha was a Kanuri man who was raised in Kano. His prominent Kanuri facial marks were the most visible stamps of his Kanuri ethnic identity.

So I'd rephrase the first paragraph of my concluding thoughts to, "A distribution of the paternal ethnic identities of Nigeria’s presidents and heads of state shows that the Hausa and the Fulani each had two, and Yoruba, Igbo, Gere, Angas, Kanuri, Ogbia, Tuareg, and Etsako (or Afenmai) each had one.

Nnamdi Azikiwe had no executive powers and Ernest Shonekan was an extension of IBB's regime. In any case, the Igbo and Egba/Yoruba identities of Azikiwe and Shonekan are not in doubt.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Unkind Things US Diplomatic Cables Reported Tinubu to Have Said About Buhari

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
Twitter: @farooqkperogi

On Friday, February 7, Bola Tinubu’s media adviser by the name of Tunde Rahman issued a press release that attempted to impeach the credibility of a viral, reputationally injurious, pre-2015, anti-Buhari quote attributed to Bola Tinubu.

The quote, which has been making the social media rounds in the past few weeks, goes thus: “Muhammadu Buhari is an agent of destabilization, [ an] ethnic bigot, and [a] religious fanatic who if given the chance would ensure the disintegration of the country. His ethnocentrism would jeopardize Nigeria’s national unity.” I have seen slightly different lexical variations of this quote, but the essential sentiment is unchanged.

Nigerian newspapers reported Rahman to have insisted that “the quote is fictitious, describing it as ‘the handiwork of merchants of hate and fake news.’” So what is the truth? The short answer is that the quote is largely accurate.

I’ve never shared the quote even though I’ve been familiar with it since 2011, but since Rahman was bold enough to “challenge those behind it to mention where Tinubu made the remark,” let me offer some help.

Tinubu didn’t say those words at a news conference, as some people have inaccurately claimed. He was quoted to have said them in a confidential diplomatic cable that the United States Consul General to Nigeria sent to his bosses back home on Friday February 21, 2003.

 We got to know this because, in September 2011, WikiLeaks—the insurgent, whistle-blowing, official-secret-spewing site—dumped a trove of 251,000 such confidential, unredacted cables that US embassy officials sent to the US State Department in Washington D.C. from all over the world.

In the February 21, 2003 confidential cable, which can be found here, the US Consul General to Nigeria reported Tinubu to have said Buhari was an ethnocentric agent of destabilization who would strain Nigeria’s unity if he became president.

He also said the Southwest would support Obasanjo against Buhari—which it did—because Tinubu and his group didn’t want the spread of Sharia, which Buhari supported and which Obasanjo countered, and because even though Obasanjo was unlikeable, he was Yoruba and Buhari wasn’t. Looks to me like Tinubu was guilty of the same crime of “ethnocentrism” he accused Buhari of.

The cable reads: “Turning to the presidential contest, Tinubu disclosed that he does not like President Obasanjo because he contributed to the end of democracy in Nigeria during his tenure as a military president and is now benefiting from that history. 

“That said, Tinubu admitted that he and his party, the Alliance for Democracy, must support Obasanjo. Southwest Nigeria is Yoruba land and the President is Yoruba. Tinubu"s [sic] party had no choice since it has not fielded a presidential candidate.  Moreover, Obasanjo is the only candidate who stands a chance of blocking his rival, General Muhammadu Buhari, whose ethnocentrism would jeopardize Nigeria"s [sic] national unity.  Buhari and his ilk are agents of destabilization who would be far worse than Obasanjo.

“Tinubu and many other governors are therefore implementing a strategy to re-elect Obasanjo, partly in an effort to prevent Sharia from spreading. Tinubu predicted that the President will follow his own course, if re-elected, since he will not need as many friends the second time around.”

Incidentally, Tinubu had really kind words to say about Atiku Abubakar throughout his interactions with the Consul General. “Tinubu praised Vice President Atiku Abubakar, whom he has known for many years,” the Consul General wrote. “Elaborating on his knowledge of the VP, Tinubu said he has known and understood the VP even before his entry into politics. Atiku is a detribalized politician who knows where he is going and how to build bridges to get there.”

The Consul General also wrote that, “Tinubu credits his going into politics to Atiku's personal encouragement.” You won’t guess that going by the way they and their agents tore at each other—or at least pretended to— in the last presidential election.

Anyway, my search of WikiLeaks’ archive with the keyword “Bola Tinubu” turned up several other unflattering characterizations Tinubu made of Buhari to Americans.

For instance, in a September 14, 2005 “secret” cable, US Consul General Brian L. Browne wrote that Tinubu wanted to be vice president to either Atiku Abubakar or Muhammadu Buhari but was self-conscious of the perception that either option would present the country with a Muslim-Muslim ticket, and reiterated the sentiment that Buhari’s perception as a “religious zealot” made teaming up with him unviable.

 “While Tinubu did not see this [i.e., being vice presidential candidate] as a big problem with Atiku (due to Atiku's noted religious laxity and his pro-Western outlook), it would be a heavy cross to bear for a Buhari-Tinubu ticket because of the perception in many southern Nigerian minds that Buhari is a religious zealot,” Browne wrote. “Because of this factor, Tinubu asserted he had begun to shift his focus, which had been exclusively on the vice presidency, to see the Senate as a nice place to land upon exiting the governor's mansion.”

Again, in a confidential cable sent on Thursday April 12, 2007, the Consul General reported Tinubu to have described Buhari as a “fascist” during an April 9, 2007 meeting. “Tinubu stressed he had no qualms about PDP presidential candidate Umaru Yar'Adua winning the election,” the Consul General wrote. “Yet, Tinubu was adamantly opposed to ANPP presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari. In a recent news story, Buhari called the PDP government 'fascist'. Tinubu sarcastically mentioned that he would take Buhari's ephitet [sic] as being accurate, for who better to identify a fascist than another one.”

As I wrote in my September 24, 2011 column titled “What the WikiLeaks Controversy Says about Nigeria’s Leaky-mouthed Elite” in the aftermath of WikiLeaks exposes of the diplomatic cables, the willingness of our elites to divulge unsolicited information about the nation to U.S. officials “betrays an infantile thirst for a paternal dictatorship.

“The United States is seen as that all-knowing, all-sufficient father-figure to whom our elites run when they have troubles. We have learned from the US embassy cables that our Supreme Court judges, Central Bank governors, even vice presidents and governors routinely run to the American embassy like terrified little kids when they have quarrels with each other.”

“What I’ve found particularly instructive,” I added, “is that our perpetually lying politicians suddenly become truthful, honest, and straight-talking people when they talk to Americans. You would think they were standing before their Creator—or at least before a stern, omniscient, no-nonsense dad who severely punishes his kids for the minutest lie they tell.”

After the revelations became public knowledge in 2011— and the embarrassment that attended this— Nigerian politicians dismissed them as "WikiLeaks’ beer parlor gossip." Of course, that’s intentionally misleading flapdoodle.

As I pointed out at the time, WikiLeaks was not the author of the embarrassing information about them;  the uncomfortable bits of information about them, which isn’t exclusive to Nigerian politicians, were contained in U.S. diplomats' dispatches, which were intended ONLY for the consumption of the US president, the US Secretary of State, and other high-profile government officials but which WikiLeaks exposed to the rest of the world at the cost of tremendous discomfort and embarrassment to the US government and embassy officials.

I don’t know what exactly Tinubu’s media adviser is denying. The truth is that Buhari’s people are already acutely aware of Tinubu’s honest opinions of Buhari and find his latter-day pandering to them, in a bid to earn their support for his 2023 presidential ambition, both theatrical and entertaining.

For the rest of us, though, his media aide’s forceful denial of that which is already archived in the public domain proves English journalist Francis Claud Cockburn’s famous quip that you should “Never believe anything until it has been officially denied.”

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Saturday, February 1, 2020

Insecurity Will Only Expand and Fester with Buhari

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Buhari’s admission that he was surprised by the growing insecurity in the North, Senator Abaribe’s call for him to resign, and the House of Representatives’ non-binding call for Nigeria’s service chiefs to retire in light of the escalating flow of blood all over the nation recall my April 13, 2019 column titledWhy Buhari Can’t and Won’t Solve the North’s Growing Security Crisis.”

Except for the dates and a few facts, it could well have been written this week. This shows how the more things change in the Buhari regime, the more they remain the same. Enjoy:

The last few days have seen a hypocritical mass awakening to the dire existential torments the people of Nigeria’s northwest face and a dramatic diminution of Buhari’s unearned goodwill in the region. People who had constructed Buhari as an unerring, irreproachable demigod who is worthy only of worship and unquestioned admiration have started to call him insensitive and clueless.


It took the unceasing escalation of kidnappings and the deepening and widening of the oceans of blood in the northwest for Buhari’s erstwhile unthinking worshipers to come to terms with what some of us have known and said since late 2015: that Buhari is an unfeeling wretch who is also irremediably incompetent.

For the first time since Buhari happened on the Nigerian political scene, Imams are now openly preaching against him. Northwestern Nigerian social media, which had functioned as the uncritical fortress for Buhari, is now suddenly viciously censorious of him. Even Daily Trust that plays the role of Buhari’s comforter and afflicter of critics of his ineptitude is allowing critical articles to be published about Buhari on its pages.

Public protesters against government, who are a rare species in the northwest, are sprouting and giving vent to muffled, reluctant, tentative but nonetheless significant anger against Buhari.

There suddenly seems to be an epiphany in the region that Buhari is an inept, uncaring fraud who scammed the people into attributing to him qualities he never possessed— and would never possess in a million lifetimes. Nevertheless, this epiphany is hypocritical and self-centered. Evidence of Buhari’s inattentiveness to and blithe unconcern with the suffering of everyday people has always been there, and some of us have called attention to it countless times.

For instance, amid the tear-jerking humanitarian disasters that the Boko Haram insurgency has inflicted on Nigeria’s northeast, Buhari never commiserated with, let alone visited, the area until he was practically blackmailed into doing so in late 2017. Even so, he only visited soldiers stationed in Maiduguri. When the Nigerian air force bombed scores of internally displaced Boko Haram victims in the northeast in error, Buhari didn’t issue a statement to condole with the people. Nor did he visit them.

In the aftermath of unprecedented bloodletting in Taraba, Benue and other parts of central Nigeria, Buhari was insouciant. It took massive media and social media pressures to get him to visit these states. And when he did visit the places, he exacerbated rather than lessened the crises there by his incendiary,unpresidential utterances. He even chafed at being expected to condole with victims of episodic communal deaths and used the opportunity of these visits to tout his “achievements in security.” I once called that an example of presidential dissociation from reality.

As recently as during the last presidential campaigns, when Buhari visited Zamfara, he didn’t say a word about the intensification of death and violence in the state. Instead, he incited the people to more violence. “Let us pray for rainfall so can we grow food, eat, and then cause trouble,” he told the people of Zamfara in Hausa in February 2019. None of the newfound critics of Buhari’s callousness saw anything wrong in that at the time.


It took the concatenation of widespread kidnapping in all parts of the northwest and the unremitting intensification of bloodletting in Zamfara for erstwhile worshipers of Buhari to admit that he is a crass, cold, heartless prig. This hypocritical moral imagination is similar to the selective outrage some people in Kano expressed when Abdullahi Ganduje rigged himself back to power while being quiet about, even complicit in, Buhari’s own daylight electoral robbery in the same Kano.

To express outrage only when we are personally affected by injustice bespeaks a defective moral conscience. When other parts of the nation were drowning in rivers of blood and Buhari, as is his wont, turned the other way, many of the people who are excoriating him for his cold detachment from the insecurity in the northwest were his fiercest defenders against critics.

That is why some people can’t help but exult in perverse satisfaction that the enablers and defenders of Buhari’s incompetence and heartlessness are today the victims of the presidential vices they defended, excused, and justified. But to gloat over the misfortunes of the people who defended Buhari when he ignored other parts of the country when they writhed in bloodstained agony is to be indistinguishable from and morally equivalent to them.

For one, there are victims of the bloodbath in Zamfara and other parts of the northwest who detest and didn’t vote for Buhari.  Even those who voted for him don’t deserve the unspeakable cruelty that is their lot today. I admit, though, that it’s hard not to see karmic comeuppance in the kidnap of a prominent fanatical Islamic “prayer warrior” of Buhari’s second term by the name of Ahmad Sulaiman who secured his freedom after nearly two weeks of captivity and hundreds of millions of naira in ransom payment.

Nevertheless, in spite of the heightened, unexampled outrage in Buhari’s natal region over his trademark insensitivity to the total collapse of security there, he won’t do anything substantive to attenuate the horrors that threaten the very life of the people there. There are at least two reasons for this.

One, Buhari is an inherently solipsistic narcissist. In other words, he is fundamentally and unalterably self-centered. The only person Buhari cares about is Buhari. That is why he spends billions of naira of the nation’s resources to treat even his littlest ailments in London while hospitals are denuded of basic medicines and ordinary people die of easily treatable illnesses. It is the same solipsistic narcissism that explains why he has not built a single hospital even in Abuja in the last four years he has been president.

When his son had an accident with a multimillionaire-naira motorbike, he flew him to Germany. Yet, although neither he nor his family members use the clinic at the Presidential Villa, he recently said that henceforth no one outside the immediate families of the president and the vice president should use the clinic. It speaks to the depth of his egocentricity and perverse self-love that he would deny workers of the presidential villa use of a clinic that neither he nor his family members use.

The second reason Buhari won’t do anything about the growing insecurity in the northwest is that the perpetrators of the crimes that have held the region hostage have been identified as Fulani. Buhari, as I have pointed out in several previous columns, is a knee-jerk ethnic jingoist. He has a twisted idea of ethnic solidarity that embarrasses even many educated Fulani people.

For instance, the only time he ever visited Zamfara to intervene in the security situation there was to protect what he perceives to be the interests of Fulani herders whose cattle were reportedly being stolen by bandits. He even donned military fatigues for this expedition. Now, he really doesn’t care because the victims aren’t people he self-identifies with.

The president’s puppeteers have caused him to express faux, impotent outrage to mollify the people of the northwest, but the truth is that he doesn’t care. That’s why his administration’s response has been discordant at best. It said the killings in Zamfara are caused by illegal gold miners in the same breath it said they’re caused by traditional rulers.  The absurdity of these claims is the biggest proof that the government Buhari leads can’t and doesn’t want to stem the rising tide of insecurity in the northwest—or anywhere else in Nigeria.