For Nigeria, Knocking On Heaven’s Doors by Demola Rewaju

In the aftermath of the loss of Goodluck Jonathan, my
pain as one who had supported him stemmed not from
the feeling of a personal loss but anger that he had
seemed to assume that his mandate was a personal one
that nobody had a right to feel more angered by than

I saw this as selfish – his occupancy of the position of
President was not just about him. It was about his wife
who had stood by him for years faithfully, who had fought
battles in defence of the man whom she had always loved
and who even if he was just still a lecturer at the
university, she would still love as much as she did when
he was President.

It was about a political party, used to having its way at
elections with the sheer strength of state machinery –
men who are now hounded into exile, into jails and into
silence by their political foes.

It was about a people – those of the Niger-Delta who had
waged battles against the Nigerian State ever since the
discovery of oil led their environment into degradation and
who had contributed sons like Isaac Adaka Boro who died
while fighting the civil war against Biafra and Ken Saro-
Wiwa. It was about the peoples of the north in a way – for
whom those years of power-holding had not yielded
anything but a certain feeling of superiority with nothing to
show for it in improved living standards or education other
than that their kinsman was in power.

That election was beyond the person of Jonathan. His
was the culmination of years and years of battle against
an old Northern establishment that has laid claim to power
as a birthright since the departure of the colonialists.

As certain realities on which some of us warned now come
into play, it feels again like a call to the trenches that our
fathers once stood in and did battle that old enemy. It is
unfortunately a battle that robs even the victor of a bit of

“Lord, take these guns away from me/Cos I can’t shoot
them anymore” – these lines from Dolly Parton’s version of
Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door came to mind and stirred my
muse – a battle has to be fought but it is not one we will
relish fighting.

I came to know Awolowo through the writings of Chief
Bola Ige but both men for me were Yoruba Leaders – with
the latter being a bit more nationalistic than the former. I
preferred Zik whom I always thought was a lot like Ige – in
oratory prowess, in leapfrog thinking and in writing.

Themore I grew in political enlightenment, the more I
appreciated Awolowo and how he came to become a
sectional leader. Awolowo fought with all his might against
a northern establishment that was patterned on the ideals
of Feudalism. Northern minorities were either loyal to the
Fulani aristocracy or were dealt with ruthlessly. Awolowo
fought valiantly against this – forming alliances with
Joseph Tarka from Benue and several others. Campaigning
heavily in northern territory in his quest to become
President of Nigeria, promising free education and a more
equitable form of government.

 But Ahmadu Bello could not understand why everyone wouldn’t just stick to their ownterritorial base and let others advance at their own pace.
For Ahmadu Bello, the title Sardauna of Sokoto was more
valued than being Prime Minister.

By 1979, advances had been made – Shehu Shagari was
not your feudal lord neither did he have blatant religious
ideals. With inroads from the likes of Abubakar Rimi and
Balarabe Musa who brought populist/progressive ideals to
the north, the glass ceiling was cracking – politicians from
the south and the north seemed to have found enough
common ground to be able to sit at the same table as
equals..even if corruption was one of the unifying factors.

Until the Coup of 1983.

The country returned to another era of ethnocentricism that
would culminate in the death of a democratically elected
MKO Abiola. The same men who had managed to forge
the old alliance of balance had grouped together under
G-34 as northern leaders finally decided to join in the push
against dictatorship – Abacha had become a threat not
only to the Kudirats, Suliats, Rewanes and Obasanjos of
the South, but also to the Yar’Aduas and Dasukis of the

And so it was that after 16 years of military rule, Olusegun
Obasanjo, a compromise candidate, liked more by those
outside his own tribe than by those within (Bola Ige, his
good friend, was an exception), became the President.

The North dared him on Sharia and though Uncle Bola
huffed and puffed, Obasanjo was never going to let
himself be drawn into a battle with that northern
establishment that had brutally hacked down many of its
own for showing weakness. Having agreed (like Jonathan
would) to be President for only one term, Obasanjo
managed to beat the north at its own game of power by
promoting many northerners as his likely successors and
earning their support for his second term.

With one final move in 2007, Obasanjo placated the
northern establishment and the Yar’Adua political family
while also placating the Niger-Delta. But fate stepped in
and the Niger-Deltan became President…breaking the back
of an establishment that felt it was Born To Rule.

Fate may bring you into position but only self can grow
you into a position – Goodluck Jonathan failed to grow
into the Presidency and an alliance of the oldest surviving
and newest over-reaching power brokers saw him out. At
the arrowhead of that alliance was a familiar figure from
the December 1983 coup.

So we are here again: having to explain to compatriots
why organs of state should protect freedom of expression
rather than prevent me from giving my dog a bad name
because someone may feel offended. Having to watch as
the entire security machinery, both of force and
intelligence, military and espionage is concentrated in the
hands of people from the same section of a country, in a
multi-ethnic state. Fulani herdsmen now seem to be a law
to themselves – while the state by its silence continues to
encourage them. A bill to establish grazing routes or
ranches all over the country for their benefit is being

To be fair, I note with joy, admiration and respect, a few
northern voices continue to call out the present regime of
Ethnocentrism for what it is – the First Lady of one core
Northern state tries valiantly to explain to me that some
things are no longer just possible. From seeds like these
must the oak of nationhood grow.

And last night, presidential spokesperson Garba Shehu
gave another inkling into the thinking of Aso Rock. Try if
you can, to first ignore the information that our President’s
first page of visit in the daily newspapers is the cartoon
section which provokes a good laugh. Then think more to
see that he just doesn’t get it.

He doesn’t get that the ethnic region a President comes
from in Nigeria feels a greater sense of entitlement to the
use of state power, unless a clear and consistent signal
from the President himself is sent to them. He doesn’t get
it that other ethnic regions feel at the mercy of the ethnic
region in power unless a President takes steps towards
Inclusive Governance. I’ve once watched Mr. President on
national television at a national event hosted in the north
end his written-in-English speech with several minutes of
speaking in Hausa…not a big deal for many but such
instances reinforce certain feelings of dominance and
inferiority in different ethnic groups.

I refuse most days to dignify such discussions with any
form of attention, so long as sane voices continue to
speak against Ethnocentrism. I do not want to fight the
same battles that our political fathers fought – that why I
readily understood the significance of those lines from that
song – that’s why this is a knock on heaven’s door.

Demola Olarewaju is a Political Analyst and Strategist as
well as a member of the PDP. He tweets from