Indeed, as has been said elsewhere, the Nigerian politician evidently learnt little or nothing from the tragic fate of that republic.
Partly seized of that observation I had few years ago started writing a novel around the reported activities leading to the January 15, 1966 fateful date, but called it off due to limited time for extra curricula.
But the recent hard-to-fathom siege on the National Assembly by the Department of State Services (DSS) prompted me to snatch a glance at the abandoned draft.
I should like to share Chapter 1 of the draft with fellow compatriots, lest we forget:
“Aerial views of Nigeria’s over nine hundred thousand square kilometers landmass gave the impression of a monolithically stable agrarian country.
The pea-nuts driven northern region seemed to work hand-in-glove with both the eastern and western regions, driven by palm fruit and cocoa respectively.
But in spite of that seeming national stability, the pre-independence separating forces that had strained Nigeria’s seams persisted years after the indigenous administrators had taken control of their national affairs from the British colonial administration in 1960.
Regional differences on the preferred hand-over date, and a controversial census exercise immediately preceding the election that gave power to the northern region had been at the centre of the unremitting tensions.
These tensions became heightened by the ‘doctored’ 1963 census exercise, which was purportedly conducted to placate the aggrieved two southern regions.
Contrasting their extensive littoral boundary-regions on the Atlantic Ocean against the ‘harsh hinterlands of the northern region,’ the southern regions insisted the north was less populated than the south, contrary to the census’ figures.
Thus the tensions continued to mount even as 1963 drew to a close.
‘‘Those inter-regional tensions inexorably approached their zenith in 1965. It was an election year in Nigeria. National elections usually presented daunting challenges in Nigeria because the three leading political parties were essentially regional.
Political alliance was a necessary condition for attaining the constitutionally stipulated two-thirds of the national votes to emerge victorious.
In the 1965 election the ruling Northern Peoples Party (NPP) was in a fledgling alliance with the Progressive Party (PP) of the western region, leaving the eastern region’s Oriental Movement Party (OMP) in the opposition.
There had been emerging evidence suggesting that the NPP-PP alliance was being threatened by lingering irreconcilable differences on foreign policies concerning the Middle East in general, and the new state of Israel in particular.
That possible disintegration was causing the leadership of NPP great concerns.
Those concerns assumed anxious proportions on the heels of OMP’s recent confirmation that the hugely popular incumbent premier of the eastern region, Mister Ita Bassey Ita, was the party’s candidate for the 1965 Prime Ministerial election.
‘‘Mister Ita’s significance in the emerging post-independence Nigeria had remained in the mainstream of national discourse, following his hard-won judicial victory.
He had wrested from the all-powerful federal government monies accruing to his region from the trouble-ridden resource control fund (RCF).
He achieved this barely twenty-four months after assuming the premiership in 1961.
The NPP-led national government had seen that victory as a major blow to its powers.
In the words of the inimitable Premier Samahu Idris of the northern region, the victory denied the federal government of ‘an effective means of checking the excesses of the opposition.’
And when in late 1963, the socialist-leaning Ghanaian president had proposed the formation of an African Military High Command by independent nations, Nigeria’s Prime Minister Ibrahim Gambo had dismissed the idea as ‘premature for emerging African states.’
Premier Ita had fervently endorsed the Pan Africanist’s proposal, calling it ‘a logical imperative in relation to the threat of neocolonialism.’
Local intelligentsia and the working classes sided with the populist premier.
‘‘In the northern region capital city of Kaduna, a secret meeting occasioned by Mister Ita’s candidacy was in session in the premier’s lodge.
The time was one hour thirty-eight minutes past midnight, yet the intense discussions, which started about four hours before midnight continued.
Emptied bottles of fruit juice lay about the room, richly decorated with a Middle Eastern flair.
All but three of the discussants sat on colourful Persian rugs.
The aristocratic trio sat in throne-like chairs after a fashion that left even a cursory on-looker in no doubt about their enormous powers.
‘‘As I say, Prime Minister, you should emphasize to the chief justice the need to set up the commission of inquiry not later than a fortnight after the hand-over… Strict adherence to the agreed timelines is of utmost importance…’ the heavily turbaned of the trio was saying, but was gently interrupted by Alhaji Ibrahim Gambo’s ‘Needless to say; needless to say, Premier.
‘‘The idea here is to enable the commission of inquiry to publish the names of all those who are to appear before it before the electoral commission completes its screening of all candidates.
We should be seen at all times to be acting within the bounds of the law.
‘’Absolutely,’ again agreed the golden voiced Prime Minister, scribbling in his diary.
‘‘The time was 27 minutes past three o’clock in the morning when the marathon meeting finally came to a close.
About six hours after, two of the discussants who had sat on the colourful rugs would fly with the Prime Minister to the national capital city of Lagos.
There, they would take leave of the Prime Minister and then travel by road to the western region capital city of Ibadan to deliver another secret message to Chief Ladi Akinola, the Progressive Party’s irrepressible premiership candidate for the 1965 election.
To be continued tomorrow
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