Rotimi on regionalism and military rule
Brigadier-General Oluwole Rotimi was not the most exciting governor of the old Western State or Region. However, he was reputed as a good manager of state economy. When the Yakubu Gowon regime was overthrown in July 1975, he was one of two state governors adjudged not to have been corrupt by the incoming administration led by General Murtala Muhammed. The other governor so exonerated was Brigadier-General Mobolaji Johnson of Lagos State. On this note, Brigadier-General Rotimi deserves our respect, his views on national politics, even when we may not agree totally with them, also deserve our attention not least because they come from the honest mind that he is.
Brigadier-General Rotimi’s interview with The Guardian, reported in the same leading newspaper on March 20, 2005, ranged through a variety of issues. One seeks to amplify and endorse the retired army officer on two important issues of national significance. The first has to do with his view on the clamour for a return to regional politics by a section of public opinion, and the other is what one would consider to be his subtle verdict on military rule. These issues will be appraised in sequence.
While one may not go as far as to impute a sinister motive into the agitation for a return to regional politics, the position here is that the states may have come to stay and any attempt to abolish them could be counter-productive. It would be like wanting to invite back a problem that had been resolved. The attempted secession of ‘Biafra’, as Brigadier-General Rotimi competently asserted, provided the springboard for the demarcation of Nigeria into 12 states by the Gowon administration in 1967. However, the issue of state creation had predated independence in 1960, and had been contested violently by the minority ethnic nationalities, especially those of the Eastern and Northern Regions of the Nigerian federation. In recent years, even among the assumed homogeneous Yoruba group, the need to curtail the hostile rivalry between the Ooni of Ife and the Alaafin of Oyo, petty as it might seem in the eyes of many, was one argument advanced as justification for splitting old Oyo State into two: Oyo and Osun states. Ekiti people insisted on a state of their own, even though they were the dominant grouping in old Ondo State. While most of the Nigerian states are currently not viable economically, they would appear to have made up for that deficiency in the realm of political justification.
There is, however, no doubt that the affinity between states varies from one region of society to the other. It is in this regard that the demarcation of the Nigerian federation into geo-political zones must be regarded as, perhaps, the only sane contribution of General Sani Abacha to our political development. The geo-political zones could be upheld for the purpose of leadership-rotation and power-sharing, while the states remain as autonomous governmental units within the zones. Decentralisation of policing and resource control or distribution, would remain key issues in our quest for a true federal nation.
Brigadier-General Rotimi bluntly opposed the clamour for a return to regionalism, which would have meant the scrapping of the state-structure. In fact, he is of the opinion that the proponents of regionalism have a ‘hidden agenda’ that could eventually result in the disintegration of the Nigerian state. That speculative view and opinion of his would seem to be as important as his honest verdict on the two phases of military rule. The first phase encompassed the period 1966 to 1979, while the second phase ranged from 1983 to 1999. Hear what he had to say about the second phase of military politics dominated by characters such as Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha,
“The second era was an era of anything goes, where backbiting, blackmailing were items used to secure political posting. The period saw the army sacrificing professionalism and the celebration of brazen robbery of the nation’s resources by military officers.”
The coup of 1966, which heralded 13 years of military rule, came at a time when the phenomenon of coups was sweeping through the entire continent of Africa. The new governments that supplanted the colonial powers had not actually got to grips with the management of peace and conflict in post-colonial Africa. The soldier, tagged ‘the man on the horse-back’, was generally perceived as the agent of development and modernisation. The Nigerian nation, like most of the other African nations, was engulfed in a series of conflicts soon after the exit of the colonial masters, and the Nzeogwu-led coup of January 1966 was always an event destined on the cards. Also destined was the civil war of 1967-70 which, if it had not happened then, would still have happened at a later stage and the pattern and outcome might have been different. The first generation of soldier-politicians, honest professionals that they were, were products of the contradictions of a society cobbled together by British imperialists who had done very little to resolve such contradictions in the form of a balanced federation. There was corruption, but it was not the monster that it is today.
The soldiers that later intruded in national politics, especially those of the regimes of Generals Babangida and Abacha, would appear to have been in politics for themselves. They elevated corruption to a status of state ideology. The reason why Babangida overthrew the regime of Muhammadu Buhari in a palace coup is as controversial as the character himself. One has heard it suggested that Babangida might have staged his coup to prevent himself from being court-marshalled for a serious offence, and one has also heard the argument that the coup was probably induced by the IMF, not least because Babangida had asserted in his maiden speech that his administration was determined to break the IMF deadlock. Be that as it may, the period 1985-1993 is better forgotten than remembered. Corruption, deceit and lawlessness, characterised the Babangida and Abacha years.
• Akinola writes from Oxford, UK
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