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Second term syndrome and electoral perfidy in Nigeria


[FILE PHOTO] Voters during election

One of the novel ideas introduced by British administrators into what was then the Protectorate of Nigeria was the idea of representative government entailed in the British version of parliamentary democracy. The first election in Nigeria was held in September 1923.

It was designed to elect members of the Legislative Council (LECO) created by the Clifford Constitution, 1922 which allotted three seats to Lagos and one to Calabar.

The first nation-wide election in Nigeria was conducted in 1946 by indirect method.

It was designed to fill seats in Regional and Central Legislatures.

Another nation-wide election was conducted in 1951 to elect members into the Eastern, Northern and Western Houses of Assembly created by the MacPherson Constitution, 1951.

At that time, one was required to be a member of a Regional House of Assembly to qualify to become a Member of the House of Representatives in Lagos.

Elections were also held in 1954, 1956 and 1957 to fill positions in federal and regional legislatures.

However, the most significant election conducted by colonial masters was the Independence election held on Saturday, December 12, 1959.

The history of elections in Nigeria since 1959established a clear pattern that Second Term election of Nigerian Heads of Government and Presidents was always far worse than their first election.

The only exception to this historical fact was the presidential election conducted by the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan on March 28, 2015.

Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (1912-1966) was first appointed Prime Minister of Nigeria in September 1957. He was elected Prime Minster at the end of the Independence election of 1959.

Aside colonial gerrymandering and manipulation of allocation of electoral seats to favour the Northern Region, actual voting and counting of votes were relatively acceptable and there were no protests.

At the end of the 1959 election, the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) had all its seats from the Northern Region and controlled the Government of that Region.

The party did not present candidates in any of the other Regions in the country namely, Eastern, Mid-Western and Western Regions.

The Action Group (AG) controlled the Government of Western Region and was the official Opposition in the Eastern, Midwestern and Northern Regions, based on its electoral showing.

The National Convention of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) controlled the Government of Eastern Region and formed a coalition Federal Government with the NPC.

Second Term Syndrome consists of a set of anti-democratic behavior patterns adopted by ineffective governments to subvert the electoral process in order to remain in office.

In this regard, the second term election ofAlhajiSir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa in 1964 was the most critical in Nigerian history.

The election set the tone for subsequent direction of Nigeria’s historical development.

Indeed, the actions of the leaders of the Federal Government during that period significantly influenced the subsequent path, not only of electoral process but total political and economic development of the country.

General Election, 1964
Prime Minister Balewa’s second term election in 1964 proved to be far worse than his first election in 1959.

The electionwas conducted on the basis of the parliamentary system. The Republican Constitution which came into effect on October 1, 1963, provided for a Prime Minister (PM) and a (ceremonial) President.

The party with majority in Parliament formed the government, alone or in coalition with other parties. There was an official Opposition party recognized by the system.

Executive power was in the hands of the cabinet, not the PM alone.

Prior to the l964 Federal Election, the Government established a new Federal Electoral Commission (FEC) to replace the Electoral Commission of Nigeria (ECN) established by the colonial administration in 1959.

Electoral referees were no longer colonial civil servants that conducted pre-independence elections as part time assignments. The FEC was mandated to conduct Federal and Regional elections.

Prime Minister Balewa appointed EyoIta Esau (1901-1973), an Ibibio, in the defunct Eastern Region of Nigeria as head of the Commission.

Esau was a teacher, notable trade unionist, founder member and Secretary General of the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT), as the first indigenous head of post-independence federal electoral body in the country.

At this point in time, the credibility of Balewa’s government was in question and Esau’s appointment was expected to lend credibility to the government.

The main political parties that contested the 1959 election constituted themselves into two mega political alliances to fight the Federal Election scheduled to hold on December 30,1964.

On June 3, 1964, the United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA) was formed at Ibadan.

It consisted of the AG, NCNC and Northern Progressive Front (NPF) comprising Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) and United Middle Belt Congress (UMBC), Kano People’s Party (KPP), Zamfara Commoners Party (ZCP) as well as some Independent candidates.

On the other side, the NPC aligned with the Nigerian National Democratic Party(NNDP) to form the Nigerian National Alliance (NNA).

Other NPC alliance parties were Niger Delta Congress (NDC), Midwest Democratic Front (MDF), Dynamic Party (DP), Republican Party (RP) and Lagos State United Front (LSUF).

At the time of the election (December 1964), Chief Obafemi Awolowo, leader of the main Opposition AG, was in jail at Calabar prison. Dr. MichaelI.

Okpara led the UPGA while Alhaji Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto, led the NNA.

Massive Electoral Fraud
The 1964 election revealed a number of electoral malpractices that did not occur in the pre-independence election of December 1959.

The rigging of the election started with nomination of candidates for the election.

A large number of Opposition candidates were prevented from filing their nomination papers, particularly in the defunct Northern Region.

During campaign, many candidates of Opposition parties were beaten up with bare fists or sticks.

Character assassination was another aspect employed as a tactic to weaken opposing members.

Campaign for the election was overshadowed by widespread allegations of intimidation.

At this stage, members of the NCNC who had been participants in a coalition Federal Government with the NPC since 1960 also became victims of the high handedness of their coalition partners in the NPC.

In most parts of the defunct Northern Region, traditional rulers nominated their protégés as candidates.

Since it was unthinkable for a commoner to oppose the dictates of an Emir, the electoral body simply confirmed the nominated candidates as duly elected.

On December 16, 1964, about two weeks to the Federal Election scheduled to hold on December 30, the Attorney-General of the former Eastern Region informed the FEC that UPGA candidates were finding it extremely difficult to obtain nomination papers from electoral officers in Northern Nigeria. Electoral officers made themselves inaccessible.

Biose,,a former university teacher and rights activist, is the National Co-coordinator, Team Niger-Delta for Atiku and Obi .

Another method of preventing Opposition candidates from participating in campaign or filing nomination papers was arrest and false imprisonment of such opponents only to have them released after the announcement of election results.

This measure was applied against AG, NCNC and other Opposition parties such as KPP, NEPU and UMBC.

Some UPGA candidates were kidnapped so that they could not file their nomination papers.

By December 2l, 1964, eighty (80) NPC candidates had been returned unopposed to the Federal House of Representatives. UPGA objected strongly, stating: “we do not regard these seats as won by NPC.”

On December 24, an UPGA delegation handed in a protest to the ceremonial President, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe.

The Alliance warned that unless all candidates were allowed to file nomination papers, it would boycott the election due to widespread pre-voting electoral malpractice by the allied NNA parties.

Three members of the FEC resigned in protest against the untoward happenings, including Prince David Akenzua representing Midwestern Region and Mr. Anthony Aniagolu, representing the defunct Eastern Region.

With the situation not corrected, UPGA boycotted the election. However, the boycott did not stop election in most parts of the country.

Polling took place in the Northern Region and parts of Western and Midwestern Regions.

The boycott in Eastern Region was total as well as parts of Lagos. Needless to say, many people were falsely returned unopposed and the NNA claimed victory.

On March 18, 1965, supplementary elections were held in the Eastern Region and parts of Lagos and Midwestern Region where elections did not take place in December 1964 due to the boycott.

UPGA candidates won all seats and formed the Opposition in the Federal Parliament.

Following the brazen electoral fraud that characterised the Federal Election of December 1964, the people of Western Region looked forward to the Regional parliamentary election scheduled to hold on October 11, 1965 to reclaim their Region from the rampaging NPC and its local ally, the NNDP. But the worst was in the offing.

Action Group Crisis, 1962
It is impossible to understand political developments in Nigeria between 1962 and January 1966 without mentioning a critical intervening factor – the crisis within the Action Group (AG) which broke into the open at the Jos Convention of the party inMay 1962.

It was an internal crisis within the AG following ideological differences between those who desired affiliation with the NPC-controlled Federal Government in order to gain political patronages and those who insisted that the ideological direction of the Western Region under the AG government must not be polluted by feudal structures of the NPC.

The intra-party feud led to emergence of two factions in the party.

The AG leadership took constitutional steps to remove from office, Chief Samuel LadokeAkintola (1910-1966), Premier of Western Region and leader of the rival faction in accordance with Section 33(10) of the Constitution of Western Region.

However, Chief Akintola successfully resisted his removal. He formed a new party christened Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) which worked hand in hand with the NPC to challenge his former party, the AG, in electoral contests.

Western Region Election, l965
All the devious tactics deployed to falsify the Federal Election in December 1964 were upgraded in the 1965 Western Region parliamentary election in October 1965.

These ranged from pre-election, Election Day to post-election fraud. The election was capped with unprecedented riots in the Region.

The NNDP Government of Western Region under the firm control of ChiefAkintola, passed electoral laws banning public meetings in parts of the Region and later imposed curfew.

The result was that Opposition candidates in the Region could hardly meet or campaign freely. Intimidation and harassment of the electorate was rife.

This was complemented with widespread bribery and other forms of inducement.

Nomination of candidates became even more problematic for AG/UPGA candidates than in December 1964.

To avoid receiving nomination papers from candidates of UPGA, some electoral officers went into hiding.

Even where UPGA candidates caught electoral officers unawares and submitted their nomination papers, candidates of the NNDP were still returned unopposed.

A few days to the scheduled election, tension which had built up over the months suddenly burst.

On Election Day, October 11, 1965, there were reports of violence and disorder in several parts of Western Region.

During voting, many people smuggled ballot papers by stuffing their clothes with huge quantities of ballot. Election fraud took bizarre, daring and theatrical-comic forms.

According to one report,“‘pregnant’ men and women went into polling booths to ‘deliver’ their entrails into ballot boxes and emerge with flat bellies.”

Post-voting fraud took the form of massive falsification of results. In many cases, election results were announced before counting of ballots was done and recorded.

It is significant to note that the party that controlled the government of each Region was entitled to nominate Federal Ministers from that Region.

Although the AG was clearly the most popular party in the Region, the NNDP in collaboration with the NPC announced pre-determined results and claimed victory.

Violent Protests and Total Confusion
Chief Akintola, leader of the NNDP was declared winner and therefore remained as Premier. The announcement of result of the election was greeted with spontaneous and widespread riots in several parts of the Western Region. Some people demanded hisremoval.

On October 13, 1965, Wole Soyinka, author and playwright who was then a lecturer in Theatre Arts Department at the University of Ibadan was arrested in connection with an incident of a man who entered an Ibadan studio of the Western Nigeria Broadcasting Service (WNBS), seized a recorded tape of a speech by the Premier and substituted it with a tape of a strange voice.

The person who did it wanted to demonstrate beyond doubt that the newly elected Premier was noy in the studio to make a broadcast and was merely relaying a recorded broadcast.

Meanwhile, widespread protests continued.

The Government responded with strong-arm tactics. Prominent among those arrested were Alhaji Dauda Soroye Adegbenro and Wole Soyinka. Adegbenro was later tried and discharged.

“Operation Wetie”
After a short period of spontaneous and sporadic riots, the violent protests took a horrific turn which came to be known in Nigerian political history as “operation wetie”.

The word “wetie” is believed to be a combination of the English word “wet” and Yoruba suffix ‘ie’, which together means “let’s wet it”.

The object for making wet was petrol and the objects to be made wet were human beings, buildings and vehicles.

The “operation” did not end with pouring fuel on persons and objects. It involved setting alight political opponents and suspected electoral malefactors and burning them alive.

“Opertionwetie” was reminiscent of violent protests in Tiv land during the Tiv political crisis between 1960 and 1966 known as ‘nande, nande’ and “atem-tyo”.

‘Nande, nande’ means “burning, burning” while “atem-tyo” means “crush head”.

The violence was a reaction to unbridled political oppression of the UMBC and its leaders and continued until the military coup of January 1966.

Operation wetie also involved burning the vehicles, buildings or other valuable property of perceived political traitors.

There was widespread murder, arson and looting in many parts of the Western Region during the period.

Conservative estimates indicate that about 160 people, including some electoral officers,were killedin the uprising while thousands of houses were burnt.

On October 24, 1965, a first class traditional ruler in Western Region, the Odemo of Ishara, Oba Samuel Akinsanya (1898-1985), who was a Minister without Portfolio from 1952 to 1955 and also Member of the Western House of Chiefs from 1952 to 1961, spoke on the political crisis in Western Region, stating inter alia:

“Election results which provoked violent acts of murder, arson, assault occasioning bodily harm, and destruction of property, instead of joy and dancing, must impel serious thoughts and immediate examination of the real cause or causes by those whose responsibility it is to maintain law and order and to make a needful change.”

Oba Akinsanya was one of the Yoruba Obas who had his stipend reduced to ‘one penny’(equivalent to about 00.1 Naira) a year by the NNDP government in Western Region.

Taking account of the December 1964 Election, the Supplementary Election in March 1965 and the Western Region Election in October 1965, the NNA had 198 seats while UPGA had 108 seats in the Federal House of Representatives.

At the end of the electoral frauds of 1964 and 1965, the NCNC joined the NPC to form a coalition Federal Government, while the AG became Opposition party in the Federal House of Representatives as well as in the Eastern, Mid-Western and Western Houses of Assembly.

By the end of 1965, it had become clear that Nigerian leaders who inherited power at independence in 1960 merely paid lip service to democracy and were not prepared to put democratic principles into practice in the country.

The massive electoral frauds were clear evidence of high deficit of democratic ethos within the Nigerian ruling class in the First Republic.

Nigerian leaders were reasonably united in the struggle for independence.

However, the struggle for political power after independence introduced grievous strains into elections as well as and inter and intra-party relations.

Indeed, within a few years, the joy of independence was replaced with man-made disasters and intolerable oppression resulting in violent protests and riots in several parts of the country.

The massive fraud that attended the General Election of 1964 and Western Regional election in October 1965 were not isolated incidents of political rascality in the First Republic. They were part of systematic oppressive measures designed by the Federal Government to decimate or extinguish the Opposition.

Census Crisis of 1962-63
The first post-independence National Census conducted in May 1962 produced apopulation figure of over 60 million. Thiswas considered to have been flagrantly inflated and was therefore rejected by wide spectrum of the Nigerian public.

Population determined the number of seats allocated to each Region in the Federal Parliament. Therefore, inflated census figures enabled communities and Regions to “win” more seats in the Legislature.

The repeat census carried out from November 5-8, 1963 gave the Northern Region a population of 29,809,000, Eastern Region 12,394,000, Western Region

10,931,000 and MidWestern Region 2,536,000, giving a total population of 55,670,000 for the country.

Again, the Premiers of Eastern and Midwestern Region rejected the figures but the pro-NPC Premier of Western Region accepted it, stating that “the figures were accurate.”

The Solicitor-General of Eastern Region, Mr. D.O. Ibekwe sought to nullify it through legal process but in its verdict, the Supreme Court stated that it had no jurisdiction to entertain the matter.

However, based on the controversial census, the Federal Government redistributed seats in the Federal House of Representatives, allocating 168 seats to the Northern Region (53.8%), 69 seats to the Eastern Region (21%), 61 seats to the Western Region (19.6%) and 14 seats to the Mid-Western Region (4.5%).

The census crisis significantly diminished mutual trust among ethnic nationalities in the country and reduced confidence of other parties that the ruling NPC could act in an impartial manner in the interest of the country as a whole.

Declaration of State of Emergency in Western Region, 1962
At the resumption of sitting of Western House of Assembly on May 25, 1962, the Speaker was about to read Order of the Day when Hon. E.O. Oke representing Ogbomosho South West stood on the table and shouted “Fire on the mountain, run, run, run…” Then, Hon. E. Ebubedike representing Ajeromi/Ifelodun/Badagry constituency in Lagos grabbed the Mace, flung it in the direction of the Speaker, Hon. Prince Adeleke Adedoyin. He missed the Speaker but the Mace broke into two on the Speaker’s table.

Some Honourable Members used chairs as weapon while some scampered for safety. As if pre-arranged, Police fired teargas and the Assembly dispersed.

Prime Minister Balewa convened an emergency meeting of the House of Representatives on May 29, 1962. He moved a motion for declaration of state of public emergency in Western Region.

In his reply to Prime Minister Balewa’s motion, Chief Awolowo repudiated the Prime Minister’s claim of breakdown of law and order in Western Nigeria.

He recounted events inside the chambers of the House, stating inter alia, “I was there myself, and when I left that Chamber, those who were outside the Chamber did not even know that anything was happening inside the Chamber.

Ibadan is peace ful – the whole of the Western Region is peaceful….I maintain that this is a calculated, premeditated attempt on the part of the Prime Minister and his cabinet to try, if they could to castrate the Action Group, to disturb the welfare of the people of Western Nigeria who have always been looked upon as foes of the NPC.” He described the action of the House as “gross misuse of power”.

Chief Awolowo also called attention to widespread riots, murder and arson in Tiv Division of Northern Region and riots in Okrika Division of Eastern Region but the Prime Minister did not consider these as state of public emergency.

The NPC-NCNC-controlled Parliament however passed the Prime Minister’s motion. Dr. Moses Majekodunmi (1916-2012), then personal physician to Prime Minister Balewa was appointed Sole Administrator of Western Region for six months.

In his contribution to the state of emergency debate which turned out to be prophetic, Anthony Enahoro (1923-2010), the man who moved the historic self-government motion in the Federal House of Representatives on March 31, 1953, told the House that the action of Prime Minister Balewa“ may well be the beginning of a chain of events nobody knows and nobody can tell when it will end.”

By that action, the Federal Government effectively toppled the AG-controlled Government of Western Region. Troops were drafted to Ibadan to enforce “peace”.

Indeed, a perceptive observer described the seizure of power in the Western Region by the NPC/NCNCCoalition as the first coup in Nigeria.

On December 31, 1962, the Federal Government lifted the State of Emergency in Western Region.

Chief Akintola who was Deputy Leader of the AG, formed a new party, which formed a coalition government with the NCNC in the Western Region, both of which aligned with the NPC to share power in the Federal Government.

Treasonable Felony Trial and Imprisonment of Awolowo
On July 16, 1962, Chief ObafemiAwolowo, leader of the AG, was arrested on allegations of treasonable felony along with 28 members of his party.

About six months after taking over the Government of Western Region, precisely on November 2, 1962, Chief Awolowo and 26 members of his party were charged with treasonable felony and conspiring to overthrow the Federal Government by force.

On September 11, 1963, Mr. Justice Sowemimo sentenced Chief Awolowo to 10 years imprisonment with “hard labour” which was upheld on appeal while 17 others received various terms of imprisonment.

Creation of Mid-Western Region
As nationalist agitation for independence from Britain gathered momentum, fear of ethnic dominationalso grew among ethnic minorities in the country.

This gave rise to the Midwest State Movement in the old Western Region, Calabar-Ogoja-Rivers (COR) State Movement in the Eastern Region and Middle Belt Movement in the Northern Region.

Indeed, as far back as 1953, Dr. UdoUdoma, who had his Ph.D in law in 1944, founded the Calabar-Ogoja-Rivers (COR) autonomy movement.

The motion for creation a new state in the defunct Northern Region was first tabled on a motion by Mallam Ibrahim Imam of Borno in the Northern House of Assembly on Tuesday, March 6, 1956 for the creation of Middle Belt State.

The motion was defeated by 68 votes to 2, with 5 abstentions.

Again on February 26, 1957, a second motion was tabled by Bitrus R. Pam of Jos for the creation of a Central Region. Again, the motion was defeated by 98 votes to 2 with 3 abstentions.

At the Willink’s Commission,1957, the NPC government argued that the survival of Nigeria was dependent upon its unity and that if more states were created from the Northern Region in accordance with the wishes of the minorities, the entire country would collapse.

This was of course sheer blackmail or veiled form of threat.

But when it served the political purposes of the NPC-NCNC coalition Federal Government, Midwestern Region was carved out of the Western Region in 1963.

This followed a motion moved by Prime Minister Balewa on the floor of the Federal House of Representatives in Lagos on March 22, 1962, for the creation of Mid-Western Region, in the following words:

“That the House approves a proposal for an alteration to Section 3 of the Constitution of the Federation of Nigeria for the purpose of establishing a fourth region within the Federation of Nigeria consisting territorially of Benin Province in Western Nigeria including Akoko Edo District in Afenmai Division and Delta Province in Western Nigeria including Warri Division and Warri Urban Township area.” (Hansard, 22/3/62, Alhaji Sir AbubakarTafawaBalewa, Prime Minister.)

All the formal steps precedent to creation of the new state having been completed by the legislatures of the Western Region and the Federal Parliament, a referendum was conducted in the area of the new Region in July 1963, in accordance with Section 5(5) of the Constitution of the Federation, 1960.

As a result of the successful plebiscite, an Act of the Federal House of Representatives was passedon August 9, 1963, creating the Mid-Western Region as the fourth Region of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, with Regional capital in Benin City.

This remains the first and only Region created by constitutional process in Nigerian history.

It is pertinent to note that the political inclination of the bulk of the Midwest area at that time was pro-NCNC that was in the coalition Federal Government with the NPC.

Clearly, the political objective of the creation of the Region was to increase the number of Regions controlled bythe NPC-NCNC coalition partners and diminish the influence of Awolowo’s AG in Nigerian politics.

If the Balewa administration had been politically fair-minded enough, referendum for creation of new states would have been conducted in all parts of the country that asked for new Regions.

The Middle Belt Region would have been created in 1963 and allowed to develop peacefully.

The COR State would also have been created at the same date.

There would have been no need for late Biafran leader, General Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu (1933-2011) to include present-day Akwa-Ibom, Cross River, Rivers and Bayelsa States in his Republic of Biafra which he declared on May 30, 1967.

The people of these areas would not have waited for military dictators to create their Regions, thereby lending some legitimacy to the rule of violent men.

With the advent of crude oil and gas, 19 states were created in the former Northern Region by military dictators, just to share the oil money.

Collapse of the First Republic
The founding fathers of the Nigerian state set out “to build a nation where no man is oppressed”so that Nigeria may be blessed with “peace and plenty”as stated in the Independence National Anthem.

But these aspirations were not realised to a reasonable degree due to the vaulting ambition and anti-democratic tactics of the NPC controlled Federal Government.

The Western Region election crisis in 1965 was the last straw in a chain of unpalatable events that created intense feeling of disappointment among several vital sections of the Nigerian population.

By the end of 1965, anonymous revolutionary pamphlets started circulating in several parts of the country.

Calamity struck on January 15, 1966 when some disgruntled military officers overthrew the civilian government in a bloody coup de tat.

This effectively spelt the end of the First Republic and the emergence of military dictatorship.

This unfortunate event culminating in a 30-month Nigeria-Biafra, dispossession of the Niger Delta of its natural resources and the long-drawn crisis it created.

Military dictators later imposed Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), which struck a death blow to Nigeria’s economy.

Military dicgatorship also gve rise to clandestine enrolment of Nigeria as a Full Member of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) in 1986 which officially introduced religion into Nigerian body politic.

Finally, the military entrenched the most decadent aspects of military authoritarianism into the constitutional framework for subsequent civilian administrations in the country.

In his lecture titled Ideological Foundations for a Viable Political Order for Nigeria delivered at the Nigeria Bar Association Law Week in March 1986, eminent constitutional law, Professor Ben Nwabueze summarized the crisis of the First Republic thus:

“The series of crises that rocked the First Republic – the 1962/63 census controversy, the 1964 Federal election and the 1965 Western Region election crisis – may be traced to the desire of the NPC to perpetuate control of the Federal Government.” (The Guardian, Tuesday, March 25, 1986).

Biose,,a former university teacher and rights activist, is the National Co-coordinator , Team Niger-Delta for Atiku and Obi , and could be reached on

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