Yet again, wither Nigeria at 57
Fifty-seven years after, the saying still holds true for Nigeria: There is nothing so disenchanting as attainment. That is why three years shy of sixty years, the age of full adulthood, the ecstasy and high expectations that trailed the country’s attainment of flag independence, have given way to despondency and detestation.
Instead of songs of exhilaration, many are rather more eager to sing a dirge for that same country that severed its political umbilical chord from Britain in 1960. Looking back conjures the image of frustration, near misses and willful blind leaps in the name of leadership.
The absence of statesmen and think at the founding the country has remained at the root of the many convulsions that have defined Nigeria’s wobbly march to the future. Could it be that in the frenzy to extricate the inchoate nation from the colonial control, the founding fathers forgot to forge a national resolution or ideal?
Further, could it be that the founding fathers, divided in their different approaches to attaining nationhood, glossed over the underlying differences in history and socio-cultural backgrounds of the multiple ethnic nationalities glued together by the dictates of the colonialist?
If one said, let us forget our differences and another wanted an understanding of those differences, why were they not able to come to a consensus? How fundamental are those diffeences that they continue to define the social distemper that have continued to dog the country’s development?
As it happened, there were a plethora of questions begging for honest answers. But in the maddening quest to get the nation first, the founding fathers seemed to have underestimated those internal contradictions, rushed the nation building process through. They overlooked the need for consensus building, put the ‘we’ in the bargain!
And having left the people behind, the nationalists unwittingly new colonialists and subjected themselves to competition for political power. What came out from the competition for positions, instead of ideas, included a deepening of ethnic origin and tribal idiosyncrasies.
Instead Of One, Three
THERE is something unique about the motto of the United States of America. It says, out of many one. The US was able to blend a broad diversity of peoples into one great nation. For Nigeria, at the point of its independence from British control, emphasis was unduly laid on three ethnic nationalities instead of one country.
The tripod scheme permeated the subconscious of the nationals and with time, defined the politics of the country. It was therefore not surprising that the major tribes pushed down the narrative that the socio-political considerations in the country should be defined by whether you are Hausa, Igbo or Yoruba.
Having created three nations out of the British contraption, the independence led to new internal frictions about who and how the republic should be managed. Pretending to align with democratic ideals, the insufficient enlightenment and lopsided educational backgrounds of citizens of the tripod made things quite challenging.
And in the process of ensuring that the British were not given any excuse to extend their control of the former protectorates, a nebulous arrangement was tinkered with. It happened so happened that the two exposed and better educated of the founding fathers took the sidelines and allowed their less endowed patriotic to mount the saddle and give direction to the new nation.
Abubakar Tafawa Belawa, it should be noted, was not actually in line or ready for the enormous responsibility of fashioning the statecraft that was imposed on him. The more capable and knowledgeable Sarduana, preferred to remain in the northern region where his influence was better appreciated to maintain close touch with the grassroots.
For Obafemi Awolowo, who seemed to possess more acute vision about the future, the decision to begin a process of accommodating the feudal north with its limited educational accomplishment portended a travesty of leadership.
Yet, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, who all along appeared on the frontline in the quest for independence, espoused the American liberal ideology and espoused the principles of economy of scale. As such while Awolowo looked at the place of commonness of understanding in the building of synergy and national cohesion, Zik remained obdurate with his belief that the greatness of a nation revolves around its population and geographical size.
It was therefore not unexpected that even as Prime Minister; Belewa could not match the sophistry of his two colleagues. To survive and excel, the Prime Minister continued to receive inputs from the intellectuals and traditional monarchy from his base.
And as Zik, who continued to delude himself with his one Nigeria dream, attempted to preside over the affairs of the western region, it dawned on him that the entrenched ethnic consciousness and deep cultural orientation of African have nothing in common with free market and American republicanism he imbibed.
Enter Force, Friction and Hate
The culmination of the warped state of affairs at the centre, was the attempted use of force to settle the underlying national questions that dogged Nigeria’s statehood. The contradictions of three nations in one became accentuated. National discourse prospered in ethnic persuasion and predisposition.
Thus, even when the military tried to bring all tendencies under one authority by force, the fallout of ethnic differences cropped up to defeat the nationalist motivation. By the time they struck, the purschists had taken umbrage at the way the country was gliding towards the precipice.
Made up of mainly junior ranking officers Nigeria’s first coup d’état marked the climax of the lack of well defined pathway for the newly independent country. Some commentators blamed the British for leaving a landmine at the point of their exit, such that there was no discernible or practicable constitutional pathway for durable statehood.
Part of the constitutional confusion was that quite unlike the French system of assimilation, the British merely fashioned its colonies for economic purposes. As such granting the colonies independence left the nationals to grapple with the intricacies of developing modern state without written constitutions. In place of written constitution, Britain is guided in their governance by norms, conventions and treaties.
The friction, which came on the scene from the coup by five majors, became a new lighthouse for the socio-political progress of the country. But instead of carrying out their intended purpose of cleansing the country from corrupt, inept and directionless leadership, the coupists deferred to the dictates of seniority that defines loyalty in the military.
Whether therefore it was error of judgment or calculated misadventure, the decision to hand over the rein of political authority after the sacking of the civil authorities, to General Johnson Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi Ironsi, is left for military historians to assess.
But from the patriotic gusto to put the country back on the path of accelerated development, meanings were read to the composition of the coup plotters and the ethnic nationalities of prominent leaders killed during the coup d’état.
The interpretation given to the entirely military adventure was that the Igbo, one of the tripods, wanted to wipe out leaders of other nationalities and spared theirs, with a grand vision to dominate the rest of the country. This emotional interpretation therefore set the tone for reprisal by the way of a counter coup.
Prosecuted in disgust and bottled up animosity, the second coup saw the killing of the Head of State, Aguiyi Ironsi, in a manner that offended both humanity and military ethics. The barbarism defied the claim of reprisal, because it bore the imprints of hate and unbecoming bitterness.
With Balewa dead and Zik outside the country, Awolowo, who seemed to have foreseen the confused approach to statecraft, was imprisoned on allegations of treasonable felony. Yet the assassination of Aguiyi Ironsi, which ushered in the military interregnum of General Yakubu Gowon, set July 29, as an alternate date for Nigeria’s twisted march to military colonialism.
Thus with the founding fathers out of the way, political power went into the hands of barely literate soldiers trained, not in the art of governance, but of war. Having mounted the saddle of political leadership of such a malformed country, recently weaned from colonial administration, Gowon experimented with governance in a trial and error manner.
But as if the killing of Aguiyi Ironsi was not reprisal enough, civilians of Igbo ethnic stork residing in the northern part of the country were marked for extinction. The pogrom that ensued led to massive exodus of Igbo from the north back to their Eastern regional homeland. And as they returned, with their dead relations in tow, the gory spectacle that described the bloodletting was garnished in oral delivery by those lucky to escape.
Attempts to explain or rationalize the killings led to friction within the military command. What later became the Aburi accord, emanating from a political conference in Ghana, did not assuage the recriminations and mutual suspicion that has permeated the country’s socio-political life.
War, Recalibration And Stagnation
THAT a civil strife became part of Nigeria’s political history, barely six years after the attainment of flag independence from Britain remains a testament to the incongruities of its statehood.
With the war came a recalibration of the country’s administrative units into new geographical boundaries. Instead of regions, a twelve-state structure was carved out, ostensibly to deny any ethnic nationality the cohesion to challenge the political hegemony of federal authority.
The 12 states created by General Gowon on the eve of the civil war in 1967 were; Northwestern, Northeastern, North Central, Kano, Benue Plateau, Kwara, Lagos, Western, Midwestern, East Central, Southeastern and Rivers.
Although Gowon carved out the states primarily to undermine regional harmony, his administration succeeded in stagnating economic development of the country. However, the attempt at providing critical infrastructure ensured that the states were connected by roads to complement the rail lines established by the colonialists, which ran from Lagos to Kano and Port Harcourt to Maiduguri.
But it was during that long military rule that corruption was nurtured to national stature. A contractor class arose, which raised the culture of ostentation and conspicuous living. Those in public offices flaunted privileges. And being a military administration academic growth was stunted and free market competition dwindled.
The modest gains achieved during the immediate aftermath of independence by the regional governments were reversed. Despite being a federation, the country was run practically as a unitary state, stagnating development in the states due to the command and control tendency of the military.
For nine years the country continued to grope in the dark, not minding that several development plans were put together by the military authorities assisted by federal civil servants. And on account of superior knowledge of the civil servants, the military officers operated more to preserve their political hegemony while the civil servants served the nation, even if reflecting the differences in tribes and tongues.
The calibration of the country became a military pastime and the only source of establishing their regimes in political power on the country, because after nine years on the saddle, Gowon was shoved aside, albeit on a bloodless coup. General Murtala Ramat Mohammed, who succeeded him, proclaimed some revolutionary changes, even as he decried the ostentation and loss of direction by the ousted regime.
Purposing to fight official graft and concomitant sleaze through over-invoicing, smuggling and other vices, Murtala descended on the bureaucracy, sacked permanent secretaries and despoiled the civil service. And to stamp his authority and preserve the interest of his primary constituency, Murtala embarked on further subdivision of the country’s geography by creating additional seven states.
Having become a license for getting generous slices from the national cake, the military rulers saw the multiplication of states as the only formular to even out the odds in development status of the ethnic nationalities. Perhaps on account of the indeterminate basis of his state creation, no nonsense leadership approach or greed for political power, Murtala was removed in a bloody coup.
But unlike the one before it, the coupists did not end up as beneficiaries. Although sources believed that the coup, led by Colonel Buka Sukar Dimka, was ostensibly predicated by internal power play by elements from the Benue Plateau axis and those from the core north.
Fortuitously, what ended up as a missed opportunity to bring Gowon back to power, opened a window of opportunity for a southerner in the military, Olusegun Obasanjo, to mount the saddle and pave the way for a return of civil rule.
Harassed by the currency which coups have gained, Obasanjo did what Murtala was preparing to do: He announced a timeline for the return of democracy. To put weight to that promise, a constitutional conference was scheduled and constituent assembly set up. A semblance of civic life returned to the country.
Another Stillbirth Experiment
INFLUENCED by the stagnation and indescribable social stupor arising from the harrowing experience of the immediate past, the members of the constituent assembly recommended Presidential system of government in place of the parliamentary.
And so three years after providence catapulted him to office as Head of State, Obasanjo handed over the reins of political power to a democratically elected President in the person of Alhaji Shehu Shagari. In a way the emergence of Shagari simulated the immediate post independence era, when Balewa took charge instead of either Azikiwe or Awolowo.
Thus President Shagari, a middle school teacher, became saddled with the responsibility of fashioning and experimenting with the sophisticated American presidential system of government. To a large extent, while Shagari was de jure, forces surrounding him, but from his ethnic nationality ended up as de facto President.
In the interplay of political forces, what the well educated southerners could not get by electoral success, they coveted through ingenious stratagems. In the warp and woof of the ensuing politics, national cohesion and development suffered. Sabotage and intrigues were shrouded in administrative schemes by the southerners geared towards mitigating the unfair advantage conferred on the less educated leadership from the north at the expense of the country.
President Shagari and his fellow political countrymen and women had only four years of experimentation with democracy, before the military political felons struck again. And quite like the coup that brought Aguiyi Ironsi to power, the junta that masterminded the coup could not settle among themselves who should be the arrowhead of the regime. They settled for a taciturn and obtuse senior officer, General Muhammadu Buhari.
Claiming to be an offshoot of the Murtala regime, the Buhari/Tunde Idiagbon junta, declared war on indiscipline and classified the political class as rogues of different qualifications. Military tribunals were set up to try the politically exposed persons, who ended up with elongated jail terms.
However, two things worked against the junta: They chose to be reticent over a possible date for the return of political power to the civilians and adopted draconian decrees to moderate civil life. Consequently barely two years on the saddle, the Buhari/Idiagbon junta was overthrown in a palace coup.
General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, who became the head of the new junta, humoured the citizenry with a gratuitous restoration of civility by outlawing the draconian decrees that stifled freedom in human conducts.
Babangida succeeded in playing on the sensibilities of political class, whom he brought close by guile to ‘share’ in the political leadership of the country, especially against the background of his adoption of the title of President to confer a semblance of civility to his military regime.
Having masked his nefarious scheme against the early return of power to the civilians, Babangida took the country through a never ending transition programme at the height of which he introduced divide and rule within the political class.
The military president experimented with the idea of raising new breed politicians, what a prominent northern politician described as the equivalent of instigating a son to kill his father. Tarnishing the elderly politicians as corrupt and moneybags, the gap-toothed evil genius toyed with the destiny of the country, created a total of 11 states as the apogee of political corruption, which he institutionalized.
Like every evil motivated artifice, Babangida’s turbulent era, which went through convoluted twists and turns, survived two coup attempts, one actual and the other phantom. Perhaps moved by the attempt to shove him aside, he allowed a Presidential election, which annulment forced him to step aside against his will after eight years in power.
But as evidence that the military seemed to have struck a power sharing arrangement, Babangida retained his long term ally, General Sani Abacha, in an Interim Government he fangled at his exit, to oversee a credible transition that was not to be.
Not up to two months after he was appointed Head of the Interim Government, Chief Ernest Shonekan, was quietly eased out by General Abacha, who continued from where his colleagues stopped in the despoliation of independent Nigeria.
While on the saddle, Abacha did what his forbears did: created six states, to douse internal repudiation of military rule and the annulment of June 12, 1993 election that was on the threshold of producing a consensus Nigeria President.
In the end, refusing to listen to voices of reasons to free the presumed winner of the annulled election and calls for moderation in the emasculation of socio-political life in the country, Abacha was silenced.
His informal exit paved the way for an Obasanjo type stop gap military Head of State in the person of Abdulsalami Abubakar. Perhaps in realization of the international conspiracy against his predecessor or the frenzied agitation for return to civil rule, Abubakar midwifed a quick transition programme that produced a quasi-democracy in the relay baton returning to a former military Head of State, Obasanjo.
With Obasanjo coming back to power, it became obvious that Nigeria military was the trouble with independent Nigeria. They moved the country in circles, deforming sociology of the citizens and traumatizing the psychology of the future generation.
Back to power as civilian President, Obasanjo did not create states, but introduced rigging and vote heist to dwarf the democratic experience. He cloned the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission by setting up the Justice Oputa Commission.
Although he could be adjudged to have fared better than other military leaders, Obasanjo showed the ingrained infatuation of military with political power when at the expiration of his eight year mandate; he experimented with the possibility of term elongation through a constitutional amendment.
Perhaps, embittered by the denial to remain in power beyond the constitutional maximum of two terms of eight years, Obasanjo, helped to impose an unwilling and ailing candidate as his successor.
President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua fitted into the mould of aquiline character. Although he had University education, but challenge by failing health and hawks that surrounded his Presidency, Yar’Adua could not achieve much of what he set out to, before he was called home.
Return To Yesterday
THE Presidential election of 2011 and 2015 marked both Nigeria’s growth and decline in democratic practice. While Nigerians voted for a person from minority ethnic nationality to mount the saddle in 2011, there was a marked reverse in the democratic experience when another former military head of state was voted back to the pinnacle of political power.
The coming on board of President Muhammadu Buhari, demonstrated the stagnation in the country’s leadership selection process. By recycling past leaders, the country showed that it has not groomed leaders in the past 57 years.
By nuances and utterances, President Buhari has shown that he has been overtaken by the rapidity of socio-political progress in the country. His election also demonstrated the greed and myopia of the political class, who after fighting military rule ended up rallying another former jackboot to power, and that under a perceived democracy.
Two years on the saddle, Buhari has made the country to see its cycle of errors. The political class also seems to have seen that the former military head of state was the best for the present time. Nigeria needs to move forward. The clamour for restructuring and review of the military enthroned lopsided structure designed for sharing and not productivity is nothing less than a call to undo the harm done by the military.
What economic considerations informed the various military heads of state in their emotional subdivision of the country into states, without a commensurate effort at building a harmonious state? Who owns the land, the people or the soldiers? Could a nation be forged by force of arms or laws, reason and logic? 57 years after its independence, Nigeria is back to where it veered off the track to attempt new answers to the old questions it glossed over in 1960. A lot depends on those answers, provided they come from open hearts and clear minds.,lllll
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