By Simon Abah
Steve Orji’s opinion piece in The Guardian of September 12, 2017 passed my muster point. I hereby refer to it.
We do not have to go looking for people skilled in the art of Freudian analysis to know where the challenges of Nigeria lie. In 2017, with the dividends of democracy yet to be delivered by the ruling party to the masses, some ‘Diogenes’ in the ruling party are shopping for a presidential candidate to upstage President Muhammadu Buhari in 2019. It says a lot about the character of Nigerian politicians. Members of the same party and the opposition parties do not rally around leaders to help them advance the growth of polity. Politicians have become entrepreneurs and speculators: share the bazaar now and not in the future.
Elsewhere, politicians work on bi-partisan basis when necessary to secure the future of the country. This can only come about by the promotion of sound policies. In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson (Democrat) had to lobby Charles Halleck (House Republican leader) of Indiana so as to pass his civil-rights bill into law. The latter it was alleged cooperated and was even rewarded with a NASA research grant for his district by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
The forte here is the use of battering rams and the politics of antagonism. This, more than anything else is our bane and not the oft repeated platitude, “Nigeria is not a nation. It is a mere geographic expression.” We sing this today as a national anthem.
I wonder! Aloud. Almost of the countries in the world were conquered by another. This is not the place to go into history. But Germany was once a parcel of land with more than 200 city-states. Carthaginian and Parthian Empires were once powerful empires until they were conquered.
Britain was subjugated by the Roman Empire for 350 years. The Romans destroyed many empires and drew up new borders. There are places in the United States of America where during electioneering periods, voters who can’t read, speak and write the English language aren’t provided with voting materials in Spanish, leaving them disenfranchised.
But while we work to entrench disunity in Nigeria, these people move for the progress of their countries. For instance, many people who see President Muhammadu Buhari as their bete noire blame him for all of the problems of Nigeria. Some of us know better. People say this because Nigeria is a country where secular humanism thrives.
To build a country, leaders do not have to go building bridges to the past but to the future. And in relieving history, well-meaning pundits should revisit the correct history of the past so as to correct the injustices of the present. The South cannot exculpate itself from the mess Nigeria has always been under.
Thanks to colonialisation and not before, the South West then South East – embraced western education but the northern elite besieged the British with the request to ban mission activities in the north. The British acceded to this plea, they didn’t have the resources (manpower) to superintend over the entire north.
The Hausa-Fulani emirate of that epoch, historians chronicled, had the stature that was compared to the kingdoms in medieval Europe. But for the banning of mission activity, maybe the north would have caught up with the ‘western-educated-literate-south.’
The ambivalence of the north to embrace western education became the animus for the south to throw jibes at northerners. How they have done so over time. Many years ahead, a deceased social crusader from South-Western Nigeria, a proprietor of a famous school and who was once a chairperson of a populist bank wondered aloud if a second republic president had read 10 books in his life.
In the 1950s less than 10 per cent of northern children attended school. In contrast to the south where universal primary education was embraced whole scale as a regional policy.
Little wonder then that most educated people were Easterners (Igbo) and Westerners (Yoruba). The Igbo due to lack of jobs in the Igbo heartland and unfriendly terrain moved to the north where they were installed in jobs. Those who found jobs in the railways, post offices, departmental stores, as clerks, artisans, began to make room for their kinsmen in jobs to the disadvantage of the northerners whom many considered as backward. Of course, the latter frowned at this nepotism especially when northerners began to go to schools; became graduates and, didn’t get jobs.
Competition for jobs between the Igbo and Yoruba intensified in civil service. These two dominant tribes are as different as the Russians are to the Ukrainians. Kenneth Dike, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Ibadan (my alma mater), was challenged in the court of law by the Registrar of same school (a Yoruba) for having the gall to sack him for mismanagement of school funds. After the civil war, the academia in Nigeria became a place for tribal war lords.
In politics, The Igbo and Yoruba didn’t see eye-ball to eye-ball on all issues that bordered on southern unity. The NCNC very early in the day joined ranks with the NPC after the elections of 1959. It was easy. The NCNC and the AG went their separate ways after the elections of 1951/2.
Chief Obafemi Awolowo wanted the AG to be a national party; but was opposed by Ladoke Akintola; which led to the split in the ranks of the AG; made worse by the raining of blows in the parliament in Ibadan. Administrative rule was declared by the Tafawa Balewa government and the fiasco led to the jailing of Obafemi Awolowo who was accused of treason. Ladoke Akintola in cahoot with the NPC was returned as premier of the western region.
During the 1965 elections in the west, anti-Igbo slogans rented the air freely. Akintola’s party NNDP (Nigerian National Democratic Party) won the election amidst the crying jags of vote rigging. Violence like no other happened in western Nigeria by rival political groups seeking supremacy and even when the British asked the Tafawa Balewa administration to declare a state of emergency, Balewa temporized for the reason that; Akintola was a northern ally and only responded when it was too late.
Historians say that Akintola asked the Balewa government to send in the Army to bring order to the South Western part of Nigeria. This might have been the motivation for the coup in 1966. Many have questioned why that coup was termed an Igbo coup. At independence, 3/4 of Nigerian military officers were Igbo, 1/8 were Yoruba and the remaining were northerners – mostly the non-Hausa from the middle-belt.
No wonder and for good reason that the coup had an Igbo slant. It is expected. Most officers of that position were Igbo. You can’t plan a coup and expect to include people who will leak the secret. Aguiyi Ironsi, a man I respect so much surrounded himself with Igbo military advisers, those promoted to fill vacant positions caused by the military renegades were mostly Igbo officers and he made the fundamental mistake of heeding to the advice of the top civil servants. Most of these top civil servants were Igbo and Yoruba.
The Hausa-Fulani behemoths of that era who were sent to the federal parliament earlier – weren’t as educated as the southerners. What substituted for education for them was the rank in the feudal aristocracy, lack of education notwithstanding.
To clip the wing of the NPC in the north and its dominance of the federation, Ironsi was advised to make the federation a unitary state. Advice from the southern behemoths (Igbo and Yoruba civil servants).
The rest is history. Ironsi was murdered. We lost a chance to build Nigeria due to clannishness.
The Yakubu Gowon administration embraced the same unitary system that Ironsi tried to install. Why then did Ironsi die? Today the north that once frowned at the unitary system benefits from it and doesn’t have plans to let go.
They were never interested in the military but after the coup, many folks who couldn’t pass the necessary examinations were cashiered to military schools.
The civil service once a forte for the Igbo and Yoruba is now a family tree of the north. A northerner in my time isn’t complete without doing, “government job.”
When you consider how far humanity has progressed over the millennia, you wonder why in Nigeria we still hold on to regionalism and nepotism. And so the south once asked Ironsi to move for unitary system of government to upstage the north. Now, they ask for restructuring.
If the east and west were united, the census results in the 1960s would have been challenged. Now, we bandy results that are quixotic and not in tune with reality.
If the south had engaged the northern leaders without hanging “backwardness” on their necks like collars before independence we might have had a country devoid of unnecessary competition with less suspicion.
The Majors Nzeogwu/ Ifeajuna coups that torpedoed the Tafawa Balewa administration was triggered by military officers from the south leading to a regrettable civil war. Two serious electoral violence from the south west aborted democratic rule in 1966 and 1983.
1993 presidential elections was annulled with the connivance of a South Easterner who went to court to prevent a Yoruba from becoming president.
In this fourth republic, two southern president abrogated the rotational presidency agreement of their party.
Should I also add that the West teamed up with the North in this era to prevent an Easterner from becoming president?
The south has contributed also in stonewalling the growth of Nigeria and needs to stop pointing accusing fingers to the north for all ills plaguing the country.
Analysts should revisit both sides of history not to divide but to unite us. There is never anything like a perfect country. All countries are works in progress and need visioners to direct their paths to greatness.
• Abah wrote from Port Harcourt, Rivers State.