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Visions of the Alfa Talakawa, from the Proletariat...Nigeria, as I see it

Monday, May 24, 2010


Right from the Clifford Constitution and the subsequent formation of Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP), (Nigeria's first political party) in 1923 by Herbert Macaulay, and clinching three (3) seats in the 1922 elections for the Lagos Legislative Council, all through the cacophony of I-am-about-45 Political Parties in Nigeria, the electoral system in Nigeria could best be summed up in one word: RUDDERLESS.

I look at the Nigerian debacle and I wonder if the Southern Cameroons ever had a picosecond’s worth of regret for opting in the 1961 Plebiscite to go with French Cameroon. Not as if I am of the opinion that they are better off or otherwise, but I can’t help wondering what their plight would have been in the complex contraption called the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

From the 1914 incongruous amalgamation through the Brito-Colonio-Clifford-Richard-Macpherson-Lyttleton's Constitutions, we wandered aimlessly through the 1960 and 1963 scripted Constitutions into the Militaro-Colonio-actually-Obasanjo-Babangida-Abdulsalami Abubakar Constitutions of 1979, 1989 and 1999 (maybe we will have another joke in 2019!).

Governor Lugard came with a script. The ‘Indirect Rule’ was simple. A bigger bully comes and promises the lesser bully the full permission to bully all others, as long as he submits to his own bullying, period!

In the North, the emirs retained their caliphate titles but were responsible to British district officers, who had final authority. The British high commissioners could depose emirs and other officials if necessary. Borno went down without a fight, Kano and Sokoto resisted and were ruthlessly dealt with to discourage further opposition. With the co-operation of the Hausa-Fulani (a great part of the Hausas had been absorbed by the Fulani Oligarchy), the ‘bigger-bully’ imposed the ‘lesser-bully’ on the entire North and allowed for the running of the dual system of law (Federal and Sharia). The Sharia (Islamic law) court continued to deal with matters affecting the personal status of Muslims, including land disputes, divorce, debt, and slave emancipation (think about this next time you read about the ‘Paedophile Senator’.. that’s all I’d say on that), this is what paved the way for the complexity of tribal and religious sentiments, and makes it almost altogether impossible to state the true source of conflicts in the North.

Missionary activities, and consequently Western Education were also heavily restricted (I know a lot of people get irked at the mention of Western Education, but we need to face realities here. At the time of the Graeco-Roman Empire, everyone had to learn Greek. The New Testament Bible was written entirely in Greek; even though the writers were mostly Hebrews. Western Education is rich because the Anglo-Saxon culture itself borrows copiously from the rest of the World. If four out of five people have a loaf of bread each and they all agree that each will give the fifth person half of theirs, the fifth man ends up with the equivalent of two loaves while the others are stuck with half).

In the South, the Indirect Rule had a relative measure of success among the Yorubas. The older empires had already been heavily weakened with the abolition of Slave Trade, and consequently the huge amount of wealth that was generated had plummeted. Lagos was formally annexed as a British colony in 1861. This was after Oba Akitoye, who had earlier been deposed and replaced by Kosoko for attempting to put an end to slave trade, secured the assistance of Britain to regain his throne. He died three years later and his successor, Oba Dosunmu concluded the treaty. The egalitarian minded Ibos and the other ethnic groups, right of the Lower Niger were the ‘defiant guinea pigs’ of this experiment. The Aro hegemony had been crushed since 1902. Not finding any ‘lesser bully’, the ‘bigger bully’ imposed their own bullies. One would need to read the award winning author, Chinua Achebe’s THINGS FALL APART to appreciate this better.

It is against this backdrop that Political parties, tended to reflect the make up of the three main ethnic groups: Hausa, Yoruba, and Ibo. By the October 1960 independence, The NPC (Nigerian people's Congress) represented conservative, Muslim, largely Hausa interests, and dominated the Northern Region. The party was allegedly formed with the blessing of the Emirs, to be capable of ‘counterbalancing the activities of the southern-based parties’.

The AG (Action Group), developed from the Yoruba group headed by the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the Egbé Ọmọ Odùduwà, was a left-leaning party that controlled the Yoruba west. The NCNC (National Convention of Nigerian Citizens) was Igbo and Christian dominated, ruling in the Eastern Region. The NCNC would however, be the first to have a national outlook, mainly because of Late Nnamdi Azikiwe’s Pan African vision.

The first post-independence National Government was formed by a conservative alliance of the NCNC and the NPC, with Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, a Hausa, becoming Nigeria's first Prime Minister. The Yoruba-dominated AG became the opposition under the leadership of Chief Obafemi Awolowo.

Disagreement within the AG led to the first major ‘cross-carpeting’ that laid the foundation for ‘decamping’ today. The late Samuel Ladoke Akintola broke away and became the Western Premier under the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) which was in an alliance with the Northern People's Congress (NPC), the party that then controlled the federal government. The politics of Human-Torch (burning opponents alive) began in the ensuing violence; perhaps, this will be the foundation for the spates of political assassinations we have today.

Things got very awry when Chief Obafemi Awolowo was arrested on trumped up charges of treasonable felony and clamped in jail in 1963. By this time, deep resentment was building in the Army. The Kaduna Nzeogwu/ Emmanuel Ifeajuna revolution of 1966 ended up with an ethnic taint. Most of the key rulers were Hausa; consequently, the Hausa recorded the heaviest causality. Unfortunately too, the killings showed a pattern: The Prime Minister, a northerner; the Premier of the Northern Region, and the highest ranking northern army officers. Only one Igbo officer (Lieutenant-Colonel Arthur Unegbe) lost his life. Also killed was the Premier of the Western Region who was closely allied with the NPC. The fact that soldiers of Northern extraction were in the coup did nothing to erase the ‘Coup with tribal marks’ brand; nor the fact that there were Yorubas on both sides of aggressors and victims.

The July counter-coup, the massacre of Igbos before and during the Civil War, the ascendancy of the Counter-Coup soldiers (four of them became President) in Nigerian politics after the consequent decimation of Igbo officers, all served to shape Nigerian politics till date (quick PDP checklist, anyone?).

By the Second Republic, members of the proscribed parties (Military Regimes commence with the proscription of Political parties) based in the Northern section of Nigeria began to organize to form a northern party to prepare for a return to democracy. This time, they got collaborators from the South, and with the ‘Zoning Formula’, came up with a Yoruba chairman, a Hausa-Fulani President, with an Igbo running mate. The Yoruba chairman was none other than Augustus Meredith Adisa Akinloye, who had left with S.L. Akintola in the First Republic to form the Nigerian National Democratic Party. That was the origin of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN).

The Action Group under Chief Obafemi Awolowo had morphed into the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN). The other four parties, Greater Nigerian People's Party (GNPP), Nigeria Advance Party (NAP), Nigerian People's Party (NPP), People's Redemption Party (PRP) were not as strong. The PRP, in my opinion, is just the Northern version of the UPN in terms of ideology (the Talakawa concept was actually made popular by the late Mallam Aminu Kano, the founder of the PRP). Chinua Achebe did a brief stint in the PRP as the deputy national vice-president and would be remembered for the near fist cuff with the late Alhaji Barkin Zuwo (notoriously popular for stashing State funds in his bedroom and the Coke, Fanta Mineral Resources interview).

At this time, the Civil War had taken a heavy toll on the Ibos; the Nigerian power tussle had become more of between the Hausa-Fulani oligarchy and the relatively weaker Yoruba. It was against this backdrop that the 1979 Constitution attempted to ensure a National Outlook but eventually led to various pseudo-alliances, one of such is the NPP with NPN.

(To Be Continued)