Friday, February 15, 2019 4:32 pm
By Dare Babarinsa |
By Saturday, Nigerians would take a decision at the poll on who should be our President for the next four years. It would be the first time since 2015 that the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, would have the opportunity to renew its mandate after its defeat of the old Leviathan, the People’s Democratic Party, PDP.
PDP is fielding for President an old veteran of the game, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, who since 1999 had been at the epicentre of national politics, including serving for eight years as the Vice-President. Despite the turbulence that dogged his marriage with President Olusegun Obasanjo, Atiku is so far, the only Vice-President to ever complete his two terms.
He is at the head of the pack of aspirants, including many unknown quantities, challenging the incumbent General Muhammadu Buhari for the presidential mantle.
Elections have far more consequences than the immediate result of the polls. This years’ would be the eleventh general election since 1959. We had the Federal election of 1959 which was the last one supervised by the departing British colonial administration under Governor James Robertson.
The first general elections supervised by Nigerians themselves was the general elections of 1964 when Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa-Balewa was the Prime-Minister. It ended in a fiasco and ultimately led to the first coup of January 15, 1966. The general elections of 1979 was conducted during the military regime of General Olusegun Obasanjo which ended 13 years of military rule. The 1983 general election was during the regime of Nigeria’s second elected ruler, President Shehu Shagari and it brought in the bandwagon effect which in the end led to the coup of General Muhammadu Buhari of December 31, 1983. The next one was in 1993 during the regime of General Ibrahim Babangida when Chief Moshood Abiola won the presidential election but his victory was annulled by the dictator.
We were not to have another general election again until 1999 during the regime of General Abdulsalami Abubakar. It led to the emergence of President Olusegun Obasanjo and his team of 36 governors.
Since 1999, Nigerians seem to be getting use to the regularity of elections. Despite the occasional battering of heads and limps, elections and electioneering are becoming parts of our political culture. Since then, we have had elections in 2003 during the regime of President Obasanjo who also successfully conducted the 2007 general elections.
The 2011 and 2015 general elections were held during the regime of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, the first incumbent ruler in Nigerian history to lose a general election.
For me the most important election ever held in Nigeria was that of 1959 which was to prepare Nigeria for independence. The outcome of that election had far-reaching consequences whose impacts and reverberations are still with us till today. What was at stake in that election was the future political structure of Nigeria and the relationships between the centre and the three regions. The three titans of the Nigerian struggle, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, the Premier of the East, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, the Premier of the North and Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the Premier of the West, were all great players in that elections.
I learnt more about that election after the death of Chief Awolowo in 1987. I was sent by my editors in Newswatch to Ikorodu to meet one of his closest collaborators, Alhaji Sule Gbadamosi, the father of the famous playwright, art connoisseur and entrepreneur, the late Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi. Alhaji Gbadamosi was eager to talk about his friend and political leader, Chief Awolowo, and the struggle of 1959 and its aftermath. He took me to one of his rooms on the first floor of his large house overlooking a major road.
“I brought Awolowo, Zik and Ahmadu Bello to this room,” he said. “I appealed to them to unite so that we can make progress. They all loved Nigeria but they were prisoners of their followers.”
Nothing could prove this more than the election of 1959. The departing British administration had instituted a Federal system of government under the Littleton Constitution which stipulated that power should resides mostly in the regions.
There were three regions; the East, West and North. The National Council of Nigerian Citizens, NCNC, under the charismatic journalist, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, wanted a unitary government until it had to succumb to the demand of both the Action Group, led by Awolowo and the Northern People’s Congress, NPC, led by Ahmadu Bello, who both wanted a Federal system of government.
The second most powerful of the three parties was the NCNC which was in control of the Eastern Region.
It showed its strength in the 1954 Federal Elections when it won 32 seats in the East while the opposition parties won only seven seats, including three by the AG. However, in the same election, the NCNC overran the West where it won 23 seats to AG 18 seats. In the North, the APC won 84 seats while the opposition parties won only eight seats. In the 1959 elections, the8o same pattern almost repeated itself except that the AG staged a come-back in the West.
Dr Azikiwe was appointed Premier of the Eastern Region on October 1, 1954 and like Awolowo of the West, he too wanted to participate at the centre. Ahmadu Bello, who had also emerged as the Premier of the North, however stayed in the North and he sent his deputy, Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa-Balewa, to lead the NPC into the Federal Parliament. Balewa emerged as the first Prime-Minister of Nigeria.
Awolowo thought Zik should have taken that job being Nigeria’s foremost nationalist and he offered to be his Minister of Finance in a coalition government.
Zik knew Awolowo had more in his shopping back that mere ministerial appointments. His call for new regional arrangements had been rejected by the colonial government and Awolowo felt the incoming Federal Government run by Nigerians under the Prime-Ministership of Azikiwe could tackle the problem.
He wanted the North broken into three regions: North, Borno and the Middle-Belt. He wanted the creation of the Calabar-Ogoja-Rivers Region from the East and the Mid-West from the West. In addition to these, he wanted the Yoruba-speaking parts of the Northern Region (now Kwara and parts of Kogi State) to be merged with the Western Region. He wanted Lagos to be made part of the West, a demand that was rejected by the colonial administration.
Both Zik and Bello were stoutly opposed to the creation of new states. Moreso when it was apparent that the AG or its friends would control all the proposed new regions except the Mid-West where the NCNC had a dominant influence. Bello said the Northern Region had come to stay, affirming that for eternity it would be “One North, One People!” When Joseph Tarka, the leader of the United Middle-Belt Congress, UMBC, challenged that concept, he was thrown into Makurdi Prison.
The result of the 1959 had the consequences of the NPC taking control of the Federal Government. Azikiwe became the Governor-General and later the figure-head ceremonial President when Nigeria became a republic in 1963.
Balewa appointed Alhaji Musa Yar’Adua, a Fulani from Katsina, as the Minister of Lagos Affairs to the discomfiture of the NCNC which had hoped that one of its Lagos leaders would get that job.
Awolowo was sent to prison with the connivance and active support of his old comrade including his successor as Premier of the West, Chief Ladoke Akintola. By the end of the first decade after independence, Nigeria was at war, but despite the horror and the sacrifice and needless heroism of that war, it is not certain even now whether the issues raised in the 1959 general elections have been adequately tackled.
Now we have 36 states instead of the three regions of 1960 and the national stage is crowded with 36 governors. The inability of our leaders to agree on the equitable number of regions for Nigeria has continue to dog our steps since 1959. When the premiers of the three regions and the Prime-Minister agreed to the creation of the Mid-West in 1963, it was to serve Awolowo a cup of his own medicine. No other state since then has been created by constitutional means. All succeeding states have come by military fiat.
The current crops of political leaders, overwhelmed by dissimilitude and short-sighted pre-occupation, have been giving different meaning to the call for the restructuring of the Federation. One of them even said Nigeria is already re-structured, but the restructured Nigeria is buried in the Constitution where we can mine for it. We can also head for the court to claim our dividends.
What our Founding Fathers did not do in 1959 is still haunting Nigeria till today.
Since then faint-hearted attempts have been made to address the structural problems of Nigeria. The man who gets the mantle on Saturday should not be tired of getting answers to the structural problems of Nigeria. It is a legacy project that should not be left future generations.