By Ochereome Nnnana
IN 1992, (then) Rev Father Matthew Hassan Kukah wrote an interesting book entitled: Religion, Politics and Power in Northern Nigeria. Though the focus was on the North, it ended up a great eye opener to understand the mentality of the Northern establishment that inherited power from the British colonialists. That book shot (now) Monsignor Kukah to national and international limelight as an intellectual titan.
I have just finished reading an interesting 355-page book with the title: Zik, Ndi-Igbo and Their Southern Neighbours, Charting a New Political Direction for Nigeria. Written by Uchenna Nwankwo, who also has written six other books, it is a rich and intelligent inquest into the major junctures of Nigeria’s history, from about ten years before independence till date. Nwankwo tooth-combed already existing texts and conducted his own investigations to provide new insights into Nigeria’s history, portraying facts and information about the making of Nigeria without the usual ethno-religious and sectional biases that have come to bedevil similar works, sometimes even by otherwise respected historians and academics.
It is a brave effort to examine the role the great Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, doyen of Nigerian nationalism and visionary Chief Obafemi Awolowo played in it, thus defining relationships between the two largest ethnic and political forces in Southern Nigeria, the Igbo and the Yoruba, and of course their respective Minority neighbours. The author dwelt at length on the pulsating junctures of Nigeria’s history that often get the Igbos and Yorubas at daggers-drawn, with each side blaming the other for betrayals, subterfuges, backstabbing, and acts of malfeasance, all with the objective of grabbing plum advantages over the other. These were believed to have given the North the express opportunity to take over Nigeria from the colonial masters in spite of their reluctant contributions to the fight for independence.
Nwankwo delved into such matters as the 1952 “cross-carpeting” at the Western Regional House of Assembly. He was able to prove that the leader of the National Council for Nigeria and the Cameroons, NCNC, Dr Azikiwe, lost to Awolowo not because the Yoruba members of the Party were tribalistic but more because Zik failed to play real politics. Awo went round and made offers, but Zik was busy on the pages of newspapers “blowing grammar” as we say in street parlance. The situation could have been startlingly different had Zik, for instance, positioned Chief Adisa Akinloye, leader of the Ibadan People’s Party, IPP, a great ally of the NCNC, to emerge as the Leader of Government Business and later, Premier of the Western Region. Awo later offered Akinloye Agriculture Minister, and turned the table.
We are also made to see that the presidential constitution we now operate had already been defined by the Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa federal government through the revision of the Independence Constitution and its replacement with the 1963 Republican Constitution. The 1963 Constitution, which is often blindly lionised by Southern agitators for “true federalism”, was, according Nwankwo, a bastardisation of the true spirit of the Parliamentary system by the Abubakar regime, who stripped the President of the country and the Governor of Regions of their power to sack the Prime Minister or Premier when they lost support in the legislature. That regime orchestrated the rape of the constitution in the West in its quest to crush Awolowo and his followers. It was always aided by Zik’s Party until the latter found out that his own powers had been stripped down to ceremonial president.
Another item of interest was the circumstances that led to the ouster of Prof Eyo Ita as Leader of Government Business in the Eastern Region when he was poised to emerge as the Region’s first Premier. Nwankwo proved beyond reasonable doubt that there was nothing ethnic about the situation. Some Igbo political leaders went with Prof Ita into his new United National Independence Party, UNIP, while some Minority leaders remained with Zik. At the end, Ita came back to the NCNC in 1959, in line with the wishes of his Calabar people and the dictates of his conscience. This episode has always been either ignorantly or politically exploited to divide the Eastern political front, thus making the Region the weakest and the net loser in a nation it has contributed about 80 per cent of its economic fortunes. No other Region allowed its Minorities the leverage to produce Leader of Government Business.
The book also touches on the crises that led to the coups of 1966, pogroms in the North, the civil war, and post-war politics in Nigeria, debasement of the Igbo psyche and society; and at each juncture, opening new vistas and defying age-old wrongly-held conventional wisdoms, which were responsible for breeding undue ill-will between the Igbos and their neighbours, thus making the South easy pickings for the political leadership of the North.
After reading this book, one is left with the empty feeling that history has been victimised by Nigerians. History, which is regarded as the “best teacher” in other more serious countries and civilisations has been trampled underfoot, with people telling history to suit their short-termist pecuniary political goals, only to lose the grand prize in the long run. Alas! History has even been altogether removed from the school curriculum in Nigeria, and the current crop of Nigeria youth, when they become leaders, will be left to grope in the dark. They will be condemned to continue the blunders that ruined their fathers’ generation.
Uchenna, who was born in the North, grew up in the East and received his higher education in the West where he currently resides, has demonstrated abiding interest in pointing out the peculiar flaws of the Igbo people to their faces, letting them understand that some of the ways they carry on with their lives will always make them difficult to understand, if not get along with.
But at the end, he quotes profusely from the works of many indigenous and international observers of the Igbo positive traits, and concludes that Nigeria will not achieve greatness until the Igbo people are allowed their place of pride in a nation that is free, equitable and secured for all citizens.