By Douglas Anele
Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the dominant political parties that emerged in Nigeria before independence and played prominent roles in defining the direction of her future political evolution were largely regional parties. For instance, in northern Nigeria, the political landscape was dominated by the Northern People’s Congress (NPC), whose catchphrase “One North, One People,” accurately encapsulates its core agenda.
It was unabashedly a political organisation specifically set up to cater for the concerns of northern region alone, particularly the interests of the domineering feudalist conservative elite, to the extent that it refused to present candidates for elections in the south. Interestingly, NPC leaders were surprised that its gesture of separateness was not reciprocated by political parties in the south.
Consequently, they strongly resisted efforts by parties in southern Nigeria to field candidates in the north, which Balewa saw as appropriate to response to the “invasion” of northern region by southerners, and considered southern politicians campaigning in northern Nigeria an unwelcome challenge to north’s territorial sovereignty. Action Group (AG) was the major party in western Nigeria, whereas the first truly national political party was the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC), although it eventually mutated into a regional party called the National Council of Nigerian Citizens dominated by the Igbo.
Given this tripartite regional political configuration, two scenarios were inevitable. One, although the NPC was dominant because of British preferential treatment and the north’s huge land mass compared to the other two regions in the south, none of the parties could govern Nigeria without forming a coalition with at least one other party. Two, because the three main parties were established along ethnic lines (except for NCNC which in its earlier stages was truly nationalistic in outlook) ethnic rivalries and mutual suspicion created a fertile soil for inter-ethnic conflicts.
The first indication that post-independent Nigeria would be problematic was in 1953 when, through Anthony Enahoro, the AG and NCNC tabled a motion in the federal House of Representatives calling for Nigeria’s independence in 1956. But the NPC led by Ahmadu Bello, for whom independence on that date was “an invitation [for the north] to commit suicide,” objected, claiming, correctly, that the north did not have adequate administrative machinery and educated personnel to run a modern democratic government independently of Britain.
That was why, when northerners who were majority in the House diluted Enahoro’s motion by recommending that independence should be attained when it is practicable to do so, they were heckled and jeered at by crowds in Lagos for foot-dragging on the independence issue. Some key members of the northern establishment and a broad section of northerners neither forgot nor forgave the south for that embarrassment.
Most Nigerians do not know that Britain had already made up her mind to hand over power to northerners by October 1, 1960, thereby laying the foundation for caliphate colonialism, despite the huge educational gap between the north and the south, the economic dependence of the former on the latter, and reluctance of prominent northern leaders to key into the quest for self governance.
That was why the British colonial office abruptly brought Sir James Robertson from Sudan as the last expatriate governor-general of Nigeria to conduct the 1959 elections, which he manipulated to favour the NPC. Ordinarily, in the interest of merit, fairness and justice, Sir Robertson and his cohorts ought to have worked hard to ensure that the first set of leaders for indepemdent Nigeria emerged from a free and fair election.
Of course, that is wishful thinking: the colonial master was not interested in transferring power to the most competent Nigerians or in building a strong and viable black nation that would eventually explode the white supremacist myth that black peoples are incapable of managing their own affairs without the guidance of whitemen. Besides, northerners preferred British rule to what they imagined as the dangers of being dominated by the south. Their leader, Sir Ahmadu Bello, expressed this fear: “A sudden grouping of the eastern and western parties (with a few members from the north opposed to our party) might take power and so endanger the north.”
Thus, aside from wanting to reward the north for its pro-British stance, Britain rigged Nigeria’s independence elections so that its compliant friends in the north, such as Ahmadu Bello and Tafawa Balewa, would win power, dominate the country and serve British interests after independence. This is in line with the psychology of oppressors and colonilalists identified by the psychiatrist and political political philosopher, Frantz Fanon, who posits that colonial masters invariably prefer stooges as their successors, those who would depend on them and who they can easily manipulate.
Chinweizu reports that Sir Robertson named Balewa as Prime Minister in 1957 inspite of the fact that the NPC controlled only one region and a third of the ministers in the federal executive council whereas the NCNC members were dominant in the east and west and had two-thirds of the ministers at the federal level. There is a personal angle to this brazen unfairness as well: the British Man Friday confessed that he became “very close” to Sir Tafawa Balewa to the extent that they could discuss virtually everything, including Balewa’s “difficulties with noisy southerners who seemed to take all their squabbles and troubles to him.”
As I pointed out earlier, Sir James Robertson was seconded to Nigeria from Sudan, a country dominated by muslims. Therefore, since like old soldiers old habits die hard, he was more comfortable handing over power to a muslim school teacher who the western world had hyperbolically and cynically propped up as a great statesman rather than to Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, leader of the NCNC and a brilliant political philosopher with a doctorate degree from Lincoln University, United States.
At independence, the incendiary plan of British colonial administrators was successful. Sir Balewa became Prime Minister while Sir Ahmadu Bello decided to remain Premier of northern Nigeria. Aside from Britain’s complicity in the process of northern entrenchment at the centre, two critical observations must be made at this point. First, before independence most prominent northern politicians preferred the north to the entire country, and they did not change their obsessive fixation with the region even after independence.
Sir Ahmadu Bello’s arrogant and insensitive remark that “I would rather be called Sultan of Sokoto than President of Nigeria” sums up the attitude of key members of the northern ruling elite to the idea of a united Nigeria as a sovereign geopolitical entity. Therefore, when Nigerian leaders from the north claim that Nigeria’s unity is not negotiable, as if notherners are more patriotic than their southern compatriots, they must be reminded that Ahmadu Bello, Tafawa Balewa and most of the prominent northerners assassinated in the first military coup of January 15, 1966, and whose deaths were avenged by northern soldiers and civilians who murdered and maimed tens of thousands of Ndigbo, including many senior Igbo military officers, never really believed in or worked for Nigerian unity.
Instead, they used threats of separation and violence to armtwist wily British colonial administrators and squabbling disunited southern politicians to get concessions favourable to the conservative ruling elements in the north. The change from threats of secession by Ahmadu Bello and his cohorts to morbid obsession with Nigerian unity by successive northern military dicatators and prominent politicians was motivated by the ideology of caliphate colonialism set forth shortly after independence by Sir Ahmadu Bello himself: “The new nation called Nigeria should be an estate of our great-grandfather, Uthman Dan Fodio. We must ruthlessly prevent a change of power. We use minorities of the north as willing tools and the south as a conquered territory and never allow them to rule over us, and never allow them to have control over their own future.”
In other words, Sir Ahmadu Bello proposed that external colonisation by Britain should be replaced after independence with internal caliphate colonialism by muslim northerners so that Nigeria would remain perpetually the inheritance of the arch jihadist, Uthman Dan Fodio. In my opinion, no single pronouncement by any Nigerian explains better the fixation of the dominant faction of the northern ruling power bloc to our feudalistic federalism and irrational quest for political power at the centre.