By Douglas Anele
That said, it is a classic case of human fallibility that two world class political philosophers, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Chief Obafemi Awolowo, failed to rise above their personal egos, rivalries, animosities and disagreements in order to neutralise and thwart Sir Ahmadu Bello’s vainglorious Islamic theocratic intentions for Nigeria.
Now, if Azikiwe and Awolowo had actualised the Sadauna’s fears by pulling their forces together, with some help from northerners opposed to the hegemonic intentions of NPC, perhaps the triumphal march of caliphate colonialism would have been halted at the embryonic stage and the bloody coup of January 15, 1966 with its devastating repercussions that eventually led to the Biafran war might not have happened.
I have already noted that before independence, prominent northern politicians were fond of threatening secession and instigating violence as a means of achieving their political objectives. The situation was aggravated by the obnoxious policy of appeasing northerners by Britain, which emboldened Sir Ahmadu Bello and other NPC stalwarts to demand that the northern region must be allotted at least fifty percent of the seats in federal the parliament or it would secede.
Eventually, the region was given more seats than the two southern regions put together, which suggests that northern politicians outsmarted their better educated southern counterparts once again, after successfully producing the first Prime Minister (admittedly with the connivance of Sir James Robertson). This means that no consequential policy affecting the Nigerian federation can be taken without the consent of northern political leaders.
In as much as in terms of relevant academic qualifications and genuine understanding of modern democratic governance Dr. Azikiwe, Chief Awolowo and other prominent politicians from the south were ahead of their northern counterparts, and despite my misgivings about the Machiavellian strategy deployed by the north to push its agenda, one must pay tribute to the political sagacity of Sir Ahmadu Bello and his lieutenants for not allowing their obvious educational disadvantage intimidate them or prevent the NPC from producing the first Prime Minister when the British colonial administrators departed.
As Max Siollun wryly remarked in his highly informative book, Oil, Politics and Violence: Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture (1966-1976) – a must-read for any thoughtful Nigerian who wants to understand the most significant forces that shaped Nigeria’s history from October 1, 1960 to date – “Southern leaders belatedly began to appreciate that northern politicians were not as backward as they had thought and that the lopsided parliament meant that northern politicians would control Nigeria’s politics forever.” It must be mentioned in passing that Dr. Azikiwe’s vision of, and insistence on, “One Nigeria” when the most prominent political figures in the northern and western regions (particularly the former) were more interested insafeguarding their regional interests stemmed from a naïve understanding of effective political praxis in a multiple plural geopolitical state experiencing political autarky for the first time. In that regard, Sir Amadu Bello had a more realistic grasp of the future of power politics in Nigeria than the great Zik of Africa.
Although the first British-assisted steps towards the emergence of caliphate colonialism in the country was taken before independence and widened a few years afterwards mainly as a result of NPC’s determination to hold on to power at the centre by any means necessary and the inability of key political actors in the south to present a united front on issues of common interests, the turning point was the revenge coup of January 29, 1966.
Sometime ago, I debunked the notion that the first military coup of January 15, 1966 which brought the First Republic to a bloody abrupt end was an Igbo coup. Unknown to many Nigerians, the first serious attempt to remove an existing government by unconstitutional means was not even the so-called Nzeogwu coup of January 15.
That title belongs to the coup initiated by civilians, particularly top members of the AG. The major reasons for the coup plot were rampant corruption and Balewa’s mediocre self-serving handling of the 1962 crisis in Western region, which was seriously detested by Awolowo and his supporters doggedly opposed to the Machiavellian use of federal might to subvert the electoral choices of the people. However, the plot was infiltrated by Special Branch officers from the Nigerian Police headed by John O’Sullivan. The attempted coup plot was corroborated in June 1993 by Samuel Grace Ikoku, secretary general of the defunct AG, at a National Workshop on the “Events, Issues and Sources of Nigerian History, 1960-1970” held in Kaduna. Ikoku frankly acknowledged that there was indeed a plan to sack Balewa’s government, that he, Chief Awolowo and others participated in it, and that it failed “thanks to people like M.D. Yusuf and Co.”
Before analysing the army as the most potent instrument for entrenching caliphate colonialism, a brief analysis of the nature, composition and character of the Nigerian army after independence is necessary. This is because it would open a window for understanding the complicated dialectic of military incursion in politics in Nigeria and the preponderant role of northern soldiers in that process since the revenge coup of July 1966 spearheaded by the inspector of signals, Lt. Col. Murtala Mohammed, ably assisted by Majors Theophilus Danjuma and Martin Adamu.
In the years leading up to independence and shortly afterwards, the colonial authorities embarked on what might be called the Nigerianisation programme to hand over command of the military from British to Nigerian soldiers. Largely, British officers emphasised merit in the recruitment exercise, but the outcome of their efforts had the unintended effect of ethnic stratification which eventually plunged the country into crisis, with devastating consequences whose ripples are still visible today. At the beginning, most of the officers came from the south whereas their subalterns and non-commissioned officers were from the north. More specifically, because of their overwhelming educational advantage, the Igbo constituted over sixty percent of the officer corps in the army.
A pattern soon emerged such that while the south dominated the officer corps and technical units of the army, northern soldiers outnumbered their southern compatriots in the combat and infantry units. Now, with a civilian government dominated by northerners and the officer corps largely in the hands of Igbo officers, there was real possibility of conflict especially if the interests of government and the army diverged.
Sir Tafawa Balewa expressed the psychology of fear that underpinned some of the irrational decisions of prominent politicians in the First Republic when he remarked that “Well, we are surrounded by Igbo officers; if anything happens they are going to kill us.” But northern leaders were responsible for the southern domination of the officer ranks in the military because they resisted attempts by British colonialists to widen the coverage of modern western education in the north, and were unwilling to bring forward the few educated northerners for admission into the officer cadre. Alhaji Muhammadu Ribadu, Balewa’s pioneer powerful defence minister, took matters into his own hands: rather than wait for suitably qualified northerners to emerge, he introduced a regional quota system in the army recruitment process by lowering the educational requirements for entry into the officer corps such that the northern region alone had fifty percent, the remaining fifty percent was shared equally between the eastern and western regions.
Now, northern political interference in the evolution of post-independence military in Nigeria was made possible because Sir Ahmadu Bello and Sir Tafawa Balewa ensured that the four most senior positions in the ministry of defence were occupied by northerners, namely, Inuwa Wada (defence minister), Ibrahim Tako Galadima (minister of state for the army), Sule Kolo and Ahmadu Kurfi (permanent secretary and deputy permanent secretary, ministry of defence respectively).
Because prominent northern politicians were united in the quest for domination of political power in line with the vision set forth by Sir Ahmadu Bello, they imposed the quota system which guaranteed an appreciable number of northern representation in the army. In fact, Ibrahim Tako Galadima, minister of state (army), accompanied army recruiters to Government College, Bida and Barewa College, where he encouraged young northern students who were still in secondary schools to enlist in the army and strive to become officers.
As the subsequent history of Nigeria amply demonstrates, this singular act bore fruit some years afterwards, as the students Ibrahim Tako Galadima, Yakubu Gowon, Zakariya Maimalari and others persuaded to enter the army despite the fact that several of them did not possess the requisite academic qualifications at the time of enlistment, played significant roles in the emergence of military dictatorship in Nigeria. These include, in alphabetical order, Abdulsalami Abubakar, Bukar Suka Dimka, Gado Nasko, Garba Duba, Ibrahim Babangida, Mamman Vatsa, Mohammed Magoro, Muhammadu Buhari, Sani Abacha, Sani Bello, and Sani Sami. To be continued.