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Lessons of politics of the past

By Adisa Adeleye

IT has become the habit of the old politicians of romanticizing the past golden age of positive politics when viewing the present dispensation of “everything goes”.  Perhaps former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was right recently when he expressed disappointment on the political rascality or naivety of some young political leaders.

Many observers would attribute the immaturity of some of our political leaders to lack of link with the past.  There is a notable lack of detailed records of the country‘s past political activities to guide the young but ambitious few that could be called leaders.

At present, many of the political leaders in the country are below the age of sixty years; some were born around the year of Independence (1960) and some were just toddlers by the year 1960.  It must be agreed that though young in age, most of the present leaders are well educated.  Thanks to great improvements in education and greater opportunities to study abroad after Independence.

In retrospect, sophistication in politics should be traced to the people of Lagos at the turn of the 20th century.  The Peoples‘ Union of 1910 was perhaps the oldest political party formed to influence, ‘but not control‘ the government of Lagos which was firmly in the hands of Britain.  One of its unsuccessful agitations was to oppose the collection of water rate.

From left: President Goodluck Jonathan; former Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar; and former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo at the opening of an international seminar on peace support operations organised by the Ministry of Defence in Abuja, yesterday.
File photo: From left – President Jonathan; former Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar; and former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo at an event

The subsequent collection of water rate signified the death of that movement in 1926 following the loss of confidence by members.  The offence was failure to deliver a promise freely made.

Looking for a superb organization, perhaps the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) of the 1920s would rank very high.  It was described as the best organized political party in West Africa between 1923 and 1933.

The NNDP was a party of the cream of Yoruba society in Lagos and its founder, Herbert Macaulay was described as ‘Napoleon of Nigerian politics‘ Though NNDP was a party of many – Lawyers, Doctors, White-cap chiefs and have won many local elections and legislative seats, its actions were limited to Lagos alone.  The leader, Herbert Macaulay saw the weakness and founded the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon (NCNC) in 1944 with Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, then a rising Nationalist.

The formation of Nigeria Youth Movement (NYM) in the 1930s was a serious challenge to the NNDP for the control of Lagos politics.  The NYM was a party of young nationalists of the time – Dr Azikiwe; H. O. Davies; and Obafemi Awolowo.  The heydays of NYM were in 1938, 1940 and 1941 when its candidates were successful in the Legislative Council elections, beating the NNDP hands down.  The NYM as a political party broke into two on account of electoral candidate dispute for the legislative seat for Lagos – Ernest Ikoli (Ijaw) defeated Akinsanya (Yoruba).

The problem of NYM was that of supremacy of the Executive over all others in the party.  The Executive nominated, who they thought was a better candidate, Ikoli (though not a Yoruba) while the body of the party, including Dr Azikiwe supported Akinsanya.  Incidentally, late Ernest Ikoli was reported to be the step-father of Chief Remi Fani-Kayode (the father of Femi Fani-Kayode).  After the victory of Ikoli at the election, Dr Azikiwe and others (mainly Ijebu) left the party. Thus, choice of candidate will always be a problem for any political party.

The schism in NYM gave the NNDP the opportunity to bounce back to the winning posts in 1945, 1946 and 1947 Legislative Council contests.  The successful NNDP candidates in 1945 were Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and Dr Ibiyinka Olorun-Nimbe.  Both became Members of the Western House of Assembly under the NCNC  (NNDP was merged with the new party NCNC).  The lesson is that no matter the organizational ability, a divided party would always lose any election (without rigging).

The post 1950 scenario was the emergence of three strong political parties – Northern Peoples‘ Congress (NPC) led by Sir Ahmadu Bello; the NCNC, led by Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and the Action Group (AG) led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo.  Though the three leaders were Nigerian nationalists (fought for Nigeria‘s freedom), their political operations were based mainly in Northern, Eastern and Western Regions respectively. Both Dr Azikiwe (Zik) and Chief Awolowo (Awo) made efforts to penetrate the North through allies, Sir Ahmadu Bello stayed put in the North.

Though many analysts rated the Action Group (AG) as the best organized party of the 1950s, yet the party was regarded as a tribal party by some with little knowledge of Nigerian politics.  A cursory look at the 1959 elections would show an interesting picture.

In the election to the House of Representatives, the NPC won all its seats (134) from the North; the NCNC/NEPU won 89 seats (North 8, East 58, West 23) and AG/Allies won 73 seats (North 25, East 14, West 34).  From the spread of the votes, Action Group could not have been a tribal party.

The betrayal of Nigerian unity was the inability of the three parties to form a genuine National Government as expressed by voters who did not give a single party the clear mandate.

The military reign and the civil war paralyzed political activities until 1979 provided another opportunity. The new strong parties were National Party of Nigeria (NPN); Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN led by Chief Awolowo) and Nigeria Peoples‘ Party (NPP led by Dr Azikiwe).  Sir Ahmadu Bello was killed in the 1966 military coup.

The results of 1979 (first after civil war) federal elections under a new Federal Constitution were significant.  The NPN (old NPC and other renegades from other parties) had 169 members, 36 senators; UPN (old AG) had 111 members and 28 senators; NPP (old NCNC) had 78 members and 16 senators.

It was funny that another opportunity for a genuine national government was missed and the UPN, the second largest party in Nigeria was consigned into opposition like in 1960.

The democratic experiment after 1999 has been witnessing the dominance of a single political party in capturing power and distributing the dividends to its own accredited share-holders (not all Nigerians).

As a bad manager of the national economy, the party could not manage itself fairly or justly.  In spite of ‘patch-patch work‘ the edifice appears tottering.  I hope somebody remembers the Action Group Jos Conference of 1962.  That great party could not recover until its death in 1966.

A poser
Since Independence, the political alliance has always been between the North and the East (Hausa/Fulani and Ibo).  Akintola was daubed a traitor by suggesting otherwise.  The past alliances have failed to prevent the Civil War (1967-70) or provided peace and prosperity, would the East (Ibo) look at the other options without ingrained sentiments?.

From those halcyon days of principled politics to the present active period of turbulence, times have changed for bad, leaving behind vestiges of ethnic bitterness and insurgency.



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