By Adisa Adeleye
After the assassination of General Murtala Mohammed, his successor General Olusegun Obasanjo handed over the responsibility of government to a civilian President, Alhaji Shehu Shagari of the victorious National Party of Nigeria (NPN) in 1979. The change of baton which did not happen until after the Supreme Court has ruled, also witnessed the end of army rule since the military coup of 1966.
The NPN of those days was led by that unassuming but intelligent leader, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, a Fulani from Sokoto. During his political days, he was remarkable for his humility, simplicity and respectability. Some political opponents saw him as a weak leader who allowed the growth of corruption among his lieutenants. Some political pundits, though of doubtful credentials, attributed the origin of political corruption in the country to his era of free politics and unbridled opportunism.
His progressive economic policy was betrayed by high spending on free imports, featuring luxuries and supported by inflow of oil money. The value of the Naira was high as to encourage free flow of cheap imports to aid development in the Housing Industry. Many private luscious estates sprang up during that era of cheap money.
As I have noted before, former President Alhaji Shagari was clear and categorical in his 1983 Budget speech when he said “I have followed with keen interest in the on-going debate on the devaluation of the Naira, I am convinced that given the present structure of the Nigerian economy which depends largely on one export commodity on one hand, and places heavy reliance on imports of capital goods and raw materials on the other, devaluation will not be in the best interest of the country.
I, therefore, wish to state without any equivocation, that under the present circumstance, this administration has no intention of devaluing the Naira”. Nigeria operated a fixed foreign exchange system at the time. That was bold and exhibition of quality leadership.
Apart from bold economic determination on the part of Shagari and his government, the drastic fall in the price of crude oil played havoc on the mood of political leadership which did not take seriously the diversification of the economy when the going was good. The economic crisis of the early 1980s was partly responsible for the fall of NPN government in 1983. The military adventurers hid under the canopy of the ravaging economic woes of the period to strike.
However, the greatness of former President Shagari could be found in the strategy of managing successfully the diverse ethnic and religious differences in the country. In spite of belonging to the class of ‘Vandals‘ (Biafran epithet), the NPN was able to garner enough votes from the Ibo speaking area to win handsomely the presidential contest (his deputy was the respected Dr Alex Ekwueme).
The Shagari victories in 1979 and 1983 elections were more remarkable because his main opponents were the old and experienced political Southern politicians – Dr Azikiwe and Chief Awolowo.
At last, the great Party, the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) fell, first by the pride of many of its leaders who boasted that their party would rule Nigeria forever. Though the NPN was believed to have won fairly (as proclaimed by the Supreme Court) in 1979, the party‘s victory of 1983 was adjudged to be heavily rigged by many Nigerians.
The UPN States of Oyo and Bendel (now Edo and Delta) were successfully ‘annexed‘ while Dt Azikiwe‘s home State (Anambra) fell to NPN to warn Nigerians of the intention of the party to be the only party in Nigeria.
The Chairman of the party, Chief Adisa Akinloye once warned his party leadership of the existence of the ‘The Third Party‘ besides the combined opposition of UPN of Chief Awolowo and APP of Dr Azikiwe. The military adventurers returned in 1983 and that signified the political end of ‘gentleman‘ Shagari and his flamboyant and proud NPN. And so, the dream of ruling Nigeria for ever became an empty boast.
The new party
The allusion to the old NPN is to introduce the new party called and registered as Peoples‘ Democratic Party (PDP). It was mistakenly believed that the NPN had the blessing of the ruling military regime until the Buhari coup. Some analysts explained that unexpected putsch to that fear by the Northern military elites of the emergence soon of a Southern President under the NPN Scheme – Dr Alex Ekwueme as Vice President and Chief Adisa Akinloye as Chairman of the party – after Shagari‘s tenure.
The new Party, the PDP is widely believed to be sponsored by the old military leadership to make one of their ranks in civilian attires, the President, Chief Obasanjo was alleged chosen to appease the Yoruba after the annulment of Abiola‘s victory. There is no doubt that Chief Obasanjo, a retired army general without obvious political experience, was given indirect help – a friendly election umpire and other formidable logistics to emerge victorious in two subsequent elections.
If the present leadership of the PDP is not aware of this salient fact, the present ‘involvement‘ of the former powerful rulers of the country, Generals Obasanjo and Babangida in attempts to broker peace, is a reminder of the fact that PDP is still being regarded as a favorite party of the past military elites. The position of the President of Nigeria is therefore regarded as special to the North – the home of former powerful military elites.
The unfolding drama to me as a layman is this: If Northern soldiers could topple Shagari (a Northerner), what stops the Northern civilians (governors) from shaking the Southern President (Dr Jonathan) politically, especially now that the PDP is generally judged to be performing below expectation.
This time, it appears that the old tested and returned military elites and emirs are being joined by active young civilians (governors) to force President Jonathan to look back into past history for guidance.
Unfortunately, the President is being served by a cortore of self-seekers and sycophants. The President has many political foes including the new APC (made of North-West and South-West and other experienced political foxes).
However, there is a way out for visionary leadership playing sensible politics.
A consensus on Power, Unemployment and Security policies could turn the table against kidnappings, armed robberies, ritual killings and insurrection.
Can Nigerians discuss now on how to live in peace and prosperity in a stable polity?