By Don Ubani
THE leadership tussle for control of Western region between Chiefs Obafemi Awolowo and Samuel Akintola in the First Republic, had metamorphosed into an unprecedented catastrophic dimension.
Many people, including the innocent, lost their lives in the most primitive and brutal manner. The Western region became known as the ‘Wild West’ because of extremity of inhumanity.
While the West was in flame, some young officers of the Nigerian Army, mainly of the Igbo extraction and led by Major Patrick Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, who felt worried by an alleged indifference of the Prime Minister; Sir Abubarkar Tafawa Balewa, to the carnage that the West had become, staged a coup d’etat in which many notable Northern statesmen were killed.
The same affected the West. Though the coup which took place on January 15, 1966 did not succeed, it ended up ushering in the military into the governance of Nigeria. The most senior Nigerian military commander at that time; Major-General Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi, who though was not privy to the coup, became the first military Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces.
The North, naturally, did not take kindly to the killing of her leaders in a coup d’etat that was almost entirely Igbo initiated and executed.
In the dark wee hours of July 29, 1966, northern soldiers, led by Major Theophilus Danjuma, came up with a counter coup in which Major-General Aguiyi-Ironsi was killed. Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon became Head of State and Commander of the Nigerian Armed Forces. More than thirty-two senior Army officers of Eastern Nigerian extraction were equally killed in that coup. But what became strange and worrisome was the ethnic cleansing of easterners living in the north, who were mainly innocent defenceless civilians, including pregnant women and infants.
This pogrom culminated in the Nigerian/Biafran war, which Lt. Col. Chukwuemeka Odimegwu Ojukwu prosecuted on the side of Biafra. The scars of that war are still evident. The south-east geopolitical zone is deliberately the only zone with five states while others have six with the North-West having seven states.
So far, it is evident that no result of census conducted in the country has ever been accepted across the board. Census results have always been disputed because of suspicion emanating from ethnicity.
Control and allocation of fiscal revenue has been a source of perpetual controversy and rancor since the abrogation of the 1963 Republican Constitution by the Nigerian military. The Niger Delta region of the Nigerian federation has been consistent in her demand for resource control.
Lots of pipeline vandalism, illegal oil bunkering and such other related crimes are taking place in the region to the detriment of the Nigerian state probably because their demand has not been given the attention it deserves.
The question of ‘indigeneship and settlers’ has continued to raise a lot of dust and acrimony in such places as Plateau, Benue, Southern Kaduna and even Nasarawa. The consequences of this distortion have been uncountably costly in terms of human lives and property.
As a result of the above inconsistencies, Nigeria has continued to nose-dive into a state of socio-econo-political disequilibrium. The inevitable aftermath of these realities is that Nigeria, despite the abundance of her material and human resources, continuously fails to attain the height commensurate with her endowment.
Is it any wonder then that internationally-acclaimed wise men and jurists such as Prof. Ben Nwabueze, the late Chief Rotimi Williams, Dr. Tunji Braithwaite, Prof. Pat Utomi, Messrs Yinka Odumakin, Fred Agbaje, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu and Prof. Wole Soyinka have been conscientizing the Nigerian leadership on the necessity for a sovereign national conference.
Not too long ago, the Lagos State Government, under Governor Babatunde Fashola, made bold to ‘repatriate’ some Nigerians of Igbo extraction whom his government adjudged to be economically unfit to reside in Lagos to their home state of Anambra. This development is capable of escalating the time-held suspicion between the Igbo and the Yoruba.
For Nigerians to be gathered again to discuss the Nigerian question without allowing their resolutions to have the effect of law and as being the total reflection of the people’s wish, would regrettably amount to avoidable deceit of the Nigerian people and unwarranted frittering of the Nation’s dwindling financial fortunes.
We should avoid the type of wastage of national resources which the country embarked upon in 2005 when the then President Olusegun Obasanjo squandered more than N913m in what he referred to as National Political Reform Conference, which was headed by Rtd. Justice Nike Tobi and which amounted to nothing.
A sovereign National Conference will afford the people of Nigeria the much needed opportunity to correct the falsehood inherent in the statement that the people of Nigeria were responsible for the making of the constitution when, as a matter of truth, the constitution was the making of the Nigerian Military.
As Nigeria marks her 53rd independence anniversary, we should see this occasion as auspicious enough to boldly and patriotically answer Sonny Okosun’s poser; ‘Which way Nigeria?’
•Chief (Sir) Don Ubani, KSC, JP, a political analyst and civil society activcist, is the Okwubunka of Asa, Umuiku-Isi-Asa Autonomous Community, Ukwa-West L.G.A. P.M.B. 7048, Aba, Abia State, Nigeria.