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Nigerian history and the morbid obsession with national unity (3)

By Douglas Anele

Balewa’s control of the national government placed the Northern region at an advantage over the other two regions because NPC, the party representing its interests, had power over federal revenue and other important national institutions. Expectedly, the NPC used its dominant influence to determine, in favour of the North, developmental projects to implement, where to site such projects and contractors that would execute them. Northern political leaders wanted power at the centre desperately out of conviction that the NCNC and AG, if allowed to control the federal government, would likely allocate more resources to the Eastern and Western regions at the expense of the underdeveloped Northern region.

Again, they believed that Southern domination entails that the later would control the civil service and educational institutions of the North, thereby depriving Northerners the resources needed to develop a robust educated class capable of competing favourably and meritoriously with their Southern counterparts. On the other hand, Southerners feared that the NPC-controlled government would divert and funnel resources derived mainly from Southern Nigeria to the North, remove Southerners from their vantage positions in the administration and military, and gradually Islamise the country.

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These mutually destructive fears were detrimental to the emergence of real national integration shortly after independence. In 1963, Balewa’s administration, apparently deploying the colonial divide and rule strategy in order to weaken the cohesiveness of Southern Nigeria in the political power game with the North, created Mid-West region for non-Yoruba minorities in the West but refused to do the same for minorities of the Middle Belt, because the latter could politically be counted as Northerners. The previous year, 1962, a census was organised throughout the country. Political leaders of each region knew the headcount was very important: accruable revenue and number of seats in the federal legislature for each region were dependent on its population. Thus, the regional governments tried various means to bolster their population figures. The numbers released showed that the population of Eastern and Western regions increased by 70%, with 30% increase for the North. That result threatened the hegemonic power of Northern Nigeria, which was predicated partly on its alleged demographic superiority over the South. Consequently, Ahmadu Bello and his cohorts promptly rejected the result. In the recount that followed Northern Nigeria had, in about one year, an additional eight million people, which was commensurate with the increase recorded for the Eastern and Western regions combined. Nnamdi Azikiwe, leader of the NCNC, rejected the result, thereby preventing its ratification, whereas the Akintola-led Western regional government and the Mid-West accepted it ostensibly for “the sake of national unity.”

Another opportunity for the South to whittle down the hegemonic political dominance of Northern Nigeria was the general election held in 1964. The Sadauna of Sokoto broke the ten-year old alliance between the NPC and the NCNC, on the ground that “the Igbos have never been the true friends of the North and will never be.” NPC entered into alliances with Akintola’s Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) and the Mid-West Democratic Front (MDF) to form Nigerian National Alliance (NNA), just as the NCNC combined with AG to become the United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA).

Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Alhaji Ahmadu Bello
Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Alhaji Ahmadu Bello

During the poll, allegations and counter allegations of various forms of electoral malpractices, harassment and intimidation of opponents were rife, although it was clear to every objective observer that NPC deployed its power of incumbency to help NNA win at all cost. Not surprisingly, UPGA boycotted the election, but it held nonetheless. The outcome was predictable – the NNA won by a wide margin. Azikiwe, as President, refused to mandate Balewa and the NNA to form a new government. Prominent Nigerians including Adetokumbo Ademola, Chief Justice of the Federation and Louis Mbanefo intervened. Azikiwe relented and the Zik-Balewa Pact was born which envisaged formation of a broad-based government that would accommodate UPGA members in positions of authority and a rerun of elections in areas where voting did not take place. The election of 1965 did not change the pattern of results recorded the previous year. NNA won 198 out of the 312 seats in the Federal Legislative House, whereas NCNC and its partners won most of the seats in the Eastern Regional Assembly, but the official results released had it as 197 for NNA and 108 for UPGA. The controversy generated by the scandalously distorted official results had not died down completely when preparation for the November 1965 election in Western Region reached its climax.

The conflict generated by that very election was quite devastating. After the election, both the NNDP and AG claimed victory. Balewa’s NPC administration, which was already biased against AG and wanted to help its ally, the NNDP, keep the former out of its stronghold in the West, permitted the arrest of D.S. Adegbenro, leader of AG and his supporters. Violent protests and riots broke out in different parts of the Western region. Prime Minister Balewa’s response to the violence, as reported by Frederick Forsyth in his enthralling book, The Making of an African Legend: The Biafra Story, is very interesting, because it underscores the crude Machiavellism of Nigerian political leadership, particularly from the early days of nationalist agitations till date. According to Forsyth, “Balewa, who had been so fast to declare a state of emergency in 1962 because of an uproar in the Western House of Assembly, remained quiescent. Despite repeated appeals to him to declare an emergency, dissolve the Akintola government and order fresh elections, he declared he had ‘no power’.”

Instead, the Prime Minister decided to send more soldiers to quell the disturbances. Before the decision could be effected, the army struck on January 15, 1966, killing Balewa, Bello, Akintola, among other prominent public officers and some senior members of the army. Now, it should be pointed out that before the military coup, prominent Northern leaders, led by the Sadauna of Sokoto, much more than their Southern compatriots, disliked the unification or amalgamation of Northern and Southern Nigeria. For instance, at the inauguration of the Richard Constitution in 1947, Balewa, who later became Prime Minister, declared, “We do not want, Sir, our Southern neighbours to interfere in our development. …I should like to make it clear to you that if the British quitted Nigeria now at this stage the Northern people would continue their uninterrupted conquest to the sea.” At the General Conference held at Ibadan in January 1950, the Emirs of Zaria and Katsina made it quite clear that “unless the Northern Region is allotted fifty per cent of the seats in the central legislature, it will ask for separation from the rest of Nigeria on the arrangements existing before 1914.”

In March 1953 during a heated debate at the Federal House of Representatives, Ahmadu Bello remarked that “the mistake of 1914 has come to light., and I should like it to go no further.” When a delegation from AG decided to visit Kano in May that same year “to educate the Northern peoples about the crisis in the House of Representatives over the self government motion,” Inua Wada, Kano Branch Secretary of the NPC declared in a speech two days before its scheduled arrival that, “having abused us in the South these very Southerners have decided to come over to the North to abuse us…We have therefore organised about a thousand men ready in the city to meet force with force.”

To be continued.

 

 

 


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