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Nigeria in distress: Is there a way forward to a great future?

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By Chief Philip C. Asiodu, CFR, CON

THERE is no doubt that Nigeria today is facing very challenging times. The headlines in the media are dominated by reports about: Southern Kaduna killings of Christians; inflammatory speeches by a few clerics calling for Christian self-defence, one going as far as urging retaliatory killings; continuing outrageous attacks and ambushes by Boko Haram fighters in Maiduguri Province; frequent slaughters of farmers in their villages and despoiling and destruction of their farms by well-armed Fulani Herdsmen; attacks on oil installations by militants in the Niger Delta with its crippling consequences on oil exports, foreign exchange inflows and the Nigerian economy; the continuing restiveness of the Movement For The Actualization Of The Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB); the demand for the secession of Biafra from Nigeria by MASSOB and Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB); the “Quit the North Order to Ibos by October 1, 2017 by some members of Arewa Youth Forum; the seemingly clumsy security and extra-judicial proceedings against MASSOB and IPOB; and cries of marginalization by various communities.

President Muhammadu Buhari

To compound the situation, the Nigerian economy is now in recession, the immediate cause being the drastic fall since July 2014 in the price of crude petroleum, our main export, but the real longer-term cause being the abandonment of Planning and disciplined implementation of Plans since 1975 and the failure to grow and diversify the economy for which good plans had been made and for which Nigeria is so richly endowed with natural resources and a sizeable internal market. Our performance over the last forty years has been in marked contrast to that of the Asian Tigers with whom we were at par in the mid-1970s but who are now far ahead of us in development and per capita income. The things described above may have inspired the title of this paper. In reality, however, one may consider them as symptoms of a far deeper and more extensive national crisis.

The threat of national disintegration

It is not surprising to hear otherwise level headed people, given the current challenges, talk as if the breaking up of Nigeria into several parts would be a solution since to them Nigeria is too difficult to administer. I have no doubt that the solution to our problem does not lie in disintegration. It is not possible to divide Nigeria neatly into a given number of successor countries. A collapse of the Nigerian State will most likely result in an unpredictable number of mini states controlled by war lords. Imagine leaving Lagos and encountering a Customs Post in Ikorodu, then Ijebu Ode, then Ofuse, then Benin City, etc. or travelling Northwards, in Shagamu, then Ibadan, then Ilorin, then Minna and so forth. It will be horrendous to have Nigeria as a failed State.

The fault will be that of the so-called elites. There will be no economic progress and civilization will be halted and life will be very insecure. We would find ourselves in a situation of general anarchy and violence. It is a prospect which should shock us to exploring solutions to our current problems. What the ordinary man desires is shelter, food, educational facilities to ensure his children’s advancement in life and of course adequate and improving availability of power, health and transportation infrastructure. He is really not interested in the power struggles among politicians.

Good patriotic visionary leadership and good governance which result in rapid economic and social progress and improving standard of living and quality of life for the great majority of the people are what will lead to national cohesion and stability. How remarkable the success of Malaysia in uniting the Malays and Chinese and smaller communities of Indians and others in a multi-religious, multi-ethnic state. Again, China with her 1.4 billion people unites many diverse ethnic and linguistic groups. We also have the Indian example.

Tragedy of Selfish Intra-Elite Struggles: It is possible to develop a bold uniting National Vision and Agenda in our current circumstances. The tragedy of the Nigerian situation is that the intra-elite self-centred and extremely narrow-minded battles for personal preferment have been allowed, because of the elite control of the media and widespread adult illiteracy, to obscure the anguished cries of the vast majority of ordinary Nigerians or “common man” for the simple basic things of life namely: security, food, shelter and progress. One very important lesson of the June 12, 1993 Election is that the masses by their pattern of voting were proud to vote as Nigerians and were not over-influenced by ethnicity, religion, or sectionalism. They elected Moshood Abiola as President on a Muslim – Muslim Abiola and Kingibe ticket against the Muslim – Christian ticket of Tofa and Ugoh. Is it not deeply tragic to observe that while the masses have abandoned their old ethnic and primeval retreats the so-called political class perennially ·seeks to draw them backwards and subvert their yearnings for progress by invoking ethnic loyalties in their unprincipled personal struggles for power?

Before attempting to propose the antidote to the current divisiveness in the Nigerian polity, and since history has not been taught in Nigerian primary and secondary schools for years, it is necessary to describe, however sketchily, the political history of colonial Nigeria. This would enable us understand the prospects for national development and unity.

Pre 1945 Historical Developments In Nigeria: It is the essential nature of man to resist any attempt to deprive him of his freedom and liberty. Therefore, it was no surprise that the British encountered armed resistance as they tried to replace what began as commercial relations with political control.

In fairness, the British Government was at first negative towards the pleadings of George Goldie and others, to grant their company a Royal Charter (as was the case in India), and to formally acknowledge the dominance of British interests in the areas now known as Nigeria. Goldie and others intensified their activities and by the time of the Berlin Conference, 1884 -1885, had procured over 235 “Treaties” with local rulers of various descriptions accepting British “protection”.  Lagos, of course, had much earlier in 1861 become a British Colony.

Eventually in 1886, the British Government granted a Royal Charter to the Royal Niger Company which it abrogated on December 31, 1899 and formally assumed responsibility over the territories to be named Nigeria. There followed more years of “pacification”. Sir Frederick, later Lord Lugard, First High Commissioner for Northern Nigeria from 1900-1906, had introduced the system of indirect rule in the North, having persuaded the Colonial Office that it was the best and most cost- effective way of administering the vast territory. North, South and Lagos Colony were amalgamated in 1914 as Nigeria under Lord Lugard and under him, the indirect rule system was extended to the South.

There was a great deal of opposition to this in the South, particularly in Eastern Nigeria which did not have the centralised Emirates of the North or the Obas and their kingdoms of the West. Lugard’s philosophy also involved leaving African societies to evolve along their own traditions, shielded as much as possible from external influences. Although the long term sustainability of this approach was questioned by some in London, it prevailed. With Amalgamation, the questioning of the Indirect Rule System given their years of exposure to Western Education largely provided by Christian missionaries, intensified in the South.

Sir Hugh Clifford who immediately followed Lord Lugard as Governor of Nigeria and later Sir Donald Cameron were critical of Indirect Rule and of trying to isolate the territory from global modernising developments but, although they succeeded in creating a Central Secretariat in Lagos and in reducing some of the powers of the High Commissioners, later known as Lieutenant-Governors, they failed to persuade the Colonial Office to modify the system of Indirect Rule.

By the time of Amalgamation, British military might had prevailed throughout the territories and British political control was firmly established. Resistance to foreign control was then channelled to political action. Various organisations were being formed to pursue particular issues and protest against local injustice here and there.

These were confined to the local elite of the few who had access to Western education. Herbert Macaulay who began his campaign against the colonial authorities by fighting for the rights of Chief Eleko in Lagos expanded the scope of his activities and founded the Nigerian National Democratic Party, NNDP, in 1923, but it did not grow much beyond Lagos.

Fourteen years later (1937), the Nigerian Youth Movement was formed, at first mainly to protest against the restrictive policies of the Colonial Government towards the development of institutions for tertiary education, and of stultifying the expansion of Yaba Higher College, the only tertiary institution in Nigeria. Founded in 1934, it admitted only about two dozen students a year.

Publicised sedition trial

Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, a graduate of American universities, had returned to Nigeria in 1937, after a brief spell in Ghana and a highly publicised sedition trial there, and started with the West African Pilot, a highly successful inflammatory agitation for self- government. With Dr. Azikiwe, popularly called “Zik”, Davies, Ikoli, Awolowo and others in the Nigerian Youth Movement, it soon became a full blown political party.

In 1938, with Zik and his West African Pilot denouncing NNDP as “neither Nigerian, nor national, nor democratic nor even a party”, the Nigerian Youth Movement won the elections to the Lagos Town Council, and the 1940, 1941 elections to the Legislative Council. Tragically, the Nigerian Youth Movement soon split the following year and was greatly weakened over a curious intra-Yoruba presidential succession dispute, with the majority of the Executive preferring a “Lagosian” non-Yoruba against an Ijebu man! That “Lagosian” was Ernest Ikoli of Bayelsan origin! It is interesting to note that in that crisis, Zik supported the Ijebu man, Akinsanya, later Odemo of Isara, while Awolowo supported the “Lagosian” Bayelsan.

It led to exit of Akinsanya and Azikiwe and most of their followers from Nigerian Youth Movement. External developments entailed by the Second World War, the example of the protracted Indian struggle for Independence, the formal pronouncements of the Allied powers in mobilising international support for prosecuting the War against Germany and Japan and particularly the anti-colonial stance of the United States of America, were inexorably leading to the end of European Colonialism of the late 19th and first half of the 20th century.

The Emergence of National Political Parties

The first nation-wide political party, the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons, N.C.N.C. was formed in 1944. At the beginning, the N.C.N.C. was not formed as a political party. It was meant to be an umbrella organisation to which political parties, tribal and communal unions etc. could belong. It was meant to be a united front. The first National President was Herbert Macaulay and Dr. Azikiwe was elected National Secretary. There was a very important development in 1944.

This was the introduction of Richards Constitution. The Richards Constitution recognised the separate identities of the Northern, Eastern and Western Provinces, and retained appointed members for the provinces. The Richards Constitution for the first time established a Central Legislative Council on which Northern and Southern delegates would seat to debate matters concerning Nigeria as a whole. Only Lagos with three seats and Calabar with one seat had elected members in the Legislative Council. The Council had no power to legislate and British officials were also members. This was a compromise arrived at after much resistance and reluctance on the part of the British officials serving in the North which started from the time of Sir Hugh Clifford’s attempt at administrative centralization.

The first major act of the N.C.N.C. was to produce a critique of the Richard’s Constitution which fell far short of nationalist expectations of advancing towards elected “Responsible Government, and ultimately, Self-Rule.” The N.C.N.C. also denounced the so-called obnoxious Bills including one which became the Minerals Ordinance which transferred ownership of minerals and all sub-surface rights to the Government of Nigeria, now the Federal Government of Nigeria.

Today, this is one law which the proponents of full Resource Control would want to abrogate. The N.C.N.C. began at once to organise a country wide tour, to mobilise support and obtain donations from the people to send a delegation to the British Government in London, to urge it to withdraw the Richards Constitution.

Richards Constitution

Meanwhile, the very successful 1945 General Strike of non-clerical workers seemed to have caught the Colonial Government by surprise. The leadership of N.C.N.C. and Dr. Azikiwe gave Mr. Imodu and his striking men full support, often consulting with them till the early hours of the morning. Dr. Azikiwe, “Zik”, used his newspapers to champion the cause of the strikers. The West African Pilot was often heavily censored but curiously Zik was never arrested or tried. Some of his followers such as Anthony Enahoro, Osita Agwuna, Mokwugo Okoye were tried and jailed. The N.C.N.C. nation-wide tour began in 1946 under the leadership of Herbert Macaulay. It generated great excitement. It was briefly interrupted by the death of the octogenarian Herbert Macaulay after a fall in Kano. After Macaulay was given a hero’s funeral in Lagos, the tour soon resumed with Zik as the leader, having been elected President to succeed Macaulay. At the end of the tour, a seven-man delegation was chosen. It comprised Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe as leader, Chief Nyong Essien of Calabar representing the Eastern Provinces, Prince Adeleke Adedoyin representing the Western Provinces, Zana Bukar Dipcharima from Bornu representing the Northern Provinces, Dr. Ibironke Olorunimbe representing Lagos, Mr. P. M. Kale representing British Cameroons and Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti representing women.

Looking back, it is remarkable how much care was taken to make the delegation as representative as possible across religious and tribal divides. The delegation went to London in 1947. It succeeded in meeting with Arthur Creech Jones, the Colonial Secretary. They were simply told to go home and co-operate with the Colonial Government in Nigeria. While in London, the delegation had internal squabbles and personality differences. On returning to Nigeria, Mr. Magnus Williams, Vice President of N.C.N.C., who had acted as President during Zik’s absence alleged that he had information that Igbo students in London had advised Zik not to trust Yorubas.

The allegation was later found to be a deliberate  fabrication but the crisis it generated nearly destroyed the N.C.N.C. The matter was settled but the seeds of tribal discord within the N.C.N.C. were sown. Yet the N.C.N.C. grew in number and popularity and up till 1951, was the only national political party of significance until the transformation of the Action Group from a Yoruba cultural organization into a political party in March 1951, to pursue Awolowo’s vision of ethnic nationalism.

 Vision of ethnic nationalism

This was followed almost immediately by the transformation of the Northern People’s Congress to a political party, to pursue Sardauna’s vision of “One North”.

Failure To Build One Dominant United Party Leading The Struggle for Independence

All these meant that unlike India or even Indonesia, the nationalist struggle for Independence would henceforth not be conducted under the aegis of one united National Movement. With the tragic post-1951 election manoeuvres in the West, including inducements resulting in the defection of five out of six Ibadan members who had been elected as candidates of N.C.N.C. – Mabolaje Grand Alliance, the N.C.N.C. majority evaporated and it was Chief Awolowo and not Dr. Azikiwe who became the First Premier of the Western Region.

Again to compound matters, exploiting the position whereby the Regional Assembly as a whole elected persons to go to the Central Parliament, Dr. Azikiwe, who had won the largest majority in the elections in Lagos was prevented from going to the Central Parliament in Lagos and was confined in Ibadan as Leader of Opposition in the West.

These events were to have dire consequences on the formation of the Central Governments on several occasions in later years.











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