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The phenomenon of Biafra (5)

By Douglas Anele

Moreover, Dr. Azikiwe whose party entered into a coalition with the NPC after the 1954 election and Chief Awolowo who led the opposition were better qualified for the position than Balewa in terms of academic qualification, international exposure, intellectual sophistication, charisma and, especially in the case of Dr. Azikiwe, a more pan-Nigerian outlook. But why did Sir Robertson anoint Alhaji Balewa as Prime Minister ahead of Dr. Azikiwe and Chief Awolowo? Sir Robertson justified his poor decision with the self-serving argument that he and Balewa would successfully persuade some southern politicians to support Balewa as Prime Minister. There is an intriguing personal angle to it as well. According to Robertson, “We [Balewa and himself] became very close and I appreciated the confidence he placed in me.

There was little we did not discuss, including his problem with the Sadauna of Sokoto and his difficulties with noisy southerners who seemed to take all their squabbles and troubles to him. We discussed defence and foreign affairs and I showed him all the British government papers that came to me about neighbouring countries and the trends in foreign affairs, although they were not supposed to be shown to the Nigerian. I never had the slightest fear that he would abuse my confidence and because I had the greatest admiration for him as a man of the highest integrity and a most religious and sincere muslim.” It is clear from the foregoing that irrelevant subjective factors rather than fitness for the job based on merit motivated Robertson to choose Balewa as Nigeria’s Prime Minister even before the 1959 elections. His action corroborates Frantz Fanon’s thesis that colonialists prefer to hand power over to stooges, to those who would depend on them and who they can manipulate without serious difficulty.

The author and historian, Chinweizu, in his little book, Caliphate Colonialism: The Taproot of the Trouble with Nigeria, affirms that results of the 1953 census and election of 1959 were manipulated by the British and NPC to deliver power to the caliphate in October 1, 1960, which means that the seeds of announcing inflated census figures and electoral fraud were planted by the British and their Nigerian collaborators before independence. The 1953 census gave the north 55.4% of the population and 44.6% to the south.

Now, given that land mass does not necessarily entail habitability, Nigeria is probably the only country in the world where arid and semi-arid areas are officially adjudged to be more populous than densely populated forested areas. Meanwhile, despite British-supervised rigging of the 1959 parliamentary election to favour the north, NPC and its allies garnered 2,027, 194 votes, with a total of 142 seats; the NCNC alliance with the Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) got 3,103,627 votes and 89 seats, whereas AG and its allies mustered 1,986,839 votes and 73 seats. This means that a coalition by NCNC, AG and their allies would have beaten NPC hands down, and because NCNC had a greater number of seats than AG, Azikiwe would have emerged Prime Minister. That said, for the reasons presented earlier, a coalition between NCNC and AG might not have prevented Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, the “chosen one” by Sir Robertson, from becoming Prime Minister.

To that must be added the failure of southern political leaders, notably Dr. Azikiwe and Chief Awolowo, to work together consistently, speak with one loud voice and present a solid opposition against the machinations of British colonialists and their northern cohorts. Chinweizu claims that “but for the feud between Awo and Zik in the 1950’s, the caliphate would not have inherited power from the British.” Chinweizu is probably right.

Unfortunately, the two foremost Nigerian politicians underestimated the resolve of ultra-conservative northern ruling cabal led by Sir Ahmadu Bello to capture power and use it to subjugate the south. Dr. Azikiwe and Chief Awolowo failed to subordinate their personal ambitions, interests and disagreements to the more critical task of promoting southern solidarity as a counterweight to the impending, British-engineered, northern political domination of the country.

In retrospect, Dr. Azikiwe was naïve in his preoccupation with the idea of One Nigeria with a strong central government; he was over-confident that the Igbo, given their unsurpassed capacity for the pursuit of individual achievement, will “lead the children of Africa from the bondage of the ages,” without considering seriously the fact that for the north Nigeria must be administered as a conquered territory by northerners. Chief Awolowo on his part dreaded the possibility of Igbo political domination to the extent that he transformed the AG into a strong, highly disciplined political organisation that often outperformed Dr. Azikiwe’s NCNC in western regional elections, thereby eliminating the prospects for co-operation between the two parties.

Examining dispassionately what one might call Britain’s transition programme for Nigeria’s independence, one is struck by the extent British colonialists were willing to go in order to ensure that northerners led Nigeria immediately after independence inspite of the fact we noted earlier that Dr. Azikiwe and Chief Awolowo had far better intellectual credentials and experience of governance in a democratic setting than Sir Ahmadu Bello and Alhaji Tafawa Balewa. It is even more baffling that Sir Robertson and the Secretary of Colonies in London did not consider it anomalous and odd that the NPC they chose to lead Nigeria was unwilling to change its parochial name from the Northern People’s Congress to one that reflects a pan-Nigerian outlook.

In a series of papers entitled British Documents on the End of Empire Projects (BDEEP) published by the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London, there are startling details about how Sir Robertson recruited a junior civil servant, Harold Smith, to rig the pre-independence election so that northern politicians amenable to British manipulation would win power, dominate the country and serve British interests. According to the report, Smith refused to do what Robertson wanted, a decision that cost him his job, career and reputation. Interestingly, Sir Robertson was not confident in Nigeria’s political future after independence despite his unreasonable manipulation of the system to help northerners secure political power.

In his own words, “The general outlook of the [northern] people is so different from those in southern Nigeria as to give them practically nothing in common. There is less difference between an Englishman and an Italian, both of whom have a civilisation based on Greek and Roman foundations and on christianity, than between a muslim villager in Sokoto, Kano or Katsina, and an Igbo, Ijaw or a Kalabari. How can any feeling of common purpose of nationality be built up between people whose culture, religion and mode of living is so completely different?” Once again, Robertson’s statement brings to prominent relief the utter dishonesty of Britain’s colonial mission in Nigeria, and highlights the fundamental trouble with the geopolitical architectonic they bequeathed us, namely, the blizzard of mediocre leadership.

The fragile and unsettled nature of the Nigerian state adumbrated by Sir Robertson is also reflected in the discordant visions of Nigeria by leading politicians from different parts of the country before and shortly after independence. In general, for northern leaders Nigeria exists to minister to the interests of the north, more precisely, the interests of the ruling caliphate oligarchy and their cronies. For example, Sir Ahmadu Bello, who was only interested in issues pertaining to the south to the extent they had impact on the northern region, insisted that Nigeria is the estate of Usman Dan Fodio, in which the minorities of the north are willing tools for the caliphate while the south is a conquered territory that must be dominated and subdued by caliphate colonialists.

In a 1942 conference of northern chiefs, the emirs argued that “Holding this country together is not possible except by means of the religion of the prophet. If they [the south] want political unity let them follow our religion.” The Sultan of Sokoto, while responding to a delegation in 1944 from the West African Students’ Union to solicit his support for proposed constitutional reforms, told the students that “Those southerners who desire a united Nigeria should first embrace Islam as their religion.”

Meanwhile, although Chief Awolowo was motivated largely by tribalistic reasons to form both the Egbe Omo Oduduwa and AG, his proposed trip to Kano in May 1953 to explain the southern position on self-rule for the country indicated a genuine desire for an independent Nigeria. Dr. Azikiwe was so keen about Nigeria gaining independence on October 1, 1960. In an interview shortly before the 1959 election, he reiterated that it did not matter to him whether Chief Awolowo, Sir Ahmadu Bello or Sir Tafawa Balewa emerged Prime Minister – so long as Nigeria got her independence as scheduled he would be satisfied.

To be continued…


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