By Uche Anichukwu
Once upon a time, the tortoise gathered his children to test their wisdom. The question was simple: How many times would something happen to you before you learn? The eldest one said thrice. The father landed him a hard knock on the head. The other said twice. Another said that just once was enough. But it was the youngest, who answered that he would learn from other people’s mistakes. Yes, wisest people learn from other people’s mistake.
In 1962, the Premier of the Western Region, Chief Ladoke Akintola and Chief Obafemi Awolowo were enmeshed in a political showdown, leading to the split of the Action Group, AG. The federal opposition believed the government at the centre led by Sir Abubakar Tafawa Belewa was playing the drum to which Akintola was dancing. A Vote of No Confidence was slammed on Akintola, leading to a serious fracas on the floor of the Western Region House of Assembly, with AG also expelling Akintola. A Vote of No Confidence is parliamentary system’s version of impeachment. Sequel to this, Sir Adesoji Aderemi demanded Akintola’s resignation, naming Alhaji Dauda Adegbenro in his stead. That was how “Yawaa gas” (pardon my Nigerian slang), leading to the political upheaval that earned the Western Region the “Wild, Wild, West” appellation.
The Prime Minister, Belewa, declared a state of smergency in the region, the first in Nigeria’s history. He appointed Dr. Moses Majekudonmi, his cabinet Minister of Health, as the Administrator on June 29, 1962. But the herbal medicine only aggravated the crisis. Worse still, Akintola was reinstated as the Premier without a fresh election, to the displeasure of the Awoists and even the ceremonial President, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, who had called for a fresh election.
This was followed by the arrest of Awolowo in 1963 over what many perceived as trumped up charges of coup plot, a treasonable offence. He was tried and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment.
It was in this depth of political tension and recriminations that the the 1964 federal elections, which was a straight fight between Akintola-led Nigerian National Democratic Party, the Tafawa Belawa and Sir Ahmadu Bello-led Northern Peoples Congress (NPC), and the Nigerian National Alliance (NNA) on one hand and the United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA) consisting of Azikiwe’s National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC), imprisoned Awolowo’s AG, etc on the other, was held. The Akintola-Balewa alliance eventually carried the day in the highly divisive, ethnicised, and tensed election amidst allegations of massive rigging, thuggery, and abuse of federal executive powers.
To cut a long story short, there was an escalation of violence in the Western Region, better known as Operation Wetie. It was in this atmosphere of this constitutional crisis and harvests of sorrow, arson, brigandage, bloodletting, and mass deaths that the October 11, 1965 Western House of Assembly elections were conducted. That was how ambitious military boys from every part of the country led by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu struck. It was branded an Igbo coup, resulting in the pogroms against Ndigbo. A 30-month civil war ensued. The fire, which started from a corner of the house, eventually conflagrated the entire building. The Igbos paid the greatest price for a crisis that started in the West. The rest is our sad history.
We also know the story of the Second Republic – the political madness, arson, brigandage, impunity, abuse of executive powers, and persecution of the opposition at all levels, coupled with corruption. Rigging had executive blessings. I recall that my father, now late, was the collation officer for our ward in the 1983 general elections. The NPN thugs wanted him to change polls’ results at gunpoint, but he refused, preferring to die. He was abducted. Thank God, he returned days later. The military eventually struck again.
From buying snuff, the military strayed into the heart of the market on a protracted shopping spree that lasted about 16 years. They brought not tears, sorrow, and blood, but threatened our continued corporate existence with the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election.
Against this backdrop, you would wonder why anybody would find fault or try to mischievously twist Senator Ike Ekweremadu’s warning that we have again taken the same route, which end is a ditch. The Deputy President of the Senate spoke during the debate on a motion by Senator Salau Ogembe (PDP, Kogi Central) on the violence visited on his empowerment programme for his constituency by political thugs.
Read his exact words: “The problem in Nigeria now is that our democracy is receding and the international community needs to know this. Who says that the military cannot take over in Nigeria? So, Let us not joke with our democracy the way they are going. Two weeks ago, we were talking about how Senator Suleiman Hunkuyi’s house was destroyed in Kaduna State. Recently, we were talking about how Senator Rabiu Kwakwanso was stopped from going to his state. We saw people carrying clubs, waiting for him at the airport. We were talking about how security operatives laid siege on Senator Dino Melaye. In Kaduna, Senator Shehu Sani cannot organise a meeting and we say that we are practicing democracy. The international community needs to know this because they helped us to restore our democracy and some gang of people are trying to truncate the entire democracy”.
In the midst of the security challenges, especially in the light of the recently abducted 110 Dapchi girls, who could have imagined that the Defence Headquarters would be preoccupied with Ekweremadu’s statement, which it agreed was cautionary. Yet, it said that although the Senator’s comments, “may appear cautionary and sincere in the atmosphere of discourse”, it is derogatory of the army… and denigrates its loyalty to the President and Commander-in-Chief. But when the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, raised an alarm over alleged meeting of some military officers and some politicians for what he called “political reasons”, it was okay.
The wise learns from other people’s mistakes, but the simpleton prefers to live in a fool’s paradise, refusing to learn even from his past mistakes.
- Anichukwu writes from Abuja