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The problem of retrogressive politics in Nigeria (2)

By Douglas Anele

All the same, whatever the outcome of any legal action against INEC’s declaration of Dr. Kayode Fayemi as the governor-elect (if indeed the PDP carries out its threat to challenge it at the election tribunal), the most pressing concern for now is that the Ekiti governorship election might be a microcosm or preview of what the 2019 general elections would be like, a deplorable prospect many Nigerians await with trepidation.

One of the most important lessons every attentive student of Marxist philosophy learns after engaging with the subject is that the most fruitful approach for understanding and possibly resolve a socio-political problem is to examine it historically. This is because such a retrospective view helps to unravel the roots of the problem and its interlocking components as they have changed over time; it also provides deeper insight into how the problem can be dealt with effectively. In the case of the recurrent rigmarole of retrogressive politics in Nigeria, one needs to go back to the very beginning of political party formation and modern politics in the country to see how the past has shaped the nature of the struggle for power over the decades and the extent politicians have learnt or failed to learn from history.

But before we do that, it is necessary to identify, albeit non-technically or roughly, the meaning of ‘retrogressive politics.’ The expression ‘retrogressive politics’ contains two words. The first one, ‘retrogressive’, is the adjectival form of another adjective ‘retrograde’ which connotes, among other things, “moving or directed backwards…degenerating.” So, ‘retrogressive’, according to Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary, means going backward or decline in quality or merit. The second, ‘politics’, is difficult to define in a straightforward manner because, according to Remi Anifowose in a paper entitled “The Nature and Scope of Political Science”,  there are several ways of defining politics which include, but not limited to the following: the process of making and execution of governmental decisions or policies, the authoritative allocation of values, the quest for power, order and justice, the art of influencing, manipulating and controlling others, and a struggle among actors pursing conflicting desires on public issues. All these definitions are compatible with the view of Aristotle, the great ancient Greek philosopher, who claimed that man is by nature a political animal. No matter how one chooses to define or characterise politics, it cannot be denied that politics revolves around government or the state and also pertains to power, authority and conflict.

A convenient date to start the discussion of modern politics in Nigeria is 1923, when the first truly indigenous political party, the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) led by Herbert Macaulay was formed. This was sequel to the constitutional reforms put in place by Sir Hugh Clifford in 1922. Although the party’s activities were limited to Lagos at the beginning, it differed from the protest movements of the early twentieth century in colonial West Africa by being the first elite movement that kept in touch with the grassroots and, as a result, triggered political consciousness among those living in Lagos. Again, the party had a Pan-Nigeria outlook and objectives such as the establishment of branches throughout the country, the economic transformation of Nigeria’s natural resources, appropriate prices for Nigerian produce; and the development of education throughout the country. Unfortunately, the NNDP failed to achieve most of its objectives mainly because its leaders developed conservative tendencies and compromised with the colonial administration.

As the NNDP gradually sank into oblivion, the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM) emerged in 1936. According to R.T. Akinyele, in “The Growth of Nationalism and the Political Evolution of Nigeria”, NYM was the first political group to travel outside Lagos to the hinterland for the purpose of sensitising Nigerians on the advantages of self-government. But the movement soon crumbled under the weight of ethnic tension triggered ab initio by competition for the Nigerian Legislative Council seat vacated by its president, Dr. Kofo Abayomi in 1941 to take up appointment in the governor’s executive council. The situation created a division in the movement: the two frontline contestants, Earnest Ikoli (Dr. Abayomi’s deputy) and Samuel Akinsanya were supported by different segments of the movement.

Thus, whereas the executive committee of the NYM which included Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Samuel Ladoke Akintola preferred Ikoli, others led by Dr. Azikiwe supported Akinsanya. In the primary election to choose NYM’s candidate for the legislative council election proper, Akinsanya defeated Ikoli, but the executive committee insisted that Ikoli should vie for the position. Disappointed, Akinsanya contested against Ikoli as an independent candidate and lost. He resigned his position of vice-president in protest, alleging discrimination by the Yoruba group from Lagos that dominated NYM at the time and who did not want an Ijebu Yoruba. Expectedly, Dr. Azikiwe and other Igbo members of the movement also resigned in solidarity with Akinsanya. That episode was radioactive to the NYM. More tellingly, as Uchenna Nwankwo remarks in Shadows of Biafra, “Azikiwe’s break with the NYM leadership set the stage for the Azikiwe-Awolowo faceoff in [later years], which ultimately led to the lingering Igbo-Yoruba conflict in Nigerian politics…”

The first truly national party in Nigeria, the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC, later renamed National Council of Nigerian Citizens) was inaugurated in 26 August, 1944. The ageing Herbert Macaulay and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe were elected President and General-Secretary respectively. Using Dr. Azikiwe’s newspaper called the West African Pilot as mouthpiece, the NCNC supported the general strike of 1945, and the unions reciprocated by rallying solidly behind the party. Because the colonial administration was the target of nationalist agitations, the NCNC mobilised the masses against what its leaders called the “obnoxious ordinances” of colonial administration. It also worked really hard to spread political consciousness across the country.

By 1948, the party got to the zenith of its popularity, such that the Freedom Charter of 1948 which asserted the people’s right “to arrogate to themselves the status of an independent, self-governing political community” became the rallying cry, a sort of “Communist Manifesto” for the nationalist movements during the period. As the years went by, however, the party began to lose its radical fervour and became somewhat comatose largely as a result of internal bickering amongst its leaders and the conciliatory attitude of the new governor, Sir John Macpherson, who promised expeditious review of the Richard’s 1946 constitution. It was at this juncture, says K.B.C. Onwubiko, that the Zikist Movement created in 1946 as a youth wing of the N.C.N.C metamorphosed into a militant political party.

The militant nature of the group can easily be discerned from the words of its president, Mallam H.R. Abdallah: “I hate the Union Jack with all my heart because it divides the people wherever it goes…We have passed the age of petition…This is the age of action…” The shooting of 21 miners at the Enugu coal mine on November 18, 1949 gave impetus to the militant posture of the Zikist Movement. In April 1950, a Zikist attempted to assassinate the chief secretary to the government, Sir Hugh M. Foot. Consequently, the movement was proscribed.

It is to the credit of N.C.N.C.’s leaders that, despite the internal wrangling among them, they tried to foster a Pan-Nigerian political outlook with the aim of achieving a unified independent country. Of course, the diverse ethnic configurations of pioneer politicians, the differential administrative systems adopted by the British colonial administration, and bias of top British officials in favour of northern Nigeria tended to exacerbate centrifugal forces during the early years of political party formation within the country. In addition, the Richard’s constitution which divided the country into three legislative regions created favourable conditions for tribal politics and inter-regional tensions. Five years later, the Macpherson constitution of 1951 increased the powers of the regions, which accelerated the emergence of regional parties. We have already noted the Azikiwe-Awolowo disagreement that mutated into unhealthy Igbo-Yoruba rivalry in the south, which was aggravated by the fear of southern domination by the predominantly muslim population of northern Nigeria. It was within the backdrop of these factors that regional political parties were formed in Yorubaland and northern Nigeria.

To be continued…


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