By Douglas Anele
The three dominant political parties of the Second Republic, namely, the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), the Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP) and the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) to a considerable degree were the reincarnations or resurrections of the NPC, NCNC and AG respectively, although the NPN, notwithstanding its regional antecedents, to some extent could be regarded as the only party with a simulacrum of national appeal. Of the remaining ones, the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) of Aminu Kano was a clone of NEPU while the Great Nigerian Peoples Party (GNPP) emerged from a splinter group of the NPP together with a handful of northern minorities and some southerners. None of these political parties was as decidedly sectarian, sectional or parochial as the NPC was, but the shadow of ethnicity was still visible in the background.
Again, just like what happened twenty years earlier when the NPC entered into an alliance with the NCNC, the NPN reached a fragileaccord with the NPP after its controversial electoral victory in 1979 was endorsed by the Supreme Court. The UPN led by Chief Awolowo, reminiscent of AG, served as the mainopposition party but this time around within the framework of a mutant form of the American presidential system of democracy inaugurated by the 1979 constitution. Now, it can be plausibly argued that the major political events of the Second Republic when juxtaposed with the conduct and activities of key political actors in the First Republic confirm the cliché that “the more things change, the more they remain the same.”
Consider, for instance, the fact that, like in the First Republic when the British connived with northern political bigwigs to install Balewa as Prime Minister, the military and the caliphate colluded to hand over power to Alhaji Shehu Shagari whose deputy, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, had better academic and professional credentials to be President. Although Alhaji Shagari was regularly portrayed in the media as a quiet and humble man, he did not have the gravitas, clout, political sagacity and iron will to deal effectively with the complex economic, socio-political and ethno-religious problems he inherited from the previous military regime. Again, just like when Balewa was in power,Second Republic politicians at different levels of government concentrated more on politics rather than on providing good governance for the people, which is the foundation of responsible leadership. Going back to the NPN-NPP accord alluded to earlier, it appears that Dr. Azikiwe did not learn much from the short-lived alliance of his NCNC with the NPC in 1959.
Eghosa Osaghae, in his well-researched book, The Crippled Giant: Nigeria Since Independence, makes the valid point that the accord “showed, once again, the difficulty Igbo and Yoruba leaders found in working together or uniting. In choosing to work with the NPN rather than with the UPN, the Igbo were simply replaying the events of 1959 when they chose coalition with the NPC for similar reasons as those which led them to the accord in 1979.” Some prominent Igbo politicians in the NPP who were eager to be reintegrated into the mainstream of national politics after the horrific civil war felt that since one of their own (Dr. Ekwueme) was the Vice President, it would be better to support him. However, the accord, like its predecessor, did not endure for remarkably similar reasons as the previous one. In the First Republic, the Akintola-led faction of the Yoruba political class tried to supplant Ndigbo by forming an alliance with the NPC in the competition for patronage that flowed from Balewa’s government.
Before the NPN-NPP accord collapsed in 1981, the Adisa Akinloye-led Yoruba block in the NPN was already working underground to sabotage it in a bid to enhance their own access to patronage from the federal government. As time went on, it became increasingly clear that the ruling partywas finding it increasingly difficult to lead. But in spite of the mediocre performance of Shagari’s administration which led to growing public disenchantment caused by increasing hardship nationwide, the NPN still won majority of the elections that took place in August, 1983, including the presidency. Karl Maier, in his book This House Has Fallen,describes the situation before the military coup of December 31, 1983, with the following propositions: “The civilian administration performed extremely poorly. Gross mismanagement, widespread corruption, and continuing political and ominously increasing religious turmoil sent Nigeria into a spiral of economic decline…Top government officials and the business elite enjoyed the good life while the collapse fell hardest on the urban poor, who suffered soaring unemployment and inflation… .” Notwithstanding Maier’s observation, there is probably an iota of truth in the allegation that Shagari’s overthrow was a well-planned pre-emptive move by some powerful members of the northern ruling elite to halt the possibility of Dr. Ekwueme, an Igbo,becoming President. In an interview published by The Guardian on Sunday, December 9, 2012, Ekwueme revealed that Alhaji Umaru Dikko confirmed this while addressing the press in London after the 1983 coup.
Nevertheless, Brig. Sani Abacha’s smokescreen or reasons for the overthrow of Alhaji Shehu Shagari are similar to the ones Maj. Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu announced in January 15, 1966 for the failed coup attempt against an admittedly flawed democratic government of Sir Tafawa Balewa. In his broadcast, Nzeogwu claimed that “Our enemies are the political profiteers, the swindlers, the men in high and low places that seek and demand ten percent; those that seek to keep the country divided permanently so that they can remain in office as ministers…the tribalists, the nepotists…those that have corrupted our society and put the Nigerian political calendar back by their words and deeds.
”On his part, Abacha told Nigerians that: “You are all living witnesses to the great economic predicament which an inept and corrupt leadership has imposed on our beloved nation…Our economy has been hopelessly mismanaged…Yet our leaders revel in squandermania, corruption and indiscipline… .” It appears that power-hungry military officers were always on the lookout for politicians to make mistakes so that they can use it as an excuse to take over power. This interpretation is corroborated by a statement in Maier’s book attributed to retired Gen. Ibrahim Babangida who said: “We [coup plotters] are very smart people. We don’t intervene when we know the climate is not good for it or the public will not welcome it. We wait until there is frustration in the society. In all coups you find there has always been one frustration or the other. Anytime there is frustration, we step in. And then there is a demonstration welcoming the redeemers.”
Aside from Babangida’s cynical indictment of administrations ended abruptly by coups, one must not lose sight of the fact that Nigerian politicians are usually their own worst enemies because of egoism and retrogressive politics that prevents them from subordinating their selfish interests to the greater good. This was amply demonstrated after the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election. Of course, Chief M.K.O. Abiola, who would have won the election if Babangida had not annulled it, benefitted immensely from the corrupt parasitic patronage system created by the military, notwithstanding the hypocrisy especially by a section of the Yoruba elite who would rather that the sordid aspects of Abiola’s inspiring rags-to-riches story should be suppressed.
Chief Abiola made serious mistakes in his obsession to be President, the most profound of which was his underestimation of the length Abacha could go to seize power and cling to it. That was why at the initial stage he co-operated with the despot in the naïve hope that the annulment would be reversed. But sensing that Abacha had no plans to do that, he unwisely declared himself President at Epetedo, an action which the latter used as a pretext to jail him. It is not impossible that if all the leading politicians across the country then (including Alhaji Bashir Tofa, Abiola’s opponent in the election) irrespective of party affiliation, religion, and ethnicity had spoken with one voice, mobilised Nigerians and demanded immediately after the annulment that Babangida should allow the process to be concluded, things might have turned out differently and the agonies of “June 12” would have been avoided.