By Douglas Anele
The horrific events of 1966 and the genocidal Biafran war have been competently documented by historians and other interested parties. Suffice it to say that over the decades since the Biafran conflict ended, a succession of increasingly incompetent, authoritarian and corrupt military governments dominated by northerners and greedy collaborators from the south has not led to tangible improvements in democratic practice and culture beyond what Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Sir Ahmadu Bello and other iconic politicians of the first republic achieved in the 1960s.
In fact, in an important sense, the situation has grown progressively worse due to a combination of complex factors whose detailed analysis would stretch our discussion considerably. However, one factor stands out in prominent relief, namely, the steady political ascendancy of individuals lacking the requisite intellectual skills and moral qualities for good leadership after those one might call the first-generation politicians had left the scene mainly due to old age and, ultimately, death. A few examples from different parts of the country would suffice to establish my argument. Dr. Azikiwe, arguably the greatest Nigerian politician to date, was a political philosopher of considerable erudition who was also well-grounded in the theory and practice of democracy.
Despite his errors of judgement, particularly his obsession with the Pan-Nigeria project, Zik of Africa, as Dr. Azikiwe was fondly called by his ardent admirers and supporters, understood the philosophical underpinnings of democracy. In Renascent Africa (1937) Dr. Azikiwe displayed his talent as a political philosopher with a solid Pan-Africanist orientation, and in Ideology for Nigeria (1980) he formulated a neo-welfarist socio-political philosophy as the blueprint for building a viable Nigerian nation. There is no politician in Igboland today that can be placed on the same political pedestal as Dr. Azikiwe. Mutatis mutandis, the same is true of Chief Awolowo who could be likened to the eagle on top of the tallest political Iroko tree in Yorubaland.
Notwithstanding being castigated as a tribalist by critics and the role in played in propping up the Fulani caliphate colonialist regime of Gen. Yakubu Gowon, especially the latter’s genocidal civil war against the eastern region, Awolowo nevertheless had a clear vision of liberal social democracy and how it could be implemented to create a better society for the people. In several publications, including The People’s Republic (1968) and Path to Nigerian Greatness (1981), Chief Awolowo displayed considerable philosophical sagacity in his analysis of Nigeria’s problems and how to tackle them by implementing people-oriented programmes under the leadership of individuals with the appropriate “mental magnitude.”
Now, compare Awolowo and the man many refer to as the most influential Yoruba politician in Nigeria today, Alhaji Bola Ahmed Tinubu, and you would begin to have an idea of the extent the quality of Nigerian politicians has deteriorated in the last few decades. From the north, Mallam Aminu Kano is still well-respected nationwide in spite of his average educational accomplishments. His concern for the talakawas or poor masses particularly in northern Nigeria was compelling to the extent that one of Africa’s greatest novelists, late Prof. Chinua Achebe, joined his political party, the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) in the Second Republic. Right now, there is no politician in Kano that can stand shoulder to shoulder with Aminu Kano.
The participation of Azikiwe and several prominent politicians of the first republic lent some credibility to the democratic governance inaugurated by Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo on October 1, 1979. But since 1984, the calibre of prominent politicians from different parts of the country is considerably lower than what obtained in the first and second republics. Presently, it appears that the leadership recruitment process is skewed to generate third-rate politicians whose aspiration for public office is to assuage their hunger for bulimic primitive accumulation. In retrospect, the quality of elections that led to the emergence of Alhaji Shehu Shagari as President was not really very different from the one in 1959 that threw up Alhaji Tafawa Balewa as Prime Minister, because both were tainted with electoral malpractices.
Moreover, there were insinuations in the south-west that Obasanjo, who the writer Chinweizu described as “a Christian Yoruba agent of the caliphate,” was used by the northern power block to deny a fellow Yoruba the presidency. Unfortunately for supporters of Chief Awolowo, the suit he filed seeking judicial interpretation of two-thirds of nineteen in order to determine whether Shagari of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) had fulfilled the constitutional requirement regarding the number of states a presidential candidate must secure twenty-five percent of votes cast to be declared duly elected was decided in favour of Shagari.
As if the military was always on the lookout for civilian governments to make mistakes in order to intervene, by December 31, 1983, Shagari’s government was overthrown by the army and Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari became the head of state. It is interesting to note that Brig. Sani Abacha who made the coup broadcast at 8 am that very day cited precisely the same reasons Maj. Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu gave for the failed coup of January 15, 1966 – grave economic and social conditions caused by inept and corrupt leadership. Buhari’s military dictatorship is considered by a broad section of Nigerians as the most draconian and anti-democratic period in Nigerian political history.
Aside from suspending existing constitutional order, especially with respect to the legislature and partial but significant usurpation of judicial functions by military tribunals, Buhari and his cohorts abrogated certain fundamental human rights using the obnoxious Decree 2 and Decree 4. The ugly situation was compounded by incompetent jackboot handling of the economy. As their existential condition went from bad to worse, Nigerians who had applauded the sacking of Shagari suddenly realised that Buhari’s military dictatorship has turned Nigeria into a police state where hardship was becoming normalised.
Democracy appeared dead because Buhari and his no-nonsense proactive deputy, Brig. Tunde Idiagbon, were too authoritarian in their attitude to governance and did not give any indication whatsoever as to when they would hand over power to a democratically elected government. At six in the morning of Tuesday August 27, 1985, Nigerians, sleepy from the laid-back ambience of sallah holiday, listened to the voice of Col. Joshua Nimyel Dogonyaro, Director of Planning (A Branch) who also served as Director of the Armoury department at Army Headquarters as he announced that Maj.
Gen. Buhari had been removed from office. Eventually, Maj. Gen. (later, Gen.) Ibrahim Babangida became head of state and, perhaps, in an effort to create the impression of being more inclined to democratic governance than his conservative and rigid predecessor, took on the title of ‘President.’ But Babangida is a sly and wily man, a chameleon. In his book, This House has Fallen: Nigeria in Crisis, Karl Maier presents a portrait of Babangida as a brilliant Machiavellian who cunningly used what he had to get what he wanted.
He successfully deceived politicians, the press and senior academics by orchestrating scenarios that projected him as a refined gentleman who was willing to give Caesar what was Caesar’s and to God what was His, so to speak. Nothing projects the contradictory nature of Gen. Babangida’s persona than the convoluted transition programme he embarked upon but which he ultimately blew to smithereens after a lot of human and material resources had been expended on it. Prof. Omo Omoruyi, a friend and confidant of Babangida, has chronicled the factors that ultimately led to the eventual failure of Babangida’s transition programme in his provocative work, The Tale of June 12.
Two salient points can be distilled from Omoruyi’s account. One, several leading members of the caliphate cabal and northern-dominated military establishment were not in support of Babangida handing over power to a southerner, in this case Chief M.K.O. Abiola, despite the fact that Chief Abiola was a Muslim and had over the years made generous contributions to Islamic projects nationwide. This buttresses my earlier argument that, from the Koranic point of view, democracy is not an acceptable form of government, such that no one can consistently be a devout Muslim and still embrace the core tenets of democratic system of government. Two, Gen. Babangida was not really totally committed to implementing his transition programme to its logical conclusion. Reading through the conversations Omoruyi allegedly had with Babangida concerning the June 12, 1993 presidential election, it is clear that the latter placed the interests of the caliphate, his “boys” and personal survival above patriotic and national considerations.