Afe for Vanguard

June 19, 2024

Democracy and the people’s role (5), by Afe Babalola

Afe Babalola

From General Elections of 1964 to 1999 Presidential Election

Preparatory to the general elections slated for December 1964, various political alignments began to emerge.  The NCNC sought new political friends in the AG and the coalition was joined by the UMBC and NEPU to form the United Progressive Grand Alliance, UPGA. In response, the NPC with the NNDP and the MDF formed the Nigerian National Alliance, NNA.  The stage was therefore set for a well contested election at the Federal level.

The NPC government of the Northern Region in an attempt to maintain its stranglehold not only on the North but possibly the rest of Nigeria, saw to it that UPGA candidates in the North were frustrated to the extent that many of them could not file in their nomination papers.  The result was that before the “elections” proper, 67 NPC candidates had been declared elected unopposed. 

The UPGA leadership was naturally aggrieved by this development. It subsequently called for the immediate postponement of the elections – a request that Balewa government turned down outright. The December 1964 election was massively boycotted in many parts of the country, especially in the Eastern Region, part of West, North, Mid-West and Lagos. The elections therefore turned up to be a farce as it lacked any credibility and hotly contested. Political stalemate followed.

By January 4, 1965, a new government had been formed by Alhaji Tafawa Balewa in spite of protests and general disenchantment.

The Western Region

The political atmosphere in the year 1965 in Nigeria was very tense. For Western Nigeria, the situation was worse in that people were eagerly awaiting the regional elections billed for October of that year to take decisive steps in the political affairs of the region.  The much awaited elections finally came and people of the Region exercised their civil responsibilities. Sad enough, the people felt that the result of that election did not correlate with the voting pattern. The consequences were predictable: total breakdown of law and order.

It was in that period that “operation wet e” (soak him with petrol and set him ablaze) was invented. Human life became very cheap and worthless. Hundreds of houses were razed together with their occupants in most cases.  Every keen observer of events of that time knew that the beginning of the end of the First Republic was very much around.

By this time, not only had it become impossible for the Constitution to be workable, the political gladiators on both sides of the divide had simply thrown caution and sanity to the winds. The Western Region had simply become ungovernable. Something had to be done.  Unfortunately, the central government had become grossly partisan and carefree.  Ordinarily, one would have expected emergency state to be declared on the Western Region by this time, at least to arrest the orgy of blood-letting and mass insecurity of lives and property.  None was however forthcoming.

This scenario persisted until January 1966 and January 15, 1966, the Nigerian Army intervened and the First Republic was finally sacked but not with some notable casualties like Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, the Prime Minister; Chief S.L. Akintola, the Premier of the Western Region; Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, the Premier of the Northern Region; and Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh, the Minister of Finance, among others.

Just Before the Advent of the Fourth Republic

It is now part of Nigeria’s chequered history that:

*The coup of January 15, 1966 gave birth to a counter coup on 29th July, 1966, that ushered in Lt. Col. (later General) Yakubu Gowon’s regime after the elimination of certain key officers in the Nigerian Army which included the Head of State, Major General Auiyi Ironsi and Governor of Western Region, Colonel Adekunle Fajuyi.

*A 30-month avoidable civil war was foisted on Nigeria.

*The Army stayed on for the next 13 years before General Olusegun Obasanjo handed over to a democratically elected government headed by Alhaji Shehu Shagari on October 1, 1979.

*On December 31, 1983 after just four years of civil rule, the army struck again and stayed on, once more, for the next 16 years before General Abdulsalami Abubakar handed over to Chief Olusegun Obasanjo as President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

*In-between, a contraption called idarchy was introduced by General Ibrahim Babangida which lasted for less than two years in what was christened “the Third Republic”.

*The so-called 1989 Constitution (contained in Cap 63, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1990 and billed to commence on October 1, 1992) never became operational.

Events leading to the Promulgation of  Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999

It is ironic that all the elaborate structures put in place by the erstwhile Head of State, General Ibrahim Babangida, for the take-off of the 1989 Constitution were allowed to be wasted. Structures such as Constitution Review Committee; Political Bureau; Constituent Assembly, etc., only worked in vain.  The “1989 Constitution” never saw the light of the day.

When the late General Sani Abacha took over the reins of government on November 17,1993, he, like his predecessors, promised a return to civil rule. To this end, he later inaugurated his own version of constitutional conference to which so many prominent people were appointed.

Just like his predecessor, General Babangida, all the hoopla on return to civil rule was laden with fraud and utmost insincerity. General Abacha too had his own hidden agenda. However, the groundwork of what was later to be called the 1999 Constitution was laid at that period.

Upon the sudden death of General Sani Abacha and ascension of General Abdulsalami Abubakar, the latter quickly informed the whole world in a national broadcast that his government would be returning Nigeria back to civil rule on May 29, 1999.  To this end, he promulgated the Transition to Civil Rule (Political Programme) Decree 1998 (now Act).  This was followed by the establishment of Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, for the conduct of elections to usher in the Fourth Republic.

On November 11, 1998, the Constitutional Debate Co-ordinating Committee was “charged with responsibility to, among other things, pilot the debate on the new Constitution for Nigeria, coordinate and collate views and recommendations canvassed by individuals and groups for a new Constitution for Nigeria.”

To accomplish the enormous task before it, the Constitution Debate Co-ordinating Committee received large volumes of memoranda from Nigerians at home and abroad as well as oral presentations at public hearings at the debate centres throughout the country.  Various seminars, workshops and conferences were also organised purposely to fashion an acceptable constitution for Nigerians.  At the end of the exercise, it was clearly seen that the desire of Nigerians was to retain the provisions of the 1979 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria with some amendments. All these tremendously assisted the Constitutional Debate Co-ordinating Committee in presenting its report to the Provisional Ruling Council.

The Provisional Ruling Council in turn approved the report, subject to such amendments as are deemed necessary in the public interest and for the purpose of promoting the security, welfare and good governance and fostering the unity and progress of the people of Nigeria with a view to achieving its objective of handing over an enduring constitution to the people of Nigeria.”

Thus in furtherance of its objective, the General Abdulsalam Abubalkar regime after all necessary amendments had been effected to the 1979 Constitution and the approval of the Provional Ruling Council duly obtained, promulgated into existence a new Constitution for the Federal Republic of Nigeria in order to accord it a force of law with effect from May 29, 1999 – the date set aside for the formal hand over.

General Abdulsalam Abubakar lived up to expectation and formally handed over to the winner of the 1999 Presidential Election, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo on May 29, 1999.  Thus the Fourth Republic was born.

To be concluded…

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