By Ori Martins
“Today is Independence Day”.
That was Alhaji Tafawa Balewa’s four –word introductory speech as he addressed Nigerians from the rostrum as the first (and only) prime minister. Within that week, the influential TIME magazine had Balewa on its cover with a banner headline predicting Nigeria as a world leading country in the nearest future.
With a parliamentary system of government having Balewa as the head of government, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, as first, the governor general, and later, the president, when Nigeria became a republic in 1963, while Chief Obafemi Awolowo led the opposition; Nigeria was highly and widely celebrated as a country heading for greatness.
Chief Mbazurulike Amaechi, a frontline first republic politician recalls: “I can tell you with every sense of correctness and clarity that Nigeria at 1960 was a great country. All of us involved in the struggle for independence and who subsequently served in the First Republic were honest, dedicated and had vision of where we wanted to take Nigeria to.
“For you to understand what I am saying, what Awo did as the premier of Western Nigeria still bears eloquent testimony of his ingenuity till date. Of course, Dr. Michael Okpara was exceptional in the East just as Sir Ahmed Bello proved his capacity in the Northern Region.
“That way, collectively and regionally we started building Nigeria of our dream. There were the cocoa wonders in the Western Region, the industrial revolution in the Eastern Region and the agricultural mysteries in the North.
“In the centre, Balewa and Zik worked harmoniously that it was difficult for you to understand they were of two different political parties – the National Council of Nigerian Citizens, NCNC; and the Northern People’s Congress, NPC. Awo who was in the opposition was of Action Group, AG.
“With that arrangement, we built the kainji Dam in the North, developed Lagos as a modern federal capital city with a modern federal university in the West and then put in place the Niger Bridge and a federal university in the East, while also taking care of the interests of Minorities.
Sadly, very sadly, the January 15, 1966 coup happened and things started going upside down”, Chief Amaechi, First Republic minister of aviation, noted.
Chinua Achebe in his epic book; THERE WAS A COUNTRY, described Herbert Macaulay as the father of Nigeria’s nationalism just and Zik as the father of African independence. Expectedly, whatever happened in Nigeria after 1960 – good or bad – centred around Zik, rightly or wrongly.
Shortly after independence, there were pockets of political upheavals all round Nigeria. For instance, in the West, Awo’s deputy and his long time political soul mate, Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola, became estranged with his boss (Awo) and teamed up with the Northern controlled NPC to float his own Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP). In the North, the Talakawas, through Malam Aminu Kano strengthened the Northern Elements Progressives Union (NEPU).
In the East, there was no new political party, but many of the Eastern Minorities of Ijaw, Ibibio, Anang, Efik, Ugep, Ogoja and Ogoni either pitched their tent with Balewa’s NPC or Awo’s AG. This created tribal tension but it was more pronounced in the West.
“Having looked at everything called Nigeria, I think, we got it wrong after six years of Independence. The coup of January 15, 1966, was uncalled for. After the coup, what ought to have happened was for the highest ranking NPC parliamentarian, and that was Dapchrima, to have taken over.
“The call by the senate to the now late Major Aguiyi Ironsi to takeover, though democratic and sincere, was very wrong as it ultimately introduced military dictatorship into the Nigerian body politic”, says Comrade Val Okara, erstwhile president general of Okwu Uratta Community, Owerri North, Imo State, noted.
Indeed, Achebe described the events of 1966 as “The Decline”. “Within six years of this tragic colonial manipulation Nigeria was cesspool of corruption and misrule. Public servants helped themselves freely to the nation’s wealth.
“Elections were blatantly rigged. The subsequent national census was outrageously stage – managed; judges and magistrates were manipulated by the politician in power. The politicians themselves were pawns of foreign business interests”, Achebe argued in his book.
First, Balewa refused to see the impending fire which ultimately consumed him on the day of the first coup. Achebe himself wrote and presented the maddening condition in his all time best seller, MAN OF THE PEOPE.
Wole Soyinka who later became the first black man to win the Nobel Prize the Literature, succinctly captured the entire scenario in his drama called BEFORE THE BLACKOUT. A great playwright, otherwise known as Hubert Ogunde, seeing the war between Awo and Akintola, sensationally advised his fellow Westerners thus: Yoruba ronu!
The pieces of advice emanating from these great Nigerians were never heeded. The elections of 1964/65 were massively subverted in the West. The AG which was the people’s choice and its candidates controversially lost the elections.
The electorate never took kindly to it. The AG members fought the NNDP and its sponsors to standstill. The NNDP members retaliated. The West burnt and it affected the rest of the country in view of the strategic location of Lagos.
That was the excuse the soldiers gave for the coup of January 15, 1966. “We seized power to stamp out nepotism, tribalism and religionlism”, Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu, the leader of the coup announced.
The coup was only a partial success in the North but failed abysmally in the South. Hence, on January 17, 1966, the senate president, Senator Nwafor Orizu, on behalf of the parliament, invited and subsequently handed over power to Maj. Gen. Aguiyi Ironsi, then Chief of Army staff.
After taking over, Ironsi, who was the first black man to lead a United Nations command, announced Nigeria’s first ever military administrators. They were Colonel Usman Katsina, North; Colonel Francis Adekunle Fajuyi, West; Colonel David Ejoor, for Mid West; and Colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu for East.
“Ironsi did well by appointing people of varying ethnic nationalities into strategic and critical positions. For instance, he promoted 60 army officers to various ranks and only five were Igbo. He had 21 permanent secretaries and Ndigbo were not up to five.
“When Ndigbo complained that he was not considering them in his government, he even shocked them the more by announcing the following appointments on April 19, 1966: Ironsi appointed Alhaji Sule Katagum as the chairman of public service commission of the federation. He appointed Mr. Howson Wright, chairman of the Nigerian Railway Corporation.
“Ironsi appointed Mr. A. I. Obiyan, chairman of Nigeria ports authority. He equally appointed Mr. H. O. Omenai, chairman, Nigeria airways. None was Igbo. No other Nigerian head of state or president has ever equalled this record of fairness and balance in the distribution of public appointments.
“Even his supreme military council had nine members and only Ojukwu and Ironsi himself were Igbo. He had four service chiefs and none was Igbo to wit: chief of staff, armed forces, Brigadier Babafemi Ogundipe, West. Chief of army staff, Lt. Col.Yakubu Gowon, North.
“The head of the navy, Commodore J. E A. Wey, West. The head of the air force, Col. George Kurubo, South South. In spite of this immaculate performance, Ironsi was brutally assassinated on the account of Decree 34 that unified the country”, veteran journalist and author, Chuks Iloegbunam, remarked.
The North was aggrieved and planned the counter coup of July 29, 1966. Before that there were killings of Igbo people in the North. Ojukwu called it pogrom and noted that a conservative estimate of over 30,000 Igbo was massacred in various parts of Northern Nigeria.
In view of the coup that ousted Ironsi and the killings in of Ndigbo in the North, Ojukwu took a hard stand on the Federal Military Government. He rejected Colonel later General Yakubu Gowon that succeeded Ironsi on the ground that he was not the next in command.
Ojukwu insisted that after Gowon was Brigadier Babafemi Ogundipe. The Eastern military governor listed about seven other names that were superior to Gowon. He also demanded the whereabouts of Ironsi.
Things went too bad between Gowon and Ojukwu that the latter never agreed to have any meeting with the Nigerian authorities. Therefore, a meeting was agreed for both men to iron issues out in Ghana.
“At Aburi, Gowon handed over everything to Ojukwu, who seemed to be more prepared. The Eastern military leader made a statement to the fact that ‘it is better for us to shit aside and survive than coming together to perish’ and it was adopted by both the federal side led by Gowon and the Eastern delegation led by Ojukwu himself.
“However, the federal side gave a different interpretation to what transpired on their return. On that strength, Ojukwu went ahead to declare his now popular ‘on Aburi we stand’. He gave the federal government till the end of May, 1967 to implement the Aburi Accord or he would pull Eastern Region out of Nigeria.
“Rather than heeding to Ojukwu’s demand and threat, Gowon created the 12 states on May 27, 1967. Ojukwu replied by pulling out the Eastern Region out of Nigeria, naming it People’s Republic of Biafra on May 30, 1967. And on June 6, 1967, the Federal Government declared war on Biafra. The war lasted for 30 months. In the end, Biafra was defeated and the East returned to Nigeria”, a retired senior civil servant in Imo State, Elder Vincent Onyenagubor, recalled.
Gowon instituted the 3R programme meant to rehabilitate, reconstruct and reconcile Ndigbo with the rest of the country but nothing much was achieved out of it. He also conducted a failed federal census.
The Gowon regime had many achievements to his credit including but not limited to the erection of monumental structures like the National Stadium Lagos, National Theatre Igamu, Lagos, Lagos University Teaching Hospital Lagos, creation of more states, and more.
It is argued that though Gowon built many national projects his military administrators were alleged to be corrupt while his permanent secretaries were labelled “Super Perm Secs” and corrupt in the wake of the oil boom of the 1970s.
That was dramatized in what was called Jerome Udorji salary Award in which civil servants were given huge “awards”. Many Nigerians praised Gowon because of his idea of Second National Development Plan.
According to Dapo Akinrefon, “One of the major achievements of Gowon while he was the Head of State was the promulgation of the indigenization decree of 1972. One of the flaws of his administration, which perhaps led to his overthrow on July 29,1975, was his announcement that Nigeria was not ready for civilian rule then and, therefore, the earlier date set for return to civil rule needed to be shifted. Gowon was the one who was shoved aside instead”.
He was overthrown in a palace coup exactly nine years of his regime on July 29, 1975 and Brigadier later General Murtala Muhammed took over.
The highlights of Murtala regime was the sanitization of the system, particularly the civil service. He declared war on corruption. Two, Murtala tried to restore the confidence of all sections of the country particularly the East, to the federation. Thus, he created the 19 states.
In spite that, Ndigbo still complained as only two states of Anambra and Imo were created in their region when the Yoruba had four in Lagos, Ogun, Ondo and Oyo states; with the hitherto Eastern minorities getting Rivers and Cross River states, thereby being at par with them (Igbo).
Murtala was assassinated in a failed coup on February 13, 1976. His second in command, Brigadier Olusegun Obasanjo took over and carried out most of the late head of state’s programmes which included continuing the transition to civil rule which was actualized in 1979, building of several roads across the country, and then the Third National Development Plan that completed the projects of the Second l National Development Plan and even added more.
It established six airports, six federal universities and six federal colleges of education all over Nigeria without any in the Igbo country. The most attractive project of the plan was birth of Abuja as a new Federal Capital Territory which was recommended by Justice Aguda’s Commission that was tasked with the duty of finding a new territory for Nigeria’s capital.
In 1979, the Second Republic took off on October 1 with the election of the late President Shehu Shagari under NPN in an election that produced five presidential candidates, namely ZIk’s NPP, Awo’s UPN, Kano’s PRP and Alhaji Waziri’s GNPP.
“Shagari, no doubt, kicked off on a very brilliant note. First, he did everything to make sure Ndigbo forgot the war. By that, he used the late Dr. Alex Ekwueme as his running mate and eventual vice president. Not only that, he appointed Ndigbo to strategic positions and brought many others close to the federal government. For instance, the late Chuba Okadigbo was the chief political adviser, Chief CC Onoh was influential, Sylvester Ugoh was a minister also.
“More than anything else, Shagari brought back Ojukwu from exile to Nigeria and Ndigbo loved him so much for it. In fact, for the coup of December 31, 1983, it was expected that Ekwueme might have succeeded Shagari in 1987. Again, he also launched the Third National Plan which established what you have now as federal universities of technology across the country”, Obi Uche, an analyst on national issues stated.
However, massive importation and reckless borrowing, and alleged corruption marred the Shagari administration as what was called austerity measure crept into the polity and there were public outcry against his government just as inflation was the order of the day.
On December 31, 1983 the military staged another coup and shoved aside the Second Republic. General Muhammadu Buhari was the head of state. He anchored his action plan in War Against Indiscipline (WAI). Accusing Shagari of multiple failures, Buhari, promulgated Fecrees Four and Eight in which he used to hound those he perceived as enemies of government.
“Armed with those decrees, Buhari arrested Nigerians, particularly journalists and politicians and jailed most of them without fair hearing. In his 18 months in power, Buhari was not very popular because of his oppressive policies and actions,” Uche enthused.
Buhari was ousted in a bloodless coup on August 17, 1985 and General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida took over.
Babangida came in and adopted the nomenclature, military president. First, he ordered a national debate on the IMF loan, which was defeated, and he introduced what Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP). He liberalised the economy by introducing privatisation, removal of subsidies, floating the exchange rate, backward integration and political transition.
He created two party system structure – the NRC and SDP – which he called “a little to the right and a little to the left”, banned unbanned and banned politicians, calling on new breed politicians to takeover.
Babangida coined Option A4, open – secret ballot, indirect election, and then renamed FEDECO, the Federal Electoral Commission, National Electoral Commission, NEC. He had a Supreme Military Council federal government but elected national assembly and civilian governors.
He survived two known failed coup attempts, several students’ protests, civilian unrests, labour and ASUU strike. During his tenure, inflation skyrocketed, there was capital flight and Nigeria was almost sinking in the face of naira crashing hopelessly to the foreign currency of dollar and pounds.
Eventually, the much talked about election took place on June 12, 1993 between Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola’s Social Democratic Party, SDP and Alhaji Tofa’s National Republican Convention. The election was inconclusive as maverick politician Arthur Francis Nzeribe had gone to court to stop the election.
The NEC boss Prof. Humphrey Nwosu ordered the election to continue. Afterwards, Nzeribe and his ABN went back to court and the collation and announcement of results were stopped.
After this, Babangida annulled the election and there were wide wild protests all over Nigeria, particularly in the South West.
Sensing that all was not well, Babangida stepped aside and put in place the Interim National Government headed by late Ernest Shonokan in August 1993.
“Babangida did both good and evil. Remember, his administration completed the Third Mainland Bridge in Lagos, created more states and brought it to 30, created more LGAs, for the first time there was an accepted population census in the country, discovered that the best form of party system was a two party type and involved many respected Nigerians in his government.
“On the other hand, during his time, there was inflation and corruption, leading and influential journalist Dele Giwa was assassinated via letter bomb the first and only time, Gulf oil windfall disappeared and a national election that lasted for eight years was cancelled.
“Again, there was this long ASUU strike that lasted for about two years and there was the issue of Zango/ Kataf crisis”, Chris Nnam, a political commentator in Umuahia explained.
After about 82 days, General Sani Abacha, who was the most senior military personnel still serving – others were retired by Babangida before he left – and who was the secretary of defence, took advantage and sacked the ING after a court declared it illegal, and announced himself as the new head of state on November 7, 1993.
Abacha’s regime really witnessed massive rejection, particularly in the South West. The Yoruba mobilized to fight his regime. The National Coalition for Democracy (NADECO) came into being; Campaign for Democracy, CD, was floated; and so were other civil society groups.
Some of the big names behind the fight against Abacha were Pa Abraham Adesanya, Bola Ige, Bola Tinubu, Ndubuisi Kanu, Olisa Agbakoba, Sam Mbakwe, Balarabe Musa, Tony Enahoro and few others.
As a way of neutralizing the camp of his opposition, and as a means of gaining support, Abacha created six more additional states, more LGAs and appointed military administrators to man the newly created states.
In place of NEC, Abacha came up with National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (NECON) as the national electoral umpire and appointed Dr. Dagogo Jack as the chairman. In quick succession, political associations metamorphosed as political parties.
Thus on September 30, 1996, NECON registered five political parties, namely; Committee for National Consensus (CNC), United Nigeria People’s Convention (UNPC), National Centre Party of Nigeria (NCPN), Democratic Party of Nigeria (DPN), and Grassroots Democratic Movement (GDM).
Events moved fast, and, on November 10, 1995: Provisional Ruling Council (PRC) confirms sentence and eventually hanged Saro-Wiwa and eight others, leading to the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) to suspend Nigeria from the body.
Despite the creation of the Transition Implementation Committee (TIC) to supervise the transition-to-civil rule process, Nigerians had little or no confidence in the Abacha transition programme. Thus, the head of state on December 28, 1995, inaugurated the National Reconciliation Committee (NARECO) headed by the Chief Alex Akinyele, a former Information minister.
Things started going bad for Abacha as bomb explosions began to happen all round Nigeria. For instance, there was bomb blast at Durbar Hotel Kaduna, and it killed a journalist, Kaltho of The News Magazine. In addition, prominent Nigerians were attacked including Alex Ibru, publisher of The Guardian titles and Abacha’s first Minister of Internal Affairs.
Abacha eventually deposed Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki, the 18th Sultan of Sokoto on alleged grounds of insubordination and poor leadership and replaced him with Alhaji Muhammadu Maccido.
An ugly incident occurred on June 4, 1996, when Alhaja Kudirat Abiola senior wife to Abiola and a well known face in the fight for the validation of the June 12, 1993 mandate, was ruthlessly assassinated gunmen in Lagos.
In what appeared as the commencement of its war against agitators of revalidation of Abiola’s mandate, Abacha’s government charged Chief Anthony Enahoro, Chief Olu Falae, Prof. Wole Soyinka, General Akinrinade and others with treason even as Chief Don Etiebet, former petroleum minister and chieftain of CNC, was arrested.
Other high points of Abacha’s regime were the adoption of the Vision 2010 Committee’s Report; announcement and arrest of Obasanjo, Generals Oladipo Diya Abacha’s deputy; Adisa and Olanrewaju former ministers of Works/Housing and Communications and others in respect of a coup plot to overthrow the Abacha administration; Generals Diya, Adisa and Olanrewaju, and four others were sentenced to death; while others receive various jail terms.
Abacha’s problem started May 5, 1998 when the European Union officially declared Nigeria’s transition to civil rule programme a failure.
On May 7, 1998, the G-34, a multi-ethnic coalition of eminent Nigerians led by Dr. Alex Ekwueme, former vice president, sends a letter to Abacha, pointed out eight grounds on which the head of state’s adoption as sole presidential candidate by the five political parties breached all relevant laws. Ekwueme and the G- 34 therefore urged the Nigerian leader to decline the purported nomination. Everything came to a head when Abacha died on June 8, 1998.
Following Abacha’s death, General Abdulsalami Abubakar emerged the country’s new head of state and immediately announced that the socio-political programme of the Abacha regime would be faithfully pursued in order to transfer power to a democratic government on October 1, 1998.
In order to prove his sincerity towards the transition to civil rule and to return Nigeria to path of greatness, Abubakar, June 15, 1998 orders the release of some high profile political detainees: Obasanjo; Dasuki, Bola Ige, Beko Ransome Kuti, Chris Anyanwu, Frank Ovie-Kokori, as well as journalists and pro-democracy activists.
The entire country was stunned when on July 7, 1998, news filtered through that Chief M.K.O. Abiola had died in detention the day he was billed to be released from detention. It sparked off a fresh round of protests as civil society groups accused Nigeria and USA governments of complicity.
The head of state commenced the process of full implementation to civil rule and three political parties, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, All Peoples Party, APP and Alliance for Democracy, AD, emerged. In their respective conventions to produce their presidential candidates, AD and APP merged to elect Chief Olu Falae on the platform of APP, while the PDP elected Olusegun Obasanjo. In the end, PDP’s Obasanjo was declared winner by the Independent Electoral Commission, INEC.
Obasnjo started on a good note by appointing even the opponents into his cabinet. He ran an all inclusive government and improved on telecommunications, oil and gas, transportation, local government, security, education and foreign reforms.
“Obasnjo did his best but his best was not enough. Remember, during his tenure corruption reared its ugly head. There were stories of massive looting. Do not forget that he never tolerated the opposition or divergent views. And so, he impeached about four or so presidents of the senate.
“Do not forget about the $16b power project that never was. What about Odi and Zaki Biam killings? What did he about the Ogoni issue? What about his alleged Third Term bid and several other issues? However, Obasanjo did better than those who came after him”, Chief Ibe Oleka, a shop keeper in Eke Ukwu Owerri recalled.
Probably, for the sake of death, Musa Yar’Dua who took over from Obasanjo might have started a new chapter for Nigeria, because he started electoral reforms that could changed the conduct of elections. Being a Fulani Muslim, Yar’Dua proved his critics wrong when he granted amnesty to the Niger Delta militants just to achieve peace, orderliness and stability in the oil rich zone and Nigeria at large.
He was succeeded by his deputy, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan who continued his programmes and even improved on them. First, Jonathan commenced a massive agricultural revolution which was continued by his successor, an opponent from another party, President Muhammadu Buhari. Today, virtually every state in the country is producing rice and other food crops.
Two, Jonathan practically understood the necessity and importance of building and achieving national integration. Therefore, he saw Nigeria as belonging to all. “Jonathan did well by making sure that all the zones were represented in his appointments.
He ensured all the zones were carried along as he built 14 Almajari schools in the north; rehabilitated 11 airports across the country; built six new federal universities and gave one each to all the six zones.
More than any other thing, he made the Igbo to feel a sense of belonging as he appointed them into strategic positions, including the chief of army staff which they last occupied in 1966 and also allowed the South East to produce the secretary to the government of the federation.
“I can still tell you that Jonathan was not without blemish. He allowed his wife undue access to national space. He never carried the opposition well as the South West accused him of marginalization.
“Imagine how he allowed then governors Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers and Adams Oshiomhole to be harassed by security personnel. In all, he was lauded for allowing a transparent general elections that sacked him and PDP from office”, George Udoh, a radio commentator noted in Owerri.
In the last seven years, Nigeria is ruled the APC with Buhari as president. Buhari’s biggest achievement has been the railway project yet the South East is angry that he never put it in consideration.
Buhari has also built seven new federal universities, including an Army University and Transportation University yet not one is in the South East. Buhari has also improved agriculture and the power sector but not much.
As a minus, insecurity has grown worse in Buharis’s Nigeria as not only Boko Haram but kidnapping, killings and adoptions are now the order of the day. He has not been able to rescue the Chibock Girls as he promised. Under him, Nigeria has gone into economic recession twice just as inflation is on 30 year high, and naira has virtually collapsed to all time low with foreign debt at historic height.
Buhari’s greatest undoing is the allegation that he is inclined to his Fulani and Muslim affinity than building a Nigeria of unity in diversity.
In the last 62 years it is the opinion of many that the country has not done well politically, that it is an infant-adult..