The Effective Way To Destroy People Is To Deny and Obliterate Their Own Understanding of Their History.
We are one in 5 Africans, one in 8 black people anywhere in the world, Our root lies in the dusty desert of the North, In the rich rain forest of the East, In the rocky hills of the West, In the Oil field swamps of the Niger Delta. Our strength flows from the waters of the Niger and Benue.
It all started with the 1959 general elections that welcomed our independence in 1960, the Northern Peoples Congress-NPC won most of the seats in the Federal Legislature. Under the Parliamentary System of Government that we operated then, NPC was in the poll position to form government and appoint a Prime Minister. But there was a snag; they won only 134 seats in the 312-member Parliament, that was not enough. NPC needed a minimum of 157 seats to have the simple majority, and so it needed a coalition to control power.
Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe’s National Council of Nigerian Citizens – NCNC won 81 seats, while Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s Action Group – AG won 73 seats. Actually, NPC and its allies had 148 seats, NCNC and its allies 89, and AG and its allies 75.
Obafemi Awolowo and Nnamdi Azikiwe could have “Stolen” power from NPC if they had a romance; their total of 164 seats would have surpassed the 157seats target. But in reality, Awo and Zik (Yoruba and Igbo) were not political allies. They seemed to have mutual respect as well as mutual distrust for each other, certainly not unrelated to Awo’s controversial upstaging of Zik to become Premier of the Western region in 1952. But they had a history: in 1941, both men took opposing sides in the bye-election to elect the President of the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM). Awo and Zik (Yoruba and Igbo) could never align.
In the first republic, the North and Igbo had a political romance.
Nnamdi Azikiwe became the Governor-general of Nigeria (in 1963, the ceremonial president) while NPC’s Alhaji Tafawa Balewa became Prime minister. NCNC also produced the senate president; Prince Nwafor Orizu. Awo (Yoruba) played the role of a strong opposition in the parliament, they prided themselves as progressives, and it was unimaginable for them to work with the conservative NPC.
In 1979, Zik’s new party, Nigerian Peoples Party – NPP, still opted to work with the National Party of Nigeria – NPN, preferred by the Northern oligarchy. Again, while NPN won 5.6million votes in the Presidential election, Awo’s Unity Party of Nigeria – UPN got 4.9 million and Zik’s NPP had 2.8 million. If Zik and Awo had worked together, they would have polled 7.7 million votes as against NPN’s 5.6million votes and Alhaji Shehu Shagari would not have been elected president. At the National Assembly, NPN could not control either chamber – it had only 36 out of the 95 Senators (5 senators from each of the 19 states then) and NPN had 165 out of 433 members of the Houses of Representatives.
There was a North and Igbo alliance again!
Nigerian Peoples’ Party-NPP with its 16 Senators and 78 House of Representative members went into a political marriage with NPN and produced Chief Edwin Ume Eze-Oke as Speaker. It wasn’t the best of political marriages, but they co-habited until the next general elections. Dr. Alex Ekwueme, an Igbo, was twice elected Vice-President to Shehu Shagari. Even when the nation was crippled along ethnic lines, there were still handshakes across the fence.
During the 3rd Republic, Igbo again aligned with the North. In the prestigious and famous June 12, 1993 presidential election, the National Republican Convention-NRC, filed a Northern candidate, Alhaji Bashir Tofa, and won in three of the four Igbo states, (Imo, Abia and Enugu; where NRC had also produced Governors), while the Social Democratic Party-SDP, filed a Yoruba, Chief MKO Abiola, and won in Anambra (with an incumbent SDP Governor).
Interestingly, although Tofa pulled 756,142 votes in the four South-East states, he had a mere 16,394 votes more than Abiola. Perhaps with Awo and Zik out of the way, Yoruba and Igbo were beginning to flirt with each other. It was a shift, even if not wholly significant.
In 1999, the Peoples Democratic Party – PDP, a strong political party of mainstream Northern, South-East and South-South politicians, filed Chief Olusegun Obasanjo (a yoruba) in the presidential election that birthed this political dispensation.
The Alliance for Democracy – AD, in a partnership with the All Peoples Party – APP, filed Chief Olu Falae, the ‘official’ yoruba choice. The Igbo kept faith with their historical alignment with the North, and voted for OBJ, the choice of the North. They also supported Obasanjo in 2003 and Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in 2007, despite the candidacy of Dim Chukwuemeka Ojukwu of the APGA platform in both elections. Ojukwu was not an ordinary Igbo.
WHAT WENT WRONG:
The North and Igbo were political partners for decades, right from 1960s but Things Fall Apart and many would traced the turning point to Saturday 15 January, 1966 when the famous five Northern and Southern soldiers ‘allies’ were killed in what was tagged ‘Igbo coup’.
There was a revenge coup by the North in July 1966. The end product of the coup and counter-coup was the 30 months Civil War. But the north and Igbo appeared to have only briefly separated their political romance, but to only resumed in 1979.
Agitations for Biafra, which were dormant under President Goodluck ‘Azikiwe’ Jonathan, have been magnificently revived, and with the unfriendly development, an Arewa Youth Coalition issued an Oct. 1 deadline to Igbo to quit the North. Although there are efforts to douse the tension, the rhetoric has only been softened. The damage has been done.
Things went awry; the outcome of 2015 elections, probably not helped by PMBs’ ‘97% against 5%’ Freudian slip.
From the illumination to our political history, one can possibly believe that the North and Igbo are not mortal enemies and reconciliation should not be ruled out. If anything goes by, it is the Yoruba and Igbo that have never managed to befriend each other, politically. It is somewhat an irony that the North and Yoruba are today locked in a political embrace after what appeared to be an eternal enmity, while Igbo are the outsiders, as it were.
Many members of the younger political generation are taking 2015 as the starting point of Nigerian Political History to plot their success at the Political Arena and I consider this to be very dangerous. Our history is filled with shifting grounds and alliances; those who play in the mainstream today could be on the margin tomorrow. The Niger Delta aligned with the North from 1959 till the bad blood generated by Jonathan’s ascendancy to power in 2011. Before then, both blocs got along quite well. As things heat up today, it may be helpful to remember where paths crossed in the past. Burning the bridges should not be fanciful.
Political differences are inevitable in a country of over 200 tribes and 300 languages with fiercely competing interests in the midst of scarcity. Differences can be better managed, and no part of the party must be deliberately isolated from power. Nigeria needs all the stability it can buy so that development issues can take the centre stage while other African countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Ghana and Rwanda are confronting their demons and making steady progress, some Nigerians are massively obsessed with ethnic warfare as if that is what will construct the roads, equip the hospitals, reform the schools and put food on the tables of the helpless millions.
Many believe that Nigeria cannot progress until it is broken up. Maybe this is true, but in the absence of compelling evidence, I am forced to stick to my suggestion that we try out development-obsessed leadership — and then see how far it can take the country. Political alliances will form and dissolve, coalitions will appear and disappear. Our political history is filled with shifts in flings and marriages. That is the nature of our politics. We should never allow that to get in the way of development, justice and equity. Let the professional politicians politic, but the leaders must centre their heart on Nigeria’s progress. The basic truth, then, is that there are no permanent friends or permanent foes in politics: it is all about interests.
Nations should never provoke a war, and if they do, they should fight to win.
With SIMON KOLAWOLE
Written By: ARTHUR Kelly – who is a Political & Public affairs analysts, Advocacy, Development and Corporate Communications Consultant. Reach him on: email@example.com and 08034645459.