Dedicated to Nigeria's socio-political issues
October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007
Learning From Chief Awolowo
With the presidential primaries almost completed, an election fever is developing. This election fever is gradually gripping the electorate. Although a number of political figures have emerged as presidential and vice-presidential candidates on the platform of the political parties, the selection of Chief (General) Olusegun Obasanjo and Alhaji (Major-General) Muhammadu Buhari as presidential candidates of the PDP and the ANPP respectively is perhaps the single most important event heating the political temperature of the country. This is not because, as retired Generals of the Nigerian Army, these two leading flag bearers have out-manoeuvred and out-smarted civilian politicians, in the two political parties, or even because of their status as former military dictators. The event is heating the national political temperature precisely because their supporters have mounted ethnic, religious and sectionalists campaigns. For, it is a well-known fact that their supporters have been out, with the passion and the zeal of the born-again, exploiting the sentiments, weaknesses and ignorance of the Nigerian electorate in order to rally support for their candidates.
What is most disturbing is that places of worship have been entangled into these destructive divisive campaigns. Worshippers in the mosques and the churches are being exhorted to vote for candidates on the basis of their religion. The question about the policies, plans and programmes of the candidates, is not even mentioned.
This campaign is as hollow as it is dangerous. This is so because behind Chief Obasanjo is Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, a Muslim, and behind Alhaji Muhammadu Buhari is Dr. Chuba Okadigbo, a Christian. If any of them happens to get elected as President and for whatever reason becomes incapable of performing his constitutional responsibilities, the Vice-President, who comes from the other religion, attacked so viciously, takes over as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. This was precisely how General Obasanjo became Head of State in 1976 following the abortive coup that led to the death of the then Head of State, General Murtala Mohammed. If Murtala had been elected in 1975, because he was a Muslim, most of his four-year term would have been completed by a Christian.
It is most revealing that past military regimes, including the ones led by General Obasanjo and Major-General Buhari, have accused civilian political leaders of fanning the embers of religious, regional and ethnic politics. Yet, as politicians seeking to rule Nigeria once again, both Obasanjo and Buhari are now doing the same thing.
From NYM to NCNC
The youth were angry with the NNDP because it had confined its activities to Lagos even though it called itself the Nigerian National Democratic Party. It did not, open even a single office, or branch outside Lagos. The youth, therefore, wanted to reach out to all Nigerians irrespective of where they were. Among the leading young politicians who were eager to extend the activities of the NYM to other parts of Nigeria outside Lagos were: Mr. Ernest Ekoli, Chief Samuel Akinsanya, Chief H. O. Davies, Dr. Kofo Abayomi, Sir Adeyemo Alakija, Alhaji Jubrin Martins, Dr. Akinola Maja, Mr. Mobolaji Bank-Anthony and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. They went out in full force to establish branches in every urban centre throughout Nigeria. This was the first time Nigerians from all over were brought together into the nationalist fold. Indeed, with the extensive media support from the newspapers owned by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, like the West African Pilot, the NYM was able to reach out to many more Nigerians.
However, in 1941 the NYM split into two, one led by Ernest Ikoli and the other by Nnamdi Azikiwe. The Ikoli faction ended up being taken over by the Egbe Omo Oduduwa, The Society of the Descendents of Oduduwa, when it was re-launched in 1948 in Lagos. The Nnamdi Azikiwe faction on the other hand teamed up with the doyen of Lagos politics, Mr. Herbert Macaulay, student leaders and radical labour leaders, like Michael Imoudu and Nduka Eze to set up the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroons, NCNC, in 1944.
The NCNC took over from where the NYM stopped. But it went far ahead of the NYM by introducing public discussions and mobilisation of the ordinary people into the framework of the nationalist struggle through direct interaction with the people at mass rallies, which they organised in different parts of Nigeria. The NCNC was growing into a massive anti-colonial movement whose members and leaders were being drawn from all the three regions and religions of Nigeria.
In response to this dramatic expansion and
consolidation of pan-Nigerian nationalism led by the NCNC, the British colonial
government moved swiftly to break the ranks of the nationalists using the
typical colonial tactic of divide-and-rule. They promulgated the Richards'
Constitution of 1946, the cornerstone of which was the creation of three
powerful regions. The British aim was to truncate the growth of the pan-Nigerian
outlook of the nationalists by dividing them along regional lines. They achieved
this objective through three important steps.
The Egbe Omo Oduduwa did not become important until 1948 when it was revived and re-launched in Lagos with great fanfare by prominent and parochial Yoruba politicians associated with the beleaguered Nigerian Youth Movement like Chief Bode Thomas, Sir Adeyemo Alakija, Chief H. O. Davies, Dr. Kofo Abayomi, Dr. Akinola Maja and others. The revival of the Egbe Omo Oduduwa in 1948 was not accidental, because 1948 was, in the real sense, the deciding year of Nigeria's political orientation. That is to say, whether the nationalist or the parochial politicians would hold sway in the course of the struggle for independence. Radical nationalism was on the ascendancy from 1938 but it became very pronounced, between 1945-1948. This period was marked by the General Strike of 1945 and the 1946 Nigeria-wide NCNC campaign against the imposition of the Richards' Constitution.
The parochial Yoruba politicians in Lagos led
by Chief Bode Thomas were particularly worried that a large number of the
politically active Yoruba, particularly the youth, were being drawn, more and
more into the nationalist fold under the leadership of Zik. They thought that
one way of countering this was the revival of the Egbe Omo Oduduwa, which under
the guise of ethnic unity would take away all the Yoruba associated with Zik and
the radical section of Nigerian nationalism that he was leading. But this did
not work. It did not work because the Yoruba did not accept ethnic politics and
refused to be drawn into the Egbe Omo Oduduwa, under any guise. On 21st March
1951 the Egbe Omo Oduduwa set up a political party called the Action Group. The
party was to serve as the vehicle for realising its primary objective of
mobilising Yorubas into one political umbrella. The Action Group was therefore
formed to implement the ideals and objectives of the Egbe Omo Oduduwa and was
led by no less a person than, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the founder of the Egbe in
1945. To add to the status of the AG as Yoruba party, all the leading Obas met
in Ibadan on Sunday 10th June 1951 to endorse the AG as the political party of
the Yorubas. Among the Obas present were: the Oni of Ife, Sir Adesoji Aderemi;
the Alafin of Oyo, Sir Adeniran Adeyemi; the Alake of Abeokuta, Sir Ladapo
Ademola; the Ewi of Ado Ekiti, Oba Aladesanmi II and the Awujale of Ijebuland,
Oba Gbelegbuwa II.
Thus on 15th June 1951 representatives of the interest groups in Ibadan met and decided to set up a party. They called this party the Ibadan Peoples Party, IPP. Its founding chairman was Chief A. M. A. Akinloye. The other leaders of the IPP were: S. A. Akinyemi, S. O. Lanlehin, Moyo Aboderin, Samuel Lana, D. T. Akinbiyi, S. Ajunwon, S. Aderonmu, R. S. Baoku, Akin Allen and Akinniyi Olunloyo. The IPP gave the leaders of the Egbe Omo Oduduwa its first shock during the 1951 regional elections, where the AG had expected that as the “party of the Yorubas” it would sweep the elections clean, and with ease, at all levels to form the regional government. When the election into the Western Region House of Assembly was completed in November 1951, the Action Group won only 29 out of the 80 seats contested. In fact, the AG lost in all the constituencies in Ibadan, the capital city of the Western Region and in Lagos, the capital of Nigeria.
In Ibadan, the IPP won all the six seats, with
the following as the elected members: Chief Adisa Akinloye, Mr. Moyo Aboderin,
Mr. S. O. Lanlehin, Alhaji Adegoke Adelabu, Mr. D.T. Akinbiyi and Mr. Samuel
Akinwale Akinyemi. In Lagos NCNC won all the five seats with the following as
the elected members into the Western Region House of Assembly: Dr. Nnamdi
Azikiwe, Dr. Ibiyinka Olorun-Nimbe, Prince Adeleke Adedoyin, Haruna Popoola
Adebola and T.O.S Benson. Leading members of the AG like Chief Rotimi Williams,
Dr. Maja and Chief M. A. Ogun were defeated.
But the Ibadan electorate did not take kindly
the defection of its elected representative on the platform of IPP to the Action
Group. They used the opportunity of the 1954 Federal elections and the 1956
regional elections to express their dislike of the Action Group. In the 1954
Federal elections, the electorate in the Western Region voted
for the NCNC against the Action Group; the NCNC
won 22 seats into the House of Representatives and the AG secured 19 seats. In
Ibadan, the capital city of the Western Region the ruling party AG secured just
one out of the five federal seats in the area. The victory was however marginal
in terms of the votes cast. For example the AG candidate Gbadegesin Adeniran
obtained 1,713 votes while his NCNC opponent got 1,587 votes, giving a victory
margin of just 126 votes. This contrasted with the margin of not less than 50%
given to the AG candidates by the NCNC. For example, in Ibadan South Federal
constituency, the NCNC candidate Alhaji Adegoke Adelabu polled 5,485 votes
against AG's Mr. S. O. Ladipo's 1,256 votes, thus giving a huge margin of 4,229
What astonished the AG in 1956 was the
devastating defeat it received in the hands of the NCNC in key Yoruba cities of
Ibadan and Oyo. While in Oyo the AG managed to secure 2 out of the five seats
against NCNC's 3 seats, in Ibadan the story was different. Ibadan had eight
seats into the Western Region House of Assembly. The AG got just one seat. In
this case the victory margin was just 267 votes; in Ibadan West regional
constituency, O. A. Adedeji of AG secured 5,010 votes to defeat I. A. Akinyele
of NCNC who polled 4,743 votes. This was the smallest margin of victory in the
election, in Ibadan. Chief Adisa Akinloye, who moved over from IPP to AG and got
appointed a minister also contested in his Ibadan North-East constituency on the
platform of the AG. He was defeated with a wide margin of 2,734 votes by Lekan
Salami of the NCNC.
This, however, contrasted sharply with the case of NCNC and NPC politicians who had moved over to Lagos from the 1950s to serve as national leaders. These politicians developed a national outlook even when their party leaders were insisting on regional parochialism. The NPC for example became divided into a Kaduna group and a Lagos group. While the Sardauna, the Makaman Bida and the rest were insisting on the pursuit of what they regarded as “northern interest” using their members in Lagos, the Lagos group led by Tafawa Balewa and Mahmud Ribadu, were able to resist and insist on a more national outlook.
It is therefore not a co-incidence that the
Lagos ministers, parliamentary secretaries and members of the House of
Representatives from the NPC and the NCNC of the First
Republic succeeded in co-opting a handful of their
colleagues from the other political parties, namely the AG, NEPU, UMBC etc to
form the National Party of Nigeria, NPN in 1978. It was this party that produced
Alhaji Shehu Shagari to contest the 1979 presidential elections against
formidable candidates like Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Mallam
Aminu Kano, who were party leaders since the 1950s. He was able to get 25% and
more votes in 12 states of the federation. His nearest rival, Chief Obafemi
Awolowo got 25% of the votes cast in only seven states.
The Fate of Obasanjo
The fate of Chief Awolowo, seems to face General Obasanjo, but in a reverse order, from building his political fortune on a nationalist platform, Obsanjo has reversed himself getting his politics trapped in a tribal cul-de-sac. With the virtual endorsement of his Presidential ticket by the parochial Yuruba tribal organisation, the Afenefere and its political arm, the Alliance for Democracy, he is moving to complete the full circle from being a nationalist candidate to becoming basically a tribal candidate. No matter how massive the AD campaign for him, this may not win the Presidency for him because the intensity of that parochial ethnic campaign will backfire, and he will lose support in the rest of the country. But, of course he is counting on Chief Tony Anenih to use his tentacles to fix the elections for him.
Similarly, the more intensely Buhari is sold,
as the Northern, Muslim candidate, the more he’s likely to loose elsewhere,
Okadigbo, or, no Okadigbo. The problem is that ethnic and religious politics in
a country like Nigeria cuts both ways. The more your tribal men gang up around
you to vote for you, the more others are likely to distrust and desert you.
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This page was last updated on 10/27/07.