How Nigerians Underdeveloped Nigeria


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How Nigerians Underdeveloped Nigeria




Fazil O. Ope-Agbe




April 26, 2005

I have the privilege, the honour and the luck to have served as personal staff of Sir James Robertson, the last Briton to rule Nigeria in the name of Her Majesty the Queen of Great Britain. My access to Sir James was from mid-1959 till mid-1960 when I served as his Press Officer (the equivalent of today's Press Secretary). I feel equally privileged and honoured today to have direct, unfettered and unrestricted access to His Excellency, Chief Ernest Shonekan, who ruled Nigeria briefly as Head of Nigeria's National Interim Government in 1993.

A gap of at least four decades separates the rule of Sir James from the era of Chief Shonekan, but the views of both rulers on the relationship of the generality of Nigerians vis-a-vis their leaders, coincide as if they both spoke on the same platform within hours of each other.

When I called on Chief Shonekan shortly after he left office as Head of State, he was very much on the defensive. He said to me: “Fazil, don't believe all this cry about people resenting me as Head of State. I went on a tour of the whole country and everywhere I went, the common folk received and welcomed me with such enthusiasm and transparent affection, you would think 1 was an elected Head of State. Nigerians at home in their natural environment are very nice people and very patriotic. Present somebody to them as their Head of State and they would go to great lengths to express their love and loyalty and you cannot but wonder whether these people belong to the same country, the same nation, as all those noise-makers you see in the big towns and state capitals who derive pleasure from spitting venom and dousing one with vitriol”.

In March of 1953, Chief Anthony Enahoro moved from the floor of the House of Representatives in Lagos, a motion calling on the British Government to grant Nigeria independence in 1956. That motion caught everybody, except the Action Group by surprise. The N.C.N.C. (Zik's National Council for Nigeria and the Cameroons) did a double-take, quickly regained its balance and supported Chief Enahoro's Action Group motion. The Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, speaking for the North took exception to such an idea being mooted on the floor of the House of Representatives.

He argued that a demand for independence was a matter affecting the whole country and all the political parties and Regions should have got together to discuss it and come to an agreement before it was placed before the British Government. He said that the people must be involved in the exercise. The meaning of independence and what it entails must be explained to the masses so they would prepare for it and be prepared for the roles that independence would assign to them. He requested that he and all representatives from the North be given time to consult their people and get their mandate so that when they join in the clamour for independence, they would be doing it with the knowledge and consent of the teeming masses whom they represent.

Sir Ahmadu Bello did not confine his plea to the House of Representatives. He arranged a private meeting with Chief Awolowo, and discussing one-on-one and face to face, he appealed for patience and time for him to consult with his people. He told Chief Awolowo that it would be a good idea if all the leaders held adequate consultations with their people and after that consultation, the motion would be moved again, but not as a private motion coming from floor member, Chief Anthony Enahoro, but as a joint request from the national leaders acting in unison, on behalf and at the behest of their people. That statement made by Chief Awolowo in private conversation with Sir Ahmadu Bello on Tuesday, 31st March 1953 is as true today as it was when it was made more than half century ago.

What the masses need everywhere in the world is their food, shelter, clothing, get married bear children and cater for those children. But where Sir Ahmadu Bello differed from Chief Awolowo in his vision, is that those basic needs should not be provided for the masses as if they were animals in a well kept and very comfortable zoo. The masses needed to have a say and an active participatory role in the conduct of their lives. I remember that I read in one of the books written by Chief Awolowo, that the Sardauana paid a visit to him in Ibadan to seek common ground just before they were to leave for one of the London constitutional conferences that preceded independence. I cannot now lay my hands on the book in question, to reveal what transpired at that meeting, but I consider the mere fact that the Sardauna traveled to lbadan to see Chief Awolowo as a point to the progress this country would have made if Chief Awolowo had not stuck to his high horse in his dealings with his Northern counterparts.

At that elections, one hundred and forty eight seats (148) were contested for in the North. Of those one hundred and forty eight seats, the predominant Northern People's Congress won a total of one hundred and twenty seats (120). The remaining twenty-eight (28), seats were won by parties in opposition to the N.P.C. in the North in the following order:

United Middle Belt Congress/Action Group coalition, (TJ, M.B.C,/A.G.) 18 (eighteen) seats; Action Group on its own, one seat; Northern Elements Progressive Union (N.E.P.U.), 8 (eight) seats; and Independent, one seat. While the U.M.B.C. and the  Action Group fielded candidates as a coalition, the N.C.N.C. chose not to publicly lend or link its name with its ally, the N.E.P.U. for the purposes of that elections; a cautious approach designed to retain the friendship of the Northern People's Congress, the dominant party in the North. For those who might wish to investigate more thoroughly, I will list the seats won by the parties opposing the N.P.C. in the North and invite anybody who knows anything about it to indicate where else the opposition should have won.

The U.M.B.C.IA.G. took the following seats: Auta Anza, (J.A. Assadugu); Tangale Waja, (D. Bulus Biliyong); GaavShangev Tiev, (ST. Daka); Pankshin West, (J.M. Damba); Angas; (D.D. Dimka); Kwande, (Kundu Swem); Lafia, (Ahmadu.Angara Loma); Jemgbar, (J.S. Tarka); Wukari, (C. Tangul Gaza); Iharev Nongov, (P. Tarkende); Lowland West, (G. Yilgwem); Zaria South-west, (Peter Ipu); Jos North-west, (Abubakar lsandu); Kunav, (M.D. Iyorka); Lowland-East, (S.D. Lar); Kauru Lere, (Haikali Maigari); Zangon Katab, (Shekarau Kaa Layya) Iharev Mary, (V.T. Shisha). Against the run of play, P.B. Olatunde won Ilorin South on the platform of the Action Group while the rest of Yoruba-speaking North voted massively fpr the N.P.C.

If there was any foul play as alleged by Harold Smith, it does not make sense that persons like J.S. Tarka, Bulus Biliyong, S.D. Lar, to name a few, who were thorns in the flesh of the N.P.C. would have been allowed to go to parliament where they could give the N.P.C. much greater headache; they would have been rigged out. N.E.P.U.'s headache was that it lacked the level of logistical support which the U.M.B.C. received from the Action Group and in consequence lost all but one of the Kano seats; only Mallam Aminu Kano emerged victorious in Kano East and it is ludicrous to suggest that Arninu Kano, N.E.P.Us biggest fish, would be allowed to go through while the minor fishes were weeded out in Harold Smith's fiction of rigged elections. The situation where an independent candidate, Isa Iko, won the Zuru seat does not jell with the picture of massive rigging painted by Harold Smith.

Analysis of results in the Eastern and Western Regions point to the same facts — elections were won or lost in accordance with the popularity of political parties or candidates, and nobody manipulated anything in favour of anybody. Of the seventy (75) five seats contested for in the West, the Action Group won thirty-three, the N.C.N.C. won eighteen (18) and Independent candidates, all of whom later declared for the Northern People's Congress, won six (6). Of the six Independents who later declared for the N.P.C., five won in Ibadan namely — Chief Richard O. A. Akinjide, (Ibadan South-East): Hon. A. Abass, {Ibadan South); Hon. R.A. Afolabi, (Ibadan Central); Hon. K.O.S. Are, (Ibadan -North-West); and Hon. S.A. Oyewole, (lbadan South East); the sixth was I-Ion. D.M. Gbolagunte who won in Ibarapa.

As expected, all seats in the Mid-West were won by the N.C.N.C. with the exception of Chief Anthony Enahoro, Hon. C.K. Obi and Dame Oboh who won respectively in Ishan East, Afenmai East and Ishan West, on the platform of the Action Group. Seats captured by the N.C.N.C. in the Yoruba heartland were: Oshogbo South (A. Adeyemo); Iwo East, (Prince T A. Lamuye); Oshogbo North, (A.A. Odunrinde); Ilesha Urban, (J.0. Ogunbiyi): lkeja, (Adeniran O. Ogunsanya); Ife-Ila, (T.O. Oloyede); Badagry, (D. Senu Oke); Egba North, (E.B. Sorunke); and Oyo Central, (S.A. Yerokun). No surprises, no upsets in these results either.

 Out of sixty-six (66) seats allocated to Eastern Nigeria, the N.C.N.C. won fifty-one (51); the Action Group won thirteen (13) and Melford O. Okilo won Brass for the N.D.C./N.P.C. coalition while A.E. Effiong-Spatts won Calabar on the C.E.P./N.P.C. ticket. Action Group members elected from the Eastern Region were: MB. Afanidch, (lkot-Ekpcne South); P.O. Akpan, (Uyo South-cast); Wenike, (Degema); L.A. Brown, (Uyo West); P.E. Ekancm, (Enyong South); O.I. Eminue, (Eket East); T.I. Etukudo, (Eket West); S.U. ldiong, (Ikot-Ekpene N.E.); R.A. Orok, (Abak North-West); D.S. UdoLnyang, (Opobo North); B.U. Ukpong, (Ikot-Ekpene Central); F.U. Umoh, (Abak Southeast); and 5.1. Umoren, (Uyo North).

Chief Awolowo explained later that he set up a tactical committee to place Action Group field organizations in a “state of constant preparedness to counter effectively any move on the part of the N.C.N.C. to incite acts of lawlessness with a view to bringing about a breakdown of law and order in the Western Region.” He never considered the N.P.C. as a source of threat to his person or to his people of the Western Region. He dismissed with contempt, the N.P.C. and its ability to give him sleepless nights in the following words. “The N.P.C. did not come for consideration (in the activities of the Tactical Committee) because it did not and does not have any worthwhile following in the Western Region.” Chief Awolowo never cried out that he was robbed of victory by the North or by the British. Chief Awolowo in his words: I have just quoted, confirms my assertion in my at er article, “Akintola Fought For The Yorubas” that the North was never a threat to the Yorubas and was never an enemy of the Yorubas; rather it was the N.C.N.C. that the Yorubas should have been wary of. It therefore beats me hollow why any Yoruba person should consider Akintola's insistence on establishing links with the North an act of treachery.

Pressed to state specific actions of the colonial masters which amounted to favouring one party to the detriment of another during the 1959 Federal elections, Harold Smith stated that he was instructed to send vehicles and personnel of the Federal Ministry of Labour to assist Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh in his campaign in the Mid-West; he refused to carry out  those instructions and thereby denied the Chief Okotie-Eboh the use of government personnel and vehicles for his political campaign. My posers to Harold Smith are, did his denial of personnel and vehicles stop Chief Okotie-Eboh from winning his seat; was he aware that Zik and his party were using Eastern Nigerian government vehicles and personnel for their political campaigns in the East; was he aware that the Sardauna and his party were doing the same thing in the North and Awolowo and his party were doing the same in the West; did he do anything to stop these other leaders from doing what he prevented Chief Okotie-EbOh from doing?

Harold Smith wrote that Chief Okotie-Eboh was stealing government money. He also tells us that when some members tried, in the legislature, to accuse him of stealing, the Chief threatened to disclose what the Action Group was doing with the funds of the Western Nigeria Marketing Board and what the Eastern Government was doing in similar vein with monies of its statutory corporations; according to Harold Smith, Chief Okotie-Eboh's threat shut everybody up. In other words, not only Chief Okotie-Eboh, but every Southern leader was stealing.

My quarrel with Harold Smith is not that he called some Nigerian leaders sinners and others saints. I particularly resent and consider it an insult for Harold Smith to infer that all our problems were caused by the British who led us by the nose because we were too dumb to know what was happening. I cannot keep quiet when our people are being given an alibi that we were victims and not architects of our own fortunes in the past forty five years of independence. I do not see how we can examine ourselves and our actions, with a view to mending our ways, when Harold Smith comes preaching that “the fault is not in us but in our stars”.


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