The Problem With Nigeria

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The Problem With Nigeria

The variegated patchwork

 

culled from Guardian, October 10, 2004

THE British amalgamation of Nigeria was not intended to create a nation in the sense of forging the over two hundred and fifty ethnic groups into a people with a common vision to see themselves as one. They did not even imagine the possibility. The far northerners made their stand clear from the beginning, by insisting that they were not going into a union to surrender their identity as Islamic Hausas and Fulanis to people that had not conquered them in war. They saw the country as a north-south patchwork, keeping the minorities in their midst tightly under their wings.

 

The westerners saw Nigeria as a patchwork of north, east and west, pretending that the west was made up entirely of the Yoruba. In the east, the Igbo saw Nigeria as made up of the Igbo, the Yoruba and the Hausa/Fulani, keeping the Ijaws, Ibibios, Efiks, Anangs in the eastern region pressed down and backward. In this vein the British were willing to grant self-determination to any of the regions that wished for independence from 1951. This did not happen, however, because the west and the east decided to wait for the north to be ready.

Control and rulership

On April 1, 1952 Anthony Enahoro, representing the west, moved a motion in the Legislative Council, for independence by 1956. The northern members of the Council rejected it outright. They felt that they would lose their political edge and lose control in an independent Nigeria. If possible, they wanted a country of their own, at their own time, in which they would have no fears of domination by the south; if they had to stay in Nigeria, it was going to be a Nigeria in which they had control.

Independence came on October 1, 1960, with the Moslem northerner, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, as Prime Minister cum Minister of External Affairs and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the Igbo leader, as Governor General (and ceremonial President by 1963). Because of the manner in which they took political control, members of the government could not lead. First, they served as the drainpipe for Britain to continue to suck the country economically; second, at home they were controlling central power only to grab as much of the national wealth as possible for the tribes they represented and to build private estates for themselves. They worked neither towards building national politics nor a national economy. It was in recognition of this that the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who tried to set examples through the way he ran the Western Region, described Nigeria as a mere geographic expression.

It also happened that most of the brains behind the putsch were Igbo officers, but most of the politicians and military officers killed during the operations were Hausa-Fulani, due of course to their dominance of the political rulership and their predominance in the senior cadres of the military. It also happened that an Igbo officer, Lt-Col Odumegwu-Ojukwu, stifled the remarkable success of the putsch in the north. In the south, it was quickly suppressed before it could become meaningful, yet by another Igbo officer, the Commander of the Army, Major-General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi. Still it led to rulership passing to General Aguiyi-Ironsi, who managed to establish apparent control.

What was left of the Hausa-Fulani rulership wined and dined with Aguiyi-Ironsi until they took proper stock of their losses and the gains of the Igbo following the coup d'etat. They discovered that almost all of the victims of the coup were their leaders, and that the coup makers were being hailed as southern heroes. They saw that power had been wrested from them, that they had lost control. Even in those early stages of the Nigerian association this was not tolerable to the Hausa-Fulani. They had to regain power and keep it; they had to be in control, whatever it took. They organised and killed the Head of State, Major Gen. Aguiyi-Ironsi, on July 29, 1966. In addition, they killed thousands of easterners in the north and the west.

Yakubu Gowon tried to give further leverage and credibility to the northern domination through the census trick. Another head count was conducted in 1973. The results were so frivolous as to be ludicrous. With a population of 51.3 million ascribed to the north and 28 million to the south, it means that between 1963, the population of the north rose by 21.5 million, whereas in the same period the population of the south increased only by 3 million! General Yakubu Gowon eventually fell out of grace with the source and control centre of northern power - the seat of the Islamic Caliphate; it might have just occurred to them that he was a Christian. He was replaced in a bloodless coup while he was abroad, by Brigadier Murtala Muhammed, Brigadier Olusegun Obasanjo and Colonel Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma.

Well, Murtala Muhammed died, because the people of the Middle Belt, who were beginning to build political foundation from their military clout and assert themselves as a power block to be reckoned with, wanted to reinstate the previously overthrown Yakubu Gowon.

Dimka's coup to wrest power back to the Middle Belt having failed, Olusegun Obasanjo succeeded to that position, by a stroke of luck and against his 'personal wish and desire,' after the failed attempts of Chief Awolowo over the years. If the Yoruba thought that Obasanjo was going to control power on their behalf, he soon disappointed them. Obasanjo followed not only the expressed programmes of Murtala Muhammed but also his thought-process. Besides he was always hemmed in on either side by Theophilus Danjuma and Shehu Musa Yar'Adua, to ensure that he did not sway or stray.

To prevent Chief Awolowo from contesting the elections by excluding him with Clause 207 of the Draft Constitution would have amounted to a rape of the democratisation process. Their hand-over scheme went full circle, culminating in the presidential election of 1979, and then they used the magic of 25 percent of two-thirds of nineteen states to ensure that power and control were put in the hands of those already ordained for rulership.

Olusegun Obasanjo explained in Not My Will, his memoir, that his government accepted 19.94 to be "not less than 25 percent" in the thirteenth state after some British lawyers, sponsored no doubt by Shagari's NPN, had explained it to be so. I do not think an upright Nigerian government needed the opinion of English lawyers on an issue so vital to the leadership and future of the country, except that such a conduct coincided with the style of puppet regimes of fraudulent and unstable nature. Election petitions and subsequent appeals to the Supreme Court turned academic, as questionable adjudicators had been handpicked in anticipation of the cases. Thus, in spite of the beautiful transition programme and the otherwise commendable redemption of the promise to hand over power to a civilian government, the election turned out to be only a selection.

Alhaji Shehu Shagari and his coterie made no pretences as to the fact that they were tribal representatives in government. Under Shagari, the Hausa-Fulani moved to recover whatever ground they believed they had lost in the four years of the Yoruba man's rule. They were at the same time openly robbing the country and sending everything worthwhile to their part of the country. The way Shagari and his gang were carrying on, it was obvious the country was approaching catastrophe.

In Nigeria the way to change governments was not through elections, as had been demonstrated over and over at all levels, it was through military coups. It was apparent that something was going to give. If things were allowed to drift unchecked in the direction they were going it could have been anybody's game. Therefore, the Hausa-Fulani had to perpetuate themselves quickly, before any other tribe stepped forward and grabbed control. This was why Major General Muhammadu Buhari moved in during the last night of 1983, assisted by Major General Ibrahim Babangida and Brigadier General Sani Abacha.

Buhari's economic policies turned out to be at variance with the desires of the powers that were behind the seat. That was not his only fault which, perhaps, they could have lived with and easily found ways to circumvent. Buhari turned out to involve his regime in head-on clashes with their foreign masters, the neo-colonialist economic exploiters of the country, like Britain. In eighteen months his Chief of Army Staff, Major General Ibrahim Babangida, overthrew him. It is significant to note that even this was a Hausa-Fulani perpetuation of itself. Within a very short time Ibrahim Babangida worked to put all political and economic control in the hands of the Hausa-Fulani, at all levels of government and the industry sector. To begin with, eighteen members of his AFRC were from the north, as against half that number from the south, even though the north and south had eleven and ten states, respectively.

The same nepotism featured with civilian appointees to key positions. Alhaji Abubakar Alhaji, a sacred cow, was heir to the Sokoto throne. He was said to have been in a position, therefore, to pick any post he wanted. First, he was Minister in the Presidency, and then a Ministry of Budget and Planning was created for him. And the Governor of the Central Bank, Ahmed, was his brother; so were the Chairmen of the Boards of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and the NAFCON.

 

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