The Price Of Hegemony

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The Price Of Hegemony


By

 

Chudi Offodile

 

 

culled from GUARDIAN, June 27, 2006

 

 

On Friday May 26, 2006, in an article titled "South South and the Presidency," Reuben Abati expressed the view that the quest by Ndigbo for the Presidency of Nigeria is not realisable for three main reasons: Disunity, which he identifies as the biggest problem of Ndigbo; that the North does not consider it an option and that other ethnic groups in Nigeria have never really forgiven Igbos for the civil war.

 

The general thrust of Dr Abati's article is clearly stated in the title. However, he deliberately prefaced his advocacy campaign with a sad historical revisionism through generalisation and positioning of wrong claims as objective statements of fact, all aimed at disparaging the Igbo claim to the Presidency.

Are Nigerians unforgiving as alleged? I hope not. With three million Igbo massacred between July 1966 and January 1970, is someone saying that Igbos are yet to be forgiven by those who carried out the massacre? Well, on our part, being a predominantly Christian nation, we have since forgiven those who trespass against us, in the firm belief, that the Good Lord will in turn forgive us our trespasses.

 

Disunity among Igbos is another reason Abati gave why power will elude the Igbo. Well, I used to know a group called Afenifere under the leadership of Senator Abraham Adesanya. Then came the Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE) led by Archdeacon Emmanuel Alayande. I have lost count of the number of factions in both organisations and this is even under a Yoruba president. The North is fractured beyond recognition while the South South is engaged in a cacophonous struggle for symphony. I admit that some Igbo politicians have engaged in acts of self-immolation in the National Assembly over the Senate Presidency. But the apex Igbo organisation, Ohaneze Ndigbo, has over the years remained united and cohesive until a few months ago, when it split into two clear organised formations in order to confront the complexity of the third term debacle.

 

I will consider the point that the North is averse to an Igbo presidency and does not consider it an option in greater detail. Apparently, Abati identifies the North as the giver of power in Nigeria. If that is so, it becomes important to examine this hegemonic hold on power and the costs of its application to the North and the country as a whole.

To maintain its hold on power in Nigeria, the North has employed all manner of tactics. In the beginning, was the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) and the National Council for Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) accord, which was essentially, an accord between the North (Hausa/Fulani) and the Igbo. This arrangement threw up Alhaji Tafewa Balewa from present-day Bauchi State as Nigeria's first Prime Minister and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe as Governor General in 1960 and later ceremonial President in 1963.

 

This accord became necessary because of the unsalutary experience of Dr. Azikiwe and the NCNC in Western Nigeria, where Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his party, the Action Group, used unorthodox means to gain political power in the predominantly Yoruba western Nigeria. It was no surprise therefore, that the relationship between the NPC and NCNC was an uneasy one. First problem was ideological incompatibility and the second, which was even more important, was that the NCNC never really considered the NPC a senior partner in the coalition even though in reality, that was the position.

 

With the implosion of the Action Group in 1962, the NPC reached an understanding with the Akintola faction of the AG, forcing a rapprochement between the NCNC and the Awolowo faction of the AG. These two broad coalitions NNA and UPGA squared up for the disputed 1964 general elections. Protests trailed the outcome of the election. The nation tottered and then the coup of January 15, 1966, followed by the counter coup of July 1966. The massacre of Igbos in Northern Nigeria led to the declaration of the State of Biafra by the then Col. Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, Governor of Eastern Nigeria.

 

The declaration of Biafra by Col. Ojukwu, gave the North an opportunity to initiate the process of the political isolation of the Igbo, employing certain measures designed to break the back of the Igbo nation and checkmate their stubborn quest for power in Nigeria. And did the North succeed? Sure! But the price has been exceedingly high. It appears, that by eliminating the Igbos from the power calculus, the North may have shot itself in the foot. With Ndigbo out of the power matrix, the political ascendancy of the Yoruba nation was only a matter of time. The Niger Delta, once the fiefdom of the North is totally out of control and its loyalty is shifting westwards.

 

The 12-state structure announced by General Gowon in 1967 was a masterstroke. It struck at the under belly of the secessionist Biafra by "liberating" the eastern flank of the Niger Delta with the creation of Rivers State, now Bayelsa and Rivers and South Eastern State now Akwa Ibom and Cross River states. What was given with the right hand was removed with the left hand. Derivation was reduced from 50 per cent to one per cent. And so, the Niger Delta got political freedom without economic freedom. The insurgency in the Niger Delta is about economic freedom. Can Nigeria contain this insurgency without granting the Niger Delta economic freedom?

 

To get Yoruba support to defeat Biafra, Chief Obafemi Awolowo was named Finance Minister and he became de facto Prime Minister. This appointment laid the foundation for the control of Nigeria's economy by the Yoruba. This control has been effectively consolidated in the past seven years, with the Yoruba owning and controlling approximately two-thirds of Nigeria's 25 banks. In 1971, Chief Obafemi Awolowo resigned from the federal cabinet and continued the long and acrimonious struggle to wrest power from the North. Awolowo initiated the Yoruba bid for a power in the first republic, following it up in the second republic. Chief Moshood Abiola anchored the struggle and General Olusegun Obasanjo in a twist of fate, inherited it. It is the historical dimension of the sojourn for power by the Yoruba, that has made Obasanjo's disengagement somewhat complicated; because the power he inherited, came with a huge burden of history.

 

In the final analysis, Northern Nigeria is the biggest victim of its own hegemony. It has little or no foothold on the economy and its hold on political power is slipping. This is the consequence of the removal of an integral part of Nigeria's balance of power equation. The choice the North makes in 2007 is crucial except that this time around, they don't hold all the aces. Nigerians across the board are also reaping bountifully the fruits of injustice. 46 years after independence no town in Nigeria has uninterrupted electricity of water supply. What a country!

 

Lesson to be learned, is that denying justice to a substantial segment of the Nigerian population is not in the interest of the whole because what goes round, comes round. Igbos are part and parcel of the Nigerian state with equal rights and privileges and will therefore not take insults nor allow cheeky commentaries from the likes of Abati and company go unanswered. If Nigerians desire a South South president, so be it.

 

But a South South bid for power in 2007 without Igbo support will be a misadventure, because the North also has a legitimate claim to power in 2007. Since we are not talking of a President of South South but a President of Nigeria from South South, ethnic purists in the zone should tone down their rhetoric in the realisation that the struggle for power in Nigeria is not a tea party. Having survived Northern hegemony for 35 years, and Yoruba hegemony for the past seven years, Ndigbo will most certainly outlive South South hegemony.

 

The path to greatness for Nigeria is found in the second stanza of our old national anthem. "Oh God of all creation grant this our one request. Help us to build a nation where no one is oppressed. And so, with peace and plenty, Nigeria may be blessed".

 

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Offodile is a legal practitioner in Abuja

 

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