Whoever has the time to read and go into the history of the political development of Nigeria would undoubtedly be fascinated by the patriotic contributions of First Republic politicians, particularly with regard to attaining freedom for Nigeria through constitutional talks in London and Nigeria. Apart from its inherent potency of making Nigerians proud of the very brilliant efforts of the leaders of that age, it is to be noted that this could also infuse the feelings of empathy in the growing generation. Those leaders were embodiments of intellect, knowledge, patriotism, resilience and commitment to the common good.
One constant truth is that those great leaders were out to serve the people and left indelible marks on the sands of time. It was not about their pockets, but about the people. It is interesting to note that most of those leaders were within ages 30-50 when they left records of service that are yet to be beaten today, giving one the tendency to suggest that people coming forward to canvass for our votes in order to lead should be made to regard it as a condition precedent to read about Nigeria’s humble beginnings and sit for examinations on how these great Nigerians exhibited the spirit of great patriotism and passion for vision and long range planning. These examinations could be by way of the electorate quizzing their intending representatives in government. It is very important that intending representatives must convince their constituents about their ability to defend their interests.
This might be imperative these days when emphasis across political parties is to submerge programmes of political parties, and plans that representatives and contestants have for the citizenry in vulgar abuse. Issues are relegated to the background for mundane matters to be accorded attention. Poverty has combined with affluence to derails what is ideal in representative democracies. Who bothers any longer immediately money is available in sufficient quantities to purchase voter cards instead of asking politicians what they have for the populace by way of programmes and policies. The issue of turn by turn politics has not made things better. Merit is no longer one of the important requirements.
EXAMPLES OF DISPASSIONATE ACTIONS: Very recently, I made an allusion to the Western Regional arrangement when Obafemi Awolowo was premier. At that time, Adeleke Adedoyin, (lovingly addressed as ‘’Seriki n Tulasi) by his peers was hon. Speaker. Justice Adetokunbo Ademola was Chief Justice of the region before moving to Lagos. Simeon Adebo was Head of Service/Chief Secretary, and Jonathan Odebiyi, founder of Egbado College was Leader of Government Business. All these people originated from today’s Ogun State. No protests were recorded about sharing of political offices and spoils of office because GOOD GOVERNANCE was at play, and abundant life was enjoyed. Federalism was practiced meaningfully. No religious leader protested because nobody should ideally make religion part of considerations in a nation that is expected to have a secular status. Most of those parliamentarians were school principals or teachers and lawyers. This most probably accounted for the high level discipline of the era.
Fast forward to 1979 in the regime of Bola Ige in Oyo State. Sunday Michael Afolabi was Deputy Governor, Oyeluyi Agbaje-Williams from Ilesha was Chief Judge; Bisi Akande, from Ila-Orangun was Secretary Government and Tejumade Alakija from Ile-Ife was Head of Service. They all originated from today’s Osun State except Mokolade Gbolagunte, Speaker of the House who came from Eruwa, Ibarapa. Nobody protested because those people were cosmopolitan in outlook. But today, issues to be balanced include zonal, states, local government of origin and religion! Then you must have more than enough to pervert the course of justice and fairplay on the political turf. All these issues dealing with religion in politics reared their heads in the 1980s. I remember that military governors of old Oyo State started having problems at that period when religious leaders started putting pressure on governors to appoint equal numbers of State Commissioners for the two major religions. Each time I look back, I wonder why other local religions like Sango and Ogun worshippers also never demanded for positions in governments for the purpose of equity and representation. The issue is that no poor man on the streets would remember the religious faith of rulers if life is made more abundant and there is food on the table. And also if those who govern don’t act on the basis of religion.
NO IMPOSITION OF CANDIDATES & MANIPULATION OF THW WILL OF THE PEOPLE: As against the belief in many circles, I have it on record that Awolowo never imposed his will or decision at party meetings held in Ikenne. I gathered that he loved brilliant debates presented factually and logically. He also loved bold people who said it as it was. I am aware that in 1960, he advised Ladoke Akintola, another great Nigerian by measurable standards to make some people Ministers in his cabinet. Akintola declined and was left alone to carry out his decisions because he had right to pick those who would work with him. All those good old days, nobody imposed candidates. If imposition occurred, Archdeacon Emmanuel Alayande and Josiah Olawoyin would have been governors of Old Oyo State and Kwara State respectively. Soji Odunjo would have been Ogun State governor instead of Bisi Onabanjo (Aiyekooto). These were the people who had very strong relationships with Awolowo but who were never favoured by the leader. He pushed them to parry primaries to emerge at candidates of the party. Arguably, manipulation of the will of the people is wrong. But it is even more wrong and unacceptable for political actors to terminate human lives and damage invaluable property simply because of disagreements arising from electoral contests. So, let our political leaders examine themselves.
CULTURE OF IMPOSITION: These days, imposition and emergence of contestants is the greatest issue confronting political parties. The end result is that INEC has to cope with over 400 cases arising from political party primaries in law courts. These are some issues that leaders of our political parties must watch. Democracy does not permit of most of those things people do; which is the cause of most of our problems in Nigeria today. TERRIFIC HEADLINES has dug into history to bring you an account of Debates in the British Parliament for the purpose of getting all of us to learn some lessons from these great patriots. Every so often, Prof. Akin Oyebode’s reaction contained in the Nigerian Tribune edition of December 08,2008 comes to mind. In that interview, Oyebode situated inability to develop a viable political culture at the doorsteps of opinion and political leaders: “Those people who can call the nation to order now are very few; they don’t have the gut and they lack the courage. ”Even, when they have the intellect, they are afraid to talk. ”We claim to be operating democracy, but we are operating it without democrats. ”This is the real problem”.
HOW NIGERIA SHINED IN THE BRITISH PARLIAMENT: The reaction below is that of a member of British Parliament in the 1950s, Mr. A. Fenner Brockway , who represented Elton & Slough. DEBATE ON NIGERIA’S INDEPENDENCE IN THE BRITISH PARLIAMENT: : Nigeria wishes to be independent, but she wishes also to be democratic. She not only willingly accepted a Parliamentary system with reasonable and natural adaptations to her own traditions, but she has decided to call her Federal Legislature a Parliament. We can be very pleased about that. She has also cheerfully accepted what we all regard—I know that the Colonial Secretary so regards it, because he said so on a previous occasion—as an essential part of Parliamentary democracy that there should be a vigorous Opposition, freely and fully entitled to express their point of view and to criticise Ministers.
OPPOSITION MORE IRRESPONSIBLE THAN GOVERNMENT: I should like, therefore, to take this brief opportunity of congratulating not only the Premier of the new Federation of Nigeria, who, as the Colonial Secretary said, has impressed all who have met him by his great ability and his high sense of public duty, but also to extend my good wishes—perhaps I may do it more appropriately than the Colonial Secretary—to Chief Awolowo, who has taken on the job of Leader of the Opposition. He, too, has an important job to do. He too, doubtless will from time to time incur difficulties in leading an Opposition, because an Opposition, being somewhat more irresponsible than the Government, often find it more difficult to make up their mind.
TRIBUTES – MOMENT OF TRIUMPH: AWOLOWO, AHMADU BELLO, & NNAMDI AZIKIWE COMMENDED FOR SPIRIT OF STATESMANSHIP: ”We are delighted at the general spirit of good will with which Chief Awolowo has undertaken this task and with which everybody in Nigeria accepts that it is his right and duty to do so. We should recognise, however, that the greatest tribute should be paid and the greatest gratitude expressed to the people of Nigeria themselves and their leaders. Those leaders have shown very great statesmanship. One rejoices that a man of such breadth and tolerance should now be the Prime Minister of the Federation. One rejoices in the character and the contribution of the Sardauna of Sokoto. But I cannot help thinking today back to the Constitutional Conference of 1953, when it was the statesmanship of Chief Obafemi Awolowo of Western Nigeria and of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe of Eastern Nigeria that enabled this Bill to be introduced today. Southern Nigeria, with its Eastern and Western Regions more advanced than the North, could have had its independence seven years ago, but the great wisdom and statesmanship of the leaders of the East and West led them to say, “We will postpone our own independence in order that the unity of Nigeria may be preserved”, in the hope that the example which they would give of internal self-government in their regions, together with the progress of democracy in Northern Nigeria itself, would reach ‘the point where the independence of the whole territory could be secured.
”Today is the moment of their triumph, and it is the duty of this House to recognise ‘the very great contribution which they made. It is appropriate that, when independence is gained, the Prime Minister should be a representative of the Northern Region, which has advanced in the way foreseen at those moments. I should like to pay my very special tribute to Dr. Azikiwe, because he has been the champion throughout the years of the conception of Nigerian unity and Nigerian democracy. In Lagos a fortnight ago, I heard that he might be appointed Governor-General of the new independent Nigeria. If that happens, it will be a worthy recognition of his contribution, though I hope very much that in that exalted position, he will not be less influential in the political contribution which he can make to the advance of his country.
”This week, one cannot but think of the contrast between the advance of Nigeria to its independence and what is occurring in the Congo. I want to pay my tribute to the fact that over the years the British administration, in the Civil Service, in the Colonial Service and in the medical and educational services, has contributed towards the technical advance of Africans in Nigeria so that they would be in a position to carry out the new responsibilities which they have under independence, and to contrast that with the absence of the preparation, not only in the Belgian Congo, but in the Portuguese territories of Africa. I join with my hon. Friends who have been pleading today that the members of our services in Africa should now have the most generous recognition of what they have done.
WHY NIGERIA MOVED SPEEDILY TOWARDS INDEPENDENCE: ”I would suggest, however, that we must not be too self-righteous in this respect. If Nigeria is now moving towards independence more satisfactorily and more rapidly than many parts of Africa, it is due to its fortunate position in two respects. The first is the fact that it has not had large immigrant settler communities from Europe and from Asia. It has remained an African society. It is because of that fact that Nigeria, Ghana and other West African territories are proceeding in their independence so speedily. I endorse what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield—and I know that the Secretary of State for the Colonies appreciates this himself—that there will be much more difficult problems when the question of the advance of East and Central Africa has to be settled in the coming months.
The second reason why Nigeria and the West African Territories have preceded to independence more rapidly is that they have had the good fortune of not being in such a position on the map of the world that they were regarded as of strategic military importance in the conflict between the two great Power groups. We discussed yesterday the tragic story of the past five years in Cyprus which had the misfortune to be regarded as of military importance. West Africa, Ghana and now Nigeria are in the happy position that they are not the pawns and playthings of the two great Power blocs in their competition in the world. I welcome the fact that Nigeria is a Federation. It is not one nation but many—many races, many religions—yet they have all found their unity in this Federation.
HOPES THAT THE SPIRIT OF FEDERATION WOULD BE EXTENDED TO OTHER AFRICAN NATIONS: I hope and pray at this moment, that the model of Nigeria may be regarded by those who are to be responsible for the independence of the Republic of the Congo. I hope that the principle of federation that is being adopted for Nigeria may be extended over other African countries, that we may be saved from the balkanisation of Africa, that we may have units that are economically viable, and that the increasing sense of African solidarity that is growing in that continent may find its expression in wider and wider federation. If that proves to be the case, this Bill is not only of significance to Nigeria and to Great Britain but it will prove to be significant to the whole development of the Continent of Africa—that emerging liberation that will make such an impact upon the world of our time.
Nigeria’s Dry Bones Will Rise Again!
May the Good Lord Bless Nigeria.