There were in existence, sets of factors and forces operating in Nigeria even before the evolution of the nation through an arrangement conceived and nurtured by the British colonialists, that eventually led to the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates by the administration of Lord Lugard in 1914. The historical standpointshows that Nigeria consists of about 4,000 ethnic groups speaking about 250 languages and dialects. It would therefore be naturally expected that the goals, aspirations and conducts of the different peoples of the country would differ from one place to the other and from one region to the other. It is apparent that those who nursed the birth of Nigeria did so without necessarily considering differences in cultures, traditions, educational advancements, and other human factors. In this edition, TERRIFIC HEADLINES highlights some of these issues with the major objective of promoting discourse for the emergence of a greater Nigeria. It is an extract from the publication titled: GOVERNANCE: An Insider’s Reflections on the Nigerian Polity authored by FEMI ADELEGAN. It is simply based on the consideration that we must look at the past to avoid running into the same landmines to be able to chart a glorious future for our dear country.
The Preface to the book contributed by eminent political scientist, Professor Tunde Adeniran (2009) reads in part: ‘’ The chapter “The Old Versus the New” provides an opportunity to buttress the essence of issue-based politics and merit in the suffocating influence of political parties on governments and he failure of the intelligentsia. The author’s patriotism shines in this book. Some of the unsparing assessments mitigate selective escapism to make the treatment of the core issues even-handed. One of the lessons derivable from the author’s effort however, is that Nigerians need to care more about democracy, raise fundamental questions about it, re-assess our performance from time to time and strive to leave a worthy legacy. The book is being published at a time the polity is characterized by serious challenges of development, a damning display of astonishing wealth of few and the misery of the many as the system continues to be fettered by the diminishing patriotism, declining productivity, selfishness and greed. The corrosive forces of primitive patronage, compulsive compromise and complex corruption are being compounded by the gross deficit in internal party democracy to pose serious challenges to the consolidation of democracy and good governance. It is hoped that other intellectuals will be inspired by Femi Adelegan’s feat and tackle these crucial issues with a similar sense of purpose and in the national interest.
UNITED IN PURSUIT OF INDEPENDENCE – Femi Adelegan By and large, Nigeria and her political elites of the pre-independence era were bonded by a common resolve to gain independence for the country and take over political governance from the colonialists. This could be seen from the divergent opinions of the early nationalists on how to achieve these common objective uniting the ethnical segmented groups and interests. The quest for independence greatly patched up political dis-equilibrium and also suppressed, to a very significant extent, internal instability and differences between opinion leaders and politicians in the country. The various constitutional conferences held in Nigeria and London at various times in the 1950s all point in the direction of a group united in purpose and principle, but disunited in the modalities and dates proposed for the attainment of independence for Nigeria. It was clear that there were reservations by some political elements and their parties on the ability of the electoral umpires to hold a free and fair election, hence the disturbing signals which pervaded the entire political climate of the country. There were strident calls by the opposition political parties for the cancellation of the planned Federal election. The prime minister refused to do so. The deduction could be made that UPGA no longer fancied their chances of winning the forthcoming election. Dr. Azikiwe suggested inviting the United Nations to supervise a new Federal election. (Sixteen Days of Political Crisis (State House Diary, 1965)
It was possible that Azikiwe saw what several other Nigerians of his class didn’t see. For instance, the Pan-Africanist who was Nigeria’s Ceremonial President had warned in 1964, in his dawn address to the people of Nigeria in preparation for the federal elections that: ‘’I have one advice to our politicians. ‘’If they have decided to destroy our national unity, then they should summon a round table conference to decide how our national assets should be divided before they seal their doom by satisfying their lust for office. I make this suggestion because it is better for us and for many of our admirers abroad that we should disintegrate in peace and not in pieces. Should the politicians fail to heed this warning, then I will venture the prediction that the experience of the Democratic Republic of the Congo will be a child’s play if ever it comes to our turn to play such a tragic role”.
The December 1964 federal elections apparently formed one of the bedrocks of military intervention in political governance in Nigeria. There were ominous signs that the exercise would not be transparent. Consequently, United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA), a coalition of the Action Group and the NCNC called on the people to “rally round so that we might save this nation from the forces of tyranny, despotism, and feudalism, and from those who now seek to come to power at all costs” (Statement issued by UPGA through the NCNC, 27 December 1964) It was in this atmosphere of confusion and uncertainty, further aggravated by the tension-soaked polity, that Nigerians went to the polls on December 30, 1964. The boycott calls were heeded in the Eastern region. It succeeded partially in the West where there were reports of widespread violence.
What really went wrong? There was a crisis of confidence among the politicians and the emerging intelligentsia. The country was at the edge of the precipice and was drifting dangerously towards a possible collapse. This is the genesis of the military intervention of January 1966 which eventually terminated democratic rule after only six years of independence. But what if the military had not intervened when they did? Various constitutional conferences did not fully address the reality of the strong differences among the various tribes in the country. There were also the fears of the minority, which contributed significantly to the belief of many people that the federal nature of Nigeria existed merely on paper and not in practice. This issue was clearly amplified in a memorandum submitted by the Western Nigeria and Lagos delegation to the ad-hoc conference no Nigeria constitution held in Enugu in 1996. That memorandum expressed ‘numerous fears’: “we all have our fears of one another. Some fear that opportunities in their own areas are limited and they would therefore wish to expound and venture unhampered in other parts. Some fear the sheer weight of numbers of other parts which they feel could be used to the detriment of their own interests. Some fear the sheer weight of skills and the aggressive drive of other groups which they feel have to be regulated if they are not to be left as the economic, social, and possibly political, under-dogs in their own areas of origin in the very near future. These fears may be real or imagined; they may be reasonable or petty.
ONE FACTOR TO WATCH THE ELECTORAL PROCESS Another issue which has caused grave national concern over the years is the nation’s flawed electoral process. It is worrisome that participants in the electoral process and contests have not once, since independence, been able to agree that elections organized for participatory democracy have not been flawed. This development is a serious one which has, in some instances, led to military intervention following the bad blood generated by electoral contests. Electoral contests have been accompanied by loud protests by losers who have often complained of being robbed of victory. Such is the situation that these protests have resulted in the killing and maiming of people, particularly members of opposition political parties who are usually accused of being involved in the manipulation of election results. While the possibility of malpractices in electoral contests may not be totally ruled out, it is true that some of the violence that has greeted elections in the past were sponsored by aggrieved leaders of political parties who maintain scores of thugs and miscreants for destabilizing the society. Regrettably, democracy has been the greatest loser in this sad development as such disturbances have always created excuses for the military to take over governments. There is no society that is perfect. Even the foremost democracy, the United States has occasionally been entangled in disagreements arising from flawed elections. 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.
ALL OF US ARE COMPLICIT If the unambiguous truth must be told, all political parties are involved in the act of attempting to manipulate elections. It is only those who lose out in the process who come out to express displeasure at the outcome of elections. A great Nigerian, Dr. Victor Omololu Olunloyo has written about this issue. Regrettably, the Nigerian electorate has not helped matters by allowing themselves, their consciences and their votes to be purchased by politicians seeking their votes. It is understandable that this development is the result of biting widespread poverty which is ravaging the land. With more attempts, voter education and a reform of the electoral contest, Nigeria will definitely soon get over this problem. This is sincerely not a matter for the Independent National Electoral Commission alone. It is a matter which all Nigerians must address patriotically by educating those who would vote to choose or elect the best materials available.
IN REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY, EVEN IF THE VOTERS’ PREFERENCE IS VISUALLY-IMPAIRED, DEAF & DUMB, HE/SHE REMAINS THE CHOICE OF THE ELECTORATE TO REPRESENT THEM: Even if the preferred political leaders are deaf and dumb, once the electorate decides, we all, must go back to our camps or residences, and allow the choice of the electorate to prevail since it is a sacrosanct contract with the people who expressed their preferences. The way to prevent those we don’t want is to campaign effectively and enlighten voters without resorting to acts that could promote violence and malpractices. Similarly, anybody who sits on the fence, and refuses to be interested in deciding who represents him or her in government has no moral right to protest after elections. It is important that Nigerians care more about democracy, raise fundamental questions about it, and re-assess our performance from time to time.
NATIONAL CENSUS In a Memorandum submitted by one of the regions to the Constitutional talks of 1994, it was stated that whether they are genuine or not, the foregoing must have to be taken into account because ‘’they influence to a considerable degree the actions of the groups towards one another and, more importantly, perhaps, the daily actions of the individual in each group towards individuals from other groups” Apart from the differences already highlighted, such important issues like national population census and the electoral process have constituted themselves into formidable land mines since independence. All census exercises have been mired in controversies, with the various ethnic tribes protesting the results of each headcount. The success of the headcount is of paramount importance, given the inability of the nation to agree on an acceptable population figure for the country. Without doubt, a national population census is desirable to assist in socio-economic and political planning as well as the distribution of amenities. It is a must if the nation is to successfully implement its developmental programmes through well-articulated policies and plans.
The need for accurate demographic data at this point in the history of Nigeria cannot be overemphasized. When the first population census was conducted in 1953, many did not participate because of the widespread belief that the exercise was designed for tax purposes. Other headcounts by the Nation in 1962 and 1963 did not achieve much success as the exercises were mired in controversy. Many analysts were of the view that the figures arrived at were most unrealistic. The 1973 Census was no less controversial. Many observers condemned the exercise for its terrible inaccuracies and alleged manipulations on account of ethnic consideration. There were also some other contentious issues such as density of settlements, which forced the then Federal Government to cancel the exercise. It is therefore evident that one of the major challenges which has faced the society over the years is the credibility and acceptability of figures obtained. Also, the conduct of successive elections in the country has provoked agitation for electoral reforms in the country.
ELECTORAL REFORM: Perhaps no issue has been touchier than that of the electoral process, that many participants have condemned on account of the allegation of brazen disregard for the basic rules and transparency. The June 12, 1993, presidential election was a watershed in the nation’s history and rocked the unity of this country to its very foundations. The annulment of what observers have rightly or wrongly described as the freest in the country’s history caused great storms that did not subside until Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was elected as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 1999. The need to strengthen the electoral process and democratic institutions is important, so as to remove deep-seated acrimony and rancour that accompany elections.
POLITICAL OFFICES Another identifiable pitfall is the feverish urge of the populace to be part of the political leadership. It is suspected that the rush has been influenced largely by the huge remuneration attached to political offices, as well as other perquisites of the office that have made politics to be the most lucrative vocation in Nigeria today. The development has brought along with it highly condemnable acts of political brigandage, assassinations, and other heinous crimes.
May the Good Lord Bless Nigeria.
First published March 23, 2018