It is an incontrovertible fact that a driver that continually focuses on the mirror is bound to crash. Concurrently, it could be safely argued that a driver that fails to look at the mirror occasionally is also destined to crash. In taking decisions and planning for the present and the future, strategists draw their conclusions and map out plans by examining the past, and the present, in order to peep into the future. These factors simply explain the choice of this topic. This is one good reason why the younger generation must know how Nigeria has been governed over the years, with a view to learning some lessons. The Second Republic in Nigeria ran from 1979 till December 31, 1983, after which the military struck and ran the affairs of the nation for 16 uninterrupted years before democracy was restored as the nation’s political system. Now consider these facts. A child born in 1979 is now almost 40 years old and is ripe to be the president of the Federal Republic, if so destined, and if Nigerians want him or her to govern the nation. Nigeria is blessed with some of the best brains in the world with capabilities to govern any society, no matter how complex; even the United States, that is reputedly the strongest nation in the world.
Why did the nation falter in the democratic experiments adopted since the first democratic election was held in September 1923. The 1914 political alignment facilitated by the British colonialists brought together the Northern and Southern protectorates and the colony of Lagos. Independence, as granted by the colonialists in 1960 brought along with it the adoption of the parliamentary or Westminster system of government. The search for the roots of the disaster of 1966, through the first military incursion into Nigerian politics and subsequent destabilization of the political scene would be shared by all of us Nigerians. If the military truncated democracy as it did, one may safely posit that they were clearly aided and abetted by all of us, including all those who cheered them each time they appeared on the scene, and others who have served the military in one way or the other. Obviously, the military could not have stayed long in power if the political class had refused to serve in military governments. The reality is that one of the key issues that facilitated the disturbances of January 1966 is the fact that our people did not co-exist in harmony.
The issue of unequal development and advancements recorded by the different regions and parts of the country, which led to disagreements on the adoption of a common agenda for internal self governance in 1953, further widened the gulf between the first republic politicians. It is apparent that our inability to evolve an enduring political culture has been the result of deep-seated animosity and distrust among the various groups that make up Nigeria. One is constrained to highlight the fact that these feelings have continued to heighten tension among our people, making the issues of tribe, colour, creed or race relevant in our people’s feverish struggle to take the front row, especially in the sharing of political offices and revenue accruable from the Federation Accounts.
Political developments resulting into the birth of the Second Republic that lasted from 1979 October till December, 1983 reveal that the corrupt and unethical behaviour of the political class was cited as the key reason for the second intervention of the military. It is evident that the political class of that republic clearly demonstrated in clear and unmistakable terms, their lack of understanding of the working of the presidential system of Government. When placed in a broader context, the emerging government in 1979, came into office trailed by discordant tunes of immorality on account of allegations of rigging of elections. The civilian regime of Shehu Shagari was to later face a very stiff opposition from a combination of the Progressive Parties Alliance of Obafemi Awolowo’s Unity Party of Nigeria, Nnamdi Azikiwe’s Nigerian Peoples Party and Ibrahim Waziri’s Great Nigerian Peoples Party. It was not too long before people lost faith and confidence in the State and in the political class as a result of the not too encouraging performance of that administration. It was apparent that the politicians were still learning the ropes.
It is evident that the conduct of the political class was less than satisfactory. The economy had given indications of tougher days ahead. Yet, acts of profligacy were most rampant with the politicians behaving as if they were residing on another planet. The altercations between Obafemi Awolowo, who painted a picture of gloomy days ahead and Umaru Dikko, a fierce defender of the National Party of Nigeria, the then ruling party, who argued that the economy was in shape since Nigerians had not then started eating from the dustbin, are worth recalling. It was glaring that the populace were fed up with the ruling class and their antics which portrayed majority of them as morally bankrupt especially when it came to the issue of tampering with the treasury and acts of general misrule. The agencies that should act as checks and balances, including the judiciary and the media, were not less enmeshed in series of controversies. One question that has remained prominent is the thought of what could have become of the Nigerian nation had the military intervention of December 31, 1983 failed. It was evident that there was widespread rigging of elections in several parts of the country. One fact that protrudes itself is the nature of the electorate response to electoral matters. If the truth must be told, all the political parties and their supporters were engaged in the shameless act of electoral malpractices. Those who had upper edges in their areas won rather ‘’convincingly’’ with wide margins. One of the contributory factors was the considerable increases in poverty which made some people to sell their votes and consciences.
Violent repression to crush resistance to government in some parts of the country, particularly the west, where the Unity Party of Nigeria of Chief Obafemi Awolowo disagreed with the electoral verdict failed to stem the tide of revolt, some of which were sporadic and others yet, instigated. There were elections held in 1954, 1959, 1979, 1993 and 1999. The election widely acclaimed as the freest was the 1993 presidential election that was aborted. It is on record that the most messy and violent were those of 1964 and 1983. According to Dr. Festus Iyayi, in a paper delivered at the Nigerian Bar Association conference held in Abuja in 2004: “The reason for this is that some of the elections were ‘transition’ elections, in which the regimes in power and responsible for organizing the elections had to hand over power to a democratic civilian administration. “In contrast, the other elections can be viewed as potential ‘consolidation’ elections, in which an elected civilian government was responsible for organizing elections to hand over power to a successor administration.”
SENSITIZING THE ELECTORATE
There is no evidence at my disposal to suggest that the Judiciary was compromised in the First and Second Republic. However, it was too glaring that the media took sides to a considerable extent. Quite naturally, the picture one gets of the world is a product of the communicator’s bias. Many of us in the media were, however, unable to separate our interests, preferences and sentiments from the reality in the performances of our duties. Many resorted to making propaganda for the different political parties. Of course, it was an era, when in the media, the ‘’piper had to dictate the tunes’’. A few journalists were uncompromising but were shown the way out by their employers. Regrettably, majority of the media were owned by the Federal and State Governments, which utilized instruments which ordinarily ought to be held in trust for the public for personal gains or objectives. The era saw the emergence of private media organizations like the Concord Press hurriedly put together by late billionaire business mogul, Chief M.K.O. Abiola purposely to fight the 1983 general elections. The Nigerian Tribune, a newspaper owned by Chief Obafemi Awolowo was a thorn in the flesh of the opposition.
The performance of the Daily-Times, then Nigeria’s largest circulating newspaper and which in its glorious days used to be the most authoritative newspaper further took a downward plunge with the Federal Government’s decision to control the activities of its media organs through censorship and appointment of cronies into management positions. The situation was very much the same in the states where government owned media blew the trumpets of their owners; at times resorting to self-censorship. However, some media practitioners failed to compromise. Those suspected to have sympathy for opposition parties were either redeployed to obscure positions or administered with a dose of humiliating treatment. Some of them, like Dr. Yemi Farounbi fought back and resigned on principle; while a few courageous others like Prince Tony Momoh, then Editor, Daily Times went to court to seek protection and the enforcement of their fundamental human rights, winning a battle against his invitation by the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to force him to disclose his source of information.
Our commitment to rebuild Nigeria is evidently based on our ability to offer good governance. The press must be at the vanguard of growing our democracy. Its importance is underscored by the fact that democracy is inter-twined with good governance. As a society, we have no prospect of developing except our common policies, programmes and plans are executed in accordance with modern established principles of governance. I am sure that there is not a soul in the nation that does not believe that democracy and democratic ideals form part of the major ingredients for development. Evidently, institutional and structural arrangements also play dominant roles in any political arrangement where good governance is the goal. So, we now throw the debate open with contributions expected from all segments of the society, including the Nigerian Diaspora on how to conduct ourselves and develop our democracy. Remember, a voice could persuade ten or hundred people to elect their preferences (possibly the best aspirants) in a peaceful atmosphere devoid of malpractices. In doing so, we plead that contributions should be devoid of vitriolic and damaging attacks on personalities, as such would not yield any useful dividend. May the Good Lord guide our thoughts and actions towards building a greater Nigeria.
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