“We are accused on the one hand of inventing the concept of a united Nigeria, and on the other of splitting it into fragments. Both accusations cannot be true.”
- Statements made to John Gunther by one of the British Lieutenant Governors
- Page 766 footnote of “INSIDE AFRICA” published, 1955 by Harper
John Gunther can be very patronizing in his effusive description of Nigeria, but those who dearly love and see the inherent beauty, not just in Nigerian but in the entity called Nigeria can readily relate to his many “flowery” description of Nigeria. In Chapter 38 of his book he starts out as follows:
“Nigeria is, in some respects, the most exciting country I have ever been in my life. Its Politics are incandescent, and flicker violently. To say that it is more fully evolved toward self-government than any British colony except the Gold Coast is to make it sound far too tame and simple.”
At this juncture, he inserted a footnote which reads “Readers not interested in the intricacies of African local politics may, however skip this section.” Here we found the clue to his audience. We said in part I of this write up that Gunther’s wrote his book in 1955 for an audience of European and American foreign policy wonks and elites interested in Africa. In other words, his book is not directed at African audience at all. It is an outside of Africa attempt to look at Africa myriads of problem from a pre-independence perspective. Our job is to examine what he wrote and found where Africa got it wrong.
So let’s turn to page 768 of the book on the chapter titled “NIGERIA-ITS INFLAMMATORY POLITICS.” At the time when Gunther visited Nigeria he told us that Nigeria had three regional Houses of Assembly, for East, West, and North. Also the West and North had Houses of Chiefs, more or less like the House of Lords in London. Members of these regional assemblies are elected by the people, through a combined system of direct primaries and electoral colleges and membership in all three substantial legislative powers. There is also a federal legislature called the House of Representative, which sits in Lagos and is, in effect, the Nigerian parliament. It has 92 members from the North, as against 56 each from East and West. From this point onward I will quote him verbatim literati:
“This ratio was established to give the North, which comprises more than half the country, a fair share in representation; it might be added that it also serves to protect British interests to an extent, since the North is much more pro-British than the southern areas. In the old house there were also twelve “injected” or appointed members, who were British. These, in a pinch, could combine with the North to hold the balance of power.”
Here is finally a substantive criticism of colonialism, particularly the British variety. They sowed the seeds of discord and ethnic parochialism all because they wanted a pliable stooge to occupy the government once they left. I have it said by many southern and progressive politician from the north that were it not for the timidity of northern politicians, Nigeria would have won independence from the British long before the then Gold Coast (now known as Ghana). I hope to discuss the quote above in a more expansive way later.
Now, let’s examine the federal politics of the 1950s. At the time Gunther wrote his seminal work, Nigeria has as yet no federal prime minister, as Gold Coast has. But the council of ministers, the executive body of the government has an unalterable African majority, compared to the British colonial government in East Africa which are little more than instruments of the British Governor. Nigeria has, at the top of the structure at that time, a Governor General who represents the crown and have reserved powers to “certify legislation”, which means that he can make a law if after a reasonable period the House of Representative refuses to do so, and he can veto any legislation imperiling British imperial interest. The Governor General when at the time Gunther visited Nigeria is Sir, John McPherson, who was later succeeded by Sir James Robertson after the former retired early in 1955.
John Gunther made strenuous efforts to outline the arguments of both sides of the argument for independence as follows:
“What nationalist Nigerians (at least those in the East and West) want is to progress further from this framework and reach complete independence. But this desire is seriously compromised by the sectional rivalries within the country. Few mature nationalist want independence at the price of splitting the nation, as India was split by the formation of Pakistan.
What the British want is harder to explain. Most are reconciled to the concept that Nigeria must be free. But they think altruistically and for the sake of their own interests, that freedom should not come too soon, and should await a further period of tutelage. …
It is basic and unalterable British policy to assist the Nigerians toward freedom, within certain limitations. Nor can the British simply “get out.” They have responsibilities. They have commitments. They do not want chaos. Nigeria if they withdrew today might split not merely into three countries, but five or six-North, Ibo East, non-Ibo East, Yoruba West, non-Yoruba West, with the Cameroons out on a lonely limb. The lack of cohesion gives them a pretext for staying on. But it is important to reiterate that developments in Nigeria are not a series of concessions made by the British out of weakness, but steps in the logical working out of a policy. A final point in this connection: Why is British policy so ameliorative on the whole? Mainly it is because the British do not want to risk losing Nigeria altogether. They make certain concessions in the hope that by “soft” rule, they will at least be able to keep Nigeria, when or if it becomes free, safely within the Commonwealth.”
One can easily see through the shenanigans of the British, but that is not the reason why I took the liberty to bring out such a long quote from the book. First of all, we can clearly see the patterns for the present 6 regions agitations by Nigeria politicians. Secondly, you can sense the length at which Mr. Gunther went in other to advance the argument for the British colonialism. He speaks of British ameliorative policy even when unionist like Pa Imoudu and others were being harassed, locked up and imprisoned for fighting for workers right from the colonialist.
Most importantly, Gunther did not point out any specific British policy that they implemented and would have had ameliorative effects on the ethnic divide pulling Nigeria apart; rather we now know from history that the British through cunning device of “divide and rule” sets one ethnic group against the other. The same tactic the present bunch of Nigeria political class used at every election to keep Nigeria people divided.
And the British ultimate aim which is to keep Nigeria within the British Commonwealth of influence is a ruse given the example of India and Pakistan who even after the division remained members of the British Commonwealth.
THE PRE-INDEPENDENCE NIGERIA POLITICAL PARTIES AND POLITICIANS
During the time John Gunther wrote his book, there are three dominant political parties in Nigeria, two of which were aggressively nationalist. One is the Action Group-AG, which has its main strength in the West among the Yoruba’s; the other is the NCNC-NATIONAL COUNCIL OF NIGERIA AND THE CAMEROONS-which exists in all the three regions but is strongest in the East. Let’s quote Gunther from hereon:
“In 1953-the details are too complex to go into-some NCNC leaders split off to make a splinter party allied to the Action Group. Its members were called “Nippers,” from the initials for National Independence Party. These parties have been flamingly antagonistic. Each seeks to woo the intractable North, and outstrip the others in working for complete independence for the country as a whole. Nationalism has become a kind of football. Each party tries to kick or carry this further along, to advance its own party ends. The two main parties compete in extremism to get support.”
We shall address the lack of unity among pre-independence political parties in Nigeria later in this write up but what in the world does the author mean by the words: “Nationalism has become a kind of football.” It is quite easy for those who were never subjected to the cataclysm effects of colonialism not to appreciate its pungent impact on daily grind. It is a big plus to these two political parties that they forced the British to accede to their agitations for independence and self government even when the British loath to do so. I am looking forward to the day when political parties in Nigeria will come out with competing ideas on how to move our polity forward and will compete to get support from the populace for their different platforms. So I viewed this as positive and not negative.
To outsiders, like John Gunther Nigerian nationalist politicians might be garrulous and cacophonous lot, but they served the common good. They used what they have to get what they want, if only they had translated their collective agitations against the British to fashion out a more collective unity after the British, perhaps Nigeria will not be where it is today. Here is a classic example:
“In March, 1953, came a positively savage crisis. Its effect was to paralyze government. An Action Group deputy, Anthony Eronsele Oseghale Enahoro, (This young man, born in 1923, is a firebrand. He was for some years a member of Zik Party, and then switched over to the Action Group. He has been imprisoned three times for sedition.) rose in the central House of Representatives and introduced a resolution demanding complete self-government by a specific date-1956. This seemed to many to be going too fast, although 1956 was a convenient “magic” date in that the last legislature, elected in 1951, was due to expire after five years. In particular the North, which knows that it, at least, cannot possibly be ready for full independence by 1956, pleaded for caution, and a Northern deputy offered an amendment to the original motion, omitting the specific date 1956 and saying instead “as soon as practicable.” This led to such a confused storm that, when the President of the House accepted the amendment, members from both East and West noisily walked out. The East and West leaders, “Zik” and Awolowo, who had been fighting like scorpions the night before, publicly embraced, and pledged themselves to make the common cause.”
This to me encapsulates the spirit with which Nigerian nationalist doggedly fought for independence. The evident readiness to bury differences between parties for a worthy common cause-the liberation of Nigeria is paramount. Sadly this is no longer a common currency among Nigerian politicians. The political stake at the central is now, so toxic, that politician’s only goal is how to occupy Aso rock to the detriment of the country. They will pay any price, fight a war of attrition and will not care if the country goes under as long as they realize their ambition to rule Nigeria.
NIGERIAN ATTITUDE TOWARDS THE BRITISH
John Gunther noted for posterity the attitude of all Nigerians towards the British:
“One word more about Nigerian attitudes toward the British. We never met an educated Nigerian who was not a nationalist (although there are some “armchair” nationalists and a few appeasers or “Uncle Toms”), but to be a nationalist does not necessarily mean belligerently anti-British. Most moderates want to keep some kind of British tie, even after self-government. But a lesson from the Sudan and elsewhere is that it is very difficult to maintain such ties. Moderates are likely to be swallowed up.”
How I wish we could turn the same collective umbrage we had towards colonialism to the fight against corruption. History also records that Mr. Gunther got it all wrong when he said that the moderates are likely to be swallowed up; Nigeria has won independence from Britain for more than 40 years and unlike Sudan, she still remains a member of British Commonwealth.
Mr. Gunther was further proved wrong during the summer of 1953, at a constitutional conference in London, attended by the three regional leaders-“Zik”, Awolowo, and the Sardauna of Sokoto representing the North- when they all wanted, in essence the same thing, more power for their respective regions. The main result of the conference was that it assures self-government by 1956 on a regional basis, if the people so wish. Each region was permitted to become completely self-governing with its own prime minister, within a central federation. This is what we now known and referred to as the Lyttelton Constitution. For the first time the East and West immediately proceeded to quasi-independence whilst the North followed later. So, in the same country we had for the first time the spectacle of two quasi-independent states living side by side with another state, the North, that is still colonial. This appears to be the first time when the seeds of ethnicity were sown into the body politic of Nigeria.
In November 1953, the West threatened to secede from the new federation (before it was formed) following a bitter quarrel over the status of Lagos. Oliver Lyttelton, at that time still the colonial secretary, replied in sharp language that any such step would be “resisted,” presumably by force. Nigerian ministers flew up to London to protest, challenging Lyttelton on various points and warning him bluntly that he could no longer rule colonial people by threats. This imbroglio was resolved by another conference in Lagos in which Nigeria eventually became a Federation-the Federation of Nigeria. The Governor became a Governor General.
Thanks to Gunther’s chronicles we learnt about something that is rarely discussed among Nigerian politician. “In November 1954, Nigeria had its first federal elections in the country’s history; Dr. Azikiwe’s NCNC won handily not only in his own East, as was expected, but in the West as well.” Today Nigerian politicians want us to believe that ethnic and primordial politics had always been with us. They say it is not a new creation. But the fact points otherwise. The electorates in the West were savvy enough to vote based on principles and not on some primordial ethnic prejudice.
But then Nigerians are fond of turning a simple solution to a complex gargantuan monster, and that exactly is what happens next:
EXPENSIVE DEMOCRACY OR MONEY WELL SPENT
The followings are Gunther’s commentaries on the colorful Nigerian ministers of the 1950’s:
“The Nigerian ministers, in or out of office, are an interesting lot. Their names are totally unknown to most of us, but they are administering a country bigger than Germany. They may wear dress strange to our eyes, but it is hardly necessary to point out that they are about as far removed from “jujumen” in the bush as is, say, John Foster Dulles from an Ozark mountaineer. They are paid exceptionally good salaries for Africa-up to 2, 500 pound sterling per year, which is more than a British PM gets. Some in the regional Houses have names picturesquely representative of the eruptive flux that has created modern Nigeria. …they are also inclined to be somewhat doctrinaire, to be painfully sensitive and unsure of themselves, and to be carried away by splinter partisanship.”
You can write this about Nigerian politicians of today, just as it speaks about the politicians of the 1950s. It seems as if we have never learnt any lesson. Our democracy remains the most expensive in the continent nay the whole world. This is not a call for the alternative, as the military alternative is even way more expensive. During the first Gulf War of the 1990s, Nigeria got a windfall from the skyrocketing price of oil. The military President Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida not only fritters away the gains from that windfall, he made sure he (and his leeches) hounded and killed all attempts to probe how the money was spent. It is therefore with bated breath that following the second Gulf War oil windfall in the 2004 that Nigerian were waiting for the then President Olusegun Obasanjo to state clearly how the money will be spent. Nigerians were told that the money was eventually spent to pay back the debt incurred during military misrule of the 1990s.
THE POWER OF NIGERIAN LABOUR UNIONS
“Another personage is the Honorable S. L. Akintola, the former minister of labor and a powerful, stormy figure in the Action Group. He is certainly not unsure of himself. He was one of the ministers, who resigned from the cabinet in the fierce crisis of March, 1953. Akintola, a Westerner, went to the Baptist School at Ogbomosho and then made a career as a teacher, a journalist, and in law. He told me that to get freedom for Nigeria, he would even sacrifice unity; that is, although the south would do everything possible to bring the North in, it was prepared to go ahead toward independence without the North if necessary. The British, he went on, “are goading the North to secede.” Akintola, as minister of labor, had a great deal to do with the trade union movement in Nigeria, which is a rapidly growing force. The biggest employer in Nigeria (as in Sudan) is the government, partly because the government runs the railways, and the government and railway workers are solidly organized in a powerful, politically conscious union. The tin mines, spinning, and timber industries have also been organized. The most successful union so far is probably the NUT, or Nigerian Union of Teachers.” (page770)
We need to note that the above piece was written before discovery of oil at Oloibiri and before Nigerian oil industry and its union became the most powerful force for political freedom for the people of Nigeria. The labor unions particularly NUPENG-National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas workers, led by Frank Kokori, were at the forefront of the liberation of Nigeria from military rule.
But there is something else in the above piece, i.e. the statement by Late S. L. Akintola that he is willing to sacrifice the unity of Nigeria to get freedom from Britain. No matter the good intention of Late Chief Akintola this is one of the reckless statement uttered by Nigerian politicians that has always brought the nation to the precipe of destructions time and time again. There is no intention to dialogue whatsoever; it is always my way or highway! They do not in anyway understand or appreciate the power of discourse in nation building. Hence they forced their genuine but half thoughts ideas on the people. The list has been endless: Nigeria joining the OIC, Austerity measures, SAP, FESTAC, Sharia in the North, fuel/VAT increase, these are policies and initiatives of politicians foisted on the Nigerian people with little or no inputs from the masses. Policies are read out on the president/governors New Year address and made into law instantly. No attempt to get input from the people. No town hall meetings to explain the policies and its impact on the people. Nigerian politicians are no better than colonial foreign secretary like Lyttelton referred to above.
DR. NNAMDI AZIKIWE AND HIS STRANGE PROPHECIES
John Gunther devoted a lot of space in his book to Nigerian nationalist heroes and their strange behaviors and policies during the 1950s, the first of which is Dr. Azikiwe in page 771 he wrote as follows:
“The best known and most powerful Nigerian man of politics is "ZIK"-Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe (pronounced Ah-Zik-way) - who was born in the East (sic) in 1904, and who is Premier and minister of Local Government in the Eastern Region. ...Zik is a strong Ibo (sic). Unlike most of his colleagues he was educated not in Great Britain, but in the United States; he went to Howard University in Washington, D.C., and did graduate work at both Columbia and the University of Pennsylvania. One of his teachers was Dr. Ralph Bunche. Perhaps he should have absorbed more of Dr. Bunche's calm discernment and wisdom. Zik is a master of science, a master of laws, and both a Litt.D. and an LL.D. From the earliest days he has been an aggressive, inflammatory nationalist. He wrote a book on African freedom while he was still at Howard; his thesis dealt with the social organization of the Ibos (sic). He was also (at Howard) a formidable soccer player. He returned to Africa, took up journalism on the Gold Coast, got into trouble with the authorities, and was expelled from the country for sedition. One of his concepts is that "by the year 2944 Black Africa will have destroyed Europe and brought the United States to the verge of extinction."
First of all, let me say that the author, John Gunther is a colonial apologia. And for whatever it's worth, he needs to know it is Igbo and not Ibo. Secondly, Zik was born in Zungeru (present day Niger state) and not in the East as erroneously asserted above. My reading of contemporary Nigerian history shows that Zik is a thoroughly misunderstood character. Flawed but legendary in his deeds and ideals. I also examined the alleged prophecies of Dr. Azikiwe and my efforts led me online to the online Times archive of October 14, 1954 where I found the following:
“In Nigeria (see box), nationalist hotheads ponder the strange prophecies of U.S.-educated Dr. Nnamdi (Zik) Azikiwe, the man who may one day become Prime Minister. Zink’s theme: by 2944, Black Africa will have destroyed the armies of Europe, brought the U.S. to the "verge of extinction"; black missionaries will be preaching the arts of peace in "darkest Europe."
Of course this was an innocuous paragraph inserted into a Times cover story on Kwame Nkrumah. I could not found any direct quote from Zik or any reference to his writing. My doubt about the authenticity of the prophecies pushed me to post the quote online at the popular Nigerian forum called Cybereagle. I got the following response from a forumer by the name Rossike:
“I do not for one second believe Zik was referring to black African Christianity. By 2,944 black Africans would have been completely decolonized, and would have rid themselves of imported religions, and would have reclaimed their original religion, which stressed universal oneness, universal salvation, as opposed to the selfish individualism of the two major religions today - Christianity and Islam. (Lord save me, everyone else go to hell) By 2,944, our eyes would have been opened to the imported fabrications we're currently knee-deep, hook line and sinkered in. By 2,944, Africans would have long ceased to regard foreign lands like Jerusalem and Mecca, as holy lands, but rather, would have re-discovered THEIR holy lands, from Ife to Arochukwu, and would be making pilgrimages THERE instead. By 2,944, Africans would have developed the capacity to take on any power on earth, via NOT JUST physical military processes, but by the then resuscitated art of manipulation of reality itself, (something which our colonized minds presently term 'evil' or 'voodoo') By 2,944, Africans will not be carrying a bible around and praying to a white image of ''Jesus'', or a white image of ''Muhammed''. Africans would have reconnected with their glorious history, and would have been truly decolonized, confident, self-sufficient, fearless, and free. And Africans will gather the world's people to the truth of reality which was removed from our minds by the colonialists, i.e. that we are all one, we are all aspects of God, with none superior to the other, we are all immortal beings, just as God, from whom we came, is immortal. In our brief sojourn on earth, we are meant to love, cherish and provide for each other, and for nature, NOT compete in a dog eat dog world of selfishness and greed, with no regard for other people, other nations, or the environment. These are the African values that will eventually be spread around the world in the future, after the contradictions in the current western system have led to its implosion, and global melt-down. This was what Zik was talking about.”
You will notice, (typical of average Nigerian discourse) no attempt was made to answer my inquest about the veracity of the story itself. My initial request is to ask: “Are we there yet? Or is this a phantom? Did Zik ever say this? We do know that the biggest Pentecostal churches in UK and Ukraine are “pastor-ed” by black Africa reverse evangelist. The fastest growing church in the world today RCCG-Redeemed Christian Church of God, is from Nigeria. But is this what Zik meant by preaching the arts of peace in darkest Europe...”
I will continue with Gunther's further analysis of the character called Zik:
“Dr. Zik is an explosive man, handsome, magnetic, versatile in several fields. He runs a bank, and one of his big enterprises is Zik's Press, Ltd., which gives him a wide audience all over southern Nigeria. He organized NCNC in 1947, and he was so powerful for a time that Nigerian nationalism as a whole got the nickname "Zikism." He believes violently in a unitary Nigeria, and that under self-government, the Ibo (sic), Yoruba, and Hausa can live in peace together, although naturally he wants to safeguard the interests of his won Ibos.(sic).
Zik lives in Lagos and for a time was a member of the Western, not Eastern, regional Assembly, even though he is a fanatic Easterner. Later he won election to the Eastern cabinet. His party won the first federal elections by a sizeable margin. He visited the United States briefly in 1954, and his wife took courses in home economics at Storer college in West Virginia.
There is no orator in Nigeria the dynamic, magnificent-looking Zik. He is wonderfully effective demagogue, and mobs spring up anywhere in southern Nigeria to hear him speak. they sing Zee-ee-k....Zee-ee-ee-k.." like a chant.
Some British like Zik for the odd reason that he is a great sportman. "He watches football," one Englishman told me, like an Englishman"-the ultimate in compliments. He is president of the Lagos Football Association and vice president of the Nigerian Boxing Board, and he loves to referee boxing matches. Other Britons cannot endure him; once-some year’s ago-he fled from Lagos for a time, out of fear that white hotheads might assassinate him. Plenty of people call Zik cynical. I heard one Britton say "all that Zik is really interested in is money." This is probably an unfair statement. But the London Economist, a temperate organ, wrote recently, "There is a story that when Zik was asked what he would do if the British were to leave Africa on October first in any year he answered, "Take the boat for England on September thirtieth.'"
The NCNC is, of course rabidly nationalist. It was created in Zik's image. It stands for universal adult suffrage, direct elections, control of the civil service by African ministers, and complete "Nigerianization" of the country's military forces. It sought to boycott the local coronation festivities in 1953. Zik's own sources of power are several, aside from his personal qualities and his strenuous revolutionary history. For one thing he controls several influential newspapers. for another he is undisputed leader of the Ibos(sic). These are so important not merely for their geographical position in the East but because, spreading out, they make up the personnel of most governmental departments all over Nigeria; they also dominate the police. Recently a semi-Christian sect in Ibo village canonized Zik as a "saint' Much more is going to be heard of this man in coming years."
Indeed much more was heard of Dr. Azikiwe in early years of Nigeria’s young democracy. Many have accused him of being opportunistic, but I think the complexities of the man Zik will remain an enigma to the Nigerian psyche forever. More than any other Nigerian of his time, he by far epitomizes the complete detribalized Nigerian we need of today. He remains the only Nigerian to have ever read his own obituaries announcing his death in the national newspapers before his death. If he had put the same effort he used to fight for Nigerian independence from Britain to solidify and unite the country, perhaps Nigerian would never have had to go through a harrowing civil war and a debilitating military rule that fractured that great nation.
CHIEF OBAFEMI AWOLOWO AND THE INTELLECTUAL WEST
Here I will allow Gunther to describe another enigma of Nigeria nationalist politics:
“the leader of the Action Group, and Zik’s chief political rival, Obafemi Awolowo (pronounced A-wa-luwa), has an altogether different quality. He is not a demagogue, but and intellectual. There has never been a breath of scandal about him. He is a man with a good deal of reserve, conscientious, precise, and somewhat stiff-backed. I heard an Englishman say, with genuine regret, “if only Awolowo would relax, and have a glass of sherry with us sometimes!” His intellectual arrogance is marked, although he seemed reasonable enough when we talked to him.”
Is this true of Awolowo and his subsequent myriads of followers? One thing many Nigerians can readily attest to is the above board quality of Awolowo. It is very hard to find a Nigerian politician as meticulous as Papa Awo as he is fondly called by his admirers and foes alike. He is one of the few Nigerian statesmen that had never been tarred by the brush of endemic corruption in Nigeria.
The intellectual arrogance of him and his followers referred to above by Gunther is legendary in the annals of Nigeria and is perhaps the main reason why he could not work with leaders from other parts of Nigeria outside the southwest. Sadly none of his followers learnt from this flaw, rather most of them thought of it as virtue and continue to look down at other regions outside the southwest as consisting of intellectual midgets even when folks from other parts of Nigeria clearly holds all the aces in advancing Nigerian to the 21st century. Whilst such intellectual arrogance and braggadocio worked to lift the spirit of Nigerian under colonial rule and made the efforts to free Nigeria from clutches of Great Britain it negatively impacted every efforts to unite Nigeria. It is therefore not uncommon to hear chief Awolowo’s followers’ referred to other ethnic groups as inferiors to the Yoruba’s. Sadly this self-belief enveloped the whole nation and the self confidence made it difficult for other Africans to work with Nigerian on the global stage. It is often said if you found an African confronting and injustice or racism in any European or western capitals he/she is most likely going to be a Nigerian.
So much for self-confidence, let’s going on with Gunther’s analysis of Awolowo and the AG’s:
“The Action Group, which has its principal strength in the Yoruba West, is a newer party than Zik’s, and grew out of a semi-religious group, the Egbe Omo Odudua, founded by Awolowo to give voice to Yoruba nationalist and tribal aspirations. In theory at least it would like to remain on friendly relations with the British, when and if they go. But many of its members are extremist, and Awolowo himself was a prime mover for fixing 1956 as the target date for independence. Recently an Action Group member, commenting on the troubles in Kenya, went so far as to say that Mau Mau in spite of its horrors might “still be the way out of Nigeria’s bondage.”
Again one can see through the colonial lenses with which Gunther’s examined Nigerian politics and politicians. It is as if self-determination is in itself a call for arms when all Nigerians want in the 1950s is right to determine it’s own future. But that is an aside let us continue:
“ Awolowo has a tidier mind and more planning capacity than Zik. Awolowo, people say, seized the Nigerian nationalist movement away from Zik, by organizing his own party in the West. Before this, Zik had a claim to be leader everywhere. Overnight, there were two parties, which is a healthy enough sign of democratic evolution if they are not too rigidly regional. The Action Group uses scabrous language in attacking Zik’s East. One of its newspapers recently characterized the Eastern Assembly as a home “of terrorism, gangsterism, blackmail, shameless lying, and mob politics.” At one juncture, when they were quarrelling ferociously, Awolowo and Zik sued each other for libel for considerable sums; the two awards more or less canceled each other out. Then, after the crisis in 1953, the two began to work together again, each keeping his own sphere of influence, with Awolowo stronger in the West, Zik in the East. But in 1954 and later came other bitter quarrels, and split venomously once more.”
Welcome primordial ethnic prejudice. I hope folks who think that ethnic’s politics in Nigeria is only a recent creation will now see where it started from.
“Awolowo was born in a small Yoruba village in 1909; he was poorest of the poor, and is entirely self-made. This is unusual in Nigeria; an intelligent youngster, if destitute, will in the normal course of events be taken in by some family. Awolowo, on his own, managed to get a British education at a mission school in Ibadan, and then made his way to London, where he studied law. He is a barrister of the Inner Temple. Returning to Nigeria he became an advisor to the trade unions. He did not take a strong political line against the British until about 1948. Awolowo is an extremely cultivated and intelligent man. He speaks, of course perfect English. His book Path to Nigerian Freedom was well received by intellectuals in London. He has a world sense somewhat unusual among Africans (if only because few Africans ever have opportunity to acquire it) and recently visited India and Egypt; Jawaharlal Nehru made a great impression on him-and vice versa. In 1954 he became Premier of the Western Region, which means that he is in effect prime minister.”
Setting aside Gunther’s racial prejudice for the time being, it is interesting to learn here for the first time that Awolowo did not take a strong political line against the British until about 1948. Does this explain his distaste for the NCNC politics? Did he form his world views after he came back from India and Egypt? What impact did his membership of West African Student Union (WASU) in Britain whilst studying for law had on him? Most importantly why did he start out in politics by establishing a quasi ethnic outfit by the name: “Egbe Omo Odudua?” These are question I have tried to understand from many books on contemporary Nigerian politics without avail. If indeed Awolowo is as intellectual as widely claimed why did he not have a more Pan-Nigeria outlook when he started politics. Why the acerbic attack on Zik and other Eastern Nigerian born politicians in the West Assembly? Well, lets continue:
“ We met Awolowo in odd circumstances, on a lonely road out in the bush, driving back to Lagos from Ibadan. We had missed him in Ibadan, and were pursuing him to his home village, by name Ikenne. To catch Awolowo at Ikenne, we had to be there by 5P.M., since he was proceeding elsewhere. The British said, “He will not wait for you-get there on time.” But we were delayed, and when we finally reached the outskirts of Ikenne at about seven we had given up hope of seeing Awolowo. It was becoming dark, and soft, steamy rain came down. Then a shiningly bright new American car appeared suddenly over the crest of the red road, like a metallic apparition charging out of tropical dusk. In it was Awolowo. Our chauffeur recognized him as we slithered past. We stopped. He had been waiting for us but could wait no longer. So we stood out there in the rainy twilight talking. We became conscious of a strange buzz and stir-the sound of myriads of insects. It became darker, and the shafts of light from the two cars made furrows into the green mask of jungle. Rain fell harder, and Awolowo stepped into our car, saying “I can give you a quarter of an hour.” We could still hear the solid, strident call of insects. It was a strange place to have a conference.”
Herein lies much of mysticism about Awolowo, he is as diverse an African as you could find in any African university campus, full of ideas and serenity. No ounce of inferiority complex in his bone! Let’s continue:
“Awolowo is of medium height, with a studious look; he wore Nigerian robes, and a dark red and gold turban. His manner is suave, considered, and aware. I asked him if Nigeria would, after independence, become a republic. He thought not. The Nigerian chiefs would not like the word “republic.” He went on, “We have to consider our princes. They do not resemble princes elsewhere. They fight for independence with us.” He discussed briefly constitutional anomalies within the Commonwealth. I asked him what his principal grievances against the Britain were, considering the British record of accomplishment in Nigeria. He replied, first, that it was morally wrong for one nation to govern another; second, that British administration was carried out by incompetent, inferior officials, third that the British did not have the true interests of the country at heart. “In fourteen months, under the present government, we have done more for Nigeria than the British did in 120 years.”
The question is can we say the same thing, 40 years after independence from Britain. Chief Awolowo was right on all counts against the British rule in Nigeria but the same thing can be said about the jaundiced Nigerian politicians and military rulers who took over from the British. We can all agree that it was morally wrong for military to rule Nigerian for over 40 years out of the 47 years of independence. Governments, which like the colonial rulers is without any accountability. A government of subjugation, with little or no voice for the people of Nigeria. We can also safely conclude that Nigerian government since the colonialist left in October 1960 has been carried out by incompetent nincompoops, inferior civil servants, and politicians who have little or no interest of the country at heart. Can we in all seriousness argue against this judgment given the massive corruption by Nigerian “militricians” who have stolen the country blind. It is quite an irony that in late 2004 and 2005 we have to sought the help of the same British to recover stolen corrupt funds stashed away by the military ruler, General Abacha and Governor Alamiesigha of Bayelsa in of all places-British banks!
Let us look at Gunther’s conclusions at the end of this chapter:
“Is Nigeria fit for complete self-government today? Of course not-judged by western levels. The pace of advance has been quick and powerful in recent years, but a long way to go remains. But, if I may repeat a familiar theme, the fact that the country is not yet ideally equipped for self-government has little to do with the impending course of events. Nigeria is striking out for full independence whether it is ready or not. The British know that they cannot possibly dam up the nationalist flood; what they wisely try to do is give it channels. The real question at issue is whether the flood will break over these before the foundations are fully laid, and so make chaos.
But Nigeria is in no danger, as some other African countries might be, “of going back to the tribes.” The people are committed enough to education and modernization to keep anything like that from happening. Nor is Nigerian likely to become a tyrant state under a ruthless or unscrupulous dictator. Citizens are diversified and individualistic, too conscious of their own growing stake in the community. But democracy is not an easy form of government to make work and this is consideration that Nigerian themselves recognize clearly and worry about vociferously. A writer in the Nigerian handbook, 1953, sums it up this way: “The issue of whether self-government will come is a dead one. It will come, but the pertinent question are, What kind of self-government? And self-government for whom?” This reflects the cardinal apprehension of the North, to which we must now turn.”
Indeed what kind of self-government did we have? One that plunged us into a civil war? One that makes nonsense of the 1993 “free and fair” election? Self-government where people has no voice. We just finished another round of election or is it “selection”. The government lack of legitimacy is so transparently manifest that the new head of government even acknowledged the election that brought him to the office leaves much to be desired. Nigeria remains the biggest congregation of black race in one landmass on planet earth; so the future of Africa and indeed the entire black race hangs on it. The pertinent question is no longer if we can govern ourselves; it is now about how badly can it get? Democracy is gradually becoming a burden and a curse on Nigeria rather than a blessing but what else do we have as alternative. We have tried Diarchy, we have tried military rule, and all ends in disaster. One particular military head of state allegedly stole $4 billion USD all of which were traced to foreign assets. One conclusion is evident; democracy remains the best hope for Nigeria and indeed for the continent of Africa. But what type of democracy? It must be a democracy with accountability. It must be a democracy where the views of the people are expressed in free and fair election. It must be a democracy where Nigerians feel and act as if the government belongs to them. Nigeria’s most recent experience is not any different from the colonial government. Resources of the country is being plundered and siphon away not to the Bank of England but private accounts of Nigeria politicians in Switzerland.
The only hope of Nigeria lies in accountable democracy, the present attempt at democracy are mere charade meant to keep the agitations of western super power at bay. What we call democracy and self-government in Nigeria is “rulership” of the unelected selected few over a subjugated populace. The ship of state of Nigeria is heading towards an inevitable disaster unless and until the flag of true democracy evident in a free and fair election is hoisted far above the mast. But there is hope for Nigeria, that hope lies in the resilient spirit of his peoples. The optimism is palpable, even in the midst of cacophonous dissent of its politicians. Nigeria cannot afford to fail, the world waits for its manifestation. In part three of this blog we shall examine Gunther’s view of the Nigerian North vis a vis the call for derivations, sovereign national conference and the call for a more united Nigeria.