“I have noticed and our party leadership have also noticed that political parties in Nigeria, civil society organizations, together with labor and the media have a history of struggling against colonial government and they have grown up each of them. The political parties that were first formed were in direct opposition to our colonial government in its quest for independence. The same for the labor union, and the same with the media. This attitude and this historical background seem to have continued up this point.”
-President Umar Musa Yar’adua
This Day (Lagos) on 26 June 2007; Posted to the web 26 June 2007
When I read the above statement made by President Yar’adua at the end of the meeting he had with the National Executive Committee meeting of PDP (People’s Democratic Party), where they both agreed to work with opposition parties in forming the next cabinet; I heaved a sigh of relief. Relief because I thought to myself, finally we have a president that will at least think before he speak. I also appreciate the fact that even though he was a chemistry lecturer he is very familiar with the recent Nigeria political history.
When he said he had noticed, and that his party leadership have also noticed, I believed him but I do not believe that his party leadership are aware of any lessons to be learnt from history. After all this is the same party (People’s Democratic Party),
Leadership who not too long ago publicly humiliate any divergent opinion. This is the same leadership who this week elected one of the most undemocratic president as the chairman of it’s board of trustees. Someone who believes that opposition parties are needless meddlesome interlopers who are to be crushed, humiliate, assassinate and decimated. The same mindset the colonialist used against the nationalist. Yar’adua is at best a breath of fresh air in a toxic atsmospere of geriatric “babacrazy”-for those who do not know, Babacrazy means the government of Baba for the benefit of his sycophants and leeches, over a subjugated populace called Nigeria.
In fact it was not too long ago, that one of the PDP leaders publicly informed an opposition member of the cabinet that he was invited to “come and chop” and that he should not have the temerity to hold their hands whilst they are busy stealing the nation coffers…Ok, I exaggerate his statement, but that exactly is the intent in his comment, i.e PDP is a come and chop party, meant for it’s members alone just as the colonial government subjugate the geo-politics of Nigeria for the benefit of the Queen.
So much for party leaders, let’s for once examined what Yar’adua noticed about the history of Nigeria political parties, civil society organizations, together with labor and the media in their struggle against colonial government.
Fortunately for me, I have been blogging a book on Nigeria colonial history. The book titled “INSIDE AFRICA” , authored by John Gunther. Here are some of my excerpts and commentaries.
NIGERIA NATIONALIST POLITICAL PARTIES AND THE COLONIALIST
I personally don’t think the stand of Nigerian nationalist political parties against the colonialist is unjustifiable, and I do not believe Yar’adua’s comment above is a diatribe against their stand. Where the problem lies is the continued use of the same strategy after independence when common sense dictates a severe need for cooperation and unity.
We however need to acknowledge and perhaps exults the contributions of many Nigerian nationalist politicians to the struggle for independence in Nigeria through their principled stand. . John Gunther wrote the followings about Awolowo and his party member reaction to his attendance at a dinner party hosted by the Governor General:
"..at this particular time, a severe constitutional crisis was at its peak. The African ministers representing one important political party, the Action Group, had adopted a non-fraternization policy, and would not accept hospitality from the Governor, although their Northern colleagues did. They were perfectly willing to talk business with Sir John McPherson in Government House, but they would not accept "hospitality" from him, not even a glass of water. There was nothing particularly personal in this. Macpherson was widely liked as an individual. But Government House symbolizes the Crown, and both west and east were at that time boycotting the Crown as a matter of principle." (Page 750).
This is a sample of what obtains during the colonial days. The principled stand of this parties ensured Nigeria successfully obtained independence from Britain without fighting any war. It was justifiable and effective. However, to continue the same measure after independence when logic dictate a need for pragmatic united solution to Nigeria’s problem is disastrous. But this was exactly what happened. Today, we can only imagined what would have happened if Chief Obafemi Awolowo had participated in the Tafawa Balewa government. Yes, they do not share the same ideals but he also did not share same ideals with Yakubu Gowon and yet he performed creditably in that government.
Some have argued that the fears of being tainted by corruption dictates that Awolowo and his party stayed away from the government of National Unity, but as we found out in 1983, corruption is not the exclusive preserve of any political parties. Members of Awolowo parties were convicted and jailed for corruption in 1984.
Having said this, let me say that my call for politicians to work together for the sake of national unity is only restricted to a democratic government. Any politicians who served under a military regime that overthrows a civilian regime is a traitor it is the equivalence of eating and dinning with the colonial governor general.
NIGERIA JOURNALISM AND THE STRUGGLE FOR INDEPENDENCE
If you think the Action Group are the only ones at the forefront of the struggles for independence wait until you read the following acerbic attack on Gunther by Nigerian Nationalist journalists. Let ‘s read John Gunther again:
"Anyway, a day or two after we arrived in Lagos, the following editorial appeared in the West African Pilot , the organ of the nationalist leader Dr. Azikiwe, known everywhere as "Zik":
"Mr. John Gunther, an American with a country as young as our great great great grandparents, is in Africa whose written and unwritten histories date back much further than the first Caucasian ape men."
Caucasian ape men? I began to read with more interest:
And what does this American want in this ancient land, shrouded in mystery, enveloped in enigma, and replete with as yet insoluble conundrums? He wants to write a book not on America, but on Africa. Has Mr. Gunther ever visited this part of Africa before? No. Has he ever lived in Africa? NO. Are his ancestors African? No. Yet…Mr. Gunther of America is here… to tell us all about the inside of Africa" '
If you think this personal attack is too much, you need to understand the background. Mr. Gunther and his wife were invited by Sir John Macpherson, the then colonial governor general to the government house for hospitality. He accepted the invitation without first meeting with Nigerian nationalist to hear their side of things. Gunther went further to write that next day the Pilot returned to the attack:
"A man came to Nigeria a few days ago to collect material for a book … But he does not stay inside the homes of Africans in order that he may better appreciate their public and private activities. Instead, he lives with a British-born and bred Governor. How can the people of Africa be sure that Mr. Gunther will not come under the influence of Sir John McPherson? It would have been most fitting if this American author were compiling a book on "Inside Britain" or "Inside Government House." However we cannot stop Mr. Gunther from writing his book… But we definitely wish to remind him that authorship is a sacred responsibility. American taste for books is wedded to a nauseatingly refractory sensationalism. … Out of our own kindness, we wish to inform Mr. Gunther that Africa is aflame and blazingly indignant against alien rule. For Nigeria freedom comes in 1956 with or without outside consent or assent. Let Mr. Gunther mark that down."
Wao! What a prose! This brings back to memories my late Dad's assertion that Nigeria independence would have remained a mirage without the corps of highly educated southern nationalist and of course his newspaper of choice: West African Pilot!
You can imagine the rude awakening this brought on our dear writer but Mr. Gunther and he proceeded to defend himself as follows:
"(a) a writer is not necessarily prejudiced by the roof under which he sleeps and that (b) I wrote some chapters of “Inside U.S.A” that were certainly not anti-Negro while staying in some of the most glaringly white hotels in the American South."
This defense is in itself ludicrous as it sought to skirt around the valid points made by the journalist which is simple: will you talk and live the African experience before you write about it? This is a classic defense common in U.S whenever a celebrity faced opprobrium for using the “N” word, their instant retort is usually that they have a black friend and so could not be racist!
Incase you think the nationalist paean is restricted to the Pilot, Gunther quoted again copiously from The Daily Service, another nationalist organ. They warned the celebrated author not to portray Africans as "a race of savages living in the forest with animals and beasts." And this was followed up by the Daily Success, which carries under its masthead the slogan "TRUTH HAS COME, FALSEHOOD VANISHES" where they used Gunther as a pretext to exult in the following brilliant prose:
"They [the Africans] know that they are Hannibal crossing the Alps when snows were young. They remember that they are the little black Bambino, the pet of the Italian church. They are Chrisna, the Black Christ of India. They observe portraits of Black Virgins strewn all over Europe. They reminisce over paintings in the caves of Austria, of Germany, of Spain, of Portugal, of France.
They know their warm Negro blood flowed in the veins of Cleopatra and that Caesar fell in love with her just the same…
They know that these and more are no dreams … they know that if they once built pyramids on the Nile, fought with Caesar's battalions, ruled over Spain and dominated the Pyreness, they the same very black people can be great again and be slaves no more."
The question to ask is what happened to this irrepressible journalism. Take note that all this write up were printed during the repressive colonial era when journalist are easily locked up and jailed for writing about the Governor's wife lunch. Where is the indomitable spirit of Nigeria journalism. Save for the courageous stand of Thompson and Nduka Irabor of Guardian newspaper's fame, Nigeria journalism has sunk to the nadir of irrelevancy. It is as if the mass exile of Nigeria journalist following the repressive rule of Abacha killed that spirit without any hope of resurrection. Today, Nigeria journalists are ready for hire. Hardly will you find anything critical of government in Nigerian newspapers and yet corruptions lurked around our government houses. Journalism is on sale in Nigeria to the highest bidder and politicians are ripping the profits in no small measure. An indicted Nigerian politician could always hire a hungry journalist to burnish his image whilst he stashed away his millions in Gambia and South Africa companies. We are indeed in big, big trouble.
My conclusion here is straightforward, Yar’adua might be right that Nigeria political parties need to work together for the sake of national unity but the press is already working with the Nigeria government against national unity. Investigative journalism died in Nigeria during the military regime. There will be no united Nigeria if the press are not doing their job as the fourth estate of the realm. If the Nigerian labor leaders fold their hands and sit around whilst politicians loot our treasuries and impose an unjust fuel increase on the poor masses, we will end up with volatile Nigeria.
Yes, to government of national unity, but at what price. Every great democracies of the world find a way of bringing disparate political parties to work together. The Likud parties work with the labor government in Israel. President Bush had 2 democratic parties cabinet secretaries in his first term in office. President Clinton secretary of defense was a Republican Party congressman. But I have not found a democracy where journalist are told to work for the government in power for the sake of national unity. That is counterproductive. That is not what we need. What we need is a responsible free press that will not cover up corruption and keep the elected leaders on their toes.