Friday, 15 January 2016

Nigeria still battles with unresolved issues

Nigeria is still battling with the problems that provoked the military coup d’etat of January 15, 1966, otherwise known as the ‘Coup of the Majors’, and issues that it raised, AKEEM LASISI and CHUX OHAI write.Whether one is a politician or a soldier, one extremely
confounding information that one may have is that of an impending coup. No matter the person’s status, it will not be easy to decide what to do with the information.

Should the person report the case to the necessary authorities even when he does not know who to trust in that kind of situation? Whether he is a soldier or civilian, does he have to abandon his duty post and run for cover? Or does he proceed to a media house with the deadly scoop?

Perhaps it is the unpredictable nature of what to do in such a circumstance that gave birth to the differences in the accounts of how each affected politician reacted when Nigeria’s pioneer club of coup plotters struck on January 15, 1966.

Among others, the case of the Premier of the Western Region, the late Samuel Ladoke Akintola, was instructive. While it is speculated that some of the politicians were so powerful that they mysteriously dissolved into the thin air when the leader of the coup makers, the late Major Chukwuma (Kaduna) Nzeogwu, and his four colleagues struck at various locations, Akintola’s experience bears the features of a thriller.

First, he was said to have got wind of the coup before the soldiers carried it out. As a result, his famous bravery came to play when he travelled to Kaduna to hint the, Sir Ahmadu Bello, about the looming crisis. When the trip reportedly bore no fruits, he returned to Ibadan, where he armed himself with a rifle and waited for the intruders.

An account of the coup indicates, “His deputy, Chief Remilekun Fani-Kayode, was first arrested by the coupists. After his arrest, Fani-Kayode’s wife informed Akintola about what had happened. Shortly afterward, a detachment of soldiers led by Capt. Emmanuel Nwobosi arrived at Akintola’s residence. Upon sighting the soldiers, Akintola opened fire, wounding a few of them, including Nwobosi. After fighting for his life and engaging the soldiers in a gunfight, Akintola was shot dead by Nwobosi’s men.”

This was a sad episode in the drama that drenched the country in blood and truncated its first attempt at democracy. So bloody was the coup masterminded by Nzeogwu that it consumed the Prime Minister, Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa; Bello; the then Finance Minister, Festus Okotie-Eboh; some eight other top politicians and military officers that included, Zacharia Maimalari and Adewale Ademulegun.

Fifty years after, pundits observe, the coup is so historical that the dusts it stirred have yet to settle, while the wound it inflicted on the national psyche has yet to heal. For one, it cut short lives of some of the most influential and impactful politicians the nation has ever produced. But more serious, according to observers, is the fact that neither the military nor the civilian populace has been able to erase the divisions it created in its polity. As a result, in spite of the fact that the pioneer politicians were seen to be derailing in some fundamental ways, many would rather see Nzeogwu and his co-adventurers as sinners and not saints.

But such people are also sad that Nigeria has not really learnt the lesson the coup ought to bequeath it. According to a professor of Political Economy, Tunde Babawale, the coup introduced the debate on the national question in Nigeria.

He says, “Because of the nature of the killings and the counter coup that took place after, it generated the national question, which, unfortunately, we have not been able to resolve. It enabled us to see our differences in very clear terms and prompted us to find a way to understand one another better.

“It taught us the lesson that all groups need one another and that suspicion, backbiting, bloodletting and coups will not solve our political and economic problems.”

Babawale, a former Chief Executive Officer of the Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilisation, now the Dean of Student Affairs, University of Lagos, added that the coup initiated a deep soul-searching about how politics and economy are run.

Babawale recalls that the speech made by Nzeogwu fired the poser on the politics of profiteering that has become the bane of development in the country.

In his speech, Nzeogwu had said, “In the name of the Supreme Council of the Revolution of the Nigerian Armed Forces, I declare martial law over the Northern Provinces of Nigeria.

The Constitution is suspended and the regional government and elected assemblies are hereby dissolved. All political, cultural, tribal and trade union activities, together with all demonstrations and unauthorised gatherings, excluding religious worship, are banned until further notice.

The aim of the Revolutionary Council is to establish a strong united and prosperous nation, free from corruption and internal strife. Our method of achieving this is strictly military but we have no doubt that every Nigerian will give us maximum cooperation by assisting the regime and not disturbing the peace during the slight changes that are taking place.

My dear countrymen, no citizen should have anything to fear, so long as that citizen is law abiding and if that citizen has religiously obeyed the native laws of the country and those set down in every heart and conscience since 1st October, 1960. Our enemies are the political profiteers, the swindlers, the men in high and low places that seek bribes and demand 10 per cent; those that seek to keep the country divided permanently so that they can remain in office as ministers or VIPs at least, the tribalists, the nepotists, those that make the country look big for nothing before international circles, those that have corrupted our society and put the Nigerian political calendar back by their words and deeds.”

“The speech began the process of deep souls-searching and provided the template for assessing the performances of subsequent governments. Unfortunately, the question remains whether our politicians have learnt anything from the development. It is unfortunate that those who find themselves in power often fail to perform. They thus give the military an excuse by giving democracy a bad name,” Babawale says.

Also speaking on the impact of the coup on national politics and social development, lawyer and social activist, Donald Omomowo, says it has made many Nigerians to realise that true federalism is not being practised in the country.

He argues that if there had been true federalism, the people would not have been where they are today and the country would not be engaged in an endless struggle to eradicate corruption and other social evils.

Omomowo says, “The first coup brought in a lot of negative changes, unlike the past when the old politicians played politics the way it should be done. Also, the economy has been unstable for almost three decades now due to the intrusion of the military in our body politics.

“The economy is not only unstable; it is also always fluctuating. Part of the blame goes to the military. When the military came into power they were not focused. They had no agenda or a real plan on how to move the economy forward. Instead, they were only interested in enriching themselves.”

In his analysis, a lecturer in the Political Science Department of Babcock University, Dr. Yinka Olomojobi, notes that although the January 15, 1966 coup came about due to the economic mismanagement of the country at that time and mass rigging of elections, especially in the South-West, Nigerians had learnt very few lessons from the event.

Olomojobi says, “The military came in with the intention to make things right. Part of their mission, as the coup makers claimed, was to ensure that there was to fight corruption and to restore accountability and transparency. Sadly, it seems that we have not learnt any lesson from this. Up till now, nothing has changed.”

According to him, the good side to the coup is that Nigerians are no longer guided by what he describes as a strong “primordial attachment to their ethnic groups and religious enclaves”.

“Considering the fact that Nigerians had a strong primordial attachment to their ethnic groups or religious enclaves did not help matters, the coup made us to become aware of how divided we were as a people. At that time, Nigerians had not gone through a sufficient degree of social mobilisation.

“But, today the country is divided into six geo-political zones and the primordial attachment to ethnicity is beginning to wither away,” he says.


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