DIALOGUE WITH NIGERIA
By AKIN OSUNTOKUN; firstname.lastname@example.org
In the power politics interpretation of the January 1966 coup as a regional political agenda, the Eastern region suffered the double jeopardy of losing the initiative to the counter coup rematch and went further to become a collective victim of the ensuing tragedy of the civil war. There are moments in the existence of a people where the unrelieved tragedies of enormous proportions lead victims to doubt the existence of a just omnipotent God. In biblical antiquity and the historical experience of modern humanity the Jews are the archetype of such tragedies. If ever, the January 1966 coup was a product of Igbo conspiracy, the conspirators in the know of such conspiracy would number less than one percent of the ‘offending region’. Yet the consequences of their action would result in the catastrophic chain of events and escalating horror of the July 1966 mutinous decimation of the Igbo officer corps of the Nigerian military, the repeated pogroms and its climax in the resultant civil war-in which upwards of a million Igbo lives were lost.
It was a rapidly unfolding tragedy where all that could go wrong went wrong for the region. The hindsight that it could have cut its losses and avert the subsequent fullness of the tragedy made the recall all the more painful and agonizing. To make matters worse, the rhetoric and the pseudo nationalist ideology on which post-civil war Nigeria was founded criminalized the attempted secession and imputed villainy to the recourse-impervious to the extenuating circumstances of the events leading to the war. To the rule of the observation that history is written by the victors, Nigeria has proven to be no exception. Hence the outcome of the war became self-justificatory-in the imposition of the unitarist-nationalist ideology on Nigeria by the military-which thenceforth became the military tail wagging the Nigerian dog.
To the extent that the unification decree of 1966 was at variance with the logic of the prior Nigerian federalism, the negative reaction of the Northern region (to its promulgation by General JTU Aguiyi Ironsi) was logical. As we all know, Ironsi ultimately paid the supreme sacrifice for this transgression (inclusive of the toxic environment created by the omission and commission of the January 1966 coup). The supreme irony of post 1966 Nigeria is the categorical adoption of a more emboldened version of the same unification decree by precisely those who revolted against it. What was deemed the cardinal sin of the vanquished protagonist dramatically morphed into an article of faith for the victorious antagonist. Regardless of the might is right philosophy inherent in this nodal piece of Nigerian history, the truth of the indispensability of federalism remains constant-and it is the denial of this truth that has remained the bane of Nigeria’s development.
The agony of the long dark night endured by the Igbo was only matched by the widening vulnerability of the Nigerian playground to the political conquest of their Northern adversary. This vulnerability was further enhanced by the near total absence of the western region in the military equation of Nigeria in 1966. Were the West to be adequately represented in the military, the chances were that it would have served an effective counterweight and arbitrated a political outcome different from the virtual capitulation of Nigeria to the military subjugation of Nigeria heralded by the Northern victors. The moment the federalism predicated constitutional rule was displaced by the usurpation of military rule, political balance and the geopolitical foundation for a thousand flowers to bloom was neutered.
Up until 1993, the received wisdom of Nigerian politics was to take it for granted that the political destiny of Nigeria was as the North wishes-its political wish was Nigeria’s command. The fact that, in 1993, of the twenty seven years of post-1966 Nigeria, military dictatorship was the rule for twenty four years meant that the federalism norm had been commensurately attenuated by the top down command control culture of the military. And so it came to be that the 1979 and the 1999 constitutions were little more than the ratification of the trending unitarist legacy bequeathed by the military regimes that promulgated them. Where, before 1966, the center was of little consequence to the potential of the comprising regions, after 1966, the successor states were little more than vassals of the government at the center.
Compounded by a deepening crisis of socio-economic development failure, the political status quo ante was getting increasingly exposed as non-sustainable and sooner than later it was headed for the (kind of the) challenge of the outcome of the 1993 Presidential election. Against overwhelming odds the outcome of the election could only have occurred in the manner it did-a sneak victory. The annulment crisis was in reality the crisis of the prevailing constitutional structure of Nigeria in which the attraction of the center was of such magnitude as to invite a zero sum, do or die ambition in its pursuit and retention. Recall the apposite lesson of 1960 in which the leader of the Northern Peoples’ Congress, Sir Ahmadu Bello reckoned the Premiership of the Northern region of greater import than the office of the Prime Minister of Nigeria to which he delegated his lieutenant, Tafawa Balewa.
It is ultimately the degradation of the constitutional structure of Nigeria that any Nigerian leader, (especially the vicariously responsible personalities and actors of the 1966 set who played leading roles in the federalism wrecking machine that ensued in 1966 including President Buhari) should make political remedy and atonement. But if we are to extrapolate from his canonization of the late General Sani Abacha, the buhari of today is hardly different from the buhari of the Northern supremacy counter coup of 1966. Tribute goes to Professor Wole Soyinka for exposing the hollowness and contradiction of the ‘political masterstroke’ of feigning identification with the symbolism of the June 12th 1993 Presidential victory of Moshood Abiola while professing loyalty to the legacy of Abacha. It is this contradiction that clarifies the superficiality and the amateurish political calculations behind the sudden seeming course reversal of the course set for Nigeria for the past fifty two years and of which the annulment of the 1993 Presidential election is a symptom.
Nothing of course would make cynics like us happier than to be proven wrong on the attribution of mercenary intent to the political blandishment of the President. Any sincere atonement for the debacle of the annulment of the 1993 Presidential election must proceed from the premise of the culpable milieu that prompted the annulment and the attendant crisis. That milieu-of fatal attraction to power at the center, desperation to hold on to or win power at the center, has remained with us to this day. It is the reason why the President’s desperation to hold on to power (notwithstanding his conspicuous disqualifying challenges of fragile health and embarrassing incompetence) is matched by the-between the rock and the hard place resolute repudiation of Buhari’s reelection by the opposition. It is the reason why electoral umpires have perfected anticipatory institutional rigging of cooking up voters registration figures.
As noted by Femi Aribisala, ‘In 2015, the presidential election between Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari was level-pegging until the bombshell of Kano’s result was announced. While we were told 1,678,754 people voted in Lagos, an incredible 2,364,434 people were said to have voted in Kano. On the basis of the 1993 template, this just cannot be true. But it did not stop there. Another 1,153,428 votes came from Jigawa, which was carved out of old Kano. In effect, these two states of old Kano had 3,517,862 votes, nearly 2 million votes more than that of Lagos in 2015. And yet, Lagos is clearly the most populous state in the federation; a fact attested to by the 1993 presidential election results. With Buhari said to have received 1,903,999 votes from Kano, more than the entire votes cast by everybody in Lagos, and another 885,988 votes from Jigawa; making a total of 2,789,987, his lead in the 2015 presidential election suddenly became unassailable’.
President Buhari has the habit of waxing lyrical on the rhetoric of ‘killing corruption before corruption kills Nigeria’. Never mind the hypocrisy of pointing fingers while the other set of fingers are pointing right back at him in rebuke and your guess is as good as mine on how successful he has been able to translate the prescription of this rhetoric into action in his over three years of anti-corruption stewardship. To be fair to him the fault does not all lie in his stars as it does lie in the dictum of Lord Acton that ‘power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely’.
Following Lord Acton, the seemingly intractable culture of corruption in Nigeria is, in the main, traceable to the humongous unaccountable power at the center ‘the accumulated power and resources that were impounded and diverted from the second tier of government-to the end of assuming the role of a whimsical interventionist agency of spreading national largess’. In specifics, can you imagine the quantum of corruption that would be eliminated by the simple act of the government divestment of its obsessive stranglehold on the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC? In the final analysis, if Nigeria remains as it has been in the past three years and as long as we can recall, of what use, would be the recognition and rehabilitation of June 12? Would it address the wanton profligacy, impunity and corruption at the federal and state government levels?