The Twenty-Seven-Year Cycle

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DIALOGUE WITH NIGERIA BY AKIN OSUNTOKUN, Email: akin.osuntokun@thisdaylive.com

There is the periodic cyclical perspective to the political crises that have plagued Nigeria since independence. It is what I have chosen to call the twenty-seven-year cycle. The cycle dates back to 1966 and the antecedent events that culminated in the coup and counter-coup of 1966 and ultimately the civil war. The cycle was renewed (in 1993) and matured into another potentially nation disintegration crisis of the annulment of the 1993 Presidential election crisis; and if Nigeria stays on current political trajectory the history (of potentially nation disintegration crisis) is likely to repeat itself (the twenty seventh year from 1993). That is of course if we fail to learn the lessons of history and so far that seems to be the case. According to cynics, men fail to learn the right lessons of history, repeat the folly, and then blame history for repeating itself. Albert Einstein was of equal mind when his genius typically observes that the definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expect different outcome.

Generally and from the specific experience of Nigeria’s history, two elements are central to political stability and development and they are political equilibrium and compromise. Conversely, the mentality of winner takes all and zero sum game works in the opposite direction and constitutes a certain recipe for instability and crisis. As enshrined in the independence constitution of Nigeria, the constitutional groundnorm of Nigeria is federalism. We now call it ‘true federalism’ and the reason we came up with this unique identification is that Nigeria has managed to create counterfeit 419 federalism-which we falsely keep on referring to as federalism. This true federalism was the guarantor of Nigeria’s political equilibrium and its violation the precursor of disequilibrium, instability and crisis.

The seed of the crisis that eventually germinated in the termination of the First Republic in January 1966 was sown in the overreach and partisan intervention of the federal government in the Action Group/Western regional government factional crisis of 1962/63. It amounted to a negation of federalism if not in letters, then certainly in spirit. As it festered, the crisis was degenerating into the subversion of the regional autonomy of the Western region and turning the region into a client state of the Northern region controlled federal government. Wittingly or not, this was the ultimate logic of putting the dominant federal control of the powers of coercion at the service of imposing the increasingly illegitimate government of Premier Ladoke Akintola on the region. The fullness of this logic was aborted by the coup of January 15, 1966.

The political disequilibrium that was set in motion in 1963 (in the Western region) was reinforced by the winner takes all posture and perception of the lopsided nature of the intervention of the coup of January 1966 and the counter coup of July 1966. The interpretation of the earlier coup as Igbo winner takes all intervention provoked the winner takes all Northern region response of the latter coup and the subsequent express road to the disintegration of Nigeria from 1967-70. The breakdown of the four regional structure of Nigeria into the 12 states structure of 1967 was in part a formula for the reinvention of Nigeria’s political equilibrium-especially in the respect of granting the minorities of the Northern and Eastern regions autonomous state status and recognition. The Western region had earlier been divested of its own minority segment-the Mid-Western region in 1963.

The philosophy of no victor no vanquished propounded by the head of the victorious federal military government, General Yakubu Gowon, at the end of the civil war in January 1970 was an attempt at the recreation of the politics of compromise regardless of the fact that it was a military dictatorship-not conventionally bound by the obligation of political compromise. In the intervening period of 1970-1993, the requirements of political equilibrium and compromise were fulfilled at the irreducible minimum level-in the near equivalent number of states created from the Northern and Southern halves of the country; and the working of the federal character and quota principle into the Nigerian constitution. In reality, since 1966, Nigeria had become captive to the chaos and confusion of constitutional and institutional adhocism. -aptly presaged in the observation in 1967 of Chief Jereton Mariere-‘The context of the current situation in the country changes as events unfold themselves and it may well be that whatever solutions one considers proper at a given point ceases to be so when a new situation develops in a different context. That is why we seem to be moving forward and backwards’
This political fragility eventually snapped in 1993 when the irreducible minimum of Nigeria’s commitment to national political equilibrium and compromise was breached by the annulment of the 1993 presidential election won by Chief Moshood Abiola. As the crisis developed and escalated into the virulent dictatorship of General Sani Abacha, the spectre of the mentality of the lopsided regional anchored winner takes all syndrome was re-enacted in all its monstrousity-provoking a proportional response in opposition activities that called the corporate integrity and existence of Nigeria into question and actively posed the disintegration of Nigeria as a practical option. Given the abrogation of the compromise option inherent in the declared self-succession agenda of Abacha and barring the intervention of his death, it is a moot point whether Nigeria would have survived the crisis and remained as one entity.

Nigeria reverted to the politics of compromise with the compensatory logic of conceding the Nigerian Presidency to the South West in 1999. This element of compromise ruled the roost of the politics of the fourth republic until 2015. Apparently lulled by 15 years of relative compromise and equilibrium, Nigeria took a big gamble with General Muhammadu Buhari in the 2015 presidential election. Africa’s eternal reference point, Nelson Mandela, once observed, in a stream of statesmanship consciousness, that no one is born to hate, they are taught to do so by precepts, example, learned experience and socialisation. The same principle and spirit hold true for the sentiment of love and goodwill for one another. If Nigerians are divided today more than ever before, it is because we are taught the habit by our political pace setters especially the number one political personality.

In the tradition of the perverse tendencies of Nigerian politics for distortion and misinterpretation and wastage of her best assets, Chief Obafemi Awolowo was penalised as undeserving of Nigerian Presidency on account of a sin he did not commit-that he was a tribalist. Against all honest indications especially his performance record as Premier, he was framed and sold as a Yoruba irredentist. Yet when the same country was confronted with the arrival of the real McCoy, a Presidential aspirant who tirelessly makes the habit of taunting, daring, threatening and negatively mobilising his ‘people’ against the rest of Nigeria, what was our response? He was donned with the toga of a long suffering martyr and personification of integrity whose projected meritorious services had been denied Nigeria by the conspiracy of corrupt political elite.
And then when President Buhari got to the seat and recreated the Nigerian Presidency in the image of the former military ruler of Nigeria who went to Ibadan to storm the barricades for ‘my people’ (converting the Presidency into me, my family and the Muslim North) it was rationalized as the need to work with those he is comfortable with. Never mind the absurdity of an elected Nigerian President being given the pass for the statement of intent to discriminate against the majority of the Nigerian population. And then, adding insult to injury, came the idiotic extenuation that the discrimination is actually motivated by the need to give priority to merit and competence above any other considerations; that the abundance of merit and competence in the Katsina writ large world of Buhari’s constituency is now conversely matched by the lack of same among Nigerians outside of Buhari’s orbit. How crass can people get? This mindless excuse marks the first indication of the gross misnomer and aberration of the Buhari Presidency.

As the morass deepened and all socioeconomic indices headed south, we were been harassed and harangued to disbelieve the evidence of our own eyes. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo was in Lagos the other day, and went to town on how the political elite were ever so guilty of the heinous crime of sowing and propagating division and hate among Nigerians and I wondered whether the man had decided to go rogue and rebel against his principal. Does anyone come near Buhari in the capacity to foster and promote bitter and hateful divisiveness? His credentials in this pastime are so replete that it now amounts to idleness trying to recount the instances. Did he not, for instance, address Nigeria in Hausa language?

The extant regime of discrimination, marginalisation and nepotism has become so bad that the Nigerian Army and the media took to celebrating the elevation of a Yoruba officer to the same rank as the Chief of Army Staff a few weeks ago- that an officer was being promoted from Major General to Lt General fah! What would Nigerians then do in the imaginary scenario of a Yoruba or Igbo army officer been appointed the Chief of Army Staff? Get all the traditional rulers from the South to move as one to Aso Villa to genuflect and invest the President with the title of the ‘Supreme redeemer of Southern Nigeria’?
We are fast approaching the denouement of another incubus of the twenty seven year meltdown in the next one year (1993-2020). The markers include the deepening of governance failure as indicated by the signal of the new cabinet composition, Ruga politics, the killing of Funke Fasoranti and the unprecedented appropriation of the headship of the three organs of government (the executive, legislature and judiciary corresponding to Mohammadu Buhari, Ahmed Lawan and Tanko Yusuf respectively) and the security agencies to the core North geopolitical constituency-in clear violation of Chapter 14 subsection 3 of the Nigerian constitution which stipulates that the “composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall…reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few states or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups.”