opinionBy Ebenezer Babatope
THIS indeed is the appropriate time for us in this country to examine the challenges that lie ahead of our country in the struggle to cement unity and stability within our country and to ensure the consolidation of democracy in our society.
The struggle for stability and unity in our country has been long. The pains of the struggles have been tremendous and the challenges of the struggle are immense. For us to succeed in analyzing and proffering solutions to these challenges, it is apt and appropriate for us to do a skeletal reconstruction of the history of our country right from the time the British Colonialists decided to put Nigeria under their political and economic governance.
The British Colonialists, few years after the Berlin Conference of 1885 where African countries had been shared out to Imperialist countries, using their famous Bible and plough policy, had entered Nigeria to establish a political authority over our people. By 1897 after the military conquests of King Overamwen of Benin and King Jaja of Opobo and after the successful penetration of Southern Nigeria by British missionaries, Lord Frederick Lugard, the first colonial lord of Nigeria was able to declare what was then called a Protectorate of Southern Nigeria.
We were historically told that a parade of the West African Constabulary force was held at Lokoja in 1900 where the British interest in colonizing Nigeria was proclaimed. The authority of the British Colonial invaders was extended to Northern Nigeria in 1906. By 1914, the South and North of Nigeria became amalgamated into one country that had been named Nigeria (NIGER AREA) by the journalist wife of Lord Frederick Lugard in a competition sponsored by the then British government in 1897 or thereabout.
It is remarkable to state here that the struggle for the unity of Nigeria by Nigerians started simultaneously with the British proclamation of their control and political authority over our country. I have made mention of the stiff opposition of King Overamwen of Benin and Jaja of Opobo to the British invaders. These two Kings were defeated by British forces and exiled to some other parts of Nigeria. Mention must also be made of the 1893 IjebuMagbon war where the Ijebu forces led by warriors from Ijebu Ode had militarily confronted the British forces in the latter's attempt to overrun Ijebuland from their Lagos military fortress.
In the North, historians have told us how Sultan Attahiru Ahmadu of Sokoto had resisted the British attempt to conquer and administer the head quarters of the Muslim Jihad war led by Othman Dan Fodio early in the nineteenth century. The flag captured from Sultan Attahiru's army is said to be one of the artifacts in the museum of the Nigerian Army till this day. Immediately after the proclamation of the Northern protectorate in 1906 by the British, the colonial and imperialist plan to divide and disunite the people of Nigeria began.
Lord Lugard, noting the cultural difference between the people of Southern Nigeria and Northern Nigeria decided to introduce the Indirect Rule system to the Northern part of Nigeria. The indirect rule system was a system of ruling the people through the emirs and the chiefs. This system had been successfully used by the British colonialists in the contrasting political setting in Hong Kong.
Indirect rule system
The Muslim Jihad revolution led by the great Othman Dan Fodio had made the indirect rule system to succeed in Northern Nigeria due to the fact that strong Chiefs/Emirs who had held the flags of the Muslim Jihad army had successfully established their control over the conquered territories.
The indirect rule system had collapsed in Southern Nigeria as a result of the political structure of the Southern people particularly in Yorubaland and Benin Kingdom where traditional rulers were respected and honoured but did not exercise absolute political authority over their people. In the Eastern part of Nigeria, political authority was exercised by a kind of collegiate system where respected individuals in society were organized into administrative councils to politically direct affairs of their society.
The culture of having strong traditional chiefs (as was the experience in the North) to exercise absolute political authority was alien to the Eastern part of Nigeria. While the British colonialists succeeded to a reasonable extent in ruling the people of the North through the emirs and the chiefs (the Indirect rule System), they failed woefully with the system in the Southern States. The British attempt to create Warrant Chiefs in the Eastern part of Nigeria in order to make the indirect rule system a success there collapsed like a pack of cards.
It is to the credit of the Nigerian people that right from 1914 when the country was welded into one country, they never gave in to the British Colonial invaders in the people's attempts to forge unity within their ranks.
As a result of the British policy of ruling a part of Nigeria through the Indirect Rule System, it was difficult for a central administrative authority to be established over Nigeria for a long time. British Colonial rule was resisted in the South. Between 1918 and 1921, the Adubi (Abeokuta) and Iseyin riots had taken place against the obnoxious policies of the British.
Though these protests of Nigerians were forcefully put down by the British, it immediately brought the British to recognize the fact that Nigerian people were not prepared to willingly surrender themselves to foreign rule. In 1929, there came the famous ABA riots where the women in Aba had violently protested against the plan of the British (through their Warrant Chiefs) to impose taxation on women. Though the protest was ruthlessly suppressed by the British, the plan was, however, terminated immediately and the system of warrant chiefs eventually collapsed in the East.
It was clear and evident to Nigerian nationalists of the time that a major policy of the British colonial rule was to ensure division within the country whereby the Nigerian people would never be able to force a united and cohesive resistance movement to their colonial rule and subjugation. As a result of the very early contact with foreign invaders and their culture, the people of Southern Nigeria had been able to receive Western education.
We are told that the first Nigerian lawyer had established a legal practice in Nigeria before the close of the nineteenth century. Educated Nigerians had started agitation principally from Lagos and we are also told by historians that an Administrative Council was consequently established in Lagos between 1922 and 1923. By the 1930s, Nigerian nationalists had started to question the British colonial rule over Nigeria.
The Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM) became the platform of struggle for our nationalist leaders during the era. The only political party existing in Nigeria in the 30s was the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) that had been founded by Herbert Macaulay in 1923. The activities of the NNDP and the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM) were however confined to Southern Nigeria.
Great names in Nigeria's nationalist history came to the fore during this period. In 1935, the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe who had been educated in America returned to Nigeria from Ghana where he had been the editor of a newspaper the African Morning Post.
As a result of an article Has the African a God?, where the newspaper under Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe's editorship had raised questions about the British colonial rule in Africa, Zik had been immediately arrested and charged to court for sedition. Zik finally left Accra for Nigeria to join forces with nationalists like Herbert Macaulay, Ernest Sisei Ikoli, and Chief Akisanya a.k.a. General Zaki who later became the Odemo of Ishara in present day Ogun State who were leading the struggle against foreign rule.
Chief Obafemi Awolowo joined the nationalist ranks in the early 40s when he had emerged as the Chief Campaigner for Ernest Ikoli in an election by the Nigerian Youth Movement to fill an administrative position in the Lagos territory. Ernest Ikoli had been opposed in that election by Oba Akinsanya.
It is remarkable to state here that while Chief Obafemi Awolowo (a Yoruba) had supported the candidature of Ikoli who was from the Eastern part of Nigeria, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe (an Igbo from the East) had supported the candidature of a Yoruba, Oba Akinsanya in that election. The event was the first recorded electoral contest between Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe in Nigeria's nationalist history. The event equally brought up the desire of Nigeria's nationalist leaders in forging the unity of Nigeria on a struggle that did not recognize a recourse to tribal emotions and sentiments. This was diametrically opposed to the British Colonial policy of cementing their Colonial rule on a tribally disunited nation.
Sensing that the spirit of a united Nigerian nationalist movement to combat Imperialism and colonialism was on in the early 40s, the British came with their 1946 Arthur Richards Constitution that succeeded in dividing Nigeria into three tribal regions-the Hausa-Fulani dominated Northern region of Nigeria, the Igbo dominated Eastern region of Nigeria and the Yoruba dominated Western region of Nigeria. By dividing the country into tribal regions, the British knew that since the three regions were not monolithic in nature, the majority tribes in the regions would also find it difficult to establish their control of such regions. The immediate beneficiaries of this dangerous system were of course the British rulers.
The Colonial Lords knew that for as long as the country (Nigeria) was broken up into tribal regions, it would be extremely difficult for Nigerian nationalists to unite in their struggle to terminate British colonial rule. Nigerian Nationalists of the time immediately mobilized to resist the attempt by the British to frustrate Nigeria's unity by the introduction of the Governor Arthur Richards Constitution.
In 1944, there was the Pan African Congress held in Manchester, England and organized by some Africans to protest British colonial rule in Africa. Among the organizers were the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe of Nigeria, the late Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, the late Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana (then Gold Coast) and the late Mr. Ernest Mark (a Nigerian from Abeokuta who lived most of his life in Britain and died there six years ago).
The late Chief Obafemi Awolowo of Nigeria was one of the accredited delegates to the Congress. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe delivered a great speech that thoroughly exposed the designs of the British in promoting religious and tribal differences in their African colonies in order to stem the growth and development of militant nationalism against their rapacious and oppressive colonial rule.
In 1945, there was the strike of Nigerian workers against British colonial rule. The strike of the Nigerian workers had occurred nearly the same time with the revolt of students of Kings College Lagos. A Nigerian woman activist the late Madam Aduni Oluwole (a Lagos based financier and founder of the Nigerian Liberal Workers Party) was said to have given out money in support of the 1945 giant strike of Nigerian workers against the British colonial rule. Participants of the Kings College revolt of 1945 are said to include the late
Gogo Chu Nzeribe, the late Yon Da Kolo, the late Comrade Ola Oni and Odumegwu Ojukwu (a fresh student at Kings College at that time) among others. Nigerian nationalists led by the late Herbert Macaulay nicknamed "Wizard Of Kirtsten Hall" began a move to resist the British proposal in the Richard's Constitution to divide Nigeria into tribal regions. A nationwide tour of all the big cities of Nigeria to raise money to fund a plan to send representatives of Nigeria to England to protest the proposed constitution was immediately effected. It was during the tour that Herbert Macaulay developed an ailment that eventually led to his death.
The death and burial of Herbert Macaulay prevented the completion of the nationwide tour in time consequently resulting in shifting the time for the delegation's trip to England. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe took over leadership of the movement and with the support of Nigerian leaders including the late radical Madam Funmilayo Kuti eventually went to England to register the Nigerian people's protest to the Governor Arthur Richards proposed constitution to divide Nigeria into tribal regions. The delegation failed in its mission to convince the British authorities.
In 1946, the Arthur Richards Constitution came into operation in Nigeria and the grounds were successfully laid in Nigeria by the British for tribal division of the country. Though the nationalists in Nigeria continued to fight against the 1946 Constitution as evident by the deliberations of the Nigeria leaders at the Conference Organized by Governor John Macpherson at Ibadan in 1951, what eventually came out of the 1951 Macpherson Constitution was the British designed programme of establishing political control of the three regions by what eventually became tribal political parties.
The aftermath of the Macpherson Constitution was the formation of the Action Group Party in 1951 and the formation in the same year of the Jarmiyyah Mutanen Arewa organisation at a meeting held in Dr. Aliyu Dikko's residence. It was the organisation that eventually gave birth to the Northern Peoples' Congress that was led by the late Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto (a Prince).
Despite the clever design of the British in dividing Nigeria into tribal enclaves in order to strengthen their political hold on Nigeria, some Nigerian Youths of the time that cut across all the parts of the country organized themselves into a powerful Youth Movement called the Zikist Movement shortly after the introduction of the Arthur Richards Constitution in 1946.Deriving inspiration from the militant nationalist activities of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and having directly served their political pupilage at the feet of Herbert Macaulay, the young members of the Zikist Movement between 1946 and 1949 moved forward the struggles of the Nigerian people for unity, stability and common broad programmes of the Nigerian people to resist British Colonial rule.
Some of the members of the Zikist Movement of that era were the late M.C.K Ajuluchukwu, the late Abiodun Aloba, the late Mokwugo Okoye, Marshall Kebby, the late Raji Abdallah, the late Oged Macaulay (son of the legendary Herbert Macaulay) the late Nduka Eze (a lawyer and trade unionist who was general Secretary of UAC Worker's Union), the late Josiah Sunday Olawoyin of Offa and several others. Allied to these young nationalists were Chief Anthony Enahoro, the late Mallam Zaad Zungur, the late Chief Alfred Rewane and several others too numerous to mention here.
It is important to mention here that members of the Zikist Movement and their allies were responsible for giant anti- British actions like the 1949 Enugu Coal miner's revolt, the 1949 Tom Jones Hall lecture of Chief Anthony Enahoro and the violent protest of the Nigerian Youths against the rejection of a request for accommodation by a black West Indian visitor to Nigeria by the White management of the then Bristol Hotel in Lagos. In 1949, the members of the Zikist Movement supported the strike of Nigerian Coal Miners at the Udi hill's colliery fields in Enugu against the British economic policy of subjecting them to slave labour and exploitation. It was such a strong anti- British Colonial rule action that a Nigerian Youth, Heelas Ugokwe had stabbed the British Resident in Enugu.
He was subsequently tried for attempted murder and his defence was handled by the Zikist Movement. Heelas Ugokwe was jailed but was released by the British in 1956 after it had become clear to them that the Nigerian Youth activist would soon die of a tuberculosis ailment that he had contracted inside prison. Heelas Ugokwe died of this ailment in 1957.
In 1949, the Zikist Movement organized a lecture at the Tom Jones Hall in Lagos to whip up the nationalist agitations of Nigerians against British Colonial rule. Chief Anthony Enahoro presided over the lecture. He was immediately arrested and imprisoned by the British authorities. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe who had been invited to preside over the lecture later indicated his inability to attend the lecture. Consequently, Chief Anthony Enahoro, then a young journalist in Lagos stepped in to Chairman the occasion.
This very incident was one of the reasons why Chief Anthony Enahoro rejected the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe's invitation to him in 1951 to join the NCNC (the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons) and instead joined the Chief Obafemi Awolowo led Action Group of Nigeria.
It was also within the same period (1946 - 1949) that the Zikist Movement and its allies organized an anti- British Colonial rule demonstration in Lagos after hearing the news of the rejection of the request of a visiting West Indian national of black origin for accommodation by the white administration of the Bristol Hotel in Lagos.
Streets of Lagos
Within minutes of the news filtering out from central Lagos where the hotel was sited, members of the Zikist Movement were on the streets of Lagos demonstrating against an attempt by the British to introduce the much dreaded 'Colour Bar' which had been their policy in South Africa. As brilliantly reported by the late Chief Alfred Rewane in his memoirs, the action of the youth activists became successful when the white management of the Bristol Hotel, Lagos was forced to grant accommodation to the West Indian on account of the protest of the Nigerian nationalists.
Nigeria 1951 - 1960: The period 1951 to 1960 was a tempestuous one for Nigeria as regards the struggle for the unity, and stability of the Nigerian nation state. The various constitutions worked out for Nigeria after the 1946 Richards Constitution (particularly the Macpherson, Lytellton (1954) and Lancaster House (1957) Constitutions did not alter the politics of ethnic chauvinism and tribal division that the 1946 constitution had introduced to Nigeria.
The 1951, regional assembly elections conducted mainly on an electoral college system began the process of regional politics in the country, bringing in its wake insane competition for political power, control and authority in the country on regional/tribal basis. The late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe believed until he died that he and his party (NCNC) had been schemed out of the 1951 elections into the West Regional House of Assembly on the basis of a tribal conspiracy inspired by the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo and the Action Group which without doubt had the West as its principal base of operation.
The late Chief Obafemi Awolowo had countered this belief by maintaining that the Action Group did defeat the NCNC in the election without any recourse to base tribal sentiments. Papa Awo said the Colonial method of electing the members of the regional house of Assembly on an Electoral College System based on a seeming non party basis had left elected individuals free to decide on the political parties they would want to be identified with inside the house.
It was Awo's belief that the Action Group organizing machinery had proved impregnable by the NCNC in the way and manner the party (AG) had over powered the NCNC in winning majority support from elected members of the Western House of Assembly in 1951. Chief Obafemi Awolowo became the leader of Government business in the West after the elections.
Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was to later find himself in a major tribal controversy as regards how he emerged leader of government business and Premier of the Eastern region of Nigeria. Before Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe decided to return back to the East, the leader of government business there was an Ibibio politician Professor Eyo Ita. The minorities of the East particularly belonging to a ALABAR-OGOJA-RIVERS movement (constituting the present day Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Rivers, and Bayelsa States) believed that Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe had used the Igbo majority in the East at that time to effect the removal of Professor Ita as the political head of the then Eastern Nigeria.
It must therefore be said that the period 1951 to 1960 witnessed the consolidation of politics of ethnic chauvinism in the history of Nigeria. While the Action Group dominated political activities in the West, the N.C.N.C was the major political power in the East and the Northern Peoples Congress under the control of the Ahmadu Bello was in control of the North. The three major political parties in Nigeria at that time started in 1954 to seek national platform for their operations. In 1954 the Action Group (AG) was defeated by the NCNC in the elections into the Federal House of Representatives.
The NCNC led by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe had received massive votes from the urban centres of the West in the election. The NCNC through the oratory and political activities of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe had been able to establish an urban presence in the Western region long before the 1951 Macpherson Constitution. Between 1954 and 1960, the N.C.N.C won nearly all time elections in urban towns of Western Nigeria like llesa, Akure, Ondo, Ibadan, Abeokuta, Oyo, Ogbornoso, Osogbo, etc etc.
The Action Group had to carry its organizational power into the rural areas where the party was very well received. In the 1956 and 1960 West regional elections that were conducted on a universal adult suffrage, the AG decisively used its majority in the rural areas of the West to stamp its control of authority over the NCNC. Like I have said earlier, by 1954 nearly all the major political parties in Nigeria had begun the process of establishing a federal presence in the country's politics.
Only the NPC took a much longer time to establish political relationship with Southern Nigeria politicians in time alliance politics that by 1957 had been successfully concluded by both the NCNC and the Action Group. The NCNC went into alliance with the Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) then led by the late Mallam Aminu Kano who had by 1956 established himself as a radical within time political establishment in the North. His party NEPU was to be later described by the late Mallam Abubakar Zukogi as being a party of "We Don't Agree". This was clearly referring to the rejection of the conservative feudalist approach to political affairs in Nigeria by leaders of political opinion in the North that had turned the NPC into a political party to fight solely for the interests of the North.
The Action Group first went into an alliance with the United Middle Belt Congress (UMBC) that was founded and led by a young Gboko politician Joseph Serwuan Tarka. Tarka had formed the UMBC to protect the interests of the minority areas of the North that were made up of Christians.
The AG later went into alliance with the ILORIN TALAKA PARAPO party then led by late Alhaji Sule Maito and by 1958 the AG had concluded an alliance with the Bornu Youth Movement then led by the late Alhaji Ibrahim Imam who later resided in Kano until his death.
The AG also went into alliance with the Calabar-Ogoja-Rivers Movement (COR). The Action Group also tried to directly establish a presence in the other regions of Nigeria within this period (1954 to 1960).
The AG in this effort had included leaders of political parties in alliance with it in the delegation that attended the Lancaster House Conference of 1957 organized by the British colonial power. Most of these political parties in alliance with the Action Group were however largely based in the minority areas of the North and the East. It is equally remarkable to say here that Alhaji Mudi Spikin from Kano was in the Western Nigeria delegation led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo to the London Lancaster House Constitutional Conference. He was sponsored by the Action Group. The Lancaster Conference paved the way for the Independence Constitution that guided the country's final move to independence on October 1, 1960.
By 1960, the Action Group had succeeded through its alliances with the minority political parties in the other two regions to become the official opposition parties in the Northern and Eastern Houses of Assembly.
Leader of opposition
While the late Chief Josiah Sunday Olawoyin the stormy petrel from Ota who was jailed near seventeen times by the Northern establishment was for some time the AG leader of opposition in the Northern House of Assembly, a left wing politician, the late Comrade Samuel Goomsu lkoku who was one of the students of Harold Laski (a labour left wing economic wizard in Britain) at the London School of Economics became the Action Group Leader of Opposition in the Eastern Nigeria House of Assembly. Ikoku had defeated his father the late Dr. Alvan lkoku in an election to the Eastern House of Assembly from Arochukwu Constituency. Action Group also had the late Chief Ubani Ukoma winning an election into the Eastern Nigeria House of Assembly from an Aba Constituency.
It must equally be remarked that the Action Group's political invasion of the Eastern and Northern regions of Nigeria was seen by both the NPC and the NCNC as moves by the AG to stir up rebellion against the political authority and control of the regions under them. An attempt to reverse the trend against the AG in the AG crisis of 1961 became a prairie fire that nearly destroyed the unity and stability of the country that was just emerging a free nation after the October 1, 1960 Independence.
Despite the problems created for the nationalists by British Colonialism, it must be stated that these nationalist leaders were however able to sink their differences in fighting for the political independence of Nigeria that came on October 1, 1960, and ensuring the continued existence of the federation of Nigeria.
In 1953, a motion for independence moved on the floor of the Federal House of Representatives by Chief Anthony Eromosele Enahoro of the Action Group had evoked such a hot debate that the North led by Sir Ahmadu Bello had felt that the motion had been moved to fight against the interests of the North. This was the event that was said to have made the Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello to have angrily said "The Mistake Of 1914".
A delegation sent by the House of Representatives to the North to explain events to the Northern people resulted to the Kano riots of 1954 immediately the delegation arrived in Kano. The spirit of Nigeria unity eventually prevailed and the political crisis of the time was not made by the political leaders to degenerate into the destruction of the country.
This same spirit was carried to the Lancaster House Constitutional Conference held in London in 1957 where the leaders particularly Sir Ahmadu Bello, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Chief Obafemi Awolowo had agreed to bury their political differences (particularly anchored on the minority question in Nigeria) to unanimously agree that Nigeria be liberated from the shackles of British Imperialism on October 1, 1960. No matter the criticisms that could be made against these leaders, no one can fault their loyalty and fanatical devotion to the oneness and unity of the Nigerian people.
The National Anthem composed for us by a British citizen despite its evil design of defining Nigeria as a land of tribal bigots still went on to sum up the creditable position of the then Nigeria leaders in the unity and oneness of the country. This divisive colonially designed anthem to remind us of our tribal divisions was changed in 1976 by the Federal Military Government led by General Olusegun Obasanjo (now the democratically elected President of Nigeria) to an anthem that today represents the mood of Nigerians to the survival of their dear country. I will revisit this anthem later.