26 August 2012

Nigeria: Insight From an Insider in Nigerian Politics

To say Alhaji Tanko Yakasai is an 'encyclopaedia' of Nigerian politics is by no means a hyperbole. From the pre-Independence era, through the First and Second Republics, military era and now the post-dictatorship Nigeria, the author was not on the sideline - he lived through these political epochs. This is why his two-volume autobiography is much more than textual materials on the country's political history. Again, for being an active player in the national politics in contemporary Nigeria (a former journalist, political appointee and active party member), Alhaji Yakassai has what may be termed a bird's eye view on both past and current political events and their flavours. The autobiography, and in no small measure, helps to decipher the chaotic democratic environment that has brought Nigeria to disrepute over the years.

In the first volume, Alhaji Yakassai romanticises his early childhood, but quickly dives into politics, the predominant theme of the exhaustive work. He sneaks into politics as early as Page 45 of the 520-page volume, and does not lower the political tempo throughout the journey to the last dot of the book. From the 1953 London Constitutional Conference, through his years as a journalist, and the early political developments that saw to the coalition between the Northern Element Progressive Union and the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NEPU/NCNC), Yakasai attempts to capture the principles that underline political associations and the degree of intolerance in the First Republic.

The issues raised in this segment of the first volume provides enough context for the understanding of the first military coup in 1966, the brief leadership model of the late General Murtala Mohammed, the Second Republic and its eventual collapse. His discourse on these issues, from the point of view of a participant-observer, enriches the knowledge of the open-minded because the author does not make a deliberate attempt to condemn or justify the actions of political players. Rather, he provides the background that clarifies the undiluted circumstances in which decisions were taken, and how the tragedy that attended to many of them were not foreseen.

In the second volume, Alhaji Yakassai takes the reader through the events that occurred from December 1983, when the military sacked Alhaji Shehu Shagari's National Party of Nigeria (NPN) government, up to the 2011 general elections which produced President Goodluck Jonathan. In essence, for anyone who has missed so much of the country's political history, from the early days to the current era, the two-volume autobiography will come handy as reliable and veritable material.

Perhaps, an aspect of this work which is relevant to current political debate is how state police were used during the First Republic to trample upon opposition parties and their supporters. In Chapter 10 with the title, "The Northern Progressive Front," Alhaji Yakassai gives examples of how elements who belonged to NEPU were thrown into the gaol for their political beliefs. He wrote thus:

"Thousands of NEPU supporters from places like Katsina, Sokoto, Zaria, Bauchi, Niger, Borno and other provinces stormed the party's headquarters in Kano as refugees. Fictitious charges of breach of public peave, unlawful assembly, conduct likely to cause breach of the peace were framed up against them. At that time, once a person was charged to any Alkali court convictions were almost automatic. Sentences on such charges ranged from one and a half to three years imprisonment with no option of fine. New charges for abusing leaders like the Sardauna or the emirs were also introduced later.

In Kano, party supporters were being arrested in large numbers. People arrested were being brought to the private house of one prominent NPC supporter called Alhaji Sanda Maibarewa, who was appointed the "chief warrior" of the Sardauna in Kano. Sanda Maibarewa was given a special status in Kano, whereby every morning, a detachment of the N.A. Police would report for duty in his house in Fagge. The house was eventually turned into a police post. He would give them orders to go to a number of areas in Kano metropolis, where NPC thugs would "arrest" some NEPU supporters to hand them over to the police." (225, 226)

This persecution of opposition party supporters was not limited to the NPC, as, according to the author, those who belonged to opposition groups in Western Nigeria in that dispensation were brutalised by the state police under the control of ruling parties in various political segments.

On contemporary political trends, Alhaji Yakasai revealed, in this book, that the Obasanjo third term agenda was a grand design because of which the late Chief Sunday Awoniyi was denied the chairmanship of the PDP in 2003. The book says Obasanjo had suspected that Awoniyi would seek the presidency after his tenure as PDP leader in 2007, and therefore, frustrated the late politician's ambition in spite of the fact that Obasanjo gave Awoniyi the assurance that he would succeed Chief Solomon Lar. In like manner, the author gives some behind the scene moves that produced the late President Umaru Musa Yar'adua in spite of his ill-health, after Obasanjo's failed third term bid. The political confusion that attended the death of Yar'adua, the 'doctrine of necessity,' the bastardisation of PDP's zoning arrangement and the chaotic 2011 elections are adequately captured in the second volume of this autobiography.

Two things make Alhaji Yakasai's book worth reading. It is devoid of the kind of academic jargons that invite sleep on the reader of autobiographies, if they are laced with philosophies and multiple qualifiers. Written in simple, everyday newspaper language, this work may be considered as a reader's companion on Nigeria's political developments from the pre-colonial era to the post-military regime.

Book Title: Tanko Yakasai: The Story of a Humble Life (An Autobiography) Volume II

Author: Alhaji Tanko Yakasai

Pages: 492 Pages

Publishers: Moonlight Press & Publishers, Lagos

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