Richard Akinjide, the Ibadan High Chief and Minister for Justice in the Second Republic who died early hours of today was one of the five or so politicians who, till today, best personify the politics of the ruling party in Nigeria’s Second Republic – the National Party of Nigeria, (NPN) led by Chief Adisa Meredith Akinloye but whose presidential candidate was the late Alhaji Shehu Shagari. That was from 1979 to 1983 before they were overthrown by General Muhammadu Buhari in the 31st December coup 1983.
The other such personalities cannot but be the late Dr. Chuba Okadigbo, the University of Nigeria, Nsukka philosopher and self-acclaimed sharp-shooter who was the Political Adviser to President Shagari; Alhaji Maitama Bello who, as Minister for Internal Affairs, deported the Majority Leader of Borno State House of Assembly, Alhaji Shugaba Darman thereby bringing charges of despotism against the NPN and the grandmaster of them all, the late Umaru Dikko, the University of London trained Mathematician and self-acclaimed tactician of the party. Dikko once told this reporter along with another journalist from the Weekly Trust that his essence in power was not money but power. And power for two reasons: how to run opponents of the Shagari regime out of town politically and how to neutralise the military officers he suspected of plotting to overthrow the Shagari Government. He was replying to the question of how he could be so poor in the evening of his life when, as Chairperson of Shagari’s re-election as well as the notorious Presidential Taskforce on Rice, he must have amassed wealth. He said in the interview in April 1999 that the allegations against him were fabricated by Generals he had challenged to leave the military and join politics instead of wanting power through the backdoor. And that he never aspired to be rich in money terms, saying he had been vindicated by all the probes the successor regime ordered into his time in power. Anyway, none of the Generals he had in mind replied him when the interview was published in the Weekly Trust.
But, out of this list, Richard Akinjide was the most symbolic. First, he was operating in Chief Awolowo’s stronghold – the Southwest. He was one of the established faces of the NPN in that environment. As Prof Jibrin Ibrahim who did an academic study of the NPN would say, the party was a re-arrangement of fractions of key regional camps into a national platform for the purpose of ‘primitive accumulation of power’ rather than that of ‘primitive accumulation of profit’. It was an assemblage for nationalising sharing of the national cake as opposed to the regional approach of the First Republic. So, NPN saw parties such as the Unity Party of Nigeria, (UPN) or Dr. Nmandi Azikiwe’s Nigerian People’s Party, (NPP) which still had a regional foothold as some kind of organisational dinosaurs or abberations.
Akinjide was the face of the NPN in the Southwest along with other key players such as Chief Akinloye and MKO Abiola until he fell out with the NPN when they blocked him against Shagari’s second term with Umaru Dikko’s punchline that the presidential candidacy was not for sale. Akinjide occupied the same position as people like Dr Alex Ekwueme and Chuba Okadigbo in the East where NPP was the leading party.
NPN was national but it had no stronghold except in the Northern minorities minus Plateau which went the way of the NPP. The NPN was rejected in the two key states of the Northwest – Kano and Kaduna which went to old NEPU/PRP ‘s radical populism while the entire Northeast preferred Waziri Ibrahim led Great Nigeria People’s Party, (GNPP). So, NPN was only there in parts of Northwest such as Sokoto where Shagari came from, parts of Katsina and mainly in Benue, Niger, Cross River and so on. In fact, the gist
The problem came for the NPN when it could not win 2/3 of 19 as required by law. Then, Nigeria had 19 states. It won in 12 states and 1/3 of Kano. 2/3 of 19 gives you something slightly more than twelve which the party got but, before the election, the Federal Electoral Commission, (FEDECO) had given the impression that 2/3 of 19 meant 13 because a state cannot be fractionalised.
So, there was a statlemate because none of the five political parties had won out rightly. UPN was around 5 million votes or something like that and it was restricted to the Southwest. NPN was the only party that remained a few thousand votes to get 13 states. so, what does Nigeria do? There was suspense and fear as usual.
It is possible that some cabal concocted the interpretation just as it is possible that Akinjide was a genius. It is not clear to everyone yet where he got the insight. Wherever he got it from, he maximised the time factor in making the move. That was the moment he stepped out to say that, in law, 2/3 of 19 states could not be anything than the mathematics of it. The nation went silent before it recovered its boisterous self to question Akinjide’s analysis.
The long and short of it is NPN was declared the winner and the UPN went to challenge that in court. And the courts ruled that NPN won the election. Akinjide had made a name for himself.
Since then, he had a special place whenever politics is under discussion in Nigeria. And he speaks to a larger issue which is that as empty as the NPN government when compared to the PRP, for instance, it did not parade Tom, Dick and Harry. In fact, this applies to all the parties and it may be cited as a major difference between the Second Republic and the third and the current one. You may not accept Chief Awolowo’s politics; you may not agree with Chuba Okadigbo or you may find Abubakar Rimi, Solomon Lar, Baba Adekunle Ajasin, Lateef Jakande, Jim Nwobodo, Tatari Ali, Balarabe Musa or Clement Isong disagreeable but they all came to power after achieving something somewhere. Chief Awolowo ran his party as a structured organisation, with established intellectuals around him. The NPN had their own intellectuals such as Okadigbo, Ibrahim Tahir, Adamu Ciroma, Clement Isong, among others. Today, what do we have? In the name of democracy, politics has become an all-comer arena in Nigeria, with the country paying dearly for it.
Fare thee well then, Chief Richard Akinjide for the much you contributed and came to symbolise. May not have been a perfect man but Nigeria is not looking for an Angel but a creative mind, whichever the direction of that who can produce at least an interpretation