It is not clear why this analysis delivered on November 5th, 2014 as a Convocation Lecture at the Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, Nigeria is being re-circulated now. As a more educated and promising basis for engagement on nation building, Intervention finds it publishable unedited. Dr. Iyorchia Ayu, the author, is currently the National Chairman of Nigeria’s People’s Democratic Party, (PDP).A fuller bionote appears at the end of the script.
By Iyorchia Ayu (PhD)
Introduction: Prophets, Experts and Doomsday
Since the amalgamation of Southern and Northern provinces to create Nigeria in 1914, skepticism has persisted on the survival of the country. The British Colonial establishment initiated this skepticism by perceiving the new country as a100-year experiment. Sir Hugh Clifford, Governor-General of Nigeria between 1920 and 1931 described Nigeria as:
“A collection of independent native states, separated from one another by great distances, by differences of history, and traditions, and by ethnological, racial, tribal, political, social and religious barriers.”
Our founding fathers – that is, those who led our struggle for Independence from the British – inherited this skepticism and articulated it along as they made efforts to build a nation. In his “Path to Nigerian Freedom”(1947), Chief Obafemi Awolowo stated:
“Nigeria is not a nation. It is a mere geographical expression.”
The following year,(1948), his counterpart from the North, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa stated in the Legislative Council that:
“Since 1914 the British government has been trying to make Nigeria into one country, but the Nigerian people themselves are historically different in their backgrounds, in their religious beliefs and customs, and do not show themselves any sign of willingness to unite… Nigerian Unity is only a British intention for the country.”
Years later, Balewa would rethink this position in arguing that:
“We must recognize our diversity and the peculiar conditions under which the different tribal communities live in this country.”
He would also go on to serve as the Country’s first independent leader.
In his autobiography, Sir Ahmadu Bello described the amalgamation of Northern and Southern provinces as “THE MISTAKE OF 1914”. However, the same Ahmadu Bello urged us to “understand our differences”, and that by understanding our differences we can “build unity in our country”. In other words, none of these three great leaders gave up on building the Nigerian nation.
It is true that subsequent developments have presented us with serious challenges. Among these are a mistrust of each other, recurring violence, marred elections, followed by endless litigations; coups and counter-coups, massive corruption, and a thirty-month civil war that cost us over one million lives. The list is endless. “Always at the brink, but never tipping over”, we have survived these 100 years post-1914 with reasonable accomplishments and great expectations. However, rather than keep the faith and continue on the positive path of progress, there are still those who would rather we fulfill the doubts cast over us on the day of our birth.
This shadow of doubt was momentarily removed with General Gowon’s great patriotic and reconciliatory pronouncements. At the end of the civil war in 1970, Gowon told Nigeria and the world that there was “no victor, no vanquished”, and followed this up with an amnesty programme of “Reconciliation, Reconstruction, and Rehabilitation”. Whatever the limitations of these programmes, the spirit of reconciliation seized Nigerians on both sides of the war. Nigerians embraced each other to rebuild their devastated country. Since then, three key things have happened.
The first is the continuation of military regimes in the post civil war era. This has weakened Federalism and the democratic forces that would have paved the way for cementing unity, building trust, and generating a faster pace of development.
The second is the rise of petroleum as a dominant economic resource. The dependence on oil revenue has built resentment between two Nigerian societies: the oil producing and the non-oil producing people of Nigeria. Crosscutting this is the phenomenon of military leadership, extracted predominantly from the Northern part of the country. They come from the part of the amalgamated nation that has no oil yet controls political power. The other side – where the cash cow is milked – cry out, screaming “domination” and arguing for control of this vital resource, hence the term “Resource Control”. It suddenly became a war between “resource control” and “control of political power”.
A few examples of these alarming media headlines are: “Nation in Chaos”, “Breakup imminent?”, “Let’s Get Set for War”, “Now Nigeria is Finished”, “Make Up or Break Up: The Choice Facing Nigeria”, “Nigeria on the Brink” and so on. Side by side with the media, powerful ethno-cultural associations – Afenifere, Arewa Consultative Forum, Ohaneze, Ijaw National Congress, supported by a cast of fringe militant groups – continue to inveigh on the inevitable dissolution of the Nigerian nation. Since no counter-arguments are being offered, the impression created is that this definition of reality becomes the unassailable truth, and takes root in the thoughts and actions of our people.
A few examples will do. A Yoruba group – Apapo Oodua Koya (AOKOYA) urges the South-West to prepare for their own sovereignty since the battle ahead looks like a contest for an inevitable breakup of the country. A statement signed by its media director, Dr. Saliu Akinkumi, states:
“We are working to see a sovereign Ouduwa Republic from Lagos to Jeba, and Lokoja, plus the Itsekiri part of Delta and as soon as possible. It is now certain that the practical solution to the unending crisis since Nigeria’s forceful amalgamation in 1914, is the peaceful breakup of the country.”
MASSOB – An acronym for Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra has been campaigning and mis-educating young Nigerians of Igbo descent that the “Breakup of Nigeria is a Divine Destination”. Their most recent submission is that “Nigeria will break up if Jonathan is not re-elected in 2015”. In tandem with MASSOB is former Governor of Anambra, Dr, Chukwuemeka Ezeife, Asari Dukubo, and numerous other groups from the South-South .
From the North comes the response from the Chairman, Northern States Governors Forum, Dr. Babangida Aliyu of Niger State. According to him:
“If Nigeria splits, the North can still survive on its own. Contrary to the belief of some people in other regions that the North cannot survive if the nation disintegrates.”
There are, in addition, other “experts” outside Nigeria. Of these, the best known is Karl Maier, who wrote the book “This House Has Fallen.” The other is the 17 page report prepared for the US War College by former American Service men Gerald McLaughlin and Clarence J. Bouchat titled “Nigerian Unity in the Balance”. This highly publicized report presents both the upside and the downside scenarios. The authors foresee a decline in Africa, the most important being “the outright collapse of Nigeria” (their emphasis). However, many who cite this “downside” fail to add the “upside” caveat of the authors that
“… a variety of issues might cause our analysis to be incoherent in certain areas and more generally, not optimistic enough (my emphasis). Certainly, if hydrocarbon management were improved across the continent, Africa’s future in 2020 would look distinctly more positive. If Angola, Nigeria, and Sudan – three of Africa’s largest and most important countries – actually began to use their revenues from oil in productive ways, these economies would become stronger, tens of millions of Africans would benefit from reduced poverty, and the impact on the region will be significant.”
“All nations are geographical expressions” brought together, usually “by force of arms or self interest”, constantly struggling to resolve complex political, social and economic issues. Nigeria is not an exception. This has not stopped many countries from molding into powerful nation-states. The United States has shown that well managed and led “Unity in diversity” can be a source of strength rather than weakness and failure. Rather than look to emulate such best practice and build our country, we continue to promote division and conflict, most of it through complete misrepresentations of our reality.
In the rest of this lecture, we will take a look at a few of these realities and how they are misrepresented.
It is important to educate ourselves, but most especially the younger generation, that there was not just one amalgamation. Many amalgamations of different communities took place before 1893, and between 1893 and 1914. Never did the British arrive and find two coherent and distinct political entities known as Northern and Southern Protectorates.
What they found were numerous political entities. Even within single ethnic groups, e.g. the Yorubas and the Igbos, there were several polities and entities antagonistic to each other, which the British pulled together. It is these disparate groups that were reconstituted into Northern and Southern protectorates. Tabulated below is what happened between 1893 and 1914:
1893 Oil Rivers Protectorate amalgamated with other conquered coastal territories to form Niger Coastal Protectorate.
1897 Kingdom of Benin conquered and merged into Niger Coastal Protectorate.
1900 More territories near Lagos conquered and amalgamated with Niger Coastal Protectorate to become Protectorate of Southern Nigeria.
1906 Colony of Lagos amalgamated with the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria.
1900 Protectorate of Northern Nigeria proclaimed as a sphere of influence to keep out other European powers. Of this we had entities as the Sokoto Caliphate, Kanem Borno Empire, and other independent entities as Tiv, Igala, Jukun etc.
1914 Amalgamation of the protectorate of Northern Nigeria with the Colony of Lagos and the Protectorate of Southern Nigerian.
1961 Amalgamation or Integration of Northern Cameroon as the thirteenth province of Northern Nigeria.
If we consider what the British did as a mistake, it is not just one mistake of 1914. It is a series of mistakes: 1893, 1897, 1900, 1906, and 1914. The implication is this: were we to correct these British mistakes by way of de-amalgamation, it will be series of breakups, the end of which no one can foretell. The upheavals it will create all over Nigeria and the whole of West Africa will be monumental. The US War College document correctly concludes that:
“if Nigeria were to become a failed state, it could drag down a large part of the West African region… If millions were to flee a collapsed Nigeria, the surrounding countries, up to and including Ghana, would be destabilized.”
Recurrent Violence: National Identity, Citizenship and Boko Haram
Over the years, Nigeria has witnessed a series of recurrent violence. Few countries have spilled as much of the blood of its citizens in civil times as Nigeria has. This violence is of different origins. Some of it is economic in origin stemming from land disputes and clashes between herdsmen. Some are political, stemming from electoral contests. However, the ones that most threaten our nation are those attributable to ethnic and religious differences and intolerance.
Since we live in a changing world ruled by finance capital, both owners of capital – financiers, industrialists, traders, and the working people, peasants and unemployed youth must migrate to places outside their ancestral homes. But rather than settle with full citizen rights as constitutionally provided, they become dual citizens in their own country. On the one hand, they are citizens of the country, on the other hand, they are categorized as “non-indigenes” in their new state. As settlers limitations are placed on their social and political rights. This consequently generates and perpetuates a serious crisis of identity not only for the “settler”, but also for the “indigene”.
All over the country, though in varying degrees, this has periodically resulted into violent conflicts that threaten the very existence of our country. An Igbo man born and bred in Kano returns to claim Imo or Abia as his “state of origin”. He is not fully accepted by the Kano people, nor does he identify with or accept Kano as his state. So it is with an Urhobo person in Kaduna and so on.
Closely tied to this are differences in religion. It is true that for believers, religion is very important, if not the most important thing in their lives. No one can wish this away. What has become a worrisome phenomenon is the extent to which it is used as an instrument for destabilization. In pre-colonial Nigeria, Kanem-Borno and the Sokoto Caliphate were empires built using Islam as a binding ideology. Since then, colonialism and the spread of the Christian religion introduced a new configuration between the two religions. Instead of peaceful co-existence, they both seek to spread and dominate, setting the stage for recurrent violent conflicts and instability.
In a world of scarce economic resources with massive concentrations of wealth, religion becomes a powerful force for mobilizing one group against the other. This is particularly so in urban areas where in relative terms, the poor compare their conditions to the rich. Given that the vast majority of the poor are the “indigenous” and of a different faith to their better off “non-native settlers”, disagreements quickly degenerate into violent clashes along ethno-religious lines. Quite often, fanatical believers and political actors see and have used religion as a tool for mobilizing support either for dissent, change, or for strengthening their control of economic and political power.
In our recent history, major conflicts based on a combination of ethnic and religious differences have set our people against each other. This has been the case in places such as Kaduna, Kano, Zaria, Kafanchan, Bauchi, Katsina, Zangon-Kataf, Plateau, and most recently Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa, where Boko Haram has fought and even proclaimed an Islamic state. Add other past events as the Maitatsine revolts in 1980, the Sharia Law debates during the 1978 Constitutional Conference; the proclamation of Sharia Law in several Northern States during the Fourth Republic; and the Orkar coup in 1990 that excised five states – Kano, Bauchi, Borno, Katsina and Sokoto – from Nigeria, and you will be inclined to conclude that the easiest way out is the Orkar solution. Major Orkar and his fellow coup members naively saw Nigeria as two constituents of Hausa-Fulani Islamic North, versus a Christian Middle Belt and South. Incidentally, this is a misleading interpretation and sentiment shared by many of our compatriots.
Let us examine the ethno-religious composition of two of the states excised by Orkar – Bauchi and Borno – and Adamawa state currently under siege from Boko Haram insurgents. Not only are they not entirely Hause-Fulani and Islamic, their ethnic and religious configuration is a complex mix of different ethnic groups belonging to equally different religions. It is even impossible to territorially define boundaries along ethno-religious lines. To give a few examples, Bauchi state has fifty-five ethnic nationalities, among which are Hausa, Fulani, Sagawa, Bulewa, Warjawa, Badawa, and Gerawa. Yet many in Nigeria see Bauchi as populated entirely by Hausa and Fulanis. Also, many of its inhabitants are not Muslims.
Similarly, Borno state has twenty-eight ethnic nationalities. Among which are: Kanuri, Shuwa-Arab, Hausa, Fulani, Babur, Bura, Chibok, Ngoshe, Guduf, Mandara,Gawergu, and Tera. Again while most are Muslims, there is a significant Christian population among them. The same goes for Adamawa – a state which has the highest number of ethnic groups in Nigeria (80).
The territory and people most affected by the Boko Haram insurgency (Southern Borno and Northern Adamawa), are made up of approximately seven (7) local governments – Gwoza, Damboa, and Chibok in Southern Borno; Bama and Konduga in Northern Borno; and Madagali, Michika, and Mubi in Northern Adamawa – are similarly populated by a mixture of Muslims, Christians, and Animists, drawn from a mosaic of ethnic groups. To name a few, there are Kanuri, Marghi, Higgi, Bura, Kapsiki, Gude, Ndandankwa, Gra, Kamwe, Betso, Fali, Kilba, Hausa, Fulani, etc.
In both the urban and rural areas, they live and interact with each other, not on the basis of religion or ethnicity, but common economic and social life. Most of them are farmers and traders. Poverty and a common desire to get out of poverty is the common denominator of their lives. It is difficult to draw a clear line of demarcation between them, since in a local government, local community, village, or even in one family, you have some as Muslims, some as Christians, and others as animists. Despite periodic conflicts, some of which admittedly are due to either ethnicity or religion, we cannot solve their problems by breaking up and disaggregating Nigeria according to language, ethnic composition and religion.
More importantly, is Boko Haram a religious insurgency? No, it is not.
Boko Haram has no clear or coherent message. They indiscriminately attack Christians, “Western Institutions” such as schools, and Muslims alike. It is made up of Nigerians and a large number of Chadians from the Chadian provinces of Lac, and Hadjer Lamis. These two Chadian states share a long border with North-Eastern Nigeria around the Lake Chad region, and provide Boko Haram with trained Chadian fighters.
Two things about this area are central to understanding the Boko Haram phenomenon. First, and most important, is that the Lake Chad Basin is estimated to have a reserve of 2.32 billion barrels of oil, and 14.65 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. The oil and gas flows underground across the countries sharing the Lake Chad Basin – Nigeria, Chad, Niger, and Cameroun. Using 3D drilling, it is believed that Chad is not only tapping oil within its territory, but also from Nigeria to push up its production levels. The Boko Haram insurgency delays exploration and production on the Nigerian side of Lake Chad to the benefit of Chad and a few other stakeholders.
Reportedly, prominent businessmen and politicians in both Nigeria and Chad, in association with French companies, have invested heavily in the Chadian oil industry, and as a result, benefit from Boko Haram’s destabilization of the North-Eastern part of Nigeria. It is widely believed that it is they who are the principal financiers and arm suppliers to Boko Haram.
The second economic factor is the drying up of Lake Chad itself. Once one of the largest water bodies in Africa, Lake Chad has shrunk from 26,000 square kilometers in 1993, to less than 1500 square kilometers in 2001. This has seriously affected the economic and social life of over thirty (30) million people in the four countries around the Lake. The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization has called it an “ecological catastrophe”. Inevitably, many farmers and herdsmen have migrated, seeking greener pastures. Local conflicts have multiplied between Cameroonian and Nigerian nationals; and between occupational groups – fishermen fighting farmers and herdsmen to stop diverting water from the lake to their farms and livestock.
Related to the insurgency, the disappearance of the lake and related rivers, and the dislocation of the ecology and economic life of the region has created a large population of unemployed and discontented youth. They have become a reserve army easily available for recruitment by the insurgents. Curious enough, the President of Chad, Idris Debby, is said to have close, cordial relations with the insurgents. So far, Boko Haram has not attacked any territory in Chad. Rather, they have a cluster of bases in Chad, which serve as rear for their terrorist activities in Nigeria. To use Al Gore’s captivating phrase, this is “the inconvenient truth”, about Boko Haram and its threat to Nigerian sovereignty.
Oil: Domination and Resource Control
In all developing nations, the discovery of oil in commercial quantities has proven always to be both a blessing and a curse. The oil economy divides the people into those who have and those who have not both in regional and class terms.
First there are those communities on whose land oil is explored. While their eco-system is destroyed, not many of them benefit directly from the activity. Instead, the destruction of the eco-system reduces their quality of life. In contrast to this is the greed and opulent lifestyles of the local and national elites, who in collaboration with their international counterparts, manage, control and derive massive benefits from the oil economy. The poorly managed relationship between the oil producing communities and the rest of the country naturally became a source of instability. The local elite, who nevertheless benefit alongside their national counterparts, capitalize on the misery and discontent of their kin to fight for control of what they define as their God-given wealth.
In Nigeria, “Resource Control” has become a war song for the “liberation” of the people of the Niger Delta. The capital-intensive and highly skilled nature of the industry does not help matters. Not much of the untrained and unskilled local labour force is employed. Discontent takes over the local population. The unemployed youth organize themselves into local militia headed by warlords who are sometimes antagonistic to each other. For example, in 2003 the Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force (NDPVF) commenced by Alhaji Mujahid Asari-Dokubo, went to war against the Niger Delta Vigilante (NDV) led by Ateke Tom. The two major groups were cheered on by another cast of over one hundred militia groups. Financed and armed by local political leaders, their venom is directed against outsiders, in this case Northerners or “Hausa-Fulani” people from the North, who come from afar and “take away their resources.”
his has become an inflammatory statement, both true and false, that is driving Nigeria to the edge. True because military dictators, predominantly but not only of Northern origin, who have controlled state power since the end of the civil war in 1970, preside over the nation and its oil revenues. They decided how much would be allocated to the oil producing states. Over the years, they cut down the percentage going to “derivation” and in so doing, kept more resources in their hands at the center. Not only were the concentrated resources poorly managed by way of massive corruption, their development vision was so blurred that it never impacted seriously on the people of the region they claimed to represent. They allowed their friends – irrespective of ethnic, regional, or religious orientation – to partake in this booty. Allocation of oil blocks, bunkering, and unexecuted contracts took “Federal Character”. In fact, many Northerners argue that the beneficiaries were largely their friends from the Southern part of the country who had better knowledge of business and the finance world, whom the Generals trusted more than those from the North.
It partially explains why the North is more impoverished than its Southern neighbours, but does not adequately explain the impoverishment of the oil producing areas. Over the years, local agitations and cries have been responded to by pushing more resources to these states, local governments, and to special intervention agencies, to help alleviate the problems and by so doing appease them. Apart from increasing their constitutionally provided derivation to 13%, illegally removing the on-shore off-shore dichotomy as a political expediency; creating OMPADEC – later replaced by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC); setting up a Ministry of the Niger Delta; amnesty programme for militants; Sure-P, and special contributions by oil companies to the host communities, the central government has allowed local leaders to bunker and intimidate oil companies and contractors working in the area.
Put together, the oil producing areas take home approximately 40% of all oil revenue generated in Nigeria. Yet, no one has seriously assessed how these resources are committed towards the development of their people, or looked at the lack of accountability by these local leaders. Private jets, and other forms of conspicuous consumption are rapidly on the increase at the detriment of uplifting the quality of life of the poor people of the oil affected areas. It is this macabre combination of local, national, and international agents that keep fueling the agitation for resource control and calls for the creation of a sovereign territory for the Niger Delta region. It is certainly not a so-called domination by a Northern Hausa-Fulani elite over the peoples of the Niger-Delta region.
As long as Nigeria continues to fail to avail itself of patriotic and visionary leadership that will address the genuine problems of not only the peoples of the oil producing areas, but other equally disadvantaged parts of Nigeria, so shall we continue in this gradual descent down the cliff.
Of Conference and Constitutions
It is necessary to briefly touch on one other issue that has occupied much space in today’s political debates – The National or Sovereign National Conference, and the need for a Peoples Constitution. Closely related is True Federalism. It is always appropriate to come together, discuss, and resolve our differences. We have been doing this since the 1940s. Since the time of independence struggles, political leaders and representatives of our people meet, discuss, and work out the basic laws that govern our country. What is worrisome is that we hardly work hard towards implementing the provisions of these constitutions. In not doing so, we fail to secure our democracy. No doubt we remain a dissatisfied, impatient, all-knowing, and critical people. This is good, but we must learn to be patient in nation building.
The few vociferous critiques have created an impression that there exists somewhere “a perfect constitution” which, once we obtain, all other things will be added. Curiously, they make us believe that a collection of ethnic representatives in a “Sovereign National Conference” will produce such a constitution which will be ratified in a National referendum. However, a constitution per se, does not build a nation. It is the commitment and sense of responsibility of its people, guided by patriotic and visionary leadership that does. As the late former secretary to the Federal Government, Liman Ciroma, said:
“We tend to want the constitution to replace our own commitment to the nation and to free us from our responsibilities of seeking solutions to national problems”.
He added that:
“Nation building is a dynamic and on-going process, and constitution making must beware of this.”
Recently, many African countries caught the fever of Sovereign Conferences and Referendum – Benin Republic, Central African Republic, Mali, Gambia, Guinea, and Burkina-Faso. Of these, none is in anyway a paragon of democracy. Mali, Guinea, The Central African Republic are just recovering from their political traumas, while democratic forces has just ended the twenty-seven year rule of President Blaise Compaore. Let us contrast this against the much admired American constitution and the commitment of the American people which has produced the strongest nation on the globe.
The question is: was it perfect? No. Even the founding fathers acknowledged its imperfections. Late in his life, Madison wrote that no constitution or government could be perfect. However, “that which is least imperfect is, therefore, the best government”. Since 1791 when the constitution came into effect, generations of Americans have not just accepted it as a sacred and supreme document. They have since subjected it to twenty-seven (27) additional amendments, followed by several legislations. This is a further acknowledgement of its imperfections and the dynamic changes of society. They have continuously strived to build their country, their economy, and institutions, and enhance the quality of life of their people and their power in the world. This is why their people ask what they can do for their country and not just what their country can do for them. It is unheard of for American politicians, intellectuals, or the media to persistently champion the dissolution of the American Union as ours continue to do. It is this positive and patriotic attitude, followed by concrete actions by its leaders and the general population to make America great that has made the United States of America one of the most powerful nations in the world.
As a nation, we must learn from best practices instead of constantly using Yugoslavia, Sudan, and the Soviet Union as shining examples. Imperfect as our constitution is, it was drafted by our best minds, debated on, and approved by selected and broadly elected representatives. According to Professor Nwabueze, it’s “Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy” has been adopted in the constitutions of ten other African countries.”
We do accept, however, that many years of military dictatorship, with its hierarchical command and control structure, have over-centralized our Federalist Constitution. Nonetheless, the thing to not do is over-decentralize, weaken our union, and set the stage for disintegration. What we need is continuous democratic dialogue – formal and informal, compromise in the process and give more power to the federating states. Without this, America as a nation-state and subsequent world power would never have existed. They discovered, as far back as the 19th Century, the necessity of a strong center in a diverse federation but structured its powers to allow each unit to follow the law of uneven development – limited but separate in movement.
We will now turn to the last of our selected myths – our voting behaviour.
Elections and Electoral Behaviour
Over the years, Nigerians have come to accept a misleading picture of the country’s electoral behavior. Racist foreign accounts, in addition to local commentators have made us believe that our electoral contests are a tripartite contest of Yorubas, Igbos, and Hausa/Fulani, in which the Yorubas vote for Yoruba parties; Igbos vote for Igbo parties; and Hausa/Fulanis vote for Hausa/Fulani parties. In this casting, the rest of us simply tag along as a support cast.
In a groundbreaking study of our electoral behavior, the late Yusuf Bala Usman and his former student Alkassum Abba, dissected national and regional elections from 1951 to 1999. Surprisingly, all the elections they examined showed a contrary pattern. Using figures from the elections of 1951,1954, 1956, 19659, 1979, and 1999; they demonstrated convincingly that the political behavior of the Nigerian people is neither ethnic, religious, nor regional. According to them, in the 1951 elections, the NCNC led by Dr, Azikiwe defeated Awolowo’s Action Group in the Western Region by fifty-one (51) seats to twenty-nine (29). It was later that sixteen (16) allies of the NCNC crossed over to the Action Group and gave them a majority of forty-five (45) seats to the NCNC’s thirty-five (35).
In the 1956 Regional Elections in the Western Region, the AG, even as the party in government, did not get fifty (50) percent of the votes. They got forty-eight point three (48.3) percent of votes cast, with forty-eight (48) seats. The NCNC garnered thirty-five point three (35.3) percent with thirty-two (32) seats; while others, mostly independent candidates, got sixteen point four (16.4) percent. In the Western region, this voting pattern continued up to the 1959 Federal Elections as shown in the figures below:
West/Lagos Votes Seats Percentage(%)
AG 933,680 33 49.4%
NCNC 758,462 21 50.6%
OTHERS 195,067 ___
It is only in the 1960 Western Regional House of Assembly elections that the Action Group gained comprehensive victory over the NCNC with fifty-three point six (53.6) percent of the votes to thirty-six point two (36.2) percent.
Their analysis showed a similar pattern of electoral behavior in both the Eastern and Western regions. There is no doubt that if the military had allowed democracy to grow and stabilize in Nigeria, we would have long overcome the myth of ethnic-based parties and associated patterns of voting. This assertion is strongly supported by what happened in subsequent elections.
In the Second Republic, the Action Group resurrected as Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), and got overwhelming support in the Western region. However, the same could not be said of the NPN – the offshoot of the Sardauna’s NPC. Shehu Shgari was elected President not by the votes of his Fulani and Hausa kinsmen, but by the votes of the predominantly Christian minority states of Benue, Rivers, Cross-River, Kwara, and Niger. Put together, they contributed fifty-eight point nine (58.9) percent of the votes for Shagari’s victory.
Again, after another long interlude of rule by the military, Nigerians exhibited the same Pan-Nigerian disposition. It is a few noisy political actors that seek to portray Nigerians as ethnic chauvinists. Two key examples are the 1993 elections of Abiola, and the 1999 elections of President Obasanjo, during both of which I was a key actor. In the build up to the 1993 Presidential Elections, key Southern leaders castigated Chief MKO Abiola as a “stooge” of General Babangida and a “front” for the Northern oligarchy. They cast the entire transition as a “fraud”. Celebrated opinion leaders as Anthony Enahoro, Chief Gani Fawehinmim and The Guardian Newspaper denounced and called for the boycott of the elections.
Not surprisingly, of the total 7.76 million voters registered in the Yoruba states of Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, and Oyo, only 3 million or 38.9% voted for Abiola. The rest of the 4.76 million or 60% of Yoruba voters either abstained or voted for Abiola’s opponent. In other words, Chief Abiola did not win on the votes of Yoruba voters.
Ironically, these same castigators of Chief Abiola turned around as soon as the elections – judged as the “freest and fairest” – were nullified on 23rd June 1993. Fawehinmi rechristened the election as “divine intervention”, and “not negotiable”. He said:
“It was more providential that mundane. It was a judgment delivered by God based on activities in society since 1914 and 1960. Abiola happened to be a messenger used by God for that purpose.”
People like Anthony Enahoro became the greatest beneficiaries. They joined the growing opposition to the nullification, seized the moment, and were transformed from Abiola’s detractors to “HEROES” of our democratic struggles. Many of us who made June 12 possible were quietly relegated to the background.
Then came the 1999 election of General Obasanjo. Like Abiola, his Yoruba kinsmen saw his candidature as another scheme of the “Northern Oligarchy”. Afenifere leader, Ayo Adebanjo stated:
“I will not vote for him. Voting for him is like voting for a Northerner.”
Adebanjos’ view was typical of those who claimed to speak for the Yoruba nation. Hence, joining in were most of the South-West media – Tell, The News, Tempo, etc. Like Adebanjo, a vast majority of the Yorubas did not vote for Obasanjo in 1999. Obasanjo got only 1.09 million votes in the six Yoruba speaking states of Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Ekiti, Osun, and Oyo. According to Usman and Abba:
“This is less that the 1.29 million he got in Kaduna state alone, and barely higher than the 0.96million he got in Katsina state.”
He “lost his deposit” in five of the six states by scoring less than 25%. In fact, he scored as low as 12% in Lagos, and 16.6% in Ondo. Again, as soon as he was elected, leading Yoruba figures started mobilizing Yoruba popular opinion along ethnic lines. Senator Ayo Fasanmi inveighed that:
“Nothing must happen to him, otherwise that would be the end of Nigeria.”
Tell Magazine’s Dare Babarainsa somersaulted from an earlier anti-Obasanjo stand and wrote:
“Obasanjo is hailed as the symbol of the new Nigerian democracy. He is the pilot of the new Nigeria Risorgimento and a new beginning for Black Africa and the African race.”
Today in 2014, history is repeating itself. The irrationality of yester-years is taking center stage as prominent Ijaw and Igbo leaders have come out to threaten that there will be no Nigeria if Jonathan is not re-elected.
“2015: Nigeria will break up if Jonathan is not reelected”. – MASSOB.
Former Anambra state Governor, Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife asserts:
“At this juncture in Nigeria history, President Jonathan’s interests in a second term and Nigeria’s interest in continued existence of the country have become coterminous.”
If Jonathan is not reelected:
“We would be faced with the same problem. The Niger Delta boys would blow up all the oil pipelines and then a part of the country could say Nigeria legally expired when the nation marked its centenary and that they are now on their own.”
It is difficult to understand how an individual’s loss of a democratic election, if freely and fairly conducted, can lead to the end of the very country he aspires to govern; and in Jonathan’s case, has governed for the last six (6) years. It is accepted worldwide that the nation is greater than any of its individual citizens. No matter how highly placed we are or where we come from, it is our nation that has offered us an opportunity to attain greatness. Not only must we do nothing to destroy that nation, we must contain our overzealous supporters against stoking the flames for its destruction.
By way of conclusion, those putting forward misleading constructions of our historical reality and agitating for the break-up of Nigeria must tarry to look at the grim implications.
+ As President Obasanjo once remarked to me, “I will feel diminished being a Yoruba leader instead of a Nigerian leader”. I believe many Nigerians will feel the same.
+ Were we to de-amalgamate, it will be as peeling an onion, layer after layer. It will not just be one single division of North and South. Many de-amalgamations will take place, with numerous indeterminate boundaries and conflicts. The resultant wars will generate several rivers of blood.
+ Contrary to the illusion of faster growth and development, these conflicts and wars will lead to massive economic destruction and a throwback to pre-colonial times. The new miniature nations will take decades, if not centuries, to reach our current level of development. Those in doubt should look in the Syrian mirror.
+ The current promise of Nigeria emerging as a major economic player after 2050 will be no more. It is projected that by 2050, Nigeria’s population will be the third largest in the world, and its economy among the top ten. All this will be lost.
+ Were it to happen, the break up will generate a huge refugee nightmare requiring large quantities of food, shelter, and medical supplies.
+ This mass migration will destabilize the whole of the West African sub-region and beyond.
+ The world media, especially television, will be happy to capture and present these pathetic images to the world. It will be a big blow to the black world. Many Africans and Africans in the Diaspora will be psychologically traumatized.
- Overall, it will be a world of impoverished mini states, tearing at each other, pouring out desperate peoples, and by so doing, humiliating the whole of the black race.
Let me end by way of a commonplace or popular admonition: “those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.”
Iyorchia Ayu, born in November 1952 in Gboko Local Government Area of Benue state, attended Mount St. Gabriel’s Secondary School, Makurdi; and St. John’s College, Kaduna.
He proceeded to Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and graduated with a B.Sc in Sociology in 1976. After one year of National Service with Sketch Publishing Company, Ibadan, he joined University of Jos as a teaching assistant.
Dr. Ayu later obtained an M.A and Ph.D in Social Sciences at the University of Leicester, United Kingdom. He returned to the University of Jos in 1984 where he taught until 1991, and rose to the position of Senior Lecturer and Head of Department. He taught courses in Mass Communication and Society, Political Sociology, and Contemporary Cultural Studies. He later joined the Daily Times as member of the editorial board.
In 1992, he left The Daily Times for partisan politics and joined the Social Democratic Party (SDP), where he was elected Senator, and later President of the Nigerian Senate. He also served as Minister in the following Federal Ministries: Education and Youth Development; Industries; Internal Affairs; and Environment.
When it became clear that General Abacha was going to perpetuate himself in office, Dr. Ayu and eight of his colleagues met and decided to challenge General Abacha. The group later grew to eighteen, and finally to thirty-four members. It is this group, know as the G34, which constituted the nucleus of the People’s Democratic Party – PDP.
As a founding member of the PDP, Dr. Ayu played several key roles in the new party, including serving as Political Adviser to the first party Chairman, Chief Solomon Lar; Member of the National Executive Committee; and Director-General, Obasanjo Campaign Organization.
He is a dedicated sportsman and is married with children.