Nigeria which started its political journey during the colonial era about 100 years ago is still an infant crawling on all fours
| By Olu Ojewale | Jan. 6, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT
NIGERIA, everyone seems to agree, is a potential great nation. It is blessed with human and natural resources that are envied by many other countries. But politically, it is a country that is still trying to find its feet around the maze. A combination of many factors, which are traceable to the nature of its existence as a nation are responsible for this. Nigeria’s journey to nationhood started more than 100 years ago, but the British colonialists only formalised the union in January 1914 through what is called amalgamation of the then northern and southern protectorates without the consent and input of the peoples concerned.
Nigeria’s political evolution took its roots from three different groups. One, there were several professional and business associations that were ostensibly non-political in the 1920s. These included the Nigerian Union of Teachers, which provided trained leadership for political groups; the Nigerian Law Association, which brought together lawyers, many of whom had been educated in Britain; and the Nigerian Produce Traders’ Association, led by Obafemi Awolowo. The groups provided basic platform from which political parties emerged.
In the same boat were the Igbo Federal Union and the Egbe Omo Oduduwa, meaning society of the descendants of Oduduwa, a Yoruba cultural movement, in which the late Awolowo played a leading role. The two socio-cultural groups, which emerged by mid-1940s, equally provided bases for the emerging political parties. But the arrival of some Nigerians who had gone abroad to study helped to create political awareness that led to nationalists’ movement.
The political awareness and the 1922 constitution eventually provided for a handful of Nigerians to be elected as representatives to the Legislative Council. Herbert Macauley, often referred to as the father of Nigerian nationalism, played a significant role in this development, with the aid of the Lagos Daily News, his newspaper. Macauley was the leader of the Nigerian National Democratic Party, NNDP, which dominated elections in Lagos from its founding in 1922 until the ascendancy of the National Youth Movement, NYM, in 1938. However, the NNDP was only known as a Lagos political party, popular only in the area with experience in elective politics.
But the NYM, in its campaign, agitated for dominion status within the British Commonwealth of Nations, so that Nigeria would have the same status as Canada and Australia. The arrival of Nnamdi Azikikwe, former Nigerian president, changed the political landscape. Azikiwe, who had just returned from the United States, joined the NYM vanguard. And in elections held in 1938, the NYM ended the domination of the NNDP in the Legislative Council and emerged as a true national organisation with network of associates. But three years later, the movement was torn apart by internal division in which ethnic loyalties played a crucial role. This led Azikiwe and some other members from the East to abandon the NYM, thereby placing it in the hands of the Yoruba. During World War II, the association, now predominantly controlled by the Yoruba, transmuted into a political party known as the Action Group, AG, and led by Awolowo. Thus, Yoruba-Igbo rivalry began.
The tribal rivalry also manifested in other political parties of the time, even as nationalists started to make case for the country’s independence. Hence, the Hausa-Fulani peoples in the North supported the Northern People’s Congress, NPC, the AG was for the Yoruba and the Igbo dominated National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons, NCNC, which later changed to the National Council of Nigerian Citizens. On that basis, the British government was able to manipulate the political equation in the country by sponsoring and supporting the North to be the overlord based on their perceived numerical strength of the North.
Even then, because of its posture as a national party, the NCNC captured a majority of the votes in the predominantly Yoruba Western Region late 1940s. But gradually, the party had to rely on Igbo support because it was apparent that some leaders of the Yoruba were not happy about the development. So, Awolowo as secretary-general of the Egbe Omo Odudduwa and leader of the Nigerian Produce Traders’ Association used his influence in the two groups to establish the AG in 1951 as a response to Igbo control of the NCNC in the Western Region. The party was structured democratically and designed essentially to exploit the federal arrangement to attain regional power. Awolowo had little difficulty in appealing to the broad segments of the Yoruba population, but had difficulties in convincing other major tribes to embrace the party.
The Northern People’s Congress, NPC, was founded in the late 1940s by a small group of Western-educated northern Muslims who obtained the assent of the emirs to form a political party capable of counterbalancing the activities of the southern-based parties. It represented a substantial element of reformism in the Muslim north. The most powerful figure in the party was Ahmadu Bello, the sardauna (war leader) of Sokoto. Often described by opponents as a “feudal” conservative, Bello was very passionate in protecting northern social and political institutions from southern influence. He also insisted on maintaining the territorial integrity of the Northern Region, including those areas with non-Muslim populations. He was prepared to introduce educational and economic changes to strengthen the north. Although Bello’s personal ambitions were limited to the Northern Region, he supported the NPC’s efforts to mobilise the north’s large voting strength so as to win control of the national government.
But not everyone in the party was pleased with Bello’s ideas. In 1950 Aminu Kano, who had been instrumental in founding the NPC, broke away to form a separate party called the Northern Elements Progressive Union, NEPU, in protest against the NPC’s limited objectives and what he called anti-modernisation stance of Northern traditional rulers. NEPU later formed a parliamentary alliance with the NCNC.
Between 1946 and 1954 three constitutions were enacted for the country. Although the constitutions were subjects of political controversy, they inevitably moved the country towards greater autonomy and an increasing role for the political parties. The 1946 Richards Constitution (after Governor Arthur Richards, who was responsible for its formulation) provided for an expanded Legislative Council empowered to deliberate on matters affecting the whole country. It gave birth to separate houses of assembly in each of the three regions. The regional legislatures were empowered to consider local questions and to advise the lieutenant governors. The Richards Constitution was said to have intensified regionalism as an alternative to political unification. The constitution later gave way for the Macpherson Constitution, named after John Stuart Macpherson, the incumbent governor. The Macpherson Constitution became operational in 1951, following the inter-parliamentary conference held in 1950. The new constitution approved the dual course of constitutional evolution by allowing for both regional autonomy and federal union. By extending the elective principle and by providing for a central government with a Council of Ministers, the Macpherson Constitution encouraged political participation at the national level. It also boosted regional autonomy by allowing regional governments to exercise broad legislative powers, which could not be overridden by the newly established 185-seat federal House of Representatives. Subsequent revisions contained in a new constitution christened the Lyttleton Constitution, which was enacted in 1954, firmly established the federal principle, and paved the way for independence.
But significantly, in 1957 the Western and the Eastern regions became formally self-governing under the parliamentary system. The Northern Region gained the same status two years later. The federal government retained specified powers such as banking, currency, external affairs, defence, shipping and navigation, and communications, but real political power was domiciled in the regions. Significantly, the regional governments controlled public expenditures derived from revenues raised within each region.
The election into the House of Representatives after the adoption of the 1954 constitution, gave the NPC a total of 79 seats, all from the Northern Region. The NCNC got 56 seats, winning a majority in both the Eastern and the Western regions, while the AG won only 27 seats. The British government thus, called on the NPC to form a government. In the resultant federal cabinet, but the NCNC received six of the 10 ministerial posts. Three of the posts were assigned to representatives from each region, and one was reserved for a delegate from the Southern Cameroons.
As a further step towards independence, the governor’s executive council was merged with the council of ministers in 1957 to form the all-Nigerian Federal Executive Council, FEC. Tafawa Balewa, the NPC federal parliamentary leader, was appointed prime minister. Balewa formed a coalition government that included the NCNC as well as the AG to prepare the country for the final British withdrawal. The government guided the country for the next three years, operating with almost complete autonomy in internal affairs.
To fashion out a new constitution for an independent Nigeria, conferences were held at Lancaster House in London in 1957 and 1958 with the British colonial secretary presiding. The Nigerian delegates were selected to represent each region and to reflect various shades of opinion. The delegation, which was led by Balewa, included Bello of the NPC, Azikiwe of the NCNC and Awolowo of the AG. Nigeria got its independence on October 1, 1960 as scheduled. But as a prelude to the independence, elections were held for a new and greatly enlarged House of Representatives in December 1959. In the elections, 174 of the 312 seats were allocated to the Northern Region on the basis of its larger population. The NPC captured 142 seats in the new legislature, and Balewa was called upon to head an NPC-NCNC coalition government, while Awolowo became the official leader of the opposition.
The election results showed that the domination of the Northern Region by the NPC and the NCNC’s control of the Eastern Region were assured, but the AG’s control of the Western Region, was, however, weak because of divisions within the party, a reflection of the cleavages within Yoruba society. This became evident in 1962, when a faction arose within the AG under the leadership of Ladoke Akintola whom Awolowo had selected as premier of the Western Region. The faction which supported Akintola rose up and argued that the Yoruba people were losing their pre-eminent position in the country to people of the Igbo tribe because the NCNC was part of the governing coalition and the AG was not. Balewa agreed with the Akintola faction and sought to have the AG join the government. But Awolowo disagreed and thus, replaced Akintola as premier of the West with one of his own supporters. But when Western Region parliament met to approve the change, Akintola supporters in the House started a riot on the floor of the parliament. Fighting between the members broke out. Chairs were thrown and one member grabbed the parliamentary Mace and wielded it like a weapon to attack the speaker and other members. Eventually, the police with tear gas moved in to quell the riot.
In subsequent attempts to reconvene the Western parliament, similar disturbances broke out. The unrest continued in the Western Region, and contributed to its reputation for violence, anarchy and rigged elections. Subsequently, Balewa declared a state of emergency in the region, got Awolowo and members of his faction arrested and charged them to court for treason. Following the crisis, Akintola formed a new party known as the Nigerian National Democratic Party, NNDP, and was appointed to head a coalition government in the Western Region. This reduced the AG to an opposition in its domain. Shortly afterward, Awolowo, the AG opposition leader, and some of his lieutenants were sent to jail on charges of treasonable felony. As if that was not serious enough, the 1965 national election set the foundation for military intervention of 1966, when the dominant NPC went into an alliance with the NNDP, which led the NCNC to coalesce with the remnants of the AG in a progressive alliance.
However, the crisis in the Western Region did not stop two major events in the country in 1963. After independence, there were proposals for the creation of three additional states as a means of restructuring the regions along ethnic lines. But only the Midwestern Region was the only one approved, despite opposition of the AG. The creation of the region was confirmed by a plebiscite in 1963. Also, in October 1963, Nigeria proclaimed itself the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and based on the alliance of his party with the central government, Nnamdi Azikiwe, former governor general of Nigeria, became the country’s first president.
But it was the persistent crisis in the West and general state of insecurity caused by the 1965 general election results that led to the collapse of the first republic when a group of army officers attempted to seize power in January 1966. In the putsch, the officers, mostly Igbo, assassinated Balewa in Lagos, Akintola in Ibadan, and Bello in Kaduna, as well as some senior officers of northern origin. That was the beginning of military interventions in Nigeria. Three coups after, General Olusegun Obasanjo’s transition programme led to the handover of power to the Second Republic politicians on October 1, 1979. Before the handover, the Obasanjo regime established a constitution drafting committee, which produced the model of the United States constitution which was adopted in 1979. The constitution provided for an executive president and a bi-cameral legislature consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Under the constitution, elections were held in July and August 1979, which produced a new civilian government under President Shehu Shagari on October 1, 1979. Thus, Nigeria’s Second Republic was born with great expectations from the ruling National Party of Nigeria, NPN, which inherited the mantle of the NPC of the first republic and also enjoyed the support of the non-Igbo states of South-East. The Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN, was also the successor of the AG, and led by Awolowo. Its support base was almost entirely in the Yoruba states, while the Nigerian People’s Party, NPP, was a reincarnation of the NCNC with Igbo members dominating. It had Azikiwe as its leader. But the Second Republic appeared to have been destined to fail because it was beset with various problems, including lack of cooperation between the NPN-dominated federal government and the 12 states controlled by the opposition parties. Besides, there were reports of flagrant abuse of office and allegations of corruption in high places. Despite that, President Shagari appeared incapacitated or uninterested in stopping the wanton looting of the government treasury.
That was the situation until the 1983 general elections. But to the consternation of everyone, the Federal Electoral Commission, FEDECO, declared that the ruling party had been re-elected. Not only that Shagari had been re-elected, the ruling NPN was said to have gained 61 of the 95 Senate seats and 307 of 450 House of Representatives seats. The ruling party was adjudged to have increased its control of states from seven to twelve, including Kano and Kaduna. The public agitation against the election results was very frightening as there were pockets of violence in some states, especially in the West. So, not many people were surprised when the military intervened on December 31, 1983. But Major General Muhammadu Buhari, who ousted the Shagari regime, was equally ousted by General Ibrahim Babangida. It was now incumbent on Babangida to make his promise to transit the country into a democratic government.
In doing so, Babangida gave the nation a new constitution and established two political parties on which elections were held. In early 1989 a constituent assembly completed a constitution and in October of the same year the government established the National Republican Convention, NRC, and the Social Democratic Party, SDP, the two official political parties. In 1990, the first stage of partisan elections was held at the local government level with the SDP winning control of a majority of the local government councils. It was followed by legislative elections held in December 1991. The presidential election was finally held on June 12, 1993 with the expectation that the new president would be sworn-in on August 27, 1993, in accordance with the time-table; the date also coincided with the eighth anniversary of the Babangida administration in office.
The presidential election was adjudged as the freest and fairest election ever held in the country. Early election results indicated that Mosshod Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, a wealthy business mogul, was coasting home to win the poll. However, on June 23, Babangida, using several pending lawsuits as an excuse, annulled the election, thereby throwing the country into a crisis which forced Babangida “to step aside” and handover power to apolitical Ernest Shonekan, a businessman, who headed the Interim National Government on August 27, 1993. Shonekan lasted in office until November 17, 1993 when he was forced to resign by General Sani Abacha.
On the death of Abacha on June 8, 1998, General Abdulsalami Abubakar took over power. The military’s Provisional Ruling Council, PRC, under Abubakar, who found it imperative to return the country to democratic rule, set a machinery in motion. While negotiation was going on in the process of releasing Abiola, who had been detained by the Abacha regime in 1994, the politician died on July 8, 1998.
In August 1998 Abubakar appointed the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to conduct elections for local government councils, state legislatures and governors, the national assembly, and president. Elections were successfully held on December 5, 1998, January 9, 1999, February 20 and February 27, 1999, respectively. Prominent among the parties that took part in the elections were the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, the All People’s Party, APP, and the Alliance for Democracy, AD. Obasanjo, who had also been imprisoned by Abacha, was freed by Abubakar. Obasanjo was encouraged to run as a civilian candidate and won the presidential election on the platform of the PDP in 1999. The new constitution promulgated by the departing military government was based largely on the suspended 1979 constitution. The constitution includes provisions for a bicameral legislature, that is the National Assembly consisting of a 360-member House of Representatives and a 109-member Senate.
The transition into democratic governance in May 1999 ended 16 years of consecutive military rule. Obasanjo was re-elected in 2003. After his second term in office, Obasanjo handed over to elected President Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan, his vice-president, in 2007. They both contested on the platform of the PDP. Although the election was adjudged to have been marred by electoral fraud, and denounced by observers, Nigerian courts ruled that the infractions were not serious enough to cancel it.
Yar’Adua’s presidency was fraught with uncertainty occasioned by his ill health. In November 2009, he fell ill and was flown out of the country to Saudi Arabia for medical attention. He remained incommunicado for 50 days, by which time rumours were rife that he had died. In February 2010, Jonathan was sworn-in as acting president in his absence. In May 2010, the Nigerian government announced the death of Yar’Adua after a long battle with kidney problems and other undisclosed ailments.
Jonathan got his own mandate to rule the country in 2011, in a poll that was described as free and fair. The year 2014, makes it 15 years of uninterrupted civilian administration in the country, and the first of its kind. This has been interpreted to mean that despite irresponsible behaviours of some politicians who, sometimes unnecessarily heat the polity, Nigerians are not willing to trade off their democracy for another military era.