History books record that ahead of the February 1961 plebiscite, Ahmadu Bello, the only Premier of Northern Nigeria, earnestly badgered, and eventually persuaded the people of Northern Cameroon to join Northern Nigeria.
In the end, 60 per cent of the plebiscitary agreed to Bello’s proposal. The Northern Cameroon became Sardauna Province of Nigeria. And from the bargain, Kashim Ibrahim became Governor of Northern Nigeria in October 1961.
The intention was to help Bello’s Northern People’s Congress muster the required numerical strength, so that a monolithic North can overwhelm Southern Nigeria in the House of Representatives, and thus form the Federal Government. It worked.
Of the 312 House of Representatives seats contested in the 1959 General Election, the NPC won 134, and its allies won 14, to make 148. The National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons won 81 seats; and its ally, Northern Elements Progressives Union, eight; Action Group won 73 and its allies, two.
In the 1964 General Election, the NPC won 162 seats, its latter-day ally, Nigerian National Democratic Party, won 36, to make 198. The United Progressives Grand Alliance won 109 seats, 84 of which, was contributed by the renamed National Council of Nigerian Citizens, 21 by the AG, and four by NEPU. The NPC again overwhelmed Eastern and Western Nigeria, to lead the national government.
Ladoke Akintola, Action Group’s Deputy Leader, and Awolowo’s successor as Premier of Western Nigeria, thought Awolowo’s principled opposition to Balewa’s national government precluded the Yoruba from access to federal political spoils.
Akintola, who never worked under Awolowo’s Government of Western Nigeria, was a colleague of Balewa in the Federal cabinet, as Minister of Health, later Communications, and finally Aviation. He probably knew what Awolowo’s obduracy was costing the West.
Akintola and his loyalists exited the AG, merged with some NCNC elements to form the NNDP, which joined the NPC-led Nigerian National Alliance at the federal level. The NPC, NCNC, and some turncoat Yoruba conspired to jail Awolowo. The rump of the AG, the Eastern Nigerian faction of the NCNC, Joseph Tarka’s United Middle Belt Congress, and NEPU, formed the UPGA federal opposition.
After the stalemated 1964/1965 General Election that frustrated UPGA’s quest to wrest power from the NNA, President Nnamdi Azikiwe, who led the NCNC into the previous coalition government with the NPC, was compelled to ask Balewa to form a new government. The British head of the Nigerian Army, acknowledged Azikiwe as Commander-in-Chief, but rallied his troops for Balewa.
Politics is about legitimate struggle for power. Awolowo submits that political parties are special-purpose vehicles used to seek political power to advance private interests. International relations scholar, Hans J. Morgenthau, suggests that politicians think in terms of interest and balance of power.
Even almost venerable George Washington, America’s first president, says: “A small knowledge of human nature will convince us that with the greatest part of mankind, interest is the governing principle, and almost every man is more or less under its influence.”
Each national group in Nigeria seeks political power at the centre in order to achieve primordial goals. But while the more politically astute North has successfully articulated distinct long-term purposes for seeking political power, the South is not so adept at articulating even short-term goals.
The North got quota system, concessionary admission to higher institutions, a refinery in Kaduna, Abuja as federal capital, strategic military facilities, first shot at Defence Minister and Chief of Army Staff, Muslim prayers at abattoirs, leadership of Nigerian Muslim community, and more states and local governments.
The disarray in the ranks of the South-West caucus of the All Progressives Congress shows that no one quite properly articulated the gain that should accrue to their constituency when joining the North to install Muhammadu Buhari as President in 2015.
Beyond vitriolic language and violence, the South-East and the South-South that dumped Buhari’s train for perceived lack of gravy, have no clear strategy to achieve their restructuring and resource control demands. The Indigenous People of Biafra and the Niger Delta Avengers may not be travelling the right road.
But their adamant rhetoric of exiting Nigeria if their demands are not met reminds one of the desperate slogan of the American state of Maine which declares, very likely to the British raj and colonialist, “Give me liberty, or give me death.”
No one knows, and no one is telling, what Buhari offered for the support of the South-West. And no one knows why the South-West rallying point of the APC, Bola Tinubu, is so brazenly shut out of Buhari’s government. Afenifere chief, Ayo Adebanjo, says the Yoruba won’t accept Tinubu being sent to Coventry.
The South-West has 21 per cent of Nigeria’s population; high linguistic homogeneity; the biggest regional Gross Domestic Product; 87.6 per cent literacy rate; and average poverty rate of 19.3 per cent, the lowest in Nigeria, whose national average is 46 per cent.
An audacious social media posting wants the geographical South-West expanded to 275 square kilometres, to include the Yoruba of Kwara, Kogi, and Edo states, and the Itsekiri of Delta State, to rack up a 40 million population, and an annual Gross Domestic Product of $187 billion.
The South-West desires jobs, infrastructure, state police, fiscal federalism, more local governments, state constitutions, free and compulsory education, enhanced agriculture and rural development, free medical services, and restructuring.
Yoruba avatar, Awolowo, once suggested confederacy, and the South-West wants an integrated regional economy. This quest may be realised with the 2013 formation of the Commission for the Development of the Agenda of the (South) West of Nigeria, and with Lagos State joining its Yoruba kin in the Oodua Investment Group in 2016.
Ooni Enitan Ogunwusi of Ile-Ife recently visited Governor Akinwunmi Ambode to ask for Lagos State’s collaboration with Osun State farmers. The joint venture between Lagos and Kebbi states that produced LAKE Rice, which hit dinner tables just before 2016 Christmas, inspired the Ooni’s “alajobi a gbewa,” or blood is thicker than water gambit.
Now that the South-West caucus has held its Ibadan retreat, and members may have told each other some home truths, one can only hope that they will be more adroit in tabling the interests of their constituency in subsequent negotiations with their Northern compatriots.
The South-West has had enough of political upstarts doing essentially personal runs: A common goal shared by all should put all hands on the same deck. South-West leaders should find out, and learn, why Akintola’s First Republic efforts to do business with the North ended in a fiasco.
Because the alliance was not very well negotiated, the people of Western Nigeria couldn’t buy into the Akintola agenda. This sad history must never repeat itself. The issue has gone beyond a commander apologising to his estranged lieutenants; pull has come to shove.
The leadership must articulate the position, interest, or whatever, of the people of the South-West, and demand to know what President Buhari is going to offer in return for the support given by the South-West. What quid is Buhari going to give for the quo of the South-West?
It is not too late to negotiate, or renegotiate. In fact, now, the shake-up stage ahead of 2019, is the time to negotiate. To borrow the name of that global development Non-Governmental Organisation, “The Future is in Our Hands.”
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