A few weeks ago, President Jonathan lamented that critics have venomously made him the issue when Nigeria’s problems which according to him began in 1914 preceded him. In making that statement, President Jonathan demonstrated a serious misunderstanding of the expectations that came with his presidency and the failings that already seem to be trailing it, which has incited the more than usual venomous punching his administration, has received. President Jonathan should realise that Nigerians or the so called venomous critics are not unaware that the nation has been afflicted with crises particularly since the mistake of the amalgamation in 1914, but what the critics equally expected especially with the unusual circumstances of his presidency which in itself inspired so much hope and expectations is that he would get to work in a transformational capacity to redress and resolve at least some of the fundamental issues that has beset the nation since the mistake of 1914.
Having been elected in an election adjudged reasonably free and fair and under unprecedented circumstances, the citizenry expected rapid action against corruption , a clear and focused strategy for infrastructural development, job creation, poverty reduction and most importantly for the convocation of a sovereign national conference to address once and for all the vexed issue of the Nigerian question which has continued to dog the nation. As the days have gone by, it has become increasingly obvious that president Jonathan is either not ready or prepared to confront the fundamental issues for which it was hoped his unusual presidency will resolve. Most notably he is yet to convene a sovereign national conference, even while ironically acknowledging as he did a few weeks earlier, the deep crisis the nation has confronted since 1914.
The refusal so far to seize this historic opportunity to convene a sovereign national conference preferring instead to appease and pacify the Northern political leadership who have for narrow selfish reasons stood in opposition to the convocation of an SNC, amounts to repeating the mistakes that Dr Nnamidi Azikiwe and to some extent General Aguiyi Ironsi made for which the nation continues to suffer. Dr Nnamidi Azikiwe made the wholesome mistake of repeatedly appeasing and pacifying the North in a bid to achieve his Pan-Africanist ideal of a united Nigeria. This led to repeated negotiations and compromises that were skewed to accommodating the north.
In 1953 when Chief Anthony Enahoro moved the motion for self government by 1956 in the federal House of Representatives, the North stridently opposed the motion for independence and moved a counter motion. Following the crisis, the embittered Northern members of the federal house of representatives issued an eight point program in which they called for secession of the North and shortly after sponsored riots that killed scores of Southerners in Kano in 1953, effectively beginning the pattern of sponsored mass killings by Northern leaders. In spite of this lack of patriotism and sponsored mass murder of southerners in Kano because of a motion for self government which made it obvious that the so called Nigeria was unworkable, Dr Nnamidi Azikiwe chose to appease and pacify the north by declaring that they would wait for the North. In 1957 when the British colonial authorities offered independence individually to the regions provided two out of the three regions accepted the offer, the Northern region declared they were not ready for that level of political and economic independence, the Western region declared their readiness to accept the offer and the East was the tie to keep or break Nigeria. Again Dr Nnamidi Azikiwe choose to appease the north and decided not to accept the offer in other to avoid the break-up of Nigeria. That singular action by Dr Nnamidi Azikiwe prevented Nigeria’s break-up.
Following the elections of 12th December 1959 to the 312 member federal House of Representatives in the then parliamentary system, none of the 3 major parties had a clear majority to form the government. The Northern people’s congress (NPC) and allied political parties won a total of 148 seats Dr Nnamidi Azikiwe’s National council of Nigerian citizens (NCNC) and allied political parties won a total of 89 seats while Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s action group (AG) and allied political parties won a total of 75 seats. In terms of votes, the NCNC and allied parties won the largest number of votes with a total of 2,592,629 votes; the NPC and allied parties came second with 2,027,194 votes while the AG and allied parties came third with 1,986,839 votes. While the NCNC had a superior number of votes overall, earlier concessions to the North in the structuring of parliamentary seats ensured that the NPC won more seats with less votes.
With a 312 member parliament it was obvious that no party could form the government without a coalition. The combined seats of the NCNC totalling 89 and AG totalling 75 gave them a parliamentary majority of 164 seats above the 51% required to form a government. Chief Obafemi Awolowo offered a coalition between the NCNC and AG in which Dr Nnamidi Azikiwe would be the prime minister and he would be the minister of finance. Once again, in what is now considered the greatest sacrifice and the greatest mistake in the annals of African history, Dr Nnamidi Azikiwe choose to decline the opportunity of becoming prime minister and opted to become a junior partner in a coalition with the northern NPC for the sole purpose of preserving Nigeria’s unity.
In spite of the overwhelming sacrifices made by Dr Nnamidi Azikiwe particularly in appeasing, pacifying and making possible the coalition that gave power to the North at independence, it soon became obvious that the North had been clearly opportunistic and never appreciated any of those sacrifices. In the following years, acrimony, intimidation, conspiracies, census and election rigging, violence and other grave incidents due to the high handedness and insensitivity of the ruling NPC culminated in the truncation of the first republic. By the time Dr Nnamidi Azikiwe realised his mistakes and teamed up with the AG to form UPGA in 1964, it was too late as the rigging machine had already been set in motion which made it impossible for UPGA defeat the NPC. The military came with guns blazing and the rest is history. In the end, every sacrifice Dr Nnamidi Azikiwe made in appeasing and pacifying the north for the purpose of preserving Nigeria’s unity was never reciprocated as the North, largely opportunistic took advantage of the likes of Dr Azikiwe to in the end achieve and unleash their agenda.
General Aguiyi Ironsi likewise made the same mistake when on assuming power in January 1966 after quashing the unfortunate coup; he had the possibility of dissolving what was by then very obvious to all and sundry as an unworkable nation. The North was indeed already campaigning stridently for secession. Confronted with such a volatile situation, General Aguiyi Ironsi rather than the practical and realist option of balkanizing the nation opted to unify it. Once again like Dr Nnamidi Azikiwe he choose appeasement and pacification in place of wielding the big stick. He disregarded advice and warnings of an impending coup and in an effort to hold the nation together, promulgated the unification decree in line with the command structure of the military as a temporary measure. That finally became his undoing and a convenient but fraudulent excuse by the Northern coupists who overthrew and killed him chiefly on the grounds of the unification decree. Ironically the same North now went on to consolidate the unitary system in its worst form with which the nation remains stuck to date and of which the North remains the greatest opposition to any effort including the SNC to return to a true federal system.
Thus; all through history, the North has been opportunistic, selfish, tribalistic and deceptive, constantly changing to suit their sole interests at the expense of others. Unfortunately those methods worked for them with the likes of Dr Nnamidi Azikiwe who selflessly worked for a united Nigeria without realising the opportunistic nature of those he contended with. In light of the debate over the convening of an SNC and the opposition of the North to it, President Jonathan should re-evaluate Nigeria’s history and avoid the pitfalls and mistakes of Dr Nnamidi Azikiwe . It is obvious that the North’s opposition to the SNC is not borne out of patriotism but rather out of the usual opportunism in their desire to maintain the status quo of a flawed unitary structure with its attendant injustices. Once again, they care not for the interests and desires of the generality of Nigerians but for the narrow selfish interests of the North.
If as Arewa consultative forum (ACF) the mouth piece of the North now pretends that their interest in opposing an SNC is to preserve Nigeria’s unity, then it needs to be called out as the fraud that it is; for even the most daft recognises the common sense that the best and most sustainable way of preserving Nigeria’s unity is through dialogue and consent of all ethnic nationalities. To do otherwise amounts to internal colonialism which cannot last. Secondly it’s an indictment of the North who have held power in the last 4 decades since the foundational years of Nigeria that they created a nation with so much economic, political and social injustice to the extent that they now fear an SNC would lead to Nigeria’s break-up. If they had invested their time in power in building a nation with justice, equality, prosperity and social stability, we wouldn’t be faced today with the dilemma of holding a sovereign national conference and its feared implication of a break-up.
Thus, the crisis of nationhood the nation faces is a problem the North created and they cannot hold the rest of the nation hostage for their own failings. The Kano riot of 1953 over the opposition of the North to independence fundamentally establishes a long history of the Northern leadership sponsoring the violence and mass murder of innocents. The same is true of routine riots and mass killings in the North over the decades and of the present Boko haram killing spree. The culture of premeditated sponsored mass killings by Northern leaders which is now deeply rooted will know no end until the nation confronts the demons of her existence by holding a sovereign national conference.
There has been too much blood letting in Nigeria’s history, and the nation has reached an important cross roads. President Jonathan should consider himself a child of destiny whom circumstances has made the “Moses” of this generation to lead the beleaguered masses out of the circle of endless bloodletting, strife and bondage by convening a sovereign national conference. As the experience of Dr Nnamidi Azikiwe shows, appeasing or pacifying the North is a bad strategy which has never worked and will not now work as the North has always been selfish, opportunistic and has never been genuinely interested in the overall interests of the whole nation. President Jonathan must avoid the mistakes of Dr Azikiwe, stop all appeasement and fulfil his destiny by quickly convening an SNC. He must rekindle hope in those who vehemently criticise his regime because he has yet to begin the fulfilment of the promise his rare opportunity brought to the millions who voted for him. President Jonathan must look to the future and face the moment with courage, audacity and tenacity as he fulfils his destiny by standing against the odds and convening an SNC.
This is the most important task of his administration and he owes the generation of children even yet unborn this most fundamental and important task of convening an SNC to unshackle the nation and the enslaved masses. The British colonial authorities departed in 1960, leaving behind the volatile and fractious contraption they conceived to serve their imperial interests. It is now time for us to dialogue and choose our own destiny and President Jonathan should lead that historic effort by convening a sovereign national conference!
Lawrence Chinedu Nwobu