Nigeria, from its beginnings was fated to be a clay-footed giant. The British overlords in all their manipulations had made sure that political power was not handed over to a particular segment of the nationalists whose radical politics and visionary activism did not accord with the mercenary mentality of the British colonialists. I am talking about the radicals and nationalists who coalesced under the nationalist platform-the Zikist movement. Perhaps, if this group of Nigerians were given the opportunity of taking the baton of leadership when the colonialists retreated, the country may not have been in the mess it has found itself today. As good and well-meaning and nationalistic the class that negotiated Nigeria’s independence might have been, it was obvious from their activities and class orientation that they saw themselves as representatives and leaders of their various ethnic groupings. This could be seen even in the nature and character of the political parties which they had formed. Of all the political parties of the era, it was the National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) that appeared nationalistic and therefore, appealed to national sentiments. Others were marooned in their ethnic cocoons. Even the NCNC with all its nationalist scaffolding and garb suffered some ethnic contaminations leading to its loss of national appeal. Because the leaders were not agreed on how to successfully run and manage a multinational and heterogeneous society as Nigeria with all the baggage and divisive contradictions left behind by the British, little wonder the country just six years after flag independence went crashing with all the attendant conflagrations.
The military solution might not have been the most desirable solution to the problems and challenges of nation-building which the country was grappling with immediately after independence, but a change was direly needed. The putchists of January 15, 1966, at the initial stage of the coup were seen and welcomed as patriots who had come to clean the Augean Stables. But like everything Nigerian, the coup was ethnicised and the narrative changed to the disfavour of the plotters. Since an ethnic tag had been pinned on the coupists, a counter coup with deleterious consequences for the country took place snuffing out the lives of some Nigerians especially those from a particular section of the country including the Military Head of State who incidentally came from the ethnic group that suffered inglorious killings and mindless massacres. The counter-coup in Nigeria’s historiography is known as the revenge coup. This is because as well intentioned as the first coup might have been it was only successful in the former northern and western regions and to an extent the mid-western region as the leading lights of these regions in the government that was toppled were the ones killed by the rampaging soldiers. The killings and policies of the masterminds of the second coup led and executed by officers from another section of the country drove the latter into a war that lasted for thirty months with more losses to lives and property.
It is worth stating that in spite of the No Victor, No Vanquished declaration of the Gowon’s regime at the end of the fratricidal war, the old Eastern part of the country still feels shortchanged and discriminated against. This sentiment may be dismissed by the other sections of the country, but it has come to stick so strongly in the psyche of most people from that part of the country. The current agitations for self-determination anchored by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) are a product of the so-called marginalization felt by most people from that region of the country. Other sections of the country especially the Niger-Delta area are also up in arms against in Nigerian state. It is important to note that since the first coup of 1966, Nigeria has not been the same again.
The military whose raison d’etre of entry into the national politics and governance of Nigeria was based on messianism and national development mantra did not acquit itself well for the years that it held unto power as can be seen during and after many years of its stranglehold on Nigeria. The military who claimed at every point in its intervention into the political terrain to re-order the country and rid it of corruption and other nation-disabling atrocities ended up manifesting such decadent behaviours in all its governance history in Nigeria so much so that many commentators have come to associate it with the ills plaguing the country. At every critical juncture in the affairs of the country, the military had through its acts of commission or omission rendered the country prostrate and thoroughly demobilised. Examples abound right from January and July 1966, 1975, 1976, 1983, 1985, 1993 (when Gen. Ibrahim Babangida refused to hand over power to the late Chief M.K.O. Abiola who ostensibly won the 1993 Presidential election and the palace coup of Gen. Sanni Abacha in November of the same year). These dates are important in the history of Nigeria in the understanding of the role of the military in destabilising the country in spite of its claims to the contrary.
This in no way exculpates the civilian ruling class that has been in a relay race with the military over the years. Even the current shenanigans witnessed in the politics of the country are by products of the character and content of the politics of the military and the type of political class it recruited and put in place. As far back as 1986, Babangida, the wily General, in his Kuru declaration had made bold to announce those Nigerians he was comfortable handing over political power to and those who were not considered good enough. Having schemed out the elements he did not want to hand over to, Babangida consciously and strategically created politicians of his own hue who see politics as a form of business in the most cash-and-carry manner. A greater number of Nigerians with the right gravitas have almost been excluded from politics to the detriment of national development. History again repeated itself as can be seen from the deliberate attempt of the colonialist to stop radical nationalists from taking over the leadership of the country in 1960. What Babangida clearly did was to that the radicals with a different understanding of politics were not allowed to gain entry into the political leadership of the country. Suffice it to say that a country whose best brains and thinkers are schemed out of politics is doomed to atrophy.
Nigeria is what it is today as a result of the nature of its politics and political recruitment. Men and women with no history and pedigree have taken the front seats of the society, inflicting their idiocies on the nation, while those with character and the required sophistication are on the side lines either ruing their fate or wishing for a change of the status quo. In spite of whatever concerns and criticisms against the independence class of the late fifties and early sixties, they are like saints compared with those who hold sway today as political leaders. Politics requires forthrightness, service, altruism, character, public spiritedness, accountability and other necessary values aimed at promoting the interests of the people for overall development and happiness. Development cannot take place in a country whose politics is structured and skewed in a manner in which otherwise political representatives earn humongous amounts of money. Worse still, these earnings are shrouded in secrecy and all attempts at a transparent disclosure are rebuffed with criminal temerity.
The Nigerian conundrum manifests in such a bizarre Sisyphean manner that gives an impression that the problems of the country are hydra-headed without any solution in place. This situation has led to all kinds of framings especially ethnic-minded formulations of the Nigerian condition. Much energy is wasted on ethnic considerations and analyses and apparently because of the inability of the leadership to creatively respond to the problems as they arise, many ethnic entrepreneurs have emerged on the scene. This, in no way helps the country but rather deepens the contradictions. Many people had thought that with the return of democracy in 1999, the country would have been on the pedestal to restoration in many facets of Nigeria’s national life.
As noted earlier on, the character of politics in the country and the dramatis personae who drive this politics have not in any fundamental way made this possible. Where politicians are not involved in outright stealing and converting the people’s patrimony to themselves and their cronies, they are seen engaging in other criminal manipulations that empower them materially at the expense of the generality of the Nigerian people. Military big guns are also not left out in the competition to steal and loot the resources of the people. Nigeria lives and survives on oil rent. This has also undermined growth and development as factions of the ruling class jostle among themselves over the control of the resource even though the proceeds from oil have over the years been stolen or/and frittered away by these class. When the inimitable Ghanaian literary and sociology guru, Ayi kwei Armah wrote his The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born, many literary critics picked bones with what they considered as the ultra fictional nature of the novel in its dismal portrayal of the decadence of the Ghanaian society and by extension that of Africa, insisting that the portrayal was not plausible.
But the events in Nigeria today show clearly that Nigeria’s reality has surpassed every texture of fiction. Reality has overtaken and trumped fiction. Many crude and unbelievably primitive methods have been devised by politically exposed officials and their business partners to steal Nigeria dry making people to wonder whether there is value in democracy in a neo-colonial state like Nigeria. Given the above dismal state of affairs, it is expected that institutional interventions are required to re-order the country but this wish appears dashed as most institutions of the state are caught up in the mess that has held the country hostage. Corruption is so rife even in some areas of life considered impenetrable by corrupt forces and agents. In the judiciary, there are rumours and actual involvement of highly placed officers in corrupt activities. No department of the society has been left untouched. The country is really in a deep mess and requires and urgent surgical operation.
There is no doubt that Nigeria at fifty-seven requires a turn-around on the part of probity, development and progress. This can only be achieved through the determined efforts and struggles of a pan-Nigeria movement committed to a national rebirth devoid of all forms of ethnic jingoism and other divisive tendencies that have not helped the country since it attended independence.
The platform envisaged must in its orgaisational structure align itself with other patriotic platforms which might have for certain reasons become comatose and inactive. This, is a daunting task that must be pursued with vigour as rebuilding Nigeria is not a tea party given the fact that Nigeria has sunk to the lowest ebb. It is time to recreate such organizations that fought the military to a standstill. To assume that Nigeria is a democratic state amounts to a complete misunderstanding of the current crises. If men and women of goodwill with correct appreciation and solutions to the Nigerian conundrum do not emerge to rescue the country, Nigeria may be driving to a dangerous bend with dire consequences. This clay-footed giant must be made to work.