THE BABANGIDA ADMINISTRATION AND THE NATIONAL QUESTION: ISSUES AND AGENDA IN RETROSPECT

R. T. Akinyle


A discussion on national integration is always topical because nation building is a continuous process.’ One aspect of it that has always generated a lot of interest in Nigeria is the National Question. Ordinarily, the concept or label presupposes a major question or problem about the entire country and which deserves a collective answer. The questions which readily agitate the mind are: how did the problem arise? What are its dimensions? What did the IBB regime do to resolve the question and how far did this go? It will be necessary to examine the definitions of the National Question to derive some information about the scope, nature, and possibly the origin of the phenomenon under consideration.

Prof. Ade Ajayi defined the scope when he observed that the National Question has become a code name for all the controversies, doubts and experimentations that surround Nigeria’s search for stability, legitimacy and development. In his view, National Question is “the perennial debate as to how to order the relations between the different ethnic, linguistic and cultural groupings so that they have the same rights, privileges, access to power and equitable share of national resources; the debate as to whether our constitution facilitates or inhibits our march to nationhood; or whether the goal itself is mistaken and we should seek other political arrangements to facilitate our search for legitimacy and development.’ Prof. Eskor Toyo shed some light on the development of the phenomenon when he defined the National Question as “the question which arises when a culturally integrated and self-conscious group of people seeks advantage over other peoples in a nation’. He pointed out that in a different context the concept could mean the self-determination or integrity of a group identified as a nation. The comments of General Ibrahim Babangida on the state of the nation shortly before he offered to “step aside” from the corridor of power suggest that he understood the National Question to mean the contradictions and inequalities experienced by the various ethnic groups in the course of transforming Nigeria into a nation state.’

From the above, we can define the National Question as the sum total of issues that arise from the contradiction between the benefits which the various groups expect to derive from their membership of the Nigerian state and the role and respect accorded to each in the process of nation building. It embraces those elements that have a bearing on the goal of “unity in diversity” such as State Creation, Federal, Character, Regionalism, Census, Revenue Allocation, Religion, Ideology, Party System as well as the question of citizenship. At this juncture, it is necessary to trace the origin of the National Question and its dimensions up to 1985 to create a platform for assessing the approach of the Babangida administration to the phenomenon.

The National Question in Historical Perspective

The root of the National Question is always traced to the colonial period and to the activities of the colonial masters who joined the different ethnic groups together in a Nigerian state. Prof. Obaro Ikime had argued that each of the, communities freely determined the extent and scope of its “foreign relations” until the Pax Britannica robbed them of that initiative.’ Often highlighted is the adoption of the Indirect Rule System which emphasized the differences among Nigerians, the process of ruling Nigeria as Northern and Southern Protectorates, which laid the basis for the North/South dichotomy, the policy of shielding the north from missionary influence which culminated in the western educational “backwardness” of the north and created the basis for the northern demand and subsequent hold on the reins of power. This factor also explains the subsequent politicisation of census exercises in the country. The colonial British administration also recruited members of the armed forces from the ‘martial race’.

The composition of the armed forces subsequently became important because of the prolonged military rule. The force of this was aptly demonstrated in the nation-wide demonstration against the cabinet reshuffle of 29th December 1989 which involved the replacement of three Governors and Service Chiefs. ‘The language and policy of the colonial administration permitted the missionaries to encourage the study of Yoruba, Igbo, Efik, Edo and Hausa. This eventually generated a new awareness that increased the cultural distance between the groups. At the same time, the value attached to the knowledge of Hausa and English in the North and South respectively has complicated the search for a national official language an important tool of nation building.

On the whole, the Indirect Rule System paved the way for the enthronement of ethnicity in two ways. First, the communal groups began to expand beyond their traditional boundaries in the course of the competitions in a larger society. This produced new identities such as the idea of Yoruba race, Igbo nation and Hausa/Fulani identity. Unfortunately, such new identities did not destroy the old communal identities but simply formed concentric rings around them. “Hence, the Ibibio and Ogoja communities could fight against the Igbo for the creation of the Cross River – Ogoja – Rivers State only to turn against one another once the South Eastern State was created.” The segmentary opposition explains the proliferation of states in Nigeria.

Secondly, the indirect Rule System also encouraged the political aspirants to define themselves as communal champions. This resulted in ethnic and bloc voting which was accentuated by the configuration of the Nigerian_ federation which emerged in 1954. Indeed, from 1952, when Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was prevented from going into the House of Representative from the Western House of Assembly, the door was firmly shut against the emergence of national political parties as well as truly national political leaders. The majoritarian politics of the period placed the minority ethnic group at a disadvantage, hence the agitation for the creation of states that would liberate them from perpetual servitude. “The Willink Commission which was inaugurated in 1957 to look into the fears of the ethnic minorities turned down the request for the creation of “tribal states” in the belief that this is incompatible with the requirements of a nation conceived as a process of forging a national identity that transcends the local particularism which the ethnic criterion of state creation is seen to promote.”

To address the complaints of the Niger Delta communities of discriminatory neglect by the Eastern and Western Regional Governments, the commission homeland should be designated a “Special Area’ with a development board to oversee the pace of development. The fund and personnel for the implementation of the scheme were to be contributed by the federal and regional governments. The special treatment was to last for “as long as the provision for development had gone far enough to make it possible for the arrangement to be abandoned.;– In essence, the commission can be said to have introduced the concept of backward or depressed area into the developmental terminologies in Nigeria.

One policy through which the commission had hoped to promote the goal of unity in diversity in Nigeria was by creating Minority Areas where there was the strongest and most united local sentiments and the most clearly distinguishable culture within the regional structure””. The Calabar and Edo areas were immediately to enjoy this status which carries some measure of local autonomy. Other suggestions to end the feeling of alienation included the recommendation that government should always strive to appoint candidates from minority areas to government agencies wherever suitable ones can be found. The commission also advised that government should spend more on the roads in the Delta areas to bring about parity in the condition of roads in the country “.

Although the report of the minorities’ commission was adopted in the constitutional conference of 1958, the insertion of state creation clause into the resumed independence constitution created the impression that the Willink arrangement was only temporary, hence, the political will to implement recommendations was largely absent.” And contrary to the anticipation that the party in government in each region will court its own minorities through ‘fair allocation of resources, they simply allied with the minorities of other regions. This explains the support of the Action Group for the United Middle Belt Congress and the relationship between the National Council for Nigeria and the Cameroons and the Mid-West State Movement. This trend continued into the First Republic.

Prof. Ikime has revealed that all the major crises of the First Republic – the Action Group crisis that led to the declaration of a state of emergency in the West in 1962, the controversy over the census of 1962, the crisis associated with the election of 1964 and 1965 and the declaration of the short-lived Niger-Delta Republic by Adaka Boro in February 1966 – were related to the sharing of the national cake and the control of the federal government.” The creation of the Mid-West Region in 1963 was not an expression of the policy of self-determination and equal opportunity. It was simply a move to extend the influence of the Northern People’s Congress into the west.

The desire to foster a Nigerian identity compelled Major General Aguiyi-Ironsi to ban all tribal unions and promulgate Decree 34 which transformed the country into a unitary4state. Paradoxically, these were interpreted as efforts to promote ascendancy of the Igbo. This line of thought partly explains the ethnic cleansing in the North and the coup of July 1966 by the Northern officers in the army. The emergency of Col. Yakubu Gowon as Head of State emphasized the criterion of regional balancing over the principle of merit in political appointment and constituted a landmark in the politicization of the army. This factor also contributed to the outbreak of the civil war. Although Gowon created the twelve state structure in 1967 to address the imbalance in the Nigerian federation, it is popularly believed that his regime left behind a politicized army and a culture of corruption both of which have become issues in the National Question.

General Murtala Mohammed assumed control in 1975. He increased the number of states to nineteen in response to the agitations of the new minorities that had emerged under the state structure. The distribution of the states, eleven of which were in the North, apportioned the lion share of the national resources to the North. The regime also introduced the principle of federal character into the conduct of government business to promote a sense of belonging among Nigerians. The Murtala/Obasanjo regime similarly injected the language clause which permitted the use of Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba in the National Assembly into the 1979 Constitution to promote national consciousness. Unfortunately, the politicians of the Second Republic failed to build on this modest achievement.

To start with, the adoption of the multi-party system encouraged a return to the ethnic politics of the First Republic. Consequently, there was the politicisation of states creation. Even though none was created. The distribution of posts to party supporters ensured that most of the key positions of government went to the Northerners. The implementation of the principle of Federal Character, which ensured the inroad of Northerners into departments where they had not been prominent, heightened the fear of Northern domination. The general disaffection that accompanied the “Landslide victory of Alhaji Shehu Shagari in the Presidential election of 1983 encouraged General Muhammadu Buhari to overthrow the government on 31st December 1983.

The Buhari/ldiagbon regime is perhaps best remembered for purge of corrupt politicians and the attempt to instill discipline into Nigerians. The regime however displayed a blatant disregard for the ethnic and religious cleavages in the country. Both Buhari and Idiagbon were Northern Muslims. Most of the Service Chiefs and the members of the Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRO) were also northerners. This was the trend of event up till August 1985 when the regime was overthrown by General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida with the explanation that it was no longer responsive to public opinion.

The Babangida Agenda

In a special interview relayed on Television on 28th March 1993 General Babangida stated that his administration had done a lot to resolve the National Question. So confident was he about the record of his achievements that he expressed the wish to be educated on the meaning of National Question by those who have continued to harp on the concept. Anyone who is familiar with the transition programme of the ex-president will not dismiss this boast with a wave of the hand. Indeed, his regime stands out in the number of institutional measures introduced to resolve the National Question.

On 13th January 1986, the ex-president inaugurated the Political Bureau to collate the views of Nigerians on the special issues in Nigerian politics. The body was expected to identify a basic philosophy to guide the activities of government. The Political Bureau recommended the adoption of socialism as antidote to uneven regional development and differential access to positions of power which had frustrated the attempt to create a united Nigeria in the past “. The government rejected the proposal in the belief that the country was not advanced enough to adopt socialism. Instead, it adopted the goals set out in the Second Development Plan (1970 – 74). This alternative would have produced the same effect as socialism on the National Question if faithfully implemented since it promised every Nigerian full opportunities in a free and united country. “The Babangida administration may not have adopted an ideology expressed in-ism, its choice represented the first attempt to provide Nigeria with a philosophy of government. Significantly enough, the absence of a philosophy of government is popularly regarded as an important issue in the National Question.

The setting up of the Directorate for Social Mobilisation (MAMSER) was informed by the recommendation of the Political Bureau which stated that only the participation of the masses in the discussion of matters affecting their welfare can change their negative attitude towards the nation. From its inception on 1st July 1987, MAMSER embarked on several programmes designed to mobilize Nigerians for social justice and economic recovery.

In the list of the campaigns of MAMSER were ‘Operation Food First,’ from 11-22 July 1988, the Conference on Structural Transformation for Self-Reliance and Social Justice, (10 -14 October 1989), and the Conference to enhance the productivity of Civil servants on 21st February 1990. While the effects of all these may be difficult to quantify, most Nigerians would remember very well the political and educational programmes of MAMSER. Indeed, a survey has shown that 76.5% of the respondents who voted in the local government elections of 1987 and 1990 performed their civic duties in response to the enlightenment campaign of MAMSER.

The programme of MAMSER was complemented by the activities of the Centre for Democratic Studies. In a bid to fulfill the primary objective of inculcating the right political culture to the political class, the centre organized a seminar for members-elect of the National Assembly on the theme of Democracy beyond the Third Republic from 26th – 28th November 1992. The topics of discussion ranged from separation of powers to the powers and responsibility of the National Assembly. It was also the centre that handled the invitation of the foreign monitoring group for the presidential election of 12th June 1993. Whatever knowledge the political class failed to acquire, they learnt from the ban on certain categories of politicians and the cancellation of polls. The political awareness thus generated the advantage of the modified open ballot system which accounted for the successful conduct of the June 12, 1993 election which has been judged as the best in the electoral history of Nigeria. The significance of this for the National Question stemmed from the widespread claim, since the era of the Willink Commissions, that electoral malpractice is one of the methods frequently adopted to perpetuate unequal relations in Nigeria

The two-party democracy evolved by the Babangida administration is one experiment that still has great potential for the unity of this country. Two political parties, the National Republican Convention (NRC) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) were created by administrative fiat after the government had disqualified all the thirteen political associations for various reasons. Although the government origin of the two parties and their accommodating role in the annulment of the June 12 election would appear to strengthen the claim that their existence was part of the “hidden agenda” to prolong the rule of General Babangida, they nevertheless de-emphasized the ethnic politics of the pre­ Babangida era.

The elimination of a third power bloc prevented the re-emergence of ethnic based parties which had promoted the three cornered contest among the Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo for the control of the country. The two party system also closed the door on the minority group politics of the First and Second Republics. It will be recalled that even before the ban on politics was lifted on 3rd May 1989, there were reports of the attempt by the Oriental Club to form a party that would act as a front for the ethnic minorities of the former Calabar-Ogoja Rivers areas. The point being made is that the existence of a political party to amplify the case of the Ogoni or the Katafs would have made the crises to become very explosive. The support of the A. G. for the Tiv illustrates this.

The National Question is essentially about self-determination and material development. In Nigeria, state creation is seen as the best method to achieve both. In all, the Babangida administration created eleven new states and two hundred and twenty-eight (228) local government units. In essence, the number of state was raised to 30 while the local government units were increased to 589. While Katsina and Akwa Ibom were created in 1989 in response to the long standing complaints of sectional domination, the requests for Enugu, Kogi, Delta. Jigau and Osun States were predicated on accelerated development.

The degree of importance attached to the criterion of accelerated development: the states creation exercise of 1990 was indicated in the choice of relatively unknown settlements as capitals of some of the new states. The official explanation is that this would speed up the pace of development since state capitals usually attract a faster rate of development. It was under the Babangida administration that the concept of marginalisation replaced domination as the slogan of states agitation in Nigeria. The disadvantage which the statutory allocation of resources had imposed on Bendelites made the Itsekiri to drop their 33-year old opposition to the partition of the Mid-West. Opinion is however divided on the merit of the thirty state structure. Some people believe it produced a more equitable union and a stable federation. Others argued that it shifted attention from real growth to the creation of mere infrastructures apart from increasing the centralizing trend in the country.

At any rate, while the state creation exercises may have helped to diffuse tension at the state level, the Babangida administration also witnessed the beginning of serious agitations at the grassroots. The Zango Kataf crisis of February 1993 became a national issue because of the coincidence between ethnic and religious identities in the dispute. The propaganda of Ken Saro-Wiwa brought about the internationalisation of the Ogoni crisis. So concerned did the government became that it promulgated the treason decree to deal with the situation.

One decision of the Babangida administration that had important implications for the National Question was the proscription of regional associations and the dissolution of the joint venture owned by states of the former regions in 1991. Among those affected were the Kaduna Polytechnic, Oodua Investments and Arewa Holdings. The existence of these joint ventures had kept the ghost of regionalism alive while the benefits they conferred exclusively on their members had created categories of Nigerians. The political gain was turned into a loss through the policy of treating Nigeria as the sum total of its three largest ethnic groups. The WAZOBIA syndrome was clearly manifested in the broadcast of network news-in the three major languages. This invariably sensitized the ethnic minorities to their own group rights.

In the area of religion, the Babangida administration continued with the inherited practice of active state intervention. Contrary to the promise of the government to work out the mode of disengagement from active involvement, some of the governors built places of worship in the State House, while the Federal Government clandestinely registered Nigeria in the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) in 1988. The widespread criticism of this compelled the government to set up a panel to look into the OIC issue. While the panel members took positions that reflected their own religious beliefs, the OIC affair raised the fear of religious domination in the country. This partly explains the widespread protest against the cabinet reshuffle of 29th December 1989. The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) which coordinated the protest explained that 26 of the newly appointed 39 officials were Muslims while only 3 of them were southerners.

The Babangida administration retained the principle of Federal Character as the main instrument of resource allocation in Nigeria. There was, however, no observable change in the mode of implementation as the key government ministries such as Defence, Mines and Power, Internal Affairs and Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, remained under the control of the Northerners. The Babangida administration, however, created its own records. The regime recorded the first and perhaps the only legal suit instituted to challenge the quota system of admission into federal colleges. It was also the first time a group of people would recommend the excision of a section of the country from the Nigerian federation on account of its domineering tendency. Before the Orkar coup of 1991, the practice had been for the aggrieved to threaten secession to force others to acquiesce in its request for a greater share of the national cake. More importantly, Major Gideon Orkar redefined the concept of the North, as embracing only the five far Northern States, in the political equation of the country and recommended a Middle Belt/Southern Alliance as antidote to the Hausa/Fulani domination of the country. The recommendation of the Orkar coup that the Hausa/Fulani should be suspended from the Nigerian federation until they agree to re-enter the country on the basis of equality with the other groups marked a decisive stage in the call for a national conference to determine the National Question. It will be recalled that in September 1990, the government disrupted the National Conference convened by the National Consultative Forum to discuss the National Question.

It is rather unfortunate that the Babangida administration should perform so poorly in the implementation of the principle of Federal Character. To begin with the Political Bureau had clearly specified how the principle should be operated. An extract from the report reads:

The policy or doctrine of Federal Character should be conceived and applied as affirmative action or as a mechanism to redress historical deficiencies without promoting the entrenchment of such deficiencies or converting present historical disadvantages into permanent advantages.”

Elsewhere, the document stated that the methods of applying the federal character should be explained and the relevant statistics should be made available from time to time. If these suggestions had been adopted, the federal character would have had a clearly formulated guidelines and a measure of control that should have made it difficult for anyone to manipulate it to further sectional interest. More importantly, the government had in February 1989 set up a 13-man panel to look into the issues of the National Question. The report submitted by the panel should also have been helpful. Two explanations can be advanced for the poor performance of the Babangida regime in this regard. It is either that the two reports were simply abandoned on the shelves to gather dust or that the president deliberately ignored their recommendations for personal reasons.

As earlier indicated, the issue of revenue allocation is central to the National Question. Although the Babangida regime created a Technical Committee on Revenue Mobilisation, this body was unable to produce an acceptable revenue allocation formula. The government complied faithfully with the suggestion of the Political Bureau that the share of the local councils in the federation account should be disbursed to them directly. While the government raised their revenue allocation from 10 to 15%, the responsibility shifted to them far outweighed what they could handle. The plea of the states for an upward review of their share from 30%, after the salary review of 1992, earned them a reduction to 24% “. The government, however, saw the need to raise the allocation of the oil and mineral producing areas from 1.5% to 3%. The concentration of the lion share of the national resources at the centre enabled the Federal Government to play the role of Father Christmas at will. Consequently, some state governors declared their states disaster zones or struggled to include them in the list of mineral producing states just to attract more funds. The National Council on Inter-Governmental Affairs, created in 1993 to minimize the areas of friction between the different levels of government, appeared still-born. It could not act to resolve the tussle between the state and the local councils on the payment of primary teachers’ salary and the controversy over the disposal of refuse.

Although the establishment of the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC) under Decree 23 of 1992 had raised the hope of the Delta communities, the joy was short-lived. The 3% allocation proved grossly inadequate to tackle the problems of the oil communities while the inefficiency of the commission was indicated in the report that N 1.3 billion of the fund was left unspent in 1992.)

The Babangida Administration also created several agencies to accelerate the pace of the development of the rural areas. One of them was the Directorate of Food, Roads and Rural Infrastructures (DFFRI) established in 1986.            Statistical figures from the directorate has shown that all the communities in Nigeria would have become accessible by now if its record of 7,257.33 km of road construction per year had been maintained since independence. Similarly, nearly all the communities would have had pipe borne water judging from its record of achievement between 1985 and 1991. The National Directorate of Employment (NDE) was created in September 1987 to tackle the perennial problem of unemployment among school leavers and to halt the process of rural-urban drift which promotes ethnicity and minority agitations. The record of the agency shows that it had trained over 200, 261 persons under the National Open Apprenticeship Scheme by December 1991. The achievements of the Better Life Programme earned the wife of the ex-president the 1992 Annual Prize for the Sustainable War Against Hunger in Africa.

The activities of the Better Life Programme prompted the setting up of the National Women’s Commission in June1990. The regime also created People’s Bank and Community Banks. Although these agencies have often been described as drain pipes by critics of the Babangida Administration, most Nigerians would readily admit that the magnitude of the problem they were meant to address would require no less than the creation of special agencies or a poverty alleviation scheme. The opening up of the rural areas will help to erode the material basis for the complaints of marginalisation.

It is a known fact that the problem of uneven regional development can only be tackled with adequate planning. This again will depend on the availability of reliable statistics. It is in this context that the successful conduct of the 1991 census must be appreciated. The belief that the population of the different communities would inevitably determine their share of the national cake accounted for the falsification of figures in the previous head counts. The 1962 exercise was cancelled following charges of census fraud in all the regions while the 1963 result was rejected in the regions. The federal government had to withdraw the result of the 1973 census in the ‘national interest.’ The experience of the past encouraged the Babangida administration to undertake a vigorous campaign to de-emphasize the linkage between population and the distribution of amenities before the census of 1991 was conducted. Although some communities and a few state governments had raised objections to the figures derived from their areas, many Nigerians regarded the figure of 88.5 million derived for Nigeria as very close to reality.

June 12 and the National Question

The best and the worst of the Babangida Administration were expressed in the presidential election of 12th June 1993. The Social Democratic Party (SDP) presented Chief M.K.O.Abiola, a Yoruba-Muslim, as its presidential candidate with Ambassador Babagana Kingibe as his Vice-President. The National Republican Convention (NRC) flag-bearer was, Alhaji Bashir Tofa from Kano State. His running mate was Dr. Sylvester Ugoh an Igbo Christian from Imo State.

The unconfirmed result of the poll showed that the SDP won the election by a little over 58%. The result of the election -had several implications for the National Question in Nigeria. The success of a Southern candidate in the election reassured Nigerians that anybody could hold any political office irrespective of his ethnic background or state of origin. The fear of Northern domination which had threatened the country with partition in 1990 seemed to have dissolved, even if temporarily.

Secondly, the election was judged even by foreign observers to be free and fair. Through the adoption of the open ballot system, Nigeria seemed to have found a permanent solution to electoral malpractices, a popular method of perpetuating ethnic inequality.

Thirdly, several deductions can be made from the pattern of voting. For the first time in the electoral history of the country, a presidential candidate received overwhelming support from the three major ethnic groups. This contrasted sharply with the result of previous exercises when each group voted for the candidate from its own area. The acceptance of the result of the-June 12 election would have de-emphasized the contest among the Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba for the control of the centre an issue that has influenced the dimension of the National Question. The distribution of the votes also showed a shift from the practice of ethnic minorities voting against the candidate of the majority group in their former regions. The endorsement of the Muslim-Muslim ticket presented by Abiola/Kingibe combination by the Christian Association of Nigeria was difficult to imagine-in the light of the religious crisis in the country since 1985. The outcome of the June 12 election had encouraged the defunct National Assembly to introduce a bill that would have rendered ethnic and religious considerations unnecessary in the appointment of people into the public service. On the whole, the disappearance of ethnic and religious considerations in the election forms the basis of the claim that a united Nigeria was proclaimed by Nigerians on June 12, 1993.

The outcome of the June 12, 1993 election can be traced to two factors. First, the two-party democracy ensured greater interaction among Nigerians. By discouraging the emergence of ethnic based political parties, it enhanced the prospect of the emergence of a truly national leader. Secondly, the negative effects of the Structural Adjustment Programme compelled Nigerians to place their hope on the best candidates that could solve the socio-economic problems of the country irrespective of their states of origin or religious affiliations. These positive gains were set aside as a result of the annulment of the election. The official explanation for the annulment ranged from the need to rescue the judiciary from partisan politics to the claim that the winner of the poll was not acceptable to the military. At other times, the indebtedness of the country to the president-elect and the illegal use of money during the presidential primaries were cited. Many people believe that it was annulled because it was won by a Southern’ candidate. This line of thinking reopened the question of Northern domination. One commentator had argued that if the government could cancel the election that produced a candidate from the majority group in the south as president, then there is no hope for the minorities in the country.

Besides, the process of consultation initiated by the government to resolve the political impasse revived the old cleavages. Among the list of the regional groupings that emerged were the Western Forum, Northern Consultative Group, Eastern Forum and the Middle Belt Elders. The reappearance of these regional organisations became so worrisome that an observer was forced to point out that the crisis facing Nigeria was a national one and that the association that acted as the fly in the ointment carried a national label -Association for Better Nigeria (ABN).’

To divert attention from the real issue, namely the challenge of democracy by autocracy, the Secretary for Information, Comrade Chukwumerije, began to fan the embers of ethnicity by blaming the impasse on the reluctance of the Yourba to accept the annulment. It was in this light that a group of Northern intelligentsia remembered that the annulment was not different from the cancellation of the presidential primaries that produced their kinsmen as flag-bearers of the two parties. One of them even compared the annulment with the coup of 1983 which displaced Alhaji Shagari from office. His plea was that the government should hand over, power to Shagari if June 12 was revisited.”

The fear of ethnic cleansing which the -propaganda of Comrade Uche Chukwumeriji had created resulted in the exodus of Nigerians into their states of origin. The closure of several media houses in the South West heightened the tension and Nigeria appeared to be very close to the conditions that preceded the outbreak of the civil war.

During the political impasse, several options were canvassed to move the country forward. These ranged from the adoption of confederation to the creation of a broad based national government, not necessarily one that will draw its members from all ethnic groups but one that would represent a wide range of interests. It was also during this period that Dr. Alex Ekwueme first floated the idea of dividing the country into six-geo-political zone with a vice-president to represent the interest of each. The zones are North West, North East, Middle Belt, Western and Southern (Minorities) blocs. 12 As could be expected, the call for a National Conference to determine the goal and purpose of the federal union was amplified by several media houses in the South West. At the end, the Interim National Government (ING) which was created to replace the Babangida regime only created a temporary relief. While some considered its existence as inevitable, others argued that it had compromised the will of the people. At any rate, the government was powerless to reverse the trend of events. It was sacked only after 82 days by General Sani Abacha. The rest is now history.

Conclusion

One important reason for studying political history is that it could yield practical lessons that a statesman could adopt to improve the society. The National Question has loomed large since the inception of this present administration. In fact, the complaints of marginalisation has trailed the life of this government “. The government can derive some benefit from the experiments under the Babangida regime on how to tackle the National Question.

To start with, the President has frequently reiterated the commitment of his government to equity and justice”. This is similar to the goal which the Babangida Administration had set for itself in 1987. The resolution of the National Question will not require anything less than this. The first lesson the government should learn from the Babangida regime is never to lose sight of this objective. This cardinal goal should be the yardstick for measuring the appropriateness of government policies and actions at all times if the government is to succeed where the Babangida regime had failed.

Secondly, the present government has retained the principle of federal character. This itself is surprising since General Obasanjo had introduced the concept in 1979. To succeed in its implementation, the government should adhere faithfully to the guidelines in the report of the Political Bureau. This will mean going beyond the occasional publication of employment statistics to refute the claim of marginalisation”. Goals should be set and reviewed from time to time by the Federal Character Commission. There should be clearly stipulated punishment for deliberate manipulation of the principle to advance sectional interest. The government can take a cue from the operation of the Affirmative Action in the United States. Sadly enough, while the Affirmative Action has helped to improve race relations in the United States, the federal character has become a part of the national question in Nigeria. In spite of the similarity in the goal and ideals concepts.

Thirdly, it is widely recognized that the recent face-off between the Executive and the Legislature has slowed down the pace of progress. Most Nigerians believe that the current crop of lawmakers are either ignorant of their responsibilities or are just too greedy to face their assignments. We would recall that the Centre for Democratic Studies had organized series of seminars for the Assembly members and one of these had touched on separation of powers and the responsibility of the National Assembly. One would recommend that the current administration should recreate the Centre for Democratic Studies to continue the programme of political education which it had done creditably well under the Babangida administration. The enlightenment should include lessons in political history of Nigeria.

Fourthly, there are indications that several agencies will be created to ensure even development and the success of the Poverty Alleviation Scheme of the government. Among these are the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the Operation Daily Bread (ODB) soon to be launched in Anambra State. The government should study the operation of the developmental agencies under the Babangida Administration so as to avoid the pitfalls that transformed them into drain pipes. The government should even go back to the First Republic to the operation of the Niger Delta Development Board (NDDB) to avoid the politicisation of the NDDC.

Fifthly, I wish to join the list of those already advocating for a return to the two-party democracy as the best option for nation building in Nigeria. It succeeded under the Babang1da regime and still has a lot of hope for the future. The current political trend, as indicated in the AD/APP Alliance, suggests a tendency towards a two party system. The open ballot system should also be retained for its obvious advantage.

Lastly, there is a growing call for the Sovereign National Conference to determine the basis of the Nigerian federation. This is an invitation to disaster. Who and who will be invited? What’ is the guarantee that the delegates will ever agree on the terms or the union or even honour the agreement? The problem is not in the documents but the lack of political will to implement the recommendations in the reports.

References

  1. See R. Aristide, ‘Patterns of National Integration,’ Journal of Modern African Studies, Vol.. 5, No. 4, 1967; p.440.
  2. F: Ade Ajayi ‘The National Question in Historical Perspective,’ Text of the Fifth Guardian Newspaper Lecture, NIIA, 4th Nov. 1992 p. 1 .
  3. See The Guardian, 23rd June,-1993 p.17
  4. The programme was titled “60 minutes on Channel 5” aired on Sunday 28th Mach 1993 at 10.00 p.m.
  5. Ikime ‘In Search of Nigerians: Changing Patterns of Inter-Group Relations in an Evolving Nation State’; Presidential Address to the 30th Congress of the Historical Society of Nigeria, Nsukka, 1st May 1985 p.4,
  6. See The Punch 12th Jan. 1990 p p. l; Daily Sketch, 27th Jun. 1990 p .1.
  7. See R T. Akinyele ‘The Language Question in Nigeria: Minority Dimension’ in (eds.) Charles Ogbulogo and Paulin Alo Issues in Language and Communication On Nigeria; (Sam Orient Publishers, Lagos, 2000), pp.35­42:
  8. See R Melson and H. Wolpe: Nigeria: Modernisation and the Politics of Communalism, (Michigan, Univ. Press; USA; 1971).
  9. See R. T. Akinyele ‘States Creation and Boundary Adjustments in Nigeria, 1990 1987: A Study in the Approach to the Problems of Ethnic Minority Groups in Nigeria”; Unpub. Ph.D Thesis; Unilag, 1990; chap. 2.
  10. Nigeria, Report of the Commission Appointed to Enquire in Fears of Minorities and the Means of Allaying them; (Minorities Report) H.S.M.O. 1958; p.88,
  11. Ibid; p.219
  12. Ikime “Towards Understanding the National Question Keynote Address at the National Seminar on the National Question in Nigeria.– Abuja: 4th August, 1986; p.21.
  13. Amayo ‘The Search for National Integration and Nation Identity In cur Nigeria since Independence: The Linguistic Aspect”: Paper Presented at the National Conference on Nigeria since Independence; Zaria. A.B.U., 2- 31 March, 1983; p.l l.
  14. See Report of the Political Bureau; pp.67-68.
  15. See Federal Republic of Nigeria: Government’s View and comments on the Findings and Recommendations of the Political Bureau. Lagos, Federal Government Printers, 1987; p.9.
  16. See Tell, 21 June 1993; p.17.
  17. Federal Republic of Nigeria, The Revolutionary Transformation of Rural Nigeria; Dec. 1991; p.66.
  18. The Seminar was organized at the International Conference Centre, Abuja.
  19. See Record of Daily proceedings, Minorities Commission; Jos, 20th Feb., 1958 and Kano 1st March 1958.
  20. See Newswatch 20th March 1989; pp. 13 – 17 arid 17- 18 and African Concord, 24th April 11989; p.12.
  21. See Daily Times, 20t It Sept. 1991; p. I
  22. See The Guardian, 30th April 1993; p.10 and 8th June 1993: p 4
  23. See R. T. Akinyele, “The Language Question”; op. cit.
  24. Daily Sketch 26t It Jan. 1993; p.6.
  25. See T. N. Tamuno “Separatist Agitations in Nigeria since 1914, Journal of Modern African Studies 8, No. 4, 1970, pp.563 584.
  26. See National Concord; 23rd April, 1991; pp. 1-3.