By Mahmoon Baba-Ahmed
It is generally established that time changes everything; but a long span of time was completely incapable of transforming the mentality and political viewpoints of some Nigerians. As a result, the unfortunate events that triggered the tragic 1966 military coup, which in turn brought about disastrous consequences, were utterly disregarded. It could therefore be adduced that in Nigeria the passage of time does not usually produce distinct difference between the past and present.
It is fifty-one years since Sir Ahmadu Bello, the charismatic leader of Northern Nigeria, was brutally murdered in cold blood by clannish soldiers. He was not alone to have suffered such horrifying fate. His associate, Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola the Premier of defunct Western Region was also mercilessly cut down by the callous assassins. Similarly, the Rt. Honourable, Sir Abubakar Tarawa Balewa, the first and the last Prime Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, was exterminated in a most weird and gruesome manner. These were the venerable leaders of the First Republic and staunch pillars of a political coalition: the Nigerian National Alliance NNA, a political colossus that extended across two mighty regions where the allied parties, the indomitable Northern People’s Congress, NPC and the formidable Nigeria National Democratic Party NNDP of the West, were in power. The alliance also controlled the government at the centre and was influential nationwide. In fact, it was a coup d’état by young Southern army officers intended to truncate Northern political supremacy and pave way for an eternal dominance by their tribesmen over the country.
The despicable murder of the country’s helmsmen and their prominent associates, as well as top ranking military officers from their regions, was the key moment in the intense desire propelled by jealously for political ascendency and economic control by a powerful political group in the south-eastern part of the country. The move was locally censured and internationally rejected because it was sectional: killing Northern and Western leaders on one hand, while on the other it spared the premiers of Eastern Region, Dr Michael Okpara, a kinsman of the Southern mutineers and his Mid-western counterpart, Chief Dennis Osadebay, a leading member of the National Council of Nigerian Citizens, NCNC a predominant political party in Ibo land and a leading northern antagonist.
Ever since then Nigeria had not known peace, and despite the resounding collapse of the Southerner’s ill-motivated revolution they have not rested on their oars. They were actively mixed up in an intricate web of intrigues to enforce their outrageous and intolerable agenda on the country. Some of them are still reflective and deeply nostalgic about the Republic of Biafra which was subdued by a bloody 30-month civil war that resulted from senseless and irrational insurrection to enthrone Ibo hegemony. Because of that Nigeria is perpetually experiencing numerous bouts of political upheavals and each one is capable of upsetting an applecart.
The southerners, and particularly the south-easterners, were extremely jealous of the North because of its rising political profile and the vast expanse of verdant, arable land coupled with immense human and material resources that favoured rapid urbanisation and quick economic growth. The North, which they considered as backwards few years before independence, has suddenly leapt to an enviable position, catching up dramatically with the so-called more developed regions of the south and had subsequently surpassed them in many endeavours. That unusually remarkable feat was ascribed to Sardauna’s dynamic and purposeful style of leadership. He was totally detribalised in his honest and open dealings with the more than 200 multi-religious, multi-ethnic stocks that inhabited an area that approximated two-thirds the size of Nigeria. He had carried them along in his giant strides towards achieving positive results from his focused and well-articulated policies.
That made the esteemed Sardauna the champion of the Nigerian masses who gave him wholehearted support at all elections which enabled his party, the NPC strengthened its stranglehold over the country. His opponents knew pretty well they stood no chance of wrestling power from the North through a ballot box, hence they resorted to tribalism and gratuitous appeals at religious sentiments to cause a sharp division among the peoples of the country and the North in particular. Yet Sardauna’s popularity waxed stronger especially in the so-called Middle Belt area where there is a preponderant Christian population. He pampered their traditional rulers and made wise concessions to the local politicians whom he had granted special privileges and equal rights in some special circumstances. That endeared him into the hearts of the non-Muslims in the North whose inalienable rights to co-exist harmoniously with their Muslim compatriots he acknowledged and admitted, willingly and ungrudgingly.
Today, the story is different. The Sardauna, who moved the North to an unprecedented level of development, is no more. His dazzling legacies have been desecrated and his outstanding policies discarded with ignominy. The promising North he had left behind had been balkanised into several hostile units that tended to emphasise division and disunity rather than oneness and harmony. Religion which had been positively employed by Ahmadu Bello to advance cohesion in the North is currently being abused by his adversaries to weaken the ties that bound Northerners together ostensibly to cause disaffection and disruptive hostilities. Perhaps, the greatest reminder to the posterity of the great Sardauna was his patriotism and religious tolerance which had been appropriately captured by the motto of his government: ‘Work and Worship.’ But it is a pity the North is constantly devastated by the destructive forces he had gallantly fought against even as those parading themselves as his worthy successors are making these ills more severe.
The big question lingering on everybody’s mind is whether the present crop of Nigerian leadership could emulate the great Sardauna and save the North from further disintegration and move its peoples to towards unity of purpose, common understanding and fraternity. It remains to be seen if any of the Northern elites who benefitted immensely from his policies could step into his shoes.