#NigeriaDecides – Buhari and Atiku Have Opened Door to Political Forces They Can’t Control or Stop –
This is my latest article in Foreign Policy regarding Nigeria’s upcoming election:
Nigeria Is Headed for Dramatic Changes No Matter Who Wins
The issue of restructuring the country’s delicate federal system has long been a taboo. Both candidates have now put it front and center, ensuring that reforms are on the way.
On Feb. 16, Nigerians will go to the polls for a presidential election. At stake is not only who will be president but also fundamental issues about the structure of the Nigerian state and relations between its constituent units. Who should control the country’s oil resources and security forces? In which areas should the federal and state governments have preeminence over each other? These previously taboo questions have been elevated as key topics on the national political agenda. Regardless of who wins, President Muhammadu Buhari of the ruling All Progressives Congress and his main opposition rival, Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party, have opened the door to political forces they cannot control or stop.
At first glance Buhari and Atiku (as he is known in Nigeria) appear to be opposites. Buhari is austere, tough on corruption, and lacking in flair. The euphoria that greeted his election victory nearly four years ago has dissipated, and some say his antiquated fiscal approach has contributed to economic stagnation. Last year, former President Olusegun Obasanjo (who remains a vital kingmaker despite leaving power nearly 12 years ago) told Buhari to “dismount from the horse” and retire from politics.
Atiku is a gregarious multibillionaire businessman and veteran politician who is seen as business-savvy and has promised economic liberalization, but he has been dogged by corruption allegations. It seems that voters can have a fight against corruption or economic stimulus, but not both. But there is a third and more serious issue bubbling beneath the surface.
Similar levels of support for the two main candidates have made the election result too close to call. Since both men are ethnic Fulani Muslims from northern Nigeria, neither can resort to pandering based on ethno-regional or religious sentiment to take votes away from the other, as is frequently the case in Nigerian elections. Due to Nigeria’s gentleman’s agreement to rotate the presidency between the country’s north and south, there is not much southern ferment against the regional origin of the two leading candidates, with the expectation that the south will have its turn in power next time.
Yet between the candidates, the pressure to secure a decisive advantage has changed the political narrative and forced both Buhari and Atiku to address uncomfortable existential questions about Nigeria that were delicately circumvented by past governments. For the past 20 years since Nigeria returned to democracy, the country has been stuck with a highly centralized federal structure bequeathed to it by past military governments. This structure gives the federal government huge power over states, control of the country’s oil deposits and security forces, and the power to declare a state of emergency in any state whether or not that state consents. Rather than being reservoirs for local interests, Nigeria’s states are consequently little more than conduits for the implementation of federal government policies.
Atiku has described Nigeria’s current political system as “unworkable” and has advocated “devolution of powers and resources to states and local governments” and greater autonomy for states. To combat the insecurity that has led to the military being deployed in at least 32 of Nigeria’s 36 states, he also supports allowing Nigeria’s states to form their own police forces to reinforce Nigeria’s currently federally controlled military and police forces. Buhari is a conservative and has rejected a political restructuring of Nigeria.
Such proposals will reverberate at both ends of Nigeria. The issue of restructuring Nigeria’s unusual federal system has been a big talking point for the last three decades. However, regional autonomy is a potentially explosive issue in a country that fought a civil war from 1967 to 1970 and sacrificed over 1 million of its citizens to prevent one of its southern regions from seceding, and in which just three of the country’s 36 states today produce 75 percent of the country’s oil and over 50 percent of government revenues. Those revenues, derived from the oil-producing states in the country’s south, are shared between all of Nigeria’s states and the federal government. The oil-producing states currently receive 13 percent of oil revenues derived from their lands, but if they claw back a greater share of those revenues, many states that aren’t oil-producing would be pushed into extreme poverty. Indeed, only eight of Nigeria’s states are thought to be economically viable enough to survive without financial allocations from oil revenue.
Atiku’s proposals will delight many younger and southern Nigerians who have campaigned for such measures for three decades, hoping that it will allow Nigeria’s oil-producing states to have a greater say over and share of the profits from the oil drilled from their lands. However the proposals seem radical coming from a northern Muslim such as Atiku, who comes from the part of the country that has traditionally resisted southern-inspired changes to Nigeria’s political order. Historically, many northerners feared that such changes to Nigeria’s constitutional order would reduce the poorer northern states’ share of lucrative revenues from the oil fields in Nigeria’s south. The chairman of the Northern Elders Forum, Ango Abdullahi, claimed that some have “personalized restructuring with a view to targeting a section of the country, and this is the area that we feel very sensitive about, and we will resist it.”
Yet the north also has its own reasons to support Atiku’s restructuring ideas. Many complain that Nigeria’s police and soldiers (who are recruited from all over the country under a quota system) are disadvantaged in their fight against the militants of Boko Haram because most of them are not from the northeast where the insurgency emerged, are not familiar with the terrain, and don’t speak the local Kanuri language of the region, thereby making it difficult for them to win the trust of locals and obtain intelligence from them. Some argue that troops should be locals with knowledge of the local language, terrain, and customs.
Localization of the security forces has already been occurring slowly, albeit unofficially and without constitutional backing. Nigeria’s Constitution recognizes only those security forces that are established by the federal government and forbids states from creating their own police forces. Yet some states have allowed militia to exist in a legal twilight zone alongside the constitutionally recognized military and police forces.
Some of the military’s successes against Boko Haram have been due to the assistance given to them by a militia of local volunteers called the Civilian Joint Task Force. Using their local knowledge, the group has provided vital intelligence to the military, set up security checkpoints, arrested or executed Boko Haram members, and even assisted the military during raids. Twelve states in Nigeria’s north operate under Sharia. Some of these states created enforcement corps known as Hisbah to police their legal code. Several years ago, some southern states also allowed vigilante groups to apprehend armed robbers.
Critics pointed out that some of the vigilantes spent as much time eliminating political rivals of their state governor as they did fighting criminals. These local ethno-cultural and religious differences demonstrate the challenges of allowing local communities to create their own security forces. In one part of the country they may be used to fight insurgents, to enforce a theocracy in another, or as political thugs in another. In a country with deep sectarian cleavages such as Nigeria, legislating different legal regimes for these groups would be impossible without accusations of ethnic, geographic, or religious bias. Thanks to Buhari and Atiku’s candor these are no longer academic debates but immediate real-life problems that Nigeria’s next government must confront.
If Buhari holds on to power, he will be under pressure to respond to these thorny issues. If Atiku wins, the electorate will expect him to deliver on his campaign promises. Even if neither man intends to touch the restructuring time bomb, the issues they have raised are likely to be picked up by whoever contests the next election.
They have unwittingly elevated the restructuring issue to such a high level on the national agenda that they are likely to remain campaign issues even for the next election in 2023, when a younger candidate from the south is almost certain to become president.
In Nigeria, younger politicians are far more likely than their conservative elders to implement massive reforms. No matter what Buhari and Atiku do, a southern successor is far more likely than them to push for radical changes to Nigeria’s structure. And that means four years from now Nigeria may have a president with the motivation to not only espouse reforms, but implement them, too.
Max Siollun is a Nigerian historian and the author of the books Oil, Politics and Violence: Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture 1966-1976 and Soldiers of Fortune: a History of Nigeria (1983-1993). Follow him on Twitter: @maxsiollun
#Nigeria’s next presidential election is only 5 days away. As usual the political temperature has reached boiling point and everyone thinks the entire future of the entire country is at stake. Rather than focus on one aspect of the election, I have compiled below, a compendium of the major issues surrounding the election.
The Key Contenders
Bloomberg has published a comparison of President Buhari and his main challenger Atiku Abubakar. It presents the election as a binary choice between “A Former Dictator or Alleged Kleptocrat“.
Voters and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) -@inecnigeria. There are over 84 million registered voters. The distribution of voters s likely to give President Buhari a slight advantage. The north-west (where Buhari hails from) has over 20 million registered voters, and the south-west (where the Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo is from) has over16 million registered voters. In a country like Nigeria where voters often vote on ethno-regional lines, the fact that 42% of registered voters are located in the regions where the president and vice-president are from will be crucial. This article by Idayat Hassan (@hassanidayat) provides a very good summary of the key issues and demographics.
The Role of Women
The UN has published an article lamenting the depressingly low-level of female representation in Nigerian politics. Nigeria has never had en elected female president or state governor. Only 5 of the 73 presidential candidates are women. There are only 7 women in the 109 member Senate, and only 22 of Nigeria’s 360 federal House of Representatives members are women.
Nigerian elections are not just about those who context for elected office. So called “godfathers” are the unseen hands that sponsor candidates, dictate hands from behind the scenes, and influence the country’s political trajectory. The former Governor of Taraba State Reverend Jolly Nyame, once said: “Whether you like it or not, as a godfather you will not be a governor, you will not be a president, but you can make a governor, you can make a president.”
Further Election Coverage
The BBC’s Africa and Nigeria coverage is usually first class. They have put together a good page on Nigeria’s election here.
Buhari’s unwillingness to disclose the nature or extent of his illness fuels rumors that he is terminally ill or, periodically, that he has already died. Last month, Garba Shehu, a spokesman for the president, was forced to issue a series of tweets denying that anything unpleasant happened to the president. He added that reports of Buhari’s ill health are “plain lies spread by vested interests to create panic.” Buhari’s wife recently tweeted that his health is “not as bad as it’s being perceived.”
Regardless of the severity of his illness, Buhari’s extended absence risks igniting an ugly power struggle that would threaten not just the political fortunes of his ruling party but also a long observed gentleman’s agreement that has been critical to maintaining the stability of the country.
The unwritten power-sharing agreement obliges the country’s major parties to alternate the presidency between northern and southern officeholders every eight years. It was consolidated during Nigeria’s first two democratic transfers of power — in 1999 and 2007 — and it alleviated the southern secessionist pressures that had festered under decades of military rule by dictators from the north. For a time, this mechanism for alternating power helped keep the peace in a country with hundreds of different ethnic groups and more than 500 different languages. But it was never intended to be permanent, and as Buhari’s illness demonstrates, it has increasingly become a source of tension rather than consensus.
If Buhari, a northerner, doesn’t finish his term of office, and power passes to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, a Christian from the south, it will be the second time in seven years that the north’s “turn” in the presidency has been cut short. In late 2009, then-President Umaru Yar’Adua, who like Buhari was a Muslim from the north, traveled abroad for treatment for an undisclosed illness. When Yar’Adua died in office the following year, his southern Christian vice president, Goodluck Jonathan, succeeded him, setting the stage for an acrimonious split within the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) over whether Jonathan should merely finish out Yar’Adua’s term or run to retain the office in the 2011 election.
In the end, Jonathan ran and won in 2011. But not before 800 people were killed in riots in the north after the PDP allowed Jonathan to contest the election. The anti-Jonathan faction later resigned in protest and defected to the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) party. Buhari led the APC to victory over the PDP in 2015.
An eerily similar scenario is now playing out in Buhari’s APC party. If Buhari dies, resigns, or is declared medically incapacitated by the cabinet, it would likely ignite a similar struggle within the APC over whether Vice President Osinbajo should permanently succeed him as president. A group of prominent northerners has already stated that Osinbajo should serve merely as an interim president and that he cannot replace Buhari on the ticket in the 2019 presidential election. Should Osinbajo succeed Buhari, win the 2019 election, and serve a full term, a Christian southerner will have been president for 18 of the 24 years since Nigeria transitioned to democracy in 1999.
There is a chance that APC leaders will convince — or force — Osinbajo to stand down in favor of another Muslim candidate from the north. But sidelining Osinbajo would pose other sectarian risks. He was chosen as Buhari’s running mate in part to counter southern accusations that the APC is a Muslim party. And although he is seen as a technocrat, Osinbajo is a powerful political force in his own right — too powerful, perhaps, to be sidelined in 2019 without alienating millions of voters. He is a pastor in the country’s largest evangelical church, which has some 6 million members, and his wife is the granddaughter of Obafemi Awolowo, one of Nigeria’s early independence politicians who is beloved in southwest Nigeria.
Yet if the north’s “turn” in power is interrupted again, it will further alienate the region — already home to the bloody Boko Haram insurgency, which has thrived in part because of government neglect — and make north-south cooperation on security, development, and a host of other critical issues more difficult. It could easily lead to another round of deadly riots, as it did in 2011. But there is a way out.
Nigeria should abandon the convention of north-south presidential power rotation now that it has outlived its purpose. At the same time, it should deepen power sharing in state and local governments, which have steadily gained influence relative to the national government since 1999. Many of the country’s 36 states and 774 local governments already practice some form of power rotation among politicians from different ethnic, religious, and geographic groups. The key will be to frame the abolition of power rotation at the presidential level as an opportunity to strengthen these norms at the state and local levels — not a chance to terminate them everywhere at once.
The reality is that most Nigerians experience government at the local level anyway. Regardless of whether Buhari or Osinbajo is in the presidential palace, state and local officials have the most purchase on the lives of ordinary citizens. Letting go of a dangerous convention at the national level while devolving more power to inclusive governance structures at the local level offers a way out of the current impasse.
Outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan led president-elect Muhammadu Buhari on a tour of the presidential villa at Aso Rock in Abuja. Jonathan gave Buhari the presidential handover notes. Buhari was accompanied by his son and daughter.
Official film trailer of “Buhari My Hero…” – a documentary film produced by Ireti Bakare-Yusuf (co-produced by Heavywind Studio). The film is on Nigerian president-elect Muhammadu Buhari and features interviews with his family and colleagues such as Buhari’s wife Aisha, daughter Halima Buhari Sheriff, nephew Mamman Daura, former military coursemates Major-Generals Mohammed Magoro and Paul Tarfa, friend Dr Sule Hamman, Asia El-Rufai (wife of Kaduna State governor Nasir El-Rufai), and Kunle Mohammed Idiagbon (son of Buhari’s former Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters Major-General Tunde Idiagbon).
The film will be screened in Lagos and Abuja.
The producer Ireti Bakare-Yusuf gave away goodie bags to those who attended the premiere. Each goodie bag contained a copy of my book “Soldiers of Fortune”:
All the talk about the upcoming February 14 presidential election Nigeria is about President Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari. However there are 12 other candidates contesting this election!
|Goodluck Jonathan (President)||Peoples Democratic Party|
|Muhammadu Buhari||All Progressives Congress|
|Tunde Anifowose-Kelani||Action Alliance|
|Rafiu Salau||Alliance for Democracy|
|Alhaji Ganiyu Galadima||Allied Congress Party of Nigeria|
|Mani Ahmad||African Democratic Congress|
|Adebayo Musa Ayeni||African Peoples Alliance|
|Chief Sam Eke||Citizens’ Popular Party|
|High Chief Ambrose Owuru||Hope Democratic Party|
|Oluremi Comfort Sonaiya||KOWA Party|
|Chief Martin Onovo||National Conscience Party|
|Allagoa Chinedu||Peoples Party of Nigeria|
|Godson Okoye||United Democratic Party|
|Chekwas Okorie||United Progressive Party|
The Candidates’ bios:
Goodluck Jonathan is the Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). He is the incumbent President and is seeking re-election. Jonathan assumed office in 2010 after the death of former President, Umaru Yar’adua. He was elected into office in 2011.
Muhammadu Buhari is the Presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC). The former Head of State contested for the office of President in the 2003, 2007 and 2011 elections. He emerged the candidate of the APC in December 2014 defeating opponents which included former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar.
Tunde Anifowose-Kelani is the Presidential candidate of the Action Alliance (AA). He was born in Agbokojo, Ibadan, Oyo state, on April 5, 1965. He earned a first degree in Guidance and Counselling combined with Communication and Language Arts from the University of Ibadan and a Master’s degree in Personnel Psychology from the same university.
He has also served as the National President, Junior Chambers International (JCI), and Chief Executive Officer of The Siegener Sabithos Nigeria Limited. He is a member of the board of the Shooting Stars Sports Club (3SC) of Ibadan.
Rafiu Salau is the Presidential candidate of the Alliance for Democracy (AD). He is also the party’s National Secretary. The 58-year-old holds a Senior Secondary School leaving Certificate and believes that he is “the best candidate” for the number one office in the country.
He has pledged to create two million jobs if elected and also raise Nigeria’s foreign reserve to $200 billion.
Alhaji Ganiyu Galadima:
Ganiyu Galadima is the Presidential candidate of the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN). Galadima was the acting National Chairman of the party before being named its flagbearer of December 11, 2014. Galadima has said that he believes strongly ‘in the need to end impunity in Nigeria’.
Dr Mani Ahmad:
Mani Ahmad is the Presidential candidate of African Democratic Congress (ADC). He has urged Nigerians to think about their situation and those responsible and vote for ADC for a paradigm shift. He also expressed optimism at his ability to deliver if elected into office.
Adebayo Musa Ayeni:
Adebayo Musa Ayeni is the Presidential candidate of the African Peoples Alliance (APA). He was the Deputy Governor of the old Ondo State from 1990 to 1992, the first civilian to hold the office during military rule. He is from Emure Ekiti in Ekiti State. Ayeni has promised to tackle corruption if elected into office.
Chief Sam Eke:
Sam Eke is the Presidential candidate of the Citizens’ Popular Party (CPP) and is also its National Chairman. He is an accountant and a native of the Ikwuana Local Government Area of Abia state.
He has attended the Pacific Western University, Janus University and the state University of New York, all in the US. Chief Eke has urged Nigerian politicians to shun “politics of bitterness” and the “do or die” mentality and also to refrain from gathering unnecessary wealth.
High Chief Ambrose Owuru:
High Chief Ambrose Owuru is the Presidential candidate of the Hope Democratic Party. He is the National Chairman of the party and has contested Presidential elections twice.
Owuru, who is a lawyer, was arrested and arraigned in 2013 by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over an alleged N66 million fraud. Owuru has described his party as “a new generation party of statesmen who work for the future of our people.”
Remi Comfort Sonaiya:
Oluremi Comfort Sonaiya is the Presidential candidate of KOWA party. She is the only female contesting for the post. Dr Sonaiya, who was born on March 2nd, 1955, holds a doctorate degree in linguistics and is also a professor of French and applied linguistics at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU).
She has said that she is running for Nigeria’s number one office because she believes that an ‘ordinary citizen’ can do the job.
Chief Martin Onovo:
Chief Martin Onovo is the Presidential candidate of the National Conscience Party (NCP). He is an engineer by profession and holds degrees from the University of Ibadan and the University of Houston.
Chief Onovo contested the 2011 Presidential elections on the platform the Action Alliance (AA) in 2011. Onovo has said that if elected into power, his administration would use $9 billion to double power generation, transmission and distribution in two and half years.
Allagoa Chinedu is the Presidential candidate of the Peoples Party of Nigeria (PPN). According to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Mr Allagoa is 46-years-old and holds a Bachelor of Science degree. His running mate is 35-year-old Arabamhen Mary, a Secondary School leaving certificate holder.
Godson Okoye is the Presidential candidate of the United Democratic Party (UDP). He is a lawyer by profession. Okoye contested the governorship elections of Anambra State in 2010 and 2013.
Okoye has said that his vision is to vision is to “make Nigeria secure and prosperous, through effective governance to overcome [our] current educational, security and power problems.”
Dr Chekwas Okorie:
Chekwas Okorie is the Presidential candidate of the United Progressive Party (UPP). He is also the pioneer National Chairman of the party. Dr Okorie was a close friend to the late Odimegwu Ojukwu and was also one of the founding members of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) before his departure from the party.
Okorie has urged Nigerians not to vote for either the APC or the PDP as they are both full of “recycled criminals, former jail birds and corrupt and deceitful politicians.”
Continued from part 1:
As Nigeria’s foremost nationalist and first post independence Head of State, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe was (and still should be) to Nigeria, what George Washington is to America, Nkrumah is to Ghana, Nasser is to Arabs, and Mandela is to South Africa. The fact that he is not so remembered is a sad testament to Nigeria’s legacy keeping and failure to honour its founding fathers. Azikiwe transcended national politics to become an icon. He is the father of post independence Nigeria.
Azikiwe in Nigerian Politics
For over a decade after his return from his sojourns to the USA and Ghana, Zik was the most influential politician in West Africa (if not all of Africa). At a time when Nigeria was still a collection of disparate regions, identities and local units, Zik started canvassing for Nigerian independence and for the creation of a de-ethnicised, de-tribalised sense of Nigerian nationalism and patriotism. He was the architect of Nigerian nationhood. He was a strident campaigner for Nigerian independence, and believed in Nigerian self rule as an article of faith. “I fought against British rule, because I honestly believed that it denied me and my people the basic freedoms and fundamental rights. At the material time, I believed, as I still do, that in normal times no man should impose his rule on any people unless he has been elected to do so at a free and fair election. It was an article of faith with me than an African citizen should enjoy individual freedom under the law.”
“Tell Oged to Keep the Flag Flying”
In 1944 Azikiwe was one of the founders of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) along with Herbert Macaulay. When the Southern Cameroons became part of the country of Cameroon, the NCNC kept its acronym by changing its name to the “National Convention of Nigerian Citizens”. In 1946 the NCNC began a pan Nigerian tour during which its leader Herbert Macaulay became fatally ill in Kano and was taken back to Lagos. On his deathbed in Lagos, Macaulay’s last words were the touching epitaph: “Tell the National Council delegates to halt wherever they are for four days for Macaulay and then carry on….Tell Oged to keep the flag flying” (“Oged” was Macaulay’s son Ogedengbe). Azikiwe (who was the NCNC’s General-Secretary) then became NCNC president following the death of Macaulay in 1946.
His own pan-Nigerian outlook was demonstrated by his service as a member of the Western Region’s Legislature. In 1951, Azikiwe became embroiled in an incident which still causes rancour till today. His NCNC party and the Ibadan Peoples Party (IPP) together held a majority in the Western Region House of Assembly which was poised to make Azikiwe (an Igbo) the Premier and ruler of the Yoruba Western Region. Several Yoruba members of the NCNC and IPP defected and joined the Action Group party of Azikiwe’s rival Obafemi Awolowo. Many NCNC members bitterly complained that the defections were calculated ethnically motivated incidents to prevent an Igbo from becoming the ruler of a Yoruba area. This might be the incident that tainted Nigerian politics with ethnic competition. After this he became Premier of the Eastern Region (1954-1959), and later relinquished the Premiership to Dr Michael Okpara when he moved to the Senate.
Nigerian Independence- “I Pray that We May Guard our Unity and Keep our Faith”
Despite political setbacks Azikiwe retained his messianic dream of Nigeria one day becoming a great country:
“As a young man I saw visions: visions of Nigeria becoming a great country in the emerging continent of Africa; visions of Nigeria offering freedom to those in bondage, and securing the democratic way of life to those who had been lulled into an illusion of security under colonial rule…..I trust that I shall dream my dreams amid the peace and ever-increasing prosperity of the people of my native Nigeria. The motto of the independent federation of Nigeria is “Unity and Faith”. I pray that we may guard our unity and keep our faith.” (summer 1960, London)
His dream of Nigerian independence and self rule was realised on October 1, 1960 when Nigeria became independent from the United Kingdom. Yet despite being the country’s most famous political figure and laying the groundwork for nationalism and independence, he did not inherit leadership of his newly independent country. Abubakar Tafawa Balewa became the country’s first Prime Minister and Azikiwe was given the sinecure position of Governor-General. The post of Governor-General of the federation in titular terms made him the representative of the British Queen in Nigeria.
“My Stiffest Earthly Assignment is Ended and My Major Life’s Work is Done. My Country is Now Free”
When Nigeria became a Republic in 1963 Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa proposed an amendment of the 1960 independence constitution to transform Azikiwe from Governor-General and redesignate his title as a ceremonial “President”. Although the post of President was purely ceremonial and was not an elected one, Balewa suggested that Azikiwe be named President in the 1963 constitution because “Nigeria can never adequately reward Dr. Azikiwe” for his nationalist activities and service to the nation”. Therefore section 157 of Nigeria’s 1963 constitution was titled “Nnamdi Azikiwe to be President”, and read “Nnamdi Azikiwe shall be deemed to be elected President of the Republic on the date of the commencement of this Constitution”.
Although no election was held for the post, the amendment proposal was accepted and Azikiwe became the country’s ceremonial President and Head of State, with formal governmental authority being vested in Balewa as the Prime Minister. To my knowledge Azikiwe’s appointment as President by name in the Nigerian constitution is the only instance in a democratic country, of a Head of State being specifically appointed and referenced by name in his country’s constitution. His post was ceremonial, did not vest him with formal executive or political authority, and was merely a formality to recognise his role as the country’s founding father. Yet despite not being the head of government, Azikiwe was ostensibly satisfied that his life’s work was done. He argued that his duty to his country was to lead it to independence, not to lead it politically:
“I can say without hesitation that I have no personal ambition in partisan politics. This explains why I have been able to play the role of a prisoner in a gilded cage with personal satisfaction and complete equanimity. My stiffest earthly assignment is ended and my major life’s work is done. My country is now free and I have been honoured to be its first indigenous head of state. What more could one desire in life?” – Talking about Nigeria’s Independence on Oct. 1, 1960.
1964 Crisis and The Majors’ Coup
Azikiwe did not manage to stay on the political fringe for long. The controversial federal election of December 1964 caused a massive crisis and ruptured the coalition government of the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) and Zik’s former party, the NCNC. The elections were marred by widespread boycotts, rigging, intimidation, arson and violence which left Azikiwe so aghast that he refused to call Prime Minister Balewa to form a new government. For a few days, apocalyptic tension hung over the country until Azikiwe’s sense of constitutional propriety prevailed. He eventually negotiated a compromise with Balewa and called him and the NPC to once again to form a government. However the wounds of the 1964 crisis had not gone away. There were to resurface in murderous fashion less than two years later
In January 1966 a group of radical army Majors violently overthrew the government in a military coup, assassinating Prime Minister Balewa in the process. Azikiwe was outside the country when the coup occurred. Although he was accused of sympathising with, or having knowledge of the coup, he strongly condemned it and called it a “national calamity”. Despite his criticism of them, many of his opponents suspected him of sympathising with the Majors who staged the coup.
To be continued…
Continuing with the theme of comparing Nigeria’s current President Goodluck Jonathan against his predecessors, here is a comparison of Jonathan against Nigeria’s first Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa.
GOODLUCK JONATHAN’S INTERVIEW:
ABUBAKAR TAFAWA BALEWA