nigeria

Debunking History

Does it ever worry us that history which neither personal wealth nor power can pre-empt will pass terrible judgement on us, pronounce anathema on our names when we have accomplished our betrayal and passed on? We have lost the twentieth century; are we bent on seeing that our children also lose the twenty-first?
— Chinua Achebe in An Image of Africa/The Trouble With Nigeria
Image: Tobi Jaiyesimi for The Book Banque.

Image: Tobi Jaiyesimi for The Book Banque.

Through November, The Book Banque has focused on the Nigerian independence period, and unfiltering the history often taught - or in most cases, not taught. The objective was not prove controversial but rather, to bring to light some issues too often carelessly omitted. As with recent times and as characterised by a social media movement tagged as #buhariseconomy, thrusting the blame of current issues on current leaders has become second nature to most Nigerians. This, of course, is not to say that majority of these leaders do not have a role to play - they do. However, the plethora of issues that often simultaneously serve as a salutation, a joke and a headline in Nigeria, are unfortunately not new. 

The fractured elements of Nigeria - in terms of social or economic; politically or culturally - are culminated in historic incidents and weakened institutions. The only difference today, perhaps, is that most of these issues are increasingly amplified with the use of social media, and equally intensified as the country’s population balloons and the greed and vested interests of high level officials reach new heights. Should we continue to ignore the importance of debunking history, understanding the root causes,  and playing our individual and collective roles as Nigerians, tomorrow shall only shadow the past, with new generation leaders following the same footsteps of 'country-men' that failed us, or digging deeper regressive footprints. 

We do not know about you, but we are eager to move on from the narrative of “potential” that Nigeria has so proudly and tirelessly worn for decades, to making the right steps in the direction of re-writing its story. As Jide Olarenwaju states at the end of the informative and brilliant documentary below, we want to see children break out of the cycle of poverty and everyone enjoy a minimum standard of living. We are bent on ensuring that our grandchildren and generations to come, only have the twentieth century as stories to learn from, and not burdened to be Nigerians, or live in Nigeria. We believe in the power of educating youth and filling in the knowledge gap, as a tool for achieving these goals.

Real Story of Nigeria (Documentary) by Jide Olanrewaju.

To purchase An Image of Africa/The Trouble with Nigeria by Chinua Achebe, click here.

Independence or Ethnic Nationalism?

By Tobi

This article is the second of a meta-series on Nigerian independence, ethnic nationalism and fiscal federalism. To receive the other articles from the series straight to your mail, click here.

Growing up in Nigeria, the names - Awolowo, Azikwe, Balewa and Ahmadu Bello - were taught as more or less the Matthew, Mark, Luke and John of the Nigerian Bible. They signified a new testament; a new awakening, a new salvation - and, reasonably so. Their faces were plastered on the legal tender; their names were commonly prefixed to the name of “best” universities, airports and other significant landmarks in Nigeria. To the young Nigerian, they were simply the heroes of Nigeria; the ones for whom we had to thank for spearheading the fight for self-governance of Nigeria from the British colonial rule. They were the founding fathers of Nigeria.

What exactly were we thanking them for? Independence. What did (does) that mean? The average young Nigerian, speaking from experience and that of many others of the new generation, were - and arguably, still are - clueless. We blindly, as routinely done, thanked them for their service to Nigeria. Religiously, we chanted “the labour of our heroes past, shall never be in vain” every morning on the assembly ground; as the filtered history momentarily taught in class unconsciously crafted role models for us - the youth. Every October 1st, we dusted our patriotic suits, and celebrated them and Nigeria. This was a ritual ceremoniously observed until this year, where one stopped and asked “what exactly do we celebrate?”

Deconstructing the concept of independence through research, three things rapidly stood out. The first being the fact the role of visionaries including Herbert Macaulay, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Jaja Wachukwu and Anthony Enahoro is often excluded from the independence narrative. The second, ostensibly of minor importance, is a common factor of Western education attained by most “heroes.” This seemingly insignificant fact may however be argued to have ignited the sense of indigenous cosmopolitanism among the leaders, as Pan-African movements increasingly gained momentum in the same period. Particularly so, as the fifth Pan-African conference in Manchester in 1945, for which Awolowo attended, brought together kindred spirits committed to the decolonisation of the African continent.

More prominent, however, were the stern undertones of ethnic fragmentation which drove the decolonisation process of Nigeria from the late 1940s to the 1960s. Carrying the torch of nationalism, Nnamdi Azikwe in partnership with Herbert Macaulay, formed the National Council of the Nigeria and Cameroons (NCNC) in 1944 with a unified Nigeria as the light. In 1949, Ahmadu Bello, Tafawa Balewa, and Aminu Kano formed the Northern People’s Congress (NPC). Dissimilar to NCNC, however, NPC was formed with the mandate for the ‘northernalisation’ at its forefront. NPC was for the Northerners, by the Northerners. The Western region, in this light, could surely not carry last. Awolowo, in 1951, thus founded the Action Group (AG).

The objective was clear: AG was for “preserving Yoruba interests and culture in a multi-ethnic, federated Nigeria.” From early on, the house was far from order. The events that unravelled in the subsequent years, even before the realisation of independence, later confirmed that politics was more or less a game of chess. That is, an ethnically chauvinist ideal to ‘checkmate’ other regions, and retain power in relevant constituencies. As opposed to fundamental and effective policies and ideals, for which political parties and campaigns ought to have been shaped by - well, at least, one thought until Britain and America recently lost the plot - indigenous governance was riddled by identity politics. Nationalism, however, it was tagged.

In all fairness, it was, indeed a nationalist movement. What it was, however, is that ethnic nationalism took a higher seat than civil nationalism. The latter, for which Azikwe doggedly fought for initially, was merely an ideology. Though Nigeria attained a status of “independence” from the colonial rule of the British government in 1960, the institutional revolt was however in favour of federalism - that is, the use of sub-unit or regional government, equally allocating the power to govern to the different polities - and not necessarily a unification agenda that fostered a shared identity. Alluding, however, to the heterogeneous composition of the Nigerian people in terms of ethnicity, one could argue that a weak central government was the optimal solution.

If anything, it was a prelude to coups and the Biafran war; the perpetual marginalisation of ethnic minorities in Nigeria, today, and the satirical system of prebendalism often confused as governance. The elephant in the room, often shadowed, by the sugar-coated history is the vested interests of our “heroes” and that of subsequent military regimes. The same interests that led Awolowo to embezzle state funds - a fact about our saint, unknown to most - to finance the activities of his Yoruba-dominated party AG; the same interests that permanently eroded trust in the public system with the rigging of elections by the Northerners in the 1960s. Dare one ask, again, what we celebrate?

As far as self governance goes, confetti is in due place for the founding fathers. The subjugation of Nigerians through colonialism was an infringement of many rights, a setback for the country and the African continent, and simply impermissible. In terms of nation building, however? The songs of praise end at Psalms 1960. The issue of tribalism by the virtue of identity politics have subtly paved the way for the ethnic-driven violent conflicts that continue to drive nails of instability into the walls of nation building in Nigeria. More poignantly, it has advanced Nigerian politics from a game of chess to a battle ground - a continued expression of ethno-democracy, and patronage politics.

Still prevalent even in voting today, ‘democratic’ elections are sadly driven by the unconstitutional rota of which moulds what majority or minority should be next to govern the state, as opposed to the sole factor of meritocracy of the candidate running for the position of leadership. However controversial, that the 2015 Presidential elections were won by the Action Progressive Congress (APC) - a merger between the Yoruba-dominated Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and Northern populated All Nigeria’s Peoples Party (ANPP), similar to the alliance of Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) and NPC circa 1965 - with 21 of 36 states, was not a mere coincidence. Or perhaps, it was, and the pattern of voting just happens to tally proportionately with the ethnic configuration of the parties?

The Northern and Western regions in Nigeria were predominantly pro-APC and its presidential candidate and 1983 military head of state, Muhammadu Buhari - an indigene of Katsina- was highly favoured. Whereas, in the South South and South East region - the former from which the opposition leader, Goodluck Jonathan, hails from - PDP secured the votes. Coincidence, again, one may say. The tenure of Jonathan interestingly administered the Niger Delta Amnesty Programme with a budget allocation of 114 Billion Naira in 2012, in comparison to the national education sector which received an appalling amount of 66 billion Naira. You may choose to call this coincidence, yet again. I, however, consider it as an inherited prebendal political system. When you look at the Nigeria we have today, you see that Awolowo, Azikwe, Balewa and Ahmadu Bello, were truly the founding fathers - those of ethnic nationalism.

To gain further insight on the decolonisation of Nigeria and the ‘real story of Nigeria’, this informative documentary by Jide Olanrewaju here is highly recommended. 

The Famous Five Plus One

This article is the first of a meta-series on Nigerian Independence, ethnic nationalism and fiscal federalism. To receive subsequent articles from the series straight to your mail, click here.

 

When you think about Nigeria's independence in 1960, what names come to mind?

Nnamdi Azikwe, Obafemi Awolowo and Ahmadu Bello? We thought so!  They are often referred to as the 'founding fathers' of Nigeria for their significant role in leading independence. Chances are that Tafawa Balewa and Herbert Macaulay are also mentioned. In this article, we discuss the famous five plus one - who we think is not talked about enough!

 

herbert macaulay

Herbert Macaulay

Grandson to Africa’s first Anglican Bishop, Samuel Ajayi Crowther and son to missionary, Thomas Babington Macaulay, Herbert Macaulay was born on November 14, 1864. He spent his early years in Lagos State, where he was born, until he relocated to the United Kingdom in 1890 to study civil engineering for three years, on a government scholarship. Jack of all trades and master of all, Macaulay was also an architect, musician, politician, surveyor and a journalist.

A nationalist at heart, Macaulay was vocal against the discrimination and inequality that ensued between the Europeans and indigenous people in the civil service. He led the campaign against the British colonial rule in Nigeria; creating two channels for voice and accountability - a newspaper and a political party. The newspaper, The Lagos Daily News, was the first daily paper in Nigeria. Putting power in the hands of Nigerians, the paper was employed to keep Nigerians abreast on the injustices of the colonial government.

Following the amendment of Clifford Constitution in 1922, Macaulay founded the first political party in Nigeria - Nigeria National Democratic Party. He advocated for political freedom and the protection of rights of Africans; joining forces with Azikwe in 1944 to create the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroons in support of indigenous leadership. Man of many firsts, Herbert Macaulay drove the nationalisation of civil service and private entities in Nigeria. He is thus regarded as the father of nationalism for his political contributions to the independent state of Nigeria.

NNAMDI AZIKWE

Popularly known as Zik of Africa, The Great Zik, or simply Zik, Nnamdi Azikwe was born on November 16, 1904. Though of Igbo descent, he was born in Zungeru, Niger. Prior to attaining tertiary education in the United States, he received earlier stages of his education in different parts of the country. This played a huge role in his initial efforts for a unified Nigeria. Culturally aware and au fait with Pan-African movements, Azikwe became a prominent figure in the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM) in the 1930s and an advocate against the imposed inferiority of Nigerian civil servants under the colonial rule.

More prominently, he fought for the solidarity of the Nigerian people - founding a newspaper in 1937 named The West African Pilot. In 1944, he co-founded the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) with Herbert Macaulay with a focus on attaining self governance for Nigeria. Noteworthily, he opposed the lack involvement in nationalist voices in the 1947 Richards Constitution and at initial stages, the regionalisation of Nigeria. He likewise drove the idea of a unitary state, giving precedence to a central government authority prior to the intensification of ethnic rivalries in the 1950s.

In 1959, Nnamdi Azikwe was elected as the first ceremonial governor of Nigeria, with a coalition between the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) and NCNC. He was later elected as the first president of the first republic in 1963. Though the plan for a single entity Nigeria was riddled by partisan politics in years preceding and succeeding his appointment. Azikwe is recognised for the attempt, however temporal, to foster a common Nigerian identity; spearheading the fight for nationalism and self governance in Nigeria.

Nnamdi_Azikiwe

AHMADU BELLO

Ahmadu Bello

Born on June 12, 1910, Alhaji Sir Ahmadu Bello was a lineal descendant of Usman Dan Fodio - the founder of the Sokoto caliphate and a revered Fulani Islamic scholar. At 23, he returned to Nigeria from the United Kingdom, and commenced his political career - in which he strongly advocated for the protection and preservation of Northern interests and culture. In 1938, following his unsuccessful bid for leadership as the Sultan of Sokoto, Ahmadu Bello became the Sardauna of Sokoto. In subsequent years, he established the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) - formerly known as Jammiyyar Mutanen Arewa - alongside Tafawa Balewa.

He also served as northern and regional representative in the House of Assembly in the 1950s, and a minister of community development. Initially averse to subregional government and in favour of the indirect rule of the British colonial government, Ahmadu Bello opposed the notion of self-governance. However, after the enactment of the Lyttleton Constitution in 1954 which established regionalism and the federal system of government in Nigeria, Ahmadu Bello was selected as the premier of Northern Nigeria

Converse to the fight for a unified Nigerian state as led by Azikwe, Ahmadu Bello led the campaign for the “northernisation” of the civil service through the NPC, and was an early exponent of federal principles and sub-regional government in Nigeria. In 1959, he won the parliamentary elections under the auspices of NPC. In the same year, he was appointed a Knight under the British monarch of Queen Elizabeth II, acquiring the honorary title of ‘Sir’. Popular among many nationwide, Alhaji Sir Ahmadu Bello’s style of leadership was distinct. It involved a hybrid system of traditional, Islamic and western facets of governance.

TAFAWA BALEWA

Tafawa-Balewa-The-Trent-1024x843.jpg

Charismatic and gentle, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa hailed from the North Eastern region of Nigeria. Contrary to other Northern leaders and aristocrats, he was born 1912 into a low-income household. The early years of his education background comprised of Quranic education and western education in Northern Nigeria. Subsequently, he trained as a teacher in Bauchi, and was certified as a teacher In 1933. Years later in 1945, he received a scholarship to further his education at the University of London’s Institute of Education; where he was influenced by the individual liberty and political freedom observed in United Kingdom.

Prior to departing Nigeria, he founded the Bauchi Discussion Circle in 1943 to facilitate policy and institutional reforms in Nigeria. On his return, he worked under the education unit for the colonial administration before venturing into politics. He was also the vice president of the first Northern trade union - Northern Teachers’ Association. Together with Ahmadu Bello, he founded the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) with the interests of the Northern people at the centre of its mandate. Similar to Ahmadu Bello, he was elected in the Northern House of Assembly as a representative and voice for the locals in Northern Nigeria, in 1947.

Subsequent to his role as Minister of Works in 1952, Tafawa Balewa served shortly as the Minister of Transportation. He was then appointed as the first prime minister of Nigeria, for reasons including the fact that he did not belong to the ethnic majority that ruled NPC, and also, his divergent background and impeccable sense of patriotism for Nigeria. As with the other founding fathers, the music changed from “building a nation” “that stands well upon firm foundations” as he occupied his position as prime minister, and the northernisation of the civil service became his prime agenda.

OBAFEMI AWOLOWO

An indigene of Ikenne, Remo in Ogun State, Obafemi Awolowo was born on March 6, 1909. He obtained his primary and secondary school education, and first undergraduate degree in Teaching in Ibadan. In the interim, he practiced being a reporter, trader, and clerk. He was also active member of the Nigerian Youth Movements in the 1930s. In the mid 1940s, he then pursued a degree in commerce and law at the University of London, United Kingdom.

Fondly referred to as Awo, Obafemi Awolowo founded the Egbe Omo Oduduwa, and two years later, the political party Action Group (AG) - both of which were predominantly Yoruba, and centred around the emancipation of Yoruba culture and people. Following the Lyttleton Constitution which instituted Nigeria as a federal state, Awo was elected as the premier of the western region of Nigeria. Notwithstanding, Awolowo continued to advocate for a national and centralised government, and a one-state Nigeria.

Allegiant to Pan-Africanism, he expressed his growing political clamour self governance in Nigeria; calling for the immediate halt to colonial rule in Nigeria. In 1959, Awo contested against Tafawa Balewa of the NPC party for the position of prime minister, and lost. Leading the opposition and falling prey to ethnicism and tribal conflicts that crept into politics, his focus was altered from a unified state to a federal state, vetting for indigenous regional government. Awo was also known for his 'democratic' socialist policies; including the nationalisation of industries. He was likewise found guilty for appropriating 5 million Naira of state funds for the promotion of political activities for the Western region.

Chief--Obafemi-Awolowo-3.jpg

FUNMILAYO RANSOME-KUTI

Mother to political activist and pioneer of Afrobeats, Fela, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti (FRK) was a brave and relentless political activist. Born on October 25, 1900, she studied music and domestic science in the United Kingdom in the 1920s, and later became a teacher in her hometown, Abeokuta, on returning to Nigeria. She was the known as the first Nigerian woman to drive a car and ride a bicycle. Most importantly, for her role in enforcing female rights in Nigeria. In 1944, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti founded the Abeokuta Women’s Union - formerly Egba Women’s Union - putting literate and illiterate women at the forefront of politics.

Otherwise known as the Mother of nationalism and Mother of Africa, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was a prominent member of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) co-founded by Azikwe. She was instrumental to the negotiation for self governance and independence in Nigeria. Also known as Lioness of Lisabi, FRK was vocal against the imposition of arbitrary tax, quotas on trading and other injustices of the British colonial rule. She also led the battle for the abolishment of unfair and discriminatory taxation for women. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti fought against the political exemption of women, with the objective of “raising the standard of womanhood.” She also founded the Nigerian Union of Teachers.


Sources used: A History of Nigeria by Toyin Falola and Matthew Heaton, here; Blackpast Online Encyclopedia: Ahmadu Bello, here; Britannica: Obafemi Awolowo, here; The Lioness of Lisabi: Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti by Sokari, here.