An extract of Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa’s speech, which he delivered on Nigeria’s independence day on 1st October, 1960 (in his capacity as prime-minister), reads “…this is a wonderful day and more wonderful because we have awaited it with increasing impatience; compelled to watch one country after another, overtaking us on the road, when we had so nearly reached our goal. But now we have attained our rightful status; and I feel sure that history will show that the building of our nation proceeded at the wisest pace. It has been thorough, and Nigeria now stands well-built, upon firm foundations.”
A clinical dissection of this extract is enough to prove that Nigeria is not where it was expected to be, going by the vision of her founding-fathers, who got worried as many countries were over taking Nigeria to gain independence. But today, many countries like Brazil, Malaysia, Indonesia, South Africa, Qatar, United Arab Emirate, Egypt, Saudi-Arabia and a host of others, with lesser resources, have over-taken Nigeria in terms of human capital, infrastructural, economic and most especially, technological/scientific development. Painfully and regrettably, the same reasons put forward as the premise for the collapse and overthrow of Nigeria’s first, second and third democratic projects, are still the same factors, holding Nigeria down till today; in spite of her enormous human, minerals and material resources.
So far, Nigeria has had three aborted democratic governments since independence in 1960, after her first 99 years of colonial (“militarized”) rule. The First Republic was abruptly aborted by a bloody military coup, after a span of 63 months (1st October, 1960 – 15th January, 1966). In justifying the crush, Major Chukwuemeka Kaduna Nzeogwu, in the extract of his broadcast, tagged “the revolutionary speech”, says – “…our enemies are the political profiteers; the swindlers; the men in high and low places, that seek bribes and demand 10%; those that seek to keep the country divided permanently, so that they can remain in office as ministers or VIPs at least; the tribalists; the nepotists; those that make the country look big for nothing, before the international circle; those that have corrupted our society and put the Nigerian political calendar back, by their words and deeds…”
Following the collapse of the First Republic, four military regimes (Ironsi, Gowon, Murtala and Obasanjo) ruled Nigeria from January16, 1966 – October 1, 1979 when Alhaji Shehu Shagari was eventually sworn into office as Nigeria’s first executive/democratically elected president. Thus, giving rise to the Second Republic; the government lasted for 50 months (October 1, 1979 –December 31, 1983). This time around, like Major Nzeogwu did in 1966, Brigadier Sani Abacha (later, Nigeria’s Head of State), gave the first broadcast, to justify Nigeria’s fifth military coup, which took place on January1,1984. An extract of his speech reads – “…there is inadequacy of food at reasonable prices for our people, who are fed up with endless announcements of importation of food stuffs; health services are in shambles, as our hospitals are reduced to mere consulting clinics without drugs, water and equipments. Our educational system is deteriorating at alarming rate. Unemployment figures, including unemployed graduates, have reached embarrassing and unacceptable proportion. In some states, workers are being owed salary arrears of 8-12 months. In others, there are threats of salary cuts. Yet, leaders revel in squandermania and corruption; and indiscipline continues to proliferate public appointments in complete disregard of our stark economic realities…”
This was the picture painted about Nigeria, forty years ago by late Gen. Sani Abacha. By coincidence, he came back again to deliver another coup speech on 25th August 1985, titled – “Why we overthrew Buhari.” What an irony?
After Brigadier Sani Abacha’s speech, the new Head of State, Major-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, in his maiden broadcast, categorically says – “…the premium on political power became so exceedingly high that political contestants regarded victory at elections, as a matter of life and death; and were determined to capture or retain power by all means. It is true that there is world-wide economic recession. However, in the case of Nigeria, its impact was aggravated by mis-management.
We believe the appropriate government agencies did give good advice, but their advices were disregarded by the leadership. The situation could have been saved if the legislators were alive to their constitutional responsibilities. Instead, they were more concerned about their salary scales, fringe benefits and unnecessary foreign travels, etc, which took no account of the state of the economy. We have come to depend largely on internal and external borrowings, to execute government projects, with attendant domestic price problem and soaring external debts. Thus, given the propensity of the outgoing civillian administration, to mis-manage our financial resources…”
The Third Republic, which was midwifed under the leadership of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, finally collapsed, following the annulment of June 12, 1993 presidential election, which was acclaimed to have been popularly won by late Chief M.K.O. Abiola. As a matter of fact, it is very pertinent to mention that the political actors triggered series of controversies as they conspired against themselves, right from the first and second rounds of the presidential primaries. Therefore, due to the recklessness of the politicians in keeping to the rules of the game, the Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC), ordered the National Electoral Commission (NEC), to investigate various allegations of electoral malpractices that were raised by the political gladiators.
On this ground, the federal military government banned all the First and Second Republic politicians, who were aspirants of the two political parties (NRC and SDP). Amongst those banned were Gen. Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, Adamu Ciroma, Lateef Jakande, Olu Falae, Arthur Nzeribe, Jerry Gana, Olusola Saraki, Abel Ubekwu. Therefore, this development eventually paved way for the “new breed politicians.” It was at this point that the likes of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, Alhaji Bashir Tofa, Bashorun M.K.O. Abiola, among others were encouraged to join the presidential race. At the same time, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu was also elected to represent Lagos-West senatorial district in the National Assembly.
However, there were various court injunctions, obtained by the political actors, demanding for the cancellation of the result of the June 12, 1993 presidential election. Under this tense political atmosphere, the National Republican Convention (NRC), also petitioned the National Electoral Commission (NEC), alleging that the presidential candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Chief M.K.O. Abiola, violated the electoral laws on the election day by wearing, carrying and displaying the symbol of the SDP at the polling unit, where he voted, in contravention of section 49(2) (e) of Decree 13 of 1993.
Therefore, NRC requested NEC to:- (i) disqualify the SDP presidential candidate and declare the NRC candidate, Alhaji Bashir Tofa, duly elected; or (ii) cancel the election and order fresh polls. Following all these political controversies and confusion, President Ibrahim Babangida in his broadcast on 26th June 1993, highlighted three fundamental grounds, as the basis for the nullification of the June 12 presidential election, as follows :- (i) uncontrolled and lavish use of money by the two presidential candidates, which amounted to over N2.1 billion; (ii) to save the nation’s judiciary from further judicial indiscipline, paralysis and anarchy; (iii) to stop foreign interference by the international community, over the nation’s internal (democratic) matters.
Going by the above political accounts, it is very ironical and disheartening that virtually all the past military regimes, were guilty of the same ills for which they accused and toppled every other previous government (from 1966–1985). In the same vein, the political class (“Nigeria’s accidental leaders/neo-colonialists”); have remained divisive, power-drunk and reckless. The same allegations of gross mis-management and corruption, raised against the politicians by Major Nzeogwu in 1966, when the military first struck; and Brigadier Sani Abacha in 1984, when Major-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari took over power, are still beclouding Nigeria’s political system till today. Therefore, as Nigeria gets prepared for the 2023 general elections, it is very pathetic to observe that the political actors have been completely insensitive to the fundamental issues that are very critical to the peaceful coexistence and unity of Nigeria; now and post 2023. Comrade Abdullahi is a concerned patriot, an activist and author.