There is no country in the world today that is not torn by civil war, yet whose basis of corporate existence is being subjected to such vociferous and persistent attacks by an articulate section of its own politicians, journalists and other opinion leaders, as the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Those attacking the corporate existence of the Nigerian nation-state, have, with the country’s return to civilian, democratic, rule, last May, become more confident, even though it is becoming increasingly clear to Nigerians, that their arguments and positions, are not backed by the truthful presentation of what has actually happened and what is happening in Nigeria. More and more Nigerians, are realizing that these attacks are, almost entirely, based on the misrepresentations of the historical and contemporary realities of Nigeria.
The positions put forward aggressively in these attacks against the existence of the Nigerian nation-state are derived from very superficial, and distorted, conceptions of the nature of the Nigerian geographical environment, and of the origins, formation and the composition of its peoples and their linkages, relationships and actual circumstances, today, and over the centuries. But, they fit into certain established mental stereotypes about Nigeria and Nigerians, sufficiently well for them to be effectively used in this campaign to generate fears and insecurity as to the viability of Nigeria as a nation-state, particularly with the violent communal disturbances which have become more frequent in the urban and rural areas of the country, since about 1987. The back cover of this book is illustrated with a small sample of the type of material used in this campaign, to persistently cast doubts as to the viability of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The misrepresentations of Nigerian politics, in the period, 1993-1999, by those conducting this campaign, as brought out over their characterisation of the candidatures of Abiola and Obasanjo, before and after the two elections, are particularly educative, because the inconsistency is so glaring, that it amounted to a complete somersault, a one hundred and eighty degrees turn-around, without any explanation, or, admission of error over their understanding of Nigerian politics, and their judgment, with regards to the two presidential candidates.
But, these two examples of the misrepresentations of Nigerian politics, over the candidature of Abiola and Obasanjo, did not come out like a bolt from the sky, nor were they aberrations. They are products of a distinct outlook on Nigerian politics, which, since the 1940s, insists that this politics has always been, and will always remain, essentially contests between ethnic groups for positions, power and resources. >From this outlook, Nigerian politics is seen as a contest between the Hausa-Fulani, the Igbo and the Yoruba, with the other smaller ethnic groups pursuing their own agenda, on their own, or, attached to one of the major tribes.
Since this outlook forms the background for these, and many other misrepresentations of Nigeria and Nigerian politics, this brief moves on to bring out the factual evidence, that this outlook is derived from a gross simplification of Nigerian politics, which amounts to an actual misrepresentation of its nature and dynamics. The evidence brought up shall be largely from election results since 1951,because these, in spite of all their shortcomings, are a better reflection of the political behaviour of Nigerians then the speeches and statements of politicians and the comments and editorials of journalists.
But, this misleading outlook on Nigerian politics does not stand on its own. It is part of a broader conception of the nature of Nigeria, which sees it as essentially composed of two, distinct, geographical, cultural, economic and political entities, namely, the North, and, the South. These distinct entities, have been, according to this conception, brought together arbitrarily by the British, for their own fiscal reasons, in the 1914 amalgamation of the Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria with the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria; but that these two entities of, the North and the South, remain, up to today, distinct, different, and, largely, antagonistic, in terms of background, interests and aspirations.
The brief then examines the validity of this conception of Nigeria based on the North-South dichotomy, with factual evidence at the levels of geology, hydrology, climate, vegetation, and ethnic and linguistic geography. It shows that the dichotomy has no basis in the concrete and specific realities of the existence of Nigeria and Nigerians, but is a gross over-simplification, which has come to obscure these realities, and has become a convenience now, almost essential for a powerful form of backward and narrow-minded politics in the country.
The brief shows that the nature and motion of the dense human mosaic that is Nigeria, cannot be understood in terms, of a North-South dichotomy. It also shows that the territorially-based states, constituting the Nigerian Federation, and the territorially-based local government areas, constituting these states, in which every citizen of Nigeria can live, work, vote and be voted for, are, in the light of the past and present realities of the historical and ethnic geography of the country, the most adequate framework for its complex and changing diversity, and for building democracy, and a prosperous, and modern economy in it, in the 21st century.
The brief concludes, by citing a specific example of the misrepresentation of the current, violent, ethnic and religious conflicts. For, in relation to these violent eruptions of communal conflicts, the misrepresentations on which this campaign is built, has a self-fulfilling dynamic, which has to be clearly understood, if these conflicts are to be stopped and democracy given a chance to grow and consolidate itself in this country.
The Implications for Democracy
This campaign against the basis of the Nigerian nation-state has far-reaching implications for peace, democracy and political stability in the country and, consequently, for large parts of Africa. For, there certain elementary requirements for the growth and survival of constitutional and democratic systems of government, which cannot be taken for granted.
In the first place, for any type of constitutional government to operate in a polity, whether, or not, it is a democracy, the leaders of that polity must be able to have disagreements and disputes, and finally come together to settle them and agree to a decision, in accordance with the provisions of the constitution; and not in the event of any disputes and disagreements, resort to attacking the basis of the corporate existence of that polity and call for its dismemberment, and thus, legitimising un-constitutional means for the settlement of disputes and resolving disagreements.
Moreover, when, in the event of a dispute erupting, doubts are cast on the viability of the polity, in a way as to generate insecurity about its, future, the sort of compromises necessary for resolving the dispute, are made almost impossible, because these involve concessions, which are a form of investment in the future, and these investments are pointless, if the polity has no future, and everybody is going to go his own way. And, without concessions and compromises, for the peaceful settlement of disputes, no form of constitutional government, whether democratic, or not, is possible, in Nigeria, or in any new country carved out of Nigeria, or, anywhere else in the world.
But, it is not only the psychological and political pillars of constitutional rule that are being undermined by this campaign against the corporate existence of the Nigerian nation-state. It is also the democratic system of government in the country, which is also being undermined, as this campaign erodes the ground on which its foundations are being rebuilt, even before the blocks and cement used in the reconstruction have started to dry. For, democracy is a political system built on the twin pillars of, the representation of citizens, and accountability to citizens. Without any one of these, there is no democracy. This campaign is actually eroding the ground on which these pillars are being built.
Contrary to what some Nigerian politicians and journalists, many of whom who claim to be pro-democracy, think, family, clan, ethnic and religious affinities and ties, cannot be the basis of the representation of any citizens or, groups of citizens, in a democracy. Democratic representation is solely derived from the exercise by the citizens of the freedom of political association with all other citizens in the country and the exercise of the freedom of political choice between alternative candidates and parties.
In a democracy, nobody can represent his kinsmen, simply because they are his kinsmen. His kinsmen can only be democratically represented when they can freely associate with, or, refuse to associate with him, and associate with a complete stranger; elect him, or, refuse to elect him, and elect a complete stranger. The Nigerian Constitution clearly provides for this, consistent with all the international conventions on democracy and fundamental human rights. Sections 2 and 3 of the Constitution, and the relevant schedule, clearly provide for territorially-based states and local government council areas, as the constituent units of the country, within which, any Nigerian citizen, can live, work, register to vote, vote and be voted for, freely associating with other citizens, irrespective of any ethnic, regional, or, religious origins and affinities.
This conception of the basis of Nigerian nation-state and of its democratic system, codified in the Constitution, is strengthened by the provision of the Land Use Act, entrenched by section 315 of the Constitution, which vests the ownership of all land in the Federal Republic of Nigeria in the people of Nigeria, as a whole, and not in any ethnic, or, religious community. It allows every Nigerian citizen, who collectively shares in the ownership of all land in Nigeria with all other Nigerian citizens, to individually acquire rights of occupancy in any part of the country, irrespective of any ethnic, regional, or, religious, origins and affinities.
Those who are campaigning against the corporate existence of the Nigerian nation-state, attack these provisions in the Constitution, and the Land Use Act, explicitly and implicitly, while loudly proclaiming to be pro-democracy. They insist on and act on the anti-democratic premise that ethnic affinity is the basis of political association and political representation, because, as they falsely claim, ethnic communities, supposedly owning land, are the constituent units of Nigeria and the thirty six states belong to six “geo-political” zones, with each zone belonging to an ethnic group, or, ethnic groups, and, therefore, ethnic solidarity, and ethnic competition, are the bases of politics in Nigeria.
But, it is not only democratic representation that is seriously undermined by this campaign against the corporate existence of the Nigerian nation-state, it is also democratic accountability, the other twin pillar of any democratic system that is undermined. Democratic accountability, not only requires democratic representation, but also requires the political capacity of the citizens who are represented, to come together and hold the elected representative to account for his actions in public office.
In any electoral constituency in which there are different ethnic and sub-ethnic groups, or, clans and lineages, and these are seen as the basic units of political representation, it is very difficult for the voters in that constituency, to call a corrupt, or, incompetent, elected official to order, because, he was elected because of his origin and affinity, and not because of what he can do to promote the security and welfare of all citizens in his constituency. The basis of making him publicly accountable to those who elected him is very weak, because ethnic, or, sub-ethnic, religious, or, sub-religious, representation, does not allow for democratic accountability, and is fundamentally opposed to this pillar of democracy. Those who say that they are pro-democracy and yet insist on ethnically-based political units and ethnic representation, are either trying to fool other people, or, are themselves just confused, and actually do not know what they are talking about.
The 1993 President Elections
Those who are now conducting the campaign against the corporate existence of the Nigerian nation-state have, for over a decade, been misrepresenting Nigerian politics and undermining the cause of democracy in the country. One of the best example of this is the case of the misrepresentation over what the late Chief Moshood Abiola stood for when he contested the June 12th 1993, presidential elections.
Everybody in Nigeria knew that Abiola was personally, politically, and socially, very close to, the then Head of State, General Ibrahim Babangida. But, long before Babangida came to power, Abiola had his own political beliefs and ideals, which were NCNC and then NPN. It has never been clear what Babangida’s actual political beliefs and ideals are. Abiola also had a national political status of his own, well before 1985. He was, before his close association with Babangida, also a very wealthy businessman, married to one of the wealthiest businesswomen in Nigeria, the late Alhaja Simbiat Abiola.
He had, over the years, assiduously built an extensive network of business, professional, political, religious and cultural associates; and a chain of friends, allies, clients and partners, all over Nigeria and the rest of the world, which no Nigerian, perhaps even African, had at that time, or, even now. Through his generosity, and the personal warmth and charm with which he does his things, he built a massive amount of goodwill, nation-wide, far more politically significant than the strong distaste with which some Nigerians and foreigners had for his services to, and connections with, ITT, which retarded the development of Nigerian telecommunications for years; and for his general wheeling and dealing.
Very close as some of his business and political interests came to be with those of Babangida and the late Major-General Shehu Musa Yar’adua, Abiola was clearly not an agent, or, a stooge of Babangida, or, Shehu, or any of the soldiers, chiefs, emirs, mallams, babalawos, bureaucrats and businessmen in the northern, or, any states of the country he associated with. He was not anybody’s subordinate in Nigerian affairs, as was obvious from the way he fell in and fell out, with various groupings of politicians and military officers, in a colourful and tumultuous career spanning over thirty five years.
But, from January, 1993, when he declared his intention to seek the nomination of the Social Democratic Party to contest the presidential elections coming up, later that year, he was systematically misrepresented and maligned as a stooge and a quisling of the military in general and Babangida in particular. The transition programme to return the country to civilian rule and the presidential elections, which he wanted to participate in, were denounced as fraudulent attempts to perpetuate northern military denomination by installing a Muslim, Yoruba, stooge as president, after Babangida.
Chief Gani Fawehinmi, prominent Lagos lawyer, gave a number of interviews, condemning the transition programme. One of such interviews was conducted with Nosa Igiebor and Onome Osifo-Whiskey and published in the 9th November 1992 edition of the Tell magazine. In this interview, he described the transition programme as “the largest political fraud.” He went on to say that: First of all, you know that the political parties, they are all Babangida’s clubs. Clubs! They are of inferior status to parastatals and statutory bodies. They are his clubs. They are Babangida Babes. So, he decides what to do to them any time, and since they are his babes, football Babes, he plays the way he want. (p.9) Along similar lines, a veteran politician, Chief Anthony Enahoro, condemned the transition programme. In an interview with Yinka Tella, published in the February 15, 1993 edition of the TheNEWS magazine, he dismissed the two political parties, SDP and NRC as mere outfits of the military government. When he was reminded, by Yinka Tella that some eminent Nigerians, like General Gowon, Chief M. K. O. Abiola, and others, were taking part in the transition programme on the platform of the two parties, he retorted that:
It is a tragedy. Some of the names I see taking part in this charade. I think it is a tragedy that people of that status allow one man to be fooling all of them.
Barely one month before the conventions by the two political parties to select their Presidential candidates, The African Guardian magazine of March 22, 1993, came out with a cover story titled, Abiola & Tofa: Are They Running For Babangida? The caption of the story, filed by Wale Akin-Aina, was: The King’s Horsemen? In this story, both Abiola and Tofa were accused of being personal friends and stooges of General Babangida. The story went on:
…the news is that speculations have become ripe all over the country that there is more than a passing linkage between their relationships with President Babangida and their presidential bid… Another view, against the background of doubts over Babangida’s willingness to hand over, is that Tofa’s and Abiola’s relationship with the military president as well as the manner of their entry into the race, suggest that they may be willing tools for further extension of the transition programme should they become candidates of their parties.
The attack on Abiola, as a lackey of General Babangida, was so persistent that the Chief had to come out and defend himself and his integrity. Wale Akin-Aina of The African Guardian of March 22nd, 1993, reported that Abiola angrily told reporters that:
Some people are saying that I am being used by President Babangida. This is an insult on President Babangida, it is an insult on me. I am too big to be used.
Despite all the denials by Chief Abiola that he was not an agent of General Babangida, The African Guardian persisted in portraying him as such. As soon as the SDP convention was won by Abiola and the NRC’s by Tofa, the magazine went to town with another cover story. Unlike the previous time, this edition, of April 12, 1993, did not have question marks on the cover. It was written, boldly and clearly thus: The President’s Men with the pictures of the two candidates. The story, filed by Chinedu Offor, said that:
…not many Nigerians were taken by surprise at the outcome of the conventions of the two political parties last week. If nothing, for many, the emergence of Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola and Bashir Othman Tofa as presidential candidates of the Social Democratic Party and the National Republican Convention was not only largely expected, it was a confirmation of the wide held speculations that the two men, both multimillionaires but, bosom friends of General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida would likely be victorious at the convention. No wonder then that as soon as the results were announced last week, the initial reaction, palpable across the nation was: … And it has come to pass.
But, when the presidential elections, which Abiola won was annulled on 23rd June 1993, the truth about his candidature forced itself upon those who had misrepresented it. It became clear that, much as the machinations of the military with the lengthy, and regimented transition programme, had enabled him to emerge as the SDP candidate and defeat a weaker NRC opponent, he was not Babangida, or, any ruling military clique’s stooge. The characterisation given to his candidature, to the transition programme and to the June 12th elections, along these lines, were shown to be false. The actual realities of what he stood for in Nigerian politics and what his candidature and victory at the polls meant went beyond his links with powerful military officers, including Babangida.
When this reality about Abiola and the June 12th presidential election and the SDP had to be faced, due to the annulment of the election results, those who had denounced that whole effort to get the military dictatorship to peacefully come to an end, turned around, one hundred and eighty degrees, without an iota of shame, to say that the June 12th presidential election, which they had denounced and boycotted, was the freest and fairest in Nigerian history, and that Abiola had obtained an irrevocable, democratic, mandate to be the president of Nigeria. Overnight, Abiola was transformed from a stooge of Babangida, and of northern military officers into the great champion of democracy in Nigeria and flag-bearer of the rights of the Yoruba race and, or, Southerners. Just as what he stood for before, and up to, 12th June 1993, was misrepresented, so what he stood for after 23rd June 1993, was also misrepresented, with damaging consequences to the democratic cause in Nigeria.
Chief Gani Fawehinmi, who had earlier on vociferously dismissed the transition programme, and had even refused to vote on June 12th, came out to acclaim the presidential election, as the best ever held in Nigeria. In an interview with Dele Omotunde, the Deputy Editor-in-Chief of The Tell magazine, published in its September, 13th 1993 edition, under the caption, June 12 Is Not Negotiable, he said:
The government is making one mistake, that June 12 election is not extraordinary. Let me say this: It is more spiritual than physical. It was more providential than mundane. It was a judgment delivered by God based on activities in society since 1914 and 1960. Abiola happened to be a messenger used by God for that purpose. I am saying this because that election was extraordinarily peaceful, the peace was not an organised peace, it was a naturally propelled peace. All over the country there was not the usual violence that attends election even in other parts of the world, either beat up or fracas, nothing like that. Secondly, I am not aware of any election either in the pre or post-independence era where in the North, a candidate on a national platform was defeated in his hometown, state and local government. It was like defeating Sardauna in Sokoto or Tafawa Balewa in Bauchi town, Dr.Zik in Onitsha or Awolowo in Ikenne, that could be unthinkable. But God wanted to deliver a conclusive and flawless judgement.
But Gani Fawenhinmi, was not alone in this somersault, on the June 12 election. The veteran politician, Chief Enahoro, who had characterized the transition programme as a charade, came out to extol it when the military regime cancelled the result. He issued a statement, which was published in the July 19, 1993 edition of the Tell magazine. He said:
The second excuse is the shocking one reported in the press and ascribed to General Babangida in a statement at his meeting with the state governors in Abuja on June 29, 1993, that Chief M.K.O.Abiola though popularly elected to be president of Nigeria by the electorate, is unacceptable to some of the military…as regards the crisis on hand, our Movement is strongly of the view that there is no valid case for fresh elections. The announcement of the election results, which was nearly half done, should be completed, and the victor should be recognised as president-elect. This process should take only a few hours
The African Guardian, owned by Alex Ibru of the powerful and rich Ibru clan, which had persistently misrepresented Abiola as a stooge of the military and of Babangida before the election of June 12, made a quick about-turn and started hailing him as the possessor of a strong democratic mandate. In its edition of June 12th 1998, Fred Ohwahwa wrote that:
Chief Abiola the extremely wealthy Concord publisher had emerged tops in the election. It was a sweeping victory… political observers are already saying that this is the first time a leader would emerge who has an unquestionable national of mandate. Hence the legitimacy Abiola’s administration when he assumes office will not be in doubt.
What had been misrepresented as a fraud and a charade, an arrangee election, is now being hailed as a valid democratic election, giving its winner a solid democratic mandate.
NOTE: above is an excerpt from a Book titled: THE MISREPRESENTATION OF NIGERIA: THE FACTS AND THE FIGURES By Yusuf Bala Usman, Ph.D