From Paul Osuyi, Asaba
Prof. Godini Gabriel Darah is no doubt, one of the nation’s greatest minds of all times. A teacher, journalist and astute administrator, Prof. Darah was Chief of Staff to former governor of Delta State, Chief James Ibori. He was also one of the delegates to the 2014 National conference convoked by former President Good luck Jonathan. In this interview, he examines the struggle for Nigeria’s independence in 1960, the journey so far among others.
This year, Nigeria marked her 60 years of independence. What is your take on the journey so far?
The attainment of independence on October 1, 1960, was a landmark event in the history of Africa and the world. Nigeria was the most populous and significant nation in Africa and African people all over the world looked up to independent Nigeria to lead the continent in the emerging global politics. The event was celebrated with pomp and pageantry by all sections of the population. The mood of excitement and celebration was justified at the time because the journey to freedom from British colonial rule was rough and tedious. Many nationalists suffered deprivations, humiliation, imprisonment and even death. Much of the story of independence struggle was written in blood.
From the 19th century, all ethnic groups and nations opposed British colonization of Nigeria. In the Southern provinces, brave nationalists fought titanic battles to defend their lands. The monarchy in Lagos resisted their annexation of the place in the 1860s. King Perekule (Pepple) of Bonny, Jaja of Opobo, the people of Nembe and Akassa, Chief Nana Olomu of Itsekiri, Oba Ovonramwen Nogbaisi of Benin, and Ovie Oghwe of Agbarha-Otor of Urhobo were dethroned, tried and exiled for resisting the imperial British.
Armed struggle and guerrilla militia forces challenged the British forces coordinated by Captain Frederick Lugard from 1885 creation of the Oil Rivers Protectorate. The Ijebu, Egba, Ibadan, Oyo, Ekiti and other Yoruba nations waged long military campaigns to halt the British aggression. The Nupe, Gbagyi, Idoma, Igala, Tiv and Jukun peoples in the Middle Belt lost thousands of gallant troops in the anti-colonial wars. Rebellious emirs in Zaria and other places were exiled. The Satiru revolt in Sokoto Province in 1894, the Ekumeku Movement in Asaba-Agbor districts, the Kanuri uprisings in Borno area – all these encounters resulted in mindless massacres, looting, and wanton destruction of settlements and farms. From 1900, British expeditionary forces invaded and sacked centres of industries and arts in Aro districts of eastern Nigeria. The British imperialists described these bloody events as the “pacification” of Nigeria (Pax Britania) but was a euphemism for what eminent historian Professor Obaro Ikime aptly called the “conquest of Nigeria”.
After the 1914 amalgamation of Nigeria by conqueror Lugard, anti-colonial resistance assumed diverse forms. There were anti-taxation uprisings in Iseyin and Abeokuta; the most revolutionary insurgent movements were the 1927 anti-taxation revolt in Warri Province led by Chief Oshue Ogbiyerin of Urhobo and his comrades from Itsekiri, Ijaw, Isoko and Ukwuani nations as well as the 1929 “Aba Women’s Revolt” that swept through Owerri, Anang, Ibibio, Ijaw, Oron, Efik and adjoining cultural districts. British police murdered 50 women protesters during the revolt. Chief Margaret Ekpo played a paramount role.
This horrific bloodletting sparked more waves of militant resistance. In Lagos, the Nigerian Youth Movement, iconic politicians like Herbert Macaulay, Eyo Ita, Samuel Adesanya, and patriotic journalists like Ernest Ikoli took up the gauntlet. Anti-British political parties were founded, culminating in 1944 with the National Council of Nigeria and the Camerouns (NCNC) which became the vanguard of the pre-independence struggle from the 1940s. Macaulay was the president and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was secretary. Mrs Funmilayo Kuti was the Amazon in this political mobilisation. The proletarian forces of trade unions matured during the 1940s under the indefatigable leadership of Comrade Michael Imoudu. In 1945, the labour movement staged a 50-day general strike for improved conditions of living following the Second World War economic depression. Colonial police killed 21 coal miners in Enugu colliery in 1949; the incident unified the Nigerian working class Movement and the nationalists. “Self-Government Now” (SGN) was the mantra that developed from the revolutionary ferment of the period; similar to the current slogan of “Restructure Nigeria Now” (RNN) whose clamour has reached a crescendo.
The British could not ignore these tumultuous political events. They responded with reforms and policies of appeasement. In 1939, three regions were created to partially redress the authoritarian, unitary system of government. The three were Eastern Region, Northern Region, and Western Region; Lagos remained the capital and Colony of Lagos. As Nigerians sustained the pressure; new constitutions were drawn up in 1946 and 1951, but these did not pacify the agitators for independence.
Revolutionary Marxists and socialist avatars raised the stakes in 1946 with the formation of the Zikist Movement coordinated by Kola Balogun, Raji Abdallah, Abubakar Zukogi, M.C.K. Nwachukwu, Osita Agwuma, Abiodun Aloba, Nkenna Nzimiro, Adewale Fashanu and Mokwugo Okoye. The Zikist Movement demanded outright nationalisation of major economic assets, otherwise known as socialism, as well as a government run by the working class and their affiliates. The British promptly banned the group and jailed their leaders with hard labour terms.
Political liberation and economic emancipation from the shackles of colonial capitalism were twin issues in the independence struggle. The ideological principles of these dialectical concepts had been outlined in Azikiwe’s book, Renascent Africa published in 1937. The Marxists deepened the ideological content of the struggle by insisting on the establishment of a socialist system that can guarantee the greatest good for the majority of the people plundered and impoverished by colonial imperialism.
Also in the 1940s, Mazi Mbonu Ojike inaugurated his campaign of “Boycott the Boycottables”, urging the ban on the import of foreign goods that alienated our people. He advocated a truly Afrocentric decolonisation to redeem African values and humane philosophies destroyed by European culture.
Some of these themes were treated in Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s Path to Nigerian Freedom in 1947. The Marxist-socialists went beyond Azikiwe and Awolowo; they demanded a liberated and industrialised, technologised economy powered by an educated work force as was experienced in Russia (1917) and China (1949). The foremost advocate of this trend was the Ibadan-born Alhaji Adegoke Adelabu (alias Penkelemesi). He published his manifesto in 1952 where he detailed how to achieve free education, full employment and fulfilled life for all within a decade. The book’s title is Africa in Ebullition: A Handbook for Revolutionary Nationalists. Adelabu was a prodigy who created academic records in college and as manager in the United African Company (UAC). In 1958, he died in an automobile accident aged 43. In 1955, Chief Awolowo, head of the Western Region government, started the free education scheme, the first in Africa. Every one of these nationalists mentioned and their colleagues suffered in the hands of British colonial officers.
The last decade before independence was no less dramatic and traumatic. The British designed devious schemes to divide the Nigerians and weaken their resolve; some compromised and were rewarded with powerful offices by the British. Most Nigerians remained steadfast and were penalised accordingly. Yet, the movement towards independence could not be halted. All political parties were agreed on this; they differed only in approach and sharing of the privileges of office. The constitutional conferences from 1951 grappled with the divergent positions. But Nigerian nationalists were uncompromising on the choice of a federal system with untrammeled autonomy for the regions as federating units. The constitutions of 1946, 1951 and 1954 reflected these fundamentals, with a robust derivation principle enshrined in them. The abolition of the federal system and its economic glue of autonomy and derivation are the prime causes of the current crisis of mass poverty, injustice, instability and insecurity that threatens Nigeria’s corporate existence.
The 1953 motion for independence
The decisive salvo for independence was fired in 1953 by Chief Anthony Enahoro at the House of Representatives in Lagos. The motion called for the declaration of independence in 1956; at that time, Ghana’s independence in 1956 was already confirmed. Enahoro’s motion split the National Assembly. The Western and Eastern Regions voted in support, the Northern parliamentarians opposed the motion and dramatised their antagonism by staging a walkout. The national press amplified the drama and soon Nigeria stood on the precipice of a break-up even before independence. The Northern conservatives were said to have been booed at railway stations on their journey back. In that year, an organised attack on Igbo people and their property in the Northern Region broke out and worsened the deteriorating regional and ethnic divisions. All those who died and lost property in the riots are martyrs of the independence struggle. The British were behind the scene manipulating these crises as they favoured the conservative politicians like Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Shehu Aliyu Shagari and their ilk to become the ruling class of independent Nigeria. The British stoutly hindered and undermined radical Northern politicians like Aminu Kano, Sa’ad Zungur, Raji Habib Abdallah, Abubakar Zukogi, J.S. Tarkar, Kashim Ibrahim, etc.
Quagmire of the national question
The roots of the post-independence problems of nation-building may be traced, too, to the failure of the British to resolve the “national question” of equity and justice for the minority ethnic groups in the three unequal regions. The Northern Region was larger in territory than the Eastern and Western Regions put together. In each region, there were clusters of ethnic groups put under the domination of more populous ones. Northern Region had about 250 of such marginalised groups, particularly in the central provinces of present-day Adamawa, Taraba, Benue, Nasarawa, Plateau, Bauchi, Kaduna and Niger. These have been theatres of insurgent clamour for autonomy and self-determination from the ideological geography of Hausa-Fulani hegemony. The Eastern region had its Niger Delta minority groups under the more populous Igbo while Western Region dominated by the Yoruba had the minority groups that were constituted into the Midwestern Region created in 1963 following a plebiscite for the purpose. The bloodiest resistance encounters were recorded in the Middle Belt section of Northern Nigeria. The Tiv armed resistance of the 1960s resulted in large-scale losses of human and material resources. Regrettably, some of these macabre scenes of ethnic cleansing are happening 60 years after under the guise of armed invading nomadic Fulani herdsmen. Just as was the experience in the six decades ago, the Nigerian government does not prosecute the terrorist herdsmen and killers in Benue, Plateau, Kaduna and Zamfara or anywhere else.
The conflict between the majoritarian and minority ethnic nations came to a head at the 1957-1958 Constitutional Conference in Lagos and London. The countdown to independence in 1960 had begun. At the London Conference, the delegations of minority groups put up a determined fight for recognition by Britain and freedom from internal colonial bondage. The matter was handled by setting up the Sir Henry Willink Commission on the “fears of the minorities and how to allay them”. The Commission had country-wide sittings and received copious memoranda demanding the creation of new states/regions for minorities before independence in 1960. The Commission submitted its report in 1958 which rejected the call for new states, claiming that such an exercise would delay the granting of independence. The unresolved matter was to trouble Nigeria shortly after independence; it still does 60 years on.
20 years of elected governments
Twenty years of elected government since 1999 and the practice of the multi-party elections are peripheral to the core issue of the liquidation of the federalist democracy. Many of the elections in the country are conducted as warfare; the parties have no ideological jeremiad to hold the elected people accountable. The parties are an extension of the inequity and injustice inherent in the unitary and pro-feudal ideology of the government at Abuja. In the present arrangement, the central government controls about 60 per cent of the public revenue. The states are economically emasculated and famished because their resources are hijacked and monopolised by the omnipotent federal government. The most notorious illustration of the Abuja looting of state resources is evident in the Section 44(3) of the 1999 Constitution which vests the ownership of oil and gas resources in the central government. The 68 items on the Exclusive List further nail the coffin of the states and local councils as economic vassals of the oppressive Federal Government. These constitutional shackles are inimical to the functioning of an equitable federal system. Nigeria’s independence will be meaningless to the masses of the people unless and until these military chains of exploitation and oppression are broken.
Prospects for an Igbo president
The clamour for an Igbo politician to become president is legitimate and proper. It flows from the national mood of making a necessary reparation for the Eastern states that have been systematically marginalised and underdeveloped since the end of the Civil War in 1970. However, Nigeria, under an Igbo president will not be different from the one that is now careering to imminent disaster under President Buhari. This is so because it is the structure of oppression and domination in the unitary system that accounts for the failures of government. The individual politician may be dove-like as Presidents Musa Yar’Adua and Jonathan were, but they could not take Nigeria out of the political and socio-economic confusion that now retards the process of development that the country deserves on the basis of its human and natural endowments. This realisation made President Jonathan to convene the 2014 Conference.