By Fred Itua, Abuja
When Nigeria secured its independence from Britain in 1960, it was a carnival of some sort. Hopes were high and the global black community, had hoped that the independence of a humongous country like Nigeria, will birth a new paradigm shift for a people that had been relegated for far too long.
Sixty one years after, pundits and the international community still tag Nigeria as the sleeping giant of Africa. Despite its young and productive population, Nigeria, according to observers, still appears to be God’s attempt at the impossible.
Epileptic power supply, poor infrastructure, unhealthy health sector, rising insecurity, poverty, high rate of unemployment, ethnic, religious and regional divides, among others, still hold sway, 61 years after what political pundits refer to as a quasi independence.
While many Nigerians who are deliberately mischievous or outrightly ignorant try to pin our current woes on President Muhammadu Buhari, students and disciples of historical antecedents, are well schooled on how the ‘sleeping giant’ has refused to get it right.
Post-independence crisis and First Republic
Soon after the Nigerian flag was hoisted, signalling the birth of an independent country, a new constitution was established. This birthed a federal system with an elected prime minister and a ceremonial head of state. On October 1, 1963, Nigeria became a republic, hence, Nnamdi Azikiwe became president of the country, though as prime minister, Tafawa Balewa was still more powerful.
The country was yet to settle down and plan for the future, when its long-standing regional biases and divisions, came to the fore in the controversial census of 1962–63.
At the peak of this crisis and in an attempt to stave off ethnic conflicts, the Mid-West region was created in August 1963, thereby dividing the Western region. Despite this division, the country still was segmented into three large geographic regions, each of which was essentially controlled by an ethnic group: the West by the Yoruba, the East by the Igbo, and the North by the Hausa-Fulani.
In the West, the government had fallen apart in 1962, during a disturbing crisis nicknamed ‘wetie’. There was a boycott of the federal election of December 1964 which brought the country to the brink of a breakdown. The point of no return was reached in January 1966, when, after the collapse of order in the West, following the election of October 1965, a group of army officers overthrew the Federal Government. Prime Minister Balewa and two of the regional premiers were assassinated.
In the heat of the moment, a military administration was set up under Maj. Gen. Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi. However, his plan to abolish the regions and impose a unitary government met with anti-Igbo riots in the North.
In July 1966, Northern officers staged a counter coup. Aguiyi-Ironsi was assassinated, and Lieut. Col. Yakubu Gowon came to power. The crisis was compounded by intercommunal clashes in the North and threats of secession in the South.
Gowon’s attempt to hold a conference to settle the constitutional future of Nigeria was abandoned after a series of ethnic massacres in October. A last-ditch effort to save the country was made in January 1967, when the Eastern delegation, led by Lieut. Col. Odumegwu Ojukwu, agreed to meet the others on neutral ground at Aburi, Ghana, but the situation deteriorated after differences developed over the interpretation of the accord.
In May, the Eastern region’s consultative assembly authorised Ojukwu to establish a sovereign republic, while, at the same time, the federal military government promulgated a decree dividing the four regions into 12 states, including six in the north and three in the east, in an attempt to break the power of the regions.
The civil war and military interregnums
On May 30, 1967, Ojukwu declared the secession of the three states of the Eastern region under the name of the Republic of Biafra, which the Federal Government interpreted as an act of rebellion. Fighting broke out in early July and within weeks had escalated into a full-scale civil war.
The next two years were marked by stiff resistance in the shrinking Biafran enclave and by heavy casualties among civilians as well as in both armies. Peacemaking attempts by the Organization of African Unity (now the African Union) remained ineffective, while Biafra began earning recognition from African states and securing aid from international organisations for what was by then a starving population.
Ojukwu fled to Côte d’Ivoire on January 11, 1970, and a Biafran deputation formally surrendered in Lagos four days later.
Despite calls from the international community, Gowon refused to hand over power to a civilian administration. In 1974 Gowon postponed until 1976 the target date for a return to civilian rule, but he was overthrown in July 1975 and he fled to Britain.
The new head of state, Brig. Gen. Murtala Ramat Mohammed, who was allegedly behind the Asaba Massacre, was assassinated in February 1976 during an unsuccessful coup attempt. Lieut. Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, became head of the government.
Obasanjo handed over to Shehu Shagari in 1979, when he defeated Obafemi Awolowo during a presidential election. This signalled the birth of the Second Republic.
Shagari failed to manage the crisis that followed and in just five years after it left, the military seized the opportunity to stage a coup on December 31, 1983, that brought Maj. Gen. Muhammad Buhari to power.
Buhari was ousted in August 1985. Ibrahim Babangida took over. Though he created several agencies of government, he’s also famous for many wrong reasons. The peak of his misadventure was the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, won by Moshood Abiola.
June 12,1993 presidential election
There were a series of violent protests in July of 1993, following the annulment in the South West region. It is estimated that security forces killed over 100 people while quelling riots. There was an international condemnation of the annulment; the United Kingdom, United States and European Union suspended aid to Nigeria, and the Commonwealth condemned the annulment.
In early August, Abiola flew to London and Washington to seek international support for his presidency – he subsequently returned on 24th September, 1993. Babangida resigned on 26 August, 1993. An Interim National Government headed by Ernest Shonekan, with Sani Abacha, a confidant of Babangida, serving as Defence Minister came on board.
Shonekan set a date for another election in February 1994. In early November 1993, a Lagos High Court ruled that the decree establishing the interim government was not properly signed. It was signed by Babangida after his removal from the presidency, thus making the government illegal.
On 17th November, 1993, Abacha toppled the interim government in a palace coup. His reign is often referred to as the most brutal in the history Nigeria’s existence.
He died in 1998, under questionable circumstances. Abdulsalami Abubakar took over and conducted an election which ushered in Obasanjo as a civilian president on May 29th, 1999.
Again, Obasanjo held sway for eight years, after a failed attempt to secure the infamous Third Term. He left in 2007, paving the way for ailing Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. Though his time in office was transient, Yar’Adua ended years of hostilities in the Niger Delta region and granted amnesty to militants.
He died in 2010. His then vice president, Goodluck Jonathan, stepped in. He won a reelection in 2011. In a historic first, Jonathan lost his reelection bid to Buhari in 2015.
2015 till date
President Buhari rode to power on a number of ambitious promises and high expectations. More than six years after his historic victory, pundits believe that the country is now more divided than ever. Insecurity, poverty, high rate of unemployment, ethnic, religious and regional division, among others, have heightened since Buhari assumed office in 2015.
Observers who have unanimously agreed that he can’t be solely blamed for the many issues however lampooned the president for not doing enough to raise the bar.
Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, said: “We have since become the most educated and most entrepreneurial nation in Africa. Ten of our 36 states have larger economies than at least 15 African countries. From our ranks, we have the most accomplished men and women in the arts, the sciences, in sports, in technology and commerce.
“Our current trials cannot draw the curtains on our story, because the vision is for an appointed time and because this country is greater than the sum of its parts and the sum of its mistakes; and because the God we serve is greater than the sum of our collective hopes and imagination, our nation will surmount our current travails and emerge in victory.
“Sixty-one years ago, our founding fathers laid out a vision, that the many nations and ethnicities, North and South of the Niger, 300 languages or more, differing tribes, and religions, would by the grace of God become one nation.
“That their diverse strengths and gifts would coalesce into a formidable economic and regional force. And that these united nations may become the largest aggregation of black people on earth. A beacon of hope to all peoples of African descent, long bruised by the afflictions of slavery and colonial exploitation. Nigeria will be the reaffirmation of their dignity and a tonic to their spirits.
“The Lord blessed the vision and prospered the land with richness in oil, in gas, in minerals of every hue. In fruit trees, in palm trees, in crops of every kind, in savannahs and forests, arable land, seas, rivers, and the riches embedded in them. That vision of our forebears inheres in the words of our National Motto: Unity and Faith, Peace and Progress.
“Through the years, we worked that vision, through thick and thin. From subjection to colonial monarchy, to a sovereign republic, to civil rule to military rule. We fought a bitter war amongst brothers that cost millions of lives, and though we still wear the deep scars of those wounds, the Lord preserved the Republic.”
Governor of Rivers State, Nyensom Wike said: “At 61, Nigeria is in disarray, full of enmity, divisions, hatred and ethnicity. At 61, Nigeria is far removed from being a country that can compete favourably with other countries of the world, given its abundant resources. We cannot do the right things. At a time when other countries are talking about transparent elections, we are talking about how to rig elections in 2023, as can be seen in the rejection of electronic transmission of results.
“The legislature approves anything brought to it from the presidency, especially on borrowing. The lawmakers can’t even ask questions about the money we are borrowing and where they are being applied.
“The judiciary and the courts have been intimidated. The judges have abandoned their responsibilities out of fear and because of the fear of being summoned at night, they don’t say anything, even when they see something wrong.”
Governor of Plateau State, Simon Lalong, said: “While some may use the current travails that the nation is witnessing to cast a shadow of hopelessness and despondency, we should never allow the trials of today overshadow the many successes that our nation has witnessed in the past.
“There are many good things that have continued to happen till date. Many prophets of doom had prophesied that we shall not live to witness this year and some people representing both internal and external interests have also worked fruitlessly to fulfill this prophecy.
“For far too long, we have focused on our differences and weaknesses, and trivialised, or even ignored, our strenghts and prospects. We seem to dissipate so much energy on defining people based on their religion, tribe, ethnicity and even political orientation, completely neglecting their capacities, gifts, talents and willingness to serve humanity.
“We have been blinded by such myopic considerations that we fail to see that God has a plan for creating us with diversity and yet making us dependent on one another.
“Great nations, according to him, have entrenched good governance, rule of law, tolerance, patriotism, social welfare, respect for human rights and zero tolerance to corruption and indiscipline – an example that Nigeria has no option than to follow if it must make headway.”