Nnamdi Azikiwe was not a perfect human being. But Zik was a decent man. A man always vindicated by history, no matter how long.
In 1979, during the campaigns for the scheduled elections to return Nigeria to civilian rule, first post-independence President, Nnamdi Azikiwe, rebuked a critic, Chuba Okadigbo, that “history will vindicate the just.” Also in the late ’80s, following rumours that Dr. Azikiwe had died, a top Nigerian economist, Dr. Samuel Aluko, in his reaction to the fake speculation, said “Zik does not die.” To emphasise his point, Aluko deliberately meant his observation to be present continuous.
Either by accident or design, both Zik and Aluko come in focus today in the wake of the electoral injustice, if not fraud, committed in the Osun State governorship election. A quarter of a century after
Zik died, his politics of principle and fairness continue to reverberate. Indeed, unknown to today’s politicians with their notorious philosophy of anything goes, as demonstrated in the inconclusive election for the governorship of Osun State, they recorded that history only to vindicate Zik. In particular, note the Afenifere group standing on their heads in criticising the All Progressives Congress, (APC) for robbing PDP’s Ademola Adeleke of victory.
This is not to say there was no electoral robbery in Osun State. PDP’s Ademola Adeleke won the first round of the governorship race by less than 400 votes with more than double that margin as rejected (as distinct from cancelled) votes. APC’s Gboyega Oyetola came second while SDP’s Iyiola Omisore came third. Hence, INEC’s decision for a second round, since Nigeria operates a presidential system of government. Voters should, therefore, have been left free to vote the way they felt even if the voters eventually, that is, in the second round, were to choose a different winner. But this should not have been through the conspiracy of the second (APC) and third candidates (SDP). There is no other name for what happened in Osun than electoral robbery.
That political conspiracy was what Zik refused to countenance in the pre-Independence federal elections in Nigeria in December 1959. And for that principled stance, the first generation of Afenifere visited their frustration on Zik, a frustration since inherited, even by the present generation of Afenifere not yet born or more of babies to know what went on. The results of the 1959 federal elections in Nigeria were similar to the Osun election deadlock.
Tafawa Balewa of Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) was the Prime Minister at Federal level, while Zik and Awo were regional premiers in East and West, respectively. The results gave the topmost seats to Balewa’s NPC, followed by Zik’s NCNC/NEPU alliance and Awo’s Action Group/United Middle Belt Congress alliance. By the way, Zik’s alliance partners were Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU). That was the political configuration under which Awolowo offered Prime Ministership to Nnamdi Azikiwe, a tenuous arrangement which, in effect, would have robbed Tafawa Balewa of his electoral victory. Would that have guaranteed physical or electoral peace in an independent Nigeria?
Two political leaders of Southern origin, to conspire (okay, form alliance) to rob a political leader of northern origin of clear election victory? In such prospects, Zik’s supporters, especially Easterners and mid-Westerners would have been easy targets of inevitable violent reaction of the supporters of the man robbed of victory. It was and
is still myopic for Afenifere, especially the present generation, to believe that the offer of alliance or even Prime Ministership was all that mattered. Hence, even as late as two months ago, Zik’s critics on his refusal to join in robbing Balewa of victory in 1959 amounted to “How Zik sold Nigeria to Fulanis” or “How Igbos sold Nigeria to Fulanis.”
That was the unintelligent version of the 1959 offer of Prime Ministership was spread on the social media.
As much as they owed their supporters some obligation of their efforts to form alliance with Zik or NCNC, the original generation of Afenifere were very circumspect and never (repeat, never) went berserk with any incitement or derogatory remarks against Fulanis or Igbos. Fulanis
are legitimate fellow Nigerians with rights under the constitution to seek political power like other ethnic groups. Second, neither Zik nor Igbos sold Nigeria to any ethnic group. In any rivalry, one side must eventually gain the upper hand. Third, Zik’s NCNC, which in 1959 refused any conspiracy (alliance?) to rob Tafawa Balewa of electoral victory was not, in any way, an Igbo party.
NCNC won the 1954 federal elections in the Eastern and Western regions into the House of Representatives in Lagos. NCNC’s federal elections victory in 1954 in Western Region was Yoruba reaction to how NCNC’s elected members crossed the carpet to Action Group in Western House of Assembly in 1952. The defunct Western Region comprised today’s South and Delta as well as Edo states. For years, NCNC was the dominant party in the Mid-West, along with core Yoruba areas like the entire Ijeshaland, Ibadan and Oyo areas. For their total commitment to NCNC, leaders and members of NCNC in these vital areas were subjected to violence and a series of political victimisation by
the same Action Group. Their properties were compulsorily acquired by the Western regional government.
NCNC leaders in Mid-West included Chief Humphrey Omo-Osagie, Chief V.I. Amadasun, Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh and Chief Dennis Osadebay. In most cases, their followers were imprisoned for petty charges.
Adegoke Adelabu only narrowly escaped jail after a court trial for concocted corruption during his tenure as chairman of Ibadan District Council. But before the trial, the report of the probe compelled Adelabu to resign as Federal minister of social services (comprising health and education portfolios). Zik was not spared the political victimisation. Ikeja in Lagos was part of the old Western Region and Zik’s house (near old Punch newspaper office), named by public transport operators as Ile Zik (Zik’s house) bus stop, was compulsorily acquired by West regional government purportedly for industrial purposes. No penny (kobo) was paid as compensation and, till today, the whole area is residential without a single industry.
When, therefore, offer of alliance with NCNC and Prime Ministership to Zik came in 1959, the first consideration was fairness to the man who won the elections – Tafawa Balewa. There was also national interest. And, above all, Zik must carry his party hierarchy with him. Arising from bitter experiences, mainly carpet-crossing and victimisation of their supporters, the trust was not there between the two sides. And to make their point, Mid-West and Yoruba wings of the NCNC threatened to break away should Zik form any alliance with the Action Group. And for that Zik is being accused by today’s Afenifere of selling Nigeria to Fulanis? Or that Igbos sold Nigeria to Fulanis?
Now, here are cogent questions:
(a) Why the current intermittent falsification of our past political history and discrediting other leaders as well as derogatory thumb down of other ethnic groups in the country? It savours of revulsive arrogance.
(b) How fair would it have been if Obafemi Awolowo won 1959 federal elections only for Zik and Tafawa Balewa, in conspiracy or alliance to rob and prevent him (Awolowo) from emerging as Prime Minister?
(c) Who would guarantee peace after such development?
(d) if today’s Afenifere continue to blame Zik for not robbing Tafawa Balewa of victory in 1957, why do the same Afenifere fellows of the moment blame the APC for robbing PDP’s Ademola Adeleke of potential election victory in Osun?
The bitter truth is that, whatever is wrong with politics today – carpet-crossing, ballot box snatching, violence during campaigns, especially against political opponents, prospective alliance to rob winners of election victory – started in Western Region. Ayo Rosiji, federal secretary of Action Group, confirmed it in his biography. A.M. Akinloye confirmed it in newspaper advertisements on November 16, 1994, congratulating Zik on his 90th birthday. Adeleke Adedoyin, one of NCNC’s members who crossed carpet confirmed in a personality interview in Lagos-based VANGUARD newspaper before he died. Even Bola Ige in his reminiscences, expressed reservations on the carpet-crossing saga.
Those desperately denying history till today fail to explain the origin of the policy of “East for Easterners, West for Westerners and North for Northerners” to justify carpet-crossing in Western Region in 1952.
Could Zik have been the only politician concerned with any injustice of robbing a rival of clear election victory? Certainly not. In the 1974 general election in Britain, incumbent Prime Minister Edward Heath of the Conservative Party, was beaten to second place by opposition leader and former Prime Minister Harold Wilson. Defeated Prime Minister Edward Heath tried to rob Mr. Nilson of victory by offering alliance to Jeremy Thorpe of the third party, the Liberals. Mr. Thorpe, like Zik in Nigeria in 1959, turned down the offer on the ground that Labour’s Harold Wilson won the elections and must not be robbed of victory.
Nnamdi Azikiwe was not a perfect human being. But as Ayo Rosiji of the Action Group concedes in his (Rosiji’s) biography, Zik was a decent man. A man always vindicated by history, no matter how long. Well, Osun State governorship election has vindicated him for his stand on an indecent attempted alliance in 1959.