I was taught in my master’s class in international law and diplomacy that Revolution is the coming into existence of a legal order in a manner not anticipated or contemplated by the existing legal order. A legal order is the sum total of what a society considers to be its rules of law merged into a form of organised system of a corporate whole. Revolution is usually violent and a negation of established legal order and when successful constitutes the source of a new legal order. This simply means as one jurist puts it, “every revolution begets its own legality”.
In Nigeria, the constitution rules out revolution as a method of assuming power. Section 1(2) of the 1999 Constitution states that “the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall not be governed, nor shall any person or group of persons take control of the government of Nigeria or any part thereof, except in accordance with the provisions of this constitution”. Any attempt by any person to take over the government outside the existing legal order is viewed as treasonable felony punishable by death in extreme circumstances. However, this applies to only failed revolutions as successful ones abolish the existing legal order and impose new one on the society.
The first attempt at revolution to change the government in Nigeria was allegedly planned by Chief Obafemi Awolowo. In 1963, the Tafawa Balewa-led government arrested Chief Obafemi Awolowo for coup plotting/treason. He was tried in court, alongside some accomplices, convicted for treason and sent to jail for 10 years. This and other events of alleged rigging of the 1964 and 1965 elections led to unprecedented violence in the Western Region of Nigeria and prepared the ground for the first military coup that held on January 15, 1966.
The 1966 coup was led by Major Kaduna Nzeogwu and this led to the killing of Alhaji Ahmadu Bello (the Premier of Northern Region), Sir Tafawa Balewa (the Prime Minister), Chief Okotie-Eboh (the Minister of Finance), General Maimalari (the Chief of Army Staff), Brigadier Ademulegun (Commander of the Northern Garrison), Chief Ladoke Akintola (Premier of Western Region). As can be seen, no major Igbo politician or military personnel was killed and this raised the suspicion that this was an Igbo motivated coup to foist Igbo domination on the country. Unfortunately for Ndigbo, the highest ranking military man in the country who inherited power from the civilian government of Tafawa Balewa, General Aguiyi Ironsi, was an Igbo man.
This sentiment against Ndigbo continued unabated and culminated in the counter-coup of July 1966 targeted mainly against Ndigbo. This was followed by the pogrom and purging of Ndigbo, civilian or military, from the Nigerian system and led to the Nigerian civil war between 1967 to 1970 that inflicted heavy casualties on both sides and claimed more than one million lives.
The resultant effect of this first revolution tells you how dangerous, slippery and destructive revolutions can be. The only thing the Igbo share with Kaduna Nzeogwu was his surname. He was born in Kaduna, educated in Kaduna and indeed was named “Kaduna”. He trusted and loved Hausas more than any other group. Majority of his personal staff, including his personal physician, were Hausas. I must confess that the Hausa loved him in return because even when he was later killed during the war, fighting on Biafran side, the Northerners carried him from the battlefield and buried him with full military honours in Kaduna.
His ancestry was from Okpanam, which was located in the Western Region of Nigeria at independence and had the political orientation of the Western Nigeria and not the Eastern Nigeria that had the majority of Ndigbo in it. According to the Owa of Ido-Ani, Ondo State, Oba Olufemi Olutoye, a retired Major-General, in the Nigerian Army, Obafemi Awolowo was slated by Kaduna Nzeogwu and his fellow coup plotters, to be Head of State had they succeeded. Awolowo was the only Nigerian they believed to be more knowledgeable and had what it takes to make Nigeria great. This shouldn’t be difficult to believe because his ancestral land was in Western Nigeria at independence. Yet the Igbo were blamed for the coup and bled profusely for it because the Igbo were the most successful during the First Republic and their leaders were not killed in the coup and to complicate their case, the military man that inherited the government was Igbo. People forgot that there was no violence whatsoever in the east during those trying days after independence. Revolutions are easily misunderstood, misconstrued and manipulated to suit the power equation of the executors at any point in time. It is hardly done for the general good.
Whatever maybe anybody’s opinion about Nzeogwu’s coup, the mere fact that it unleashed military dictatorship on the country with its attendant consequences of destroying our federal structure and replacing it with a unitary system of government makes it an unacceptable way to change a democratically elected government. The military was eventually found to be worse than the civilian government in the art of governance prompting Prof Aluko to say that any country that gives its government to the military is finished.
Other African countries, which underwent revolutions after independence suffered worse fates. Col. Gaddafi of Libya came to power in Libya by revolution and remained in power forcefully for more than 42 years and was overthrown by another revolution reducing Libya to almost a failed state today. Omar Al-Bashir became Sudan’s leader by revolution more than 30 years ago. He remained in office forcefully until Sudan became divided into two countries, which became almost failed states. He was recently overthrown in another revolution. The same scenario was replicated in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria etc. Most of the countries that had revolution in Africa came out worse from it.
This is why political revolution is no longer fashionable in the modern world because it results in anarchy which is worse than dictatorship. Leadership evolves and governments must endeavour to create conducive environment for the protection of the fundamental human rights of citizens, guarantee security of lives and property, uphold the rule of law, ensure free and fair periodic elections, grow the economy in order to ensure that basic needs of the people are provided for thereby removing all irritants that provide conducive environment for revolutions to occur. Political evolution, therefore, is preferable to political revolution in modern times. It may be slow and even at times frustrating, but it ends well eventually. Ask USA and India.