When the issue is Nigeria, former President Obasanjo is never afraid of controversy. It is the oxygen he effortlessly manufactures using the distillation process. Last week he took his battle with Pa Edwin Clark to another level by insisting “No territory in Nigeria, including the minerals found therein, belongs to the area of location. But except in Nigeria where military adventurers redesigned our federalism through arrogance of ignorance, we know of no other federation in the world where Obasanjo’s thesis has been validated.
Obasanjo also insisted the tribe has no role in a modern state. Again that has been settled after Europe debilitating tribal wars, often described as ‘world wars’ with a federal arrangement which confers dual citizenship on everyone and also prevents the tyranny of the state against individuals and groups.
The tragedy of our nation however has been this display of arrogance of ignorance by our successive leaders who equated their brainwaves to brilliant ideas to be imposed as government policy thrusts on the nation resulting in such aberrations as federal government-funded LGA that is accountable to state government, quota system aimed at lowering standard instead of building capacity for excellence, decreed political parties and decreed constitutions fraudulently foisted on Nigeria. Ironically these are the celebrated achievements our leaders bandy around to justify their statesmen, foremost patriot and father of modern Nigeria – titles.
But our leaders know themselves. It is therefore a relief that it was Pa Clark who last week dismissed Obasanjo in spite of his chest-beating as a hypocrite attracting Obasanjo’s response of I am ‘nobody’s lackey’. But what history, whether as record of our self-proclaiming heroes or summation of their quest to render selfless service to our nation has shown is that all our past leaders were lackeys to the two major political tendencies that have held Nigeria hostage since independence.
Tafawa Balewa was a minion of Ahmadu Bello who, as leader of victorious NPC, was expected to be crowned prime minister in 1959. He however in a deft political move picked as his lackey Tafawa Balewa, of Sayawas ethnic group of southern Bauchi, marginalized by their minority Fulani immigrant rulers. Indeed Trevor Clark, the biographer of ‘Tafawa Balewa: The Right Honorable Gentleman’, reminded us how his grandmother had agonised on her death bed over the presence of Fulani on their land and wanted all of them killed if they refused to leave.
And as Ahmadu Bello’s lackey, Balewa fought his master’s wars like a slave. In 1962, he imposed a state of emergency on the West over the throwing of chairs by Remi Fani-Kayode, leader of NCNC in the Western House and a few other Akintola supporters while he did not think Northern Region where Benue/Plateau’s armed insurrection had to be suppressed by the military required declaration of state of emergency. And then in 1965 while the ‘wild wild west’ burned following the resolve of the people to make Akintola and Fani-Kayode that had sowed the wind reap the whirlwind, Balewa writhed his hands waiting for his principal to return from hajj in Saudi Arabia until he was consumed by the crisis.
Similarly, Ironsi was a pencil in the hand of Igbo power-hungry elite who pressurized him to take over power following the disappearance of Tafawa Balewa instead of swearing in the most senior surviving minister as acting prime minister in line with constitutional provision. If there was any doubt that he was in government to serve Igbo interest, his decision to turn Nigeria into a unitary state, an NCNC/ Igbo agenda until 1959, following pressure from the Ibo politicians he surrounded himself with, laid such doubt to rest.
Gowon, the son of a Christian cleric is Angas from Lur in Kante Local Government of Plateau State was put in power by the surviving Fulani power-wielders instead of Murtala Mohammed, of Genawa Fulani clan of Kano State, the leader of the vengeance coup of July 1966. The 33 months war he led was termed ‘war of unity”. But since there is no perfect crime, Obasanjo’s latest Freudian slip that federal government victory in the civil war prevented Biafra from colonizing Niger Delta with its oil deposits was an admission the war was over ownership of Niger Delta oil.
It was obvious whose interest Murtala Muhammed, the leader of the vengeance coup that sought to sink Lagos with dynamite and secede after ferrying northern children and women back to Kaduna in a hijacked British Airways, was serving. Obasanjo who seized and centralized all regional interests from economic investments to education and health served the same interest as Murtala Mohammed. Since one good turn deserves another, Obasanjo was in 1998 brought out of prison and imposed as Yoruba candidate. He went on to literarily climb the palm tree from the top by winning the 1999 election despite his total rejection by his Yoruba people.
Of course Pa Clark and his Ijaw people on their part have since independence been lackeys to the Fulani ruling hegemonic class. Following Clark’s disagreement with northern elders over sponsorship of Boko Haram insurgency in 2012, he was quickly reminded by Alhaji Lawal Kaita, a fiery northern political commentator that he, Clark “used to be a very good friend of the north”.
It was not just that these lackeys served their principals, one thing they have in common is their contempt for Nigeria and Nigerians. Only last week, Wole Soyinka in his ‘forward’ to Pa Bisi Akande’s latest contribution to the literature on Nigerian leadership, “My Participations”, called our attention to “the repetition of the military opportunism that dons the wily garb of neutrality as it organizes an elaborate rituals of constitutional making with a predetermined outcome”, an assault he describes as “a contemptuous form of conduct that even the departing colonial powers did not impose on their fiefdom during their own rites of departure.”
One example of this, according to Bisi Akande was Obasanjo his junta’s ‘insertion of 19 amendments to the 1978/79 Constituent Assembly report to whittle down the authorities of the federating unit in their relationship with the central government”. But contemptuous treatment of Nigerians only got worse with the Babangida’s decreed political parties, Abacha’s hilarious constitution and “five fingers of a leprous hand” and Abdulsalami Abubakar 1999 constitution described by Professsor Akin Oyebode as ‘a military decree masquerading as a constitution’.
But while we were held in contempt by our leaders, we got better deal from the imperial powers as constitution making umpires. If they intervened, it was to protect Nigerians against self-serving politicians as when in order to stop the mischief of those canvassing a unitary constitution for a multi ethnic and multi-cultural Nigeria, they took side with protagonists of a federal constitution which they said would allow each group to develop at its own pace without interference from others. They also did the same at the 1957 Lancaster House debate when Zik and his allies lusting over Lagos land found a willing ally in Ahmadu Bello’s opposition to boundary adjustment in order to forestall losing Yoruba populated provinces in the north to the west by reneging on 1950 settled issue of status of Lagos. While the West did not get all they wanted, Zik and Ahmadu Bello’s motive to renounce a 1950 agreement was queried by Lord Milverton.
It is nothing but a sardonic humour that lackeys who have been confirmed to have served other tendencies instead of Nigeria, continue to pontificate, chair Bishop Kukah’s ‘National Peace Committee’ or preside over’ Nigeria Pray’ group as we search for the way forward.