PATH TO NIGERIAN GREATNESS: Under The New Dispensation The rape on democracy of 1979*

• Address delivered on Sunday, 27 January, 1980 at the luncheon arranged by the Tribune Group to mark the Silver Anniversary of the introduction of Free Universal Primary Education in the former Western Region of Nigeria.

IT is a great pleasure for me to be here in the company of men and women who, by their scholastic career, have been blessed to be partakers in an event of historic significance. Officers and members of the Tribune Group who are the hosts at this luncheon are among the millions of proud and successful products of the Free Universal Primary Education which was introduced in the old Western Region twenty-five years ago. Indeed, this luncheon is the grand finale of the week-long celebrations organized by the five UPN-controlled States – Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Ondo and Bendel- to mark this great event.

I most heartily congratulate Officers and members of the Tribune Group as well as all the other beneficiaries of the quarter-of-a-century-old free primary education scheme, wherever such beneficiaries may be, on this occasion of the Silver Jubilee Anniversary of the scheme. I sincerely wish all of you many more years of this Anniversary, and pray that it may please Almighty God to spare your lives – our lives – to witness the Golden Jubilee Anniversary of the scheme, twenty-five years hence.

The Tribune Group and the entire people of the UPN-controlled States, which are offsprings of the former Western Region, have every reason to be proud of the heritage transmitted to them by that Region. The Region was a pacesetter in Nigeria not only in the introduction of Free Universal Primary Education, but also in many other things of great consequence: voting by symbol; steel ballot boxes; security-printed ballot papers; motion for creation of a new State (i.e. of Midwest, now Bendel State); appointment of Leader of Opposition as Deputy Speaker; Pilgrims Welfare Board; agricultural settlements and institutes; payment of minimum living wage; industrial and housing estates; first TV in Africa; Liberty Stadium – still the best of its kind in the country; award of 200 university scholarships at one time; and of course, free universal primary education.

In everyone of these, the former Western Region, from 1952-1959, was first in the field, and the undisputed pacesetter in Nigeria.

And they are all matters and events of which any of us can feel justifiably proud now and forevermore.

I want to seize this opportunity, the first that offers itself under your auspices after the last elections, to pay public tribute to the Officers and members of the Tribune Group. You have made moral, financial and physical contributions in very substantial ways to the electioneering efforts of the UPN. You did this out of conviction concerning the policies and programmes of the Unity Party of Nigeria. In the course of the election contests, you were grossly insulted and abused; -and you naturally felt outraged when you were described as “semi-literates” and “highway robbers.” But you reacted to your unthinking detractors with consummate calm and maturity befitting truly educated persons. Instead of sulking and heeding the asses that brayed, you threw in your lot completely with the UPN whose leadership had catered for your best interest in your infancy and youth, and which, judging by its four cardinal programmes, is undoubtedly dedicated to the greatness of Nigeria, and the rapid progress and general well-being of its entire people – especially its infants and youths.

If we did not succeed in the last elections as we had expected, no blame can attach to your Group or any of us. We all fought gallantly and admirably; we left no stone unturned. But we were the unsuspecting victims of a coup the kind of which was hitherto unknown in the annals of coups. It was not a military or civilian coup. It was not even a coup d’ eiai, in the strict sense of the word. It was a coup de grace: a finishing stroke to a series of diabolical electoral malpractices which had gone on unsuspected, until the very last moment.

When, towards the end of the campaign we discovered what had been going on, we decided to dig in our toes, and put an end to the electoral malpractices and perfidy. But, with swift and unsurpassable deftness, a coup de grace was successfully staged. It was a Judelex coup de grace or, for short, a judelex coup. Judelex is a shortened form of judicial/electoral/executive.

It will be agreed that when someone who is a party to a dispute before a Court, unconstitutionally and illegitimately took part in appointing, or indeed, actually appointed, the Presiding Judge who is also responsible for picking the other members of the judicial panel, that person has successfully staged a judicial coup. When someone who is one of five candidates at an election has the Electoral Commission, responsible for the conduct of the election, completely on his side to the extent that the Commission was prepared to do and indeed did all kinds of infamous manipulations to ensure his victory, then he has successfully staged an electoral coup. When, furthermore, one of five candidates has all the forces of, plus all the instruments of coercion possessed by, the Executive behind him to guarantee his victory by hook or by crook, then that candidate has achieved a successful executive coup. It was these three successful kinds of coup – the judelex coup – that brought Shehu Shagari to power.

Now, it is common knowledge that, in Government, every successful coup is a fait accompli. The making of a coup d’etat is an act of treason. But the successful coup makers cannot be tried while they are in power. Indeed, while they are in power, whether the people like it or not, they, by their will, constitute the de jure and de facto Government of the day.

Similarly, makers of a successful coup de grace can be said to have committed an act of flagrant and punishable illegality. But whether the people like it or not, as long as they are in office, they constitute the de jure and de facto Government of the day. So it is with Alhaji Shehu Shagari and his team. Against Nigerian people’s consent and will which had not been allowed to be freely expressed, but had been brazenly rigged, through illicit and manipulated ballot boxes and results, Alhaji Shagari is now in power at the Federal level to govern Nigeria for the next four years. At the same time, it is the duty of those of us who are fortunate not to be in his Government to see to it that he governs well. It is also our duty to make sure that Alhaji Shagari’s rule, which has been foisted on the country by his cabal of friends who contrived the judelex coup, does not inflict any fatal or serious injury on our second experiment in democracy.

To be continued