The last testament of one of the greatest novelists Africa ever produced, Professor Chinua Achebe, on Nigeria was There Was A Country. It was a moving story of the disintegration of the very idea of a country in Lugard’s creation.
I read the book in three nights but the question that kept nagging my mind was if there was ever a country in Nigeria? And Chief Obafemi Awolowo is my witness once again.
He recorded in The Travails of Democracy and the rule of Law how the Action Group (AG) stormed Northern Nigeria in 1959 with sophisticated campaigns that did not take into consideration the clash of civilisations that plagued the nation-state.
The AG campaign forced the Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahamadu Bello, for the first time in all his princely life to descend from his high horse and get on the roads and market places to meet the ordinary people and ask for their votes. Awo and his team had posed a nauseating challenge to the feudal concept of “born to rule”.
One day, the Sarduana after series of public meetings and rallies stopped at a catering house to have his lunch. He brought out his handkerchief, sneezed into it and discovered his nostrils were filled with dust. He shook his head vigorously and spoke in utter revulsion: “I shall never forgive Chief Awolowo for this!”
A report in the Sunday Express of 20th December, 1959, on page 2 was a kind of open declaration of war in a story quoting the Sarduana as saying “I shall divide Nigeria into two and hand them over to my lieutenants”. The report read:
“Sir Ahmadu Bello contended that NPC’s new decision to invade the South politically was a reply to the recent invasion of the North by Southern political parties.
He cited a portion in the Koran which says ‘you have come to our home and from now on we shall be taking the battle to your own house.’
Sir Ahmadu Bello claimed that like his great grandfather, Shehu Othman Dan Fodio, he said after his conquests, divided the conquered country between his two sons, “I too after conquering the South will also divide Nigeria into two to be taken charge by two of my lieutenants.”
He said the South had already been handed over to Alhaji Abubakar, the Prime Minister, and added that before his resignation from politics, he would appoint another to take over the administration of the North. He presented a cloak of Authority to Balewa.”
The conquest and domination of the Balewa reign in Lagos symbolised in 1959 in the words of Bello is what Abuja now codifies in the lives of Southerners today!
Several injuries were inflicted on the AG in the course of the 1959 election campaigns that showed there was no country and it is knocking heads against the wall trying to live with the false notion of one till date.
There was the beating up of an organising secretary of the AG on the orders of a Sokoto prince, and abandoned as dead. The victim came back to life later at Sokoto General Hospital, under the care of an expatriate doctor.
A report was made to the Native Police Authority which ignored it and to the Nigerian Police who confessed that they were unable to act, because the crime occurred in Sokoto city outside their jurisdiction.
Mr Thanni who led the AG team of lawyers was then instructed by the party to institute private prosecution. He did and the prince involved was convicted by an expatriate magistrate who sentenced him to two years imprisonment with hard labour. The prince appealed to the High Court which dismissed it.
The expatriate magistrate who tried the case in the first instance and the expatriate doctor who testified to the condition of the applicant when he was in the hospital for treatment left Nigeria for good within a month of the conviction of the prince. The High Court Judge, Sir Algermon Brown who heard the appeal and dismissed it committed suicide by shooting himself within a fortnight of the adjudication of the appeal.
On another occasion, Awo went to campaign in a district of Sokoto in an helicopter. He had been given a permit to hold a meeting but refused permit to land in any of the public open spaces available. The AG leader in the area decided to uproot his groundnut plants, levelled the heaps and invited Awo to land there. Awo accepted to land in the private open space.
When the rally was over and Awo retired to the hotel, Mr Thani came around midnight to report to him and Chief Ayo Rosiji that the man who uprooted his groundnuts for the helicopter to land had been tied to a tree on the orders of the District Head. It was upon protest to the expatriate Senior District officer, who went to appeal to the District Head, that led to the man being untied!
Another bizarre occurrence involved Chief Ayo Rosiji, who was the General Secretary of the AG. He went to Raba the hometown of the Sardauna to address a rally. The AG had a good followership in the area. As he was returning from the rally, the only road leading to the town was already taken over by thugs. He was lucky that his car was not recognised until he had almost reached the end of the road. Even at that, the car was badly damaged with axes from the rear to the middle with Rosiji escaping with life by whiskers.
About 10 days to the election, Awo arrived in Bauchi only to discover that Mr Azi Nyako had been imprisoned for an offence which his driver allegedly committed about six months earlier. It was the case of the running-down of a young girl by Nyako’s driver. The police investigation into the matter showed that the little girl was at fault. All eyewitnesses, including her parents, testified that the girl mistakenly ran from the front of a stationery lorry across the road without looking. The offence of Nyako was sitting at the back of the car!
Mr Jubilee Sagoe, who was the AG lawyer in Bauchi, was directed to appeal to the Senior District Officer in the area. The latter called for the record of the trial and there was none. Mr Nyako was therefore released within five hours.
But his real offence was that he was the AG candidate who contested against Balewa, the incumbent Prime Minister and making him to have one of the slimiest wins across the country.
There was yet another incident in Sokoto where the Native Authority at the very last minute refused the AG permit to hold a rally two hours to the schedule. As meetings in private premises were not outlawed, Awo decided they should hold the meeting in the house of the Sokoto branch leader of the party around which a fence was hurriedly erected. The meeting was shifted for about four hours to allow the Prince and retired police boss to put up the fence.
One hour to the meeting, NPC thugs stormed the venue and pulled the fence down and set the place on fire. Those who gathered took to their heels and the prince had a big machete cut in his right arm for resisting the invaders.
It was in the midst of this ethnic stone-walling that Nigeria got Independence in 1960. And within two years, Awo was jailed for not being forgiven for the dusts in the feudal and aristocratic nose.
A country never blossomed in Nigeria talk less of the false nation some people mouth for convenience. This is the reason why patriots continue to insist we re-negotiate Nigeria and reset it, but the beneficiaries of the unjust arrangement continue to pretend not to understand restructuring because the command and control order benefits from this chaos.
…Eagerness for gbese
I wrote here last week of the calamitous rate at which the Nigerian government is piling up debts that may totally bankrupt. I made reference to the Finance Minister’s announcement that the World Bank had approved another $3billion loan for electricity projects for Nigeria.
But the spokesman for the bank on Wednesday told TODAY NEWS AFRICA USA that the Minster may not be totally correct:
“The World Bank and the Nigerian Government are in discussion for technical and financial assistance to support Nigeria’s power sector reform.
“The focus is to improve access to electricity for the people of Nigeria. Discussions regarding our support are ONGOING (emphasis mine) and more details will be available when the negotiations are completed by March 2020.”
It is confounding how our officials continue to appear like the management of a failed company who are engrossed in assets stripping with the love of debts.