My good friend Muiz Banire wrote a beautiful piece on his back page column in the Sun Newspaper on the 23rd of September 2021, titled “Who will save Nigeria?” According to Muiz, he says “The country needs a leader that is focused, courageous, sincere, contemporary, visionary and missionary. This appears to be the consensus of all on the point. The challenge however is how such a leader does or a leadership of that calibre emerge? This is where the story in most instances ends, from that point all you tend to hear is theory upon theory of leadership that is unhelpful.” The call for the leader Muiz posit is one I somewhat agree with but will share later in today’s article why I may also veer off slightly from that position.
Those of us old enough to have witnessed the good that was Nigeria also saw the beginning of the rot. A rot that was very well captured in a book I will like to refer my fellow Nigerians to read. It is entitled; “What Britain did to Nigeria” by Max Siollun. “Many Nigerians have a rose tinted memory of colonialism, although many former colonies have negative feelings towards the countries that colonized them, some Nigerians have a nostalgic reverence for British rule. Nigeria is one of the few formerly colonized nations whose people view their country’s colonial era as the golden age. As recently as 2010, when a BBC journalist asked a school head teacher in the Nigerian town of Hadejia, “Do you wish they (Britain) had stayed?” He replied, “Yes, it would have been better” and he said he would not mind if the British come back again to rule Nigeria, as if the whole object of the British occupation has been the protection of the people from themselves.
Nigerians fondness for the country that colonized them is almost bizarre given the extreme cruelty and violence that Britain used in furtherance of its colonial project. Rather than suffering from Stockholm syndrome, Nigeria is a classic case of a country suffering from a bout of winner’s history syndrome. Much of Nigeria’s colonial history was written by British colonial and military officers. Those narratives give the reader the impression that they are viewing Nigerians through the telescopic lens of a British rifle where they presented colonialism as a civilizing mission to rid Nigerians of barbaric superstitions and corrupt leadership and to teach and give them good governance.
A Briton who wrote about early colonial Nigeria claimed that the whole object of the British occupation has been the protection of the people from themselves. Nigeria’s colonial accounts rarely include a perspective other than from the British vantage point Nigerian historians should bow their heads in shame. To some extent, Nigerians bear the blame for not representing alternative narratives of colonialism and for allowing the British accounts to become the standard version of their history.”
It has become very clear that the present hopelessness, the coups after coups, the wars, the banditry and even the unknown gunmen were packaged by the British between 1914 to 1966, but the irony of this situation is that we have had 50 years to correct those either by redefining or restructuring. This brings me to a question that I often like to ask which is what did our founding fathers tell Britain they were going to do with Nigeria whilst asking for independence? I ask this in utmost perplexity because Nigeria had some of the best intellectuals, politicians, economists, strategists etc both before and after independence.
Starting with Sir Ahmadu Bello; The Sardauna of Sokoto, A founding Father, well educated, a shrewd and strategic politician and also, the founder of NPC (Northern Peoples’ Congress) – the political party that won the election of 1959 by wining almost all the seats in the North and also had majority votes to become the Prime Minister of Nigeria. And as was enshrined into our constitution, the parliamentary system of government the leader of the party that wins majority seats in the house becomes the Prime Minister. But Ahmadu Bello never became one. My question for Nigeria’s historians starts from there. Why did he never become the prime minister? Would it have been better if he had ruled as the Prime Minister? A really interesting part about this election was the fact that even without campaigning in the south and so not getting any reasonable if any votes from the region, he still had enough votes to be declared the winner. Then was the erudite scholar, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. Azikwe was an Igbo man born in the North and as such spoke fluent Hausa, he lived and schooled in Lagos where he picked up the language so well to the point of speaking fluent Yoruba. Subsequently, he went to further his education in Howard University but finally graduated from Lincoln University in the United States of America.
While working as a graduate -student instructor in history and political science, Azikwe created a course in African History. He came back to Nigeria while he was a candidate for a Doctoral degree at Columbia University and contested for the election in the then Western Nigeria. A very notable thing about Dr Azikiwe was that apart from being an extremely patriotic Nigerian, he had Africa at heart and with a bigger dream for the continent; he also learnt French and spoke it fluently. Armed with his strong education and lingual skills, he set out to unite Africa which is where he got his popular title ‘Zik of Africa.’ He was a founding member of the NCNC party. The party that won most seats in the Western House of Assembly and was positioned to become the Premier of Western Nigeria but again, he also didn’t. Here lies my second question to historians.
Why didn’t Nnamdi Azikwe become the Premier? An igbo man winning landslide in a Yoruba land!!!! Then was the very amiable Chief Obafemi Awolowo – a founding father, very well educated and a social democrat, but Britain and the western world were not ready for his brand of democracy and fearing that he might lean towards the east. Awolowo was a revolutionary genius that transformed the western part of Nigeria when he was the Premier of the West. Ikemba Nnewi Odemegwu Ojukwu often described him as the Best President Nigeria never had. Ojukwu was even accused of choosing a stranger over his brother for saying this. Awolowo revolutionised the entire political landscape with his Action Group taking his social democracy agenda around the country which Britain saw as getting too close to Communism and therefore adeptly sabotaged his emergence and as such the parliamentary system that we inherited was dead on arrival. Nigerian progressives wanted him to be the Prime Minister but instead he was taken to court, charged with treason and imprisoned which brings in my other question, did he really commit a treasonable offence or is that what is keeping my country Nigeria from making progress? The three mentioned Nationalists were the ones that negotiated our independence from Britain alongside other well-meaning Nigerians. They were unarguably some of the best brains in Africa and as was stated in some of my previous articles, it would really be enlightening to know what they told the British they would do with Nigeria and also examine critically what the British did to Nigeria.
Those visionaries that put together what is today Nigeria were completely misunderstood and that have taken the nation to almost a failed state. First, some wanted a loose federation but what we got after the civil war was a federation without it being loose. Later in the years, it was a sovereign national conference by some. But what we got were conferences without it being sovereign. In the last few years, the talk has been restructuring that is completely misunderstood by some part of the country mainly because we have refused to accept our diversity. And then came the killings or as some will call it the Purging of the political class, this happened and up till today we still are asking why. I stand to be corrected when I say that that is how the leadership deficit started and instead of progress, it’s been war after war and crisis after crisis. I once wrote in this column that if you are fighting a war in which you do not know who the enemy is, the war becomes very prolonged, difficult to end and nearly impossible to defeat. Therefore, the killings that started as far back as the 60’s have metastasized and is now everywhere affecting the intellectuals, elites and un-intellectual alike and we can’t seem to be able to manage the near anarchy situation that we have now found ourselves in. Finding leaders as specified by Muiz is in my opinion as futile as painting a broken glass in the hopes of fixing it. This is because we have continued to slide further into a miry clay situation since the killings in the 60’s and have steadily continued for over 50 years. So as much as I agree with my friend Muiz, I must add that finding a Leader now without addressing a different structure from what the British left for us and what we later copied from the Americans, will only continue our slide into our already badly muddled waters. According to Peter Obi, most vehicles of today cannot drive without a brain box but because we didn’t understand the use of the brain box in the vehicles we inherited, we removed them and so today, we drive from North to South, East and West on vehicles without a brain box. Dear leaders of tomorrow, my very favourite set of Nigerians, for you to make any progress, it is expedient that you know the truth about your History. Find out what the British did and even what we ourselves did too. It will help you not to repeat the same mistakes.