The bombshell memoir of the late Eme Awa, a professor of political science and former chairman of the National Electoral Commission (NEC), was completed 25 years ago in December 1995 and six years before his death in March 2000. Mrs. Selome Awa (Mummy Awa as we call her) published it posthumously. I was availed a copy ahead of its presentation. It tells a compelling story of the political journey of Nigeria before and after independence, the mutual ethnic suspicions that ultimately led to the civil war, the mismanagement of our diversity by the military, the incursion of tribalism into the academic community and of course the ‘transition’ to civil rule programme of General Ibrahim Babangida in which Awa played a critical role. Some may remember his controversial removal as NEC Chairman as well as the drama of how his name was displaced at the last minute by J.S. Cookey as chair of the 1986 Political Bureau.
Describing his memoir as “hurdles of consciousness from my being an Ohafia person through various levels of growth – Ohafia Clan, Bende Division, Igbo ethnic group and finally Nigeria”, the late Awa said his experience allowed him to see serious structural defects in our country which he attributed to “the lack of moral code or ethos that binds all Nigerians together.” He argued that “even today (1995 that is) if one went into the inner recesses of many villages, one could find many people who, if told that they are Nigerians, may well ask: ‘Really?’ That emotional bond, the feeling that we are all fellow citizens and therefore entitled to certain basic or minimum rights, does not exist in the minds of many people.” That, he explained, was why he titled the memoir, ‘My Journey to Nigeria’, suggesting that we need to move “from the inchoate state to a highly integrated political system.”
Awa, who would have been 100 years old in December this year, returned to Nigeria in 1955 from the United States with a doctorate degree in Political Science. At different epochs he held important positions in academia as well as public service. That is what makes his memoir fascinating. But let me begin with an anecdote taken towards the end of the book. After recounting several unpleasant experiences under Babangida, Awa wrote of an incident that happened a few years after his removal as NEC chairman: “During an interview I gave to a reporter, I mentioned one of the issues discussed above and informed the reporter that I wanted the matter off the record at least in the meantime. The young woman apparently possessed of a fertile brain, and because of this reservation, she gave the whole interview the title of: ‘If I open my mouth, this country will burn’…other newspapers gleefully followed in the wake of her brilliant ‘innovate’ reporting. Anybody who makes even a cursory content analysis of my writing and speeches will easily see that I could never have spoken in the ‘EnglishIgbo’ language to reporters. Later, however, I began to feel that anytime I opened my mouth before reporters, they might put fire into it.”
Given how history is often conveniently distorted to create the impression of a glorious past in relation to our current challenges, the present state of our country begs a larger question about the place of memoirs such as Awa’s. While I remain a proponent of restructuring the country because the system is just not working for the majority of our people, I do not belong to the school that frames the argument as a North-South affair. Or that the First Republic was a model to which we can return. If there is anything I have taken from Awa’s memoir, it is a reminder that the mismanagement of the past led us to where we are today. We must therefore engage in genuine conversation (as opposed to the current shouting match) if we are to reposition our country for peace and prosperity. We must envision a better future.
The proposition that allocating every ethnic group in Nigeria their own fiefdom will bring peace and equity is not supported by empirical evidence. And Awa made that very clear by his own experience. “When the composition of NEC was announced, many things happened all at once, calling attention to the relatively ‘raw’ nature of Nigerian politics. I was the first person from a majority ethnic group (Igbo) to be appointed chairman of the electoral commission. There was some major rumbling from Anambra State as to why such an honour coming to the Igbo for the first time should have gone to Imo and not Anambra,” Awa wrote. “Inside Imo, there was a minor rumble. Why should Awa be appointed to this position when it was known that he hailed from the Aro-Chukwu/Ohafia local government area?” But of course, Awa’s biggest challenge at that period was that “a small Yoruba clique objected to my appointment and took steps soon afterwards to have me removed.”
A decade later, Awa again experienced what he described as the “stratification of the Igbo society along clan lines” when his appointment as the Vice Chancellor of the University of Nigeria (UNN) was resisted, although there was also another angle to that. As a student at Lincoln University, Pennsylvania, in the late 1940’s, Awa was President of the Nigerian Students Association in the USA and Canada and some of the actions during this period brought him “near conflicts with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI)” that threatened him with deportation. But the real battles he fought were with Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and Dr. K.O. Mbadiwe over scholarship funds from ‘Ohafia Improvement Union’ that were deposited with the African Continental Bank (ACB) which, according to Awa, were never remitted. It is an interesting recall that defined Awa’s acrimonious relationship with Zik and Mbadiwe. Although Awa said he and Mbadiwe eventually made up, it is evident that he and Zik were, to put it mildly, unfriendly throughout their lives. He had a lot to say about Zik in the book, mostly unflattering. Zik, according to Awa, “had a pitifully false image of dissenters as invertebrate enemies and this coloured his attitude towards those who disagreed with him on any subject on grounds of logic and ethics.” Meanwhile, Awa’s perspective on the political leaders in the country before and after independence goes against popular grain. He said when “the confrontation between the major leaders grew bitter, I became apprehensive of the ethnic fights”, and then added: “In the small circle where I belonged, we used to think that S. L. Akintola was the brightest political strategist in the country. He could make manoeuvres, which puzzled everybody: Awo, Zik, Sardauna, et cetera, all could be outmanoeuvred. We used to call him ‘Akin Wonder’”.
The first major issue tackled by Awa was the politics within academia. He recounted his experience at University College, Ibadan, which he joined in September 1957 after leaving a promising career in the federal civil service, and at the University of Lagos which he moved to a few years later. Awa described the travails of Professor Eni Njoku as an eye opener on the challenge of ethnicity in Nigeria: “The University of Lagos was founded by the Federal Government in 1962 and Eni Njoku had been appointed as the first Vice-Chancellor by Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa, presumably on the advice of expatriate scholars, some of whom were senior staff at the University of Ibadan (then University College). The University of Ibadan was then headed by Professor Kenneth Dike, another Igbo man, who also had been recommended for the position by expatriate scholars. Eni Njoku had worked hard and within a short time he had assembled good staff of Nigerians. My recollection now is that most of the Nigerian staff were Igbo, but this was entirely fortuitous. Njoku considered himself a good Nigerian. He could never have been forced by considerations of ethnicity or nepotism to give appointments to anybody. I believe that he administered the University with great competence. Thus, when his removal as the Vice-Chancellor was mooted, both staff and students protested sharply. The students barricaded the gates of the institution and marched around in a raucous demonstration as befits such an occasion.”
But everything changed one morning when he arrived campus and noticed some strange developments. “Now there were massed all the Yoruba staff and students on one side, demanding that Njoku must go, and on another side the Igbo staff and students massed up, chanting that, Njoku must stay. Some major national politicians of both Igbo and Yoruba origin were seen coordinating the shouting prowess of each group. Soon enough the conflicting groups on the campus engaged in a scuffle in which Mike Adeyemi (a lecturer) was injured. Because of his prominence, Ben Nwabueze was fingered by the Yoruba group as the culprit who had inflicted the injury on Mike. Nobody who knew Ben well enough could believe that he would want to hurt a fly but everybody in the opposition group ‘saw’ him as he lashed out at Mike. When the case opened in the court, Mike appeared there fully swathed in bandages which looked as if they had been tainted by some blood. I wondered about the matter in some vague sort of manner, asking myself whether indeed there was beneath those bandages any injury worth talking about. The court however decided the case against Ben.”
With the university closed and Balewa staying out of the fray, all lecturers of Igbo descent took a decision to resign if Njoku was not to be reappointed. Let’s continue the story from Awa: “The Igbo leaders firmly supported the resignation move. The staff, apart from the two hawks, wanted a face-saving measure desperately. Could somebody, Hausa, or Yoruba, tell us, even in a perfunctory manner, not to resign? Nobody obliged and our discussions assumed a gloomy look as the days went by. I approached a Yoruba man and requested him to take me to Dr Shodeinde, the Chairman of the Governing Council of the University, so that I could discuss the issues with him. For more than one hour I tried to persuade Dr Shodeinde to make some appeal on our behalf on the question of resignation. That would be the face-saver that we needed. No matter how I framed the statement, his reply was always ‘no’. What about inducing some other members of the Council to take this action? The reply was still ‘no.’ He explained to me that he was reliably informed that the primary objective of the Igbo group in the conflict was to destroy the university by leaving it abruptly. He had been further informed that we had signed the resignation letter on the first day when the students barricaded the gates. He was not properly informed as no date had been put to the letter of resignation.
“Later, a Lagos woman told me that we were wasting our time and that the Council would never accept Njoku again. She explained that Dr Shodeinde and the other members of the council considered Njoku to be too arrogant and tended to treat the Nigerian members of the Council with contempt. But an Ekiti friend dismissed this! His explanation was as follows: The Egba people were the first Nigerians to acquire Western education and to hold important appointments in the colonial service. On attainment of independence, they felt that an Egba person should have been appointed to one of what they considered the critical positions in the country, namely, the post of Governor-General (later President), Prime Minister, Vice-Chancellor at Ibadan, or Lagos. They lobbied other Yoruba people successfully on this matter, especially when they argued that it was unjust to let two Igbo scholars head the two federal universities in the south. They were now vigorously pushing forward Saburi Biobaku as the Vice-Chancellor to succeed Njoku.”
When entreaties failed and Njoku was not reappointed, all lecturers of Igbo descent left the University of Lagos. The University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), according to Awa, was instructed by the Southeast regional political leaders to receive all staff and students emigrating from Lagos. Njoku and the ‘UNILAG refugees’ were soon joined by the ‘Ibadan refugees’ when, following the coup d’état of January 1966, Igbo people fled different parts of the country. “Since Eni Njoku had taken over as the Vice-Chancellor at UNN, Kenneth Dike, Vice-Chancellor at Ibadan who also exited from Ibadan, had some problem on his hands: He would not settle at UNN and serve merely as a lecturer (two captains in one boat?) and so requested the region to establish another university for him.”
Amid these developments, Awa said he never felt comfortable at UNN where the image of Zik loomed large. Reprieve soon came from the University of Ife when the VC, Hezekiah Oluwasanmi, offered him a professorship. Before he could take up the offer, the University of Lagos also sent Awa a message that he had been assessed successfully for promotion to a full professorship and should feel free to return and assume the appointment. Awa decided to return to the University of Lagos and he explained why. “My motivation was three-fold. In the first place, I assumed that the disturbances in the nation would subside soon enough, and I could constitute a bridgehead for enabling other eastern academics to take up appointments again at UNILAG. In the second place, I wanted to get myself into General (Aguiyi) Ironsi’s kitchen cabinet in Lagos and be able to advise him on the dangers likely to flow from his Decree No. 34; the composition of his advisory group (virtually all were Igbo), and the promotions he made, as at the time, in the military establishments. Thirdly, I considered Lagos a vantage point from which I could work with many other interest groups on national issues.
“My attempts to meet General Ironsi were in vain. He informed those close to him that he had no intention of listening to the advice of any Igbo person other than those already working for him. As things happened, I was on my way to make the last attempt at meeting him when I heard the rumour about his murder. Lagos became almost totally chaotic, and the lives of Igbo people were not safe at all. The debate about what was to be done went on throughout the country: form a confederation of the regions, let the Igbo people alone go their own way or let the Eastern Region secede? I was fanatically attached to the idea of a Nigerian Federation and did not allow the atrocities committed by various people to push me towards the option of secession. I wrote a long letter to Colonel O. Ojukwu, Military Governor of the Eastern Region.”
Readers will find Awa’s letter and his counsel for Ojukwu insightful. “When some friends of mine at the American Embassy got to know about this letter, they asked me again and again about a reply from the Colonel. At their insistence, I sent a reminder. Actually, I did not expect a reply. Rather I thought it might be possible for my views to influence the decisions being made. I was aware of the point that if secession did occur, the letter might put me in the category of the presumed unpatriotic Biafrans. But that was a chance that one had to take.
“The soldiers, unmindful of the socio-political consequences of their action, continued to attack and kill one another and many civilians. By September/October 1966, law and order had broken down completely in Lagos. Every morning and afternoon I would settle to determine which route to take from my house in Itire Road, Surulere, Lagos, to UNILAG at Akoka and back home. On which road would I encounter no soldiers or only a minimum number of soldiers? My wife gave birth to a baby boy on the first of October 1966 and my mother-in-law came to stay with us. Every time a vehicle screeched to a halt on Itire Road near my house, my mother-in-law would shout: ‘Professor, they have come. Run for your life.’
“Then one day a cousin of mine told me that soldiers were actually searching offices for Igbo people and one junior lecturer had jumped through his window to escape. Victor Adu (a senior lecturer) gave me shelter for two days and then I went to UNN like a prodigal son and asked Njoku to allow me to return there. Very graciously he said, ‘Go and collect your family and come back. This is the only place where we all are safe now.’ He sounded like a leader of the early Christian sects in times of persecution.”
Awa spent the civil war years in his (Ohafia) village where his car was stolen by Biafran soldiers and the bicycle he bought to replace it forcefully confiscated by Nigerian soldiers who beat him mercilessly. Even at that, his perspective on the civil war years is quite different from many others that I have read. The fact that this book was completed 26 years ago, without opportunity to filter the content with current events may explain why. But this summation from his Biafra recollection is quite apt given the Nigerian condition: “Within the campus we had scientists and technologists who had ingeniously devised means of refining petroleum and also produced the Ogbu N’igwe (a special type of bomb or missile made by Biafrans). They could have turned out to be great scientists and technologists of world standing if they had been encouraged to continue their work. Not only were they not encouraged to continue their work but were also deliberately frustrated so that they could not resume their normal teaching duties. This was a great loss to the nation. But I believe that it was not merely because the people concerned were Igbo. Had the position been reversed and the scientists been from other ethnic groups, I think that this type of treatment would have been meted out to them. The point is that temperamentally the country was not, perhaps is not, ready yet to make deliberate efforts to foster greatness among its citizens. The veto mentality is too deeply ingrained in the minds of the leadership groups.”
Meanwhile, the journey that brought Awa to national limelight began at the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS) which was established in 1979 “to serve as a centre for high-level reflection, research and discussion for Nigerian intelligentsia drawn from the public service, the private sector, the academic community, the military and the police.” The subjects dealt with at NIPPS, according to Awa, “cover policy and strategic studies, defence and security, science and technology, social studies (domestic, regional and international) and economic planning. Admission into the course of studies is severely limited. The level of previous achievements of acceptable participants is quite high: directors-general or directors in the public service and the equivalent positions in the private sector; colonels and their equivalent in other arms of the service; senior lecturers or their equivalent among the non-academic staff of the universities, etc. Training in the Institute for the military people is an open sesame to promotion to the higher ranks.”
Following a famous lecture Awa delivered at NIPSS which analysed the Nigerian political system, he was asked to take up appointment as Director of Studies at NIPSS the moment he retired from UNN in 1982. “In an Institute where professors in the universities can come to acquire more knowledge in the areas of the subjects covered, it is understandable that for me and other staff, academic work would be continued on a high level.” But the unique thing about NIPSS, according to Awa, was bringing together leaders and potential leaders of the country. “The NIPSS people formed themselves into an Alumni Association, which some people refer to today as the Kuru Mafia because of its secretive methods,” wrote Awa who believe that NIPSS has not fulfilled its mission in Nigeria, despite conceding that great individual friendships were forged at Kuru. “It was there that Professor Omo Omoruyi and Brigadier Ibrahim Babangida (IBB) met in the First Senior Executive course in 1979 and remained friends after that. When the coup d’etat of 1983 occurred, IBB was made Chief of Army Staff. Babangida informed Omoruyi he would like the military regime to install a new social order in Nigeria. He requested Omoruyi to recommend to him two political scientists who were good and could help work out plans for the new social order. Omoruyi recommended me and A.D. Yahaya. So, Babangida, Omoruyi, Yahaya and I were to plan the new social order.” But nothing came of the idea apparently because neither the then Head of State, Major General Muhammadu Buhari nor his late deputy, Brigadier Tunde Idiagbon appeared interested.
However, when Babangida toppled Buhari and took over power in August 1985, “he seemed to renew his interest in the attempt to install a new social order in Nigeria,” wrote Awa. “Omoruyi, Yahaya, myself, and often (Tunji) Olagunju, met frequently with him to discuss the issues involved. The salient issues that he raised included the following: the number of political parties for the country, the nature of the political class, the need for a self-reliant society, how to establish a polity that could achieve world power status, the rule of consultation and debate in governance.” In their discussions with Babangida, Awa said he saw three types of forces at play that would eventually militate against the success of the administration. “One was the traditional military authoritarianism, which also impeded Buhari’s success. Another was Babangida’s involvement with the quasi-feudal forces of the caliphate group of which he became some sort of adopted member through his connections with Alhaji (Ibrahim) Dasuki. The third was a strand of the Latin tide of thought in Babangida. He seemed to have spent some time studying Machiavelli’s ‘The Prince’ through his contacts with some academics and some highly educated military men.”
Babangida, according to Awa, saw the multiparty system as the source of chaos and disorder in Nigerian politics. “His preference was for a single-party system located in the extreme right-wing of the political spectrum. He did not spell out in so many words the ideological position which he favoured because he did not want to alienate me and Yahaya whom he knew as left-wingers. I devoted some time trying to assess him and his ideas. I felt that perhaps I knew less about him than did Omoruyi and Yahaya. I assessed him in the following way: He was not essentially concerned with the question of economic development but rather with macro-growth of the economy, which could render the nation strong, self-reliant, and powerful. Problems of social justice could be swept neatly under the carpet. There would be powerful interest/pressure groups such as traditional rulers, religious leaders, economic and financial groups which would easily buy any right-wing policies to satisfy him and enrich themselves.”
By early 1986, Babangida established the Political Bureau. “I believe the idea was derived partly from the discussion we held with him. He may also have held similar discussions with some members of the bureaucracy and derived some ideas from these also. Tunji Olagunju, Adviser to the President, was generally with us although perhaps not one of us…I thought he retained Olagunju (from the Buhari regime) because of his intimate knowledge of the presidency. In my view, looking back now, neither Omoruyi nor Olagunju tended generally to play the sycophant to Babangida in the handling of crucial matters of state policy, but Babangida had several centres of power and in crucial matters ultimate advice seemed to come from his kitchen cabinet group. The point, however, is that Babangida and the four of us worked out the composition of the Bureau as follows: Awa, Yahaya, Tunde Adeniran, Oye Oyediran, Pascal Bafyau, Edwin Madunagu, Haroun Adamu, Sam Oyovbaire, Bala Takaya, Amma Ogan and an executive known as Abdullah Augi. Amma Ogan hails from the same state as myself.
“After we had constituted the Bureau, some strange developments occurred. Two men, both highly placed in Babangida’s administration and close to him, made moves to upset the composition of the Bureau. One was in the police. The other was in the army. Both men approached Babangida and requested him to drop me as chairman of the bureau on the grounds that they did not want an Igboman to head such an important and delicate organisation since it was not so long ago that the Igbo made war on Nigeria. They specifically wanted someone from their own state to be included and to have S.J. Cookey as the Chairman of the Bureau. For them this meant that they had secured representation of the minorities in the East. I later learnt that equitable representation was not an important consideration with these people. They had thought that heavy allowances would be paid to members of the Bureau and the idea of sharing the cake was uppermost in their minds. Some other ethnic/religious groups got wind of the sharing of the cake and foisted their candidates on Babangida. When the announcement was subsequently made, I knew for the first time on the radio that I was no longer Chairman of the Bureau. On the day of the announcement, the composition of the Bureau was shown as follows: All the original members as mentioned above but excluding Amma Ogan. The new names added were Ibrahim Halilu, Mrs Hilda Adefarasin, Hajia Rahmatu Abdullahi, Okon Uya, M. Zahradeen, Ola Balogun and S.J. Cookey as the Chairman. The chairmanship did not matter to me as much as the fickleness of the President in succumbing to the pressures indicated above. But I got over the matter quickly and concentrated on the assignment itself.”
Awa’s insights on the workings of the bureau, how they arrived at their conclusions, and his subsequent interactions with Babagida on the direction his mind was working are quite revealing. Perhaps more enjoyable is the account of his relationship with Dr Edwin Madunagu, “an extreme left-wing radical” whom he said distrusted him (Awa) and anybody he considered to be close to the military. “Then one thing led to another and Madunagu left the Bureau and never returned. That was a pity for I had begun to enjoy his posturing as the spokesman of the masses.”
As a member of the ‘Intellectual Quartet’ (my description) around Babangida comprising of himself, Omoruyi, Yahaya and Olagunju, the appointment of Awa as NEC chairman was no surprise. At about the same period, Babangida also sent Omoruyi to pioneer the Centre for Democratic Studies and Yahaya (who wrote the foreword to Awa’s memoir) to the Administrative Staff College of Nigeria (ASCON) in Badagry as Director General. But the relationship with Awa began to sour shortly after the December 1987 local government election with problems in 312 wards out of 5,024 in the country. “Entirely relying on its own findings and without prompting from aggrieved persons, NEC cancelled the elections in these 312 wards and directed that they be repeated,” wrote Awa but that was not enough to pacify those who were already looking for ways to oust him.
Disputing the claim by Babangida in a TELL magazine interview that he (Awa) was removed because he was too old to carry on the burden of administering NEC and that he was confused when grilled at the Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC) meeting over the report of the local government elections of 1987, Awa wrote: “Let me state first of all that many important members of the AFRC were hostile towards me. Three of these people demanded that I should pay to the AFRC about 20% of the funds I was controlling at NEC. They referred to this as the shareholders’ dividend. They said they wanted somebody who would play ball with them. As I could not fulfill this request, I was sure that I could be removed anytime.
“There was secondly a group that wanted me to be removed so that a Yoruba man could take over and thus pave the way for an alignment of the Hausa/Fulani groups and the Yoruba after military rule. Thirdly, there were Babangida and Aikhomu, whose impartial standing on the debate I could not take for granted. Both had felt that it would be better for me to be removed. Further, there was no question of grilling me. The report I made before the AFRC was straightforward. The election in 93.8% of the constituencies was fair, free, and successful and it was only in Lagos State and in Onitsha that we encountered problems. Despite these figures, some members of the AFRC stated openly that it meant that the politicians had won the day and the military would never be able to clean up the system. I did not accept that the politicians had won the day.
“I explained the broad arrangement that NEC would make for the re-election scheduled for 26th March 1988. I had before then informed Babangida and Aikhomu of the threat letter (reproduced in the book) which implied that serious efforts would be made by some unknown groups to sabotage the March re-election. Both dismissed the threat as the handwork of crackpots. I had the problem of deciding how much information I should give to the AFRC regarding the strategies I would adopt in handling the re-election. I did not have any doubt in my mind that whatever I disclose would promptly be transmitted to the sabotage groups. All the groups opposed to me looked forward to March 26 (1988) as a kind of waterloo for me. If the re-election failed, the chairman of NEC must go. Babangida, Aikhomu, Olu Falae and others accepted this view.”
Even though the election went without any hitch despite the hurdles placed on his ways, Awa knew he was a marked man. One man who wanted him out desperately was Chief Olu Falae who started out as Secretary to the Federal Government before becoming Finance Minister. Falae, according to Awa, was scheming to be the civilian president after Babangida and was intent on blocking anybody he thought would not play his game. But there were other forces at play within the military, including a member of the AFRC who allegedly faulted him (Awa) for not giving 20% of a total of N200 million worth of contracts by INEC to them to share.
Eventually, a man (name withheld by me) who contested the 1987 elections for the chairmanship of a local government in Benue State and lost, filed a court action, making allegations of impropriety in the conduct of the elections. He later withdrew the action from court and then petitioned NEC about the elections on grounds that the elected chairman failed to satisfy the residency requirement at the time of the elections in 1987. NEC set up a committee to investigate the matter and to recommend what should be done. “On 2nd February 1989, (name withheld) met me in the office and stated that the report, which he had apparently seen, did not favour him. He was clutching a paper which he handed over to me. In the paper, he made false, malicious, and essentially frivolous accusations against me relating to the handling of some funds. He demanded to be appointed chairman of the local council otherwise he would cause the fabrications to be published. I could not possibly submit to such blackmail, and I informed him so. In the next few days, I managed to trap him into speaking on tape where he repeated a lot of the issues he had raised originally, and he also uttered a threat to my life. I made a full report of the goings-on together with the tape record to the authorities, but no action was taken against the man.
“On 19th March 1990, Godwin Daboh’s scandal sheet published blatantly libelous materials against me, making accusations which were absolutely false. I believe strongly that the whole episode was contrived by Dodan Barracks in retaliation for the report I made about the wrongdoing of a managerial staff of NEC,” whom he described as a relation of the president. Awa also detailed several intrigues with Babangida who reportedly played one group against the other, telling him one thing and telling other people another before his (Awa’s) eventual removal from office.
Documented in Awa’s memoir are many stories, including his role in the creation of Katsina and Akwa Ibom states, the encounters he had with the late Bashorun M.K.O. Abiola (for whom he wrote many briefs after the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential elections) as well as his perspectives on why Nigeria’s federal structure may not work, how the minorities are disadvantaged in the country etc. While I urge Mrs. Awa to get a proper publishing house that will have the book printed in a manner that is appealing and available, including on Kindle, the memoir is a significant addition to the literature on Nigeria’s political development.
As I write this column, I received a WhatsApp message credited to the late Chief Richard Akinjide, Minister of Education in the First Republic and Attorney General of the Federation and Justice Minister in the Second Republic. Since we live in an age in which people write their fancy and attribute it to others, I wasn’t so sure of its genuineness. Attributed to a speech Akinjide made on 12th June 2000 at the public presentation of the book, ‘Fellow Countrymen-The Story of Coup D’etats in Nigeria’, by Richard Akinnola, I called Mr Akinnola and he confirmed its authenticity. Incidentally, Awa fingered Akinjide, “who had some Igbophobia strain in him” as the person who insisted on the removal of Njoku as VC at the University of Lagos in 1965. But in this instance, Akinjide spoke about the complexity of Nigeria, the ethnic relations as well as his own reading of the North-South divide, despite playing a prominent role in Nigeria. “Our problems did not start yesterday. It started about 1894. Lord Lugard came here about 1894 and many people did not know that Major Lugard was not originally employed by the British government. He was employed by companies. He was first employed by East Indian Company, then by the Royal East African Company and then by the Royal Niger Company. It was from the Royal Niger Company that he transferred his services to the British government. Unless you know this background, you will not know the root causes of our problems. The interest of the Europeans in Africa and indeed in Nigeria was economic and it’s still economic.”
What flows from Akinjide’s thesis, and the memoir of Awa, is that we are yet to build a nation out of the disparate unions cobbled together by Lord Lugard, acting at the behest of the British colonial overlords. Our First Republic leaders were too suspicious of one another to create a nation. The military only compounded our problem with their coups and countercoups. Now, the responsibility on what kind of society we want to build rests with the current generation and there are no easy options. But to pretend that we have no problem is to continue living in denial. More distressing is the fact that we are not even engaging any of the challenges that stare us in the face. Which is why I understand the cynicism by those who argue that even if we restructure the country, not much will change if the same mindset and leadership failures persist. So, we need to get serious. In recent months, I have made several contributions to Ransom Support Funds being raised by people I know to pay kidnappers—evidence of the fact that we are now in a very bad place as a nation.
In a brilliant piece in ‘London Observer’ last weekend, Kenan Malik warned that the current turmoil in South Africa is a demonstration of a “phenomenon we are witnessing in different ways and in degrees of severity across the globe: the old order breaking down, with little to fill the void but sectarian movements or identity politics.” While the judicial travails of former President Jacob Zuma may have triggered the mayhem, what is driving it, according to Malik, is a “combination of people made desperate by poverty and hunger, gangsters seeking to profit from mayhem and political activists settling scores.” We saw a little bit of that last year when the EndSARS protests were hijacked by hoodlums, and it is a warning about the looming danger if we imagine we can muddle our way through the current crisis without interrogating the existing structure that is founded largely on sharing the ever-shrinking ‘National Cake’ at a period our population is ballooning and opportunities are shrinking.
In all, I find in Awa’s memoir a disturbing history of Nigeria. But his central thesis is that “the philosophical foundation of our political system must be rooted in humanism and be geared toward action, which can promote the dignity of all our men and women of all ages as well as the free enterprise system.”
Many thanks, ‘Run Club, Abuja’
In March this year, I shared briefly the story of how the idea to help some children within the vicinity of our house has become a cause for my wife (Amatala and Other ‘Unforgotten’ Children | THISDAYLIVE). My wife and I have benefitted immensely from the generousity of far too many friends. When about three weeks ago, my friend and younger brother, Buchi Onyegbule reached out to my wife on behalf of the ‘Run Club, Abuja’ (a fitness & lifestyle club) to inquire about what NFI School pressing need was, nobody had any idea of what he had in mind. To commemorate their first anniversary, members were organising a 15-day charity run/walk in collaboration with givingng, an affiliate of Sterling Bank to raise funds. The grand finale, ‘Charity Half Marathon’, a 21 kilometres run took place last Saturday after which a cheque of N2.2 million was presented to NFI. But the highlight was how members mingled with and hugged the children, in an experience they will never forget. I thank Buchi and members of the ‘Run Club, Abuja’ for their sacrifice and generousity of spirit. As I have kept telling people, we never set out to establish any formal structure. We just wanted to help 14 children within our vicinity who were roaming around. Now we have 55 in the ‘school’ and 121 others on ‘waiting list’ without any clue as to what to do about them.
Sadly, two of the indigent children placed in a boarding secondary school in Nasarawa State by NFI arrived on Monday to say kidnappers had written their school to expect them, making us to resolve they would not be going back as we explore other options. Gradually, the education space is being closed in our country by the sundry criminal cartels we now give some fanciful names—including those who have acquired the capacity to shoot down aircraft. And nobody seems to be doing anything about it!
Raheem Adedoyin at 60
Ilorin, the Kwara State capital will tomorrow play host to the Who is Who in journalism in Nigeria as my own dear egbon, Mr Raheem Adedoyin, marks his 60th birthday with a public lecture. Mr Dapo Olorunyomi is guest speaker, Aremo Olusegun Osoba is father of the day, Mr Lade Bonuola is chair of the occasion and the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN) President, Mallam Kabiru Yusuf is guest of honour. I wish Adedoyin, the Oloriewe of Oro Kingdom, happy birthday, long life and good health.
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