Political duplicity or victim of intrigue?
The First Republic Minister of Aviation, Honourable M. Amaechi, otherwise known as “The boy is good,” made some stunning revelations in a recent personality programme on Nigerian Television Authority, (NTA) – Reflections. Many Nigerians would find those revelations instructive. According to the eighty-five-year-old, he had in his youth been an ardent member of the Zikist Movement; he later went on to become a leading member of the Nnamdi Azikiwe-led National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC). NCNC was the predominant political party in the Eastern region, while the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) and the Action Group (AG) ruled the roost in the Northern and Western regions respectively. In the 1959 national election, none of the regional parties had a simple majority; the NCNC had the highest number of votes, followed by the NPC; the AG came third. The NCNC thus became the “most beautiful bride” to be aggressively courted by the two other parties.
In explaining why his party leader, Azikiwe, spurned Awolowo’s proposal for an NCNC-AG coalition to satisfy the constitutionally stipulated condition for the formation of a national government, the elderly statesman said thus “…during our meeting with Chief Awolowo’s delegation at Zik’s house in Onitsha, the telephone rang upstairs and Zik excused himself to answer the call. When he came down few minutes later, he spoke to his kinsmen in Igbo language… that the call was from Ahmadu Bello; the Sadauna told him that Awolowo has sent some of his party men to Kaduna to propose an NPC-AG coalition, in which the NPC would have the prime minister slot, while the finance portfolio goes to the AG. This was the same proposal Awolowo was making to the East…” It was at that point, according to Honourable Amaechi, that Azikiwe decided that if Awolowo was capable of such duplicity then the AG could not be trusted as an alliance partner. That was the reason the NCNC and the NPC formed a coalition in 1959, with the original agreement that the prime minister position would go to the NCNC. But to NCNC’s chagrin, and rather instructively, the NPC later insisted it wanted the position of prime minister, else the country reverted to the less-than-satisfactory 1957 Lancaster House Agreement, which would have resulted in splitting up of Nigeria along her regional seams. The NCNC leader, ever the compromising nationalist, painfully conceded the prime minister position to the NPC, according to Honourable Amaechi’s narration.
I find the elderly statesman’s narration very curious for a number of reasons. First, Honourable Amaechi’s narration portrayed Chief Obafemi Awolowo as an unprincipled, desperate and unimaginative power-seeker. The late AG leader was clearly non of these; rather, he was generally acknowledged as one of the most principled and sophisticated politicians that have emerged from our shores. Second, throughout his political career, Chief Awolowo never made secret of the fact that there existed only one Nigerian to whom he would agree to concede the position of prime minister; and that Nigerian was no other than the Right Honourable Nnamdi Azikiwe. Third, there is a national consensus of sorts that the late AG leader’s position on issues was always clearly stated, and therefore well known by all objective persons. When he campaigned in Aba, he told the Igbos that he would ban the importation of “stock-fish,” if elected president. Later, he told the indigenes of Suleja that he would relegate the development of Abuja to non-priority matters if he were made president. When his political associates wondered aloud about his political judgments, the AG leader remarked that he would sooner compromise the number one position than compromise the truth.
Again, when General Yakubu Gowon reneged on his pledge to handover power to the civilians in 1974, Chief Awolowo promptly resigned from his exalted position as the then de facto prime minister of the country. (He had openly disagreed on a matter touching on integrity with the man who took him from “prison to presidential palace”). And, when Brigadier-General Murtala Mohammed dared to exceed himself on assuming the headship of the country, Chief Awolowo was the one politician who could tell the “unruly soldier” that he should not entertain any illusions about the temporal tenure of his hold on power. On account of Chief Awolowo’s evident transparent politics, another Head of State had commented that the acknowledged sage was the only issue in Nigerian politics.
Fourth, it is necessary to recall that by 1959, the deputy leader of the AG, Chief S. L. Akintola, who succeeded Awolowo as the premier of the Western region, was known to have developed a clandestine romance with the NPC leader, Sir Ahmadu Bello. The irrepressible Oshogbo lawyer-turned-politician whose party boss often referred to as a “consummate dissimulator,” was said to have taken considerable pride in being called a “master of intrigues.” Chief Akintola’s less-than-transparent if intriguing affiliations with Sir Ahmadu Bello were to lead to irreconciliable differences between him and the AG. He eventually broke ranks; formed his own political party, the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP), and soon after went into alliance with the NPC.
Lastly, I also find it very curious that the NPC leader should call the NCNC leader’s Onitsha residence at the exact hour the AG delegation was meeting with Azikiwe. That coincidence, even in the realm of fiction, would look an implausible plot. One does not need to be a Senior Advocate of Nigeria to figure out that Sir Ahmadu Bello must have been privy to the unfurling conference in far away Onitsha before he reached for his telephone. Furthermore, having regard to the proven character and political philosophy of the late Chief Awolowo, I completely fail to see that he was capable of the duplicity implied in Honourable Amaechi’s narration in the said NTA programme. Had the Great Zik not soared too deep into the upper stratosphere in a regime of un-abating intellectual peregrinations, he probably would have given an earthly interpretation to that one-in-a-million coincidental telephone call, and the political evolution of Nigeria might have followed a completely different trajectory. Tragically, subsequent generations of Nigerian intellectuals would seem to have borrowed a leaf from the late flamboyant politician; consequently, their virtual residency in the abstract world has denied them the capacity to competently deal with the earthly challenges of Project Nigeria.
Nkemdiche is an engineering consultant in Abuja.