Saraki: Between Politics And Intrigues
In 1952, Rt. Hon (Dr) Nnamdi Azikwe (NCNC), representing Mushin Constituency of Lagos, was to emerge as the First Premier of Western Region, but the Action Group had successfully lured 20 victorious candidates of the smaller rival parties to form the Regional government of the Western Region from its 38 members, which made it possible for Chief Obafemi Awolowo to become the first Premier of the Western Region and leader of government business, thus truncating the ambition of Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe to become the First Premier of the Western Region. It was a masterstroke.
Professor Eyo Ita, though from the minority group of the COR (Cross River, Ogoja Rivers Axis) was at this time of Dr. Azikwe’s travails in the Western Region, Leader of Government Business, Eastern region of Nigeria and was in office from 1951-1953, when he was supplanted through intrigues, manipulations and subterfuge, by Dr Nnamdi Azikwe, who was the leader of opposition in the Western Regional Assembly to become the Premier and leader, government of the Eastern Region in 1953.
Through this internal strife, Professor Eyo Ita left the NCNC to form the National Independence Party (NIP). It was Intrigues galore!
In 1959, the alliance between Tafawa Balewa of the NPC and Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe’s NCNC, sustained the governance of Federal Government of Nigeria till 1964, when Nigeria conducted another Federal election, which subsequently collapsed the alliance.
The alliance between the NPC and the NCNC, as cooperative parties brought in Dr. Benjamin Nnamdi Azikwe as ceremonial President and later as Governor General in 1963. Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, as the leader of the majority party, the NPC in the parliament, also remained the Prime Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, to stabilize the Federal Government.
This alliance collapsed in 1964, when the NPC was beginning to think of ruling Nigeria as a one party state. The failure of the alliance and the imbroglios and non-inclusion of the Action Group in the Federal Government, eventually led to the collapse of the Federal Government on the 15th January 1966 due to military intervention.
The Premier of the Western Region, Chief S.L Akintola, saw this imminent collapse and belatedly on the 13th of January 1966, rushed to Kaduna to meet with the Prime Minister, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa and the Premier of the Northern Region, the Sardauna of Sokoto, accompanied by Chief R.OA Akinjide, the Minister of Education and Secretary General of the NNDP, to appeal to the Sardauna to arrest this imminent collapse of democracy in Nigeria.
At this meeting, by a striking coincidence, was the Commander of the 4th battalion of the Nigerian Army, stationed in Ibadan Lt. Col. A. Largema, who was a regular visitor to the Premier’s lodge in Ibadan and had become a friend of Chief S.L Akintola.
Prime Minister, Tafawa Balewa, Premier Western Region, Chief S.L Akintola and Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, Premier of the North, Finance Minister, Chief Festus Okotie- Eboh were eventually killed during military putsch on the 15th January 1966 and thus, the collapse of the First Republic.
Quite interestingly, the army conspirators also killed their senior officers, Brigadier Mai Malari, Lagos Garrison Commander, Brigadier A. Ademulegun, Col. Ralph Sodeinde and Lt. Col Largema, Commander of Ibadan battalion.
The 1979 elections conducted between July and August 1979, with the presidential election on the 11th of August 1979, heralded the Second Republic in Nigeria, with Alhaji Shehu Shagari, candidate of the NPN receiving about 5.6million votes, Chief Awolowo of the UPN received about 4.9million votes, Dr. Azikwe of NPP received about 2.8million votes, Alhaji Aminu Kano of PRP received about 1.7million votes and Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim of GNPP received about 1.6million votes.
Waziri Ibrahim, founding member of the NPP, had left the party to form another party- GNPP. These elections, according to the other parties were massively rigged. To compound the problems of electoral hiccups and manipulations, on the 13th of August 1979, Chief Richard Akinjide broke the news on Radio Kaduna that the NPN had won the presidential election. He said the two-third of 19 states was 12 and two-third and that all his candidate had to do, was to score at least one-third of the votes in 12 states and one-third of two-third of the votes cast in any other state, which in this instance was Kano State, to make up the requirement of two-third of 19 states.
The entire country went in uproar. Naturally, the reaction of other political parties and their four candidates was an out-right rejection of the result as announced by FEDECO, where three of the presidential candidates: Awolowo, Zik and Waziri called on the Supreme Military Council, headed by General Olusegun Obasanjo as head of state, to declare the election null and void.
At a press conference at the Eko Holiday Inn, Victoria Island Lagos, on Monday, 20th of August 1979, Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe on behalf of the three other presidential candidates: Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Aminu Kano and Alhaji Aminu Waziri, called on the Supreme Military Council, headed by Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, to declare the election null and void, being according to them “a brazen act of fraud on the entire nation and unwarranted assault on democratic principles”
Quite interestingly, this same day, Chief Obafemi Awolowo filed a complaint at the Election Tribunal, challenging the declaration of Shehu Shagari as President- elect, the other Presidential candidates did not join him in this action.
Quite interestingly again, on the same 20th August 1979, in the same Eko Holiday Inn, in which Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe had read out the rejection of the result, as being null and void on behalf of his Party and three other Parties, the NPN candidate as president elect, members of his party, the NPP with the authority and acquiescence of his presidential candidate- Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe, began to meet with delegates from NPN and the meeting, after preambles on the 20th of August, kick- started fully, in the morning of the 21st Aug, barely 24 hours after the press conference.
At this negotiation desk, were: Chief J.S Tarka, Dr Sola Saraki and Chief M.T Mbu (who had 20 years earlier played a similar role in the NPC and NCNC alliance), Chief R.B.K Okafor, Mr. Chimezie Okiezor and Chief Ogunsanya on behalf of the NPP.
It was three days of intense bargaining, negotiations, haggling and supterfuge, that eventually produced a 38-year-old Dr. Joseph Wayas (Cross- River State) from NPN, as Senate President, Mr. John Wash Pam (NPP) from Plateau State as Deputy Senate President and also Hon. Umeh Ezeoke (NPP) from Anambra State, as Speaker of the House of Representatives and Hon. Idris Ibrahim of the NPN, from Minna North of Niger State as Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives and ministerial portfolios were also shared.
This political dalliance, collapsed in 1983 when the NPN began to think they could run the country alone without other parties, which eventually also led to the collapse of the Second Republic and the military putsh of December 31st1983, that brought in the government of Major Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, who in his maiden broadcast justified the coup d’état as being an effort to save Nigeria -“our great country from total collapse”
The moral lesson of the emergence of Sen. Bukola Saraki, Sen. Ike Ekweremadu, Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara and Hon. Yusuf Lasun, shows that political alliance or cooperation could emerge as a product of political exigency and or expediency, without the involvement of political parties. In the conduct and affairs of fellow mortals, no mortal must play God- who only is immortal and invincible. This perhaps, may be a signal end to god fatherism in Nigerian politics.
Canon Alayande, a veteran principal and Anglican patriarch and a strong member of the Action Group, had on the 19th, February 1962, at the height of the Western Regional crisis, in a letter addressed to Chief Obafemi Awolowo, advised that leaders must be “prepared to make extreme self-sacrifice and self-abnegation” and also must be “less inflexible and more condescending”.
It is now a wakeup call that this house must not fall; otherwise we will all echo the words of that playwright, Professor Ola Rotimi in his book, “our husband has gone mad again”!
• Femi Kehinde, a lawyer, is former Member, House of Representatives, representing Ayedire/Iwo/Ola-Oluwa Federal Constituency of Osun State, (1999-2003).