In defence of Ahmadu Bello

The problem of Nigeria is the problem of the dominant ethnic groups, their political party leaders and their parasitic elites. Each of the dominant ethnic group is haunted by its own demon. But rather than face up to their challenges, they often engage one another in blame game, increasing in the process, the nightmare of Nigerians. As argued on this page last week, the Yoruba for instance is haunted by the unhealthy syndrome extolled with a hint of sarcasm by one of their respected intellectuals as ‘a sense of self worth’, often freely deployed by a few of their leaders driven by greed for power to destabilise the Yoruba nation and by extension, the country since independence. The Igbo, like their Yoruba compatriots who have continued to live in denial, have also been destabilizing the nation with their own demon clearly identified by Ahmadu Bello. According to him, “the Igbos are the sort of people, whose desire is mainly to dominate everybody. If they go to a village; to a town, they want to monopolise everything in that area. If you put them in a labour camp as a labourer, within a year, they’ll try to emerge as head man of that camp, and so on”.

The truth is that both the Yoruba and the Igbo boast of not a few leaders without character. For instance the Sardauna might have been the mastermind of the imprisonment of Awo, he was framed by political prostitutes from his Ikenne town and his fate sealed by his prominent Egba compatriots who were prepared to sacrifice the overall interest of the Yoruba nation to sustain their friendship with Sardauna and Balewa. Likewise, if Ahmadu Bello, generally held responsible for Igbo travails in Nigeria, had nothing but contempt for some Igbo leaders, is it not also true that some Igbo leaders who often behave like a woman with four husbands deserve nothing but absolute contempt?

This is why Nwachukwu Aniagolu’s Back page piece in The Nation October 9, titled ‘Political imperative for the northern elite’ was also a study in blame game. He put all the problems bedevilling the nation at Ahmadu Bello’s door-step ascribing them to what he described as ‘ideology of Ahmadu Bello and its effects on contemporary northern Nigerian political thinking’. Specifically, he blames him for his obsession with containing “the restive ambition of southern counterparts, his resolve to sustain “the feudal and strict hierarchical social stratification of northern Nigeria” and his notion that “the only way the North (as a political entity) could thrive within the modern construct of Nigeria was through control of political power”. Finally, he says the Sardauna’s ‘northernisation’ policy was detrimental to the idea on one Nigeria.

Sardauna was committed to the over 200 northern disparate ethnic groups welded together through his efforts. His commitment was total. When the lot fell on him to become the Prime Minister of Nigeria, he chose service to the poor of the north and delegated Balewa his deputy to take his position in Lagos. But if he assiduously worked for the domination of the country by the north, so were the leaders of the other dominant ethnic groups. Didn’t Zik say something to the effect that the God of Africa created the Igbos as the natural leaders in Africa? Awo and his subordinates might have been more restrained than Ahmadu Bello and Zik, but they nonetheless by their actions and posturing, made it clear that their  commitment was first to their Yoruba people relegated to the second position in spite of their head start in education by Zik’s exploitation of platform provided by the Yoruba.

Ahmadu Bello whose service to his people was his life was incensed when Awo, a federalist unlike his other Yoruba ethnic irredentists sent his deputy Akintola along with other hot-heads to mobilize the northerners for his party. Awo by this act inadvertently encouraged insurrection by the minority ethnic groups that had for years yearned for self actualization. And when the opportunity to repay Awo back for what he considered his undermining of his leadership, he seized the opportunity with both hands.

Akintola, Awo’s once dependable deputy and ally whom he had successfully used in fighting the British and the north became his nemesis. Awo in his “My March Through Prison’ insisted Akintola who had approached the Sardauna for help to upstage him was the first to falsely accuse him of planning a coup.  Sardauna got further help from the NCNC, his NPC coalition partners and the opposition party in the west. NCNC bore a grudge against Awo over Zjk’s failed attempt to take over the west in 1952. They all swore Awo would be too old by the time he returned from prison to interfere in the affairs of how they run Nigeria. In fact part of the commitment sought by the federal government for his release from prison was an undertaking to take a break from politics and relocate to Britain or the US for a number of years.

Sardauna in fact was more of a victim. For instance his warning to Zik that the nationalists should try to understand their differences rather than suppress them in their rush for self government was ignored. It was therefore lost on his colleagues that as at the time Tony Enahoro was in 1953 saying “Mr. President, sir, I rise to move the motion standing in my name, that this House accepts as a primary political objective, the attainment of self-government for Nigeria in 1956”, a motion that led to the walkout of northern candidates, the north had only one medical doctor, Dr Dikko, two secondary schools and it was not until 1957 that the north could boast of four university graduates.

Perhaps to avert the fate which later befell Congo that rushed into independence with a President Lumumba who had only three years of formal education and a nation with just about four graduates and 600 Roman Catholic priests but descended into chaos shortly afterwards, Bello said the north was not ready for self government in 1956. But he, along with other northern delegates, were roundly pilloried by their southern counterparts. They were called British stooges. Even after they had staged a walkout, they were followed by Lagos touts who openly called them names to Iddo railway terminus. An enraged Sardauna was forced to swear that when next he would be coming to Lagos, he would come with his sword to complete his grandfather’s unfinished work of planting the sword in the sea. The Sardauna did not forgive the Yoruba and Awo for the travails of the northern delegates. He also strongly believed the attempt to stampede the ill-prepared north for self government was motivated by the desire of the educationally advantaged south especially the Igbos to dominate the north.

But in spite of Aniagolu’s demonisation of Ahmadu Bello’s ‘northernisation’ policy which he claims was antithetical to the idea of one Nigeria, in retrospect, it would appear the Sardauna’s fears were not totally misplaced. The January 15, 1966 coup eliminated both the political and military leaders from the north while sparing those from the east. His warning that Nigeria would regret if Ironsi became head of the military when Zik and Mbadiwe were lobbying for him became a self-fulfilling prophesy. Ironsi had no reason to take over rein of power after the January 15 coup attempt had been brought under control. The constitution made provision for the most senior surviving minister to be sworn in.  His decree 34 which turned the nation to a unitary state was interpreted as a calculated attempt by the Igbos already controlling most federal institutions to dominate the country. The mindless selective killing of Igbo that accompanied the violent demonstration against the decree was beyond vengeance; it was all about the fear of domination.

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