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Revisiting Zik’s diarchy option



With widespread hopelessness among confused Nigerians who are increasingly becoming unsure of what the future holds, the Nigerian governing political elite have become the scourge of the nation. It is today clear that their quest for democracy, the new value system in the run up to independence was just a means to an end. For them, it was the shortest route to power without war or allegiance to democratic ethos such as the imperative of a vigorous opposition, self-restraint, treatment of citizens with respect and respect for laws and facts.


It was not as if Nigerians ever had any illusion about the real motive of governing political elite. “Given a choice”, as Obafemi Awolowo once observed, “between the educated elite, the traditional rulers and the British imperialists, they would choose in reverse order’’, because with the latter, they were assured of justice whose absence today is the major source of social dislocation in the nation.


Driven by greed, Nigerian governing political elite embarked on massive economic sabotage, and opulent brigandage resulting in what Arthur Nwankwo describes as ‘reckless confrontation politics.’


First to appeal to the military for support following the constitutional crisis associated with the massively rigged 1964 election was Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and those that struck on January 15, 1966 were the young idealistic military officers that identified with his nationalistic fervour and progressive politics while those that struck in July 1966 in what they described as vengeance coup were military officers that identified with the conservative political tendencies of the north.


But Zik was the first to appreciate the price the governing elite must pay for luring the military into politics albeit inadvertently. He had, as chancellor of the University of Lagos, therefore, used the occasion of Samuel Jereton Mariere Memorial Lecture, organized by University of Lagos students on October 27, 1972 to call for the establishment of civilian military government (diarchy) just for a period of five years until when the military government hand over as promised in 1976. It was his opinion that: “In a developing nation like Nigeria, where the military, like Adam and Eve, have tasted the forbidden fruits of political powers, it will be imprudent to overlook the constructive role the armed forces can play in stabilizing a nation that has just emerged from colonialism and a bloody civil war”.


But Zik who was shouted down and roundly condemned had the last laugh. As against five years he had advocated, by 1979 when Obasanjo handed power over to civilian, the military had been in power for 14 years of Nigeria’s 24 years of independence. The second republic was short-lived as it was toppled on December 31, 1983 by Buhari, followed in quick succession by Babangida, Abacha and Abdulsalmi, with the military monopolizing political power for additional 16 years (1983-1999).


But the worst was yet to come. After compounding our crisis of nation-building, the new power holders that emerged in 1999 were military-bred new-breed politicians that bred nothing but corruption and behaved more like an army of occupation sharing spoils of war in form of oil wells, national assets kept in their custody for the future of our children, and turning our country to importer of labour of other societies.


But the greater tragedy seems to have come with President Buhari’s mismanagement of our crisis of nation-building. With today’s total disillusionment among a disoriented Nigerians, with those in power pretending to be unaware of impending apocalypse if the country implodes, perhaps the time calls for a revisit of Zik’s diarchy option we once rejected with derision.


Perhaps the first compelling reason is the lesson of history. We remember with nostalgia the giant strides made by the Gowon regime of 1966-1972 which can at best be likened to a diarchy. The star-studded regime could boast of visionary and nationalist leaders like Obafemi Awolowo, Aminu Kano, Joseph Tarka, Tony Enahoro Pa Edwin Clark and other astute politicians from all over the country that laid the foundation for what was to become the enduring legacy of military regimes in Nigeria. These include refineries, textile industries, assembly plants, Lagos-Ibadan expressway, Third Mainland Bridge, Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Sagamu –Benin (East-West road), Lagos-Badagry and their equivalents across the nation.


But more than this, the governing political elite have since the birth of the fourth republic shown they are incapable of institutionalising justice through constitutional engineering. The nation achieved unity in diversity through constitutional engineering between 1922 and 1957 because of there was the colonial master whipping everyone into line. Because the colonial master served as umpire, representative of ethnic nationalities trying to hold the nation to ransom out of sheer mischief were easily called to order.


The 1963 Republican Constitution, the first without some big brother whipping us on line was self-serving. The only people that benefitted from the exercise were leading members of the governing elite notably the president who from Governor-General became titular President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and the Prime Minister who took control of the judiciary.


Murtala Muhammed’s 1979 attempt at constitutional-making was like working to the answer. They adopted the American federalism model, a product of their civil war experience that celebrates the values of a strong centre that can effortlessly subdue internal insurrection and withstand external threat without taking into account that America with shared value is different from a multicultural society like ours, where different groups are at different levels of cultural development.


Babangida with his characteristic conceit tried his own variant of diarchy designed for self-perpetuation along the line of other sit-tight African leaders; Abacha’s intervention was to prepare him for self-succession, while Obasanjo’s half-hearted efforts at constitution-making collapsed over his failure to secure a third term. Abdulsalami Abubakar’s 1999 constitution, regarded by many as a military decree was drafted by some conscripted public servants who never presented their draft for public debate until the inauguration of Obasanjo after the 1999 election.


Unfortunately, President Buhari that the nation turned to in 2015 for salvation continues with his characteristic sense of self-righteousness to do what he thinks the people want while ignoring their demand for political restructuring which many believe is the only way to avert the coming apocalypse. Except for the period of the civil war, Nigeria has never been as divided and suspicious of each other as today.


As we today grope in darkness, unsure of tomorrow, perhaps there can be no better time for a revisit of the Zik diarchy option. First, there is the lesson of history as shown above. Nigeria’s governing political elite have since 1963 not treated Nigerians as citizens but as subjects. From 1999, they embarked in in fiscal brigandage, freely sharing the national patrimony kept in their care for our children.


As we today grope in darkness with the nation enveloped by a heavy darkling cloud, it is obvious our suicidal governing political elite who seem ready to pull down the edifice on their heads need help.


And short of inviting our colonial masters back as once suggested by frustrated one-time governor of Ogun State, the late Olabisi Onabanjo, a revisit of the Zik’s diarchy option could serve as balance of terror for serial betraying Nigeria’s governing political elite.

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