The invitation to speak was a bit confounding to me as it reeled out names of important men and women who will grace this occasion. The topic also appeared difficult and rather general. There was the need to streamline the topic. I therefore decided to speak on “The Metaphor of Change and the Politics of 2015.” My view of course is that while this is similar to the general theme it is somewhat more specific and focused.
To deal with the idea of change, one must first chronicle what is to be changed. Nigeria, a nation amalgamated in 1914 by a crusading colonialist with economic motivations was granted an unwilling political independence on October 1, 1960.
Nigeria has a chequered political and economic history which ranged from a “democratic election” that saw the emergence of Alhaji Tafawa Balewa as Prime Minister and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe as ceremonial President to the current government of President Goodluck Jonathan. Nigeria’s political and economic history is beset with ethnicity, corruption, poor and weak or lack of institutions, glorified by poor leadership. In the 60’s Nigeria was blessed with some quality leadership like Nnamdi Azikiwe, Tafawa Balewa, Obafemi Awolowo and Ahmadu Bello, amongst others. The colonialists left behind a (Westminster system of government) which embraced a bit of federalism to accommodate different ethnic and religious interests.
The different ethnic, political, religious, economic and the growth of corruption led to Nigeria civil war after the coup that had the principal officers of government assassinated. The coup and the assassinations were seen as ethnically motivated and led to a counter coup, which in itself resulted to a civil war. This was after a protracted negotiation between the two leaders of the Nigerian nation and the emerging Igbo nation. An estimated over one million persons died in the war. Several Nigerians leader were killed during the coup that ushered in the leadership of General Aguiyi Ironsi, most of which were of the northern extraction. Soldiers of Igbo or Eastern extraction led the coup. The counter coup itself and the insurrection that followed led to the killing of southerners in the North.
The resultant civil war ended in 1970 and the counter coup had thrown up Yakubu Gowon as Head of State. The Army had become involved in civil and political administration. With the impunity and command control structure attached to the military, corruption and dictatorship grew in the Nigerian polity and became the common reason advanced by the military marauders and economic scavengers for the frequent coup d’états and the change of government. This was the basis on which General Gowon was over thrown in 1975. General Murtala Mohammed was killed in 1976 after a few months in office. And after General Obasanjo emerged, and organised an election that ushered in democracy and Alhaji Shehu Shagari.
They also made different contributions at development especially the governments of General Olusegun Obansajo and that of General Yakubu Gowon. The short-lived General Mohammed Buhari was focused on anti corruption. For this reason and more it was quickly set aside. The regime of General Ibrahim Badamosi Babaginda ushered in development, economic and political reforms. It took us through different phases of democracy, had unsuccessful coup attempts to dethrone him. The regime created states like that of General Gowon. It had a dramatic exit that led to a brutal regime of General Abacha. Abacha mostly characterized by corruption and human rights abuses after a palace coup that took away the brief regime of Ernest Shonekan.
The death of General Sani Abacha ushered in the Government of General Abudusalam Abubakar whose presence we are enjoying today. One of his greatest achievements is transitioning the country to a democracy with Rtd. General Olusegun Obasanjo returning to governance. He calmed and stabilized a country in turmoil from the brutality of an Abacha who wanted to return as a civilian dictator in the name of democracy and election. We have since then had three democratically elected presidents.
A common feature that characterized the different governments is corruption in varying degrees. The fight against corruption was given a serious thought under civilian administration of Obasanjo. He instituted the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) as a corruption-fighting agency despite the fact that there was in existence a Nigeria Police who has as one of its responsibilities fighting corruption. Nigeria as a country had abandoned its progress in Agriculture development and Agrarian economy for and economy driven by oil revenue.
The oil revenue itself enhances the development of an army of looters. John Campbell the one time America Ambassador to Nigeria in his book “Nigeria Dancing on the Brink” had this to say,
“Throughout the post-civil war period, the self-enrichment of individual military officers was made possible by immense oil revenues combined with weak institutions of governance with little accountability to the public. Militarization and centralization of government authority went hand in hand, power in Nigeria became much more centralized than its “Federal” label would indicate.”
Being a lecture delivered at the second conference of the Peoples Media Limited by Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, Con, Governor, Rivers State and Chairman Nigeria Governors’ Forum at the Ladi Kwali Hall, Sheraton, Abuja, on Thursday, March 6, 2014.