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Aso Rock, home of retired Nigerian generals
- Dr. Abdul Raheem Tujadeen
( Friday, January 13, 2006 )
[Photo Left: Dr. Abdul Raheem Tujadeen ]
This Sunday it will be 40 years since the first military coup in Nigeria that overthrew the civilian government of Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, a man well- trained in elocution and phonetics that he was referred to as "The Golden Voice of Africa". It was a very bloody affair. The Prime Minister, along with prominent politicians including the famous scion of the Hausa-Fulani aristocracy and Premier of the Northern region, Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto; the eloquent and charismatic Premier of the Yoruba-dominated western region, Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola; one of Nigeria's first plutocrats and Federal Finance Minister, Chief Frances Okoti Eboh; and others were assassinated.
The declared intentions of the original coup plotters led by the dynamic charismatic young Major Kaduna Nzeogwu was very patriotic, radical and even revolutionary even if naive politically. They sought to rid Nigeria of 'tribalism... regionalism...religiosity...corruption...' and other 'ills' that were afflicting the body politic. Although they succeeded in assassinating the prime minister and a number of senior officers in the military whom they considered to be part of the reactionary political establishment, the Young Turks did not succeed in forming the next government. Instead the remaining rump of the army leadership under Major-General Aguiyi Ironsi (a man whom the plotters wanted to kill but who escaped because he was at a disco cruise!) took control after being 'invited' by the surviving politicians.
Since that 'invitation' Nigerian politics and society have been dominated by the military. The contradictions of that first coup led to a counter coup six months later in July 1966, massacres of easterners but mostly Igbos in the north of the country and eventually a three-year civil war that gained a dubious title as 'the first televisual war'. The war, in all its brutalities, was broadcast to the rest of the faraway world in a way that is so commonplace today.
The common belief, fuelled by the successful propagandists of Colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu (who led the secessionist war and declared the Eastern region as Republic of Biafra) was that it was a war between allegedly backward/feudalist Muslim north and a God-fearing 'Christian' South-east. It is much like the way we are made to understand the North-South dichotomy in Sudan today.
What the propaganda and their international sponsors conveniently ignored at the time was the fact that the baby face Lt. Colonel (later General) Yakubu Gowon, who was head of state, though a northerner, was not a Muslim but a practising christian and son of an Anglican priest. Civil wars were threatening many African countries, newly independent then, therefore many countries were not in support of centrifugal forces. The biggest diplomatic coup of Gowon/Federal side was denying recognition to Biafra by Nigeria's immediate neighbours who are all former French colonies, very much beholden to France, even though France was on the side of the secessionists.
The interest of France was both economic and political. Its oil companies were in competition with the Anglo, Dutch and American oil companies for the oil resources in the region. Politically, France had always wanted Nigeria to be seen as an 'Anglophone' hegemony force in a region that has the largest concentration of 'francophone' countries. Therefore, a balkanised Nigeria would weaken the anglophone threat as far as Paris was concerned. Are things any different today? The politics of the sub-regional grouping, ECOWAS, is still very much along the colonialist lines of Anglophone versus Francophone to the detriment of further integration of the peoples of the region.
Ojukwu's only supporter in the region was his father's former business partner, joint headman for French interests in Africa (with Sedar Senghor of Senegal) Houphoet Boigny of Ivory Coast. The country was too far from Nigeria to be of any practical help to the Biafrans although that support came in handy when Ojukwu abandoned ship and needed an exile home. By historical coincidence, then Lt. Col. Olushegun Obasanjo (later General and Military head of state and President today) who was commander of the Third Marine Commando was the one that Ojukwu's second in command, Brigadier Effiong, surrendered to, bringing the war to a formal end on January 15, 1970. Hence the day is now marked not for its coup but as Armed Forces Remembrance Day.
For most of the last 40 years, the Nigerian army has governed the country and misruled it as they pleased. The current truncated democratic order in the country has been the longest stretch of civilian rule since independence in 1960. And even this regime is headed by a reformed coup plotter whose instincts are naturally undemocratic and militaristic. It is sadder still that of the four prospective candidates lusting after General Obasanjo's Aso Rock if he fails to extend his rule, three are retired generals.
Since 1966, Nigeria's generals seem to have forgotten the road to their messes and instead insist on occupying state houses, plotting to remain there or plotting to return to them in their retirement!
Dr. Abdul Raheem Tujadeen is Director of Justice Africa, London. His column is published in several African neewspapers including THE NEW VISION (kampala, The AFRICAN (Dar ES Salaam), Weekly Trust (Abuja) and as Pan African Postcarc in PAMBAZUKA NEWS.
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