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52 years ago: Remembering Nigerian nationalists

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In this piece, ROYAL NEWS writes that today significantly not only mark the remembrance of the fallen soldiers but also the 52 years of the exit of notable nationalists in the Nigeria’s democratic struggles.

As widely celebrated annually, Armed Forces Remembrance celebration is in honour of soldiers who fought vigorously during first and second world precipitated by the ideological rivalry between the Western and Eastern bloc coincides with killings of prominent Nigerian nationalists who also struggled to see the nation freed from the arbitrary rulership of her colonial master, Great Britain.

Similarly, to be precise, January 15 of every year will also remains much memorable in the minds of families, communities of personalities who facilitated the nation’s independence “On a platter of gold” who were brutally killed, barely six years of independence and three years of Republican attainment in the first military coup de’tat on 15 January 1966.

As it was then, the newly inaugurated indigenous government witnessed Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe as President, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Prime Minister, Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh, Finance Minster, Nwafor Orizu, Senate President, Michael Okpara, Premier of Eastern region, Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola and Sir Ahmadu Bello, Premier of Northern region and Sardauna of Sokoto among others giving their people the desired system of governance.

Although, there were some claims by men of military that there was maladministration, mismanagement of public funds, regionalism rather than nationalism and most especially the aftermath of the 1964 general election crises as well as the effects of the 1965 western region election crises which posed security threat on the nation’s survival at such tender stage of statehood.

While three leading nationalists; Ahmadu Bello, Balewa and Akintola and some other notable Nigerians were simultaneously killed at different locations, Zik, Orizu and Okpara among others narrowly escaped death, a circumstance that led to allegations of tribalism on the perpetrators of the act.

Being the first nasty experience in the history of “young Nigeria” the Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu-led civilian antagonists staged a bloody coup changing the nation’s political landscape in reaction to the happenings in Africa countries such as; Egypt and Togo among others termed “Bush fire effect”.

Not only that the figures were killed but the system of government invoke then was terminated and constitution was suspended while military rule was lunched with the introduction decree.

Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa

Sir Tafawa Balewa whose socio-cultural group Jam’iyyar Mutanen Arewa metamorphosed to Northern People’s Congress, NPC, was the first and only Prime Minister of an independent Nigeria, he was a trained teacher and later became a vocal leader for Northern interests as one of the few educated Nigerians of his time.

Born in Tafawa Balewa in the present Bauchi State, North-East, Nigeria in 1912, Sir Abubakar was nicknamed “the Golden Voice of Africa” because of his oratory, he stands as one of only three National Heroes of the Nigerian Nation.

Balewa started his early education at the Quranic School in Bauchi and later proceeded to the Katsina College for further education and soon acquired his teaching certificate.

On his return to Bauchi to teach at the Bauchi Middle School, in 1944, along with a few learned teachers from the north, Balewa was chosen to study abroad for a year at the University of London‘s Institute of Education.

He became an Inspector of Schools for the colonial administration and later entered politics immediately he returned to Nigeria and was elected in 1946, to the colony’s Northern House of Assembly, and to the Legislative Assembly in 1947.

Accounts revealed that in 1952, Balewa was made Minister of Works, and later served as Minister of Transport, in 1957, he was elected Chief Minister, forming a coalition government between the NPC and the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons, NCNC, led by Nnamdi Azikiwe.

Balewa retained the post as Prime Minister when Nigeria gained independence in 1960, and was reelected in 1964 and from 1960 to 1961; he doubled as Foreign Affairs advocate of Nigeria creating an official Foreign Affairs and Commonwealth Relations ministerial position in favour of Jaja Wachuku who became, from 1961 to 1965, the first substantive Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Commonwealth Relations, later called External Affairs.

 Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh

A prominent Nigerian politician and former minister for finance in the first republic, Chief Okotie-Eboh was born in 1919 to Urhobo parents from Uwherun and thereafter adopted the Itsekiri as his tribe after marriage into a prominent Itsekiri family.

Accounts revealed that prior his change of ethnicity; he was Chief Festus Samuel Edah having attended the Baptist School, Sapele for secondary education. He later joined the British Bata Company, as a clerk.

“After working at the British Bata Company for a while, he became a deputy manager in Sapele, during this time he was also member of the Warri Ports Advisory Committee and the Sapele Township Advisory Board.

“In due time, he traveled to Czechoslovakia and studied Business Administration. On returning to the country, he quit his prior position and started a successful business, selling timber, rubber and owning a few schools. In 1951, after some influence from Azikiwe, he contested for a seat and was elected into the western region House of Assembly.”

Also, in 1954, he was elected treasurer of the National Congress of Nigeria Congress. NCNC, and in 1957, was made Minister of Finance and consequently met his waterloo in the 1966 coup de’tat.

Sir Ahmadu Bello

Ahmadu Bello was the Sardauna of Sokoto and one of the prominent leaders and first Premier of the Northern Nigeria from1954-1966.

Sardauna as popularly called alongside some other notable northerners were prominent in the negotiations about the region’s place in an independent Nigeria being the leader of the Northern People’s Congress, NPC, dominating Nigerian politics throughout the early Nigerian Federation and the First Nigerian Republic.

Born in Rabbah, Sokoto State by a district head, Mallam Ibrahim Rabah in 1909, young Ahmadu received his education first at the Sokoto Provincial School, the only modern school at the time in the Sokoto province.

He later proceeded to the Katsina Teacher’s Training College. After spending five years at Katsina, he was appointed by the Sultan to become a teacher at the Sokoto Middle School, his former school which had undergone rapid transformation.

Historical accounts disclosed that in 1934, he was made the district head of Rabbah, four years later; he was promoted and sent to Gusau to become a divisional head. In 1938, he made an unsuccessful bid to become the new Sultan of Sokoto. The successful sultan immediately conferred upon Sir Ahmadu Bello the traditional, now honorary, title of Sardauna of Sokoto and elevated him to the Sokoto Native Authority Council.

In 1948, he was offered a scholarship to study local government administration in England. Ahmadu Bello took the scholarship sensing he needed to shore up his knowledge about the process of governance.

Ahmadu Bello became the first Premier of Northern Nigeria in 1954 and during the 1959 independence elections, his political party, NPC, won a plurality of the parliamentary seats and forged an alliance with Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe‘s NCNC.

Unfortunately for Sir Ahmadu Bello, he was brutally killed alongside his eldest wife Hajia Hafsatu and some aides at his Premier’s official residence now Arewa House Kaduna on January 15 1966 marking an end to his political career.

Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola

Chief Akintola who hailed from Ogbomoso, present Oyo State, Nigeria was born in 1910 was a politician, lawyer, aristocrat and orator.

Investigation shows that after his legal training in the United Kingdom; Akintola returned to Nigeria in 1949 and teamed up with other educated Nigerians from the Western Region to form the Action Group, AG, under the leadership of Chief Obafemi Awolowo.

“As the deputy leader of the AG party, he did not serve in the regional Western Region Government headed by the premier Awolowo but was the Action Group Parliamentary Leader/Leader of Opposition in the House of Representatives of Nigeria. At the federal level he served as Minister for Health and later Minister for Communications and Aviation.

“In preparation for Nigeria’s independence, scheduled for 1960, the Action Group party took a decision that affected the career of Akintola, the party, and Nigeria when the party in late 1959 asked him to swap political positions with Awolowo by becoming the Premier of the Western Region while the latter (who also was the national leader of the AG) became the party leader in the Federal Parliament.

“As a result of the 1959 elections to parliament, the Northern People’s Congress, NPC, from the Northern Region of Nigeria became the country’s leading political party with 134 seats out of the 312 seats in the Parliament. A second political party based in the Eastern Region of Nigeria obtained 89 seats in the same election. In the West, the AG elected 73 members to the parliament in 1959. The NPC and NCNC coalesced to form the first government of the newly independent country. Rather than join the government Awolowo led the AG into the Opposition.”

“Decisions over the direction of strategic alliances by the party, the adoption of democratic socialism as the party’s platform and the battle for supremacy in the party led to disagreement between Chiefs Akintola and Awolowo. Akintola disagreed with Awolowo’s decision not to join the coalition government. Akintola felt the Yoruba people of the West were losing their pre-eminent position in business, university and administration in Nigeria to the Igbo people of the East simply because the Igbo-controlled NCNC had joined the government and the AG had not.

“He also opposed the party’s decision to adopt democratic socialism as its ideology, preferring a more conservative stance. Moreover, he was accused by Chief Awolowo of trying to supplant him as Leader of the party. In May 1962 with the Western House of Assembly set to remove Akintola after the party had earlier passed a vote of no confidence in the premier in a party meeting, crisis erupted on the floor of the house.

“AG broke into two factions leading to several crises in the Western Region House of Assembly that led the central/federal government, headed by the Prime Minister Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa to declare State of Emergency rule in the Western region and Chief (Dr.) M.A Majekodunmi, the Federal Minister of Health was appointed as Administrator.

“Eventually, Akintola was restored to power (even though he had lost the legal battle with the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council then Nigeria’s highest tribunal)[5] as Premier in 1963. In the general election of 1965, Akintola won his position as Premier, not as member of the Action Group party, but as the leader of a newly formed party called Nigerian National Democratic Party, NNDP, which was in an alliance with the NPC the party that then, controlled the federal government.”

The Oloye Aare Ona Kakanfo of the Yoruba was therefore killed in Ibadan on January 15 1966.

However, after 52 years of their exit, how far has successive Nigerian government gone in finding succor to the lives of families of the fallen heroes?

 

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