Tafawa Balewa And Other Prophecies

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DIALOGUE WITH NIGERIA BY AKIN OSUNTOKUN, Email: akin.osuntokun@thisdaylive.com

“Since 1914, the British Government has been trying to make Nigeria into one country, but the Nigerian people themselves are historically different in their backgrounds, in their religious beliefs and customs and do not show themselves any sign of willingness to unite… Nigerian unity is only a British intention for the country.”- Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, 1948. #HistoryVille

“During the first coup in January 1966 a small number of officers killed the internationally distinguished federal Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa”-W.F Gutteridge

“From the start, there was a clash between the personalities of the Premiers of the three regions -each obviously more important than the scholarly Federal Prime Minister, Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa”- Time magazine editorial

The burden of Pan Nigerian writers has increased in geometric proportions since the inauguration of the Muhammadu Buhari Presidency. On the haphazard and quite unrewarding journey towards nationhood, the prevailing painfully shocking dispensation has set Nigeria back to bar zero. The tragedy here is that it is almost impossible to be critical of the Buhari Presidency without getting his core constituency involved as collateral damage. The we versus them strategy of nurturing the fanatical support of his political base is so wilfully and childishly bungled that it raises the puzzle whether the prosecutors are deliberately provoking a blow up.

In contrast, it is difficult to come across any long standing observer of Nigeria, (including, strikingly, members of the international community who are, with merit, given to harbour very low and critical opinions of African leaders) who would not have something good to say of the cosmopolitan and accommodating first Prime Minister of Nigeria, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. For that matter, the coup makers of January 1966 were even said to exercise remorse on the need to eliminate him. The two sample remarks I have given are intended to serve as standard testimonials to the perception of Abubakar as a noble leader. One is from W.F Gutteridge-who comes across in his book, ‘Military Regimes in Africa,’ as one of the most outstanding commentators on the crisis that has held Nigeria prostrate since 1966. The second is a 1958 Time magazine editorial on Nigeria. “When a man of these qualities, proffers an opinion, as he candidly did in the quote above, friends and foes are obliged to take his reflections quite seriously and as made in good faith. If, therefore, the scrutiny attributed to him above, is his honest opinion, where is the need to seek scapegoats for similar reflections typified in Balewa’s disposition and to which Pan Nigerian remedial measures are proffered.

Sir Francis Cumming Bruce was the incumbent British High Commissioner to Nigeria in the uniquely fateful days, weeks and months of 1966. In that capacity and more than any other individual, he was responsible for persuading the North against secession. Of his encounters with Cumming Bruce, the frontline British journalist in Nigeria in the late 60s, Walter Gould revealed “Cumming-Bruce was able to persuade the Emirs that secession would have been an economic disaster…As Cumming-Bruce stated: ‘But it wasn’t on the face of it easy to get them to change, but I managed to do it overnight. On a second meeting with Cumming-Bruce he greeted me with the comment: ‘I sometimes wonder whether I did the right thing in keeping Nigeria together”.
Similarly bitten with buyers remorse, the neo Lugardian establishment pundit, Anthony Kirk Green, soberly reflected, “The tragedy of 1967 is that many of its seeds were not, as is often claimed, sown in October or even July 1966, but in the 1950s or, as some see it, in 1914 or maybe in 1900 itself.” And in his memorandum that crystallised from the 1957 London constitutional conference on Nigeria, the Secretary of state for the Colonies, Allan Lennox Boyd, regretted that “the North fears and dislikes the more educated Southerners and if they were not economically bound to the Federation would be glad to be quit of it. The tribal divisions that remain in Nigeria are so deep that the unity and stability of the country cannot yet be taken for granted.”

In its 1958 editorial, the Time magazine captured the scene at the London conference on the independence of Nigeria in 1957 with a sense of foreboding, “Under the great chandeliers of the Lancaster House music room, where Chopin once played for Queen Victoria, the Premiers (Nnamdi Azikiwe, Ahmadu Bello and Obafemi Awolowo) bickered, shot insults back and forth like poisoned darts.”

One of the British pioneering historians on Nigeria, Michael Crowther warned that “Any country is, in a sense, an artificial creation. In the case of Nigeria, however, union was so sudden, and included widely differing groups of people, that, not only the British, who created it but the inhabitants themselves have often doubted whether it could survive as a political entity”. Hacking back to the roots of Nigeria’s dysfunction, namely British colonialism, Walter Gould reasoned that “It could be argued that if Cumming-Bruce had not interfered, Nigeria would have fragmented into several states, possibly as a confederation, in the style proposed by Ojukwu, and most importantly war would have been avoided. However, Cumming-Bruce was only extending British policy that had been formulated in the run-up towards independence: that Britain’s investments will be best protected if the country was left to run in a ‘safe pair of hands,’ those of the Northern rulers…”

The tragic irony of British colonialism in Nigeria is that, at one and the same time, it was the creator of the country and the inseminator of the incurable virus afflicting Nigeria. No one invested in the rancour and ill will plaguing Nigeria, including the very act of creating the country, more than its British patriarch. And in this act of perfunctory cruelty, Frederick Lugard and his women (Flora Shaw and Margery Perham) were unsurpassed. As the holy book entreated, If the foundation be destroyed, what can the righteous do? ‘This is how Lugard described the baby they had given birth to in a letter to his wife on 9 December, 1916: “These people here are seditious and rotten to the core… the people of Lagos are the lowest, the most seditious and disloyal, the most prompted by pure self-seeking money motives of any people I have met.”

Extrapolating from Nigeria and taking off from where her lover left off, Margery Perham seconded: “The dealings between tropical Africa and the West must be different. Here, in place of the large unities of Asia, was multicellular tissue of tribalism: instead of an ancient civilisation, the largest area of primitive poverty enduring into the modern age. Until the very recent penetration by Europe, the greater part of the continent was without the wheel, the plough or the transport animal; almost without stone houses or clothes except for skin, without writing and so without history.”
Somewhat echoing Tafawa Balewa in lucidity, I would never have thought of Isaac Adaka Boro, he reasoned that “The attitude of the British to the Nigerian problem suggested that their handing over to Nigeria a political set up of total democratic imbalance and contradictions was satanic and a calculated trap to overwhelm the country with disastrous political upheavals. Surely, their reasons would be that they were reluctant to leave the country and were only forced out by political pressures of certain ambitious citizens of the country…What all lovers of peace and equity would tell them was that they made a mess of Nigeria and owe a profound apology to the democratic world at large.”

And the master himself, Chinua Achebe, illustrates “The rain that beat Africa began four to five hundred years ago, from the ‘discovery’ of Africa by Europe, through the transatlantic slave trade, to the Berlin conference of 1885…that controversial gathering called the scramble for Africa…which created new boundaries that did violence to Africa’s ancient societies and resulted in tension prone modern states’ Chinua Achebe in ‘There Was a Country.’ In Peter Ekeh, Nigeria ultimately lost one of the most outstanding Nigerian pandering intellectuals, “Nigerian affairs have reached a point which calls for the invocation of an olden distinction between the State and the Nation. A State is the organisation that runs the political affairs of a country, with its rulers and its bureaucracy. The people themselves and their history and cultures, their mores and ethical lives, constitute the Nation. When the social and political affairs of a country are well managed by leaders who are responsible and are respected by the people, there is a congruence between the State and the Nation. In such circumstances, there is no need for a distinction between the two. Sadly, Nigerian affairs compel us to separate the Nigerian Nation from the monster that has emerged as the Nigerian State. Increasingly, the Nigerian Nation is being victimised by the Nigerian State”.

We lately learned from Fareed Zakaria, “According to the Migration Policy Institute, 59% of Nigeria immigrants aged 25 and older hold at least a Bachelor’s degree, that is nearly double the proportion for Americans born in the US.
“It is also more than the proportion of immigrants from South Korea, China, the United Kingdom and Germany. Nigerian immigrants also get high scale jobs, 54% of them are in largely White-collar positions in management, business, science and the arts than barely just 39% of people born in the US.”
Zakaria cited the preceding excerpt from a new American Research report which revealed that Nigerian immigrants in the United States made more than $14 billion in 2018 and paid more than $4 billion in taxes in the United States.

Zakaria meant the Nigerian country profile as rebuke and exposure of the ulterior motive behind the inclusion of Nigeria in the new list of countries whose citizens are banned from seeking immigration to America by Donald Trump. From the report, it is self-evident that if achievement orientation and merit was the determinant criteria for admitting immigrants to the USA, Nigeria should top the list of desirable immigrants rather than condemning the country to the ranks of persona non grata. It is proof positive that, unencumbered by the virus of British ill will which gave birth to Nigeria in the first place, those citizens who answered to Nigerian nationality, are of equal merit with the best of the world.