Nigeria’s 50 years of pain

Posted by Emmanuel Chigozie Osuchukwu | 20 August 2016 | 2,707 times

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1966 is the year that shaped contemporary Nigeria. In fact it was more eventful than 1960 that we celebrate as our year of independence. 50 years ago and precisely July/August 1966, lest we forget, Nigeria was at the throes of disintegration.

As a reminder, on 15th January 1966, a group of misguided young majors who were predominantly Igbos carried out the first military coup. The bloody coup ended Nigeria’s first attempt at democratic self-rule. Irrespective of the various interpretations of the objectives of the coup, the lopsided nature of the killings of both South-west and Northern civil and military leaders gave a strong hint of Igbo inspired coup. One undisputed fact is that the young officers did not succeed in their aims as senior officers of the Nigerian Army led by Major General Aguiyi Ironsi, an Igbo over powered the young officers and set up the first military government.

On 29th July 1966 Northern men and officers carried out an equally bloody, if not bloodier military coup. For three days, Northern elements of the Nigerian Army engaged in an orgy of violence that saw Nigerian soldiers of Eastern origin either dead or fleeing for their lives. For three days Nigeria had not even a nominal government. The harrowing point about the 29th July so-called revenge coup was not the elimination of men and officers of Eastern origin in the Nigerian Army but the violence unleashed on defenceless men, women and children of Eastern Nigeria origin. The unrest in the Army culminated in the historic massacre of the Igbos in Northern Nigeria. Some historians maintain that had the Northern soldiers concentrated on their colleagues and possibly killed some Igbo politician who were readily available in Nigeria, may be Nigeria would be in a better condition today.

In any case, it was fortuitous that Nigeria did not disappear during the three days of July 29 – August 1st as Nigerians waited anxiously until Gowon emerged to make one of the most intriguing but insightful broadcasts that a Head of State will ever make. When Gowon emerged on the 1st of August 1966, it was evident that Nigeria has irreversibly damaged the chances of building a cohesively united country as his broadcast indicated:

"………As a result of the recent events and the other previous similar ones, I have come to strongly believe that we cannot honestly and sincerely continue in this wise, as the basis of trust and confidence in our unitary system has not been able to stand the test of time. I have already remarked on the issues in question. Suffice to say that, putting all considerations to test - political, economic, as well as social - the base for unity is not there or is so badly rocked, not only once but several times. I, therefore, feel that we should review the issue of our national standing and see if we can help stop the country from drifting away into utter destruction…."

Gowon’s first broadcast remains significant in terms of Nigeria’s continuing instability. Despite almost three years of fratricidal civil war and several attempts to engender a united country, Nigeria remains a country strongly divided along ethnic lines and intensely suspicious of each other. Gowon and the Northern coup plotters knew and were only echoing what our founding fathers knew all along and precisely that Nigeria is too diverse to be ruled under a unitary system of government as Nigeria practically exists today. Nigeria exists in this form today because the Northern power block that won the power play in 1966 proceeded to exert unchallenged hold on Nigeria’s political system and that can hardly augur well for a country as complex as Nigeria. Nigeria will continue to be tested as the broadcast maintained until the country goes back to the drawing board and devise a fair and effective arrangements to coexist with each other harmoniously.

We must applaud the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osibanjo for his interesting recent lecture to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Colonel Francis Fajuyi in Ibadan- (Fajuyi was killed alongside Aguiyi Ironsi). He made an interesting remark that those who are opposed to the restructuring of Nigeria, particularly the opposing voices from the North are a disservice to the memory of blessed Ahmadu Bello. Ahmadu Bello, Northern Nigeria’s foremost leader maintained till he died that Nigeria is too diverse to be ruled with a centralised form of government. He stood for a decentralised government, allowing substantial autonomy to the component parts of the federation. Even after the nightmare of January and July 1966, the different regions of Nigeria in the attempted constitutional conferences before the outbreak of war opted for some form of confederation. What really changed our wisdom? Let us not forget in this year of the 50th anniversary of Nigeria’s Annus horribilis, that Major General Aguiyi Ironsi was accused and killed for having the audacity to opt for a unitary form of government as enacted in Decree 34 of 1966. How long shall Nigeria wait to realise that the constitutional arrangement currently in place is erroneous, deceitful, unrealistic, and ineffective? Contemporary Nigeria is a child of historical accident and proven to be prone to crisis and conflicts. We can resolve to remedy the situation. The old Igbo adage comes to mind – It is better to look for a black goat while daylight remains than when it is dark.

Emmanuel Chigozie Osuchukwu, whose photo appears alongside this piece, can be reached by e-mail via or tel: +447880600236.

Source: News Express

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