Monday Column By Emmanuel Yawe
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I was unfortunate or maybe fortunate as the situation has turned out now. I was born into an opposition family. In the 1950’s when I was born, political parties were already firmly formed in the southern part of Nigeria but just taking root in northern Nigeria. The Northern People’s Congress, NPC, seemed set to take over the north when the country as whole became independent as it was planned in 1960.
My father was a famous teacher by profession – famous to the extent that more people knew him as “Teacher Yawe Abo”, than any other name – in Donga District of Wukari Federation now part of Taraba state. He also took a plunge at politics. At normal times, my father was a very humorous story teller. But his delving into politics took away a lot of humour from our house. He took the almost suicidal step of joining the United Middle Belt Congress, UMBC, one of the opposition parties in the north. There was nothing funny about this position. The UMBC and the NPC squabbled endlessly. Just before independence, we had the Tiv riots pitching NPC supporters against UMBC supporters in Benue Province in 1960. It was a fierce fight. As Bryan Sharwood Smith the colonial historian and administrator noted in his book, “But Always As friends”, more policemen died in that single riot alone than in the whole period of colonial rule in Nigeria from 1900 to 1960.
Wukari federation was part of the Northern Region which was ruled by the NPC. The UMBC, my father’s party wanted the giant north dis embowered to produce the North and the Middle Belt. This was nothing unusual, there was a similar demand from the Eastern Region to form the Calabar, Ogoja and Rives state, the COR, state; and a similar demand for a Mid-Western state from the Western Region. The NPC did not want to hear about this demand. And because of it the Benue province of the north broke into violence known as the first Tiv riots in Nigerian history. Of all the three demands only the Mid-Western region realized that dream state. Again deadly riots broke out among the Tiv and NPC supports in 1964- the second Tiv riots – which were still on when the military drove out the squabbling politicians from power in 1966.
In a military regime, once the leader whom they normally call the Supreme Commander takes a position, all others fall into line. There is no question of opposition state or opposition party. Col Ojukwu made the tragic mistake in 1966 of turning himself into opposition leader and his region into an opposition region against General Yakubu Gowon. The Nigerian Army and the mass of Nigerians teamed behind Gowon and crushed Ojukwu and his rebellion.
Then with the end of Ojukwu’s dream state of Biafra in 1970 and the return to democracy in 1979, the squabbling politicians returned. This second republic as they called it was fun especially for those who graduated from a political science class armed with a degree in that field; we wanted a piece of the political action. The political parties of those days were clearly demarcated ideologically and on programs. The Unity Party of Nigeria UPN wanted free education, free health care affordable housing and integrated rural development etc. The National Party of Nigeria proposed food and housing and qualitative education, the People’s Redemption as a party PRP wanted Nigeria run on socialist lines. The Great Nigeria Peoples Party was the sole advocate of Politics without bitterness while the Nigerian Peoples Party was advocating a liberal, mixed economy. Even the unregistered National Advanced Party proclaimed NAP declared its readiness to do battle with Mosquitos and rats which the party saw as the major menace of Nigeria. Whichever party you joined, you knew the ideological divide you bargained for. Then the military struck again at the end of 1983.
In 1999 after a long spell from a succession of military dictators, the military returned our democratic rights. We now practise democracy in which we have uncountable number of political parties as against the five we had in the second republic. This is a multi-political system with a difference. The beautiful thing about the multi-party system is it gives you a choice between party A and party B. This our current system provides no difference, not at all. Politicians move here without boundaries. They are in PDP in the morning, move to APC at noon and in the evening you meet them trying to make love with APGA at night. There are no moral scruples in all these.
In the second republic, this was a completely different game. People, principled politicians hardly moved and when they did move, you knew a political earthquake was going to follow. Chief Adekunle Ajasin came into the governor’s office Akure to meet me there in 1979. I was there working with Brigadier Sunny Tuoyo, Military administrator of Ondo state when Ajasin won elections as governor of Ondo on the ticket of the UPN. This was the party led by Chief Awolowo as national chairman and presidential candidate. His contest for presidency with Shehu Shagari was very bitter, ending up at the Supreme Court where Shehu Shagari won. We arranged his swearing into office and as an NYSC member I was very visible there because the NYSC was one of the noble achievements of the military between 1966 and 1979. When Ajasin came into office, he was expected to continue with the fireworks going on between the NPN and the UPN at the national level. He never did. He of course knew I was a Tiv man and he knew that every Tiv man believed in JS Tarka and Tarka was a top member of the NPN, elected into the Senate. Often when we met in his office or even in public, he would say I reminded him of Joseph Tarka whom I looked like and that it was at that my youthful age that they took Tarka into the Action Group. Often when he took me to his private residence in Owo during Weekends, where he went to unwind. He would take me to that his historic house where a historic decision was taken for a political party, the Action Group to be formed. The Action Group was publicly inaugurated at the historical hall on the hill in Owo town in Ondo Province on the 28th of April 1951. He showed me the house and the room where it all happened.
Adekunle Ajasin was a pleasant old man and fanatical follower of Chief Awolowo. He, Bola Ige, Lateef Jakande and Olabisi Onabanjo were the most prominent among his followers who became governors on the ticket of the UPN in 1979. Their master Chief Awolowo was very bitter at his loss of the 1999 election and so were his other supporters, particularly in the media. The inevitable Tai Solarin, the school Proprietor and columnist in Nigerian Tribune wrote in his column that it was a stolen election. But I never heard any of Awolowo’s governors utter any such bitter words on Shagari. They disagreed with him on many policies, like housing, Presidential Liaison Officers, etc. But all these disagreements were based on political party ideologies and government programs. They never descended to name calling and banal gutter language on the person of Shehu Shagari and his ethnic group. I was in a position to know, working with one of the UPN governors. The citizens of the state enjoyed good governance egardless.
My experience in Ondo was followed up with Gongola, Kaduna, Kano all of which were ruled by opposition parties and where I worked as a top flight journalist. There is also Taraba my home state where Darius Danjuma rules as an opposition state governor. He also has a lot of problems with president Buhari and Fulani herdsmen. Even poor me, hardly agrees with his policies. But he is calm and composed enough. You can never hear him heaping insults on the President and the Fulani.
The other day, it was the first Class Emir of Muri, Alhaji Abbass, a Fulani man invoking curses on his fellow Fulani tribesmen who have caused so many problems in our state. Those horrible curses and threats came from a Fulani man, an Emir not a governor.
This style of governance where a state governor mounts the soap box in the name of opposition and rains unrefined invectives on the President and his tribesmen is entirely an invention of Samuel Ortom of Benue state whose citizens have nicknamed their ‘next of kin’ governor.