The Lowdown Hub

The mistake of 1966, and October 1 1960 in Nigeria, four regions were erected on the pillar of truth

At Independence on October 1, 1960, Nigeria, with three, and later, four regions were erected on the pillar of true federalism. But, on assuming office, the first military Head of State, Major General Thomas Aguiyi-Ironsi, dumped the federal principle and adopted a unitary structure. Subsequent military regimes have built on that ‘political mistake’. The many constitution reviews since then have not reversed the horror of ‘unification.’ Deputy Editor EMMANUEL OLADESU traces the mistake of military intervention, which for years, has compounded the task of nation-building

FIFTY-five years after, Nigeria is still in a fix. Although the military rule is now old-fashioned, the bewildered country is yet to fully recover from its devastating effects. The federal principle was liquidated, making Nigeria, an amalgam of incompatible and highly heterogeneous social formations, to slide into an avoidable unitarist enclave, barely six years after independence. Since then, the retracing of steps has been difficult.

So impactful negatively has the military legacy been that 21 years after the restoration of civil rule, the country has not recovered from the dominant culture of over-centralization of power, which has made the component units puppets existing at the financial whims and caprice of the power-loaded distant government.

The puzzle is: when will true federalism be restored?

As Nigerians reflect on the coups and counter-coups of January 15, 1966, they agonize over the misadventure of the military interlopers, whose main legacy was the abolition of power devolution. The national question stares the beleaguered nation-state in the face. Some leaders even manipulate the agitation for devolution on the borrowed platform of restructuring for partisan reasons.

But, to observers, the solution to the fundamental issue appears elusive, making the diverse stakeholders, many of who have lost national outlook, push for the renegotiation of the basis for national unity and peaceful co-existence. Others are advocating for a loose federation, and even, disintegration or secession, without much reflection.

As Nigeria still fails to grapple with its fundamental identity, participation, and distribution crises, its leadership has not been able to rekindle confidence about the prospects of unity in diversity, the inherent advantage of a big economic market, and the utility and combined strengths of its numerical strength.

The genesis was the mutiny by soldiers, who were fed up with the activities of politicians who promoted ethnicity, religious division, corruption, and general maladministration. But, having displaced the legitimate authorities, they proceeded to wreak monumental havoc on the polity by pursuing an agenda, which made the antics of the civilian leaders a child’s play.

Many commentators have argued that the civilian government emphasized centrifugal forces in the political system. The polity was just evolving under Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. The first six years of democracy were turbulent. Many errors were made by antagonistic leaders from diverse regions.

But, the first military regime built on this faulty foundation by stressing the same centrifugal forces in the various political associations of the diverse people of Nigeria.

The conspirators, led by Major Kaduna Nzeogwu, were bubbling with idealistic yearnings. They are unmindful of the implications of their mission for the emerging federal country. Nzeogwu’s co-travelers were Chris Anuforo, Emmanuel Ifeajuna, Donatus Okafor, and Wale Ademoyega. They marked down Balewa, the four premiers, and some key ministers for elimination. Also, they planned to kill their superior officers, who were perceived as strong men capable of foiling the coup.

The mutineers succeeded in killing the Head of Government, the Minister of Finance, Chief Festus Okoti-Eboh, the Premier of the Northern Region, Sir Ahmadu Bello, and his Western counterpart, Chief Ladoke Akintola.

It appeared that the top civilian leaders were actually ignorant of where military control lay in constitutional reality; hence, they failed to avert the looming danger. The ceremonial President, Dr, Nnamidi Azikiwe, an Igbo, was