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As It was in the Beginning

Ejiofor Alike

With the number of election-related killings in the build-up to the 2023 general election, the widespread violence that characterised the elections and Nigeria’s dependence on only crude oil as against the diversified regional and competitive economies built by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Sir Ahmadu Bello, many in these great nationalists would be turning in their graves as the country’s electoral and economic fortunes diminished.

Azikiwe, Awolowo and Bello built the foundation for politics and democracy anchored on principles, rule of law, as well as fair and free competition.

When Azikiwe returned to Lagos in 1937, he founded the West African Pilot to promote nationalism in Nigeria.

Also, his Zikist Group established newspapers in major cities throughout the country.

His efforts on nationalism paid off as he was elected to the Legislative Council in a Lagos municipal election on the platform of the National Democratic Party, an arm of the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroons (NCNC), which later became the National Council of Nigerian Citizens, between 1950 and 1953.

When Awolowo’s Action Group (AG) claimed that the NCNC was being dominated by Azikiwe’s ethnic group, the loyalists of Azikiwe always reminded them that the party “was founded in Yorubaland by the Yorubas” and “its first leader, Herbert Macaulay, was a Yoruba man.”

Azikiwe successfully led Nigeria’s struggle for independence.

He first led the NCNC into the important 1959 federal elections, shortly before independence. 

While Azikiwe was a strong advocate of nationalism and independence, Awolowo was also an influential apostle of federalism and independence.

Awolowo’s progressive views on social welfare earned him respect nationally.

On his part, Bello, had in the 1959 elections led his party, the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) to victory.

The NPC party forged an alliance with Azikiwe’s NCNC to form Nigeria’s first indigenous federal government.

NCNC eventually won Nigeria’s independence from Britain in 1960.

Though Bello made immense contributions to Nigeria’s independence, many believe that his greatest legacy was the unification of the diverse tribes in the north. 

Unfortunately, successive political leaders have failed to build on the efforts of these three great nationalists, as nationalism ended with their era.

The nationalists were replaced by ethnic and religious leaders, who wage religious and tribal wars across the country to advance their political interests.

Free and fair economic competition by the three regions that made up Nigeria has been replaced with war for ethnic and religious supremacy.

Part of the implication is that 70 years after Azikiwe’s historic election victory in Lagos, many residents of the state from other parts of the country were prevented from voting in the 2023 general election.

Sixty-three years after independence, Nigerians are still being discriminated against as non-indigenes across the country.

While competent Nigerians contest and win major elections in the United States, United Kingdom and other advanced democracies, Nigerians are still being denied the opportunity to cast their votes in their fatherland on account of their states of origin and their political choices.

Since the demise of Azikiwe, Awolowo, and Bello, Nigeria’s efforts to build an enduring democracy have always ended with the attainment of civilian rule, which does not represent democracy.

With the number of lives lost in the successive general election in the country where some of the candidates manipulated the courts to validate the results of fraudulent polls, many political scholars believe that bloodless military coups in other African countries, which are widely accepted by the people, are more democratic than Nigeria’s elections.

Reacting to the deaths in the last elections, a pro-democracy think-tank, CDD had claimed that a total of 109 election-related deaths were recorded across Nigeria in the build-up to the 2023 general election.

The organisation said its tracker recorded the deaths between January 1, and March 10, 2023, according to a statement by its CDD’s director, Idayat Hassan.

Similarly, a report by the election violence monitoring and mitigation group under the aegis of Kimpact Development Initiative, a civil society organisation, had also claimed that a total of 238 violence and 28 deaths were recorded during the 2023 general elections.

Executive Director of KDI, Bukola Idowu disclosed in a report on the 2023 elections that while a total of 98 of the total violence occurred during the February 25 presidential election, 140 were reported during the March Governorship and State House of Assembly polls.

The report titled, “The Quest for Peaceful election: The report and documentation of KDI’s 2023 general election security interventions and assessments,” was prepared with support from the National Endowment for Democracy and International Republican Institute (IRI).

As elections became increasingly violent and fraudulent, voter apathy on election day also set in, despite the increasing willingness of more Nigerians to register as potential voters.

For instance, the number of registered voters increased from 57.94 million in the 1999 general election to 60.82 million in 2003, 61.57 million in 2007, 73.53 million in 2011, 67.42 million in 2015, 84 million in 2019 and 93.46 million in 2023.

Of the 93,469,008 registered voters in the 2023 general election, 87,209,007 – 93.3 per cent– collected their Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs), making them the only ones eligible to vote in the elections.

However, only 24,025,940 registered voters came out and voted in the February 25, 2023 presidential election out of the 87,209,007 voters that were eligible to vote.

As elections became increasingly fraudulent and hotly disputed, the number of election-related cases in courts also rose, putting pressure on judges.

An apparently worried President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Monica Dongben-Mensem, had recently expressed worries over the negative impact of election cases both on the judiciary and the nation’s economy.

Dongban-Mensem, who disclosed that a total of 1,209 petitions were filed against the conduct of 2023 general election, regretted that the time spent by judges on hearing electoral disputes would have been used to settle other issues of economic and developmental values.

The appellate court president appealed to politicians to cultivate the spirit of good sportsmanship, stressing that all elections need not end in the courts.

With the country’s efforts to build enduring democracy failing, the country’s economic fortunes are also declining with many state governments unable to pay salaries and meet other basic needs of the people.

Unlike most of the Nigerian leaders of today, who are on a stealing spree, Azikiwe, Awolowo and Bello knew that public service was meant to serve the people.

Awolowo established the Western Nigerian Government Broadcasting Corporation with cocoa revenue. This successfully birthed Africa’s first indigenous television station.

Awolowo also built the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) with proceeds from the sale of cocoa.

Azikiwe, as premier of the Eastern Region, built the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, in 1955, with proceeds from oil palm.

On his part, Bello relied on groundnut to build the north, which everyone was proud of, not today’s north which is being held down by selfish political leaders, who have weaponised religion and ethnicity to advance their selfish political interests at the detriment of the masses.

Unfortunately, successive Nigerian leaders abandoned Azikiwe’s oil palm, Awolowo’s cocoa and Bello’s groundnut to rely solely on sale of crude oil.

The overdependence on oil revenue, frittering away of the proceeds from oil and the mismanagement of the country’s resources have collapsed the economy with unemployment rate soaring, while Nigeria hosts the world’s poorest people.