Nigerian Minorities’ Rights to be heard
By our Correspondent
The upshot of the 1957 London Conference was the Henry Willinks Commission, which was appointed to enquire into the fears of the Nigerian minorities and the means of allaying them. K.J. Hiton was made the Secretary appointed in London on 30th July, 1958, and with a mind-set of the stand already taken in London: “I felt rather that the first tasks of the commission was to enter sympathetically into the minds of minority groups and individuals and to probe for an acceptable solution for fear exposed even though, as the terms of conference contemplated, those fears might prove ill-founded. The commission would be concerned with conciliation as well as adjudication.” From this, one is right to conclude that the British government with its colonial mentality was unwilling to create states for the minority groups of Nigeria.
From 23rd November, 1957, to 29th November to 2nd December, to 24th December, 1957, there were public sittings of the commission in Lagos, Ibadan, Oyo, Benin, Warri and back to Lagos, in order to listen to the complaints of the people of these areas. From 25th December to 2nd January, and 30th March, 1958, the public sittings continued and were held in Enugu, Calabar, Port-Harcourt, Buca Cameroon – then in Nigeria. The pubic sittings of the commission continued in Kaduna, Minna, Ilorin, Lokoja, Jos, Yola, Makurdi, Zaria, Kano, including private meetings in Lagos in particular, with the representatives of the Federal and Regional Governments. In the Middle-Belt Region, there were very strong agitations put forward for the creation of Middle-Belt Region.
In the defunct Eastern Region, there were arguments put forward in favour of the creation of Ogoja State, a Cross River State, a Calabar-Ogoja-Rivers State, which was referred to as “the COR State” and a River State. All those proposals were presented to the commission by counsel as was the government of the defunct Eastern Region. The government adhered to the view, which had always been the doctrine of the then NCNC party. If the view were to be accepted, the NCNC reasoned, and rightly too, that other Regions were to be treated in the same way; it would agree to the creation of smaller states within what was then the Eastern Region.
In the defunct Northern Region, the people of the Middle-Belt insisted that their best hope for the future lies in the creation of Middle-Belt Region. In population, there were more Animists and Christians than the Muslim. Only at the beginning of the 19th century there rose among the Fulanis, a nomadic people who came into the territory more recently than the Hausa, a man of Islamic learning, Othman dan Fodio. To further advance the cause for the creation of the Middle-Belt Region, the people of the Region formed a political party in 1955 from two smaller parties representing the minorities who occupied an area, which was described as ‘lying outside the defunct Northern Nigeria.’ Another element of the opposition to the former Northern Region was the Yoruba group in Ilorin, Offa and Kabba, who had advocated the transfer of their areas to the former Western Region. The old Action Group supported the cause of the Middle-Belt through supporting the local parties in Ilorin and Kabba and the United Middle-Belt Congress (UMBC) in the Middle-Belt area.
Late Dr. Azikiwe, a famous nationalist, who was at that time Premier of the the Eastern Region, unfortunately did everything and frustrated the demands of the minorities. Late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, in his book: “Path to Nigerian Freedom,” warned: “Certainly, these minority groups are at a considerable disadvantage when they are forced to be in the midst of other peoples who differ from them in language, culture and historical background.” He stressed further that, “Under a true Federal Constitution, each group, however small, is entitled to the same treatment as any other group – however large. Opportunity must be afforded to each to evolve its own peculiar political institution.” Part of the first meeting at Oke-Ado residence of late Chief Awolowo, which gave rise to the formation of the Action Group, he again warned, “We have to reorganize, look at it this way. All over the country, you have farmers and peasants, fishermen and labourers barely earning a living. They have millions of children who cannot go to school because their parents cannot afford the fees. If somebody does not do something about it, there is going to be trouble in this country in another decade or so.” What a prophetic saying. If our past leaders had taken to his advice, we would not have been experiencing the type of insecurity that has enveloped the country.
Kole Omotoso postulates that: “In the old Western Region, dominant Yorubas were more interested in the cultural and political revival of the Yoruba people than in dream of empire. Economically, cocoa, the main export crop of the Region, came mainly from Yorubaland so that not even economic consideration could compel them to seek to obstruct self-determination for the national minorities in the Region.” It is clear to see that only Chief Awolowo, the then Premier of the Western Region, was intellectually committed to self-determination for Nigeria’s minority ethnic groups. The Mid-West State Movement, grouping the Edos, Western Ibos, Urhobos, Itsekiri, Isoko, Ijaws and a dozen other groups in Nigeria’s Mid-West, was able to secure freedom in 1963 after Independence, and that achieved the first breakthrough for the minorities.
Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe’s return to the country in 1938 had introduced an aggressive form of journalism into the country; brought militant form of nationalism or rather anti-colonial agitation for those that wanted a departure from the accommodated politics of Lagos, but he was the same person who frustrated the creation of regions in the country for the ethnic minority groups. Zik returned to the then Eastern Nigeria and ousted Eyo Ita, a minority from the Eastern House of Assembly, and became Head of Government. Eyo Ita, a man from the minority area of Calabar, bided his time, formed another political party and stayed on as a member of the Eastern House of Assembly as an opposition member.
In Ilorin, Alhaji Sule Maito was the leader of the Ilorin Talaka Parapo, an alliance of the poor, and did not see the then North as one monolithic mass of Hausa-Muslims. During one of the political gatherings in Ilorin, he was quoted to have remarked thus: “Look at us here in Ilorin. Travel from here to the back of the Niger and down the river. The only language you will hear is Yoruba, not Fulfulde or Hausa. We are a part of Western Region and we should be allowed to return to Western Region.” Chief J. Olawoyin was one of the followers of Alhaji Sule Maito. At a political meeting in Ilorin, Olawoyin introduced Alhaji Sule Maito to Chief Awolowo. Alhaji Maito told Awolowo to break the monopoly of the Feudalists of the North by insisting on the creation of separate Regions for the minorities of Nigeria.
The first meeting of the then Northern Regional Cabinet took place in January, 1961, in the residence of the Sardauna of Sokoto, Premier of the former North. This was what he said: “As from now, much of my time is going to be spent in spreading Islam, in converting the kaferi among us to Sirat Almustaqim, the straight part delineated by the Prophet Muhammed Sallah Allah was-Salam. I will need your help. We have to begin among our own unbelievers. Among the tribes of the Plateau, those peoples of the Middle-Belt and then we can go South.”
The speech was reported by the Nigeria Citizen. The reporter said that the Sardauna was becoming the messenger of Islam. The Sardauna reacted to the report and replied as follows: “My attention has been drawn to page II of the Nigerian Citizen issue No.1369 where you call me a messenger of Allah. I do not claim to be one, and I shall never do so in my life. Prophet Mohammed is the last of Allah’s prophets and messengers. I demand an apology and cancellation of these words against my name now and not to recur, repeat, not forever.” Alhmadu Bello, Sardauna. The Sardauna continued, “I have searched through all our holy writings; I know of no situation where the kaferi rule over the Muslim.” In the first year, after Independence, Ahmadu Sardauna spent time to breed some species of new Nigeria who were to evolve into “Kaduna Mafia.” In the words of S.G. Tyoden, “Kaduna Mafia is a central political force in this country. Its basic preoccupation is not merely the promotion of the interest of its individual members but of what it sees as Northern interest.
The crux of this Northern interest is the advancement of Hausa-Fulani control of key institutions and processes of government in the country.” S.A. Ochoche has remarked that, “That part of the political manipulations of the Kaduna Mafia is to use non-mafia elements as figureheads in political position, who for what amounts in the final analysis to peanuts, cooperate to make the mafias’ political control of the system a possibility.” But Zwingina, in a similar vein, saw the Kaduna Mafia as the weakest political force in Nigerian politics whose only solid capital is propaganda, to a supposed political bankruptcy. The Northern Elements Progressive Union, a Hausa party based in Kano, on the whole was a party of artisans and peasants, whose leader – late Alhaji Aminu Kano – a veteran politician, had a belief in democratic ideas and planned to modify the autocratic rule traditional in Hausa area. The party was in the opposition.
During the period of struggle by the British Companies, after they had imposed bans to ensure that the natives of Asaba did not compete with them in the sale of liquors, Dennis Osadebay took up the fight and advocated for the annulment of the prohibition imposed by the British on his people. He also dealt with the issue of dividing the River Niger between Onitsha and his people, Asaba, which ended peacefully. Dennis Osabebay was then the Premier of the Mid-West Region at the time of the takeover by the military, and had joined politics at that time.
Because of the grave social injustices that were done to the minorities of the former Eastern Nigeria and the policy that gave rise to entrenchment of Ibos in dominant positions spurred the minorities to demand autonomy. In the Calabar area were Chiefs Murphy and E.O. Oyo; from the Rivers area were Chief Harold Dappa-Biriye, whose belief in Rivers State for almost two decades was unshakable. One Mr. T.N. Paul Birabi from Ogoni was one of the main agitators and struggled for the creation of Rivers State. Isaac Boro, who personally experienced indigenous colonialism, said that Nigerian politics had presented harsh oppression of minorities and were exploiting his people, the minorities said to be handicapped by their perceived numbers. The Niger Delta people, he believed, were exposed to threats that posed to their existence by the politics of competitive ethnicity of the major groups in the country. Isaac quit the force – the Nigeria Police – in 1961 and went to read chemistry in the University of Nsukka because of ethnic politics. When he lost in student council election, he left the university.
Isaac concluded that, “In Nigeria, minorities were strictly second-class citizens.” Isaac along with his close associates – Sam, Owonaru and Nottingham Dick – formed a self-help association, which they called “WXYZ,” dedicated to promotion of employment and political education of their people. The group concluded that, “If we do not move now, we would throw ourselves into perpetual slavery.” In February, Boro declared an independent republic and state of emergency in the Niger Delta. In the same year, Isaac Boro, Samuel Owonaru and Nottingham Dick were charged with treason and convicted to death sentences, which was after commuted. Isaac Boro died in the Biafran War, fighting on the Nigerian side. He was born at Oloibiri, where oil was first discovered.
Chief Anthony Enahoro, who had been a parliamentarian in the old Western Region, was in London to experience the working of the British Parliament. On his return to the country, he brought a Private Member’s Bill in the House of Representatives in Lagos asking British grant independence to Nigeria. Chief Enahoro stressed that the request was not controversial and so suggested that the Independence should be in 1956. Chief Enahoro had been a strong advocate for the freedom of the minorities of Nigeria. That singular act brought serious riot in Kano, since the people did not favour the independence.
In a book, “This House Has Fallen,” Saro-Wiwa was quoted to have said, “The present division of the country into a federation in which some ethnic groups split into several states, whereas other ethnic groups are forced to remain together in a difficult unity system inimical to the Federal culture of the country, is a recipe for dissension and future wars.” What he declared before turning to Ogoniland: “Twenty years after the war, the system of revenue allocation, the development policies of successive federal administrations and the insensitivity of the Nigerian elite, have turned the Delta and its environs into an ecological disaster and dehumanized its inhabitants.” Saro-Wiwa said, he wrote the Ogoni Bill of Rights, which was adopted during meetings among key leaders and intellectuals in Ogoniland, courtesy of Karl Maier. Saro wrote, “The Ogoni are so far down in the well, only shouting loudly could they be heard by those on the surface of the soil.”
MOSOP, according to Saro, was formed, in order to drum the state of affairs in Ogoniland. The organization was formed at Kobani’s house and Leton was chosen as president, while he remained its publicity secretary. The MOSOP said, Shell in collaboration with successive federal establishments, had been practicing ethnic politics, thus, gradually pushing the Ogoni people into slavery and possible extinction. Owing to harsh economy in Ogoniland, he stressed, young men abandoned their fathers, mothers and sisters and migrated to the slums in Port-Harcourt in search of jobs. In the course of the struggle, members of the militant wing of MOSOP were accused of participation in the killing of Chiefs Samuel Orage, Theophilus Orage and Albert Badey, when they were in a meeting at the Palace of Chief Gbenemene of Gokana.
Ken Saro-Wiwa was arrested along with other Ogoni activists. Instead of judging the suspects in an established court, Abacha established a Civil Disturbances Special Tribunal of two judges and one military officer. There was no right of appeal, and Death Penalty was imposed on the suspects. Three days later, Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni activists were hanged, in 1995, at the main Port-Harcourt Jail, and their bodies were said to have been sprinkled with lye to speeden the decomposition. They were buried in an unmarked grave. Their trial and execution received outcry condemnations – to which the international jurists described the court as “a Kangaroo court.”
The problems of the Nigeria ethnic groups started during post-1957 Willinks Commission on Minorities, which was not implemented. On the contrary, obnoxious decrees were introduced and implemented by the successive military administrations that brought about Nigerian Federalism supplanted by Unitarism. The over-400 identified ethnic nationalities are the bedrock on which Nigeria is superimposed. Nigerian ethnic nationalities have been disenfranchised and sidelined in the process of administrative rule as well as structural transformation. Also grave is the problem of corruption, which emanates from too much concentration of control of the country’s resources and revenue in the centre. Another problem of the country had been aggravated by the contention of the three main ethnic groups for control of political power in the centre, and the reduction of ethnic nationalities to “zombie” status – “the heavers of wood and fetchers of water.”
In the Middle-Belt, Chief J.S. Tarkaa, under the United Middle-Belt Congress (UMBC), took up the struggle for self-determination of its ethnic nationalities, in order to assert their identities who to their detriment were lumped together with the major groups Hausa/Fulani. The smaller an ethnic group the more painful its experience. The Middle-Belt experienced indigenous colonialism of the highest order. Within the Middle-Belt, the Tiv, under the Middle-Belt Movement, put up quite a fight led by late J.S. Tarkaa, a veteran young politician, who was the most vocal and politically conscious of the Middle-Belt Region. The fight for self-determination was regarded by mischievous persons as a rebellion against the defunct Northern Region. Under the movement, the war raged for over two years and needed the intervention of the Nigerian Army and the Police to put down. There is still a deep sense of ethnic grain that runs in Nigeria society today, partly because of the long standing conflict, which is deeply rooted in the nature of the amalgamation. In the words of S.G. Tyoden, “J.S. Tarka was not only a non-Moslem from the Middle-Belt factors that on their own were enough to keep him out of the inner core of the Northern establishment – but was most importantly seen as the major opponent of the Northern establishment.”
General Zamani Lekwot’s Long Road to Golgotha – Dispute over the siting of a market in Zangon Kataf led to the fighting between the people of Kataf and Hausa communities in February, 1992. Justice Rahila Cudjoe Panel was set up to go into the root of the causes, in order to provide solutions for a lasting peace. Two months after that, exactly in May 15, 1992, two issues developed to what was regarded as “religious” war between the Hausa community and the people of Kataf the indigenous people. The conflict did not only confine to Zangon Kataf, but Kaduna, Zaria and adjoining towns, became battlefields. Zamani Lekwot, a retired Major-General, had the confidence and the drive to go round asking for the best ways to restore peace in his strife-torn community and state. He was arrested when he was on a mission to bring peace. The generality of people attacked the “singling” out of the Kataf tribe for persecution, if not total annihilation. The deduction was made from the nature of arrests of most prominent Kataf people and others, of which General Zamani Lekwot was the most prominent, and was the target.
Late Yohanna Madaki, a retired colonel and former military governor, said, “General Lekwot is a man of international repute. He was ambassador to Senegal, which included those other little countries like the Gambia and the rest. He was an outstanding military cadet in India, where he schooled for five years. The first all-round cadet in the Indian Military Academy (in his set), and commanded the passing out parade in Hindu. That record has not been beaten, and India is a very big country.” Born in his area, Jankasa, his march to repute was porch-marked by sound education and with a wide range of experience. He attended many courses, including that of the military in the country. A journalist regarded by his contemporaries as an “authority” on Lekwot, said, “The General’s travail” is a very complex issue. And, of course, you have to understand it against the background of the politics of the minority in Northern Nigeria – the struggle between the minorities and the emirate system. Lekwot, he stressed, because of his influence has become a fulcrum of the “Middle-Belt” struggle for self-assertion and was, therefore, “done in” to clip his wings.
General Lekwot and his group were charged for culpable homicide punishable by death. The Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC), the country’s highest ruling body, then set up a “powerful tribunal” under the chairmanship of Justice Benedict Okadigbo. When the case was in progress, government headed by Babangida rolled out Decree No.55, which ousted the capacity of any court to challenge the tribunal’s ruling. Those charged before the tribunal were: General Zamani Lekwot, ACP Juri Ayok (rtd), Major James Atomic Kude (rtd), Yohanna Karau Kibori, Markus Mamman, Yahaya Duniya, and Julius Sarki Zaman Dabo. Juri Ayok, then ACP (rtd), then Kataf Local Government chairman, was dismissed and re-arrested, the district head of Zangon Kataf, all the eight village heads of the Kataf ethnic group, all Kataf community leaders, teachers and students. Prominent Kataf government functionaries were dismissed from office and put under detention.
The police investigation was put into question; in spite of the fact that a Commissioner of Police was brought from Lagos to enforce neutrality, but the powers that be frustrated the investigation until one of their own was brought to tailor the report of the police investigation to their liken. Chief G.O.K. Ajayi, the lead defence counsel for General Lekwot, withdrew in protest because “the trial would lead to nowhere close to justice and fairplay.” The defence lawyers on 4th January withdrew their service in the culpable homicide case, saying, “Their professional career was at risk with the promulgation of the Decree. Justice Okadigbo and five other members of the tribunal enthusiastically applied themselves to the cases before them. Chief Godwin Alaye Graham Douglas (SAN) withdrew his services a few months after the tribunal commenced sitting, on matter of principle. Late Graham Douglas (SAN), from one of the famous houses of Abonima, was born well bred, too.
In an interview with Assistant Editor Goddy Nnadi and Co. in African Concord of February, 1993, late Colonel Yohanna Madaki (rtd) was asked if he had lost faith in the tribunal right from the start. He answered, “Yes. By the nature of the composition of the tribunal itself, it was clear that the accused persons will not receive fair trial. Again, other official interferences provided adequate weapon to convict them. This is no justice.”
In a deathly silence, which enveloped the courtroom, Justice Okadigbo found the accused persons guilty; he pronounced they would die “by hanging in the neck.” Besides Juri Ayok, the deposed chairman of the Zangon Kataf local government area, who was discharged and acquitted of the murder charge, General Zamani Lekwot and the other six were allayed to be guilty; hence the death sentence. Chief Emeka Ojukwu, the Ikemba Nnewi, summed his reaction to the African Guardian, thus: “This is a sad day for Nigeria. I do not know the legalities involved nor do I care, but these men must not be killed. The government should tackle head-on the problem of religious crisis, which I fear may spread if they are hanged.” President, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Archbishop Olubunmi Okogie, addressed a Press Conference in Lagos during which he condemned attempts to make Lekwot and other Kataf people “scape-goats.” Archbishop Peter Jatau, the Catholic Archbishop of Kaduna (emeritus), believed that “government has an undue interest in the case.” In the interest of justice and application of fundamental human rights, he advised, justice should be allowed to prevail, and that, “Executing any of those condemned will only make the situation worse.”
Late Colonel Madaki (rtd), one of the defence counsels, who withdrew from the controversial case, painted the latest development this way: “What was happening was gangsterism. It was a scandalous setting. At the earliest opportunity, I had brought out to the authorities that the tribunal, by its setting and appointment of Mr. Justice Benedict Okadigbo as chairman, was not qualified to be the platform in which justice can be done … he is more like a riot Police man … anybody found at the scene is considered guilty.” Ochereome Nnana of TSM Sunday Magazine of February 14, 1993, put the following question to late Colonel Yohanna Madaki: “Will you put in joint efforts to beg IBB for Lekwot’s pardon?” He replied, “Beg?” He stabbed with the word. “No human being has a right to be begged. Let me tell you one thing; this trial has brought a change in my life. I have lost interest in national affairs. What is the use? The judiciary, which is supposed to be the last hope of the oppressed, has failed: it is manned by tin-gods. In this country, your past records, especially the good ones, count against you. Now, might is right. If you have power, you can do anything and get away with it. No institution exists to which the person you oppress can run to. I won’t beg IBB. I won’t.”
Among the voices of dissent was that of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), who also condemned the decision of the tribunal, describing it as “a kangaroo judgment,” delivered in “a kangaroo court.” We have since come to regard the law courts not as cathedrals but casinos. Only the ethnic minority groups who have been oppressed and marginalized can tell of their painful experiences of marginalization by the acceleration of lawlessness of the political class in the country who had controlled state power. The ethnic minority groups must claim sense of dignity and continue to tell the chronically-corrupt politicians and mediocre who are morally bankrupt and have nothing to offer. Persons born within the Nigerian minority ethnic groups to day is regarded with second-class citizen status and, therefore, disadvantaged. These gorgeously dressed puppets, with their stooges pretending to be fighting a nationalist struggle, and championing the cause of an illusionary geographical area, are in fact the enemies of the people. Most of them are chronic treasury looters, morally bankrupt. They have nothing good to pass to the present and up-coming generations.
The National Conference held is the only good thing that had happened in the history of this country, and it came at the right time, too. We recommend strongly that the Presidency must implement the recommendations to the latter. The National Conference was indeed comprehensive and should not be sent to the National Assembly because the legislators are part of our problems and, besides, they will be asked to take decision on the issues that affect them. Some of them have been busy championing ethnic and religious bias. The country is in the current mess because they have been sabotaging the cause of democracy, thus bringing negative effects, while they should be responsible for guarding the working systems of government.
People or politicians who at 70 years’ old, with no moral values to pass to the coming generations, are busy campaigning to govern a country where the average age is just twenty, and nearly four in ten citizens are under the age of 15 years. Ken Saro-Wiwa in his book, “ON A DARKLING PLAIN,” which is the account of the last Nigerian Civil War, is of the view that “extremity of deception always produces extremity of disillusionment and reaction.” He also believed – and rightly, too – that competition between the three major ethnic groups in Nigeria brought about the civil war and continues to threaten to destroy the country. All these unhealthy and unjust competition has and will continue to do grave injury to the minority ethnic groups who have been continually marginalized, making Nigeria one of the most unjust societies in the world today.
As most of us have been saying, the last National Conference has rightly recommended the creation of more states, which to our mind, was based on cultural amalgamations, which we believe will remove constitutional and structural imbalances and barriers. For more unity of Nigeria to be sustained, the type of government the people have been clamouring for is the Parliamentary System of government with a Prime Minister elected from the Parliament, and who shall be Head of Government and President who shall be Head of State in-charge of diplomacy and Foreign Affairs. HHead of State in-charge of diplomacy and Fore