Nigerian Elections: A History and a Loss of Memory
When in December 2011, yours sincerely had an opportunity of a lifetime to visit Israeli museum built in memory of the victims of the holocaust in Europe during the Second World War, our tour guide said the place was built to remember the victims and to ensure it does not happen again. It therefore presupposes a national commitment to memory and good historical habits.
For most Nigerians, the outcome of 2019 elections as a whole gives so much concern that they have chosen to remain quiet for some time. These classes of silent-keepers have rather tried to remain meditative, and introspect on the affairs of our nation-state, Nigeria. This writer is one of such people. Despite the level of involvement or attachment to the electoral process and the deep concern for the survival of our country and the well-being of its people, one did the best to be objective in relations to the campaigns, the political parties and the 2019 election.
This analysis is a product of a deep review of the history of Nigeria’s elections and their implications over the years. This should help us revive our culture of remembrance which is naturally poor among us as a nation and a people.
In 1959, the election that ushered in political independence was conducted and superintended by the British colonial government. It produced the political leaders of Nigeria at independence from mainly the National Council for Nigerian and Cameroons (NCNC), Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) and Action Group (AG). There was seeming arrangements that portrayed power sharing and no political party looked too irrelevant in the political process. The NPC and NCNC formed an alliance to produce a federal government in which Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe of the NCNC became Governor-General and later President while NPC produced the Prime Minister in the person of Sir Abubakar Tafawa-Belewa. The AG constituted an official opposition. Despite the usual challenges of a new nation, the joy of independence triumphed over the rough interplay of the centrifugal and centripetal forces of that era.
Nigeria, in the real and practical sense commenced its electoral journey in 1964; having achieved the status of a republic in 1963 with the elections supervised by the mostly Northern Peoples Congress’ controlled Federal government. The political alliances formed by the two opposing political forces of that First Republic produced Nigerian National Alliance (NNA) and United Progressives Grand Alliance (UPGA) before the elections. The outcomes of the elections nationwide were considered massively rigged in favour of the NPC and their allies; especially in the western region. It was very glaring the signs of electoral confusion were imminent and visible. Election meant to take place on the 30th of December 1964 did not take place until 18th March 1965 in some constituencies in Eastern Region, Lagos, and Mid-Western Region due to a boycott in December. This was the early sign that Nigeria would have it tough with elections in its political journey to nationhood.
The election was marred by violence and manipulations. The ensuing crises led to series of riots in the Western region and created a situation that came to be known as Wild-Wild West. A state of emergency was declared in the West, Chief Awolowo and his associates were accused of phantom coup plotting, tried and sentenced to prison. Nigeria was not the same again.
The scenario of the period and political atmosphere created then provided an alibi for the misguided military officers who planned and executed the first military coup on January 1966, and its counter-coup of July 1966. To put it simply, blood flowed and stained the nationhood of Nigeria. The innocence of the Nigerian people was violated and many prominent and innocent citizens were murdered in cold-blood. Wanton pattern of killings and annihilations of political figures had been inaugurated; Nigeria became a theatre of blood and of senseless massacre of human lives till a full blown war took place in the seven-year old nation between 1966 and 1970.