As is common with most political climes around the world, infighting, backstabbing, ambition, lobbying and corruption were all rife when the First Republic kicked off in October 1st 1960.
Prior to the start of the First Republic, leaders from various regions of Nigeria had come together in one voice against the continued hold of the British colonialists on Nigeria’s fortunes. The wave of independence was upon the continent, with Ghana already an independent nation. And so, the purpose to unite the nation and push for one agenda was only natural.
Leaders such as Herbert Macaulay, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Anthony Enahoro and many more individuals who were evolving into formidable voices and a force in their locale, led the initiative for independence. For some of these individuals, the advocacy for independence gave them a national leap politically as they might have found growing organically in politics to be more difficult.
By October 1st 1960, Nigeria gained independence, even though she did not become a full-fledged republic until 1963. The Northern People’s Congress (NPC), one of the parties which constituted the national government and partly favoured by the British thus quickly courted the necessary movers and shakers, gained control of the national government and at the same time forged a coalition with the Nnamdi Azikiwe-led National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) which ruled the Eastern Region. While Tafawa Balewa of NPC was Prime Minister, Nnamdi Azikiwe became Governor-General and later President.
The peculiarity of these alliances effectively threw Obafemi Awolowo out of the equation of holding a federal government position aside that of being the opposition leader, while Samuel Akintola remained Premier of the Western Region.
One other factor which must have contributed greatly to the swift breakdown of trust between the political actors was the 1962 census figures which favoured the Northern region with a population of 29,758,975 out of a total figure of 55,620,268. The Southern Region began to feel left out in the allocation of resources in as much as census figures favoured the Northern Region more. This added greatly to the brewing bad blood between the parties and the various regional leaders.
Consequent upon all these, Awolowo might have then resolved that there was no hope for the Western Region in the scheme of things in Nigerian politics. And while the Action Group (AG), the ruling party in the Western Region held its party congress in same 1962 that the controversial census figures were released, a sharp ideological rift happened between the two leaders of the party – Obafemi Awolowo and Samuel Akintola. Awolowo wanted the Western Region to focus on its own region in a form of a breakaway from the national structure but Akintola wanted the Action Group and the Western Region to remain steadfast to the Nigerian project. The rift reverberated further deep into the party structure such that the legislature had a heated debate which resulted in them being tear-gassed at the Legislative House in Ibadan in 1962.
The national government invoked its emergency powers to administer the region directly and the Action Group imploded from that point. Akintola, premier of the Western Region formed a new party – the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) – and took over the regional government. Obafemi Awolowo got imprisoned on treasonable felony charges. The rescheduled regional elections in late 1965 were violent enough that it was evident the national and regional governments had lost control of governance. And finally, on January 15th 1966, the military took over power in the bloodiest coup the nation ever witnessed.
Though we may be quick to blame the interventionist zeal of the military as further worsening the political situation, it is also worthy to remark that most of the founding fathers of Independent Nigeria destroyed soon enough what they had fought viciously to set free, due to misplaced ambitions.
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