How the North tamed Yoruba ambition – Tanko Yakassai


Tanko Yakassai
Tanko Yakassai

When the Action Group sent a large contingent of lawyers to Bornu to fight the NPC tactics, the NPC got the lawyers arrested immediately they arrived and sent them to detention centre. They were made to remove their shoes, their wigs and trekked to detention centres where they were all locked up. Alhaji Tanko Yakasai, elder statesman is known for his frankness when it comes to issues of national interest. In this interview with Saturday Vanguard, he took us down memory lane and declared that the renewed agitation for restructuring of the country was a Yoruba agenda that has refused die

Nigeria is 56 years old, what can you say of the journey so far?
Before we can objectively assess how far we have gone, we have to take stock of what we have been able to achieve so far and also look at where we have failed. At independence, the British created a democratic system of government which was followed by our leaders who took over from them.
We made appreciable progress in the transportation sector. Although the British left us with a functional rail system, our leaders however extended the rail to boost the transport system in Nigeria.
On water transportation they decided to dredge the river Niger to facilitate water transportation to the north for increased commercial activities. By independence, the road from Kano to Lagos was not tarred like several other major roads we have today, but the story is different today.
Thousands of kilometer of road network has also been built across the country. As at the time of independence, roads were classified as federal road, regional road and local roads. If you look at the statistics, you would agree with me that a tremendous progress was made in this sector. Similarly, we have Nigeria Airways, Nigerian National Shipping Line, we built a number steel industries such as Ajaokuta and Katsina steel, as well as Jos steel rolling mill and host of others.
I can vividly recall that by 1959, the only tertiary institution we had was the University College, Ibadan which was not even a full fledged university, but today, we have over one hundred tertiary institutions. But for the misfortune we had to be ruled by the military, our progress would have surpassed that of our peers then in the world like Brazil, India, Korea, Pakistan, Malaysisa, and Singapore.
Brazil today has an edge as it has started producing home grown automobile at a time Nigeria’s assembly plants such as Peougeot, leyland and host of others are either moribund or have packed up. Three military coups that took place in Nigeria destroyed our future.
The 1966 coup destroyed the foundation of our political development. That single sabotage destroyed the foundation of the leadership, and without leadership, you can not achieve anything in this world. The second coup of 1975 destroyed the fabrics of the civil service of Nigeria, because the tenure security of civil service as practised globally was compromised.
In the civil service, there was due process to be followed. Those who committed an infraction would be warned and queried, and if it happened again, the same processes must take place. Unfortunately under the military, a permanent secretary would leave his home to his office only to be informed by his messenger that he had been dismissed via a radio broadcast. Faithfulness was sacrificed. The affected officials were not only dismissed but they also lost their gratuity and pension.
Therefore, civil servants who hitherto flaunted unflinching loyalty started registering companies for business. The morale, the commitment, and loyalty of civil servants were destroyed over night and after the destruction of political leadership, the man who would develop the idea, and the other that would translate it to reality are destroyed, then what is left.
That was how the fabric of the society was destroyed. By the time the Sardauna, Awolowo, and Azikiwe started their development effort, they were working side by side with the people who would take over from them before they were overthrown in 1966 and between 1966 and 1979, it was military rule all through for 13 years. Luckily, we still had the disciples of the first generation of leadership, people like Bola Ige, Shehu Shagari, Lateef Jakande, Maitma sule, Michael Okpara.
During the second republic, we attempted to replicate what our political leaders started in the first Republic. These disciples started with a brand new constitution, and were learning fast on the new constitution when the military struck again in 1983. They held onto power for 19 years before handing over to one of their own again in civilian uniform.
General Obasanjo was tactically released from prison while the military was in a hurry to create their own version of Mandela, but they forgot it was a different scenario. Obasanjo was in power for eight years, and went ahead to install his successors in office.
General Obasanjo’s style of leadership was purely military in nature as he bulldozed his way to get whatever he wanted with complete disregard to democratic ethos. Now we are back to the same situation under General Buhari. These are the reasons we have a stunted growth and what happened over these long years since independence was a big step forward and a multiple steps backwards. Nigeria needs a brand new experiment on democracy where every actor would be a bloody civilian to enable us rediscover our self.
Don’t you think that bitter political rivalry among the elites across the country was equally responsible for our stunted growth?
No, no. The struggle for power was on a personal basis or how do you explain IBB coup against Buhari, how do you explain Vatsa abortive coup against IBB, it was purely a military thing, not North and south thing.
Can we continue to live like this?
No, we can not continue to live like this because it is wrong, and I am praying that we will in not too distant future have a leadership that will be committed to the Nigerian project, that would not think of where he hails from, that would not be bias, no nepotism, but think of the totality of Nigeria, while appointment would be guided by competence and not because of friendship.
But the problem with the military is that when they are in power they appoint friends and relatives. And you can see what is happening now under Buhari, the military mentality of appointing people close to you. We can only get out of it when we insist on having a pure democracy. You cannot have it when the man at the helm of affairs is half military and half civilian.
Why are you so afraid of restructuring Nigeria?
No, no, this kind of agitation is not driven by patriotism, it is driven by hate and envy. I will tell you the genesis of this campaign, it started with some politicians in the south west way back in 1959…
Are you saying agitation for restructuring preceded independence?
Yes, before the independence. Originally, Action Group as a political party was not formed to rule Nigeria. The leaders of Action Group were only interested in controlling the Western Nigeria. It was their intention to make the western Nigeria first among equals and in fairness to Awolowo, he declared free education that placed the Yorubas ahead of other ethnic groups in Nigeria.
They produced first class lawyers, engineers, quantity surveyors, architects and other quality professionals. But human nature been what it is, they realized that when you have knowledge, there is need to control political power, and that was how they started the idea of ruling Nigeria.
This was captured in a document tagged Yoruba Agenda. In that idea on how to rule Nigeria, they plotted to secure the largest representation in the parliament which would put them at an advantage to form Government. Their calculation was to support the minority in the North and consolidate on the home soil and in the process secure the nod to form Government.
They planned well, made alliance with minority groups in the north, and in the east as well, and provided the desired fund for the project. But as they were planning, the NPC also planned. Already, the constitution guaranteed the north to provide 50 percent of the elected representatives of national legislators and NPC concentrated her effort on that in the north and they never in 1959 bothered to sponsor a single candidate in the whole of southern Nigeria because the calculation was to capture the fifty percent to form the largest block.
Subsequently, they employed all sorts of tricks, both wholesome and unwholesome. Opponents were harassed, intimidated, hounded into jail, and if you go through the electoral results of that era, you would notice that NPC won unopposed. Bornu Youth Movement held sway in Bornu, and the Action Group was attracted and formed alliance with them and their calculation was that Bornu Youth Movement would join them.
But NPC decided to go brutal. When the Action Group sent a large contingent of lawyers to Bornu to fight the NPC tactics, the NPC got the lawyers arrested immediately they arrived and sent them to detention centre. They were made to remove their shoes, their wigs and trekked to detention centres where they were all locked up. However, they were granted bail on the adjourned date and the moment they secured their freedom, none of them ever stepped on Bornu soil again.
Eventually, NPC emerged the largest block, and were invited to form government. After that experience, the Action Group went back to the drawing board again to plot how to break the North monopoly in Nigerian politics. They sustained the agitation by propping up different groups and in the end, so many movements sprang up here in the north.
The intention was to plant discord among the northern elements to allow them have easy ride in the next election. When the election came in 1964, the NPC used the same strategy and got the majority. The Action Group then started to campaign that the north was too big to be allowed to remain like that and should be split into smaller units.
During the military, they were somehow silent but during the civilian regime when Ojukwu was about to declare a cessation, minority leaders from the East met the late Military Governor of Northern Nigeria, Hassan Katsina and appealed to him to use his good office to press for a state of their own. A week before the cessation, South Eastern state was created.
Having divided the east into three, the federal Government was forced to divide the west into three. The North accepted the creation of six more states and that was how 12 state structure was adopted. But when we had a shot at another election in 1979, NPN led by Shehu Shagari won the Presidential election, and that was when it occurred to the Action Group leaders who formed Unity Party of Nigeria that splitting the North into whatever number would not be a solution because the South is naturally divided into three, but the division in the north is not clear cut till today.
That was why they came up again with the idea of zonal arrangement. The idea was that the states would be Republics unlike the arrangement we have now. They were expected to have full constituent power. In their own thinking, that would make the three southern states to have an edge with their mistaken belief that the North central state which shares border with the North West and North East will work with them.
Unfortunately, I came to realize, in this blind pursuit, that most Nigerians don’t understand their country. They don’t understand that an Igala or an Ebira in the North Central shared so much affinity with his brothers in the North West and North East.
They think alike like their brothers from across the region as far as Nigerian politics is concerned. Their mentality and approach to national politics are the same. Because of these setbacks, they now came up with this idea of zonal arrangement. Unfortunately, the proponents could not come up with a comprehensive definition of what they want, some would ask for true Federalism, some are calling for fiscal federalism, and there are others who combined the two and are calling for restructuring.
From Action Group to UPN, to NADECO to PRONACO, the agitation for restructuring has always come from the people of the west Nigeria. The whole thing originated form Action Group, and the intention was to deny the North the benefits of its population and land mass. The agitation for restructuring was not borne out of good intention but a gang up to deny the north the benefits it should get for being richly endowed.
They know that they have evil intention on this idea of restructuring and to date no body has come out with a blue print on what this restructuring is all about, because they don’t want to expose themselves, as people will be against it.
The idea is impracticable because before you can force Nigeria to restructure, you have to change the constitution, and to change the constitution, you must have the support of a number of legislators in the states and 2/3 federal legislators and without the North you can not get the 2/3. Unfortunately, the intricacies of the situation have made it difficult for anyone to nurse such ambition.culled from vanguard.