By Basil Okoh
IF YOU ARE FROM THE SOUTHERN PART OF NIGERIA, THIS IS ONE TO READ…..TO THE END!
On a day in late December 1982, Lagos House Marina was filled with politicians of the second republic and the premises was overflowing with cars to the NET Building and back to the Museum in Onikan. The two year effort of the four political parties of the Progressive People’s Alliance (PPA) to fuse together and present a united platform to oppose the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) in the 1983 general elections was to be finally decided that day.
The two titans of the NPP and UPN Nnamdi Azikiwe and Obafemi Awolowo again, as in the first republic, finally announced their inability to work together to present a united opposition to defeat the NPN going into the 1983 elections.
The opposition parties were GNPP, PRP (Abubakar Rimi/Balarabe Musa faction), NPP and UPN. They failed after two years of meetings and acting together, to fuse into one formidable political party to challenge the ruling NPN under a single united platform.
It was a sombre evening and the harmattan haze formed a patina of fog across the marina and the lagoon, as far as the eyes can see to the wharf across the lagoon. It was a foreboding fog announcing the loss yet again of Hope and friendship built in two years of political meetings. Two years of work done to harmonize policies among four political parties ended that evening. Many could not leave the grounds until late in the night, refusing to believe that all the work done was lost and all the hope for change was over.
Nobody wanted to believe that the deeply conflicted NPN and President Shehu Shagari would remain in power after the 1983 election.
As the nation was ushered into the new year of 1983, the individual opposition political parties struck out on their own and in their different regions of voter strength, armed with a renewed determination to win ground from the NPN and upend its majority in the National Assembly and as well, take over the presidency.
Abubakar Rimi of the New-PRP working in alliance with NPP launched a blistering campaign on the grounds of the Kano stadium. There he gave one of the most towering campaign speeches in Nigerian political history. It was a two hour tour de force, charged with passion and electricity, so scintillating, so rousing and so convincing.
The crowd was so worked up that the stadium and the entire Kano City was reverberating and thundering with roars of “chanji”. Rimi spoke in the three languages of Hausa, Fulfulde and English without a break and with such fluency and electricity.
Abubakar Rimi and Balarabe Musa were scions of Aminu Kano in PRP and of the old NEPU and Hausa Talakawa fame. Aminu Kano was already going soft on his radicalism and there was suspicion that he had forged an alliance with NPN.
Abubakar Rimi and Balarabe Musa was to seize the grounds in Kano and Kaduna, the two most important states in Northern Nigeria. This left NPN in sweat and desperation for survival and relevance in the north, their own fiefdom.
Chief Obafemi Awolowo and the UPN bought 265 mini buses for the campaigns. The great man was determined to put a lie to the myth that northerners would never vote for Awolowo or a southerner in a presidential election in Nigeria. He was determined to break free of the middle men and political jobbers who blocked northern voters from progressive and libertarian ideas of the south and held down political progress in northern Nigeria.
Afraid of Chief Awolowo’s moves in the north, meetings were held to warn off prominent politicians from accepting to be Awolowo’s running mate in the presidential election. Awolowo moved camp to the old Bauchi and among the minorities of Das and Gombe, he fished out a quiet but not so popular radical Mallam Mohammed Kura, who bonded with him as running mate.
The Southern opposition candidates decided to cut through the political brokers and dealers and instead talk directly to low level teachers, technicians and other professionals and educated artisans in the communities and ethnicities. The mini buses played local language tapes all over the villages, in gatherings and markets across the old Sokoto state (which presently comprises of Sokoto, Zamfara and Kebbi States). The people followed and listened to the Four Cardinal Programs and other messages of UPN and Obafemi Awolowo.
Nnamdi Azikiwe and the NPP moved into the Middle Belt and particularly to his state of birth, Niger state. He already had Plateau and Benue states under the belt of the NPP and moved men and materials to consolidate the hold of the party in these states.
Nnamdi Azikiwe, a native Hausa speaker, mounted the political podium for the last encounters of his long and eventful political career. Zik of Africa was without any challenge, the grandmaster of the soapbox in the entire African continent.
In Lagos state, yours truly at 25 was handed the task of leading the publicity charge of Chief Babatunde Edu, governorship candidate of the NPP against the most formidable “Baba Kekere” Alhaji Lateef Jakande and Chief Obafemi Awolowo of the UPN.
As precocious and presumptuous as I then was, I knew it was worse than a David versus Goliath encounter. UPN had in it’s column, all the brains in the advertising industry and all the ownership of the media. We started with direct body blows to Alhaji Lateef Jakande, portraying his many schools as no better than poultry farms and not worthy of Lagos. We mounted 40 sheet billboards on Herbert Macauley and Alaka. I also paired with Dr. Henrylin Ibezim, National Publicity Director of NPP and we made national impact, particularly across the Middle Belt. The music of Laz Ekwueme drew natives of the Middle Belt to NPP and donations flowed in.
The northern voter is willing and ready to embrace southern candidates and their progressive ideas but are held back by northern political jobbers who stand between the voters and southern candidates. They exploit their mass ignorance to preach hate against identifying with the “radicalism” of Southern politicians and non-Muslims.
These jobbers go further with violence to seize the voting process and machinery on election day and ensure that the electoral choices of the talakawa is denied. All sorts of voter fraud is achieved by exploiting the ignorance of the people and manipulating them to achieve predetermined outcomes.
If you remove the different forms of voter fraud, half the office holders in the core north will not be elected and a different set of politicians will be in office. They make sure you do not have direct access to the people while at the same time having direct and unhindered access to your own people.
The youth and peoples of the north are as demanding for change as the people of Southern Nigeria. Kano state for instance is the hotbed of political radicalism. But the elite and politicians of the north block them off from access to enlightened progress from the South. They are warned and scared off from accepting southern political influencers. They do this by religious sloganeering and fear mongering. If you recall that in 2022, an entire state did not register any student for the School certificate examination, you will begin to understand the depth of the problem in Northern Nigeria.
There are no people who like to be oppressed and kept down and away from progress. The people’s of Northern Nigeria are no different. The northern people are ruled and controlled by false religionists who use Islam for political gain. To the elite of the north, Islam is a tool for political control, necessary to build a rampart against knowledge and acceptance of the modern world. They preach self serving misinterpretations of Islamic doctrines.
If there’s something the Fulani dread, it is to raise the consciousness of the Hausa peasantry against Fulani over lordship. For that, they will be ready to go to war or upend Nigeria.
NPN launched counter attacks of it’s own but the party was divided and had lost public goodwill. It’s mixed messaging and tepid appeal to nationalism was ineffectual as MKO Abiola had left the party for being excluded from presidential primaries and his newspaper “Concord” launched a tirade against NPN.
NPN had to resort to extra legal strategies to win the 1983 election. It formed the Mobile Police Unit (MOPOL), an armed police group trained to quell by use of violence, any insurrection against the ruling party. MOPOL became a law unto itself during the elections, killing and maiming and helping to force forged results at the polling places.
Despite all that, NPP and UPN had exceptionally strong showings in core northern Nigeria and the result was so exasperating and numbing to the ruling oligarchy that an urgent nocturnal meeting of the Kaduna mafia was called at the close of voting but before the announcement of results.
The actual result was a shellacking of NPN in it’s traditional base, northern Nigeria. Foreign secret reports affirmed that UPN gave a drubbing to NPN in Sokoto and Kwara states winning these along with its traditional five South-Western states. NPP took Benue, Plateau and more shocking, Niger and Bauchi states to add to it’s base in the South-East. Samuel Ogbemudia, governorship candidate of NPN, moved into Bendel State with tonnes of fake twenty naira notes printed in Hong Kong by NPN for the purpose of the elections. Ogbemudia lost the state but was declared winner all the same.
The Kaduna mafia meeting was stalemated as many called for the cancellation of the entire election while others reasoned that another election could bring worse results and anarchy.
It was a northern military officer who demanded that a made up result favouring the NPN and keeping Shehu Shagari as President be announced immediately while the army will be made ready to take over power and stabilize the system.
How did these Southern based political parties defeat the NPN in the core northern states. The strategy was simple but the result was magical:
- Cut out the political jobbers and take the messages directly to the talakawa of the north, recruiting canvassers directly from the villages and communities of the ethnic groups and refusing to work with prominent northern politicians and brokers as middle men.
- In the same vein, move your local men into the almajiri groups including the very many religious and social youth groups in the cities, towns and communities. There are always so many of these groups. Northern Muslim youth move in groups and packs. There is no individualism among them. They do everything together. If you meet them first with your message and your gifts, you own them. The politicians will do whatever they can to stop you from meeting them directly.
- There should be no state campaign managers but committees of members from different communities. There should be a team of campaign supervisors drawn from every ethnicity in the states. This worked so effectively, it was like magic in the middle belt states where there were many ethnicities, each competing against the others to deliver good results.
- Whatever it takes, make sure to have strong representation at every polling centre on the day of election. That is where all the bad things happen. You cannot reverse or correct whatever is announced from there.
- Make song and dance in the local languages and let the Public Address systems mounted on minibuses blare the campaign messages in the local languages around the villages and towns.
- The social media and cell phone will be the handiest and most effective tool for political mobilization now.
Africa Confidential and other Intelligence agencies reported at the time that the 1983 election had, to the shock of the north, particularly the infamous Kaduna mafia, marked the end of northern political dominance and the possible splintering of Nigeria. And so, to save Fulani hegemony over Nigeria, the result announced had little or no resemblance to what happened at the polls.
Shehu Shagari was announced as winner of the presidential election and NPN as the majority party in the National Assembly, eating deep into opposition territory against the evidence and the facts of the election. Three months later, in late December 1983, northern military officers in a convenient coup d’état, eased out the Shehu Shagari government and re-established northern dominance in Nigerian politics.
But the old titans, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Obafemi Awolowo had proven the point finally that the north is not politically insular or invincible and can be won by southern politicians who can cut through the false Fulani laminate and meet the voters directly. Northern politicians parade that false narrative to game the south and sell the false portrayal of Northern political unity.
There are more political cleavages in the north than there are in the south, just as there are more ethnicities in the north than in the south of Nigeria. The lie about political unity is told to keep Fulani hegemony over Northern Nigeria.
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