Obasanjo handed over power to Alhaji Shehu Shagari on the 1st of October, 1979 after elections fraught with intrigues. As was with the defunct first republic, political parties were mainly affiliated with the different ethnic groups, and though you will find people of other regions therein, everyone knew parties that wouldn’t win in certain areas just because the core membership wasn’t from the particular zone.
Some parties couldn’t even go to campaign in some areas for fear of hostile reception. The feud between the Igbos apparently represented by Nnamdi Azikiwe’s Nigerian People’s Party, NPP and Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN and by extension the Yòrùbás fueled mistrust and led to the scuttling of the possibility of their forming a united front against what seemed to be a ‘united North’.
Interviews granted by Awolowo to present his side of the story did very little to change already made minds of the Igbo, the media too didn’t help matters in that they continued to play up the controversial angles of the story and though that may not have been responsible solely for the break down in attempts to form a coalition, there’s no denying the fact that it played a role, how significant I cannot tell.
Some posit rather simplistically that it was the battle for positions that may have been responsible, unfortunately both dramatis personae wanted the top position badly, and mistrust of the others’ true intention when in power should one concede to the other ensured that such dreams never saw the light of day.
The myth of a united north for the first time suffered it’s first break with the people of Middle-Belt origin raising their voice, though that did not necessarily translate to much political gains it formed the basis for which future acts of dissent was built to much resounding effect politically and otherwise, for which they’ve become an important player in today’s political equation in Nigeria with the largest number of states in one political zone of the North-Central.
Infact, Chief Awolowo in contesting the results of the 1979 elections wasn’t doing so because he garnered more votes than Shagari but that Shagari didn’t garner the constitutionally guaranteed number of votes with national spread to be declared winner. He may have factored the possibility of a runoff between the top two with the aim of winning over the silently loud dissenting voices of the Mid-Belt to sway the votes in his favour in a second round.
Unfortunately, he was fighting against entrenched forces out to get him especially following comments he made to the effect that past corrupt officials will be tried and if found guilty, jailed. He would later retract his comment stating that there may not be enough time to do such in the limited time a tenure of 4 years provided, but the damage had been done. His fate was sealed by formidable people in government and out of it by no less a people than of his own Yòrùbá stock notably General Obasanjo, Chief M.K.O.Abiola and the Attorney General Chief Richard Akinjide.
At the end of the day, Alhaji Shagari was declared winner while Chief Awolowo and Azikiwe were left to lick their wounds. He became Nigeria’s first executive president after the country ditched the parliamentary system of the first republic for the American-style (but very expensive) Presidential system.
The military parade of the handover day was led by another army officer, AbdulSallam Abubakar who will come to play an important role similar to Obasanjo’s (almost a reversal of roles) later in Nigeria’s history.
Shagari’s reign signaled the end of the honeymoon for Nigerians in terms of a lot of things they used to take for granted, especially in terms of social amenities as well as everyday commodities which used to be free or cost almost nothing to procure.
Nigerians were told they had to tighten their belt as part of AUSTERITY measures for the first time in Nigeria’s history, in what will come to be norm for years to come. Unfortunately, while this was the mantra of government to the governed, the former hardly lived by it, living ostentatiously off the common patrimony, while the latter started feeling the pangs of impoverishment due to policies of government.
The politicians appeared to have learnt nothing from the first republic. The stealing of public funds was still crude, and rigging of elections was even cruder.
Some politicians left indelible marks during this period. Alhaji Lateef Jakande won Lagosians and Nigerians to his side with his people oriented programmes, education was free, just like Awolowo did with the Western region, shifts were abolished as so many low cost schools were built in the nook and cranny of Lagos to accommodate the burgeoning student population. Jakande also embarked on the building of low cost housing estates across the state, which unlike the ones been bandied about by today’s State and Federal Governments were actually affordable by the masses. Most of these estates still bear his name to this day. Unfortunately, his dream for a light rail to ease Lagos’ peculiar transportation mess was truncated with the military takeover that followed immediately after his reelection. The Nigerian government went ahead to pay off the foreign contractors for ‘Breach of Contract’, rather than complete the project.
Today’s Boko Haram menace in the North East now currently under a State Of Emergency, reminds one of the ‘Maitatsine’ saga which Shagari effectively managed till the dregs of the members of that intolerant group (in which Boko Haram is today formed in almost like manner) were totally wiped out.
After Four years twas time for elections once again and there was no gainsaying the fact that Shagari was going to win by a landslide, not necessarily because he had performed well but mostly because the opposition was in disarray. The Igbos had been bought over with the amnesty Shagari granted their Hero, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu (who had led the secessionist Republic of Biafra) who paid back the gesture by joining the ruling, National Party of Nigeria, NPN which has a fellow Igbo, Alex Ekwueme as Vice Presidential Candidate, effectively dividing Azikiwe’s Eastern bloc votes.
Ondo State was the scene of events akin to the ‘wètiè’ days of the “Wild, Wild West” of the first republic.
Abiola was reminded by the Northern power brokers that he couldn’t buy power with all the wealth he could muster no matter how much he tried, when he attempted to lobby the presidency for himself via the instrument of the ruling party. He took the comment to heart.
Expectedly, Shagari won a second term, most of the governors also were returned, some of the most colourful Nigeria has ever seen, before then and till date.
One of them in the North defeated an incumbent who’s ads was on all electronic and print media, by having rickety vehicles play his jingles to all nooks and crannies of his state. Another was asked what minerals his state possessed of economic importance and he went ahead listing soft drinks such as ‘Coca-Cola, Fanta, 7Up etc’.
A campaign rally in the North by a party with a southern candidate was disrupted when a herder (purportedly prompted by the opposing camp) herded cattle into the gathering throwing the campaign arena into pandemonium.
The joke that was Nigeria’s second democratic experience evidenced by the impunity with which the politicians carried on, was thwarted and brought to an abrupt end by Major General Muhammadu Buhari on the 31st of December, 1983 just a few months after Shagari won reelection.
Many people would swear they saw it coming, the smell of an impending coup was everywhere, and it wasn’t a matter of ‘if’ anymore but ‘when’. People close to power then even opined that President Shagari was intimated of plans afoot by the military hierarchy to topple him, and it seemed the urgency with which the bloodless coup was executed was in reaction to the possibility of the government moving against the plotters or even others hijacking the process.
Buhari threw many of the politicians in jail while his effort at repatriating Alhaji Umaru Dikko (a very loud politician considered by many to be the unofficial face of corruption of that regime) from the United Kingdom with the help of the Israeli Mosaad failed. It was found that though there was massive corruption while Shagari ruled he appeared to not have personally gained from the much that was going on under his nose.
He would vanish into obscurity for many years, saying very little but gaining quite some regard as a statesman.
I have to go get me some water at this stage, before delving into Nigeria’s next period of military intervention.