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Between Balewa and Jonathan

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IN the summer of 1963, late Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was on his only annual leave as the Prime Minister of Nigeria. He did not go to London, Paris or Washington to enjoy his annual vacation, but rather went to his Tafawa Balewa village in Bauchi. A British photojournalist came to interview the Prime Minister, learnt the he was on his annual leave and asked for his contact overseas. The journalist was amazed, when he learnt, that the Prime Minister was enjoying his annual leave in his Tafawa Balewa village. As a curious journalist, he took a train ride from Iddo (Lagos) to Jos [Platueau State] and another train ride from Jos to Bauchi from where he boarded a taxi to the Prime Minister’s village. In Tafawa Balewa village, but he discovered that there was no visible evidence of the presence of a very important personality in the village- no police or military presence or convoy of cars or array of visitors.

Curiously again, he saw a farmer on a donkey carrying bales of sugarcane and asked the poor farmer, if he knew the Prime Minister and quite unexpectedly, the peasant farmer, equally answered the journalist that he had just left the Prime Minister and had just dropped some sugar canes for him, and curiously again, the foreign journalist asked the farmer, to lead him to Abubakar’s house and he gladly obliged. Amazingly, without the trappings of office, he met the most powerful Nigerian then, sitting on the native floor mat, enjoying the sugar cane gift with his children. Those were our leaders of yesteryears.-simple, humble and of moderate dispositions.

Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the first Prime Minister of Nigeria was born in the small village of Tafawa Balewa, in the present day Bauchi State, in the North Eastern part of Nigeria in December 1912; of a very humble parentage; just a commoner, from the Jese ethnic group, of the Hausa stock, he was of a moderate background and moderate education. After leaving Bauchi Provisional School, he proceeded to Katsina Higher College in 1928 and qualified as a teacher in 1933, and was at the Institute of Education, University of London 1945-1946, on a one year scholarship.

Abubakar foraged into public consciousness by joining the Bauchi discussion circle- a forum for political reforms and debates. He was in the Nigerian Parliament between 1946 and January 1966, during which he served as Minister of Works (1952) and Minister of Transport in 1954 and as a member of the biggest Party in the Federal Parliament, he was on the 2nd September 1957, appointed the first Prime Minister of Nigeria.

At the time he was murdered in the January 1966 coup, he did not leave behind a sprawling mansion in Lagos nor in Kaduna. He had only a moderate house in Bauchi and a small country home in Tafawa Balewa village, after being in the Parliament for 20 years.

After taking office as Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in May 2007, Jonathan publicly declared his assets. According to Jonathan, as of May 30, 2007, he had a total of N295, 304, 420 ($8,569,662.40) in assets.

Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan was born on the 20th November 1957 and currently the President of Nigeria. Goodluck was born in Otuoke in Ogbia Local Government Area of the then Eastern Region, later Rivers State and now Bayelsa State. Goodluck holds a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc) Degree in Zoology, with a Second Class Honours Upper Division, an M.Sc in Hydro Biology/Fisheries Biology and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Zoology, all from the University of Port Harcourt, the first Nigerian President to hold a Doctorate Degree.

Jonathan was also awarded Honorary Doctorate Degree by his Alma-Mater- the University of Portharcourt. Balewa, a Knight and Commander of the Order of British Empire (OBE), was also awarded Honorary Doctorate Degree from the University of Sheffield, UK in May 1960.

Jonathan had like Balewa worked also as a lecturer and later as Environmental Protection Officer, before he joined politics in 1998. Goodluck had since been Deputy Governor of Bayelsa , Governor of Bayelsa State, Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Acting President and now President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Whilst Balewa was the first Prime Minister of Nigeria, he is Nigeria’s 14th Head of State. Like Balewa, he is also of humble background. Like Olusegun Obasanjo, who became Head of State of Nigeria in 1976 “against his personal wish and desire” Goodluck also became Acting President of Nigeria, according to him under “very sad and unusual circumstances”

Abubakar was a devout Muslim, a simple man and popularly known as Balewa the good and “the man with the golden voice”- according to the Daily Mirror Editorial of the 17th June 1965. Having founded the Bauchi Discussion Circle in 1943, which honed his public speaking skill; he was also in 1948, Vice President of the Northern Teachers Association and in 1949, organised the Northern People’s Congress (NPC), originally conceived as a cultural organisation to become a Political Party in 1951.

Jonathan has a First Lady- Mrs. Patience Faka Jonathan, who also doubles as a Permanent Secretary in the Bayelsa State Civil Service. Balewa, like Olusegun Obasanjo, in his first outing as Head of State, had no specific First Lady. He had four wives: Jummai, Ummah, Zainab and Laraba.

 At the 14th Annual Commonwealth Prime Ministers conference in London in June 1965, his contributions at the conference were not only statesmanlike but forthright, and on the BBC panorama programme, after the conference, his performance was outstandingly brilliant. He was confident, elegant, ebullient, charismatic, mature and sophisticated. The British press described him as disarmingly patient and reasonable.

Sir Abubakar, in January 1966, hosted in Lagos, the emergency Commonwealth Prime Ministers conference to discuss the crisis in Cyprus. His performance at the conference was quintessential Abubakar-brilliant, lucid and intelligent. During the meeting, Harold Wilson, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, so fascinated about Abubakar’s candour, had hinted him of the possibility of a Military coup in Nigeria, in January 1966 and had offered him political asylum in Britain, but Abubakar, being a devout Muslim rebuffed the offer and remained unperturbed throughout the conference.

Sometimes in January 2013, the CNN Ace Reporter, Christiane Amanpour interviewed President Goodluck Jonathan. Apart from the performance being lack-lustre and his entire demeanour being undignifying and dismal, throughout the interview, that one would shudder to say “Balewa kare loun (that if it were Balewa, the story would have been different) and Amanpour would have met her match; a noticeable difference was shown between our glorious past and our decaying present.

Harold Wilson at the age of 10 dreamt the office of the prime minister of Great Britain. At the age of ten, he posed for a photograph with his father at the entrance of No. 10 Downing Street, the Official Residence of the Prime Minister of Great Britain and prophetically told his father, that he would one day live in the residence, as the Prime Minister of Great Britain- that was a mission, a goal and a vision. He prepared for it and accomplished it.

He fought the general election for the seat of Orminsk and won and immediately became Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Works at the age of 29 and became Prime Minister of Great Britain at the age of 48. Harold Wilson prepared for this office and ended up one of the best Prime Ministers of Great Britain.

The greatest public speaker of the Balewa generation was perhaps the stormy petrel of Ibadan Politics and Lion of the West- Adegoke Adelabu alias Penkelemesi. Like a meteor, he lived for 43years (1915-1958), earned double promotions in Elementary, Primary and Secondary School-Government College Ibadan. He was bookish, knowledgeable, versatile and dynamic. He was Manager, African Produce (UAC), Chairman, Ibadan Municipal Council, Member, Western Region House of Assembly, Member, House of Representatives and Federal Minister, without leaving behind a sprawling mansion, in his Oke-Oluokun compound of Ibadan. He was so gifted in oration, that the Late Olubadan of Ibadan, Oba Daniel Tayo Akinbiyi, whilst condemning his “garrulity and insolence” at meetings of the Ibadan People’s Party (IPP) warned, that “an old ox, knows more than a young colt”.

There is the urgent need to revisit the clamour for parliamentary democracy, where the Legislature and Executive are fused. The prime minister would as a Member of the Parliament, be skilled in public speech and, must possess in sufficient quantity oratorical prowess. It would also reduce the cost of governance, a business for only those who are really cut for it. In Parliamentary Democracy, you cannot be a Minister without being an elected Member of Parliament.

Let us take a cursory look at Balewa’s star studded Ministers and colleague Parliamentarians- Jaja Wachukwu(Foreign Affairs) Raymond Njoku(Transportation), Aja Nwachukwu( Education), K.O. Mbadiwe(Commerce), S.L. Akintola( Communications), Festus Okotie-Eboh(Finance), J.M Johnson(Internal Affairs), Ayo Rosiji(Health), Mohammed Ribadu( Mines), Musa Yar’Adua(Lagos Affairs), Prof. Teslim Olawale Elias(Justice).

Barrister Kehinde, a former Member, House of Representatives, wrote in from Ibadan.

Balewa’s sour point, however, was his incapacity to stem the tide of the Western Region crisis, which led to the treasonable felony charge and conviction of Chief Obafemi Awolowo and subsequently snowballed into the Operation wetie crisis and ultimately the collapse of his government in 1966.

Parliamentary democracy makes governance less attractive and enhances quality of governance. A comparative analysis of the Hansard (Parliamentary Proceedings) of the First Republic and our current Republic, would notice a great decline in the quality of debates, quality of members and Parliamentary finesse. The 1999 Constitution, a huge military contraption is a false start, and it is thus imperative that we convoke a Sovereign National Conference to discuss Nigeria and fashion out the way forward.

In retrospect, one would not but remember with fondest memory, Nigeria’s great public speakers of yesteryears: Herbert Macaulay; the Great Zik of Africa-Dr Nnamdi Azikwe; the immortal sage- Chief Obafemi Awolowo; the Sardauna of Sokoto- Ahmadu Bello, Dr. Kinglsey Mbadiwe, Alhaji Maitama Sule, Jaja Wachukwu- first Nigerian Speaker of the House of Representatives, Samuel Ladoke Akintola, Samuel and his father, Alvan, Ikoku, Bola Ige, Aminu Kano, Earnest Ikoli, Late Odemo of Isara, Oba Akinsanya, Prof Eyo Ita; late Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti. Jaja Wachukwu, J.O.J Okezie, Festus Okotie Eboh, Dr. Mike Okpara, Alhaji Muhammed Ribadu, Raymond Njoku, and other eminent Nigerians.

Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa represents the ancient, while Dr. Goodluck Jonathan represents the modern, but one would still however, salute Balewa-“the good” and the man with the “golden voice” because looking at our present political theatrics, one would non-the less be inclined to echo and agree with Prof Ola Rotimi, that distinguished Professor of Theatre Arts, in his book-“our husband has gone mad again”!

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