Déjà Vu (2): The Wisdom Of Our Elders And Their Curses

by Adebayo Adejare

(The Words of our elders, if they do not come to pass in the morning will come to pass at night – Yoruba Adage)

Now, age is very much reversed in African heritage. In Yoruba tradition it is considered rude to look an elder in the face. Even in greetings the younger “prostrates” to the elder, age is associated with wisdom. The words of our elders are words of wisdom.

In our context, the Right Hon. Dr Nnamdi Azikwe and Chief Obafemi Awolowo were the greatest leaders our Nation ever produced. (Alhaji Ahmadu Bello had been assassinated by Coup Plotters in January 1966) Both “Zik” and “Awo” fought the British for independence eventually attained on October 1, 1960. Both deserved to lead the Nation for whose independence they had put their lives on line but neither got the chance despite being well educated and greatly talented. In 1979 both emerged candidates at the Presidential Election despite being over 70 years of age but lost in the elections. Same was repeated in 1983.

In 1976 Zik wrote an article in Sunday Times urging Nigerians to embrace DIARCHY- a government of both Civilians and Soldiers. Now you must understand, dear reader, that Zik had a way of dropping bombshell commentaries on our National affairs. He influenced National Affairs through well reasoned essays published in the newspapers but most of his “bombshells” were at press interviews granted at the airport when exiting or arriving the country. His statements on National Affairs were usually weighty and attention-grabbing. Discussion and commentaries on Zik’s utterance usually lasted weeks if not months. In the case of the DIARCHY proposal he was roundly condemned by all. But where are we today?

(Abdulsalam Abubakar, the last of the Military Dictators promised a transition to civil rule but in fact handed over to a retired Army General and Former Military Dictator. The majority of those elected into office in the last eight years as President, Governor and Legislators were either the Dictators themselves now retired or people sponsored or enriched by them. It matters little whether they were Babangida’s Men or Abacha Men or Abdulsalam Men.)

Now, Zik’s recommendation was that we voluntarily incorporate the Military into Governance and their participation be made Constitutional. Today Civilians and Soldiers are as close as mitosis both in the Ruling Party PDP and in Government. Civilians are becoming militarized while retired soldiers are slowly imbibing the rudiments of the democratic way of life. Our democratic growth is impeded because we fail to see the paradox in fostering democracy but voting in retired soldiers into vital national offices. This democracy seems to have favored the Military Apologists while the purists continue to allege fruitlessly that we do not yet have a democracy. Perhaps we should have heeded the old man’s admonition swallowed our pride and taken our bitter pill voluntarily. Now, there is no option, the polity is dominated by the Military and their apologists.

Chief Obafemi Awolowo, founder and Leader of the leading opposition Party during the First and Second Republics i.e. 1954-66 and 1979-83 proposed at a National Congress of the Party (Unity Party of Nigeria) in July 1982 that there should be no PRIMARIES for elective offices to be contested in the 1983 General Elections. In other words all the serving Governors, National Assembly Members and State Assemblymen were to be given automatic party ticket to contest the elections
This was clearly undemocratic but the Chief explained that although he had had sleepless nights over the issue, that was what was needed to ensure success of the Party at the Polls in 1983. The proposal was loudly and widely opposed in the Congress Hall (National Theatre Lagos) His speech was interrupted and the electricity supply cut. It was Alhaji Lateef Jakande’s Motion which recognized primaries as optional that eventually saved the day. In obvious pain, Chief Awolowo commented that he had never suffered rejection by his party members as happened on that day. The primaries exacerbated the crisis within the Party which then went into the 1983 General Elections in Crisis. The rest as they say is history. The lesson if any is that, a Political Party must conduct its internal affairs as democratically as practicable and that what is ideal for the Party in a given situation may not necessarily be democratic. Perhaps, just perhaps, the outcome of the 1983 General Elections would have been different had the internal Party Crisis not been fuelled by the Party Primaries of 1982.

A curse has been defined as an expression of a wish that misfortune, evil etc befall someone (Webster). Examples of curses are easily found in the Bible and the Quoran. African culture recognizes and indeed believes in efficacy of curses. Cursing is out-of-date but some of us brought up in African cultural setting, cannot but perceive this subject with an African eye.

Now, the 1983 General Election were the most controversial election in Nigeria‘s history. The Ruling Party National Party of Nigeria (NPN) retained the Presidency but also routed out the opposition from their traditional bases. The most controversial of all the states elections were Ondo and Anambra. In the case of Ondo, the Supreme Court gave Judgement (after much senseless bloodshed) in favour of the Petitioner returning the State to the opposition Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN). Anambra was much more complicated. The election results were sustained by the Court. But before then, on the day results were announced, Right Hon Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe realizing that he had been defeated “at home” went on Television (NTA) and made a speech. He not only decried the brazen rigging but pronounced a curse on the perpetrators. He invoked the spirit of the “god of Africa” to execute vengeance on the riggers. Within weeks, one of them lost his child in an air crash. Today, the leaders of the Party in Anambra, who executed the plot are either physically dead or politically dead. Who says the curse of African elders does not catch even in politics?

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1 comment

Femi Olawole July 10, 2007 - 3:51 pm


This piece is as good as the first one.

Thanks for these wonderful trips down memory lane.

Indeed, they offer a fresh, invigorating perspective to political discussions on the the state of our nation.

And pls do keep it up!


Femi Olawole.


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