Of Zik, Awo and other unfinished matters.
By Qudus Onikeku
Since 1914, which marks the inception of this desired machine, called Nigeria, made of many parts and in dire need of a sense of a body, Nigeria is still a country yearning for direction and in dire need of collective history and heroes. In view of any tangible action leading to this realization, our long time cancers of tribalism and other unfinished matters surfaces and become a major obstacle.
Of Zik and Awo.
In this article I wish to understand why it has presently become quite impossible to have a parallel historical discussion between various ethnic groups, especially between the Igbos and the Yorubas, without quickly falling into stereotypes – defense of ethnic allegiances, the inability to objectively remain in the defence of shared truth. I have seen this manifest in our political structure, sporting teams, even to the ridiculous extent that the official history of Nollywood now has two ethnic faces.
Curiosity made me take a closer look at the old age rivalry that existed between two of the most important political figures in Nigerian history: Obafemi Awolowo and Nnamdi Azikiwe. Yet, rather than tackling it from the point of view of a patriot, without any interest in prescribing a solution, or venturing into political discourse, both of which have mostly been proven latent, I'm using the analogy of the Oedipus complex, to inquire if it was an innate distrust of the 'other' and everything he represents, power tussle, or ideological opposition, that later led to the tribal schisms which played out between Ibos and Yorubas, before and after the civil war. Or if was in fact the presence of a politics of difference that made obvious their arch-rivalry, which carefully placed them in the mouth of historians, for as long as Nigerian history is concerned.
At this point, you my reader will permit me the liberty to quickly divert your attention. We all remember the myth of Oedipus, which gave a spark of inspiration to Ola Rotimi's 'The gods are not to blame,' that son of Jocasta and of Laius who unwittingly killed his father, to marry his mother. Psychoanalysts have coined the term ‘Oedipus Complex’ out of that legend, which is the unresolved likeness of a child for the parent of the opposite sex. This involves, first, identification with and, later, hatred for the parent of the same sex, who is considered by the child as a rival.
The rivalry between Zik and Awo could be identified as early as 1938, when Awo and Zik were on opposite sides of argument on who will be the president of the Nigerian Youth Movement. They had identified with each other, probably admired each other's intellects and eventually saw each other as a formidable future rival in national politics. I guess each of them thought it was their unalterable destiny to become the first prime minister of the federation of Nigeria. Furthermore, in the words of Achebe, I understand that in 1951 Awo 'stole' the leadership of western Nigeria from Zik. In 1953 at the London conference, Zik vehemently opposed the insertion of the 'secession clause' which Awo was championing for the constitution. They set up on opposite ends during the civil war and Awo's Action Group continued to be a major opposition to NCNC. I sense that this rivalry, goes far beyond politics but something more in the realm of Oedipus complex, something quite personal that eventually took different roots.
The three nationalists of the pre-independence and the immediate post independence era in Nigeria were clearly Zik, Awo and Ahmadu Bello. In order not to fall out of point, I will not say much about of Ahmadu Bello, but for the sake of clarity, it is important to note that while this arch-rivalry was going in between Zik and Awo, Ahmadu Bello, on the other hand preferred to stick to his northern dream of becoming the Sultan of Sokoto, in his calculations, going to Lagos to administer was below his dignity. It therefore, becomes quite obvious that, as far as federal politics was concerned, the north was aloof but far. I can't however say clearly if they never considered the north as enough threat, or if they underestimated the British plan to prop up the north into key places, or if they already saw that they were no match for the north and rather than forming a coalition, they'd rather turn their mutual admiration into rivalry.
Of us and History.
In case it hasn't been made clear till this point, the purpose of this reflection is not to look at past event from the point of view of those who lived it, neither is it of my interest to give detailed chronology of their rivalry, but If 40 years makes a generation, then we can only view our present journey as a nation in three parts, if 1914 marks the starting point, then we are presently right in the middle of the third part.
The second generations of Nigerians, which in my calculation began at about 1954, despite Wole Soyinka's declaration of a 'wasted generation', did all they could to turn the wheels of their colonial heritage around. With all their might and good will, charisma, and foresight, they failed in many aspects, but no one can deny their successes in many regards. To be able to make sense of our past, and fashion an enviable path for future generations, it is in my belief that this third generation of Nigerians, must begin to adopt newer ways of viewing and reviewing past events, in order not to tackle it from an emotional or fact-finding/journey-to-the-past point of view, both of which will only do well in aggravating more emotions and give even more dimensions to the truth.
Each time there comes the need to tackle our past, a set of question must be posed. What will the object of remembering be? What is its purpose and how must it be posed? Must it be an anxious flight from boredom? A desire to be free from ourselves and from our pitiful present existence? What is this theatre other than that of a long finger that stops, looks around, points and pokes at somebody – anybody blameworthy – pours out its feelings, and returns to contact, presses, wounds, crouches and chews up, swallows, digests and... Excretes?
Yes, Excretes! This filthy excrement is usually what remains of the long probing fingers of ours, loaded with our blood line. Through this excrement we intend to find out and attack what have murdered us, the compressed sum of our evidence, the age old seal of that difficult process of digestion, without which all would remain hidden forever. But what else might this remembering be, other than the disguise behind which We maintain intimate and biased relation with our 'excrements', which eventually enters into the sphere of tribalism.
The question of identity or more precisely, of tribes, - or ethnicity as in the case of Nigeria - is one I've spent valuable time trying to understand, as to why do we think a politician defines us best? And what props up the heads and minds of mortals to the extent of seeing another mortal - dead or still alive, - as a representative of God on earth, who deserves to be bowed down to, and to whom human sacrifices are offered if necessary. The most unfortunate thing is that tribalism, just like racism, nationalism, feminism, religion and other politics of difference, has always acted as legitimate weapon of political campaign, useful in directing human energy to whatsoever righteous causes.
As the need to belong happens to be a basic requirement for every human being, the politician liberates the flow of desire and unleashes the Oedipus complex in his primary target. In truth, the unleashing of an Oedipus complex is not morally wrong in itself, because the facts and figure politicians lay down to support this form of bigotry are usually legitimate and seems to be true, but in truth it is false. It is in the fear of a subject that is faced with the possibility of not being able to be able, to be sure that a certain political rival does not possess this ability of being able to be able, he declares that the other is in no way another myself, who is either participating in a common existence and cause, or participating in a common power tussle and dominance.
Therefore those of us in whose hand History with a capital 'H' has been carefully dropped, must be wary of what to do with it, not to forget that proclaiming oneself as ‘the Chosen One’ - one who has got, not only the roadmap, but also an accompanying private jet, and the master key to the promise land - has been the ways of politics. Remembering is knowing, and we cannot forget what we know. No, not if remembering is imbued with some moral duty or a call for vengeance, separation or xenophobia. No, it is simply not at our discretion to forget.
We live today in order to remember and to know, and indeed with total clarity. Amnesia is however worse than forgetfulness, because It is in fact, our collective amnesia that makes it impossible to fashion a clear and original collective history, through our collective "how we got here". It's a crises that has lingered for too long, one that has destroyed the dream of a body of value system, a system that was once built on various ethnic ethos and myths, on the stories we told ourselves of our various origins and collective destiny.
In the face of past events that cannot be fully grasped and set in one dimension, solitude and subjectivity is naturally crushed, for there now exists an abyss between History and the living. The past is our accumulated knowledge; our observation of the world is put together by thoughts, but thought is never new and never free, because thought is the response to the past in the guise of knowledge and memory. When we observe, we often observe with personal memories, experiences, hurts, despairs and hope, and with all that background, we end up looking at the world as a separate entity, and create more division.
Where then do we find enough innocence for generating national history? How can we enter into a relation with History without allowing ourselves crushed by subjectivities, sensitivities, personalities, allegiances, emotions - Tribalism? How can we, the living, preserve our ego and conquest over the anonymous? If we cannot assume History as one assumes an object of curiosity, how can there possibly be any conciliation between us and History?