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"Subject to the overriding need to preserve law and order, it is our determination that everyone should have absolute liberty to practice his belief according to the dictates of his conscience…”  - Sir Ahmadu Bello


Soldiers were deceived into killing the Sardauna

By Gen IBM Haruna (rtd) / 2006-01-14


How would you describe the type of leadership Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto, provided during his lifetime?


Haruna: I’ll say the late Sardauna gave a focused leadership in the context of a multicultural northern society. He brought all the ethnic and divisive groups in the north together in a way that forged the unity of the north in an unbelievable manner.
But what he was doing, for some outsiders, they believed it was an antithesis of freedom and democracy, without giving due cognisance to the fact that here was a leader who appreciated that the masses of the people in the north were peasants and farmers; they were uneducated with their literacy only in Arabic for the most part.

Sardauna did not only appreciate these issues, he consolidated them in the sense that they felt the unity. To demonstrate this, he had Christians in his inner advisory councils and in administration. He modernised the rural area. He provided clothes for those still naked and allowed them to follow their faith. He respected their culture and provided the basis for enlightenment and economic empowerment. He gave gifts of soap, salt, clothes to people in the hinterland without currying political favours. He was that type of a leader.

Such a pragmatic leader. But the military, your constituency, ended his career in a coup. What is your take on that?
Ans: The military was one of the instrumentality of colonial rule and it came into existence not to serve the Nigerian nation. It was to serve the ends of colonial power and they were raised to support them in the world wars. To support them also in the expansion of their colonial heritage. They were called the constabulary before they metamorphosed into the West African Frontiers Force (WAFF). The army was an instrument of colonial lords. Now at independence in 1960, the political turmoil that erupted due to the struggle for political power between the blocks created by the colonialists, (the blocks themselves revealing all sorts of imbalance due to constitutional arrangements which made the north the biggest region, with the south and its regions not able to meet it in terms of sheer size and influence) became an intense one given the geo-ethnic colouration of the country and the regions i.e. the East mostly Ibos, the West for the Yoruba, and the north seen as the bastion of Hausa/Fulani.
So when the elections of post-independence era began to manifest itself in terms of political power and influence, the southern politicians who failed to make an in road sufficiently to get the north, felt shut out. The factor that angers them was that they viewed the north as semi-illiterate constituency whose population needed to be emancipated from the political conservatism of the north, whose leaders were feudal.
Again, with the advent of Nigerianisation because before independence, there were hardly 50 Nigerian officers in the military. And out of that, more than half of the percentages were from the south. But the bulk of the military: fighting men, combat men were northerners. Although it was just the army consisting of less than 8000 men, immediately after the independence, we got the Navy and Air force.

You see, what Nigerianisation created for the army was political awareness of the external environment especially the polarisation of Nigeria into north and south. Now political events annoyed the southern leaders who saw the Sardauna as gaining more politically than they were getting anywhere. They took an exception to it and the crisis deepened, especially in the western region. The military had no option but to strike and leaders of the political camps were worst hit in the melee.
That is really why Sardauna was killed, because he has such political leadership and such vision that carried a majority of people with him. He was not hungry for political supremacy and that is why he preferred to stay in Kaduna as leader of the northern people congress than going to Lagos. His political rivals in the south even saw this as a weakness and a sign of someone not prepared for national leadership.

But Sardauna calculation was that he has to remain with the people as their leader. And he, more than his southern counterparts, understood the nature of the consequences of political actions and structures.
Why the coup succeed when northerners were more in the military at the time. What really happened?
Ans: The fact is that the Nigerian army had more southern officers in it with the “foot soldiers” being northerners. But you see, the leaders who led the coup lied to their soldiers. They did not tell them the truth. They told them they were going out on a training exercise and that was normal. But this training exercise turned out to be a coup. There was deception. And by the time it dawned on them that what they have been made to do was a treasonable overthrow of government, it was too late. This created an uncontrollable loathsome anger and its manifestation came rather swiftly. It didn’t take long for the counter coup to come because as soon as the inner core of the conspiracy to over throw the government came to light, one set of people were jubilating and annoying others by their songs, then the reality became appreciated. It was this that created and aggravated the anger. Revenge became the logical thing to do by, not only the military, but by the populace.
The troops who were loyal to the commands of their master, (because this was the training since the colonial times never to mistrust the officer who leads them) became suspicious and turned away from any obedience of orders from their superiors.
That broke a very strong tradition in the military that still reverberates even today.
Can you shed more light on the issue of soldiers being deceived? Because most people thought the coup was a planned event from the top to the bottom.
Ans: Well, let me review what happened. The Nigerian military college at Jaji used to take out soldiers on normal training, because it is a training school. Soldiers were normally taken out by day or night. They call it tactical exercise without troops. Sometimes it is training without live ammunition.

But on that day, their commander and parties to the coup knew that they were going out to carry a political exercise, but the soldiers were told they were going on a normal training exercise. Until when they were taken to places and given command to carry out what they were asked to do. Up till the time, they were not in doubt as to the sincerity of their officers. And that was the night they killed, not only politicians, they also killed military leaders. This was the first time it had happened and as far as they were concerned, they were merely obeying orders, something they were used to doing and the bond between them and their leaders.
You mean soldiers could just be asked to go and kill anybody and they will not even reason?
Ans: The question of doubting or questioning the legality or legitimacy of your commander’s orders had never been the function of the post-independence soldier. They just obeyed, whether it was in Burma, or in East Africa or in the expedition of the Royal West Africa Frontiers Force days. It was not for the soldier to question his officer.

But then these events have questioned the issue of loyalty, comradeship, and espirit de corp. These issues are being questioned because up till today, conscious efforts are being made to reinstate these things. There will always be suspicion because loyalty is not unalloyed as it used to be before. Or espirit de corp. There are issues that were sacrificed on the alter of political power.
Can you tell us what the relationship of the Sarduana and the military was like. And who really was Major Kaduna Nzeogwu?
Ans: Sardauna had a cordial relationship with soldiers. He was a generous man. He saw in every soldier or policeman, students and everyone, a soul to impact. When you’re in contact with him, he gave generously and that became a fault. A fault in the sense that some people began to perceive him as an oracle of imprudent expenditure of public funds. People thought that “ah, he is doing this because of his access to public funds and not his money”. If you were a soldier and you saw him with a problem, he will give you a pound or shilling. He may give you clothes and at all level he demonstrates humanity.

Two policies adopted in his time changed the face of the north forever. First, northernisation policy and second equitable participation. Again, this must have been borne out of the fears that after independence, political power equation will be upturned.
From Nzeogwu point of view, the Major was a friendly and learned fellow, a Christian to the core and he was also well trained. In fact, he is the only leader of that first coup largely because of his idealism. He has some high ideals and he was against sins, corruption and so forth.The body of the military then constituted largely northerners could not have been balanced entirely on the basis of merits. If there wasn’t ethnicity and all that, then merit would have been the case. Northerners were literate in the Arabic sense and it was not enough, as the English language and western learning was the tool for business and government.
He had the foresight to say we must participate fully because he foresaw a situation where the military may be used to thwart what the colonialists put in place. Therefore when the crisis erupted in the west and with the boycott of the east, and the governor-general was reluctant to form a government, the country was in another watershed. Nzeogwu, in all fairness thought he was doing the job of nationalists with a role of bringing liberation especially with the charge of corruption. But now, with the benefit of hindsight, we are in a position to judge who was more corrupt between the succeeding generation of military politicians and those who were overthrown in January. These were leaders like the Sardauna, who after the coup, people found out they had nothing to hide and did not amass undue wealth-at home or abroad.
With the benefit of hindsight, would you say the coup was completely unnecessary?
Ans: Well, it happened and it is like destiny. You just can’t change, neit
her can you wonder how things might have been. It was fated to happen.

  “Here in the Northern Nigeria we have People of Many different races, tribes and religious who are knit together to common history, common interest and common ideas, the things that unite us are stronger than the things that divide us. I always remind people of our firmly rooted policy of religious tolerance. We have no intention of favouring one religion at the expense of another. Subject to the overriding need to preserve law and order, it is our determination that everyone should have absolute liberty to practice his belief according to the dictates of his conscience…”  - Sir Ahmadu Bello  

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