OPPOSITION leaders in Ghana began straggling out of prisons this year just as opposition leaders in Nigeria began heading into restriction. The closeness of the events added an ironic touch to the west African scene. Ghana long has been pictured as an impatient, harsh, one-party state. Nearby Nigeria has seemed an easygoing bastion of democracy in independent Africa. Yet recent events have confused these images. This is no great loss. The images never were completely true.
Perhaps the most distorted image has been of Nigeria. Both Britain and the United States have smugly accepted Nigeria as the model for democracy in Africa. This is easy to do. There are many democratic elements in Nigeria: a tree press, many parties, spirited elections, a meaningful legislature — all absent in Ghana. But there are disturbing elements in Nigeria as well: corrupt government, a feudal society for more than hall the people, a rush to strangle the opposition, severe poverty, a growing class of wealthy capitalists. These elements usually are glossed over by Nigeria’s numerous boosters.
Nigeria is the largest African state, with a population somewhere between 40 and 50 million. Unlike most of the new independent countries in Africa, Nigeria has adopted a system which allows more than one political party to flourish. But these parties have been regional and tribal, and, in actual fact, Nigeria has been a federation ol three regions, each tending to fall under control of a single party.
The northern region, feudal and Muslim, comprises more than half the population. This is romantic, backward Nigeria, the region of ancient walled cities, of the Hausa-Fulani tribes, of emirs, of mud lowers, of camels, and of 10,000 political prisoners. The Northern People’s Congress, a party relying on the autocratic strength of the emirs, rules the north with iron will and power. This hold on the north gives the NPC nearly effective control of the Federation, for the NPC has just less than a majority of the seats in the federal House of Representatives. The federal Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balcwa, is deputy leader of the NPC and presumably takes instructions from the leader, the Sardauna of Sokoto, who is Premier of North Nigeria.
The NPC rules the federal government in coalition with the National Council of Nigerian Citizens, the dominant party in East Nigeria. The NCNC basically is the party of the Ibo tribe. It has a long history in Nigeria, for the Ibos, led by Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe, were in the forefront of aggressive, radical nationalism. Now Dr. Azikwe has agreed to be Governor-General — a post with a high title but little power — and the party, a partner in government, appears to have muted much of its radicalism. In fact, most of the accusations of corruption in government are aimed at NCNC ministers.
The active opposition
The third major party, the Action Group, makes up the federal opposition and rules West Nigeria, the land of the Yoruba tribe and the richest area in the country. The Yorubas are an urbanized tribe with magnificent artistic skills and long contact with the West.
In the last year or two there have been significant changes within the Action Group. The party leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who is leader of the federal opposition, attempted to transform the party front a Yoruba organization into a national party. He urged the Action Group to appeal to the country’s growing number of dissatisfied young men, of all tribes. Under Awolowo’s direction, the party has adopted a manifesto of “democratic socialism” and has called for neutralism in the cold war. Many observers have doubted Awolowo’s sincerity, pointing to his capitalist and Western leanings in the past. But there is no doubt that Awolowo, whatever his personal views, is sincere in believing the Action Group’s only road to national power lies in a socialist, neutralist, nationalist approach.
But Awolowo’s way provoked strong opposition this year within the Action Group itself, particularly from the deputy leader, Chief Samuel L. Akintola, Premier of West Nigeria. Akintola, who represented the views of the chicis and conservative businessmen in the party, derided the young radicals around Awolowo and their democratic socialism. Heconsidered them dreamers. The party, in his view, never would be anything but regional. It was a waste of time and money to try to transform it.
The battle over control
Awolowo and Akintola also battled over distribution of power. Awolowo, as leader of the federal opposition, sat in Lagos, the federal capital, while his party ruled in Ibadan, the western regional capital. Awolowo attempted to control policy in Ibadan, and this was resisted by Akintola, who wanted no interference with his government.
In a sense, the situation resembled what might happen in the United States if former President Eisenhower, as Republican leader, attempted to tell Governor Rockefeller how to run New York. There is, however, one vital difference. Nigeria has a parliamentary system, and Akintola, unlike Rockefeller, was not elected directly by the people. Akintola’s power depended solely on the support of his party and his leader.
Awolowo and the party withdrew that support in May. The executive committees of the Action Group met in Ibadan and demanded that Akintola resign as Premier. Akintola refused. The party then handed the governor a petition of sixty-six Action Group legislators as evidence that Akintola no longer had the support of the West Nigerian House of Assembly. The petition was used to avoid an actual vote in the House. A vote of no confidence in Akintola would have meant a new election, and Awolowo did not want to fight a campaign with his party split.
There was serious question about the constitutionality of the governor’s action. Akintola challenged it in court, arguing that a governor could not dismiss a Premier without a vote in the House. Akintola eventually won his case, but he did not await the verdict before plunging West Nigeria into crisis.
On May 25, the West Nigerian Assembly met to vote confidence in the new Premier, Alhaji Dawuda S. Adegbenro. Seconds after the opening prayer, a supporter of Akin tola leaped upon a desk and shouted, “Fire, snake, fire.” He danced across a line of desks, waving his arms wildly. He picked up a chair and flung it onto the floor of the House. Other chairs flew and splintered. A minister toppled to the floor. Another Akintola supporter picked up the mace, chased the Speaker, and then smashed it in two. Federal police advanced into the chamber and fired tear gas. The House emptied.
Two hours later, the House attempted to meet again, but shouting, table pounding, scuffling, and tear gas emptied the chamber once more. As soon as tear-gas pellets struck the floor of the House, the NPC and the NGNC realized they now had a chance to destroy the Action Group.
A state of emergency
Sir Abubakar, the Prime Minister, convened the Federal Parliament on May 29. The government coalition overwhelmed the Action Group opposition and declared a state of emergency in the western region. The government argument tended to convey the picture of a complete breakdown of law and order in West Nigeria, ignoring the fact that the region, save for a dozen legislators, had been quiet and calm. The government argument also failed to consider that a handful of men had accomplished by fighting what they could not do by voting.
Sir Abubakar appointed Minister of Health Moses A. Majekodunmi as administrator of West Nigeria for seven months. During the emergency, Dr. Majekodunmi is dictator of the western region. He already has used his vast powers to ban all political demonstrations in the region. He also has restricted nearly forty political leaders, most of whom are members of the Awolowo faction of the Action Group. The restriction orders scatter these men to inaccessible tow ns throughout the region.
The Action Group, under Awolowo, was the single major party in Nigeria that attempted to reflect the views of the angry, grumbling youth. For a while, it seemed that these young intellectuals had seized control of the party. But their victory was snatched away by rioters within the party and by the federal government. How will they react? Will they give up on Nigeria’s democratic system and look elsewhere to satisfy their discontent? The most significant results of the current Nigerian emergency may lie in the answers to these questions.
Ghana’s political prisoners
A visitor to Ghana at the time of these Nigerian troubles could detect a note of gleeful satisfaction. “The West is always shouting about our preventive detention,”said one young Ghanaian. “Now let’s hear some shouts about Nigeria.” During the sniping, Ghana President Kwame Nkrumah released 160 political prisoners.
Nkrumah’s action actually was unrelated to the Nigerian restrictions. On May 5, almost a month before the Nigerian emergency. Inhad promised Ghana that the time had come to let some of his opponents out of detention. Their release signaled that Nkrumah felt that opposition in Ghana, both organized and unorganized, no longer threatened his regime. In this, he clearly was premature, for less than two months later a bomb thrower attempted to kill the President.
Aside from preventive detention, which seems to be on the way out, does Ghana have a democratic atmosphere? The question is difficult to answer. Friends of Ghana find many democratic elements. Even though there is, in effect, a single party, this party is all-embracing, absorbing opinions from all aspects of Ghanaian life. Ghana seems to bristle with a strident nationalism. and yet one must not forget that Nkrumah is trying to create in a few years a united nation, a national myth, and a national hero.
A Western observer has difficulty seeing this. The CPP rallies seem one-sided, with the party lecturing rather than listening to the people. People do not seem to have political opinions, only slogans. Nevertheless, democratic elements may be there, although they certainly do not predominate. An observer would be foolish to make up his mind simply on the absence of outer forms, just as he would be foolish to label Nigeria democratic simply on the abundance of outer forms.
Economic directi ons
In the long run, the economic directions of Ghana and Nigeria are more significant for Africa than their allegiance to democracy. Other new nations on the continent are watching both closely. Ghana, with a population of under 7 million, has prepared a development program for 1963-1970. Centered about the Volta Dam project, the program promises rapid industrialization, mechanization of agriculture, and the end of unemployment by 1970. The program, while taking into account the role of foreign capital for large projects, also includes more state companies, cooperatives, projects with joint state and foreign capital, and small private Ghanaian businesses.
On paper, the Ghana program seems no more socialistic than Nigeria’s $1.8 billion six-year plan of development. But there is a huge difference in atmosphere. Nigeria in some ways resembles nineteenthcentury America, with foreign capitalists rushing in, hoping for quick profits, and with land bloating in value. Although the state plans a good deal of supervision and interference, the Nigerian economy basically is capitalist in atmosphere.
Ghana is different. While Nkrumah has kept nationalization (with liberal compensation) to a minimum, Ghana is committed to a socialist future. It has a calm, ordered atmosphere and moves in a disciplined way. The economic attitudes of the two nations are in unfair competition. The discipline of little Ghana would be difficult to apply to sprawling, divided Nigeria. The comparatively high private savings and investments of Nigeria simply do not exist in Ghana. Each country may be proceeding in the only economic way possible. And Ghana’s way, because of its size, may be the easiest.