Alhaji Tanko Yakassai was an active political player in the First Republic having held several national positions in the defunct Northern Elements Peoples Union, NEPU among which were National Financial Secretary, National Youth Leader, National Organising Secretary and subsequently National Secretary of the Aminu Kano led party. In the Second Republic he shifted to the National Party of Nigeria, NPN and was the Presidential Liaison Officer to the National Assembly. He currently chairs the Northern Elders’ Council. In an interview with Vanguard, he speaks on the factors that led to the January 15, 1966 coup and the consequences thereafter. By Omeiza Ajayi
You were very much around in 1966. Was there any need for the coup of that year?
No, and I said it in my autobiography because, the only argument was that there were political crises in Western Nigeria between two factions of the Action Group AG -the Awolowo group and that of Akintola.
Of course, that crisis was serious but it was only limited to areas around Ibadan and Ijebu-Ode. Then, in Tiv division, there was crisis between supporters of the AG and UMBC and the result was that the crisis in these two places led to some killings, but the rest of the country was in peace.
The pretext the military used was that they took over power in order to quell those two crises in those areas. But if you look at the consequences of their actions -all they wanted to do was to save lives, but the coup led to the civil war and a rough estimate of the number of people killed on both sides during the war was five million which was not even the accurate figure.
So, if you came to save less than a hundred lives and you ended up killing over five million people, would you call that intervention justified? The coup was not necessary, but it was part of the process of development. You see, what brought about it was the quarrel in the Action Group, but even that quarrel, according to insiders, was not “national”.
People said it was a quarrel between the wife of the AG leader, Chief Awolowo and the wife of the man who succeeded him, his deputy, Chief Akintola and the reason for the fight was that when Awolowo was the Premier, the allegation was that his wife was getting contracts for the supply of exercise books and reading materials in primary and secondary schools and that when he left power and was succeeded by his deputy, the wife of the deputy insisted that the contract should be shared between her and Mrs Awolowo.
That led to a quarrel between the two wives and eventually it became a quarrel between two giants which led to the break-up of the party, but the public view of the crisis was that Akintola was of the opinion that the only way for the Yorubas to be in the mainstream of Nigerian politics was to cooperate with the northern leaders.
Awolowo was opposed to that and the crisis led to the split of the party at their convention in Jos, I think in 1962 or thereabout. That was what led to the crisis and also that was the excuse given by the military to take over power.
In essence, could that be the beginning of our setback in our quest for true democracy?
In our march towards perfecting democratic rule, the military intervention was the main cause of our setback. The first one of 1966 and the second one of 1983 when Buhari overthrew Shagari.
We have had 16 straight years of civilian rule. Do you foresee any possible military incursion in the nearest future?
Well, I am not God; only God can tell what would happen in the future but, at times the disenchantment and dissatisfaction within the society at large, could affect the psyche of the different segments of the society, the military also included. For instance, there is widespread poverty and lack money in circulation in the country now. People, hardly are able to have enough to take care of themselves and their dependents.
The military took over in 1966 believing that they could stop the killings in some parts of the West, but in the end they created a condition for the civil war. When the price of oil came down from $45 to about $7 per barrel in 1982/83, Buhari and his group thought that if they took over power, they would be able to handle the situation. This was exactly why they overthrew Shagari.
I read Buhari’s broadcast and he talked of corruption but there was no corruption because I just went through the list of members of Shagari’s cabinet, aides, ministers, advisers, assistants and others, and I think we were 75 or so. Throughout the two-year period of the military tribunal, only five people were indicted. Most of those convicted were state government officials but people at the centre, the majority of them, were not indicted and so we cannot describe that regime as corrupt.
The corruption that we are now talking about was exacerbated by the military from 1983 to date. Even the misfortune we had was that when this country was going back to civilian rule, power was handed over by the military to a retired military officer and therefore he ran the system with a military psyche.
Now, he handpicked Yar’Adua and after he died, he (Obasanjo) manoeuvred to get Jonathan to take over with the hope that he would continue to dictate from the background. He amended the constitution of his party to make himself the life-chairman of the Board of Trustees BOT.
This was after he had sold everything saleable to his kitchen cabinet boys and when Yar’Adua came, he realized that life could not continue that way and he decided to reverse the sales of many of those properties and other policies. When Jonathan succeeded Yar’Adua, Obasanjo also hoped that he would stay in his Ota Farm to be dictating things to Jonathan because dictatorship is part of the military psyche and they live by directing their subordinates.