According to Wikipedia, the Round Table was King Arthur’s famed table in the Arthurian legend, around which he and his Knights congregated, and as its name suggested, it had no head, implying that everyone who sat there had equal status, and there is a sense in
which upheavals around Nigeria’s corridors of power represent efforts to establish our own Round Table.
Following the decision of British colonialists to grant independence to Nigeria in 1960, there was little doubt over which region between the East, North and West, it was going sit at the Round Table of what were over 250 ethnic groups that had been wielded together by various powerful kingdoms which had existed in the Nigerian area before they were conquered by the British.
In Eastern and Western Nigeria, the British had adopted direct rule while in the North for reasons relating to financial constraints, geographical spread and inadequate manpower the British had adopted indirect rule which allowed them to administer the vast territories of the Northern region through existing political structures while retaining finance and security oversight.
While granting of independence to colonial territories was the fad in the 1950s and 1960, colonial powers such as France and Britain were motivated by the need to create markets for their goods and services but at the same time ensuring that their former colonial territories still served the purpose of providing their industries back home with raw materials.
It was therefore no surprise that the British left behind a political structure that saw the Northern Region which it had been administering indirectly as the only party sitting at the Round Table to facilitate its continuous access to the markets and natural resources of the newly minted Nigerian state even after they had lowered the Union Jack and departed for London.
After independence, the Western Region was the first to attempt to join the Northern Region at the Round Table on realizing that the political structure of Nigeria was skewed, but this only got its political leaders mired in allegations of trying to grab power illegally resulting in the trial, conviction and jailing of some of these leaders.
This was followed by a violent attempt by some military officers mainly of Eastern extraction to grab power ostensibly for good cause that indirectly resulted in a Nigerian of Eastern extraction sitting albeit briefly at the Round Table but with devastating consequences because of the wide spread bloodletting that accompanied this act.
At this point Nigerian soldiers of Northern extraction had taken over ruling Nigeria from the political counterparts with Nigerians of Eastern extraction who were on the receiving end of reprisal attacks after 1966 failing in their subsequent efforts to opt out of Nigeria during a Civil War that resulted in the death of millions between 1967 and 1970.
The unbroken status of Nigerians of Northern extraction at the Round Table was briefly interrupted in 1977 when a Nigerian soldier of Western extraction, Olusegun Obasanjo sat at the Round Table until September 1979, but his rule was largely regarded as being one where he sat on the laps of the North after a botched attempt by soldiers majorly from Nigeria’s Middle Belt to also seat at the Round Table.
In the 1980s, M.K.O. Abiola tried to set in motion the processes that would firmly sit the West at the Round Table as he was alleged to have sponsored the military coup that ended the democratic dispensation that was reintroduced in October 1979, and then contesting in June 1993 to become Nigeria’s president during the democratic transition initiated by Ibrahim Babangida.
In between this, some Nigerians of Niger Delta extraction through sponsorship of the Gideon Okar coup had attempted to also sit at the Round Table and went a step further by trying to excise parts of Nigeria they felt had monopolized the Round Table but they failed in their efforts resulting in the execution of key actors of the coup.
Meanwhile, pressure from key Nigerians of Northern extraction prevented MKO Abiola from sitting at the Round Table even after he had secured the overwhelming mandate of Nigerians at the June 12, 1993 elections, which threw the nation into economic and political turmoil that was more pronounced in the Western part of Nigeria.
This turmoil was not assuaged by the attempt to compensate the West with Ernest Shonekan as head of the National Interim Government, and the subsequent overthrow of the NIG, its replacement by the military government of Sani Abacha, and the adoption of draconian measures to suppress the growing insurrection in the Western parts of Nigeria, further compounded matters.
The incarceration and subsequent death in custody of MKO Abiola, the marauding activities of the Odua People’s Congress, pressures from the international community and the death of Sani Abacha eventually resulted in a shift in the position of hardliners in the North of Nigeria to finally accommodate Nigerians of Western extraction at the Round Table.
Meanwhile, low level agitation for resource control that started in Ogoni land in the Niger Delta but had been violently suppressed by Sani Abacha from the mid 1990s had now gathered strength and turned violent during the new democratic dispensation as Nigerians of Niger Delta extraction began a new push to be seated along with the North, East and West at the Round Table.
The drafting in of a Nigerian of Niger Delta extraction as vice president to Umaru Yar’Adua and the granting of an amnesty program was what it eventually took to unlock the flow of oil and gas in the Niger Delta area to keep Nigerian power elites properly nourished, and with the death of Umaru Yar’Adua, Goodluck Jonathan became President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Come April 2011, Nigerians of Niger Delta extraction expect to be seated at the Round Table in their own right, leaving only Nigerians of Eastern extraction who are asserting that they also deserve to be seated in their own right, so that the congregation of the Nigerians Knights around the Round Table, which has no head and where everyone has equal status, would finally be completed.
“We must be the change we want to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi