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Revisiting Azikiwe and Bello’s 1959 Antagonistic Discourse

Revisiting Azikiwe and Bello’s 1959 Antagonistic Discourse

At different political periods and occasions, politicians are expected to make statements that promote themselves or a national cause towards socioeconomic and political development. During the pre-independence era, Nigeria, like other countries partitioned and colonised by the West and some European countries, had people who ignited the political consciousness of many citizens, which culminated in the current political advancement across the country. As Nigerians and their friends throughout the world continue debating the 2023 presidential election outcomes, our analyst examines the statements of the two prominent politicians of the pre- and post-independence eras. Chief Nnamdi Benjamin Azikiwe was the first President of Nigeria, ruling the country from 1963 to 1966. He was considered one of the driving forces behind the actualization of the country’s independence in 1960. This, according to many sources, earned him the title “father of Nigerian nationalism.” While Chief Azikiwe led the Eastern people to the independence negotiation table in various locations in Nigeria and outside the country, Alhaji Ahmadu Ibrahim Bello, usually called Sardauna of Sokoto, was a conservative Nigerian statesman who masterminded Northern Nigeria through its independence. Archival sources indicate that the two politicians engaged in a conversation during the campaign for the federal elections of December 12, 1959.

Azikiwe: “Let us forget our differences.”

Bello: “No, let us understand our differences. I am a Muslim and a Northerner. You are a Christian and an Easterner. By understanding our differences, we can build unity in our country.

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Examining the statement from a discourse perspective, our analyst notes that the two politicians engaged in an antagonistic discourse, an incompatibility that results in being unable to specifically agree with the concept of unity. Alhaji Bello specifically identified religion and regionalism as critical differences that must be understood, not ignored, as Chief Azikiwe suggested. The view of Alhaji Bello suggests that ignoring the differences would continue to make defining and accepting the concept of unity difficult.

Alhaji Ahmadu Bello reconstructed Nnamdi Azikiwe’s statement by adding negative and positive conditionalities. While Chief Nnamdi Azikiwe believes that the needed unity and peace can be achieved by forgetting our differences, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello believes that the appropriate way to achieve both is to recognise the differences and find ways of understanding them. From Azikiwe’s statement “Let us forget our differences”, our analyst notes that the late politician expects Alhaji Ahmadu Bello to give room for discussing equality, partnership and cooperation irrespective of being an Easterner or a Northerner, as well as having different religions.

Over 64 years ago, when the two prominent politicians had the conversation, there were no social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, which have greatly shaped the ways contemporary politicians and Nigerians are redoing these discourses. It is appreciative to know that the new technologies have enabled many Nigerians to express their feelings based on common interests and shared identities towards inclusivity. However, our analyst notes that it is instructive to know that the technologies have done more harm than good for the unity negotiated and contested by the two politicians. Between September 28, 2022, and February 24, 2023, covering the 2023 presidential election campaign period, political parties, their supporters and citizens deployed differential strategies such as “we are better than you” using varied social media. The contemporary ethnic groups, especially Igbo and Yoruba, have equally engaged in marginalization, separation and religion discourses, which continue to make the same unity discussed by the two prominent politicians a contested concept over the last 64 years.

The 2023 presidential election has been completed. Candidates and political parties have the right to present their case at the election tribunal up to the Supreme Court. People are also waiting for the governorship and state assembly elections. Like the presidential election, it is expected that people and organisations will be dissatisfied with the outcomes. So, as the two politicians debated, should we ignore or understand our differences when the outcomes were not what we expected?

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