Home Opinion Prof Ben Nwabueze and Moses Oludele Idowu’s apostasy, By Chuks Iloegbunam

Prof Ben Nwabueze and Moses Oludele Idowu’s apostasy, By Chuks Iloegbunam

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Late Prof Ben Nwabueze

Ihechukwu Madubuike’s new book is entitled Aka Ekpuchi Onwa: Ndigbo Unbowed, (Eminent Biographies Limited; 2024). Professor Madubuike devoted the book’s Chapter Five to demolishing the infantile thesis of Moses Oludele Idowu, a poseur with claims to political punditry and Christian evangelism. Idowu posited a fallacy on Ndigbo by arguing that “The Igbo political culture of compromises is at the root of the lackluster, unenviable position of the Igbo as a people in the political process and equation rather than any conspiracy as their scholars and hagiographers have always maintained.”

A sample of Dr. Madubuike’s rebuke:

“I am troubled that some of our Yoruba cousins keep drawing us backwards, because they believe the Igbo are their immortal political enemies. To make the above assertions about the Igbo without qualms by Moses Oludele Idowu in his ‘Wages of Compromises: The Igbo Race As Object Lesson’ is pushing provocation and illogicality to the level of the absurd. The thesis is as unsustainable as it is otiose. If the article is intended to be seen as part of the continuing conversation to interrogate the Nigerian geopolitical space, to inquire into and understand the fundamentals of nation-building, and the overall importance of justice in determining the affairs of human beings, then it can be tolerated. But the write-up is about none of these. The article is meant to reinforce the usual negative profiling of the Igbo by her traducers and present him as the perpetual fall guy in the polity. It is insensitive to attempt to rubbish the political efforts of a whole ethnic formation to justify irrationality and sophistry. First, Idowu says that there is nothing unjust in denying the Igbo the presidency of Nigeria; second, he states the injustice at the level of a fatal flaw – that is hubris, flowing from what he calls “the law of nature and the principles that govern the earth.” He waxes spiritual and goes metaphysical with these words: “Life operates on definite spiritual laws and principles… that determine what goes to one and what comes to the other.”

Habba Moses! Which spiritual laws are you referring to? Definitely not the biblical Mosaic laws, or the New Testament laws, which are based on the remission of sins and forgiveness through the intercession of Jesus Christ for his followers. Or is Idowu referring to his native Yoruba spiritualism? Any spiritual laws the Igbo do not subscribe to cannot affect them. We are averse to committing nso ani, and we are at peace with our God. The preeminent spiritualism that drives the Igbo is one of constant interface with our God, leading to the principle of Onye kwe chi ya ekwe – the immortal force that drives NdiIgbo. Not done, Idowu goes ahead to compare the political fortunes of the Yoruba tribe with the fortunes of the Igbo. And all these to justify why the Igbo should not be president of Nigeria! He does not like partnerships based on compromises, yet he condemns the Igbo for not forming an alliance with his preferred Yoruba party, at least on two occasions. The first was during the contested British-managed independence election of 1959 when the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) was consulting with both the Eastern and Western parties to form a central government. Next was in the Second Republic when the 1979 FEDECO-conducted election did not produce an outright winner and there was a need to reach a compromise. In the First Republic, James Robertson and the Colonial Office had made up their minds about where power should go, and the choice of Mallam Tafawa Balewa as the Prime Minister was a fait accompli. Neither Nnamdi Azikiwe nor Obafemi Awolowo could have done much to change it, just as none did much to change the rigged demographic head count. But more important was the fact that many Nigerian leaders of the time were more interested in ethnic preservation than in tribal integration…

For over five decades, the Igbo have been denied the “freedom” of full participation in making unfettered inputs that would enhance their political rights through the levers of participatory democracy, of which the presidency is the highest representation. It is not for the lack of trying nor for the deficit of the skills of bargaining, reaching out, merit, or the cliché of belongingness. It is the result of a conspiracy of the power elite. It is also to say that the “unfreedoms” that the Igbo have suffered since the civil war era have nothing to do with Idowu’s dubious spiritual laws. They have to do with man-made systemic obstacles. With representations far below their due in the National Assembly, the Executive, the Judiciary, and the MDAs, the Igbo power to make inputs that will improve political, social, and economic well-being is highly circumscribed. The author of the Wages of Compromises: The Igbo Race As Object Lesson sounds like a fink, a fin de siècle raconteur of decadence at pains with how to handle a semi-fiction. His treatise that the Igbo have no political future is baseless and therefore non-sequitur. Accepting his recipe would only bring further grief to the Igbo. It is also ahistorical. Idowu has not also proved by statistics that the average Yoruba man is better off than his Igbo counterpart in terms of per capita Gross National Product. The opposite may be the case. Indeed, internal group comparisons may shatter Idowu’s thesis, a supposition that nourishes infantile fatalism. Observed Paul Anber in his Modernisation And Politics of Disintegration: Nigeria and the Igbo: Eastern Nigeria had the highest number of registered cars in Nigeria as of 1963 by a large margin. The number of Registered Businesses in Nigeria as of 1963 was as follows: East 68,220; West 5,716; North 2,407.” He concluded by saying that all the progress that the East made was wiped out by the war. By the time Awo brought his free education programme in 1953, Eastern Region was far ahead in education. Wrote Paul Anber: Meaning, as good as Awo’s free education was, it was meant to catch up with the East that was far ahead of the West, despite the fact that the East was still paying a limited contributory fee. What if it were like in the West, the gap would have even been “wider.” Western Nigeria embraced Western education before the East did, because of its closeness to the sea, from where the missionaries entered Nigeria and established the first schools, but the Igbo soon caught up and became domineering in the field by the 1960s. The following excerpts tell a different story from Idowu’s: Although the Yoruba led the thrust for education because of their advantage of first contact with the British, the Igbo since 1930 have shot ahead. By late 1940, the disparity between the Yoruba and the Igbo had virtually disappeared. There were nearly as many Igbo students (115) as Yoruba’s (118) in the University College Ibadan, by 1952. Even at the time universal primary education was introduced, the percentage of the population over seven years of age who were literate was higher in the East than any other region: East 10.6%; West 9.5% North 9%. Since 1959, the East has had more teachers and pupils than any other area of the country, with the heaviest emphasis on primary education. Figures for elementary and secondary (education) indicate that the approximate ratio of teacher to pupil population in 1963 was 1 for every 1500 in the East, 1 for every 2500 in the West, and 1 for every 10000 in the North….” The above was taken from the research of an impartial scholar who is neither Igbo nor Yoruba on the educational and other realities in Nigeria.”

Why have I quoted Professor Madubuike in extenso? It is to point to Igbo bashing as Moses Oludele Idowu’s stock in trade. It is also to stress that his efforts and those of his cohorts are immaterial to the march of Ndigbo. In my dialect of the Igbo language, this Idowu fellow will be described as an omekitolo, which means recidivist. It is this incorrigibility that he exhibited on October 30, 2023, when he published an article entitled ‘Professor Nwabueze: And The Man Died.’ In it, he execrated Professor Nwabueze, pouring invectives on the internationally renowned constitutional lawyer’s casket. He claimed that it was Nwabueze who, in 1966, imposed a unitary system of government on Nigeria. He claimed that it was Nwabueze who nullified the June 12, 1993, presidential election. He further claimed that Nwabueze destroyed the country’s university system. Because this fellow’s claims are so thoughtlessly outlandish, it is important to report him verbatim:

“Three important occasions we recall when this man played decisive role in Nigerian history and they were for the worse. First it was Nwabueze who drafted the obnoxious, accursed retrogressive Unification decree that Aguiyi Ironsi used to abrogate the Regional form of government that had been useful and served each region well for the overall progress of Nigeria. For reasons that were known to him and his kinsman in power they abrogated the truly Federal arrangements in place for a Unitary government over which an Igbo man would be head. This was shortly after a controversial coup of January 15, 1966 in which most of the leading military officers and political leaders of other regions were dead but not a single blood was shed in the East. Despite the fact that most of the Committee members opposed this abrogation and only the Igbo members supported it, Ironsi decided to sail on and implement this terrible decree destroying the federal arrangements and regionalism that the founding fathers had put in place. We are still suffering for that blunder till today.

“The thunder generated by that precipitate action of a minority report led to the counter coup of July, 1966 and the resulting pogrom and the consequent Civil War. It would forever be a stain on this man’s intellectual capacity and career that he was the instrument of the document that has brought so much pain, so much sufferings to so many people for so long a time.

“It is equally sad that Ben Nwabueze had a hand in the advice that finally led Ibrahim Babangida to annulling the freest and fairest election in the annals of democracy in Nigeria. The book to read is Prof. Omo Omoruyi’s book THE TALES OF JUNE 12.

“The third tragedy that this man brought upon Nigeria directly and indirectly was that he was Sani Abacha’s minister of education who presided over the 9-month strike in which our universities were shut without any payments and had to return back to job with shame. That was when the university system died. That was when the man died in our academia. And this old man, wily and cunning, was instrumental to this tragedy. What crimes did Nigeria commit against you, Prof. Nwabueze? What crimes did unborn children commit against you that you dealt us with so fatal blows?“

What will become of any society that has only Idowu’s ilk for teachers? Decree 34 was promulgated on May 24, 1966. With General Aguiyi-Ironsi assassinated and his regime toppled on July 29, 1966, Lieutenant Colonel Yakubu Gowon assumed the country’s leadership, repealing Decree 34 in his maiden nationwide broadcast on August 1, 1966. Decree 9 of 1966, the legal instrument of the decree’s abolition, was issued on August 31, 1966. This means that, on paper, the controversial decree was in effect for just three months.

Now, Moses Oludele Ajayi blames Professor Nwabueze for the decree, charging that “It would forever be a stain on this man’s intellectual capacity and career that he was the instrument of the document that has brought so much pain, so much sufferings to so many people for so long a time.”

But Decree 34 was not Nwabueze’s. It belonged to General Aguiyi-Ironsi’s Supreme Military Council (SMC). Yet, Idowu blamed Nwabueze and Ndigbo for it. The silliness and illogicality of his position, which is often parroted by dissemblers, is like saying that a mansion is a part of one of its rooms. In his already mentioned broadcast of August 1, 1966, Colonel Gowon claimed that the basis for Nigerian unity was nonexistent. My research showed that his infamous speech was written by multiple hands, especially Mr. Justice Mohammed Bello, who later became Nigeria’s Chief Justice, Major Baba Usman of Military Intelligence, and Major Shittu Alao of the Air Force who died in a plane crash on October 15, 1969. No one has ever blamed these pseudo-speechwriters for Gowon’s howler. But Nwabueze must carry the can of Decree 34 because of the story that he authored it. The June 12 presidential election was nullified by virtue of an unsigned and undated statement written on a piece of paper that bore no government seal. That document was distributed to State House correspondents by Mr. Nduka Irabor, the Press Secretary to Vice-President Augustus Aikhomu who knew next to nothing about its existence. Why didn’t Oludele Idowu blame Nduka Irabor for the nullification of the transparent election won by Chief Moshood Abiola?

Talking about Mr. Irabor recalls his arraignment, trial, and imprisonment with Tunde Thompson, his Guardian colleague, based on the infamous Public Officers Protection Against False Accusation Decree 4 of 1984. It is generally known that Muhammadu Buhari was never a legal draftsman. But till today, no one has named Decree 4’s drafter for pillorying. Nor has anyone named the drafter of Decree 20 of 1984 by which Buhari retroactively sent three young Nigerians to the grave by firing squad for hard drug possession. These citations stress that impaling Professor Nwabueze for Decree 34 is like the eye blaming a handkerchief for its tears.

Characteristically, Idowu claimed that “most of the Committee members opposed” Decree 34, and yet, Aguiyi-Ironsi promulgated it with the support of the Igbo members of a phantom committee! This nonsense creates the impression that there had been a national referendum or plebiscite on whether to adopt the Unification Decree. Decree 34 was decided by the Supreme Military Council, a nine-member body made up of three Yoruba – Brigadier Babafemi Olatunde Ogundipe, Commodore Joseph Akinwale Wey, and Lieutenant Colonel Francis Adekunle Fajuyi; two Igbo – Major General Johnson Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi and Lieutenant Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu; One Fulani in Lieutenant Colonel Hassan Usman Katsina; One Izon in Lieutenant Colonel George Tamuno Kurobo; one Urhobo in Lieutenant Colonel David Akpode Ejoor; and one Angas in Lieutenant Colonel Yakubu Cinwa Gowon.

I asked Chief Gabriel Chike Michael Onyiuke, General Aguiyi-Ironsi’s Attorney General, why Decree 34 had to be promulgated without the consensus of the ruling body. His reply:

“That cannot be correct. Unless any member of the Supreme Military Council had some mental reservations which he did not articulate, the decision to enact Decree No. 34 in terms of the Decree was the unanimous decision of the Supreme Military Council. I may mention that when this matter was raised at Aburi Ghana, according to the tape-recorded proceedings of that meeting, Commodore Wey (as he then was) stated categorically that Decree No. 34 was the unanimous decision of the SMC and so it was. Although I cannot lay my hands on the minutes of the proceedings of the Supreme Military Council, I am certain that various meetings at which all the members of the SMC were present were held on this matter. It was not a decision taken at only one meeting of the SMC. The draft of Decree No.34 was considered at various meetings of the SMC and amendments by way of additions and deletions were made. In fact, it was at one of such meetings that Section 4 Subsection 3 was introduced. By this subsection, the recruitment of officers below the salary group of 2272, that is to say, Senior Assistant Secretary, was delegated to the Provincial Public Service Commissions. This was designed to accommodate the unequal educational development in the Groups of Provinces. The meeting of the Supreme Military Council at which the Draft Decree was finally approved was held on a Saturday. I recall that the deliberations were carried on in a very relaxed atmosphere with members sitting around the swimming pool at the State House over dishes of Saturday palm oil chop. I remember that it was Lieutenant Colonel Hassan Katsina (as he then was) who suggested and it was agreed that the promulgation of the Decree would be delayed until the Military Governors had returned to their Capitals. In retrospect and with the benefit of hindsight it may be contended that Decree No. 34 was ill-suited for a country like Nigeria with its tribes and nationalities but this is a far cry from saying that the Decree was not the unanimous decision of the SMC.” (See pages 123/124 of Eminent Biographies Limited; 2019.)“

General Yakubu Gowon is still alive and well. He has a copy of the Aguiyi-Ironsi biography in his library because I ensured that he got one. Yet, to this date, he has never contradicted Chief Onyiuke. Decree 34 was less than 100 days old when it was ostensibly repealed and had, therefore, not taken root. Why did General Yakubu Gowon entrench the “obnoxious” unitary system of government throughout his nine-year dictatorship? Was it because it was expedient for military rulership or because he had two heads? Why has no one ever blamed him for consolidating an administrative system glibly called reprehensible by the likes of Moses Oludele Idowu?

All the military regimes Nigeria ever had operated the unitary system of government. So, how come Generals Murtala Mohammed, Olusegun Obasanjo, Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha, and Abdulsalami Abubakar have never been excoriated for the cardinal sin of operating the unitary system of governance? Could it be because no Igbo could be found in their lot?

There is more on Idowu’s blasphemous trail. According to the man, “It is equally sad that Ben Nwabueze had a hand in the advise that finally led Ibrahim Babangida to annulling the freest and fairest election in the annals of democracy in Nigeria. The book to read is Prof. Omo Omoruyi’s book THE TALES OF JUNE 12.” Well, I published The Tale of June 12. And I personally edited every one of its 350 pages. Therefore, I can authoritatively state and reiterate that Professor Omoruyi never placed the blame for June 12’s nullification on Professor Nwabueze’s doorstep. Professor Omoruyi held his bosom friend, President Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (and cliques of the military brass), primarily accountable for the annulment. In addition, he blamed the following for various degrees of culpability: the Democratic Structures, the Transition Council, the Traditional Rulers, the Political Class, and the International Community. (See page 263 of The Tale of June 12; Press Alliance Network Limited, Lagos; 1999)

As a matter of fact, the entire book, especially Chapters Four to Seven, provides in every detail all the characters that, in various ways, betrayed June 12. With its publication, Professor Omoruyi carved for himself a richly deserved niche in the pantheon of the most seasoned African political scientists. Anyone intent on understanding Nigerian politics must read the book. It propounds the real reasons behind the nullification of June 12. It explains, 24 years after its appearance, the fundamental set of circumstances that commanded the trajectory of the February 25, 2023, presidential ballot. That the contents of this innovatory and scholarly tome have been wantonly bastardised by an irreverent and myopic Moses Oludele Idowu recommends the strongest of damnatory epithets. The man’s perfidy will leave Professor Omoruyi writhing in his grave.

Idowu said that, as Education Minister under General Sani Abacha, Professor Nwabueze “presided over the 9- month strike in which our universities were shut without any payments and had to return back to job with shame. That was when the university system died.” The appropriate response to this balderdash is that Professor Nwabueze never served in General Sani Abacha’s regime.

Moses Oludele Idowu apparently allows himself to be described as an evangelist, pastor, and even bishop. But his visceral fondness for bigotry should raise the pertinent question of whether he would recognise the Bible if a copy were thrust in his front. Was it Professor Nwabueze who decreed the Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket? Was it the legal luminary that drafted the Islamization of Nigeria script? Was it the professor of Law who drafted the horrendous amputation of all known laws and canons of natural and statutory justice that poured like destructive lava from the Presidential Election Petitions Court and the Supreme Court? On September 21, 2023, the Enugu State Governorship Election Tribunal sustained the “election” of the State Governor even after the Director General of the National Youth Service Corps stated, and his senior officials testified under oath, that the man had presented a fake NYSC discharge certificate to the INEC, claiming that the certificate was not a prerequisite for candidacy in governorship elections! Was it Professor Nwabueze who drafted that travesty of justice? What did Moses Oludele Idowu, the “Christian” prelate say on all the foregoing? Precious little! He busily chased and roasted rodents while a conflagration reduced his home to cinders.

This is the point, though: If any rational Nigerian yearned for knowledge of the country’s contemporary history and Professor Ben Nwabueze’s role in it, the last thing they would do is listen to the incoherent rantings of a conceited and disreputable ignoramus. They would rather drink from the fountain of knowledge that is Professor Mike Ozekhome (SAN). In his tribute entitled ‘Professor Ben Nwabueze, SAN, LLD: The Exit of a Legal Colossus’, Chief Ozekhome wrote:

“Ben Nwabueze’s dedication to legal scholarship was unwavering. His contributions to the field of law were simply vast and varied. He authored numerous books and articles, each one a testament to his keen intellect and deep understanding of the subject matter he dealt with. His works on constitutional law, administrative law, and human rights law have become foundational texts for generations of law students, legal practitioners, and members of the Bench.

One of his most influential works, The Presidential Constitution of Nigeria, delved into the complexities of Nigeria’s constitutional structure, drawing attention to issues of federalism, decentralisation, and the balance of power. Nwabueze’s insights and recommendations have guided discussions on constitutional reforms in Nigeria for decades, serving as a blueprint for the country’s path towards a more just and equitable society and governance structure.

In addition to his academic writings, Professor Nwabueze was an active participant in legal reform and advocacy. He served on numerous government committees and panels, providing his expert input on various legal and constitutional issues. His contributions to the development of Nigeria’s legal system were not only profound but also instrumental in shaping the nation’s legal landscape.“

Seekers of light would also listen to Dr. Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, a distinguished, US-based professor of Law, who in ‘The life, loves and adventures of Obiefuna Benjamin Nwabueze’ wrote thus:

“In July 2013, Akunnia Obiefuna Benjamin Nwabueze, the extraordinary scholar, teacher, lawyer, winner of the Nigerian National Order of Merit (NNOM), and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), applied to the Almighty for another five years on earth. In keeping with the record of a man in whose life Providence appears to have been both present and generous, he received double the time he asked for, living another ten years…At the time of his passing at the end of October 2023, Nwabueze was the most senior lawyer in Nigeria. With a scholarly output that included over 30 books, 100 conference keynotes, and over 200 peer-reviewed scientific articles, he was probably also the most prolific and influential legal scholar out of Africa. Published between 1973 and 1977, his trilogy on Constitutionalism in the Emergent States, Presidentialism in Commonwealth Africa, and Judicialism in Commonwealth Africa reshaped the study and understanding of public law after colonialism.”

Chuks Iloegbunam is the author of “The Promise of a New Era,” the biography of Mr. Peter Obi.