1.1 Background of the Study
Nigeria gained its independence in October 1960 after about a century of British colonial rule. A crucial part of the decolonization process included the general election held in 1959 to configure the government that would take over from the British. The Northern Peoples’ Congress (NPC) based largely in the country’s northern region, in alliance with the National Council of Nigeria Citizens (NCNC), a party that had widespread acceptance in the eastern and western regions formed the first independent Nigerian government. The third main political party, the Action Group (AG), based mainly in the western region, became the official opposition party. In 1965, the Action Group, still in control of the western regional government, experienced a severe internal crisis that reached its peak when its government leader broke away from the party that elected him and joined another political group – the United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA). Manipulating the results, the new group declared itself winner of the 1965 western regional general elections.
Citizens sympathise to the Action Group, who believed that the polls had been rigged, carried out violent protests against the new government of the UPGA. The opponents set fire to public buildings all over the region and hunted down and killed members of the alliance suspected of having committed electoral fraud. On January 15, 1966, a violent coup d’état brought General J. T. U. Aguiyi-Ironsi to power as Head of State. The regime quickly restored peace to the west and in a most notable decision, issued the decree that dissolved the country’s federal structure and took away most of the regional governments’ sovereign powers. Aguiyi-Ironsi’s military regime was short-lived, however. It collapsed abruptly in July 1966 when army officers who hailed from the northern region, avenged the wrongs of the January coup by killing the Head of State along with the military Governor of the western region. Yakubu Gowon, an officer trained at the British Sandhurst Military Academy was installed as the new Head of State. Outside the armed forces, a well-planned ethnic pogrom was launched in the northern region against persons of eastern extraction, in other words, against Igbo people. In May 1967, the eastern region seceded from Nigeria and declared it the Republic of Biafra. A gruesome 30-month-war erupted between the Gowon-led government and the Republic of Biafra, the war ended in defeat for Biafra in January 1970, Gowon ruled for another five years.
Between 1960 and 1985, Nigeria fell under the rule of five military dictators for 16 years and two democratically elected governments for nine years. Every time a dictator came into office, he would accuse the previous administration of massive corruption and arrest a slew of public officials, some of whom were tried and jailed for lengthy periods. As a rule, it took the new regime, be it military or an elected one, very little time to settle into its own corrupt ways, at some point many of the jailed officers of the previous administration would be released or their prison terms shortened. Sometimes the reduced jail terms or release from prison redressed a clear miscarriage of justice, but usually the move was calculated to buy the support of influential individuals concerned. The sad reality is that every regime in Nigeria- military or civilian comes with its own oppressive mechanism and the people continue to suffer.
In 1986, Dele Giwa, the editor of Newswatch, popular news weekly, was killed by a letter bomb. It had been delivered to his home by unknown individuals thought to have been government security agents. Since its debut in January 1985, Newswatchhas remained one of Nigeria’s foremost news magazines, renowned for research-based opinions on pressing sociopolitical issues. In 1989, three years after Giwa’s assassination, the magazine would be shut down for six months by the Babangida regime, this incident is portrayed in Anthills of Savannah as well as Smouldering Charcoal. Newspaper became the only public medium through which opposition to the excesses of military governments could be aired. Editorials, news reports, and cartoons were published about corruption in high offices, promulgation of decrees that severely curtailed civil freedoms, the high-handedness of public officials, and most importantly the suffering of the general population. Oftentimes, the military governments would respond by suppressing the publication of unflattering news and opinions, defiant editors would be arrested and detained without trial, while independent publishing houses were closed down by soldiers.
In a simple terms Political disillusionment is the betrayal of the masses by the government officials after election. This project, therefore, attempts to investigate the ways in which poverty, corruption, oppression, and betrayal have led to political disillusionment by taking a look at the issues raised in Chinua Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah and Paul Tiyambe’sSmouldering Charcoal.