Origin of Nigerian constitutional regionalism:1951-1959

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By John Amoda
THE Vanguard Comment of March 14, 2012 titled “Challenges of Regionalisation” provides an interesting approach to the history of the Regionalist Federalism of the independence movement of the 1950s.

It is this Regionalist Federalism negotiated in the course of pro-independence constitutional reforms that now serves as the ideal in the current Nigerian Federalist discourse.

Regionalist Federalism is evident in the clamour for fiscal federalism; for restructure of the Federal Government; it is behind calls for state police; and the pre-independence constitutional conferences are the templates for the present demands for sovereign national conferences.

The Vanguard Comment identifies the issues to be addressed in the interplay between the consensus reflected in regional integrated economic planning and the conflict inherent in the political pluralism of the promoters of current regionalisation of economic planning.

The Vanguard’s review of the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria, DAWN, locates the problem in the tension between One-Party hegemonism and the defence of the sovereignty of the partners negotiating a unified system of government for the common good.

In the promotion of DAWN, it is the Ondo government that is uneasy about the hegemonic ambition of its purported partners. Vanguard asks the question and makes the observation that have to be addressed by the promoters of:

·      The South East Economic Commission, SEEC;

·      The South-South originators of BRACED;

·      The Development Agenda for Western Nigeria;

·      The Promoters of Sovereign National Conference. And this question is:

“Will regionalisation mean that only one political party, one political view would be permitted in the area? The movers may not firmly answer this but obviously, regional economic integration requires political integration of the zone. The South East Economic Commission, SEEC, concluded a report on the economy of the South East more than four years ago.

It had the same objectives as DAWN, but shied away from pushing the political platform. The report no longer gets mention- the South East straddles two political parties, and looks agreeable on any matter. Politics will always be at the centre of economic decisions, particularly when the decisions would include states devolving the economic, social and parliamentary powers to a central body”.

Presently there is the demand for a restructuring and reconfiguration of Nigerian society, economy and government. A new Nigeria is envisaged. And the governing parties have chosen to unite along the pre-independence regions for the purpose of ensuring that the New Nigeria is restructured for their advantage. Similar impulses were in operation in the case of the 1950s pre-independence agitations.

The British promise of independence was in acknowledgement of the right of Nigeria to its sovereign existence. Who will exercise the devolved power in a sovereign Nigeria was the vexing question? The pattern of constitutional changes negotiated by the stakeholders with the British colonial authorities underlined the political competition among the independence parties.

Independence parties were the ruling parties in the constitutional regional structure of the Nigerian colonial government.  The main features of the constitution of 1951 was devolution to regional governments of legislative and financial power on specified range of subjects by the Colonial Central Government.

The Constitution of 1954 ushered in regional federal government in the place of the regional federal administration of the colonial government. The 1954 Constitution instituted the allocation of specified subject to the central Government; it allocated specified list of concurrent subjects to both the central and regional governments; and vested residual powers in the regional governments.

The 1957 Constitution under which Nigeria attained the status of a sovereign nation was essentially the same as the 1954 Constitution. The constitutional negotiations were the process whereby the British Colonial Government gradually devolved its sovereignty in Nigeria to the regional governments.

The electoral politics in pro-independence Nigeria were for the running of governments at the regional levels. The independence electoral politics were: (1) to gain control of the regional government and (2) from the regional base to participate in the exercise of sovereign power over Nigeria.

There is therefore a structural similarity between the politics of independence where sovereign exercise of power was the ultimate prize of the electoral parties and the sovereign national conference politics where the exercise of sovereign power is the bone of contention.

To be effective in both politics control of government was a sine qua non. For the independence politics, the objective of sole or joint sovereign exercise of power required the development of regional political parties.

In the campaign for a sovereign national conference the objective is the exercise of sovereign power, and as it was in the pro-independence national election of 1959, the assured base of competition is control of state government by electoral parties. Zonal or regional alliance of political parties will be critical for effectiveness of the process for reconstituting sovereign power in Sovereign National Conference Nigeria.

In the South West, the ACN coalition of parties finds itself confronting in an Ondo State where control is being competited for by Labour, ACN and PDP parties. And when who controls Ondo, whether it will or should be ACN, PDP or Labour, is settled, there will still need to be resolved how the state governments are to be harmonized in the exercise of their constitutional power and what is to be the structure of the “regional” alliance, whether it is to be unitarist, federal or Confederal. In the latter, is where the politics is.

These issues are thrown up by sovereignty politics whose stakeholders are parties organized for control of government. DAWN of the South West is the result of governments in control of their states; Ondo stands out as a state whose governor is not ACN or an ally of ACN.

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