BEFORE the January 15, 1966 Military Coup, there were five constitutions operating in this country.
There was the Constitution of the Federal Republic of 1963. Then we had the Constitution of Northern Nigerian Law of 1963, the Constitution of the Eastern Nigerian Law of 1963, the Constitution of Western Nigerian Law of 1963 and the Constitution of Mid-Western Nigerian Act of 1964.
The four Regions were administered in a way, as if they were Sovereign states.
Sub-section 2D of Section 63 of the Constitution of the Western Nigerian Law of 1963, subsection 1 of section 64 of the constitution of the Mid-Western Nigerian Act of 1964, sub-section 1 of section 66 of Eastern Nigeria constitution Law and sub-section 1 of section 68 of the constitution of Northern Nigeria Law of 1963, all made provisions for the appointments of agent Generals for the four regions in the United Kingdom.
The Agent Generals were like modern days ambassadors. For example, the Western Region appointed Chief Emmanuel Akintoye Akinbowale Olasunmbo Coker (1924-2000), as Agent General to the United Kingdom and he served in that office between 1960-1963. His scheduled was not in conflict with that of the Nigerian Ambassador to the United Kingdom at that time, Alhaji Abdul-Maliki (1914-1969), the son of the late Attah of Igbirra land- a true diplomat and bureaucrat.
And the age-long dream among students of the then Western Region,at that time was to clinch Western Region Scholarship instead of The Federal Government Scholarship. Those were the booming days of the cocoa era.
Each of the Regions had their own Chief Justices, Police Commissioners, Legislative Houses and many other bodies. We remember in particular Sir Louis Odumegwu Ojukwu (1909-1966), Father of the late, Ikemba of Nnewi, Chief Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, who held the powerful posts of Chairman of Eastern Region Development Corporation and Eastern Nigeria Marketing Board.
Each of the Regions differed on some key issues. Section 23 of the Constitution Northern Nigeria Law of 1963 ruled that” the business of the Legislative Houses shall be conducted in English and in Hausa”. Other Regions upheld only English in their Legislative houses.
The Western Region even had a Court of Appeal which served as an Intermediate Court between its high Court and the Supreme Court. The only uniformity was in the procedure for the establishment of key office holders. They all had premiers and Governors.
The Governors, according to the four Regional Constitutions shall be appointed” by the President acting in accordance with the advice of the Premier”.
The post of Governors was more ceremonial for the Executive power resided in the hands of Premiers, who had a majority in the legislative houses.
Interestingly, except the Mid-Western Nigeria Constitution, Act of 1964, the three other regional constitutions, named all the Governors.
As for the Premiers, we had Sir Ahmadu Bello (1909-1966) in the North, Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola (1910-1966), who succeeded Chief Obafemi Awolowo (1909-1987), in the Western Region, Dr.Micahel Iheonukara Okpara (1920-1984), who succeded Dr.Nnamdi Azikiwe (1909-1996) as Premier in the Eastern Region and Chief Dennis Chukadebe Osadebe (1911-1994) as premier of the Mid- Western Region.
CHIEF Osadebe had earlier resigned as President of the Senate to be elected as Premier of the newly created Mid- Western Region following a plebiscite by the people of Edo and the Delta provinces to carve Mid-Western Region out of the Western Region.
In the Western Region, Sir Gabriel Odeleye Fadahunsi (1901-1986), an educationist and former chairman of Nigerian Airways Corporation succeded Sir Adesoji Aderemi (1889-1980), the former executive of the Nigerian Railway Corporation and a wealthy Cocoa magnate, who was on the Ile-Ife throne as Ooni for more than 50 years, as governor, while Chief Samuel Jereton Mariere (1907-1971), the Olorogun of Evwreni, a former executive of John Holts Company, was appointed the first Governor of Mid- West Region.
In the Eastern Region, a physician, Dr.Akanu Ibiam (1906-1995) married to Yoruba woman, Eudora Olayinka Sasegbon was appointed Governor while in Northern Nigeria, an educationist and former Waziri of Kanuri Kingdom, Sir Kashim Shettima Ibrahim (1910-1990) was appointed Governor.
All these were in place until the Army struck on the night of January 14, 1966.
In taking over power, General Thomas Johnson Umanakwe Aguiyi Ironsi(1924-1966) told the nation later on January 28, 1966: ”All Nigerians want an end to Regionalism. Tribal loyalties and activities which promote tribal consciousness and sectional interest must give way to urgent task of National reconstruction”.
Also in a broadcast on February 21,1966, the same General Ironsi said: “It has become apparent to all Nigerians that rigid adherence to regionalism was the bane of the last regime and one of the main factors which contributed to its downfall”. He was referring to the regime of then Prime Minister, Sir AbubakarTafawaBalewa (1912-1966). He then went ahead to establish a Unitary system of Government. He renamed the Federal Military Government as National Military Government, re-designated the regions as group of regions and incorporated all Civil Servants, Federal and Regional into single National Public Service.
General Ironsi’s critics charged that the Unitary System of Government was a tribal agenda.
In spite of opposition by two of his appointed Military Governors, Lt. Col. David Akpode Ejoor(80) of Mid-West and Lt. Col. Hassan UsmanKatsina (1933-1995) son of Alhaji UsmanNagogo, the Emir of Katsina (1905-1981)of North, General Ironsi went ahead to sign the Unification decree 34 on May 24, 1966.
At Ibadan, shortly after the Kaduna meeting,where he tried to explain the beauty in his Unitary Government to the traditional rulers, General Ironsi was toppled from power and General YakubuCinwa Gowon took over power on July 29, 1966.
In the midst of the confusion following the downfall of his regime, General Ironsi was killed along with his host, Lt. Col. Adekunle Fajuyi (1926-1966), the then Military Governor of the Western Region.
On August 31, 1966, Gowon abolished decree 34 and restored the Federal System. On May 27, 1967, General Gowon created the twelve states, killed the four Regions and handed Supreme authority on the Central Government. It has been so since.
In his broadcast to the nation on November 30, 1966, he said: “Once we adopt the so called temporary Federation, it would be hard to come together again. This is not the future to which our children are entitled to; we have no moral right to commit future generation of Nigerians to this disastrous course”.
In creating the twelve states, General Gowon said: “The main obstacle to future stability is the present structural imbalance in the Nigerian Federation. Even Decree 8 or confederation or loose association will never survive if any section of the country is in a position to hold others into ransom”.
In a nationwide broadcast on October 1,1970, marking the country’s tenth independence anniversary, General Gowon announced that the Armed Forces had decided to hand over power to civilians in January 1976.
Four years later on October 1,1974, the same General Gowon announced in a broadcast that the armed Forces had considered the 1976 deadline for return to civilian rule as “unrealistic “. The Armed Forces he said, would not honour that pledge without plunging the nation into chaos. “It would indeed amount to betrayal of trust to adhere rigidly to that target date”, he said.
General Gowon also failed to keep his promise on the setting up of the Constituent Assembly which he promised the nation on January 30, 1966. He paid for it.
While in Kampala,capital of Uganda for the summit of Organisation of African Unity (OAU),on July 29,1975, he was also toppled from power and General Murtala Ramat Muhammed (1938-1976), former aide-de-camp of the 1962 administrator of Old Western Region, Dr. Moses Adekoyejo Majekodunmi (1916-2012), took over.
The first act of General Murtala Muhammmed was to set up a Constitutional drafting Committee and a constituent assembly. He then did the unthinkable- he imposed this wasteful,extravagant and prodigal Presidential System of Government on the nation, without a referendum.
In this part of the world, the government and the leaders, get way with everything because of the docility of a conformist society.
By the time General Olusegun Obasanjo inaugurated the constituent assembly on October 6, 1977, following General Murtala Muhammed brutal murder on February 13, 1976, he warned the assembly under the leadership of Justice Egbert UdoUdoma (1917-1998), “that the task before you is to deliberate on the draft constitution and pass it to the Supreme Military Council for promulgation into law”.
Both Nduka Onum and I on that day covered the event for THE PUNCH along with Mohammed Haruna of the New Nigeria, Tunde Thompson of the Sketch, and Femi Ogunsanwo of the Daily Times. Our conclusion at the Press gallery on that day was that, this is a command. An instruction.
And since then till now, four elected Presidents have operated the Presidential System of Government,yet we are still debating a suitable system of Government, best for us.
Some want a total review of the Presidential System of Government,some want us to go back to Regionalism, some want a Sovereign National Conference to determine a better system of government, and some want a return to the Parliamentary system of Government. As a people this Presidential System of Government, will lead us to nowhere.
Mr. ERIC TENIOLA, former editor of the Evening Punch, wrote from Lagos.