By Obi Nwakanma
Nigeria is the successor state to all the pre-existing powers – the old, exhausted, crumbling and defeated empires, kingdoms, sultanates, and republican aristocracies and the city states that once reigned prior to amalgamation in 1914. It is the modern nation forged out of the colonial contact. From 1914 – 1963, this modern nation was a “British possession,” which means that if fell under the economic and political control of the British Empire. It had been granted self-governing status or independence by the British Empire on October 1, 1960, with the inauguration of the Prime Minister as head of its parliament under the British Commonwealth.
However, on November 16, 1963, on the exact birthday and installation of its first and founding president of the Republic, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Nigeria declared itself a full Federal republic, established by its Act of the Republic, and thus freed legally and politically from the authority of the head of the English commonwealth. The Act of the Republic is important in that it “vested all executive power in the President” of the Federal Republic who was to be elected by an electoral college of the bi-cameral House. According to the provisions of the Charter of the Republic, three institutions constituted the supreme parliament of the land: “the office of the president, the House of Representatives, and the Senate” of the Republic.
It simply moved Nigeria from a “constitutional monarchy” with the Governor-General as the legal representative of the crown – something indeed like a Proconsul – to full power as the Head of an independent and free Republic under a constitutional government. By and large, the parliament of the land became the supreme arbiter of power.
As a federal republic, Nigeria basically established its rule of laws under a representative and democratic government which has no recourse to any other structure of power – a monarchy, an oligarchy, or a Theocracy.
It established itself after various agreements as a republic to be governed by a system of representative government. The evolution of modern Nigeria rests on three dominant groups which came to be the three legs, with the agglomeration of the vast minority groups, forming collectively, the fourth leg on which the nation rests. It is a culturally diverse entity, and the process of its civilization into an organic nation has faced significant bumps. The crisis of the Nigerian state has led to a lot of disillusion, and to significant interrogation. The suspension of the charter of the republic following the military putsch of 1966 led to a tragic civil war and an extended military emergency rule from 1966 -79 and then following the second chain of putsches between 1983 and 1985, a second suspension of the charter of the Republic restored in 1979. It led to the tyrannical rule of military oligarchs from 1983 to 1999. Military rule thus accounts for much of the control of the postcolonial life of Nigeria as a nation. The general effect has been a hiatus in the evolution of democratic and civic culture: corruption, alienation, the suspension of parliament and the rule of law, and the weakening of the courts, the judicial systems, and the system of adjudication and enforcement.
These distortions have led to what I call an inchoate authority system, what Chinweizu once described as the “noyau state,” which in itself has given rise to a systemic disorder or a distortion of the meaning of a republic and a republican state. It has also led to citizens distrust of the state, and created a doubling of affiliation – a double-faced, double-voiced, and ambivalent relationship with the entity of the Nigerian state. Today, most Nigerians have greater loyalty to the “traditional ruler” than to the constitution of the Republic under which they are granted notional citizenship. Nigeria is an iffy nation because it is now in competition with the authority centers that continue to feed the passionate claim of those who see Nigeria increasingly as a burden to their cultural self-expression.
There is a tendency among Nigerians today to regress to nativism rather than sail under the modern ship of state, which in many a mind, is moving towards the precipice under the infirm hands of strange helmsmen with whom they neither connect nor feel a common destiny. This feeling is the greatest threat to the Nigerian state, the presence of subversive undercurrents of affiliation that undermine the status of the nation as a historical system of affiliation. The question of course is, is Nigeria a nation? Is it a Federal Republic? Why does Nigeria, in spite of its claim to being a Republic with power devolving to its current 36 states under federalism, still maintain desiccated Kingdoms and empires? The institution of the Obi of Onitsha or the Sultan of Sokoto or the Alaafin of Oyo or the Tor Tiv, and all such other pretenders to the throne are anachronistic distractions in the emergence of a true Federal Republic. It is in the interest of Nigeria thus to abolish these hereditary institutions, particularly because, they are contending, even if dormant authorities. There cannot be two authorities within a republic other than the established parliament of the land. Under a Republic all citizens are granted equal status.
These “royal highnesses” usurp the authority of the constitution by their own claims. The new nation emerging out of the proposed National conference must strive to abolish all real, imagined, and invented office of the “traditional rulers” because it contradicts the principle of equal citizenship under a republic. Nigeria should learn something from India which in 1975 abolished all such hereditary titles as a way of establishing a modern Indian nation under a democracy.
Indian monarchies were of longer and more storied significance than any Nigerian pseudo-monarchy, and yet they had to go. What the 1975 Act did was to create the principle of citizenship and equality in a modern republic. This first step, the abolition of the “traditional rulers” will establish true freedom and grant true equality to those Nigerians who have been forced to double and slippery loyalties. If this nation is to survive, the primary loyalty should be to the constitution that grants us all equality before the law under a republican constitution.