BY CLIFFORD NDUJIHE,
IF Nigerians had taken the prescriptions of the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, on fiscal federalism, regionalism and devolution of power to the federating units, the country would have frog-jumped the unending search for a people’s constitution and the attendant socio-economic and political retardation.
This was the aggregate views of some eminent Nigerians who congregated in Lagos, yesterday, for the 2014 Obafemi Awolowo Memorial Symposium entitled: “The Nigerian Constitution: The Awo Road Not Taken.”
Held at NECA House, Alausa, those who shared this view included First Republic politician, Alhaji Tanko Yakassai (who chaired the event), Osun State Governor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, Dr. Tokunbo Awolowo-Dosunmu, Professor Pius Adesanmi, Mr Fela Durotoye, Monday Ubani and Bala Zakka.
Dr Awolowo-Dosunmu, daughter of the late sage and chairperson of the Awolowo Foundation, which organized the symposium, in kick-starting the issue said that Awolowo devoted his entire life to Nigeria but unfortunately Nigeria did not take his prescriptions for an effective and working constitution, which include true federalism and resource control.
The over 50 years delay notwithstanding, Awolowo-Dosunmu said the best thing is to right the wrongs now through the about to begin National Conference.
Concurring, Yakassai, who eulogized Awolowo and recounted the late leaders’ unwavering commitment to federalism, said he is a convert of Awolowo’s federalism. He said, “In 1957, when the Nigerian delegation went to the Constitutional Conference in London, they went with three agenda. The NPC went for a confederal system, NEPU wanted unitary system and the AG led by Awolowo asked for a federal arrangement. Then I was an ardent voter of unitary system. The AG delegation converted me and my colleagues into accepting the federal arrangement. I was not only a convert but also I became a foot soldier of the federal system of government.”
Lamenting that the federal system had been bastardized, he urged urgent retracing of steps.
In like manner, Professor Adesanmi, in his 11-page keynote address, said since 1947 till he died, Awolowo had lucidly charted the path to a good federal constitution through his numerous books and speeches but his prescriptions were ignored to the detriment of socio-economic development of the country.
He said: “Given the condition of Nigeria today, given our report card after 53 years of this experiment, it should by now be visible to the blind and audible to the deaf (apologies to my good friend, Patrick Obahiagbon) that the author of ‘Thoughts on Nigerian Constitution (Awolowo) was right about the factors he identified as weighing heavily in favour of true federalism. Those factors are ethnic divergence, geographical separateness and diversity, different economic visions and divergent resources, religious differences and, above all, linguistic differences. Identifying these factors which compel federalism is the easy part. How the author (Awolowo) arrives at his unshakable conclusion that any nation in which these factors are assembled but which insists on foraging in constitutional pastures other federalism is doomed is an entirely different proposition”
Quoting Awolowo, he said: “In any country where there are divergences of language and of nationality, particularly of language- a unitary constitution is always a source of bitterness and hostility on the part of linguistic or national minority groups. On the other hand, as soon as a federal constitution is introduced in which each linguistic or national group is recognized and accorded regional autonomy, any bitterness and hostility against constitutional arrangements as such disappear. If the linguistic or national group concerned is backward or too weak Vis-a- Vis the majority group or groups, their bitterness or hostility may be dormant or suppressed. But as soon as they become enlightened and political conscious, and/or courageous leadership emerges amongst them, the bitterness and hostility come into the open, and remain sustained with all possible venom and rancour, until home rule is achieved.”
Also speaking, Ubani said Awolowo was qualified to be called a prophet who saw tomorrow because he foresaw, wrote and proffered solutions to all the challenges we having today but no one listened him.
He said most of those who clamoured for the National Conference are now disappointed and unhappy with the modalities for holding the dialogue.
His words: “most of us who welcomed the idea of the National Conference are not too happy with the modalities rolled out. Take for instance, the issue of no-go-area. Are we saying that if at the conference the people elected or selected there refused to agree on the restructuring of Nigeria for efficiency, which is the main issue for the conference, can we not call it quit at that point? …What President Jonathan administration has succeeded in doing with the idea of a no-go-are is postponing the doomsday. Nigeria presently is sitting on a keg of gunpowder as it approaches 2015. All the geo-political zones are threatening fire and brimstone if they are not allowed to produce the presidency in 2015. We dare not go into the election of 2015 without first and foremost resolving several of these issues that tend to pull us apart.”
On his part, Durtotoye tasked those claiming to be Awoist to emulate the late sage in their thinking, vision, walk and action instead of merely wearing Awo’s cap, Awo’s eye glasses, Awo’s shoes, etc.