By Chioma Gabriel, Editor Special Featutes
Ever since Nigeria got her independence in 1960, successive governments have made several attempts at creating a supreme body of laws, or constitutions, for the easy administration of the polity. Nigeria was founded on the false tripod of three major tribes: Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo, whereas, there were over 250-500 ethnic nationalities in Nigeria.
Nigeria is currently divided into 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory Abuja with 774 local government areas which are split into the six geo-political zones.
There have been arguments and counter arguments on whether or not the country would be better under the six zones. Many schools of thought felt that the zones as we currently have them would be better off if they constitute the federating units of the country. The six zones currently include the South-East, South-West, South-South, North Central, North West and North East zones.
The agitation for restructuring Nigeria led to the civil war of 1967-1970. Opponents of federation argued that it would be an easy exit way for zones that are disenchanted to leave the Nigerian state. It is obvious that the British, when they were seeking political power, did not care about the motley of over 250 tribal nationalities in Nigeria. They paid allegiance to the metropolitan power and cared less about Africa.
The false tripod on which Nigeria was created was the origin of the structural defects in the country today, necessitating the unending calls for national conference despite the several held in the past.
Federalism based on multi-national states and national identities that existed in Nigeria was articulated by Chief Obafemi Awolowo whilst the Rt. Honourable Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe believed in one strong united Nigeria in terms of a unitary Nigeria without paying attention to what he felt were African principalities of tribes. To drive home his point, Azikiwe contested election in Lagos, the Western Region and he actually won but overnight, he was taught a shocking lesson that tribes were important. In the night, Chief Awolowo turned his victory into failure by becoming the leader of oppostion in the west.
What was this saying? The structural arrangement of Nigeria was based on falsehood. That arrangement produced three unequal federating members within the union in such a funny way that one of the federating units called Northern Nigeria, had almost three quarters of the land mass of Nigeria and dictates whatever it wanted for life and this was a sign of what would create a problem.
This defect, according to Dr Paul Unongo, was pointed out at the resumed London constitutional conference in 1957/58 but it was ignored by the founding fathers of Nigeria who were more interest in getting power out of the hands of the British.
While the colonialists sought laws for the easy administration of the colonies, the indigenous political leaders sought laws that will reflect the aspirations of the Nigerian people while at the same time, creating a united, indivisible entity called Nigeria.
Many Nigerians wanted regions so that people would have their own idiosyncratic loyalties to the tribal entities that would bond them when they congregate, as Hausa, Yoruba people, as Igbo people, as Tiv, as Efik or Junkun or as Ijaw. Nigeria was not structured along that line. And so, fifty-six years later, Nigeria is still talking about restructuring
In the beginning…
There were all manner of political and constitutional conferences before independence aimed at developing laws, or constitutions, to meet the needs and aspirations of the numerous ethnic groups within the geographical entity called Nigeria.
In 1913, an attempt to create a supreme body of laws to guide the people started when the first constitution was created by Order in Council. This legislative process was carried out in the Commonwealth Realm in the name of the Queen. The first constitution enacted in that year came into effect on January 1, 1914, the same year the north and southern parts of the country were amalgamated. This was the constitution in operation till 1946.
In 1949, a Select Committee of Legislative Council was set up to make recommendations on the proposed new constitution of Nigeria. Based on the problems of the Richard Constitution, a wide consultation was made even to village levels.
There was an all Nigerian Constitutional Conference in January 1950 which agreed to federal system and transformation of the three regions from administrative to political regions. The new constitution came into effect in 1951.
Between 1953 and 1954, the demand for greater autonomy and participation by Nigerians in the government of the country led to a constitutional conference in London in 1953 and another in Lagos in 1954. When the Macpherson Constitution could no longer work in 1954, the idea of the London Conference where the decision to review Macpherson Constitution was muted.
Following deliberations in the London conference in 1957, Western region and Eastern region were granted regional autonomy. The position of Lagos which had hitherto been controversial was also resolved. Lagos became a Federal Territory with direct representation in the Central legislature.
The North said it was not ready for regional autonomy and had to wait until 1959.
The London conference also produced the appointment of the prime minister on August 1957, and created a bi-cameral legislative house for the eastern region (the northern and western house were already bi-cameral). There was also the dissolution of the federal House of Representatives in 1959 and a proposed bi-cameral legislative house for the Federal Government with 312 elected members of the House of Representatives and 44 nominated members of the Senate. The Constitutional Conference of London met from May 23 till June 1957, under the chairmanship of the Colonial Secretary.
On October 10, the Raisman’s Fiscal Commission was appointed on the recommendation of the London Constitutional Conference to examine revenue allocation and problems of taxation.
From September 23, 1957 – May 16, 1958, there was also the Merthyr’s Constitution Delimitation Commission. Lord Merthyr, a Deputy Speaker of the House of Lords who had served as the chairman of the Federation of Malayan Constituency Commission in 1954, was appointed chairman of the Commission.
Based on the recommendation of the London Constitutional , the Minorities Commission was set up on September 25, 1957 by the Colonial Secretary on the recommendation of the London Constitutional Conference. The members were: Sir Henry Willink, Q.C. (Chairman), a former British Minister of Health; Sir Gordon Hadow, the former deputy Governor of the Gold Coast; Mr. Philip Mason, an expert on race relations; and Mr. J.B. Shearer, a financial expert who was formerly financial Secretary of Pakistan.
There was a resumed constitutional conference in London in 1958 where it was also stated that if the federal house passed a resolution for independence, the British government would recognise it and grant Nigeria independence.
The Federation of Nigeria was granted full independence on October 1, 1960 under a constitution that provided for a parliamentary government and a substantial measure of self-government for the country’s three regions. Nigeria’s independence was announced at the conclusion of the resumed 1958 Constitutional Conference in London by Mr. Alan Lennox-Boyd who, as Colonial Secretary, presided over the Conference.
Murtala Muhammed’s 1975 CDC
Back home, the problems that occurred as a result of the faulty foundation continued. A Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) was inaugurated on October 18, 1975, by the regime of the late General Murtala Muhammed who charged the Committee to devise a constitution that would eliminate cut-throat competition, discourage institutional opposition to the government, establish the principle of accountability and remove over-centralisation of power in a few hands, among others.
Other committees including the Presidential Constitutional Review Committees and National Assembly Constitutional Review Panels were set up at different times that ended either as attempts at self-perpetuation or mere exercises whose recommendations were never countenanced.
The 1994 conference of General Abacha
The late General Sani Abacha in 1994 constituted a National Constitutional Conference, which sat for June 26, 1994 to June 26, 1995 to discuss and ponder over many thorny issues that concerned the Nigerian polity. It was Abacha’s conference that proposed the six geo-political zones which Nigeria is using although it was not in the constitution.
The determination of that conference would have come close to what a sovereign national conference is expected to achieve but Abacha died before the deliberations of that confab could be implemented. Afterwards, there was the Justice Niki Tobi-led Constitutional Debate Co-ordinating Committee set up by the General Abdulsalami Abubakar government to propose a constitution for the incoming 1999 civilian administration.
Obasanjo’s 2005 political conference
The administration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo which lasted between February and July 2005 hosted a National Political Reforms Conference (NPRC) chaired by Justice Nike Tobi and the Secretary, Rev. Fr. Matthew Kukah. No fewer than 398 delegates were nominated to attend the confab.
At its inauguration, the then president Obasanjo highlighted the eight-point objectives of the conference to include constitutional reforms, political party reforms, electoral reforms, and judicial/legal reforms. Other objectives were civil society reforms, consultation and consensus building, police/prison reforms, and reforms of the structure of governance. Many believed Obasanjo’s conference was targeted at actualizing his third term agenda.
The Jonathan’s 2014 confab
Not satisfied with the manner of governance, Nigerians continued to agitate for the convocation of a forum for Nigerians from different ethnic backgrounds to meet and discuss the way forward. In 2014, President Goodluck Jonathan put together the latest national conference with the hope to meet the yearnings and aspirations of majority of Nigerians, promising that its outcome will be accepted, and fully implemented by the government.
In spite of the above retinue of conferences, Nigerians have never been given a truly people’s constitution. The outcome of most constitutional conferences since independence have never been reflected in the country’s constitution, despite expending a large quantum of resources and time in such conferences.
And so , the problems remained, the agitations continued, venting out in form of Niger Delta Avengers; Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB; Movement for the Actualization of Sovereign State of Biafra; Boko Haram; menace of Fulani herdsmen, amongst others.