BY AKINTOLA BENSON
NIGERIA as we know it, was a contrivance of imperial Britain. Prior to the partition of Africa and the claim of Britain on Nigeria, various nationalities with centuries of historical existence and flourishing civilizations occupied the territory which was to later become Nigeria.
The amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates, which put a final seal on this adventure, was later to be described as a mistake by the Premier of the North – Sir Ahmadu Bello – the Sardauna of Sokoto.
Therefore, while Chief Obafemi Awolowo saw Nigeria as “a mere geographical expression”, super-imposed over pre-existing nationalities, Sir Bello saw the super-imposition as “a mistake”. But at least, all the nationalist leaders made efforts to fashion out a system of governance that preserved the autonomy of the component nationalities.
So, the driving force behind the 1959 and 1963 Constitutions in the words of Chief Femi Fani Kayode was the creation of Nigeria that would nourish its diversity and endow the clusters of nationalities that constitute the country with unfettered self-government and autonomy.
But the 1963 Constitution was scuttled by the military, and with it, the federalism it was designed to protect. The country lost its federal structure and democratic system in 1966, and with the annulment of the presidential election of June 12, 1993, it lost its pretensions to having a national soul.
If I may ask: Has anyone wondered why the agricultural economy of the 1960s produced development feats in the regions, while the oil-powered economy of the last three decades has landed us in the thick-fog of desperation?
The answer is simple! There was better autonomy and resource-driven development in the 1960s than there is today. Can anyone deny, for example, that the oil producing regions have had a raw deal at the hands of successive governments? Must we wait for more Jesse tragedies, or Modakeke or Ijaw and Ogoni revolts before rectifying development which spawned these events? The truth is that what has happened to the Nigerian nation over the years is a tragedy.
Adebayo Williams hit the nail on the head when he wrote, in a moving “Open Letter” to General Olusegun Obasanjo (Tell Magazine, April 13, 1998) that in the Nigeria of today: “The Mai-gadi had become the Mai-gida”. Despite all, that is not a call for secession, but rather a call for restructuring the country for an effective devolution of powers to the nationalities in the true spirit of the Nigerian Federal Constitution of 1963.
This is because, right from the seventh-month rule of General J.T.U. Aguiyi Ironsi, through the nine years of General Yakubu Jack Gowon, and the agonisingly deceptive eight years of General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida in particular, followed by brutish dictatorial regime of (almost) five years of General Sani Abacha, Nigerians were treated to the will-o-the-wisp of transition speeches. The elections conducted by the Obasanjo administration in 2007 became the worst not only in the political history of Nigeria, but the world as a whole.
The allocation of functions between the Central and Regional governments of 1951 was transported to the Federal Constitution adopted in 1954 where it became known as “Federal Legislative List” (containing 40 items). And the 41st item gave residual power to the Federal legislature, while part 2 of chapter 4 of this constitution was styled “Concurrent legislative List” (containing 21 items), with the last item giving residual power to both the Federal and Regional governments. And where there is conflict between the laws on concurrent legislative list enacted by both the Federal and Regional governments on the same subject, the law enacted by the Region shall be void to the extent of its inconsistency.
1957 Constitution which ushered the country into independence in 1960 changed the division of functions to “Exclusive Legislative List (over which, Federal Government has exclusive legislative power), and Concurrent Legislative List (over which both Federal and Regional governments can legislate).
This was the form of power sharing between the Federal and the then Regional governments inherited by the Republican Constitution of 1963, and carried over to 1979 Constitution. What is wrong here is that in a truly federal state, the federating units concede certain agreed powers to the Federal Government, and any power not listed vests in the governments of the federating units, and there is no room for “concurrent powers” to be shared between the two levels of governments under a federal constitution.
Legislative autonomy is usually matched by fiscal autonomy under a truly federal system of government. In this sense, neither the former four regional governments in Nigeria, up to 1967, nor the 12 original states of 1967, now increased to 36, have ever enjoyed true legislative autonomy, although the former regions enjoyed greater fiscal autonomy than the present 36 states, most of which relied heavily on federal allocation for the discharge of their constitutional responsibility.
Canadian Federation is a good example, and a model which Nigeria can copy. Although its historical development differs from our own, but like Nigeria, a former British Colony, its population is less than a third of Nigeria.
It has 10 federating units, multi-ethnics, but bi-lingual in character. The provinces, (the largest being Ontario and Quebec with about 10 million and about 8 million population, respectively) enjoy full “sovereign” authority in all domestic matters.
Before the attainment of political independence in 1960, the Western Region, ancestral home to most Yoruba people, was a trail blazer in developmental efforts and projects: It had free primary education scheme, social welfare programmes, agricultural development projects, a gender-balanced commercial culture and a politically sophisticated citizenry that was jealous of its human and civil rights.
All these were facilitated by the ideology of progress that characterized the ruling party in the West. So, the annulment of “the June 12, 1993 presidential election” finally brought us face to face with the ugly reality that we cannot expect to be treated reasonably or with any respect by the hegemonic and sinister forces that thrive in certain parts of this nation.
As a matter of fact, the collective efforts of some of us in recent years have been an honest attempt to build bridges in order to effect national unity. However, we have been brought to a point where we must now acknowledge the unsavoury fact that those same sinister forces will never readily accept the will and verdict of the people as expressed in a free and fair democratic election.
Indeed, unfolding events of the enemies of our great country ( Nigeria ) in trying to derail our nascent democracy suggest that the die has, in fact, been cast and “Ceasar has already crossed the Rubicon”. It is now left for those same dark, malignant and sinister forces to prove to the rest of us that we still have a stake in Nigeria .
It is now left for them to prove to us that we are indeed, “one nation” of equal citizens with equal opportunities, as opposed to a sad collection of marginalised, brow-beaten and oppressed nationalities languishing in a forced, over-centralised and completely artificial entity. Without such proof, the cry for self-determination will not easily be resisted or subdued.
In this case, the democrats should be bold enough to ask from all the federating units in the Nigerian state what steps should be taken to ensure the elimination of the present situation of in-built periodic political crises over the control of the country’s central authority and its treasury.
Because, let us not mince words, this is the “casus belli” of the current series of crises.
Mr. Benson is SSA, Information, to Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State.
This piece is in to commemoration of the 59th Birthday of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu tomorrow.