By Emmanuel Edukugho
Declaration of autonomy by aggrieved groups in Rivers and Cross River states of the federation while Bayelsa State intends having its own anthem, flag and coat of arms may be pointers to secession, suggestive of disgruntled citizenry lacking a sense of belonging with regard to the Nigerian federal arrangement.
In this interview, a social scientist, historian, political analyst, Dean, Department of Arts and Social Sciences at Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education (AOCOED), Ijanikin, Lagos, Comrade Sam Akindele, traced the evolution of the Nigerian state, what brought about the spate of declarations of self-determination, how these extreme demands for self-rule can be stemmed and the Nigerian federation strengthened and consolidated.
What do you think these declarations of autonomy and agitations for self-government and other actions that infringe on the sovereignty of the country portend for the future of our federation?
Let me start with the creation of Nigeria itself, looking at it from the general development and leadership question. The creation of Nigeria was not through the mandate of the different people. It was the creation of the British government. Before the amalgamation of 1914, it was as if Nigeria was seen as one. Southern Protectorate was separate from Northern Protectorate. The amalgamation of the two protectorates was as a result of European interest, the British colonial office to merge the two together for economic reasons and use a common purse for the administration of the two protectorates.
After 1914 amalgamation and the Clifford Constitution in 1922, Nigeria was being piloted with separate constitutions. The Richards Constitution of 1946 actually institutionalised regionalism – in which autonomy was given to each region to operate as they liked. The pace of development of the three regions took cognizance of their separate uniqueness. And this was carried to independence in 1960.
How did the minorities and other groups fared at that time?
The spirit of federalism upheld within this period. The minority issue was raised then, but because each region had closer ties to different minorities within them, the protest was not as opened and as frequent as we are now hearing. Then the military came and changed everything. Military interregnum actually obliterated the idea of federalism and operated almost a unitary system in running of the nation.
Thereafter, when the Second Republic came, even though they kept harping on federal system of government,we all know that the spirit of total federalism was not in place.
Considering what you’ve been saying, is there validity or legitimacy for autonomy demands by groups as we are seeing today?
I don’t think so. I know so much is missing, but bear in mind the number of years Nigerians have been together in one country, I would say that what we are experiencing now is because the right leadership is not provided, hence the clamour for separation had been much. I won’t support schism within. Separation on the long run may backfire.
In what sense would it backfire?
The plurality of nations within the country might be too many. Secondly, the aggregation of our efforts won’t be there again. Some might be too weak, some too strong. And again the question of boundary will become conflict-ridden, to the extent that what we think will be gained, might be lost to all of us. However, having said this, it is not as if one is wishing for the kind of federation we now have.
A true federalism should be evolved, for instance, fiscal federalism, regarding equitable revenue sharing formula, should be properly evolved.
Can perceived grievances of some component parts of the federation be sorted out?
If true federalism is practised, the aggrieved groups will be pacified – giving them their rightful dues, that is to say what comes to them in terms of revenue sharing and control. The federalism structure requires changes, like security and state police to take care of security of different states. I have been to all the states in the federation and therefore can identify with those crying.
The Federal Government should find a way of assuaging them, especially those producing the resources. Is the revenue going to them commensurate with what is taken from them, particularly for the Ogoni where there is monumental environmental crises, degradation and destruction of nature in that place? Their traditional occupation and means of livelihood had been destroyed.
How do we compensate them? This is where the Federal Government comes in – build infrastructure, roads, provide electricity, water. Send their children to school.Another thing is that their own leaders are not sincere. They cheat them. But if there is collaborative effort from government, their own leaders, I guess their problem will be properly looked at. There should be collective sincerity of purpose.
Is Nigeria not too big to be centrally governed successfully?
Considering that USA has about 53 states and centrally governed in a federal system without chaos, then why will Nigeria be too big to be governed centrally? I think what is missing is that we don’t practise true federalism. There’s too much money in the centre.
The type of federalism as in USA is not with us in Nigeria. The kind of leadership being provided appear not as qualitative as we have in USA. When you compare our legislature with that of America, you will see the difference. What type of laws are our legislature making? How much is spent on them? And what returns do they bring to the people? I guess, collectively, both states and federal, our leaders are selfish. Not one is exempted. Everyone, from local government to federal is selfish.
One may ask, can disintegration or balkanisation remove all our misfortunes? There is need for change of heart and ethical revolution from all of us. I can tell you, if leaders are not selfish, and if followership see them as true leaders and if true federal structure is put in place, security networks will be better. Our economy will be buoyant and there will be political stability.
If all these are in place, the cry for autonomy will be reduced, if not totally extinguished.
Any panacea for stemming the tide of balkanisation?
If things are done properly, Nigeria won’t disintegrate. Nigerians have good sense of judgment and know when things are done properly. But if our leaders remain greedy, no hope. Even the international community will know when things are going well. Bad leadership cuts across and our leaders should watch it. International community may be worried about the future of this country because Nigeria is taking the wrong steps.