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Prof. Akinyemi’s appreciation of Nigerian federalist parxes: A critique

By John Amoda

PROF. Akinyemi’s treatment of nationality as the unit of Nigerian federalist statecraft is  his strategic framework as affirmed  in the following: “Nigeria, made up of 250-300/350 nationalities (depending on which 1 study one consults) of disparate population sizes, was obviously a candidate for federalism”.

Prof. Akinyemi does not problemmatise the British decision to administer Nigeria on the eve of independence as a federation and he likewise does not problemmatise the decision of Nigerian Independence Politicians to inherit a post colonial Nigeria as a Federation. Prof. Akinyemi observes as follows:

“Apart from the fact that the British colonial administration had run the colonial territory as “Federation” the Nigerian leaders themselves were determined to inherit an independent Nigeria as federation. Some may argue that neither the British nor Nigerian leaders had much choice. But it should be borne in mind that around this time, the French, on the eve of independence broke up its West African Federation and its Central African Federation into independent constituent states. I believe that the British and the Nigerian leaders were genuinely committed to the concept of Nigeria as a Federation”.

In this conclusion stated above is the implication of the failure of Prof. Akinyemi to ask “the why question” about the British and Nigerian decision to organise post colonial Nigerian Government as a federation. Both the English and French founded empires and they fashioned ways to effectively administer their colonies. In their choice of federation, the British and French colonialists clearly showed they knew the difference between the Empire as a state and the federation as a structure of government.

The French, as shown by Akinyemi, chose a different administrative structure through which independence was granted to their subjects. For both the British and the French the mode of administering their colonies was a technical decision, subject to the logic of effective and efficient administration. The subjects of French and British colonisation were therefore not bound to accept the colonialist mode of administering their sovereignty unless they saw their endorsement of their colonisers administration as effective and efficient for them as successor sovereigns. The need exist therefore for distinguishing between federation as a structure of sovereignty and as a structure of government.

The French and the British were rulers of their empires and chose on the basis of expediency modes of administration that worked for them. Just as there was no inevitability in the choice of administrative mode for the British and the French, so there ought to be no inevitability for post colonial British Nigeria to opt for a federation either at the level of state form or form of government. The agitation for independence as a process that involved the end to the British dominion in Nigeria did not establish a Nigerian dominion in Nigeria. There is a transition between the end of British Rule in Nigeria and the establishment of Nigerian Rule in Nigeria. The course of the politics of bringing about the end of British rule in Nigeria is therefore not the same as the course of politics to establish Nigerian rule in Nigeria.

It is the later course of politics that describes the nature of the Nigerian Rulers and the constitutional character of the Rule of Nigerian Rulers in Nigeria. Prof. Akinyemi identified Chief Obafemi Awolowo as a theoretician politician who devoted some thinking to the two phases of politics in his appropriately titled book The Path to Nigerian Freedom (1947). According to Akinyemi:

“The most theoretical proponent of Nigerian federalism, who was also a practicing politician, was Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who argued in 1947 in his Path to Nigerian Freedom, that Nigerian federal structure should be based on the internal nationalities. This led him to later propose that Nigeria should have 18 states. Apart from the Fulani/Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo nationalities who were regarded as having their own regions confirmed, the so called minorities who should really be called other nationalities mounted a spirited campaign to have regions/states of their own before independence”.

If inheritance of British imperial sovereignty in Nigeria would be based on each nationality in control of its own region or state or a zone, and if the Fulani/Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo were already regarded as having their own region/state/zones, it made sense for the so-called minorities who according to Prof. Akinyemi should be called other nationalities to campaign to have their own regions/states/zones before independence. This observation, by Prof. Akinyemi is a significant theoretical observation for the notion of “nationality” in Nigerian political lexicon has come to define Nigerian sovereignty in territorial terms and sovereignty in Nigeria in ethnic terms.

Since sovereignty in Nigeria is ethnic in expression and Nigeria is a multi-ethnic society, inter-Nigerian struggle for power as structured by the British and affirmed by Nigerian Independence Politicians in the era of pro-independence colonial constitutional reforms, took the form of struggle for ethnic ownership of a Nigeria divided into portions of territorial sovereignty.

With the above as a theoretical template of sovereignty on the basis of nationality, sovereignty politics in Nigeria has been structured as campaign for creation of regions or states controlled by putative sovereign nationalities. This explains the present agitation for state creation in the present review of the constitution. Elsewhere in Africa ethnic or nationality sovereignty politics has taken the course of Civil Wars. In Nigeria it has taken the course of demand for state region or state creation. From three regions the reconstitution of the territoriality of sovereignty has resulted in the 36 plus  the Federal Capital Territory formation. And as evident in the present agitations the demand for more states is yet to be satiated. If there is to be an end to further creation of states, has the security implication of such grave game change been adequately thought through?


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