April 1, 2017

Where Nigeria went wrong – Akinjide, Adebanjo

Nwabueze, Akinjide & Adebanjo

By Clifford Ndujihe

FIRST and Second republics Minister, Chief Richard Akinjide, SAN,has traced the genesis of Nigeria’s socio-economic and political problems to giving leadership positions to people who were not prepared for them.

According to him, Nigeria would have fared better if the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo or Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, who he said were ready to rule, were allowed to assume power at Independence in 1960.

Nwabueze, Akinjide & Adebanjo

Akinjide, 85, spoke, on Thursday, via a documentary, at the 37th Centre for Values in Leadership, CVL Colloquium, in Lagos. The colloquium was in honour of Professor Ben Nwabueze, SAN and Chief Akinjide.

Asked where Nigeria went wrong, Chief Akinjide, who was minister of Education in the First Republic, said: ‘’People who are in certain positions should not be in those positions. At independence, Zik and Awo were ready to rule but they were not given the opportunity. Those who ruled were not ready. If anybody tells you something else, don’t believe him.’’

Indeed, Dr Azikiwe (Eastern Region Premier) and Chief Awolowo (Western Region Premier) were at the forefront of the struggle for independence. Left to them, especially Awolowo, Nigeria would have gained independence in 1957 but Sir Ahmadu Bello (Northern Region Premier) disagreed, saying that the North was not ready, a move that delayed self-rule till October 1, 1960.

At the end of the December 12, 1959 parliamentary elections, the Ahmadu Bello-led Northern Peoples Congress, NPC and allies won 148 of the 312 seats. The Azikiwe-led National Council of Nigerian Citizens, NCNC and allies won 89 seats while the Awolowo-led Action Group, AG and allies got 75 seats.

Since none of the parties secured the 156 seats majority needed to form the federal cabinet on its own, an alliance was needed. Three options were on offer: NCNC/AG with Azikiwe as prime minister and Awolowo as president; NPC/NCNC with Bello as prime minister and Azikiwe as president; and NPC/AG with Bello as prime minister and Awolowo as president.

At the end of the day, NPC/NCNC alliance prevailed. However, Sir Ahmadu Bello chose to remain as Premier of Northern Region and nominated his leutenant, Sir Tafawa Balewa, to become the prime minister and the nation’s head of state at independence.

How we left the path to prosperity – Adebanjo

Also speaking at the event, Elder statesman and an elder of Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, who also fought for independence, linked Nigeria’s stunted socio-economic growth to the jettisoning of fiscal federalism that was practiced in the First Republic.

His words: ‘’If anybody loves this country today, you must shout restructuring every time. We have been out of progress since the country was destructured in 1966. We had progress when the country was on federal system before we had independence and after independence. We had our trouble before we set on the path of federalism.

‘’This country started with Macpherson’s Constitution that was more of semi-federal. From 1952, it was not really a federal constitution, so we had problems. At that time, the ministers at the centre were sent by the various regions that constituted Nigeria. We only had three regions at that time. The Western region, Eastern region and Northern region. We have been having this awkward arrangement where a particular section of the country is bigger than the other zones. So Nigeria could not make progress.

‘’ Anyway, we started by having Macpherson’s Constitution, which gave us three regions. So we accepted it. At that time, there was no premier in the region. From 1952 to 1954, the most senior political official at that time was the leader of government business. So, when Awolowo won election in the West, he became the leader of government business; when Sarduana won election in the North, he became leader of government business; Azikiwe was leader of government business in the East.

‘’There was crisis in Western region when in 1953, Chief Anthony Enahoro moved a motion for Independence in 1957. The Governor-General then, Macpherson, said no member of his cabinet should take part in that motion or he would sack the minister. So, the ministers from the West said, ‘since we are representatives of the people, we cannot run but take part in that debate.’

‘’Then, Oba Aderemi was the first minister from the West without portfolio. Those were the days we had real politicians, who loved and worked for the country, not people who are easily bought over. So, Aderemi said instead of sacking me, I will resign. So the moment Macpherson sacked the two other ministers, Aderemi resigned from the cabinet.

‘’As stubborn as Macpherson was, he called for fresh ministers from the West and Awolowo sent the same names that were rejected back to him and so there was crisis. He could not accept them and the cabinet could not be formed. So, that was what forced the colonial regime to summon the constitutional conference of 1954 to   resolve the crisis.

‘’By the time the self-rule motion was moved in the parliament, our brothers from the North were so hostile and from their body language, we could understand where they were going. Their leader then said he did not want Nigeria but Chief Awolowo persuaded him. Then, Nnamdi Azikwe was an advocate of unitarism. The stand of Chief Awolowo was we could have one Nigeria in a federal system where every region can develop at its own space. And that argument was taken to the Constitutional conference of 1954 by Lyttelton. That was the constitution that created Federalism in Nigeria.

‘’At the end of that conference in London, Chief Awolowo was able to persuade Azikwe to become a federalist and of course, when they arrived at the airport, Azikiwe said that federalism was imperative. It was from that constitution that the federal system of Nigeria was established. There was no resource control then but there was derivation such that for every resource you brought, you got 50 percent. So the Western Region was very rich from cocoa, ditto the North with their groundnut, and the East with their palm kernel.

‘’That is where the economic development of the country comes in. There is no economic freedom without political freedom. With that system, we were able to do a lot of things. At that time, we had free education in the West and there was healthy competition among the regions for development. Awolowo built a stadium in the West, Ahmadu Bello built his own in the North, universities were built in the West and Ahmadu Bello built his own in the North. Farm settlements were built in the East, which were copied from the West. Throughout the time that Awolowo was in charge of the Western region, there was never workers’ strike because they were paid as at when due. Compare that to what is happening now that every governor runs to Abuja before he can do anything in his state. We have to return to that era.’’

Asked the way forward for the country, Adebanjo said: ‘’We are not being honest with ourselves in this country. Those who rule us and those who advise government are not honest. Our constitution is a fraudulent paper, Nigerians never sat down to write the constitution and yet it says ‘we the people… The older people will remember how our regions operated. Did this country not develop more than what we have now?

‘’Those ruling have corrupted the system and given us a fake population figure. They make us believe that the North is bigger than the South in terms of population. Nigeria’s problem is basically political. If we restructure and every region is at par, the country will develop. Nobody will be talking of Biafra today if the zone had been treated fairly. Our leaders should ask themselves why are people of the East asking for Biafra? Those with political power turned this country to what it is now.

‘’Will anyone from the South-South go to Abuja, see what is happening there and not go back home to carry arms? Let us stop deceiving ourselves, even if I am the one from that region, I will carry arms.’’