By Eric Teniola
I HAD the rare honour to serve under and work closely with seven successive Heads of State and Government in this country and I can claim to know the remaining two reasonably well. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, on the recommendation of the late Sir Tafawa Balewa as Prime Minister, formally appointed me to act as Permanent Secretary in July 1963 and I served as Permanent Secretary when the late General Aguiyi Ironsi was Head of the Federal Military Government in 1966. I worked closely with Alhaji Shehu Shagari as Permanent Secretary to the Ministries of Economic Development and the Finance when he was the Federal Commissioner for both Ministries under General Yakubu Gowon.
As Secretary to the Federal Military Government and Head of Service, I served under General Gowon, General Murtala Muhammed and General Olusegun Obasanjo. The other two Heads are General Buhari and General Babangida. Of the nine, General Gowon and Alhaji Shehu Shagari probably lamented most the apparent limitations on their powers. The only exception which proves this rule is the short dramatic spell of the late General Murtala Muhammed. If only Nigerian knew how frustrated and powerless some of their Heads of States felt and to what extent they grumbled and wished they had enough powers and the leverage to do what was expected of them.
Who are the power brokers and groups that paralyse the Heads of State and immobilise them? Some of them will speak out at the appropriate time. Otherwise, when the timing is right, those of us now outside the corridors of power will be in a position to set the records straight without embarrassing anybody.
Nigeria was founded at the beginning of this century on the tripod theory—the former Northern Region, the West and the East. The country foundered on this power base by 1966. The power at the centre was to be held in trust by the British imperial power but when independence came prematurely, it was to be shared by a coalition led by the North. In 1963, the Mid-west Region was created and three plus nil is not equal to four if the base is not ten. This is not the place to review the details of events that led to the civil war, but the Federal Military Government decided after due consultation with those available, to embark on the political structural adjustment programme involving the creation of twelve states on the 27 May 1967.
I was the Chairman of the Committee of Federal Permanent Secretaries that submitted the list of criteria to be used for the creation of states to General Gowon. He deleted from the list the reference to ‘linguistic principles’. The exclusion of the ’linguistic principles’ is crucial because the twelve states structure established by Decree by General Gowon would have been significantly different if linguistic affinity were one of the criteria used. General Gowon’s argument was that the application of the principle would have led to absurdities in many parts of the country notably the Benue-Plateau area and the Bendel State.
Besides, it would have meant increasing the size of , rather than splitting, the former Western(Yoruba) Region and what became the East Central (Ibo) State. The subsequent adjustment to nineteen states would ipso facto, have yielded different result under the late General Murtala Muhammed who personal opted for twenty four states, with twelve in the South with the restoration of the former Federal Territory of Lagos, and the rest of Lagos merged with Ogun State excluding a new Ijebu State.
The establishment of the new Cross River State was a foregone conclusion as recommended by the Irikefe Panel, whose report was never published because what some communities said of others are unprintable, especially if they have to continue to live together as neighbours in one state in one Nigeria. The powerful lobby of the new state from Calabar over-played its card by insisting that if its capital were not retained in Calabar but moved to Ikom as proposed by Irikefe, they would rather not have a new Calabar State..
Their wishes were endorsed twice by the Supreme Military Council by a majority decision after an unprecedented reconsideration the day after the first decision. The case for new Calabar State was lost partly because the Katsina lobby had as an afterthought, decided that Kaduna should be split if the Cross River State was split. Since the Kaduna case was not submitted to the Irikefe Panel, the ‘linkage effect’ was to kill the two initiatives to be resuscitated together at a later date.
It is harmattan madness to consider a 50 states structure for Nigeria unless words have lost their meaning but the current nineteen is an accident of history. If it is to be adjusted, the upper limit should not exceed the Murtala Muhammed range of twenty four states. We assume it is very difficult to reduce the number of Governors even for a military administration. We also assume that the states will not wither away nor will the states structure be abolished by a unification decree a second time.
When we look again at the factors which influenced the decline and fall of individuals, of nations and empires in history and compare the excesses of some of the Nigerian leadership in our life time, one marvel at the goodness of the Almighty that Nigeria has survived to date. I am sure about what we have done right to keep the country going in the past but, to continue to survive, we have as a nation to satisfy the following necessary:(1) Equal Opportunity for all Citizens in Education, employment, and all matters relating to law enforcement( federal character should not be applied only where it is convenient or beneficial to the ruling class, neither should it be used as the pretext for enthroning mediocrity; when applied in good faith, it can bring the best from every part of the federation, although the contrary seems to be the case from our recent history). (ii) Respect for life and property: Until the Government and their agencies display sufficient respect and property, the individual citizen is being given a license to kill and maim and deprive others of their rights to property and existence.
This is one area where orderly society has collapsed and Nigerians have descended to their lowest ebb of human degradation. There is no nation that can rise to greatness without observing elementary respect for human dignity in all we do. (iii) National Leadership Question and the Presidency: Nigeria cannot survive in the long run as one nation-state if one section of the country has to provide the President in perpetuity. One of my saddest days as Secretary to the Federal Military Government and Head of Service was February 14,1976, the day after General Murtala Muhammed was assassinated, when I was summoned to Dodan Barracks to keep the record of the Supreme Military Council meeting to elect a successor.
I went to the meeting to tender my notice of resignation because I had had enough of the bloodshed; but when I listened to the patriotic and nationalistic terms under which General Obasanjo was chosen and he reluctantly accepted the challenge to assume the office of Head of State for six months only, I felt there was a glimmer of hope for Nigeria in the new generation. I offered not to resign that day although I cannot now tell whether or not my hope was misplaced. All I know as I now walk outside the corridors of power is that Nigeria is no longer the happy land we used to know!
Whatever political arrangements are made for the survival of this country should involve power sharing at the centre either by rotating the Presidency or otherwise. That is the way to stable and lasting peace. Concluded