Mr Guy Ikokwu played prominent roles in the politics of the First and Second Republics. In his piece, he says the unitary structure, which many have identified as the main problem militating against Nigeria’s progress, can be dismantled before 2018 if the nation’s leadership has the will.
Nigeria is in a state of dilapidation such that we find it difficult to grapple with some of the most elementary aspects of governance.
President Muhammadu Buhari, on his return from medical check-up in London, made a broadcast to the nation and was candid enough to acknowledge that the country’s foundation is now very fragile and recommended that it should be made good or reconstructed constitutionally through the National Assembly and the Council of State.
The Southern Leaders Forum, comprising the leaders of the South-West, the South- East and the South-South, in a reaction, emphasized that “only restructuring will ensure the unity, peace and development of Nigeria”. Chief Edwin Clark and Chief Herbert Horsfall for the South-South, Chief Nnia Nwodo and Prof. Joe Irukwu for the South-East, and Chief Reuben Fasoranti and Chief Ayo Adebanjo for the South-West concluded that “the country was in a very bad shape and requires statesmanship in its leadership”.
Very many eminent personalities in the past 20 years have spoken vehemently on the need to urgently re-engineer or restructure our system of governance so as to move the nation forward.
On Nigeria’s Independence Day, October 1, 1960, the first Prime Minister, Sir Tafawa Balewa, in his inaugural broadcast, said, “But now, we have acquired our rightful states and I feel sure that history will show that the building of our nation proceeded at the wisest pace. It has been thorough and Nigeria now stands well built upon firm foundation…. At the time when our constitutional development entered upon its final phase, the emphasis was largely upon self-governance”.
But history before our independence clearly told us that in 1953, while negotiations were on to construct the methodology of the amalgamated units living together, it was the northern delegates who resolutely threatened secession (Araba) unless the colonial masters gave them a majority of the census figures and also a majority of the parliamentary seats in the House of Representatives in Lagos as against the other regions of the West and the East.
From our historical notebooks we recall that Hon. Nnamdi Azikiwe in response to the 1953 secession threat responded at a party (NCNC) caucus meeting in Yaba, Lagos on May 12 1953 where he stated as follows: “In my opinion, the northerners are perfectly entitled to consider whether or not they should secede from the indissoluble union which nature has formed between it and the South but it would be calamitous to the corporate existence of the North should the clamour for secession prevail. I therefore counsel northern leaders to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of secession before embarking upon these dangerous calls…. It would be a capital political blonder if the North should break away from the South…. Secession by the North may lead to internal political convulsion there when it is realized that militant nationalists and their organizations, like the NEPU, the Eskianist Movement and the Middle Zone League, have aspirations for self-government in 1956 identical with those of their southern compatriots. This may lead to justifiable demands for the rights of self-determination by non-Muslims who form the majority of the population Pagan Provinces like Benue, Ilorin, Kebbi, Niger and Plateau not to mention the claims of the non-Muslims who are domiciled in Adamawa and Bauchi Provinces”.
Present day Nigerians cannot dispute historical facts. It is therefore worthwhile to recall that in the very recent past the subject of history was being taken out of our educational curriculum. It is said in our cultural anecdote that a person who does not know where he is coming from, most certainly will not know where he is going.
That is why we must subdue our emotional inclinations and listen to the words of our heroes past and the examples of our fore-fathers with particular reference to historical constitutional development of Nigeria.
Another of our fore-fathers, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, in his book, “Thoughts on Nigerian Constitution”, advocated a rational restructuring of the Nigerian political system.
First, in a country where there are diverse people like ours, a unitary constitution is always a source of bitterness and hostility. On the other hand, as soon as a federal constitution is introduced in which each linguistic or national group is recognised and accorded regional autonomy, bitterness and hostility against the arrangement disappears. Chief Awolowo was undoubtedly a philosopher and a legal ICON as well as an administrator and a technocrat. He had very strong convictions and vision which he translated for the betterment and prosperity of the Western Region. There is no doubt that if he were alive today to witness the retardation of Nigeria and the inglorious path we have trodden in the last 50 years, he would continue to be at the forefront of the restructuring campaign.
It is evident that such a glorious pattern of development was emulated by the people of Eastern Nigeria. They travelled and emulated the Yoruba who had about one century advantage of colonial invasion. This valuable message was posed to our northern brothers with pains and resistance.
With the perspective of today’s participatory democracy, it is very clear that the former southern protectorate were militarily compelled to allow the northern zones to develop more educationally than they had done before independence in 1960. It is therefore very clear that the elites in the three zones of Northern Nigeria today in government or culture and in traditional monarchy are certainly more enlightened in many aspects of governance. Many of the present governors of the 19 states in the North are lawyers, accountants, experienced public servants, medical personnel, corporate managers, former lecturers, legislators and military personnel, a situation that put them in a better stance to understand the realities of today’s governance and the issues of the day than their forefathers.
As human beings and with the experience we have had in the past 20 years within our various ethnic nationalities, we have to admit that there are some very good individuals and also very bad individuals. Therefore no particular ethnic nationality should be marked down for marginalisation, victimisation, economic deprivation, military subjugation and cultural/religious alienation.
Azikiwe, in 1950, told his Igbo brothers and other Nigerians that reputation is the most precious possession which must not be allowed to be tarnished. He warned that people should not allow others to dominate them and they should obey the laws of those with whom they share the blessings of life. He urged the Igbo to respect the traditions of those in whose home land they sojourn.
The majority of Igbos over the last century have imbibed these traditions as well as other ethnic groups like the Yoruba, the Ijaw, the Tiv, the Nupe, the Hausa and, of course, the Fulani who are the most recent migrants into Nigeria in the last 150 years. The Fulani have integrated with the Hausa in language and culture, hence they are known as Hausa/Fulani.
The NYSC programme which the Federal Government launched in Nigeria decades ago and the unity schools that we established in various regions of Nigeria have advanced the process of integration of our ethnic nationalities and enabled our diverse children to understand themselves better and engage in relationships which have been very much nurtured over time.
There are in Nigeria today prominent personalities who are detribalised and certainly helping the momentum of moving Nigeria forward.
Corruption, terrorism, absence of the rule of law, militancy of herdsmen, hate speeches, uncontrolled militancy and criminal activities, massive unemployment, lack of basic healthcare, poverty, poor quality of governance and emulation of invidious foreign cultures and negative ethos had led Nigeria’s economy into recession from which she cannot recover unless our system of governance is re-engineered or restructured or deliberately configured with a better foundation as our forefathers had wanted from 1950 to 1963 when we transmuted from self-governing and autonomous regions to a republican status.
The military intervention from 1966 to 1999 bastardized our system from a federal to a unitary system.
“Unitary Federalism” is definitely a constitutional aberration. It is the equivalent of a constitutional and historic APOPLEXY. This is why today we have some politicians who are fanning the embers of the destruction of the Nigerian polity with their being ignorant of the word RESTRUCTURING.
The extent of this can be found in the abrasive lie written in our 1999 Constitution which ignored the fact that sovereignty lies with the people and not with a class or segment of the people when the preamble says “we the people…….”.
In any true federation there are three participatory levels.
The grassroots level which is superseded by the regional tier. It is the regional tier of government that aggregate into the decision making process of the apex national centre.
This is why modern constitutions are written to enable the several tiers to understand the essence of constitutionalism and the distribution and separation of powers, checks and balances, limited governance, rule of law, multi-cultural, political pluralism, etc.
Therefore a federal structure cannot succeed where there is a strong and irrational leader appropriating the authorities of the tiers of governance and destroying the judicial authority established and also where there is absence of sufficient common interests or objectives among the diverse nationalities or citizens of a federal system.
Where there is no common goal of economic development and reduction of ethnic acrimony and immoral behavior, the federalist experiment will certainly fail.
The clarion call today for the restructuring of the Nigerian polity is at a stage where the modalities for the implementation require clarification. Former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan had attempted in 2005 and 2014 to get a cross section of Nigerians to make changes in our Constitution.
The resolutions of the 2014 conference emerged on consensual basis and certainly have the potentials to move Nigeria back from a unitary to a federal structure and closer to what we had in 1960 and 1963.
Constitutional lawyer, Prof. Ben Nwabueze, SAN, has variously posited that his preferred methodology is the convocation of sovereign national conference of ethnic nationalities. The argument in favour of a sovereign national conference is that it would have the mandate of the generality of the people through ELECTION of delegates rather than SELECTION by government.
Obviously the discussion and resolutions could be done in less than two months at the most and referendum conducted within a month. It therefore shows that Nigeria could re-engineer our system of governance before the end of December 2017. And 2018 can be the year of Nigeria’s national reformation to avoid the current anarchic system which is rapidly developing to engulf our country.
It is glaring that the system of government in Nigeria aids corruption and the looting of our common patrimony as Chief E. K. Clark, in his response to President Buhari’s statement in 2015 that if Nigeria does not kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria”, retorted, “If Nigeria is not restructured urgently, the nation will disintegrate”.
The Southern Leaders Forum echoed similar sentiment when it said, “It is obvious to any discerning observer that Nigeria is inching close to the precipice as a result of country-wide disaffection brought about by dysfunctional unitary structure of governance in a multi-ethnic country, a structure of governance that has taken much powers and most resource control to the centre – as codified in the military dictated 1999 Constitution. We have moved from an economy which was geared towards production and increasing enterprise and productivity of our people to an economy based on indolent allocation, sharing and consumption of rent from foreigner’s enterprise in fossil oil in our land…. If we fail to restructure, the alternative for Nigeria is DISSOLUTION of the country – which is what advocates of restructuring are trying to prevent”.
Nigeria must therefore embark on a process to achieve autonomy and direct control of the resources within the regions or states of the country and Nigeria must resuscitate and intensify the infusion of national core values of integrity, social inclusion, equity and good governance as cardinal directives and principles of state policy which must be justifiable.