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Disintegration or restructuring: Which way Nigeria?

Yinka Odumakin

AS we assemble for this discourse, Nigeria  is experiencing the most degrading conditions in her economic, social and political life. Most indices are negative and the worst possible divisions are all over the land.

Nigerians are displaying the most virulent exchanges in what support Lord Lugard once description of the country’s ethnic mix as “enemy tribes”. Conflicts are brewing in every corner. Government is worried stiff about “hate speeches”.

The cause of all this is not difficult to hazard for those who are introspective.Those who are not have been helped out by Chief Obafemi Awolowo in his ever thoughtful self while in Calabar Prison in 1967 where he finished his book “Thoughts On The Nigerian Constitution” where he recommended Federalism as the most ideal for a multi-ethnic country like Nigeria. The deep called to the deepest and predicted what would happen to Nigeria under a unitary constitution:

“Besides, it is not difficult to forecast that the work of government in Nigeria under a unitary constitution is bound to become unduly complex, inextricably tangled,extremely unwieldy and wasteful,and productive of disunity and discontent amongst the people.

“Unless we have veritable supermen at the helm of affairs,the administrative machinery would eventually disintegrate and break down under the crushing weight of ‘bureaucratic centralism.”

Nigeria is currently veneering dangerously to the edge of the precipice because we have erected our super structure on a wrong sub-structure. This is at the core of the call for the restructuring  of the country so that we can go back to the spirit of federalism in the 1960 and 1963 constitutions that our founding fathers negotiated.

Is Nigeria’s unity non-negotiable?

ONE hackneyed expression with which the restructuring calls have been met with  is the non-negotiability of the unity of Nigeria. Unfortunately this expression misses the whole concept of nationhood. There is nothing that is settled in the life of any nation. A nation is like any living thing that grows and therefore a daily dialogue.

The Americans regard their flag as the symbol of a living country “The National Flag represents the living country and is considered to be a living thing emblematic of the respect and pride we have for our nation. Our flag is a precious possession. Display it proudly”

I submit that until lately for reasons I shall come to later,the unity of Nigeria has always been a point of negotiation.

The British who came up with the idea of Nigeria did negotiate with various nationalities in Nigeria and signed treaties with them when they arrived this space.

In 1921 the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, the final court of appeal for all legal disputes within the British Empire, passed judgement in a landmark case that was to reverberate across the empire.

The appeal was brought by an African chief, Amoudu Tijani, against the colonial government in Nigeria demanding compensation for the expropriation of his land. At the heart of the matter was the Treaty of Cession signed between Britain and one of Tijani’s forebears, King Docemo of Lagos in 1861.

The colonial government claimed that under the terms of that treaty, the British crown acquired ownership of all lands in the colony of Lagos including that claimed by Amodu Tijani. Indeed, Article 1 of the treaty stated:

I, Docemo, do with the consent and advise of my Council, give, transfer, and by these presents grant and confirm unto the Queen of Great Britain, her heirs and successors for ever, the Port and Island of Lagos, with all the rights, profits, territories and appurtenances whatsoever thereunto belonging…freely, fully, entirely and absolutely….

Transfer of Lagos lands

However, although the wording of the treaty unambiguously attests to the transfer of “legal rights” over Lagos lands from King Docemo to the British Crown, the interpretation of this treaty provision was problematic from the beginning.

The British officer negotiating the treaty faced a revolt by other chiefs who argued that King Docemo did not have absolute customary or legal authority over “all the lands in Lagos” that he had supposedly ceded to the Queen.

Even in his capacity as King of Lagos, Docemo had neither feudal authority nor seigniorial rights over his chiefs, nor absolute rights over the land held in trust by them.

Thus, in spite of treaty provisions, Tijani’s case hinged on the position that King Docemo really had “nothing to transfer.”4. In the end, the Privy Council ruled that Tijani would have to be compensated as a “trustee” of the lands of his native community. Whatever  Docemo may have made to the British crown concerning sovereignty was “made on the footing that the rights of property of the inhabitants were to be fully respected.”

It took some form of negotiation to bring the Northern and Southern protectorates together in 1914 as well. It must be stated though that the negotiations were not in the interest of the indigenous peoples.

It was purely about the interests of the British as well captured by Chief Richard Akinjide (SAN) at a book presentation in Lagos in 2012:

“When Lugard formed the West African Frontier Force with 2,000 troops, about 90 percent of them were from the North mainly from the Middle Belt. And his dispatches to London between that time and January 1914 are extremely interesting. Lugard came here for a purpose and that purpose was British interest. Between 1898 and 1914, he sent a number of dispatches to London which led to the Amalgamation of 1914.

The almalgamation: The Order – in – Council was drawn up in November 1913 signed and came into force in January 1914. In those dispatches, Lugard said a number of things, which are at the root causes of yesterday and today’s problems..

The British needed the Railway from the North to the Coast in the interest of British business. Amalgamation of the South (not of the people) became of crucial importance to British business interest. He said the North and the South should be amalgamated. Southern Nigeria came into existence on January 1900 .

If you remember, Sokoto was not conquered until 1903. So, there was no question of Nigeria at that time. After the conquest of Sokoto, they were able to create the northern Nigerian protectorate. Lugard went full blast and created what was to be known as the protectorate of Northern Nigeria.

What is critical and important are the reasons Lugard gave in his dispatches. They are as follows: He said the North is poor and they have no resources to run the protectorate of the North. That they have no access to the sea; that the South has resources and have educated people.

“Therefore, because it was not the policy of the British Government to bring the taxpayers money to run the protectorate, it was in the interest of the British business and the British taxpayer that there should be Amalgamation. But what the British amalgamated was the Administration of the North and South and not the people of the North and the South, that is one of the root causes of the problems of Nigeria and the Nigerians.

Northern political party

When the amalgamation took effect, the British government sealed off the South from the North. And between 1914 and 1960 that’s a period of 46 years, the British allowed minimum contact between the North and South because it was not in the British interest that the North be allowed to be polluted by the educated South.

That was the basis on which we got our independence in 1960…When the North formed a political party, the northern leaders called it Northern Peoples Congress , NPC. They didn’t call it Nigeria Peoples Congress. That was in accordance with the dictum and policies of Lugard. When Aminu Kano formed his own party, it was called Northern Elements Progressive Union, NEPU, not Nigerian Progressive Union.

Nigeria, British creation

It was only Awolowo and Zik who were mistaken that there was anything called Nigeria. In fact, the so-called Nigeria created in 1914 was a complete fraud. It was created not in the interest of Nigeria or Nigerians but in the interest of the British.

And what were the structures created? The structures created were as follows: Northern Nigeria was to represent England; Western Nigeria like Wales; Eastern Nigeria was to be like Scotland. In the British structure, England has permanent majority in the House of Commons.

There was no way Wales can ever dominate England, neither can Scotland dominate Britain. But they are very shrewd. They would allow a Scottish man to become Prime Minister.

They would allow a Welsh man to become Prime Minister in London but the fact remains that the actual power rested in England.”

The rise of the Nationalist movement to agitate for independence and all the constitutional conferences that led to independence were nothing but negotiations. There were major milestones in these negotiations.

There was the 1950 conference in Ibadan where Nigerian leaders agreed that Nigeria should be a federal union.The negotiation at the conference led to a Federal Constitution at Independence in 1960.

There was a major crisis in 1953 when Anthony Enahoro, one of the leading lights of anti-colonial struggle and a prominent member of the Obafemi Awolowo-led Action Group, AG, moved the motion that Nigeria should become independent in 1956 at the Federal parliament. That motion should have been unanimously supported by members of parliament if an “impossible country” was not in the making.

Enahoro had said in the preamble to his motion on the floor of the Federal House of Representatives that any proposal short of full political independence for Nigeria “has ceased to be a progressive view because Nigerian nationalism has moved forward from that position”.

To be concluded

.Originally presented at a colloquium by Change We Need Nigeria Initiative on  October 13, 2017 in Abuja


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