By Afe Babalola
“In my estimation, the most important task which our leaders should concern themselves with now is how to make Nigeria a true nation.”
With the announcement of President Buhari that he will seek election for another term of four years, political activities have been on the increase. Those in support of his bid for re-election have begun moves to sell his candidacy to the electorate while those against it have all begun moves aimed at bringing about a coalition of sorts to wrest power from the ruling party. In all of these, as is usual with Nigerian politicians, little attention is being given to those matters which in my estimation are the most necessary for any meaningful attempt at development. While it is good to formulate economic and social policies and tout them as the panacea for many ills troubling this country, the hard truth is that without getting the basics right, we will continue to go round in circles. In my estimation, the most important task which our leaders should concern themselves with now is how to make Nigeria a true nation.
In the beginning
Once upon a time and indeed before 1885 (132 years ago), there was no geographical entity named Nigeria whereas countries such as Germany, England, Japan, Russia, China, France, Portugal, Palestine, Egypt and Lebanon had been in existence for over 1000 years.
It is a geographical fact that the large area of land (93.765 kilometres) bigger than Germany and Britain put together or France and Britain put together was carved out and granted to Britain at the infamous Berlin Conference of 1854 to 1855. That was 132 years ago. By comparison, Nigeria is a very young country which afortiori needs careful monitoring.
Project Nigeria was inhabited by over 400 ethnic groups speaking over 295 dialects. Unfortunately, the great divide along artificial and arbitrary barriers saw some part of Yoruba race being merged with Dahomey now the Republic of Benin as a French territory while some parts of Hausa/Fulani speaking people form part of Niger Republic, Ghana & Sierra Leone.
The result of the gratuitous gift to Britain by other European countries is the eternal separation and division of people hitherto united as different empires such as the old Oyo Empire, the Benin Empire, and the Hausa Empire. Obviously, a lot of the problems plaguing us as a new country have their foundation in the arbitrary partition of Africa.
The intention of the colonial masters
The unpalatable truth is that the partitioning of Africa in Berlin in 1885 by the Europeans was premised on selfish economic interest. The illiterate and uninformed inhabitants were never consulted. Indeed they had no say.In his book, State of Africa, Martin Meredith stated as follows about the birth of most African countries:
As the haggling in Europe over African territory continued, land and peoples became little more than pieces on a chessboard. ‘We have been giving away mountains and rivers and lakes to each other, only hindered by the small impediment that we never knew exactly where they were,’ Britain’s prime minister, Lord Salisbury, remarked sardonically to a London audience. Britain traded the North Sea island of Heligoland with the Germans for Zanzibar, and parts of northern Nigeria with the French for fishing rights off Newfoundland. France exchanged parts of Cameroon with Germany in return for German recognition of the French protectorate over Morocco. By the time the Scramble for Africa was over, some 10,000 African polities had been amalgamated into forty European colonies and protectorates. Thus were born the modern states of Africa…”
The most difficult task facing Africa’s new leaders was to weld into nations a variety of different peoples, speaking different languages and at different stages of political and social development. The new states of Africa were not ‘nations’. They possessed no ethnic, class or ideological cement to hold them together, no strong historical and social identities upon which to build. “We have all inherited from our former masters not nations but states,” remarked Felix Houphouet-Boigny, ‘states that have within them extremely fragile links between ethnic groups’. Indeed, as the result of a long historical process during the colonial era, the engine of ethic consciousness – the tribal factor – was more potent than it had ever been before.
It was never intended that the area now called Nigeria or any of the area granted to other countries would metamorphose into a nation. It was intended to be a fief for exploitation of raw materials such as palm oil, palm kernels, groundnuts, cocoa, rubber and cotton to meet the industrial demands of Europe!
Amalgamation of North and South
In the beginning, Northern and Southern Nigeria were administered separately.
Again, mainly designed to advance their economic interest, the Colonial Masters under Lord Fredrick Lugard got the approval of the British King George V in his court at Windsor Castle on the 22nd of November, 1913
Interestingly, the amalgamation which took place in 1914 was viewed with suspicion by the Northern elites who feared that the process might erode the hegemony and the awesome influence enjoyed by the Caliphate.
Alhaji Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari had written in 1948 straight against the amalgamation. The North’s opposition to the amalgamation process was re-enacted in 1953 debates leading to the call for which Sir Ahmadu Bello was quoted as saying that “amalgamation process was a mistake” of 1914. I would rather be called Sultan of Sokoto than President of Nigeria. See Walter Schwarz on Nigeria.
Agitation for Independence
Thank God some educated Nigerians, particularly from England and America including Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Chief Obafemi Awolowo founded daily and weekly newspapers with which they promoted political awareness which led to increased agitation for independence by some Nigerians. The rest is history.
5.Independence and 1963 Constitution–Rapid Development
The stage was thereafter set for the eventual attainment of Independence by the 1st of October 1960.
6.Development under 1963 Constitution
Our country’s history is replete with the inconvertible fact that Nigeria witnessed her greatest and fastest economic, political, social and educational development during self government and the first republic. Each of the regions was fairly autonomous and could legislate over a number of items which have today been taken over by the Federal Government. It was during this period that each region began its own regional developmental efforts. There were mutual healthy rivalries to compete for development.
The first in Africa Western Nigeria Television Station/Western Nigeria Broadcasting Corporation, the Cocoa House (a 25-storey complex), the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), Western Nigerian Development Corporation, Western Nigeria Marketing Board, National Bank of Nigeria, Liberty Stadium to mention a few were pioneering efforts by the Western Region government under the leadership of Obafemi Awolowo.
On the Eastern Region’s government side, the government established the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, which also has a Teaching Hospital, Eastern Nigeria Development Corporation etc amongst other giant strides. The Northern Regional Government replied the Awolowo-led Western Regional Government with Northern Nigeria Development Corporation, the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, the Bank of the North and the famous groundnut pyramids of Kano.
7.The military rule 1966 – 1999
On the 15th of January, 1966 the army struck. An attempt to impose a unitary government on the Country was instantly foiled by another military coup in July 29, 1966. This was followed in rapid successions by the civil war and a long military rule. Apart from the four years of Shagari’s government, the country was ruled by the military from 1966 to 1999.
8.The 1999 to date
We are all witnesses to the misrule and unbridled brigandage of decades of the military era.
The emergence of the military on the political scene and their uneventful stay for about thirty years dealt a fatal blow to the existing federal structure in Nigeria. None of the constitutions fashioned out by the military reflects the ideals which informed the making of 1954, 1960 and 1963 constitutions. What the military did was to by that constitution weaken the component states, destroy or impair their power to develop and sustain themselves. It is therefore correct to state that the military and their civilian apologists either by design or by accident have planted in the constitution the seeds of national disintegration and disharmony. The allegations of marginalization and the clamor for confederation constitute the inevitable harvest of the constitution fashioned by the military.
To be continued.