August 9, 2019

Nigeria haunted by Gowon’s 1966 mistake – Uko

Gowon, Nigeria

Elliot Ugochukwu-Uko

Says playing West against East has kept the country down

By Clifford Ndujihe

Evangelist Elliot Ugochukwu-Uko is the founder of the Igbo Youths Movement, IYM, deputy secretary of the Professor Ben Nwabueze-led Igbo Leaders of Thought, ILT and secretary general of the Eastern Consultative Assembly. In this chat, he spoke on where Nigeria went wrong, why the problems are intractable and how the country can wriggle out of the challenges.


Elliot Ugochukwu-Uko

On tension in the country over insecurity, political wrangling, protests

Everybody knows the solution to our problem, for some strange reasons, they kept the solution in the archives to gather dust. I will be playing to the gallery if I spoke everyday. For decades, I screamed myself hoarse to authorities on the need to reconstruct our polity through a new peoples’ constitution that will enthrone true federalism, devolution of powers and equity because 95 per cent of our troubles flow from the unworkable unitary constitution inspired by the military.

The current President does not seem to believe in restructuring. What do we do then?

That is unfortunate but his stand cannot change the truth. If we do not restructure our polity, our problems will only get worse. So, it is unfortunate if the President only chooses to address the symptoms instead of the root cause of our malaise.

On the question of the National Assembly amending the constitution

Our problems are beyond constitutional amendment by the National Assembly. Our problem is that the framework of our constitution, as designed by the military, cannot move the country forward in unity and cannot also engender economic and political growth of any country. We are only surviving as a country because of the oil money shared by all tiers of government. The day the oil stops flowing and cash stops coming in, Nigeria will disintegrate. Our structure is crazy, strange and funny at the same time.

The regions and states can only develop when they source their own resources and use them to develop their regions to the envy of other regions. The rivalry among the regions will engender competition like it did in the First Republic, forcing each region to look inwards, think out of the box, mine and sell every mineral under their soil and then manage their resources so well and discourage sleaze and waste.

It is impossible for one man to effectively run a behemoth of 200 million people from Abuja. It is also impossible to force down the same rules, style, format and system on the people of Sokoto and Akwa Ibom at the same time or on the people of Borno and Bayelsa. Because the cultures of the Fulani and Kanuri are completely different from those of the Ibibio and Ijaw. Nigeria will only experience growth, peace and concord when regions are allowed to develop at their own pace. We have tried for decades under this unitary structure and we have failed woefully. Why do we find it difficult to face the truth and restructure Nigeria without further delay?

Where did we get it wrong?

Through the military-inspired constitution. It all began in the late 1960s, when General Yakubu Gowon unilaterally created 12 states through a decree, thereby destroying the regions and burying the 1963 constitution. He also set up the Chief Dina Committee that advised the central government to annexe all revenues and grant states allocations according to their needs. This made the Nigerian Head of State the most powerful in the world.

Most Nigerian do not know that for the first year that General Gowon ruled Nigeria that the revenue formula of 1963 still applied. Each region kept a certain percentage of their earning and contributed a certain percentage (as enshrined in the 1963 constitution) to the centre. The military governors received, shared, and distributed the revenues and earnings of each regions strictly according to the dictate of the 1963 constitution.

Most Nigerians do not know that it was General Gowon and not General Aguiyi Ironsi, who unified and centralized all the revenues at the centre in order to prosecute the war. Ironsi’s decree 34 of May 1966 merely changed the nomenclature from Regions to group of provinces. Ironsi never altered the revenue sharing formula. The facts are there in the files of government. After General Gowon centralized all the resources at the centre, the victorious cabals at the end of the war, who now saw that power was so sweet, especially with oil boom, decided to make it difficult for any other region to ever take power out of their hands. They therefore preferred centralizing all the resources and revenues at the centre.

Therefore, they decided at the end of the war to inspire and influence a new constitution that will centralize power because they believed they will always be in charge and control of central power in Nigeria. Both the 1979 and 1999 constitutions were influenced, inspired and manipulated by this line of thought of the victors of the war. For them, the East has been defeated through military force, the West has been co-opted and settled, the minorities were so excited that they all are now being empowered by the total exclusion of Ndigbo.

During the heady days of the 1970s, nobody saw that this unitary structure will only make Nigeria the poverty capital of the world 50 years later. Where states cannot pay salaries, where a huge unemployment rate has turned kidnapping into a profitable business venture with lotto betting as the only pass time, as the hope of winning bets actually helps in reducing the suicide rate. Nobody knew that 50 years later, the fierce struggle for central power in Nigeria will deepen our ethnic and religious fault lines to the point where hatred, division and acrimony rule the land. Nobody knew that this structure would ironically make the region that has produced 80 percent of the rulers of Nigeria the poorest region.

So the mistake of 50 years ago that inspired the post-civil war constitution brought us where we are today. Everybody made mistakes but some are so proud to accept their mistakes. For instance, the delegation led by Okoi Arikpo after their meeting with Chief Obafemi Awolowo, took Awolowo’s telephone to call General Gowon to give him the good news that the Chief had finally agreed to join the government. General Gowon was so elated that he gave instructions for the news to be announced immediately.

As the convoy drove away from Parklane Apapa, on their way to Dodan Barracks to report to General Gowon, they heard in the car radio the breaking news from Radio Nigeria that Chief Awolowo had joined the government to help Gowon prosecute the war. That deal consolidated the game of playing the East against the West, and the West against the East when convenient for the North.

Everybody took decisions that benefited their immediate ambition. Most of the permanent secretaries and cabinet secretaries that endorsed centralization of the revenues by General Gowon thereby strengthening this unitary structure that inspired our unjust constitution, were from the Southern Minorities. They didn’t realize the mistake they were roping their progeny into. They even opposed the Aburi Accord. They supported General Gowon as he centralized the purse and commandeered all earnings to the centre. Our own constitutional gurus also made mistake of endorsing this unitary structure during the making of both the 1979 and 1999 constitutions. We cannot come out of our problems as a nation unless we face the truth. Only devolution of powers through a new constitution can save Nigeria.

His take on the actions of the President Buhari-led government

I don’t want to talk about Buhari’s government. It wasn’t the Chinese or Mexicans that brought in this government. It was Nigerians that brought him. Those who brought him should enjoy him. I am not going to criticize Buhari’s government when it is obvious to everybody that the opposition party leaders are all mute, crawling discreetly at night to the same All Progressives Congress, APC, government to ask for favours and protection. I will not do the job of opposition for Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, leaders who are hiding under their bed in fear. The entire political class on both divides are selfish, ruthless, uncaring and blinded by greed.