The piece, last week, traced the origin of Decree 34 which transferred all the autonomous powers of the four regions to the cenre. It continues, this week, with the fate of that decree.
ON May 26, 1967, the Military Governor of the then Eastern Region, Lt-Colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu addressed the joint meeting of the advisory committee of Chiefs and Elders and the consultative assembly of the Eastern Region in Enugu.
He declared on that day “the ill-fated Decree No. 34 was promulgated after it had been discussed and approved by General Aguiyi-Ironsi’s Supreme Military Council which composed as follows: Lt-Col Hassan, Lt-Col Gowon, Lt-Col C. Odumegwu Ojukwu, Lt-Col G.T. Kurabo, Lt-Col F.A. Fajuyi, Commodore J. Wey, Brigadier B.O. Ogundipe, Lt-Col D. Ejoor, Alhaji Kam Salem, Mr. L.E. Edet and Major M. Johnson.”
In his observation then, Mr. S.K. Panter-Brick, a notable British historian of the London School of Economics, wrote that: “General Ironsi’s assurance that the constitutional review committee was hard at work and that the unification accomplished by Decree No.34 in no way prejudiced its findings was, in the circumstances, no assurance at all.
It would be difficult to organise any expression of opinion while such ban remained in force. It was, however, the ‘unification decree’, and that part of it which related to the civil service, which caused most immediate concern”.
“Northern civil servants had already shown their anxieties on this score two months earlier when Lt-Colonel Hassan Katsina, in Lagos for a meeting of the Supreme Military Council, was reported to have ‘condemned’ the policy of Northernisation’ in the making of appointments.
On his return to Kaduna he was besieged with demands for an explanation. It was feared that in a unified service Northerners would be at a disadvantage. It was no consolation that the Decree provided for the delegation of appointments and promotions, except the most senior, to Provincial Civil Service Commissions. It was the senior officials who controlled the administration.
“Moreover there was no assurance as to the qualifications which were to be taken into consideration when making appointments and promotions. If only formal educational qualifications were to be taken into consideration, to the exclusion of experience, local knowledge and character, then it was feared that the majority of the senior positions would be filled by the Southerners unversed in and unsympathetic to the ways of those they were administering.
“These fears may have been exaggerated but they were real. They were accentuated by the knowledge that Mr. Nwokedi had made his report on the unification of the civil service to General Ironsi without having had it approved by the other members of the committee. This manner of proceeding was taken as a demonstration of the scant attention likely to be given to the claims of Northerners when it came to making appointments.”
He went further to state that: “Yet the fact that General Ironsi was caught in this kind of dilemma merely underlines the folly of centralising the administration in advance of some agreement on the prior constitutional issues. This was compounded when he sought to overcome opposition by announcing his intention to stay in power for three years and at the same time prohibit all political activities.
“There was no lack of warning of the probable consequences. Lt-Colonel Hassan Katsina, returning from the meeting of the Supreme Military Council immediately preceding the promulgation of Decrees Nos. 33 and 34, remarked that the egg was about to break.
“It cracked and then finally broke, under the impact of two opposing forces: a military government set on imposing its own form of centralised command, at least as an interim measure, and an opposition movement, less clearly led openly asserted, but sustained by growing feats of a fait accompli .”
A few months before promulgating Decree No 34, General Aguiyi Ironsi on February 21, 1966, addressed the press. On that day he declared: “The public would like to know the kind of administrative reforms we intend to undertake and then we propose to establish in order to attain our objectives. As a first step, administrative reforms are essential in order to lay a solid foundation not only for the present but for the future as well.
“Here the Press should reflect the thinking of the people and provide a forum for public discussion and constructive suggestions. The country needs a sort of nerve centre which will give the necessary direction and control in all major areas of national activities so that we will be in a position to plot a uniform pattern of development for the whole country.
“Matters which were formerly within the legislative competence of the regions will need to be reviewed, so that issues of national importance could be centrally controlled and directed towards overall and uniform development in the economic and social field.”