By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South
THE defunct Midwest Region carved out of the old Western Region, August 9, 1963, more than 57 years ago, following an affirmative plebiscite, was the only constitutionally created region in the country and lasted until 1966 when it was renamed a province and became Mid-Western state in 1967 when other provinces were divided into several states.
It actually existed as an administrative region in Nigeria for three years with Benin and Delta provinces, but changed to defunct Bendel State in 1976 and was regionally unbroken until 1991 when it was partitioned into the present-day Edo and Delta states.
The Benin provinces had Edo-speaking people of Bini, Esan, Etsako, Owan and Akoko Edo, while the Delta province had Ijaw, Itsekiri, Anioma, Urhobo and Isoko- speaking people.
Then President of the Senate, Chief Dennis Osadebay, emerged the pioneer governor and premier of the Midwest region succeeded by Samuel Jereton Mariere, Major General David Ejoor and others.
As earlier stated, Midwest was the first real exercise in democracy that this country has ever had. It remains the only and singular constitutionally created part of the Nigerian federation after the July 13, 1963 plebiscite endorsed by majority of 89.01 per cent of eligible indigenes of the area, which was then in the Western region.
Therefore, by the 8th of August 1963, the Western region assembly affirmed the outcome of that exercise. And by the next day, the 9th of August 1963, the Midwest region was born.
Barely four years after and just as the region was battling to overcome the initial challenges soldiers struck in 1966 tinkering with the subsisting region and devitalizing the new region
Midwest region did not really find its feet as a region before it was terminated, but existing as Bendel state with the Benin and Delta provinces yoked together, the governors, especially Brigadier-General Samuel Ogbemudia, Major General George Innih tried to give voice to the dreams of the founding leaders of the region, including Osadebey, Ejoor, Chief James Otobo, former Federal Commissioner for Information, Chief Edwin Clark and others.
They planned regional integration for the region with network of durable roads and industries like Asaba Textile Mill, Asaba, African Timber and Plywood Company, Sapele, Ughelli Glass Factory and other laudable projects distributed in then Bendel state.
The people of Midwest did not really have a clear opportunity of building on the dream and vision of the founders as a region, but the demonstrated flair was short-lived in Bendel.
They supported derivation which was based on agricultural production then, the North enjoying 50 per cent from its groundnut production, Western region relied on its cocoa revenue, while Midwest struggled to make rubber its main stay. The economy was supported by rubber in addition to palm related products, maize, beans and other food produce for household consumption. In the Southern Delta province, oil was discovered and was positioned to benefit the region.
Marginalised by military
President of Midwest Movement, Dr Pedro Obaseki, who remains resolute on regeneration of the old region, asserted that the dissolution of the regions in 1967 by the military and the subsequent creation of states by different military administrations have not been fair to the Midwest region.
“The military governments squeezed the Midwest (Edo and Delta states), a full region of its own before, into South-South, to share the region with four states from the South-East,” he lamented.
Military intervention aborted nation’s march to true federalism and the political tussle since then to return the country to that track has failed.
Across the three old regions, Western, Midwest and Eastern regions and part of Northern region, the demand for restructuring of the country to bring back true federalism and other components, as the key pathways to economic revitalization of Nigeria remain strong until date.
Vision of Midwest
The vision of the Midwesterners is true federalism where the federating regions that constitute the geographical entity known as Nigeria will own and develop their resources and pay royalty to the centre, which is not to control the regions.
South-South leader, Chief Edwin Clark, who fought with others for the creation of Midwest region, said: “There is need for restructuring, there is need to go back to the kind of government we had before and after independence until the soldiers struck.
“What we are saying is that we want the former one where there was devolution of power, where every region had its own constitution even the Midwest region was created based on the demand for restructuring.
“Then, every region was independent in whatever they did. No one held the other down, which was why Western Nigeria government did things that other governments did not do and others were not envious of it because everybody had his own government.
“At present, Nigeria is running a unitary government, a situation where every state goes to the Federal Government for money. We want restructuring to correct the defects in the current structure of the country.
“For instance, Kano has 44 local governments but contributes nothing to the revenue of the country, while Bayelsa, which contributes a lot has only eight local governments. I think these are anomalies that should be corrected.
“There should be devolution of powers to the states if the states are going to be the federating units. We believe that the minorities in Nigeria, especially in the North, should have a sense of belonging by creating states for them.
“Like the Southern Kaduna, the people need a state with headquarters in Kafanchan, which is why we need restructuring.
“We also believe that in every state, governorship should rotate from one senatorial zone to the other to give every section of the state a sense of oneness and participation so that in a state like Kogi, where only the Igalas until recently or Benue, where only Tivs have been producing governors, can be checked.
“These were part of the things we discussed at the 2014 National Conference, that governorship should be zoned, it is part of the restructuring and the conference discussed everything from Obasanjo’s 2005 report, Abacha’s conference, Babangida’s conference, all the reports were brought before us and the conference deliberated on them,” he said.
“The talks that Northern Nigeria was not represented at the conference is a lie, it was properly represented. What type of representation are they talking about? Muslim, Christian leaders were at the conference,” the elder statesman added.