By Afe Babalola
PRIOR to 1885, there existed no geographical entity now known as Nigeria unlike countries such as Germany, England, Japan, Russia, China, France, Portugal, Palestine, Egypt and Lebanon which 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 1884 to 1885.
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 and 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 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 40 European colonies and protectorates. Thus were born the modern states of Africa…”
To advance the economic interests of the British colonialists, the colonial masters under Lord Fredrick Lugard got the approval of the British King George V in his court at Windsor Castle on November 22,1913 to amalgamate the Northern and Southern Protectorates. Interestingly, the amalgamation which took place in 1914 was viewed with suspicion by the Northern elite 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 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 the 1914 “amalgamation process was a mistake. I would rather be called Sultan of Sokoto than President of Nigeria”.
Several years after amalgamation then came the call for independence. Post-independence, 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. Then came the military coup of January 15, 1966, and the 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.
The emergence of the military on the political scene and their uneventful stay for about 30 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.
It is one thing to create the façade of a country and give it a name as happened in the case of Nigeria, Gold Coast, Dahomey and the like. However, the concept of nationhood cannot be created by the fiat of men, however, powerful. In short you do not create or make a nation by only words of mouth, the 1999 Constitution was handed over by the military. It is not the people’s constitution.
Of course, the legislators who are benefiting from the military constitution are not interested in substituting the people’s constitution for the military constitution. Consequently, they have been making amendments to the military constitution. They have deliberately omitted that part of the report of 2014 Constitutional Conference which would affect them. The recommendation is that legislators should earn only sitting allowance.
Agitation for secession: The agitation for secession is an ill wind that does no good. No matter the motive of the conveners of the Berlin Conference, we have lived together for over 100 years having been married together by fiat of the Europeans. It is better to dialogue and restructure the country. Neither the husband nor wife would want a dissolution of a marriage if the parties live in comfort and are prosperous. It is incumbent on the leaders to make the country so prosperous that nobody would agitate for secession.
Sovereign National Conference: What we need today is a Sovereign National Conference the outcome of which shall be the people’s constitution and shall not be subject to any amendment by any of the organs of the existing Senate or House or Representatives. If necessary, it may be referred to a referendum. It is no longer news that many stakeholders and ethnic groups in the country desire a Sovereign National Conference.
Restructuring – The of wind of change: The call for restructuring Nigeria has been the subject of discourse by many stakeholders who, over the years, have lent their voices – heard and unheard – towards revisiting the institutional, socio-economic and political structure of Nigeria. Without a doubt, diverse reasons exist for the call for restructuring Nigeria.
While some advocate that it will foster autonomous economic advancements, others have sworn that the issue of insecurity in Nigeria will be laid to rest if the nation is restructured. Indeed, the presence a myriad of voices in Nigeria, and in diaspora, calling for the restructuring of nation underscores the more-than-before realization of the fact that majority of the nation’s ills can be cured by restructuring. It has been noted, and rightly so, that Nigeria can be likened to a calabash floating on a lake and although it may not sink, it has no definite direction or destination.
Restructuring would bring about that change that would make citizens to be proud of what they earn from their sweat as against the wealth acquired from stealing public fund. It is restructuring that would enable the component parts of the country to develop their resources, provide employment, eradicate poverty and make one proud of being a Nigerian. It is restructuring that would enable each state to control its population, set internationally acceptable standard for admission to tertiary institutions and bring back the glory of quality education from our universities.
Above all, it is restructuring that would curb over-concentration of power in the centre and reduce corruption, promote harmony and unity and make the country metamorphose into a nation. I end this edition with a reference to my book, The Living Legend, Vol II, at page 117, where I noted as follows: “We have lived together for over 100 years. It pays us to remain in one country. To avert avoidable disaster, the restructuring of this vast country of many tribes under which each tribe can develop at its own pace, its resources, practice the religion either of his forefathers or acquired religion and be happy. Let us have a constitution that will make the centre less attractive with only a few common services for the federal government to which each state shall make appropriate contribution”.