By Braeyi Ekiye
The British colonialists caved in to grant Nigeria Independence after series of tough negotiations dating far back as the late forties to the early sixties due mainly to the spirited struggles of our forebears for self-identity and freedom.
Freedom to run our affairs at our own pace and to serve our fatherland with love and faith and strength. And above all, to live a just, fair, and true life to attain lofty goals or heights in building a nation where peace and justice shall reign. Freedom to judiciously appropriate and not misappropriate our God given variegated rich mineral and natural resources for the good of all, and not just for a few. Freedom to co-habit with others peacefully to create the enabling environment for meaningful socio-economic and infrastructural development to conquer the vagaries of nature, so we can live more comfortably.
Freedom to create for ourselves the society we want and to recognise the strength in us to face our common humanity, knowing that we are connected not only by the joys in our lives, but in our just struggles, fears and distresses. And also to recognize that honour, dignity, and self-worth, are synonymous with freedom or liberty. For people bound in chains and stripped of honour and dignity are enslaved.
It was for this reason, that the founding fathers of the Nigerian nation were propelled to stand up to the British colonialists in seeking for our independence even before the nineteen thirties (1930s) till 1960, when Nigeria became independent. It was this same reason that pummelled the minorities in the country to seek for justice and equity from the British in pre-independence Nigeria when they were faced with the stark realities of an over-bearing majority working consciously not only to strip them of honour and dignity, but to seize and appropriate their lands and resources with so-called majority might and power, and later, with ferocious arms and boots. Their fears were palpable under the rule of the majority tribes, representing the TRIPOD – WAZOBIA. Fortunately, their cries were heard. This led to the British 1957/1958 Sir Henry Willinks Commission of Inquiry appointed by Her Majesty the Queen to enquire into the fears of the minorities in Nigeria and the means of allaying them.
Part one of the Report of the Willinks Commission of Inquiry in its introductory notes in Chapter One gave a terse description of the creation of what is now known as Nigeria. It also went on to apprise us of the Constitutional conferences and developments that led to the creation of the Nigerian Federation with an unusual composition.
The boundaries of the territory now known as Nigeria, the report stated, were first defined in 1907. The word Nigeria, Sir Willinks said, was then not twenty years old and the various elements which now constitute Nigeria came together for the first time under the Government in 1914 – that is the amalgamation of the Southern and Northern protectorates.
The unity and indeed, the separate existence of Nigeria were thus concepts of growth and political developments at that time.
The Willinks report further stated that from the union of the two protectorates until the time of writing their report, there were many constitutional and administrative changes, all to some extent, concerned with the problem of reconciling in one whole the diverse elements which go to make up Nigeria.
It should be noted that at the Constitutional Conference of 1953, it was decided after a long discussion that Nigeria should be a Federation of three regions and the small Federal Territory of Lagos, residual powers resting with the regions. This decision was acquiesced in reluctantly by one of the principal parties, the National Council for Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC), which had previously advocated a strong centre and a larger number of constituent states, smaller, and with lesser powers, than in the regions. The two other principal parties, the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) and Action Group (AG) had hoped for a solution on more or less the lines eventually reached. The NCNC eventually gave way on those lines reached when it became clear that continued disagreement would bar advance towards independence of the Nigerian nation.
The result of this decision, the 1958 Sir Henry Willinks Commission Report stated, was a Federation of an unusual composition. In the words of the Report: “In that one of the three constituent elements was slightly larger in population than the other two put together, while in each of the three Regions it was possible to distinguish between a majority group of about two-thirds of the population and minority groups amounting to about one-third.
The Willinks Report further explains the unusual nature of the Federation Nigeria got herself trapped and I quote trapped: “The Federation is unusual, not only in the relative size of the units which make it up but also in that the Eastern and Western units are self-governing, while so far the North is not. In each of the Eastern and Western Regions, there is a wholly Nigerian Government responsible to the House of Assembly; within the sphere of its own legislative competence this government is independent. The Governor retains only certain limited powers in which he may act in his discretion; he may sometimes act on behalf of the Governor-General in a Federal subject, but in all matters which are within the competence of the Regional Government, he acts as a constitutional ruler on the advice of his government”, quote closed.
In a comparative analysis, the Willinks Report stated that the situation then of the Northern region was different. It stated that when the Protectorate was first proclaimed over the area which is now the Northern Region, the Emirs were promised that there should be no interference with their religion and for this reason missionary activities were for long discouraged. So, the great majority of the schools in Nigeria were founded and administered by missions; the North has therefore been less well provided with schools and for long was dependent on Southerners to fill posts as clerks and overseers and the like then. Nor was much progress made in training inhabitants of the Northern Region for higher administrative posts previously held by expatriates or Southerners. In the spring of 1957, however, the Northern People’s Democratic Congress (NPDC) decided to ask for self-government for the Northern Region in 1959 and to join the other parties in pressing for independence of Nigeria in 1960. Until 1959, then, the Northern Region will be one stage behind the Eastern and Western Regions in its constitutional development; the Governor presides over the Executive Council and retains powers of enacting legislation which in the Eastern and Western Regions have passed from the Governors to the Governments.
When the Constitutional Conference resumed in Lancaster House, London in 1954, certain of these minority groups expressed fears about their future in regions of this kind and asked for recognition as separate states; they were told that these questions were not on the agenda and promised to raise them in the next conference billed for 1957. Indeed, in 1957, a considerable number of claims by minorities for separate states were presented to the Conference.
This was the trigger that eventually led to the appointment of Sir Henry Willinks Commission of Enquiry into the fears of the minorities and to settle its terms of reference.
The Commission’s report largely confirmed the fears of these minorities and recommended measures that would allay their fears and be made to have a sense of belonging in the emerging Nigerian nation to pave a way for self-actualization of these minority groups.
In the case of the people of the Niger Delta, particularly the coastal Izon (Ijaw) aborigines, the Willinks Commission referred to the region as poor, neglected and backward. Thus, the Commission recommended for the approval of the British Government, the creation of the Niger Delta Special Area to consist of the Ogoni Division, Degema Division, Brass Division, and the Western Ijaw Division. As late Chief Harold Dappa-Biriye, King Pin of Minority Rights in Nigeria and one of the founding fathers of the Nigerian nation put it: “This was how these four divisions were pummelled with what was known as Niger Delta Special Area, and the Niger Delta Development Board was authorised to be formally set up under a law for the purposes of a Niger Delta Special Area and its development.”
The point being made here is that even before Nigeria gained her independence in 1960 from British colonial rule and after, fears of domination by the majority tribes – Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba over the minority tribes or minority ethnic nationalities was a fact. And unfortunately, up until now, those fears, real as they are, still persist even in greater momentum and with greater force and impunity.
There is therefore, no gain saying that, that is why the present feverish clamour for the restructuring of the Nigerian State to enthrone equity, justice, and fair play in the running of its affairs. The State is indeed sick, and it urgently needs doctors that can apply the right or appropriate medication on the already diagnosed wounds of this sick baby called Nigeria. There is indeed, urgent need to cure this malignant ulcer eating deep into the fabric of the Nigerian State.
I had earlier given a background to the creation of the Nigerian State out of a diverse and complicated conglomerate of ethnic nationalities for the sake of unity, peace and progress of the country. The British saw then the need for self-government by these identified ethnic nationalities and grouped them into regions for ease of administration and for good governance. But these measures were not enough to still allay the fears of the minorities within these groups as evident in both the Eastern flank controlled supremely by the Igbo tribe and to the West, the Yorubas, and to the North, the Hausas. So, the minority Niger Deltans in the East and Western flanks and the Middle Belt in the Northern flank continued to raise dissenting voices during the Lancaster House Constitutional Conferences up until Nigeria’s independence in 1960 and thereafter.
But for the January 1966 Military Coup which dramatically changed the administrative and political architecture of the Nigerian nation, the rise of forceful militancy by the minorities across the nation against the domineering majority (WAZOBIA) would have erased Nigeria from the face of the earth. To your tent yea Israel. That the perpetrators of that coup identified succinctly the problems of the nation, and why the nation was fast driving herself to self-destruct, did not in any way perturb those who inherited the reins of that putsch, and up to the present leadership. Nigeria has gone on with business as usual even after the unfortunate and devastating civil war. As I write today, there are more voices of descent than ever before, vocal and frontal, and forceful, attacking the injustices meted out to the nation state, by the self-styled ruling Oligarchies; not only at the national front, but even at state and regional levels. We have more than ever before a dislocated state bereft of good governance, totally immersed and shamefully too, in vile corrupt practices bordering on mind-blowing administrative incompetence, financial and economic crimes, ethnic chauvinism, and dictatorial tendencies even in a democratic dispensation. Indeed, the Nigerian nation is at its lowest ebb administratively, politically, economically and security wise. That is the truth. The biting poverty level in the country arising from government’s incoherent policies and clear lack of effective management of our abundant resources compounded by absence of strong institutions and regulatory command structures, both at the federal, state, and local governments have made Nigeria lying prostrate. If the truth must be told, we need a more visionary leadership, pragmatic and self-less in its calling.
This has, therefore, given rise to the call or clamour for a restructuring of the Nigerian state over the years. Prominent among these groups who have come out openly to denounce the present Nigerian state and its operations is the Nigerian Indigenous Nationalities Alliance for Self-Determination (NINSAS) chaired by Prof. Banji Akintoye. The group had since called for, on behalf of indigenous nationalities in the South and Middle Belt, the halting of the voyage to 2023. They are calling for regional referendums for self-determination and resource control, having classified the present Nigerian Union as toxic and a Nigeria Union that has outlived its usefulness to her citizens.
NINSAS had earlier dubbed the 1999 Nigerian Constitution as fraudulent and unworkable as it promotes injustice, underdevelopment, and impunity in the country. The Alliance therefore, wants the drafting of a new Nigerian Constitution to uphold the virtue of integrity which allows for True Federal system of government. This widely publicised statements of NINSAS were made on Monday, August 23, 2021. The group had since been visible in its mission to salvage the nation state, Nigeria. There are also a plethora of other groups and informed Nigerians who have called for the rejigging of the Nigerian nation in tandem with True Fiscal Federalism and with Equity and Justice as its motto.
No wonder, Ayo Olukotun, a Punch Newspaper columnist in his “FRIDAY MUSINGS” on April 29, 2022 lamented that the nation was fast slipping into deeper decay. Hear him; “As the country slipped into further and deeper decay, one looks in vain for most part for the constructive policy suggestions that these office seekers have made over time to ameliorate the crisis.” He stated that in other democracies, legislators who wish to contest elections and move to executive branch often point to speeches they made, opinions they expressed, motions they initiated that made difference.”
Olukotun wondered why our politicians especially Presidential aspirants are silent on sore areas that have largely divided the country and put the nation in this parlous state, gasping for breath.
“Take for example,” he said, “The issue of ‘RESTRUCTURING’, which remains a sore plank in the current republic. If a Presidential aspirant did not go on record for or against on the matter, how will he suddenly develop bright ideas on the perennial agitation for state police which most people agree is one of the answers to soaring insecurity?”
That is the point. The point that needs to be made of presidential candidates who prefer to dwell on the lesser than the greater in nation building.
Why are our presidential gladiators shy in interrogating the glaring pitfalls of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution as amended, and described by eminent Nigerians, including senior lawyers, as fraudulent and a cog in the wheel of Nigeria’s search for peace, unity, security, and accelerated development in all its facets? Why are they cold as ice, lifeless as steel and dumb and hard of hearing as the bat from the roaring clamour for True Fiscal Federalism as a panacea to squarely address the National Question?
This, to most acute political observers and even to a greater majority of the masses, is the main stumbling block to Nigeria’s quest for a unified union whose wheels, properly lubricated, through the practice of True Federal System of government, would dramatically thrust the State and Nigerians forward to greater heights of nationhood, nationalism and sense of belonging.
That, I believe, is the agenda that should be put on the table for discuss at political rallies, campaigns, news and press conferences, town hall meetings, consultations with leaders of thought, traditional rulers and chiefs. How to create a new Nigeria with defined roles and duties for the Federal Government and her component units. Where archaic and obnoxious land and petroleum laws are revoked/reverted and such resources; their ownership reverted back to their rightful and original owners. Where equity and justice would be the order of the day in the administration and governance of the Nigerian State – right from the federal, state, and to the local government councils. Where monies; the commonwealth is judiciously and effectively utilised for the good of all and not for a select few. Where enlightened leadership with the passion to rule and to lead are exhibited in the spirit of excellence and creativity; catalysts for galvanising Nigerians to the call to nationalism. Nigeria, more than ever before, needs generational thinkers, leaders who would lead by example and galvanize the citizenry to achieve set developmental goals of the State.
As a corollary, I believe this is the finest hour to also interrogate the unusual nature of the Nigerian Federation which the Sir Henry Willinks Report of 1958 talked about. Politicians, particularly, the presidential candidates should be concerned about the current population figures, the Land Use Act, Petroleum Act, and other such laws that inhibit or emasculate the smooth running of a federal system of government in a democratic dispensation.
Take for example, the current polling units in Nigeria, zone by zone published recently and widely circulated in the mainstream media and social platforms. The North-West is apportioned 41,671, the North-East 24,006, North Central 27,514, South-West 34,898, South-East 21,631 and South-South 27,126. The total number of polling units in the country now stands at one hundred and seventy-six thousand, eight hundred and forty-six thousand (176,846). Out of this number, the three Northern political zones have ninety-three thousand, one hundred and ninety-one (93,191) polling units while the three Southern zones are apportioned eighty-three thousand, six hundred and fifty-five polling units. This is not to talk of the humongous local government units in the Northern political zone as compared to the South. All these figures need to be interrogated constitutionally for the continued peace, unity and progress of the Nigerian State.
Perhaps, this must have informed Pa Ayo Adebanjo, Leader of Yoruba socio-political organization, Afenifere recent statement, while backing an Igbo Presidency of the South-East on 3rd March, 2022, and also his audacious argument that the North’s claim of greater census population is yet to be verified and substantiated at a recent joint meeting of Afenifere, PANDEF and MBF in Abuja, the nation’s Federal capital territory.
Let the political parties and their aspirants for the various elective offices buy into the aspiration of majority of Nigerians for Restructuring and Resource Control and the drafting of a new Constitution under the aegis of a Sovereign National Conference of Ethnic Nationalities, to restore the country to true nationhood that is workable; capable of producing the desired result and instilling the much-needed Nigerians in us. Let us not shy away from tackling the greater instead of the lesser in nation building: That of True Fiscal Federalism, Devolution of Powers and Resource Control which are the greater challenges confronting the State now. No peace meal restructuring of the present failed Nigerian democratic system of government would suffice in appeasing a disenchanted, disappointed and humiliated majority of Nigeria who can ill afford to proudly identify themselves as Nigerians.
Let the plethora of presidential aspirants have the audacity to assure the electorate that they would advance a road map for the rebirth of a new Nigerian State, and a clear and decisive promise to craft a new Constitution Nigerians can Affirm to as theirs.
This should be the overriding Agenda for the rebirth of the Nigerian State where our Nigerianess and sense of nationalism shall cow the present divisiveness, insecurity, stunted holistic development, biting poverty, religious and ethnic bigotry. That is the challenge before our present presidential gladiators.
Braeyi Ekiye, Publisher of Environment Watch, writes from Yenagoa.