(Vanguard of Sunday, August 5, 2007)
This is year 2007. In seven years from now, that is in year 2014, our integrated space shall be one hundred years old. Like other earth-shaking events which people prepare for, years in advance, how ready are we to confront 2014? I deliberately referred to our status as integrated space. It is not the space that will be 100 years old. It is the integration.
Don’t tell me we have been begging to host the Commonwealth Games and that Scotland may pipe down on the same claim. Are we wanting to showcase how we can host running and jumping without proof that the people doing the organizing have been woven into one nation, united and undivided and indivisible? And is the plea to host the event in view to show we are a hundred years old or it is meant to be a commemorative item on the centenary programme?
So, I ask me, and I ask you and I ask all stakeholders in Project Nigeria, how ready are we to confront 2014 when we have to tell the story of how we have lived in the same geographical space since Frederick Lugard brought together the hundreds and thousands of autonomous communities that were unique in their heterogeneity!
The journey to 1914 was tortuous enough. There were treaties signed with the local chiefs, even with kings who controlled large expanses of land. There were conquests and resultant subjugation of people who did not want British presence on their soil. Even 20 years before the amalgamation, without consultation with the peoples who populated the lands that later came to be Nigeria, European powers had met in Berlin and carved up Africa. Each country had to come over to take what was allotted to them.
Our country, this geographical space, was the lot that fell to Britain. What British companies in search of raw materials did and how the British later took over what in 1914 became what we are today on a map is not the story for here today. It is true we were not consulted before the union. But it is also true that there was that union, that the union has been sustained for so long that in seven years, we would have lived together for 100 years.
So we have come a long way from Lugard that ran a highly centralized government at union in 1914. That things were wrong in walking the road chosen can be seen from the various steps taken to smoothen the path. If we judge them by the constitutional changes that were introduced, we can look at the first step taken to have us participate in the government that the colonial masters imposed.
Clifford started that introduction of our participation in the way we were governed. That was in 1922. After a long time of protests which the Second World War wind-of-change aided, more changes came in 1946 and were quickly followed in 1951, 1954 and 1960 when we were granted political independence.
So between 1946 and 1954, we had discovered that tribes and tongues did differ and that if we wanted to stand in brotherhood, we had a lot to do with integrating the people occupying the already integrated space. That integration would not work by living under the umbrella of one central government that Lugard midwifed through the amalgamation.
We had to move at our own pace, and this was what the situation demanded, and this was what the leaders of the time – Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo and Ahmadu Bello – accepted. The West, East and North had to opt for regional autonomy on dates they chose, but all three agreed that come October 1, 1960, Nigeria should be celebrating the emergence of one country, one nation, and one destiny.
They did emerge as one country, but have we been able to claim that we are a nation, that we have qualified to be described as one nation, with one destiny? Is it not the arrangements that people make to live together in union that recognizes the dignity of man that could result in all stakeholders’ hands being on deck to build one people who as compatriots would stand up and obey the call of their country, Nigeria?
The truth is that at independence, we had the land mass, the integrated space, being administered on a tripod controlled by three most populated of the more than 350 nationality groups. The voices of the so-called minorities had achieved no more than the reflection in the constitution, the road map that regulated our walk on the highway, of a chapter that guaranteed human rights – to life, to dignity of the human person, to personal liberty, to fair hearing, to private and family life, to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, to freedom of expression and the press, to peaceful assembly and association, to freedom of movement, to freedom from discrimination, and to right to acquire and own immovable property anywhere in Nigeria.
We had very powerful regions that had their own constitutions, even had different representatives in the United Kingdom taking care of their people there. Then we ran this country by contributing to the central government 50 per cent of the earnings of each region. We depended more on groundnut, cocoa, palm produce and rubber to grow this country.
Then came military intervention in 1966 and the journey to the death of a union had begun. That death has not come but the dying has been very slow indeed, and retrieval strategies are totally absent, diversionary or fast-tracking the dissolution. Instead of reflecting our diversities in the political arrangements we chose, not through any referendum but imposed by those who thought for us and acted for us and told us the decisions were by us the people, a riotous administrative structure gradually emerged. It was predictable. The command structure of the military cannot wear any other toga than that of a unitary government. General Aguiyi Ironsi even decreed such arrangement in 1966 and paid dearly for it. But while devolution seemed to have been taking place to announce the loosening of the grip of a central group over the whole country, the picture that emerged showed that we were in fact weakening the federating units of the union. We created the Mid West Region which was the fourth region and the only one in the history of Nigeria that met the constitutional requirement for splitting the country. Without due process of the people being part of the decision, we increased the number of regions from four to 12, then 19, then 21, then 30, and now 36. All that the splitting had in common has been the replication of structures that existed before the split. As at now, seven years before we report on what we have been doing with integrating our people to make sense of the integrated space that came into being in 1914, we can say that we have been moving back in time, beyond 1914 to those communities that were forced into union, the difference being that they cannot have their autonomy returned. And what is there that they have? The constitution is clear on it – one central government that corners 93 areas of preponderant law-making and law execution, and collects 56 per cent of the earnings of the country, earnings that come mainly from oil flowing from a region that no one is serious in developing; 36 states that have autonomy on paper to make laws which can never override any federal law on the same subject and whose structures can be dissolved by the powerful man at the centre; and 774 local government areas that have a reputation for routinely sharing the allocations to them, allocations meant for attending to the needs of the people at the lowest rung of the political ladder. In federations that mean well for governance, that respect the letter and the spirit bonding together the units of the union, there are deliberate attempts to revisit regularly the binding cords and strengthen the weakening links.
It is this challenge I have in mind when I look at the structure of government today. As is, Nigeria is not working and cannot work. If there are going to be constitutional changes, we should be addressing issues beyond which rung of the precedence ladder we want to place our traditional rulers. I am saying that the promise the President made to the traditional rulers that he would send a request to the National Assembly for a role for them in the Constitution through constitutional amendment is just not the summation of what we need. It can be a minor little role for them in relation to the fundamental changes that must be wrought in our Road Map if we must make sense to those who started this journey knowing that we are a disparate people and must reflect that heterogeneity in governance.
Do we know why arrangements like federations and other unions fail? Look at the listing of Winipedia of defunct federations. How exciting or eye-opening it would be if you surfed the internet to find out how the unions came about, how they were run, what problems the constituent bodies encountered and how they resolved them et al. Some of the defunct federations, as you can see below were short-lived, others lasted centuries, but they collapsed. See them — Inca Empire (1197–1572); Confederate States of America (1861–1865); Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (1922–1991); United Provinces of Central America (1823–1838); French West Africa (1904–1958); French Equatorial Africa (1910–1960); Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1945–1992); Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1992–2003); United States of Indonesia (1949–1950); United Kingdom of Libya (1951–1963); Federated Malay States (1896–1946); Malayan Union (1946–1948); Federation of Malaya (1948–1963); New Granada (1855–1886); Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland (1953–1963); West Indies Federation (1958–1962); Mali Federation (1959–1960); Federal Republic of Spain (1873–1874); Federal Republic of Cameroon (1961–1972); Federation of South Arabia (1962–1967); Czechoslovakia (1969–1992); Uganda (1962–1967); and Imperial Federation (1884 –1919) which was a proposal that never came into being. It was intended to supersede the British Empire, in which all colonies and dominions would be represented by a single Imperial Parliament under the Imperial Crown. The idea, however, was ahead of its time and the Imperial Federation gave way to the Commonwealth of Nations.
We must start seriously to work for what we can present to 2014 as proof that we are ready to make the Federal Republic of Nigeria workable, and work. Pushing to host the Commonwealth Games and nothing more is not it, cannot be it.
(Published in Vol 2 of Democracy Watch, A Monitor’s Diary by Tony Momoh, pages 371 – 375; Lagos 2008)