Nigeria’s 56th year independence anniversary came on October 1, 2016, at a time, the advocacy and calls for the restructuring of the country to a more workable federal arrangement are becoming louder and louder. Some Nigerian youths have actually gone steps further to question the basis for the continued existence of the country under a centrally controlled structure.
They question the value and status of independence the the British colonial authorities ceded to the nation’s foundation Prime Minister, Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, after a long and winding struggle, dating back to the trans-Atlantic slave trade years. The real snag is that after decades when many of the nationalists were intimidated, ridiculed, tortured, and jailed, and some paid the supreme sacrifice of death in the fight for freedom, we have a country we do not know how to restructure properly.
Nigeria is home to over two hundred distinct ethnic nationalities, indigenous, tribal, linguistic, cultural and migrant groups. They include the Edo, Igbo, Hausa, Idoma, Yoruba, Igala, Igbira, Gbagl, Kanuri, Tiv, Yoruba, Ibibio, Efik, Kanuri, Ogoni, Annag, Itsekiri, Ewe, Fulani, Zuru, Ogoja, Jukun, Ikwere, Ika, Ukwani, Nupe, Efik, Basage, Kaje nations and many more. Inspite of the savagery of the centuries of slavery, all the tribes have retained their distinct territories and cultural identities.
It is a true statement of fact that all of them have great leaders with the names of knowledgeable men and women, like Herbert Macaulay, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello, Aminu Kano, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Anthony Enahoro, J.S Tarka, Michael Okpara, Dappa Biriye, S. L. Akintola, J.S Olawoyin, Rotimi Williams, Michael Imoudu, Gambo Sawaba, Margaret Ekpo, Wuraola Esan, Funmilayo Kuti and many others. The Republic of Nigeria, had some of the brightest and articulate selection of nationalist fighters in the third world. Among the erstwhile colonial countries within the British Commonwealth of Nations at independence in 1960, Nigeria was ranked next to India
Sadly, Nigeria throughout the last five and half decades has become a huge rodent park, riddled by political intrigues, betrayals, treachery, back-stabbing, sabotage and violence as political leaders fight for a share of the spoil of power.
If for nothing else, this is why the clamour for restructuring has continued to rise. We cannot forget great interventions in the past made by numerous political organizations, movements and associations. To remember them is to realize how long has been the struggle for restructuring. To name them; National Council of Nigerian Citizens, Niger Delta Congress, Borno Youths Movement, Ilorin Parapo, Otuedo, Ekiti Parapo, Dynamic Party of Nigeria and Cameroon, Action Group, Dynamic Party, Igbira Tribal Union, Ibadan Parapo, Midwest State Movement, Northern Element Progressive Union, Republican Party, Northern Peoples Congress, Middle Belt Congress, Zamfara Commoners Party, Igala Union, Esan Tax Payers Association, Urhobo Progressive Union, Ibibio Progressive Union, Igbo State Union, COR State Movement and more. The military regime banned all of them on coming to power in 1966. The list shows clearly that only few of the pre-independence political parties and organizations by their programmes and objectives had restructuring as goal. Many of them did not have Pan Nigeria world outlook as they were more interested on issues relating to their immediate communities. But it shows why they were giving strong support to the principles of regional autonomy in one Nigeria.
On reflection, it is instructive that majority of the protagonists of the restructuring of Nigeria during the colonial years were from the North. The negligible few northerners now against restructuring must be doing so to annoy certain people, as their views are completely opposed to the position held by the past Northern leaders, including the great Ahmadu Bello who had wished for a custom union and even opted for a separate sovereign state, but had to settle for a federal arrangement out of compromise, following debates at the various pre-independence constitutional conferences held in Nigeria and Britain. Alhaji Bello at the 1954 , constitutional conference in London said, “ As for me, I would have preferred the north to leave the other parts of the country but stayed only because of the importance of the southern coast line in international trade and the fact that it might be difficult to control the rail system as I would have liked to”
The three Regional Premiers, Dr. Nnandi Azikiwe for the East, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello for the North and Chief Obafemi Awolowo for the West knew what they wanted and pursued their objectives to the minutest details. Under their careful watch, a comprehensive framework for the devolution of power to the regions was adopted which was why the three regions were able to get self government at separate dates between 1957 and 1959, before independence proper in 1960.
Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was an Igbo leader and a Pan – Africanist, yet, he believed strongly that every tribe in Nigeria should have the right to self – management. In a presidential address at the Igbo State Union conference at Aba in 1949, he said, “The Igbo people have reached a cross-road and it is for us to decide which is the right cause to follow. We are confronted with routes leading to diverse goals. As I see it, there is only one road that I can safely recommend for us to thread and it is the road of self determination for the Igbo within the framework of a federated Commonwealth of Nigeria, leading to a United States of Africa. Other roads in my opinion are calculated to lead us astray from the part of national realization”.
It was evident from the outset, that the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates inflicted on Nigeria in 1914, by Lord Fredrick Lugard, was more of an exercise in confusion and crises breeding. The nationalists made recommendations to the 1958 conference in London for the creation of 11 regions before independence: North: Sokoto, Hausa, Kanuri, Central and Middle Belt regions; West: Yoruba, Lagos, and Midwest regions; East: Igbo , Rivers and Calabar – Ogoja regions.
The colonial office at the London conference, said it was not feasible to create additional regions before independence in 1960, because of time limitation. It instead, referred the issue to be handled through the process of federal principles and democracy after independence. This was never accomplished before the country erupted into crises and violence few months after independence
In his lamentations, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, leader of the Western Region delegation to the 1958 conference in London, said, “His Majesty’s government had refused to create new states in Nigeria or at least break the North into two before the advent of independence on 1st October 1960 and I felt quite strongly that Nigeria had been sentenced to a long period of doom”
Many factors worked against the political class of the immediate pre and post independence era. The nationalists inherited an Armed Forces which in spite of the regimented training of its officers and other ranks, treated the political actors as inferior bloody civilians. The colonialists did not help matters as they deliberately prevented any form of interaction between the two institutions that were destined to play vital roles in the implementation of the Nigeria post independence programmes
When some gangs of young officers in the Army then struck twice in January and July 1966, killing a large number of civilians and military men including the Prime Minister, two Regional Premiers, a Federal Minister of Finance and a host of top Army officers, their action was seen by the gullible Nigerian public as merely getting rid of a set of notorious societal irritants. It merely showed that apart from the fact that the Nigerian decolonization process was incomplete, it was handled in such a zig–zag manner by the then outgoing colonial administrators to ensure that power went into the hands of a pre – determined group.
It was the poor handling of the transition to independence that created the pathways to the state of violence, shoddy growth and development that we have witnessed during the past 56 years, turning us into poor and miserable society of under-rated and corrupt people.
Nigeria is today ranked as one of the world’s five poorest nations, with a minimum wage of 18,000 naira, less than 50 dollars per month; it has the world highest mother and infant mortality rate; it is one of the countries where polio disease is yet to be eradicated. Illiteracy per capita is the world highest with over 10 million children of school age out of school.
The economic programmes and infrastructures that were successfully established under a mixed economy during the first five years of independence were disrupted, destroyed and abandoned by successive regimes of dictators, professing to make success out of a dysfunctional geopolitical system.
The unworkable and destructive nature of the centrally controlled nation such as we have is not different from the kind that in 1923 led Chief Hauden Deskaheh, leader of the Iroquoi tribe of Canada and his team to travel to Geneva Switzerland to protest before the League of Nations, the body that preceded the United Nations, His grouse was against the unified ex-colonial state left behind by the European expansionists, which was worse than situations under slavery and colonialism.
Although Deskaheh was refused hearing on the excuse that the matter fell within the internal affairs of the Canadian government, the point was made. For exposing the government, Chief Deskaheh and his team were refused re-entry into Canada and were granted political asylum by the government of Switzerland in Geneva. On the intervention of the Mayor of Geneva, Deskaheh returned with his team to Geneva in 1925, at a time Canada had started looking into the positive sides of devolution of power in a nation state. It is an irony of history that the Confederation of Switzerland and the Canadian federation are today the world’s two most decentralized multi-ethnic nation states, where the component parts, however, big or small are allowed the right to self determination.
Specimen of the constitutions of some heterogeneous countries studied by the consultative committee of the national conference, organized between 2005 and 2007 in Lagos, by the Pro-national Conference Organisation (PRONACO), led by the late elder statesman, Chief Anthony Enahoro were from Canada, Switzerland , USA, UK, Russia , India , China, Japan , South Africa, Spain and Malaysia
Everywhere there is something wrong with the centrally controlled nation state; the geopolitical structure is wrong; the politics and polices are wrong; the economy cranky. There cannot be anything right out of everything that is wrong.
Empirical evidence guided by the dynamics of human evolution is fast proving the point that the centrally controlled heterogeneous states idea has become obsolete and like slavery and colonialism destined to the refuse yard of history. The Nigerian government should not be scared, discussing the basis of our coexistence and unity.
Since the end of the Nigeria-Biafra war in 1970, there has been international instruments with provisions within the United Nations system on how ethnic and indigenous nationalities can struggle for the right to self management within the larger nation state, without violence. Such instrument include the United Nations Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity; UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues; International Labour Organization, Convention 169 and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples etc. All the heterogeneous states that have genuinely tasted and implemented the principles of decentralization have found the process suitable and beneficial to the practice of democracy on the long run.
Nigeria in the last 56 years of independence has continued to dwell on the soiled atlas of pessimism, deceit, doubt and frustration. The outcome needless to say has been ceaseless turnover of fickle minded leaders of both the civilian and military paint, who see the perspectives of power only from the prisms of arrogant display of vanity, self enrichment, ethnic manipulation and primitive accumulation of power and wealth.
As the old adage says, “When a set of people find themselves travelling on a wrong route, no matter how far they had gone, they must turn back, to get to their right destination”
It is a gravitation in illusion for anybody to hold the wrong view that Nigeria can survive as a unitary nation state in the face of the prevailing reality. The reality is that the centrally controlled nation states all over the world have nothing to offer the people, except a cemetery of crises, violence and death.
Alfred Ilenre is Secretary-General, Ethnic Minority and Indigenous Rights Organization of Africa (EMIROAF) and Director Centre for 21st century Issues (C21st)