Friday, 13 November 2009

Article: A Historical View of Nigeria’s Journey To Its Present Unitary Polity

                                          The Nigerian Flag

(Notes presented at International Centre for Reconstruction and Development Dialogue held on November 11, 2009 at the Sheraton Hotel Club)

Nigeria before 1885 was a land mass occupied by several ancient nations and civilizations, each with its own history, language, mythology, political systems, and cultural values. The pre-Nigeria or pre-colonial nations in what is known today as Nigeria include the Edo, Hausa, Igbo, Fulani, Ijaw, Itshekiri, Gwari, Nupe, Tiv, Idoma, Kanuri, Calabari, Efik, Yoruba, etc. Some of them were even acknowledged by the British colonial administrators to have built kingdoms and empires long before the Berlin Conference of 1865. Those nations include the Kanuri, Sokoto, Hausa , Benin , Oyo, and many others.

It was the amalgamation of Nigeria on January 1, 1914 that brought the multiple nations and nationalities in today’s Nigeria together into one country. The amalgamation was at the instance of Frederick Lugard, a strong believer in the principle of centralism or unitarism. Until 1922, Nigeria did not have any constitution or working document. It was ruled solely as a colony under the management of Lord Lugard. But the Amalgamation of 1914 once described by Sir Ahmadu Bello as the “mistake of 1914” was not made principally because of Nigeria or the people inside it, but for the advancement of the interests of the British government and the legacy it wanted to leave at the end of the colonial experiment. The British colonial masters were not totally unmindful of the history of imperialism and colonialism in the world. More specifically, the colonial administrators had read avidly about the history of their colonial enterprise in the United States and Canada , centuries before the colonization and amalgamation of Nigeria . Britain must have also had the ambition to be associated with the largest African nation, just as it had had the fortune of being associated with the largest former British colony in the Americas .

It was because of the need to make sure that Nigeria survived that the British colonial policymakers and administrators bent over backward to prevent the Northern Protectorate (later the Northern Region) from bringing the experiment with Nigeria to an end. On several occasions, the leaders of the North asked for concessions at every point that the British wanted to create structures and policies to ensure the survival of the experimental nation-state, Nigeria . Even with the first constitution, the Clifford Constitution of 1922, the North refused to participate in the country’s first deliberative council over nation-wide administration. To prevent the North from reverting to the situation before 1914, the Richards Constitution of 1946 tried to create three regions with some measure of recognition of the special needs of the three regions. Governor Arthur Richards once said that the best way to strengthen the unity of the country was to “encourage the regions to develop each along its characteristic lines.”

It could be argued that Richards’ recommendation was primarily to assuage the feelings of the North whose leaders insisted on a lion share of legislative seats or nothing. The consequence of this thought on Richards’ part is an implicit recognition of the failure of the Lugardian principle of centralism and the need to replace this with some measure of decentralisation or regionalisation. Richards’ romance with regionalism was later built upon by the Macpherson Constitution of 1951. This constitution gave more legislative and executive responsibilities to the three regions, while still giving more concessions to the North that was given 45 seats at the Central Council while Eastern Region and Western Region each got 33 seats, as a compromise on the initial demand by Northern Emirs, especially the Emirs or Zaria and Katsina for 50 seats to complement 25 seats each from the two southern regions.

It was the Macpherson Constitution that grew later into the Lyttleton Constitution of 1954 in which the governor tried to assuage the fear of leaders of the North about possible domination by the South, by asking that the Nigerian constitution be redrawn to “provide greater regional autonomy and removal of intervention by the centre in matters which could, without detriment to other regions, be placed entirely within regional competence” (See Kalu Ezera and Olaniwun Ajayi). The Lyttleton Constitution was the one polished to create what later became the Independence Constitution of 1960.

During the negotiation for the 1960 Constitution, each of the three regions opted for sharing of responsibilities between the federal and regional governments. Let us hear the positions of the three regions on the structure of government they preferred:

Northern Region:
Recommended that there should be a federal system of government in Nigeria and that in addition to a central legislature, there should be regional legislatures with powers to legislate on a number of specified subjects and also on such other matters as may, by legislation, enacted by the central legislature, be vested in the regional legislatures.

Eastern Region:
Recommended that there should be a federal system, with a central legislature and regional legislatures. It also recommended that the regional legislatures should exercise only such powers in any matter as the central legislature may delegate to them.

Western Region:
Recommended that there should be a federal government consisting of states formed on an ethnic and/or linguistic basis but that for the time being, there should be only three states, namely, Western, Eastern and Northern. It further recommended that there should be a federal parliament and state parliaments, and that the state parliaments should be competent to legislate on all residual matters not specifically included within the legislative powers of the Federal Parliament.

One of the Minority reports by Mbonu Ojike and Eyo Ita affirmed that “Grouping of Nigeria along ethnic and linguistic units would serve to remove the problems of Boundaries, Minority and Pakistanic dangers now threatening Nigeria .” (Olaniwun Ajayi and Tell, Nov 16, 2009 )
With respect to all the above recommendations, the Ibadan Conference was not able to adopt a linguistic basis for re-structuring the regions, such as adding the Yoruba in the North to Western Region and the Igbos of Western Region to Eastern Region. The Conference was also unable, largely because of the recalcitrance of Northern Emirs to accept the re-drawing of the political map of Nigeria along ethnic and linguistic lines, as suggested by the Western Region and the Ojike/Ita Minority report. But in all, the British colonial office was able to respond to the insistent demands of Southern nationalists for the commencement of a process of self-rule and at the same time to the demands of Northern Region for a federation that favoured their hegemonic interests. At independence in 1960, the British colonial office had achieved its aim of having Africa ’s largest former colony.

In addition, the 1963 Republican Constitution was given legislative support through acts of federal and regional assemblies. So between 1946 and 1963, Nigeria had moved considerably away from the centralist or unitary governance that the amalgamation of 1914 symbolised. It must be stated that the Republican Constitution of 1963 had entrenched in it the principle of 50% derivation for oil-producing regions.

In 1966 after the first coup d’etat, General Aguiyi-Ironsi, the head of the first military dictatorship, restored the principle of amalgamation or centralism by transforming the regions into provinces. This did not last long. It pushed the North into seeking for separation from the rest of Nigeria . The coming to power of Yakubu Gowon, a northerner, after the killing of Ironsi brought the country back to federalism. Even after the creation of 12 states by Gowon, asome measure of regional powers was still evident in each of the twelve states. It was the government of Murtala/Obasanjo that resumed the process of de-federalisation that Ironsi introduced in 1966 and for which he was removed from office by Northern troops. Under this regime, symbols of federalism were removed: regional flags, coat of arms. The Federal Military Government took over regional universities, stadium, and broadcasting houses. It also commissioned the writing of a new national anthem to replace the Independence version, in addition to taking the power of indigenous communities over their ancestral lands and vesting such powers in the government through the Land Use Decree.

Towards the end of the Obasanjo regime, a decision was taken by the military government to write a new constitution, instead of removing the suspension placed on the constitutions by the first military dictatorship and asking clusters of states from each of the four regions to customize the constitution of their region of origin. It was the constitution that was midwife by the Obasanjo regime that radically changed the ratio between items on the Exclusive and Concurrent Lists.
For example, the 1960 Constitution had 44 items on the Exclusive List and 28 on the Concurrent.

The Republican Constitution of 1963 had 45 items on the Exclusive List and 29 on the Concurrent.

The 1979 Constitution that transferred power from the military to civilians had 66 items on the Exclusive List and 30 on the Concurrent. The 1999 Constitution has 68 items on the Exclusive List and 30 on the Concurrent. Since the 1999 Constitution was also midwifed by military dictators: Sani Abacha and Abdusalaam Abubakar, like the 1979 version moderated by another military dictator, Olusegun Obasanjo, one does not need a soothsayer to confirm that the movement of Nigeria from regionalization back to centralization or unitarization came from military dictatorships between 1979 and 1999. With the 1979 and 1999 constitutions, Nigeria had been moved from federalism back to the Lugardian model of centralism or amalgamation.

I thank you for listening.

By Ropo Sekoni

Editorial: Olabode George, Prison Terms And Stolen Public Funds

It is no longer news that the immediate past national deputy chairman(south) of Nigeria's current ruling party, the Peoples' Democratic Party(PDP), rtd. navy commodore Olabode George have been jailed by an Ikeja high court presided over by Justice Olubunmi Oyewole for a contract scam of 85 billion naira perpetrated when he was a non executive chairman of the Nigerian Ports Authority(NPA). Olabode George's comrades in crime; Aminu Daboh, Zanna Maideribe, Sule Aliyu, Aminu. A. Tafida and Emmanuel Abidoye will also serve terms of imprisonment for the offence.

The jailed former PDP chieftain, according to reports, is presently adjusting to prison life at the VIP section of Kirikiri maximum security prison, while also awaiting the commencement of his appeal to vacuate the judgement.

Keen watchers of justice administration in Nigeria would however attest to the veiled partisanship of majority of the adminstrators at all levels. This is perhaps what is raising optimism in the Olabode George camp, that having been jailed by a court in an Action Congress Party(AC) controlled state, the court of appeal operating under the PDP controlled federal government would likely quash the judgement.

chidi opara reports notes here with sadness that which ever way the Olabode George appeal goes, the country would be the loser. This is because justice administration in Nigeria does not seem to have made provision for forfeiture of proceeds from crime in addition to imprisonment.

A person who stole 85 billion naira from the commonwealth and got a jail term of two and half years, in our opinion, only got a slap on the wrist.

We will like to end this piece with a recommendation that the legislature should as a matter of urgency enact a law that would make it mandatory for procceds of crime to be forfeited alongside prison terms. This, in our opinion is a better deterent against misappropriations of the country's wealth by a tiny but influential cabal.