There are some individuals who lack original thinking regardless of their educational qualifications. They cannot think of any idea of their own but are good at only borrowing other people’s ideas. That was the reason when, in the late 1980s and the early 1990s when the Soviet Union disintegrated and communism as an ideology collapsed, some Francophone countries in Africa started organising “sovereign” national conferences to force their military dictators or one-party leaders open the political space, some busybodies here started parroting it. Benin and Niger here in West Africa and then Zaire (now Congo DRC) all organized these conferences with varying degrees of success.
Like parrots that are good at mimicking, some of our so-called civil society people started advocating for “sovereign” national conference here in Nigeria. They disregarded the fact that no English-speaking country has ever done that, that no Nigerian leader, even under military dictatorship, has ever had a third term; and that the historical circumstance and national context are completely different. In the end, sovereignty was not given to any unelected conclave of tribal champions but remained with the people who voted in a democratically elected government in 1999, when the military successfully handed over power to civilians.
Then, they brought the argument that the 1999 constitution was decreed into being by the military and that there was need for a “people’s” constitution. Those who were in the forefront of this were under the chairmanship of Chief FRA Williams, Nigeria’s foremost lawyer who was leading a group that called themselves the “Patriots”. But it needs recalling that Chief Williams headed the Constitution Drafting Committee which drafted the 1979 constitution, the first military-decreed constitution which ushered in the presidential system!
The secretary to the Patriots group is none other than Prof. Ben Nwabueze. With the death of Chief Rotimi Williams, Nwabueze continued the “struggle” for a “people’s” constitution. He even attempted to singlehandedly draft a “constitution” for the 2014 Jonathan-convened “national conference” of unelected, unrepresentative and undemocratic “delegates”. This is the same Nwabueze who drafted General Aguiyi-Ironsi’s “Unitary Decree” that precipitated the civil war. It is the same Nwabueze who served as education secretary in the illegitimate, military-decreed Interim National Government (ING) headed by Chief Ernest Shonekan when the June 12, 1993, presidential election which Chief Abiola was set to win was annulled by the military. He has not seen the irony of his condemning “military-decreed” constitution when he has never had any previous mandate of any constituency and has always served under military settings.
The advocates of the “restructuring” are clamouring for a “true” federalism, whatever that means. They are citing the US as a model federation, forgetting the differences in history. The US is a country of immigrants who left the old world of Europe for the new one in America. They came together voluntarily and united into one big country, fought for their independence from British colonial rule and some 50 wise men and “a ghost” drafted their constitution over two centuries ago which is still in use.
Here, before the coming of the British, there was no country called Nigeria. The British came, conquered the people in these territories, formed a Protectorate of South and a Protectorate of North which on January 1, 1914, were amalgamated to form Nigeria. Like the Berlin Conference of 1884/85 during which Africa was partitioned among the European powers with no African representation, no one was consulted here before the country was formed and given the name Nigeria by the British. We were all forced to come together.
Thanks to the research by Damola Awoyokun as serialised by The News magazine, from 1902 to the 1950s the northern part of Nigeria was the richest part of the country and that was why, for administrative convenience and economic expediency, the North was merged with the South so that the resource-rich part will shoulder the resource-poor part in a forced relationship. There was no oil then. In fact, oil only became significant after independence. Because of the resources in the north, according to Awoyokun, that was the reason why such southern leaders like Azikiwe, Ojukwu and Bola Ige were all born in the north as their parents came to the north in search of greener pasture.
From the two parts that were amalgamated in 1914, the country became three regions: North, East and West; in 1963 it became four with the creation of Mid-West Region. Thus, from 1914 to 1963, the South became three regions while the north was only one, yet there was no complaint from the northerners despite the fact that the north has 72 per cent of the total land mass of the country and, from 1911 when the first census was conducted to date, has consistently had over 50 per cent of the country’s population.
The military struck on January 15, 1966. When the military took over power from the civilians, states were created from 12 in 1967 under Gowon to the current 36 in 1996 during the Abacha regime. The creation of states gave the minorities a sense of belonging and brought government closer to the people. This is the gain that no minority will wish away under any pretext to go back to a regional set-up. And this is where those advocates of the so-called restructuring will have a lot of convincing to make. Their main reason is their opposition to the north having slightly higher number of states, 19, than the south which has 17, even though the north has more population and almost three quarters of the land mass.
That is why they are advocating for a so-called “six geopolitical zones”. The idea was brought by Dr Alex Ekwueme to the National Constitutional Conference of 1994/95 convened by General Abacha. It was defeated at the conference, but was brought through the backdoor into the 1995 Abacha constitution by the committee set up to review the 1995 conference report. It was rightly not recognised by the subsequent 1999 constitution, which was drafted by a committee chaired by the late Supreme Court Justice, Niki Tobi, who was from the Niger Delta. But, when Dr Ekwueme became the interim chairman of the PDP during its formation, the PDP constitution incorporated the geopolitical zones in its zoning principle.
But the fact is that no one has accepted any geopolitical zone, let alone these arbitrary six, which has never been agreed by anyone. For instance, the East-Central state of the Gowon era is the current south-east zone. Kano, Rivers, North-Central and Kwara states of the Gowon era are all divided into only two states currently, but the defunct East-Central state is now divided into five states. Even the defunct Mid-Western Region, which has been a region since 1963, was divided into only two states. So what are the criteria – indeed, who is marginalising whom? And, without Nigeria, most of these areas will never be peaceful, just as is happening in South Sudan now, after they separated from Sudan.
It reminds me of an anecdote by a European statesman who said: “The animals met to disarm. The lion looked the bull straight in the eye and said, ‘let us abolish horns!’ The bull looked at the eagle and suggested abolishing talon. The eagle, eyeing the lion, recommended the abolishing of the teeth. ‘Yes’, said the bear, ‘let us abolish everything and then just have one universal hug’.”
History is on the side of the oppressed.