……Continued from last week
Duro Onabule needs no introduction as far as journalism and public opinion moulding in Nigeria is concerned. Nicknamed “Double Chief” when he was chief press secretary to military president General Ibrahim Babangida, Chief Onabule maintains a popular column in the Daily Sun newspaper. He recently wrote a very thought-provoking piece on the restructuring debate entitled “Restructuring: who lopsided Nigeria in the first place?” This is a continuation of the piece, which I find it very interesting and timely and therefore wish to share it with you my readers:
In the midst of the uncertainty created by the counter-coup of July 1966, head of the federal military government, Lt. Colonel (as he then was) Yakubu Gowon (a northerner) and military governor of Eastern Region, Colonel Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, a southerner, agreed at Aburi, Ghana, to new constitutional/political arrangements, which contained all the demands of today’s agitators for political restructuring, especially resource control and total regional autonomy, except creation of states. In short, as far back as 1967, Gowon, a northerner, and Ojukwu, a southerner, had the foresight and agreed on the restructuring.
When Gowon returned to Lagos, mainly Yoruba and Bendelites descended on him rather derisively. These critics were super permanent secretaries, journalists, political class led by their godfathers, academics, senior civil servants carried away in their new posts abandoned by easterners, all of them calling on Gowon to throw “Aburi to the dogs.” Remarkably, northerners, as tactful as ever, largely did not join in the public uproar in the media and public places, as they (northerners) merely listened, looked on and allowed southerners to do the talking. At the worst, southerners played into the hands of Gowon, who then had to abandon Aburi agreement by creating twelve new states, majority of them in the North. Again, that was the beginning of the North having more states than the South, all at the instigation of westerners, Bendelites and eastern minorities. Remarkably, throughout colonial era, up to independence in 1960, North, East and West each had only one region and on its own, created as many local governments as desirable. Southern political desperados conferred the power to create new local governments on the Federal Government. These same fellows are moaning today. By the way, south-easterners at that time had all retreated home because of the political uncertainty and did not join the call for Aburi to be thrown to the dogs.
Up to July 1966 when Gowon assumed office, revenue allocation formula was as obtained under colonial era till the collapse of the First Republic, with regions having the largest share, depending on its resource. Cocoa was the major revenue earner for Nigeria and Western region was accordingly far better placed financially above the three other regions, East, North and Mid-West, Under Gowon’s regime, and with Obafemi Awolowo as federal commissioner for finance, government set up the I. O. Dina (a retired permanent secretary in the defunct Western Region) panel to review the revenue allocation formula. Dina recommended Federal Government control of resources to the detriment of (regions) today’s states. That was the background of the scrapping of the principle of derivation by the states. Awolowo and Dina were southerners and even if Gowon ordered the review of the allocation formula, collateral responsibility was still that of Awolowo. After all, he was credited with the sole financial expertise of managing Nigeria’s economy throughout the civil war without a kobo foreign loan. It must, however, be conceded that had he won the 1979 or 1983 presidential elections, better use would have been made of the federal revenue. Northerners should not be blamed as a group for changing the revenue formula.
On the imminent return to civilian rule in 1979, military head of Federal Government, General Olusegun Obsanjo, set up a constitution drafting committee headed by Chief Rotimi Williams. Both were southerners. Obasanjo, in his eventual amendment of the draft constitution, ensured lop-sidedness against the South. Constitutions by succeeding military regimes of General Ibarahim Babangida (1989) scrapped by Abacha for his 1995 version, and the 1999 Abdulsalami Abubakar were all mere convenient rehash of their C-in-C’s 1979 document. Worse still, was there any change in Obasanjo’s third term attempted constitution except the plot to perpetuate himself but for the determination of northerners to stop him? Not to be forgotten was the patriotism of the then Senate president, Ken Nnamani, who ruled for televised debate.
Goodluck Jonathan and ex-finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala both further violated the revenue allocation formula by pauperising states with the so-called Sovereign Wealth Fund. Both are Niger Deltans and southerners. Our constitution does not empower Federal Government to tamper with the budget of any state with the extortion of purportedly saving for a rainy day. It is the inalienable right of each state to put aside any convenient amount instead of being coerced by the Federal Government. Goodluck, a southerner, had six years within which he could have restructured Nigeria but he took no action until he was seeking an extra four years. He lost that battle.
Which Conference Report for restructuring Nigeria are these agitators demanding to be implemented? The same report, which recommended eighteen new states in Nigeria? Are we really serious? The existing states except, perhaps, Lagos, cannot pay salaries. Northerners are not saints in this our political logjam but blame for mal-structuring is minimal if any.