Nigeria is 60years today. If you are to do an appraisal, would you say we are making progress as a na-tion?
I want to analyse Nigeria’s challenges historically. First, how did the country come to be? Before the 1950’s, we had constitutional conferences. First we had Northern and Southern protectorates. The British looked at the economic gains for themselves, not for us.
They took note that they have more products they are looking for in the South and fewer products in the North. Lord Harcourt, the secretary of the colonial office was the chairman of that committee at the time. He recommended marrying the two protectorates together; he did not bother about the people, their culture and their differences, their norms and their religious beliefs which are fundamen-tal things that will make a nation to be united. The report was submitted to Queen Victoria.
Major Lord Lugard was sent to manage this new colony. When he came, you know he had been here before, he saw the southerners as very arrogant. He saw them as arrogant and non-conformist, so he had the bias when he landed. He was looking at how best to manage the system. Centrally the entire south was one. We had two regions then but one unit under the Southern protectorate, the North, was one region.
If we don’t give precepts, the younger generation will not understand. In the 1950’s when we had the constitutional conference, we had premieres in the West, North and in East.
In the system of government there was devolution of power; each area was able to manage their area. We had a federal government which was not as strong. But it was moderating some policies, military, foreign activities. But every premier was responsible for appointing ambassadors of the regions not Nigeria. Nigeria had one, Western region had one, Northern region had one, South East also had their own ambassador. That was the kind of relationship we had so most of those people were also young at that time.
Chief Obafemi Awolowo was in his 40’s. I don’t know how old Sir Ahmadu Bello was at that time, but they were all young people; they were just bringing their experiences of life; they went through that until 1959 general election. Everybody managed their regions. Some regions developed faster than others, we saw them intact.
Then came the 1960’s when we had Tafawa Balewa as the Prime Minister and the regional premiers and all that. In 1960 we got independence; a nation was born and we started running the system. There is no perfect system, but it was a reasonable system. Reasonable and acceptable to people but there was one major lacuna. The major problem was that the people were swept under the carpet, there are minorities in the Northern region, there are minorities in the South West and there are minorities in the South East.
Joseph Tarka from the Middle Belt, formed a political party formed. The talakawa party in Kano was led by Alhaji Aminu Kano. The Southern people, those now referred to as South South, especially people from Rivers, Cross Rivers to Calabar, Akwa Ibom States were minorities. The Igbos were controlling them.
In the West, Asaba, Benin and Delta were also grumbling. They demanded their independence. We don’t have the same language, the same culture.They were the minorities, they were not fairly treated because whatever is good for A is good for B. The same policy went through the length and breadth of Western region.
As a Lagosian, Lagos was never under the Western Region. Western Region extended to Fadeyi on Ikorodu road, Lagos, Idioro, Mushin, up till Idiaraba, going up to Badagry, where the Boundary bus stop is the boundary of Lagos and Western region.
Even the monarch of Badagry at that time, was the minister for finance in Western region. That boundary extended to Ogbomosho and Ondo, all the way to Asaba. But then, the agitation among the minorities is that they wanted their interest represented. But instead of us to look at their issues holis-tically, the feeling was what the minority would do.
From Western region, the Middle-West was carved out, making the regions four. They could have looked at the South-East too and take care of the South-South or look at the North and take care of the minorities but nobody did that.
That was what we had and then of course, the crisis in the South West led to a national crisis.
That national crisis ended up in the military intervening in the governance of Nigeria. In January 1966 the military intervened; the major stakeholder in the coup is Nzeogu Kaduna, he was from Asaba area, currently Delta State but he was born in the North. There was a crisis in the South West between sup-porters of Awolowo and Chief Ladoke Akintola. The coup happened.
However, Gen Aguiyi Ironsi became the head of state. I remember in his broadcast, he said there was going to be a unitary system of government and that the whole of Nigeria will be ruled as one.
The major voice against this unitary system of government came from the North; they condemned unitary system. It was as a result of that that people whipped up a lot of sentiment and said no, ‘we cannot agree’, meaning we should go back to where we were.
When there was a counter coup in July, a lot of people were killed. When the dust settled again, peo-ple started asking questions. Gen Yakubu Gowon became head of state. I remember one of the first things he did was to create more states to remove the anger of the minority who have been suffering under the heavy weight of the majority. It was a brilliant thing he did. After doing that, he also adopt-ed the unitary system of government.
We have argued against it. I was also in the military, but when you look back you cannot blame them. If you are in a system, there are certain norms, rules and methodologies of management. In the military it is a hierarchical system of government that is top to bottom. So, we were not surprised that he also adopted central military formation.
We had the civil war, when the military continued to rule us, many more states were created to satisfy some other smaller units from 12 states to 19 states and later 21 states. Then there were 30 states and later 36 states. Up till now, people are still agitating they want more states.
In 1979 we went back into civilian administration and then it was no longer a parliamentary system of government. It became a presidential system of government and that system centered the power on one man, the president of the country. We tried it, it didn’t work.
Even the United Kingdom having existed for over 300 years had issues towards the end of the admin-istration of Margaret Thatcher. There was so much noise and cry about being overrun by the Scottish, the Welch and the Northern Ireland parliament. You can hardly find any prime minister from Scotland, you would have to work like hell, whether you are labour party or not. Then they started the tribal par-ty Scottish movement, Welsh movement. When the thing was getting too heated up, they came up with a concept called devolution. They have existed for 300 years.
What UK is running today is that they have devolved power. Even though the parliament in London is still there, but in the United Kingdom, there are still voices saying they want to go further and break away. With this European (EU), they still have their problems despite having lived for 300 years.
Let us come back home. When Gen Abdulsalami Abubakar came to power, he promised to hand over power to civilian administration. He came up with a constitution. Now we are running the nation with one man taking decisions. This system never worked, it is not working and it will never work. If I hadn’t served on both sides I wouldn’t have understood it. Military organisation cannot be run as a democratic organisation. During democratic organisation, it is illogical, baseless and retrogressive to run a unitary system of government where directive is given from the top to bottom.
That brings me to the question you asked which is where are we at the age of 60? We are in a state of flux. We are on a platform that is wobbling. Why should we be like that and let justice flow like a river. Let there be fairness in the land that is what is causing the agitation because we want fairness under the law.
Once you are there, you surround yourself with members of your tribe, the other tribes are jealous, they wonder if they are not Nigerians and wonder who they are. That is why we copied the American system of government. We copied it but don’t implement it to the letter. That is why there is so much tension. That is what brought about the grudge among tribes.
I served in the military. I know this nation; we fought tooth and nail to defend our nation; we love our country. Those with cacophony of opinions should calm down. It is wrong to concentrate power at the center. Look at the distance between Lagos to Maiduguri; Calabar to Sokoto; Jigawa to Delta. I have been all over the country, different nation, different culture, different languages, and different norms. But if we have respect and love for each other, we will be a congregation that will be un-matched; that is our strength. Rather than use it as one, we were further divided on religious and tribe bases; that is why we are tearing this nation apart.
In the military, we are united; we don’t fight war by segregating ourselves, or saying Yoruba man, stand apart, Igbo, Hausa man, Ijaw man stand apart. We don’t fight wars like that. We are all seen as Nigerians.
This system of government we are running here must be revisited to look at it and there must be devolution of power to the state or what some people call restructuring of the entire system, so that, we can be together. Yes, some states may be richer than others. In the United States of America, we have very rich states: the state of California is the biggest and the richest state, the sixth largest economy in the world.
But there are small states in the US as well; they are existing; people still live there. You should cut your cloth in line with the available cloth, if you can’t make it, link up with the next state.
There is no state in this country that God has not endowed with one resource or the other. What they do is to throw up their arms and at the end of the month every resource that goes to the center and then redistribution of those resources begins based on population, land mass and using all kinds of criteria. That is the state of the nation at our 60th anniversary, are we more than 200 million now?
I believe that the president, having served in the military and fought in the civil war, has a duty to re-visit the style of management we have now. We have this opportunity now from 2020 to 2023 to de-volve power or restructure the country for the benefit of every Nigerian. That is the task he must em-bark upon and get done before he leaves office.
Could you say Nigeria was ripe for independence as of the time we got it?
That was in 1950. As of 1959, every region had practiced self-government, where the whites were governor generals of the region. We ran elections in 1952. We had some semblance of governance. We had parliament in the North, West and the East, we had semblance of governance, self-government.
What we did was that the government was modeled towards the needs of the people. That was when Chief Awolowo impacted very positively on the minds and hearts of the people of the South West, the Sardauna of Sokoto did the same thing for his people. The only dissenting voice that time came from the minorities, that they were not being consulted, that they were not fairly treated, those were the houses we had then. By 1959, we were ready.
Initially they said they don’t want any independence. A lot of people, even the whites had to convince them and their fear was right, that their people are not yet educated enough to start managing them-selves.
Remember that in most Northern ministries, the whites were working there. But there was a transition period; the education policy became an overdrive that they must train their people for.
Some of these people came to the South to our universities to train; others went abroad to study so that they could catch up. They did that, but right now, in any part of Nigeria you look for any field of endeavour, you will find an expert.
Some young Arewa executives visited me in my office, they were all well-educated young men, they challenged me, some said they did not have a job, no accommodation, no this, no that. That is now the national problem. Why are we having all these anti-social vices? It is a reaction because an empty stomach is a bedroom for hell of trouble. What the northern youths are complaining about is that they don’t want to go back and be almajirai.
Though, we were not as developed like this in 1959, would you say any part of this country will go and hire a white man to do things for us again, when we have more than enough personnel?
Should we go for another round of constitutional conference or implement the resolution of the constitutional conference setup by former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2014?
First, I will like to congratulate late Justice Idris Kutigi who was the chairman of the constitutional con-ference. There was no issue we did not debate openly, that is why I am so convinced about that re-port, because every item was subjected to plenary session. It was debated and voted upon, why are we going to set up another committee for what? That report is good enough. We have been waiting, let a committee go and work on them, if there are areas they think they should modify, ratify or what-ever, we don’t need to start from zero level.
If you remember during the handover from Jonathan to Buhari, he said this is the most important document that I am giving to you and when he got it, he put it in the archive. So let them go and bring it out from the archive. Why are we starting all over again, these issues were discussed, why do you want to start all over again? We are deceiving ourselves, time is not on our side again.
You know what, the Federal Executive Council had at that time debated and concluded on it before. The next thing was to send it to the National Assembly for discussion. So, why are we pretending as if this thing is just falling from the sky. Why? We are all in our 70’s, some have already got their boarding passes, it is only for God almighty to call their flight and they are gone.
When one looks at the younger generation, what do we want to leave for them. In my graduating class almost 40 years ago, I got a job before I wrote my final examination. We were only eight in my class, department of electrical engineering, faculty of engineering, University of Lagos. Do you think it is pos-sible now? That is the kind of level I am thinking we will bring our country to.
Malaysia was in Nigeria to borrow our palm kernel today they are number one in the world in produc-tion of palm kernel what happened to our coal industry.
The whites are moving away from petroleum, by 2030 they will be producing electric cars, what do we do with our petroleum? Time is not on our side.
Most times, lip service has been paid to the debate on restructuring such that it has become a tool to woo people by anybody seeking public office. But when they get to office, they don’t discuss it. Your party, PDP, which is clamouring for restructuring now, was in power for 16 years. Why did it fail to re-structure Nigeria then?
Let me tell you about our party; it is an appropriate question. When Gen Abdulsalami handed over government, the ship of state was still wobbling. Would it have made any sense to start dabbling into the fact that the constitution is bad? Or that we need to change it, at that time, when we were just coming from errors to some semblance of civility? The best approach like a civilised human being is, we haven’t driven it; we haven’t seen the effect. Unless you try something, you won’t know the effect.
So, the first thing Obasanjo did was to form a national government. All political parties then, nominated people as ministers as special assistants or advisers or whatever. It was a national government to try the Constitution. Remember the hullabaloo, the noise and all kinds of accusations, counter accusations and all kinds of unthinkable things that had happened in the past. We set up the Late Justice Oputa truth and reconciliation panel to find out where we were as a nation. Rather than rumours, we did that; it was open. Different parties came together when you have a Federal Executive Council in that format.
The first time I got whipped up was when President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua passed away. You remember the cacophony, the crisis it created. We looked at it objectively and we say that the vice president should take over because that is the constitutional provision. If we didn’t manage it well at that time, it would have led to a serious crisis.
Then, they came with the doctrine of necessity. What a joke! Why did they bring doctrine of necessity?
That showed the lacuna in the system. By the time he finished spending six years as president, he said he wanted another term; people wondered which term. By the time he finishes that, he would have spent 10 years as president.
You can see now the flaws in the system we are operating. That is why having tried that we started full civilian administration in 1998. That is why we have said that because we had a national conference to look at the Constitution, Jonathan had the guts to set up that constitutional conference and Nigeria was effectively represented, they now looked at it objectively and have seen the flaws. We are now saying please let us revisit it. Some said restructuring, reducing the power at the center, some said devolution.
Whatever name they want to call it, what we are saying is that, there is so much power concentrated at the center and the power should be devolved to the state.
We boast a lot all over Africa as being the largest, the strongest and the most financially stable. But look at Ghana, that small country sending our traders out of their country. When we keep pushing and talking, we keep challenging ourselves, people are writing and discussing. These are serious issues. I want to believe that the current manager of the system is listening.
Can they guarantee the future? The future starts now. The history we are talking about is to bring out the mistakes of the past to educate the people to prevent a re-occurrence of such mistakes in the fu-ture. The important thing to me is to look at where we are, where we are coming from, how we can make it better in the interest of the larger populace.
To perpetrate what we know for sure is not working is a disservice to this country, to our generation and to the upcoming younger generation.