Of saints, culprits and making of true federalism, By Diala Ndudi

Posted by News Express | 10 March 2018 | 2,506 times

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The political entity now known as Nigeria came into existence as a result of the political-administrative blunder committed by the colonial masters, when on January 1, 1914, the Northern and Southern protectorates were amalgamated. Nigeria, the name given to a large expanse of land lying on the Guinea Coast, measuring 923,768 square kilometres, by Lady Lugard, wife of the first governor of the territory, is the most populous country in Africa and the most populous black nation in the world. A multi-linguistic and culturally diversified people, Nigeria has over 450 different language groups. Without recourse to socio-economic and politico-religious differences, the British colonial masters went ahead and amalgamated the two protectorates for their selfish interest and administrative convenience.

Before the nation was granted political independence by Britain – during which Nigerian type of federalism was being negotiated – the defunct Northern Region under Alhaji Tafewa Balewa, had suggested a sort of loose federalism in which the federating units would be at liberty to go their differently ways. This stance was corroborated by the then Western Region under Chief Obafemi Awolowo. He had contended that this would help to checkmate the excesses of the Central Government, as the awareness that each of the component units of the government has the constitutional back-up and freedom to repudiate the union and form its own government, will serve as checks and balances for the central government. But, regrettably, it was Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, from the former Eastern Region that suggested a sort of absolute federalism in which the federating units must remain perpetually bound together, and any attempt to secede amounts to treasonable felony. Zik’s reason could be that he wanted and envisaged a strong indivisible Nigeria that would surmount all challenges and achieve greatness in the global world. It could also be that as a fast thinker, he had anticipated that the East and the West were in a better position to control the government, given their level of education, exposure and predisposition, while the North and the West contributed to Nigeria’s GDP through agricultural produce like groundnut, cocoa, et cetera. On the other hand, the North was afraid the “uppity Ibos”, as the Britons called us, would perpetually dominate Nigeria at the detriment of the other regions.

Unarguably, prior to independence, it was the North that had schemed to secede. This was as a result of the crisis generated by Chief Anthony Enahoro’s motion in 1953 seeking self-determination and independence in 1956. In that motion, Enahoro, a staunch member of the defunct Action Group, moved: “This House accepts as a matter of primary political objective the attainment of self-government for Nigeria in 1956.” The motion was supported by members of then Action Group and those of National Council of Nigerians and Cameroons (NCNC) in the House. This motion generated uprising in the house, especially by members of the Northern People’s Congress (NPC), whose leader, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Premier of the North and Sardauna of Sokoto, immediately proposed an amendment to effect that self-government should be considered as soon as possible. He was quoted to have insisted that the North was not ready for independence, and gave the condition that they should occupy 2/3 of the seats in the legislature, if they should accept self-government. This was because the North was playing the scripts of the British colonialists. This led to the booing of northern legislators in the streets of Lagos, as they were called stooges and boot-lickers of the colonial government. This led to a reprisal attack when an Action Group legislation led by Samuel Ladoke Akintola, was attacked at a mass rally in Kano, leaving 46 people dead and over 300 others injured. Sequel to this, the Northern regional legislative house released an “Eight Point Programme”, which if implemented, would have led to the secession of the North. 

There have been at one time or the other issues of secession and separatist movements initially from the North, and even by Adaka Boro from the Niger Delta, and in the West, when there were plans to separate Lagos from the Western Region. The then Pan Yoruba group, Egbe Omo Oduduwa, in their October, 1954 resolution, had threatened to secede from Nigeria, should Lagos be separated from the Western Region. Prior to 1966, nobody had the slightest anticipation that the Eastern Region would think of secession. No one had ever imagined the Igbo would be marginalised; it was the West and mainly the North that were afraid of domination, presumably by the Igbo. I do not blame former Col Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu for his attempts to defend and protect his people; by trying to salvage them from the hands of the Northerners who massacred them like cows, though he might have made some administrative mistakes or miscalculations that led to failure of Biafra.

On how Nigerian federalism was destroyed, whenever the story is told, the North has a greater chunk of the blame. As quoted by Prof Unanka in his book, Religious Crises in Nigeria, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe had confronted Sir Ahmadu Bello in a bid to resolve the high-level of hostility between the Igbo and the Hausa/Fulani, and had told him to advise their people to forget their differences with the Igbo for peace, unity and progress. In response, Ahmadu Bello told him: “Let us understand our differences: You are from the south, I am from the north; you are a Christian, I am a Moslem.” The North overtly destroyed Nigerian federalism, going by the dubious conditions they gave before they could accept independence, and for the fact that the highly-capitalist British colonial masters, owing to their highly-egoistic and exploitative tendencies, preferred to work with the northerners who were then less educated, less assertive, and less civilised than the western and eastern people. This was why when almighty North remained one region while the south was split into Western and Eastern regions, and later Midwestern Region was carved out, while the North remained one indivisible region. When the North noticed that the regional government, which gave the south three regions and the north only one, has become disadvantageous in terms of revenue allocation and sharing formulae, they resorted to the creation of states. Thus, the four regions, three from the south and one from the North metamorphosed to 19 states, with 2/3 of the states coming from the almighty One Northern Region. This ugly scenario of giving the north 2/3 of the total number of states continued from 19 states in 1975 to 21, till the present 36 states. The contention of the north was that the north has a larger land mass. When it become apparent that creation of states would not depend solely on land mass, but chiefly on population, they resorted to the earlier British manipulated falsification of census figures. Just recently, Harold Smith, one of the Britons that were instrumental to the independence of Nigeria in 1960, revealed how the north was accorded an elusive 55 million figures in lieu of 32 million, in a bid to give the north undue political advantage over the south. What literary icons refer to catharsis was what was seen in Harold’s recent confession on television.

As we mark the 57th anniversary of this forced marriage, I call upon every Nigerian to unite and tell the world that though we were conceived out of the selfish desires of Britain, that we have grown to maturity and can turn that mistake into a laudable feat. We can make a great nation if we remove ethic bigotry, religious fanaticism and intolerance, and fight corruption head on. We can be among the strongest nations of the world. Just as it was before independence, the Igbo should be the least asking for secession, because we will have a lot lose. This is the same set of people whose accounts were frozen with only a meagre 20 pounds allowed for them; whose properties were confiscated even by our eastern brothers in Port Harcourt. But today the Igbo have the highest investments in properties all over the country. Are we blaming our brothers who built houses, businesses, and hotels in far away north and even Lagos? No! They, Igbo, are highly enterprising, and they made their monies from these places and re-invested it there. We don’t want to go back to square one.

A call for restructuring of Nigeria is welcome, so that the various states will have greater control of their resources.

Diala Ndudi

Source: News Express

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