Opinion: Reforming the Nigerian federation By – TANKO YAKASAI
It is paramount to underscore both the need and urgency for patriotic Nigerians to strive to explore attainable ways of redefining the goal of rebuilding our dear country. This noble undertaking which this summit seeks to entrench, represents a necessary step in attaining short, medium and long-term objectives of bequeathing a stable, united and prosperous Nigerian entity to our younger generations. This is especially in the wake of the recurrent social tensions and outbreaks of needless and despicable conflicts across the nation undermining the efforts to advance our country.
Working on this premise, I am of the opinion that our discussions, and the corresponding search for answers and solution to some or all of these issues should start from identifying and understanding some of the latent and manifest reasons for the loss of trust and the concomitant tensions. The list could indeed be long and varied, depending upon perceptions and perspectives.
Taking the angle of our history and experiences as a nation, I wish to highlight on some key thematic areas that I consider as major trajectories. These areas are population census and national unity, political party systems and patriotism, national and constitutional development.
If we go down memory lane, we will recall that Nigeria was originally made up of two separate units known as southern and northern protectorates. The southern protectorate was finally subjugated by the British colonial powers in 1900 and the northern protectorate which was also subjugated three years later in 1903. The British ruled the two entities separately for 11 years after subjugation. Thereafter, by the year 1914 the two protectorates were amalgamated and named Nigeria. Contrary to certain views expressed by some people, the real reason why Nigeria and indeed other territories were colonised by different colonial powers can be summed up into two. One is to create markets for the finished products of European industries and two, to exploit the resources of the captured territories in order to supply raw materials to the growing industries owned by the colonialist. It could thus be safely deduced that the amalgamation of the southern and northern protectorates was a deliberate move by the British colonialists to create a one safe and united market in Nigeria, the entity with the largest concentration of black people in the world.
The amalgamation of Nigeria in 1914 therefore, was done by the British for administrative convenience and to ensure the maximum exploitation of the resources of the captured territories using the protection of the colonial state and its apparatus.
Also for reason best known to them at the time, the protectorate of southern Nigeria was further divided into two, thereby making Nigeria a nation of three units namely northern, western and eastern group of provinces. It should be noted that even though the northern protectorate constituted approximately two-thirds of the total land mass of Nigeria, with an approximate 55 per cent of the total population of the country, the British did not consider the need to divide it. This position was reflected in the official figures of the 1921, 1931 and the 1952/53 population census conducted by the British colonial administrations.
This position remains the same even as per the census exercises conducted after independence; the headcounts of 1962, 1973, 1991 and 2006.
What is important here for us to note is that throughout the period of British rule in Nigeria, there has never been controversy among Nigerians over population census. Controversy on this issue began with the 1962/63 census exercise after Nigeria gained independence in 1960.
It could be noted that right from the colonial period up to this very day, population figures in respect of the old northern region and from the southern part of Nigeria have remained issues of recurrent contention.
What is however significant to highlight here is the fact that both the census conducted by the British during colonial days and the ones conducted by Nigerians after independence gave almost the same outcome – an average of 54/55 per cent for the North and 45/46 per cent for the South. Be that as it may and whatever the circumstance, the truth of the matter is that the three constituent units handed over by the British at independence proved to be interdependent on one another – the West excels in manufacturing, the East in imports and trading, the North produces food and cash crops and also provides larger share of the markets in the country for both the locally manufactured products and the imported goods.
While we seize every opportunity to renounce or accept our population figures, we rejoice with ourselves and emphasise the adage that Nigeria is the most populous Black Country in the world and yet we disagree with one another at home over the population figures.
This is a very serious gap in national orientation. This deficit created a latent situation where the average citizen is always comfortable to identify first with tribe then religion, region, state, local government and then finally, Nigeria. We must strive to address this apparent gap in our national belief.
As we therefore prepare to approach this historic task of rebuilding trust and confidence, it behooves on all of us to strive to find ways and means of bringing an early end to this cycle of mistrust. We should be able to assist the process of changing the prevailing adverse public mindset over this subject by encouraging the citizenry to always be amenable to subsisting legal decisions on all issues in contention.
From the beginning of the Third Republic, we are all witnesses to the progressive withering of collective leadership in political party system and the ascendancy of the so-called party leadership often vested in the elected chief executives; the president and governors. As the so-called leaders of their respective political parties, such elected officials seldom care about the party manifesto and programme. They operate at their chosen whims and caprices, with no defined means of control or accountability.
As this unfortunate culture of consigning political parties to position of irrelevance is systematically being entrenched in our country, people are increasingly adapting to this act of monumental aberration and therefore effectively ceding their democratic right of control over their leaders, once such leaders are elected.
As a consequence to this drift, there is most often no verifiable synergy between governments of the same party extraction at the federal and state levels. It is similarly very rare to find similarities in policies and programme between one and two or more states elected on a common party platform.
For Nigeria to overcome its perennial problems of underdevelopment, there is the need to restore the three most important foundations developed by our founding fathers but destroyed by the military incursion into the country’s governance. The three foundations are strong political party system; patriotism and qualitative leadership as well as strong and efficient civil service the distraction of which led to stagnation in developing the nation’s key institutions that initially lead our nation to register some successes in our collective quest to strengthen national unity and modernisation of our country.
Instead of patriotically pursuing the restructuring debate, the agitators are now figuratively speaking the language of the late Lt. Col. Gideon Okah, which is clearly against Nigerian national unity and cohesion. This misguided trajectory has been pursued twice in the past, which resulted in negative consequences in our country’s history. The unfortunate happenings such as the issue of 1953 motion for independence and unfortunate 1966 coup d’état, which caused serious damage to our national unity due to their sectional character easily come to mind in this regard.
I would therefore appeal to those advocating for constitutional changes in the name of restructuring, to handle the issue with the delicate care it deserves.
A paper delivered by Yakasai at the third annual national political summit in Abuja.Punch