Lee Kuan Yew, the architect of the modern day Singapore, visited Nigeria a few days before the military struck on January 15, 1966. His visit was in connection with the Commonwealth conference held in Lagos on Rhodesia now modern day Zimbabwe. His conclusion about Nigeria in 1966 is contained in a book he wrote in 2000 titled From Third World to First. On page 327 of his 729-paged book, he concluded that “I think their tribal loyalties were stronger that their sense of common nation hood”.
By January 1 next year, the merger or amalgamation between the protectorate of Northern Nigeria with the colony and protectorate of Southern Nigeria to form the colony of modern day Nigeria will be 100 years old. I do not know whether there are plans drawn up already for the centenary celebrations of the merger. In 2006, there were no centenary celebrations for the merger of Lagos colony with that of the colony and protectorate of Southern Nigeria with headquarters in Calabar and with Sir Walter Egerton as first governor. On December 31, 1899, the British government revoked the charter of the Royal Niger Company. On January 1, 1900, the British government took over the administration of the Niger Coast Protectorate, merged it with the area south of Idah, controlled by the RNC, and proclaimed the new entity the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria; the other areas controlled by the RNC north of Idah were proclaimed the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria. Frederick Lugard was appointed High Commissioner for the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria, with his headquarters at Jebba, until 1902 when it was moved to Zungeru, and later, in 1917 to Kaduna. Sir Ralph Moore was High Commissioner for the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria, with his headquarters in Calabar.
Since the amalgamation was imposed with a military fiat by a British officer, Captain Frederick Lugard, the High Commissioner of the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria who later became the first Governor General of Nigeria without any plebiscite or referendum, the amalgamation has been dogged with suspicion, scepticism, dubiety and mistrust by the various tribes. This dubiety has led some to conclude that there is clearly no true Nigeria nation hood. It is, therefore, left for the various tribes in Nigeria to interpret in their own way, the objectives of a true Nigeria nation hood.
The unchecked sweeping looting of the nation’s wealth now going on at a high speed, favouritism, marginalisation, religious rivalry, irregularities, iniquity, venal, noxiousness, violations, partisanship, lawlessness, bane and degenerations that we are now experiencing, are natural fall-outs in the absence of a true nationhood. Whether we like it or not, all these flaws and foibles are crippling the corporate existence of Nigeria today. So there is an urgent need for us to sit down and talk on which direction we are to go and whether it is desirous for us to amend the charter of the amalgamation. It will be precocious for us to feign that all is well.
May be this was what President Olusegun Obasanjo had in mind when upon being sworn-in in 1999, he set up a committee under the chairmanship of Ambassador Yusuf Mamman to review the 1999 Constitution. The committee was inaugurated on October 19, 1999, by the then Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mr. Kanu Agabi (SAN).
Other members of the committee were: Chief Clement Ebri (Deputy Chairman), Chief Edwin Ume-Ezeoke, Alhaji Iro Abubakar Dan-Musa, Dr. Shettima Mustafa, Chief Yohanna Madaki, Chief Alani Bankole, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Mrs. Iyabode Pam, Air Commodore Bernard Banfa (rtd), Mrs. Ayoka Lawani, Hajiya Basirat A. Nahibi, Alhaji Isiaku Mohammed, Chief A.K. Horsfall, Chief Ayo Opadokun, Dr. J.C. Odunna, Mika Anache, Dr. Amos Adepoju, Dr. Siva Opusunju, Chief Barnabas Gemade, Alhaji Umaru Ahmed, Chief Solomon Aemota (SAN), Alhaji Gambo Saleh, Dr. Arthur Nwankwo, Dr. Maxwell M. Gidado as the secretary while Mrs. M.V.I. Mbu served as the assistant secretary.
Later, an adjustment to the committee’s composition was made when Ambassador Yusuf Mamman, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Chief A.K. Horsfall, Mr. Ayo Opadokun, Mrs. Ayoka Lawani, Dr. Arthur Nwakwo and Chief Solomon Asemota (SAN) were replaced by Dr. Stella O. Dorgu, Valentine Ahams, Mohammed Babangida Umar, Alhaji Abdulhamid Hassan, Adeniyi Akintola, Sunday Kuku Iyakwo, and Dr. Olu Agunloye. The Chairmanship had earlier changed when Chief Clement Ebri took over from Ambassador Yusuf Mamman following his resignation as chairman and Dr. Shettima Mustafa was elected deputy chairman.
On February 28, 2001, Chief Ebri submitted the final report of his committee’s work to President Obasanjo, the recommendations of which today have not been implemented. The committee recommended ‘that emerging from prolonged military rule, which suppressed free speech, Nigerians once again had the opportunity to voice out their deepest concerns about a country which they cherished so much and in several voices, wished for its rapid growth and maturity into an economically viable, politically stable and socially robust nation in the great African continent.
In this sea of discordant voices, one could clearly discern criticisms of the 1999 Constitution as a military enactment with unitary command features. Nigerians, who spoke or wrote on the Constitution, were unequivocal in their condemnation of the Constitution, which they believed had sounded the death knell on our cherished federal system. For most Nigerians in a deeply traumatised setting, only a Sovereign National Conference, where Nigerians could freely assemble and renegotiate the basis on which they will be willing to continue to live together, would adequately address the contending national issues’. I think it is high time we hold a Sovereign National Conference.