By Duro Onabule
Ever so often in the past couple of decades, we have been almost chocked by knowledgable, ignorant, well-meaning and malicious Nigerians on the inevitability of restructuring the Nigerian federation. Perhaps desirably. Even then, the take-off of the intermittent demand of purported restructuring is always from wrong bases to wit that (a) northerners malstructured the country and (b) through the instrumentality of the army nuances of ardent agitators of restructuring to that effect are unmistakable.
What are the facts of Nigerian political history specifically from the independence constitution to the end of PDP federal administration in 2015 on this controversial issue? First, President Muhammadu Buhari deserves severe rebuke for unnecessarily attracting criticisms for his rather tactless handling of his government’s handling of the restructuring issue. Asked what was his government’s policy on the prospects of restructuring of Nigerian federation, especially in view of Conference Report (containing recommendations for restructuring) submitted on the eve of Goodluck Jonathan’s exit from office, Buhari, like a macho man, dismissively responded that the Conference Report would remain on the shelf. Truly, it is not as if Buhari would ever retrieve the document from the shelf for implementation but he (Buhari) was wrong to impliedly put the blame on himself.
To assert himself and still put the blame where it (still) belongs, all Buhari had to do rather effortlessly was to employ what, in boxing profession, is called technical knockout, for which nobody can fault him. The very agitators of political resructuring made the task easy for Buhari by rendering the Conference Report comatose, even before he (Buhari) was elected. While campaigns were on for the 2015 presidential elections, agitators of restructuring made it an election issue, a sort of referendum, by publicly canvassing on voters to return former President Jonathan to office “so that he could implement the Conference Report”. Chief Ayo Adebanjo led the entire Egbe Afenifere group to take that public stand. It was a risky gamble, which they lost. It was a political dagger aimed at Buhari, which fortunately he survived by winning the presidential elections. He, therefore, does not owe any obligation to implement the Conference Report. We must learn to accept responsibility for our actions.
Only a couple of months ago, erstwhile British prime minister, David Cameron, threw his tenure at the electorate to support Britain’s continued membership of European Union. Britons, in the referendum, voted otherwise and Cameron accepted the verdict by resigning, with the assurance that Britain would end its membership of European Union and the new administration in Britain has comenced that process. Even if the Buhari administration is dragged to court in a desperation to force him (to) implement the Conference Report, Federal Government’s submission should be that Nigerians, had, in the presidential elections rejected the document. QED.
The issue of who lopsided the country in all ramifications of administration is always unfairly discussed, as if a section or a sector deliberately set out for self-serving purposes. As at time the army struck in January 1966, Nigeria not only had the federal and four regional governments but also a very flexible federal form of constitution, as obtains in United States, India, Australia and West Germany, now united with East Germany, running a single federation. Nigeria’s only four regions were east, west, north and mid-west. But more than that, Tafawa Balewa’s federal government learnt the hard way that regional autonomy, (almost independence) was untouchable, a safeguard well assured by the trenchant judiciary of the day, unlike today’s asset accumulating gang. In 1961, prime minister Balewa tried to probe the finances of western region but was halted by Federal High Court judge, Daddy Onyeama, a ruling affirmed by Supreme Court. On the other hand, when breakdown of law and order warranted total take-over of the enire west regional government and Balewa strictly followed the constitution, Nigerian judiciary upheld the move.
However, when General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi assumed office in January, 1966, he set up a panel headed by a federal permanent secretary, Francis Nwokedi, to recommend a workable administrative structure for Nigeria, which would remove or, at least, minimise the political problems, mutual animosity and suspicion. The Nwokedi panel report recommended unitary system, which encompassed abolition of the regions, increasing the power of Federal Government. That was the beginning of lopsidedness (in favour of Federal Government) in Nigeria. Both were southerners even if, by circumstances, Ironsi was a soldier.
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 Ojuukwu, 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, academicians, 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 minorites. 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 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 constitutional drafting committee headed by Chief Rotimi Williams. Both were southerners. Obasanjo, in his eventual amendment of the draft constitution, ensured lopsidedness against the South. Constitutions by succeeding military regimes of General Ibrahim 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 miniter 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 malstructuring is minimal if any.
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