by Babatunde Rosanwo
The debate about restructuring Nigeria is as old as the colonial rule, when the then leaders of the ethnic political regions could not agree on a unified approach to governance yet they agreed independence was sacrosanct.
In 1948, Sir Tafawa Balewa said “Since 1914 the British government has been trying to make Nigeria into one country but the Nigerian people themselves are historically different in their backgrounds, in their religious beliefs and customs and do not show themselves any sign of willingness to unite. Nigerian unity is only a British intention for the country”
Different historians, depending on your school of thought and political leaning, claim independence was delayed until October 1, 1960 because one region was not ready for governance or there was not a firm commitment to the system of governance proposed. However the debate and engagement was robust and documented, the archives are replete of positions, proposals and theories of how to run Nigeria.
Circa 1943, Nnamdi Azikiwe, one of the symbols of nationalism in modern Nigeria, suggested that Nigeria should have a federal commonwealth made up of eight protectorates based on ethnic affiliations: 1. the northern (Kastina, Kano, Zaria) 2. the northwestern ( Sokoto, Niger, Ilorin) 3. the northeastern (Bornu, Bauchi, Adamawa) 4. the central ( Kabba, Benue, Plateau) 5. the southern (Warri, Benin, Onitsha, Owerri) 6. the South western (Ondo, Ijebu, Abeokuta, Oyo, Lagos) 7. the southeastern (calabar, Ogoja) 8. the Cameroons (northern and southern part of Cameroons which was part of Nigeria). Azikiwe wanted a devolved system with more effective governance structure at the local level, he wanted the citizens be directly involved directly in governance at a local level.
Azikiwe also proposed the protectorates have elected governors, municipal authority at the local level, a central parliament with ministers and governor general at the centre, separation of judiciary and executive, yet his ideas were opposed within his political party the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroons, NCNC. By 1951 his party abandoned the federal system in support of a unitary one claiming federalism will break up Nigeria. How his party got to change position is of interest to this writer.
Along came Awolwo who agreed with Nnamdi Azikiwe and disagreed with the NCNC, he proposed that ethnic groups have the right to develop at their own pace, he wanted a healthy competition in areas of education, manufacturing and agriculture but not at the expense of each other. Awo replaced Zik’s eight protectorates with 10 main ethnic groups which he considered as a nation within the entity called Nigeria to include Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo, Fulani, Kanuri, Ibibio, Munshi, Edo, Nupe and Ijaw. Awo’s ideas had its own challenges; he did not prodder solution on how to map out these 10 ethnic regions, unlike Zik who mapped out his own idea.
Circa 1947, the young savvy lawyer Bode Thomas proposed the idea of dividing Nigeria into 3 political regions, the North, South and East upon which regional political parties will be formed in the interest of the regions. These 3 political parties will come to the centre to govern the Nigerian state, he argued that the regions should be given the opportunity to determine their own local affairs, produce leaders from all regions and allay the fears of the North about the south dominating the affairs of Nigeria or interfering in their local affairs. The concerns around religion, role of traditional institutions and indirect/direct rule were always on the table. Circa 1949, a good number of leaders from North reviewed the Bode Thomas proposal, formed the Northern People’s Party with the motto “One North, one people, irrespective of religion, rank or tribe”.
By 1960 when Nigeria gained independence, the ideology and proposals of these men had largely influenced the restructured system for independence. In fact, the robust engagement of these men during the Richard constitution proposal to review the Clifford constitution is a case study for nationalism and regional politics. It is worthy of mention that Awolowo & Bode Thomas studied law in England, while Azikiwe studied in the United States, as far back as 1948, these leaders wrote position papers and books on restructuring Nigeria, they debated these ideas and put them to test.
In the last decade, political parties in opposition have become popular by clamouring for restructuring of the Nigerian state, the government has been pressured into holding national conferences to address the agitations for restructuring and marginalization. Since 1999 when Nigeria returned to democracy, we have had two national conferences, the recommendations from the last national conference, which by all means cost millions of tax payers’ money, has not seen the light of the day. What is worrying was that despite the millions spent on the conference, the PDP Government of former President Goodluck Jonathan never even considered recommendations from the conferences that require merely dutiful administrative actions. In 2015, the opposition party won the presidential elections for the first time, a significant milestone in our nascent democracy.
The All Progressive Congress, APC, which is now the party in power, has embarked on a restructuring meeting across the Nigeria. This is the same party which campaigned on the back of restructuring Nigeria, denied some its own party manifesto and now re-embraced restructuring in the build-up of the 2019 presidential/general elections.
It is even more confusing when we don’t know the position of this government on restructuring, is there a position paper to analyse, debate and respond to? Who is leading the debate, the party or the government? If government is truly a continuum, where are the recommendations of the 2014 national conference held in Abuja? What exactly are citizens expected to respond to at these meetings, if they should not become jamborees for the party men involved and talk shops for the citizens invited to these sessions. Which specific areas of government or governance have been identified for restructuring?
Restructure, devolution of power, decentralisation or any name you have for it, all hinge on finding a better way of running government, managing scarce resources and getting the best outcome for citizens. It is instructive to state that as governance roles have reversed, those who were previously opposed to restructuring have now become its champions while those who cried themselves hoarse, have now gone mute or turned total volte face. The ongoing restructuring attempt seems like a ruse to garner support for 2019, caveat emptor!!!!
Nigeria needs continuous reforms like any other country; there is need for gradual devolution of power or restructuring but it needs political will and not posturing. It requires clear articulation addressing specific issues, one at a time.
Skip to 2080, what exactly will history say about the 2017 APC-led government on restructuring? What were the positions of government and what was achieved? Where are the members of current government who were once proponents of restructuring?