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Nigeria golden jubilee: Living the Nigeria of our founding fathers’ dream? ~ By Uzochukwu Ojo Okafor

Nigeria has remained a paradox, with our development strides not meeting both local and international expectations. But the potential to join the list of developed nations has never been lost on those who have knowledge of Nigeria, its people, and resources. To properly situate the challenges Nigeria is facing in fulfilling its potential, one needs to contextualize this challenge in the light of our history, pre-colonial, colonial and post-independence. May I at this moment express my misgiving with the decision to suspend the teaching of History in our schools. This was a very backward step.

Nigeria became a country in 1914 following the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates. Before then, Nigeria had quite a large number of nationalities occupying the geographic space called Nigeria today.

As early as 1100 BC, prehistoric nationalities lived in the area that is today, Nigeria. Some of these ancient African civilizations include Hausa Kingdoms, Nri Kingdom, Borgu Kingdom, Kwararafa Kingdom, Nupe Kingdom, Warri Kingdom, Ibibio Kingdom, Benin Empire, Oyo Empire and Borno Empire. Nigeria, however, became a British protectorate in 1901 and colonization ended in 1960 when Nigeria attained independence.

The Hausas and Fulanis were the dominant groups in the area situated between the Niger River and Lake Chad. The Yoruba people, who were organized mostly in patrilineal groups dominated the west bank of River Niger. The Igbo people who were the dominant group east of the Niger has the Kingdom of Nri as the foundation of their culture

All these kingdoms and states were existing as independent and autonomous nationalities. The amalgamation of 1914, was therefore seen and meant to be a loose affiliation of three distinct regional groupings of Northern, Western and Eastern blocks with each under a Lieutenant Governor and provided independent government services. It was, therefore, opined that “The Governor was, in effect, the coordinator for virtually autonomous entities that had overlapping economic interests but little in common politically or socially.”

It is therefore not surprising that our founding fathers chose the route that recognized this reality. Even the three constitutions enacted from 1946 to 1954 accommodated the reality of existing autonomous entities that had overlapping economic interests but little in common politically or socially. Each of these constitutional developments recognized internal autonomy. These constitutions favoured a parliamentary system of government, regional assemblies and a federal House of Representatives.

The Richard Constitution of 1946 provided for a federal principle with deliberative authority devolved on the regions thereby recognizing the country’s diversity.

The Richard Constitution was in 1950 replaced by the Macpherson Constitution. This constitution continued in the same trajectory, following a call for greater autonomy. This constitution provided for both regional autonomy and federal union. An important provision in this constitution is the legislative powers conferred on the regional governments to make laws, which could not be overridden by the then 185-seat federal House of Representatives established at the federal level.

The Lyttleton Constitution, of 1954, reinforced the federal principle. In 1957, the Eastern and Western regions became self-governing under a parliamentary system with the Northern region having theirs in 1959.

Important derivatives from this self-governance are fiscal federalism with the regional governments controlling revenue derived from natural resources and other sources within each region.

The exclusive list was limited to foreign affairs, defence, communications, shipping, navigation, banking and currency. The most important point to note here is the fact that real political power remained in the regions. That was why the leader of APC, Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, whose party won the election at the federal level, remained in Kaduna while asking his subordinate, Alhaji Tafewa Balewa to become the Prime-Minister.

The last constitution negotiated by the founding fathers was the 1963 Constitution. The 1963 Constitution retained the federal principle and the fiscal federalism. Its provisions encouraged the different regions to develop at their own pace while determining their priorities. The constitutional order was disrupted in 1966 by a military coup that eventually led to a unitary government that was opposed mainly by the northern region. Ironically, after the death of General Ironsi from Eastern Nigeria, and takeover by General Gowon from the North, the unitary system of government was retained.

A constitutional government was restored in 1979 but with the internal autonomy of the different nationalities whittled down. Another interruption of the constitutional order took place in 1983 and restored in 1999. The 1999 constitution was significantly different from what was negotiated at independence by our founding fathers.

These differences include:
The parliamentary system was replaced with a presidential system.
The items in the exclusive list were expanded (from 7 to 68) with devolution of deliberative authority limited and made subordinate to the Federal constitution The real political power was centralized at the country’s capital. The States could no longer be in control of revenues raised from natural resources and other sources within each state

Nigeria, since 1999 has had an uninterrupted constitutional democracy. However, the challenges of nation-building remained conspicuous. The calls for restructuring and even secession are beginning to gain prominence. It is therefore important that we take a step back and re-evaluate our journey to nationhood. The ethnic agitations, we believe are borne out of frustration from Nigeria’s failure to fulfil its potential. The majority of Nigerians, we make bold to say, believe that we are better off as a united country on terms that allow each geopolitical unit to blossom without the constraints of the unitary system in the garb of a federal constitution.

We concur with Eugene Uwalaka who said: “By and large, a monolithic Nigerian nation (that is, one comprising only Ibo or Hausa or Yoruba), is far less desirable and less enduring than a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and heterogeneous Nigerian nation.”

Our founding fathers recognized that Nigeria is a country of different nationalities and negotiated a constitution that is flexible enough to allow an evolution of a nation from diverse nations or a country of diverse nations cooperating and living side by side in peace with one another under one country.

Our founding fathers dreamt of a country where our diversity will be recognized, managed and celebrated. They dreamt of a country that will be the pride of Africans and that will defend African values and interests.

They dreamt of a common political space that recognizes ethnic, religious and cultural differences and that can provide autonomy for each geopolitical unit.

Hence, they negotiated a governance structure that accommodated and managed our diversity to the benefit of each federating component. Under this system, each component constituent will exercise considerable autonomy while cooperating on issues that bind us together.

It is therefore not surprising that each region before 1966, witnessed rapid development. As we seek solutions to our developmental challenges what better place to start than exploring ways of building and uniting the different ethnic nationalities that make up of Nigeria. We need to systematically address issues that have hindered our nationhood.

The experience of the last few decades has shown that centrifugal forces are gaining ground. We, therefore, need to begin a deliberate and systematic process of nation-building. Nation-building according to Alberto Alesina and Igeir Bocooni is “a process which leads to the formation of countries in which the citizens feel a sufficient amount of commonality of interests, goals, and preferences so that they do not wish to separate from each other.”

A group of elder statesmen met recently to proffer solutions to our challenges. Christopher Kolade, advised that the Nigerian challenge can be addressed by reprogramming and deploying strategic techniques, to contend inch for inch, language by language, people by people the agenda and rescue our nation from the problem programmed inside it. Yemi Akinsanya said, “The immediate challenge then is to discover and project a new Pan-Nigerian nationality beyond our ethnicities, fractional identities, inchoate diversities, and fragile values.” Prof Anya O Anya, on his part, said the elders were prepared to build bridges of peace across the nation, stating “all the artificial divisions we see are nothing compared to the commonalities we share.”
We can infer from what we have stated so far, that we need to adjust our operational foundation. Having experienced two different systems, we are now in a better position to make an informed decision.

The short period when the 1963 constitution was implemented is evident in the efficacy of that system of government. During this period, the Western Region took a quantum leap economically and became the envy of other regions. This led to a healthy competition where the northern region through agriculture was able to establish development corporations that significantly boosted the economy of the northern region.

The eastern region followed with its industrialization scheme leading to the eastern region being declared in 1964 by the World Bank as the fastest growing regional economy.This was aided by the establishments of a Cement factory in Nkalaku, a Steel plant in Emene and agricultural expansions pivoted on palm fruit production and cattle ranch in Obudu.

The need for a new model is further canvassed by el-Rufai who stated that “Under the current constitutional order, a fair and just federation system could be achieved peacefully, now that almost all Nigerians are neither happy nor content with the 1999 Constitution, and virtually all the institutions of governance at the federal, state and local levels.”

The reprogramming or reengineering of the Nigerian experiment should start with a renegotiated constitution, the foundation of which will be based on the 1963 constitution.

Prof. Ben Nwabueze makes the case for a new constitution when he said “It is a call for Nigeria to ‘make a new beginning’ under a new constitution approved and adopted by the people at a referendum, a new politico-legal order that will cleanse the country of the rottenness that pervades it and enable it to ‘chart a road map for its destiny’ or what has been referred to as ‘re-structuring of the mind”

Based on the current experiences, a constitution hinged on six or a maximum of eight federating units look more attractive and sustainable. The current 36 state structure is a joke. The Federal government has on several occasions bailed out states to meet their recurrent expenditure requirements. Less than 25% of the states can meet their recurrent expenditure from internally generated revenue.

Hence, we agree with the view of Chief Emeka Anyaoku who advocates for the reconfiguration of the federation to reduce the number of states to an economically manageable size. The emerging federating units must be self-sustaining and should respect cultural affinity in its delineation. The federating units will control their resources as was the case pre-1966 and pay taxes to the federal government.

Nigeria, after 60 years of independence remains at crossroads and with drum beats of war and ethnic tensions on the rise. The panacea of a reprogrammed model is being dismissed based on the fear of potential dismemberment of the country. Maintaining the status quo will hasten the realization of this fear. The clamour for renegotiation is hinged on the desire for fairness and equity, incorporating the interest of the diverse ethnic nationalities to advance peaceful coexistence as a people sharing a common destiny.

Another important discussion we need to have is the debate about parliamentary versus the presidential system of government. Whatever attraction the presidential system of government has, there is beginning to be a convergence of opinion that it is too expensive and corrupt ridden for the survival of Nigeria. Jose Cheibub, 2002, has it that “With the exception of the United States, where a system of separation of executive and legislative powers exists, all countries that are considered to be stable democracies adopt a constitution that is, at least partially, parliamentary.

A parliamentary constitution is characterized by the fusion of executive and legislative powers, achieved by the fact that the government needs the confidence of a majority in the legislative assembly to come to and remain in power.

In conclusion, we wish to advance as follows:

Nigeria should as a matter of urgency begin a systematic and determined process of transformation that will see it graduate from a country with the potential to a developed country with its federating units enjoying prosperity and having a sense of identity consistent with nationhood. As Unachukwu and Ikhilae, 2012, argued, a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious nation like Nigeria can only progress under an arrangement that allows the constituent units to retain the peculiarities, while co-existing as a single entity

A new constitution approved and adopted by the people at a referendum has become mandatory. All manifestation of the unitary system of government should be removed from Nigeria’s federal structure by allowing the states the degree of freedom and autonomy consistent with federalism.

The 1999 Constitution contains provisions that hinder the practice of federalism and reflects more of a unitary system than a federal system. As Jibrin Ibrahim stated, federalism provides an expanded political space, autonomy and institutions to the benefit of geopolitical units in a context in which the political community accepts that ethnic, religious and cultural differences exist and that their management would benefit from differential levels of governance with substantial autonomy to each level.

The leadership in Nigeria should strategize and commit to nation-building by structuring a national identity using the power of the state. The goal would be to build a state where there is trust among the ethnic communities and in which the citizens feel a sufficient amount of commonality of interests, goals, and preferences so that they do not wish to separate from each other. This needs to be complemented with a governance structure that accommodates and manages our diversity to the benefit of each federating component.

Nigeria should revert to the parliamentary system practised at independence. A situation where almost 80% of revenue is spent on recurrent expenditure under the current presidential system is unsustainable. Experience has it that all countries that are considered to be stable democracies adopt a constitution that is, at least partially, parliamentary.
Nigeria needs to collapse the existing 36 states structure to between six and eight viable federating units.

This will significantly reduce the funds and resources currently going into maintaining the bloated bureaucracy and release the funds and other resources required for the economic and infrastructural development of Nigeria. Senator Abe indicated that the poverty index in Nigeria in 1974 when we had 12 states was less than 40 percent, as opposed to more than 70 percent with 36 states.

The current financial subordination makes a mockery of federalism. The federating units should not permanently remain dependent on the federal government for survival. Nigeria needs to be transformed from a sharing federation to a productive federation. Every federation succeeds on the strength of its federating units to be self-sustaining and contributing its fair share to the centre.

The financial autonomy contained in the 1960 Independence and 1963 Republican constitutions needs to be restored and the federating units once again empowered to engage in healthy competition between themselves.

This clamour for a national transformation, needs the leadership of the President, as the elected leader of the people, with the change mandate to cleanse Nigeria’s closet and transform it from the present unitary practice to a state where power is devolved to its units.

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