By Femi Falana

Introduction
IN an age in which crucial debates on the future of Nigeria are led by ethnic warlords, demagogues and clairvoyants from their declared “territories” with captive audiences, it is worthy of salute that the management of the Ekiti State University decided to go back to the tradition of making the university a centre of ideas. The voices from the campuses are no more resonant in pointing to the way forward for the country. Things used not to be this way as I will demonstrate in this lecture anon. There was a time in this country when scholars provoked and led debates from their various ideological perspectives. For instance, the making of the 1979 Constitution that was the ground norm of the Second Republic had a lot of inputs from the university system.

Scholars of various ideological hues were members of the 49-member committee that drafted the 1979 constitution. Voices from the university were very strident in the subsequent debates on the draft at the Constituent Assembly of 1977/78. The university was visibly represented in the assembly. As if envisaging the vigorous debate on the structure of Nigeria that came up on the floor of the assembly, the Department of Sociology of the University of Lagos had published a book in 1976 entitled; Ethnic Relations in Nigeria.

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The point at issue here is that deep thinking about problems was once in currency in this country. Orthodoxies and shibboleths were roundly challenged by scholars. In a chapter of the book, eminent sociologist, Professor Onigu Otite, examined the “concept of a Nigerian society” and concluded as follows: “In the current culturally melting stage, the solidarity and stability of the Nigerian society cannot be achieved through processes involving an imposition of single loyalty and perspective but by a process of compromising diverse loyalties and viewpoints, thus providing for group and individual interests through shared participation in different institutional spheres and internal and external systems.”

Restructuring alone will not automatically answer the menacing question of rising youth joblessness and hopelessness plaguing the Nigerian society. To reframe the question, some myths should be exploded. First, stripped of all obfuscation, restructuring is basically about making the Nigerian federation work better for the purpose of governance and development. That should be the objective of restructuring rather than the elusive pursuit of “true federalism.” There is nothing like a true federalism. Every federation is structured for the specific purpose of each country. That is why the Indian federation is not identical to that of Australia or America. The Swiss federation is operated differently from that of Canada or Brazil. The German federation is working not because it’s “true,” but because it meets the specific historical need of the Germans. So we should stop mystifying the debate by calling for a “true federalism” instead of asking for a workable federation of Nigeria.

Given the magnitude of ethnic manipulation being promoted by the various factions of the Nigerian elite, it is as if Otite was writing about today’s Nigeria. In yet another chapter of the book, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, as a young university lecturer in political science, also at the University of Ibadan, expressed what he described as a “non-conformist view.” Armed with verifiable statistics, Akinyemi reviewed the 1959 federal elections and made profound and thought-provoking observations as follows: “We set out to prove that at least on the eve of independence, Nigerian electoral behaviour was more complex than that which a crude theory of ethnic voting has ascribed to it.”

Akinyemi disproved claims which many still give as the basis of the Nigerian crisis. In other words, contrary to the myth still being parroted in many quarters that Nigerians never looked beyond their ethnic enclaves politically, there were other factors that influenced voting over 60 years ago. That was 34 years before the June 12, 1993 presidential elections in which Bashorun M.K.O. Abiola was said to have defeated Alhaji Bashir Tofa in Kano.

In addition to ethnicity, voters were also influenced by preference for party policies, the urge to be part of power-sharing at the centre and even the psychology of being with the winners. For instance, the Ekiti people voted Awolowo’s party because of free primary education for their children and not necessarily for any Yoruba solidarity. After all, the Ekiti dialect is markedly different from Awolowo’s Ijebu tongue among other mutual prejudices and stereotypes among the two intra-ethnic communities.

The choice of this topic by the university is, therefore, quite apposite in the context of the present Nigerian condition. Yes! We must restructure Nigeria. But we must quickly add that Nigeria should also be liberated from the shackles of poverty, inequality and gross socio-economic injustice. We must banish hunger, disease and ignorance. These vertical and horizontal steps are important ones to take simultaneously for the development and progress of Nigeria. The implication of the foregoing is that the debates on restructuring should be reframed in the interest of social justice, geo-political equity, genuine freedom and the unity of the people of Nigeria.

Restructuring alone will not automatically answer the menacing question of rising youth joblessness and hopelessness plaguing the Nigerian society. To reframe the question, some myths should be exploded. First, stripped of all obfuscation, restructuring is basically about making the Nigerian federation work better for the purpose of governance and development. That should be the objective of restructuring rather than the elusive pursuit of “true federalism.” There is nothing like a true federalism. Every federation is structured for the specific purpose of each country. That is why the Indian federation is not identical to that of Australia or America. The Swiss federation is operated differently from that of Canada or Brazil. The German federation is working not because it’s “true,” but because it meets the specific historical need of the Germans. So we should stop mystifying the debate by calling for a “true federalism” instead of asking for a workable federation of Nigeria.

As a matter of fact, making a federation to work, building a nation or promoting national integration is never a finished business. As the experiences of countries defined by diversity and complexity have shown, the business of a functional federation is actually a work in progress. After all, what’s federalism if not a system of continuous negotiations and compromises? That’s why it’s a gross misnomer when some people pronounce arrogantly that: “Nigeria’s unity not negotiable.” That’s wrong!

Federations are, of course, subject to negotiations when the need arises in any generation. What is to be done is to accept the reality of negotiation and compromise so as to give everyone a sense of belonging. This will invariably spur a sense of commitment to the union. Come to think of it, there will be negotiations and engagements from generation to generation as issues arise.

Hence, the question of federalism has engaged the attention of philosophers and other thinkers for ages. Problems of federalism were examined in the 18th and 19th centuries by Immanuel Kant, David Hume, Baron de Montesquieu Jean-Jacques Rousseau, John Stuart-Mills, Rudolph Hugo and Maddison. In fact, in the last century, the eminent Marxist scholar of the London School of Economics, Harold Laski, actually posited that the “authority of the modern state is federal” in ultimate terms.

Fourthly, the idea of restructuring as a fad should be questioned. Opportunistic politicians join the campaigns for restructuring when they are out of power. Whereas when they are in power, they muster all their strength to resist the moves to restructure even when they have restructuring in the manifestoes of their political parties. Politicians treat the topic of restructuring as a veritable tool for ethnic and regional mobilisation and nothing more. However, approaching the problems of the structure of the Nigerian federation has been part of the Nigerian political history since colonial times. Unfortunately, the historical context for restructuring is often missed in the debate which has generated more heat than light.

In contemporary times, thinkers in various countries are coming up with ideas to make their respective federal unions more efficient. That’s how it should be in Nigeria. Here lies the task of the university. There ought to be contesting schools of social science in Nigerian universities. They should conduct researches on the question so as to generate solutions to the festering problems of Nigerian federalism.

To be sure, Nigerian scholars in the past theorised and conducted researches and published volumes on federalism. There was a lot of thinking about the problem. The challenge of the moment is how to continue with this illustrious tradition. Secondly, restructuring is ultimately a constitutional question. For instance, to put into effect devolution of powers from the centre to the units, constitutional amendments have to take place to amend the constitution. Some matters might require only executive orders. For instance, it is an anomaly having federal roads within a state. State should have more money to fix the roads within their geography. The federal ministry of works should only be concerned with inter-state highways and bridges to have appropriate road network in the country.

Thirdly, a lot of confusion has been introduced into the restructuring debate. In fact, in some quarters, restructuring has become a nebulous concept. Some warlords and their intellectual megaphones sometimes use the word restructuring interchangeably with secession. Defenders of the status quo equally accuse advocates of restructuring of nursing plans to break up the country. This is largely due to the fact that the debate has been hijacked by those without clarity of purpose. Restructuring is not synonymous with secession or separation.

Fourthly, the idea of restructuring as a fad should be questioned. Opportunistic politicians join the campaigns for restructuring when they are out of power. Whereas when they are in power, they muster all their strength to resist the moves to restructure even when they have restructuring in the manifestoes of their political parties. Politicians treat the topic of restructuring as a veritable tool for ethnic and regional mobilisation and nothing more. However, approaching the problems of the structure of the Nigerian federation has been part of the Nigerian political history since colonial times. Unfortunately, the historical context for restructuring is often missed in the debate which has generated more heat than light.

Restructuring in History
From November 1884 to February 1885, a gang of Europeans colonisers held a conference in Berlin, Germany for the scramble and partition of the continent of Africa. Since Britain was allocated the territory around the Niger area its army of expedition invaded and attacked the various communities. The colonial army conquered the entire territory because it had superior weapons. After the conquest, the British government appointed Lord Frederick Lugard as the governor of both the Northern Nigeria Protectorate and the Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria.

On January 1, 1914, Governor Lugard signed a document consolidating the two, thereby creating the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria. The amalgamation of Nigeria was achieved pursuant to three legal instruments; i.e. the (Nigerian Council) Order-in Council 1912; the Nigeria Protectorate Order-in-Council 1913; and Letters Patent of 1913. It is not correct to say that six Nigerians signed the amalgamation treaty with Governor Lugard.

Contrary to a popular myth, the amalgamation documents did not provide for the dissolution of Nigeria after 100 years. In fact, in order to facilitate the exploitation of the nation’s resources in perpetuity by imperialism the British wanted Nigeria to remain a united entity. The British colonial regime ran Nigeria as a unitary state and engaged in the reckless exploitation of the resources of the territory. The territory of Nigeria was not handed over to the British on the basis of any negotiation.

Olorode has rightly recalled that “Colonial rule and exploitation result from colonial conquest and occupation. Its main aim was trade and investment by colonising powers. Its mode of operation was exploitation (putting in as little as possible and extracting as much as possible in return). The extraction involved a variety of resources including raw materials, human labour in different parts of colonial Nigeria (forced labour) and unpaid labour through slave trade which deprived black Africa in particular massive human power. The victims of these varieties of pillage and exploitation resisted for as long as exploitation and pillage lasted. The resistance took place across Nigeria in Bonny, Akasa, Arochukwu, Jos, Iseyin, Sokoto, Benin, Ijebu-Ode, etc., etc. (Okoye, 1964, 1986; Asiegbu, 1984).”

Contrary to the false impression that is sometimes created in the course of the unstructured debate on restructuring, it is not really a new advocacy. It has always been a proposition to answer the National Question. Strictly defined, the National Question in the Nigerian context is about how the various ethnic groups (some of which are, in fact, nationalities), zones and regions relate within the Nigerian federation. On the agendas of the consecutive constitutional conferences in the pre-independence Nigeria was the structure of the federation. As things congealed, the structure emerged. For instance, the Richard’s Constitution of 1946 was considered unitary while the Macpherson Constitution of 1951 was viewed as more federal in terms of devolution of powers to the regional governments of the North, East and West.

There was a fierce debate among the political parties on the nature of Nigerian federalism. Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his Action Group (AG) were profoundly in support of federalism in which the regions would be relatively strong and autonomous. The AG government governed so competently that it introduced free primary education in the region which stretched from Badagry in the present Lagos State to Patani in the present Delta State. In other words, one premier and about a dozen ministers (now commissioners) governed the area now delineated into eight states.

The National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe preferred a relatively stronger centre. In fact, some NCNC leaders accused Awolowo of actually rooting for a confederal Nigeria rather than the federalism the AG had canvassed. Sir Ahmadu Bello’s Northern People’s Congress (NPC) guarded the regional autonomy of the North jealously.

After 60 years of disastrous misrule by military and civilian regimes the pre-independence era is now often invoked as the golden era of Nigerian federalism in which the regions competed healthily in their developmental strides.

Yet, extant issues of Nigerian federalism were invariably inherited by the independent Nigeria. The symptoms of the deformity in the structure were patent enough for the departing British colonialists to set up the Henry Willinks Commission to address the fears of the minorities. Soon after independence, agitation began for creation of more regions – Middle Belt in the North; Calabar-Ogoja-Rivers (CORE) State in the East and the Mid-West State in the West. As it were, only the Mid-West State was created from the Western Region in 1963 with the capital in Benin City. The idea of the Mid-West State was supported by the politicians from the North and East who, ironically, opposed the creation of the Middle Belt and CORE states from their respective regions. So, the politics of restructuring didn’t start today!

Soon after, the federation was engulfed in a political crisis and eventually the First Republic was terminated by soldiers in the January 15, 1966 military coup. Efforts to resolve the Nigerian crisis included the meeting facilitated by the Ghanaian government in a place called Aburi. The federalist content of the famous Aburi Accord, on which Emeka Ojukwu decided to “stand” as civil war raged, is obvious. Yakubu Gowon was said to have reneged on it on sensing that the Accord whittled down the powers of the central government especially the control of the military and the police.

As the civil war was about breaking out in May 1967, General Gowon created 12 states from the four regions. The restructuring prayers of the minorities of the North and South were answered with a stroke of the pen. Gowon, himself is a minority element from Plateau State, which combined with the present Benue State to form the then Benue-Plateau State. That was restructuring of sorts at the time. Since then successive military governments increased the number of states to 19 in 1976; 21 in 1987; 30 in 1991 and the present 36 in 1996.

Curiously, it is said that there are currently dozens of requests for the creation of more states by agitators. The refrain has been “to bring development closer to the people.” However, instead of development, we have witnessed greater opportunities for politicians to become governors, senators, ministers and chairmen of boards of parastatals. Bureaucracies and appointments have multiplied for permanent secretaries and directors.

The framing of the 1979 Constitution, which has been the nucleus of all subsequent constitutions, was informed by the need to make the federation more workable in the composition of the legislative lists – exclusive and concurrent, while residual matters were left for state governments. The federal character principle was enshrined in the Constitution. For instance, land in each state was vested in the state governor. So even the federal government would need the permission of the state governor to use land in a state!

The focus of advocacy for a national conference, which began in 1990, is the urgent need to restructure Nigeria. When Alao Aka-Bashorun and others planned to stage one in August 1990 at the National Theatre few months after an aborted military coup led by officers from minority areas, the military government of President Ibrahim Babangida forcefully stopped it. The call for a national conference later became the battle cry of the coalition forces fighting for the validation of the June 12, 1993 election won by Bashorun M.K.O. Abiola. Implicit in the agitation for national conference was restructuring. The “resource control” that is the slogan of the exploited and neglected oil-bearing Niger Delta is also an aspect of restructuring.

Since the advent of the Fourth Republic in 1999, attempts have been made to review the constitution to make the federation more functional among other reasons. President Olusegun Obasanjo actually set up a multi-party committee to review the constitution. The National Assembly at the time was said to be reviewing the constitution. Obasanjo followed it up with a political conference. His attempt to have a third term by changing the constitution put an end to the process.

The government of President Goodluck Jonathan convened a national conference in 2014 in which eminent Nigerians were active participants. The report of the conference embodies answers to some of the structural questions of Nigerian federalism. This important document has been routinely ignored by the Buhari administration. Some of them would require pieces of legislation for implementation. Others could be put into effect by executive orders. For instance, if the conference’s recommendation on ranching had been implemented in 2014 the tension generated by the needless controversy on the “offensive” idea of “cattle colonies” five years later could have been avoided. Jonathan who summoned the conference did nothing about the report in the last one year of his term.

President Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) has restructuring in its manifesto. The party later set up a panel headed by Kaduna State governor, Nasir el-Rufai, on restructuring, when reminded that the issue was ignored after the party assumed power in 2015. Although the committee recommended restructuring, there is no clear commitment by APC, which controls the executive and legislative arms of government, to restructure the country. Yet there appears to be a growing demand for the national consensus that implementing the recommendations of the 2014 National Conference as a way of addressing the lingering questions of Nigerian federalism. So history matters in pondering restructuring.

Awolowo and Restructuring
No doubt, Chief Obafemi Awolowo was the leading advocate of federalism among his peers. A line in his famous 1945 book, Path to Nigeria’s Freedom, has been conveniently quoted out of context by some protagonists of restructuring. The line, “Nigeria is a mere geographical expression…,” has more or less become the authority for restructuring or even secession by some political forces. Awolowo wrote that book as part of the literature of anti-colonial struggle.

As stated earlier, nationalist politicians were engaged in spirited debate on the future and structure of Nigerian federation. Awolowo argued vigorously for a suitable federalism for Nigeria, not “true federalism,” by the way. That was an era in which politicians were at home with ideas. They had organic linkage with scholars, not thugs.

Almost two decades later, while in Calabar prison, Awolowo wrote other books – The People’s Republic and The Strategy and Tactics of the People’s Republic of Nigeria. In both publications, Awolowo enunciated a social democratic agenda for Nigeria and the governance culture to put it into practice. At that stage of his remarkable political life, Awolowo was thinking of how to develop Nigeria and push the frontier of human progress in this part of the world. He was not on a mission to preside over any Oduduwa republic or to lead the Yoruba alone to “develop at their own pace,” unmindful of the realities of the Nigerian political economy.

Little surprise that 32 years after the publication of Path to Nigerian Freedom, Awolowo sought to be Nigerian President (not Aare of Oduduwa Republic!). His platform was the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN). The word ‘unity’ in the party’s name was instructive and deliberate. More significant is that the cardinal programmes of the UPN were free education, free healthcare, full employment and integrated rural development.

It is noteworthy that some Nigerians, including scholars, crafted these social, economic and political goals four decades before the United Nations came up with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which look more like a copy of the Chapter of the Nigerian constitution. If the provisions had been implemented, Nigeria could have been greater than some of the countries that some of our elite point to as models of development. Although the provisions of Chapter II are not made justiciable in the constitution, political parties are expected to include the elements of the chapter in their programme. It is on record that the delegates to the 2014 national conference unanimously voted for the justiciability of the provisions of chapter II.

Federalism or restructuring was no more Awolowo’s preoccupation. His position was to the effect that if every Nigerian child in Maiduguri, Yenagoa or Ado-Ekiti had access to quality education, Nigeria would be on the road to reducing inequality. Similarly, if every woman and her children in Kuje, Badagry or Akampa had access to quality healthcare service, maternal and infant mortality would be ended and thereby tackling an aspect of poverty at the basic level.

In his later years, Awolowo was more concerned about the social democratic development of Nigeria, rather than limiting himself to the struggle for the phantom “true federalism.” Here, we are talking of the Awolowo who gave the well-received Kwame Nkrumah memorial lecture in Accra, Ghana entitled: “The Problems of Africa: The Need for an Ideological Appraisal”, which was later published into one of the most philosophical books of Awolowo.

Ironically, despite the fact that Awolowo’s last party was deliberately named a Unity party, Awolowo’s opponents still accuse him in death of ethnic chauvinism, which they erroneously call “tribalism” (as if, sociologically, there are still tribes in Nigeria!). So let the advocates of restructuring quote Awolowo not only on federalism; they should also quote him on his programme of social democracy programmes as a basis of Nigeria’s sustainable development.

Chapter II of the Constitution
Doubtless, there is a lot of critique to be made of the 1999 Constitution. But it is strange when critics dismiss the whole document as “useless” because it does not give expression to “the will of the people.” The nucleus of the 1999 Constitution was taken from the 1979 Constitution. It is pertinent to ask: is the Chapter II of the 1999 constitution not in the interest of the people? Should that chapter also be dismissed along with the problematic clauses in the constitution?

As I said earlier, the 1979 Constitution was a product of a vigorous debate, the Great Debate of 1977/78. One of the enduring products of that process was the Chapter II of the 1979 Constitution which has been replicated in the 1999 Constitution. It was the concession the majority report of the committee, headed by Chief Rotimi Williams, SAN, to the radical views of the two historians who were members – Bala Usman and Segun Osoba. It is the chapter entitled: “Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy.”

Even though Awolowo turned down his appointment as a member of the Constitution Drafting Committee, he lauded the adoption of the fundamental objectives and made a strong case for their justiciability. The chapter is the people’s content of the constitution. Enshrined in the chapter are basic elements of socio-economic justice in the areas of education, health, environment, social protection, mass transit, mass housing, transportation, etc. They remain the national goals.

It is noteworthy that some Nigerians, including scholars, crafted these social, economic and political goals four decades before the United Nations came up with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which look more like a copy of the Chapter of the Nigerian constitution. If the provisions had been implemented, Nigeria could have been greater than some of the countries that some of our elite point to as models of development. Although the provisions of Chapter II are not made justiciable in the constitution, political parties are expected to include the elements of the chapter in their programme. It is on record that the delegates to the 2014 national conference unanimously voted for the justiciability of the provisions of chapter II.

The advocacy for the vertical restructuring of the Nigerian federation should also be accompanied with the struggle for the horizontal transformation of the socio-economic landscape or the liberation from mass poverty and the misery of the people. Nigerian people rejected the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) and foreign loans in the 1980s. The political Bureau of 1986 recommended the adoption of the Socialist System as the best way to fulfil the fundamental objectives enshrined in the constitution. But the Babangida junta jettisoned the wishes of Nigerians and imposed the policies of imperialism on the country.

To be continued… 

Falana, SAN, delivered this as the 20th Convocation Lecture of the Ekiti State University on Wednesday, December 16, 2020.

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