Fol­low­ing the Na­tional Con­fer­ence: Re­gion­al­ism

Daily Trust - - VIEWS OPINION - with Jib­rin Ibrahim jib­

As the Na­tional Con­fer­ence goes into com­mit­tee work this week, one of the key is­sues that will be be­fore it is that of re­turn to re­gion­al­ism sim­i­lar to what we had in the First Repub­lic. The is­sue has been pop­u­lar­ized through con­sis­tent ad­vo­cacy by the Yoruba po­lit­i­cal class. It was in 1998 that they de­vel­oped what they called the Yoruba Agenda, which de­manded for re-struc­tur­ing of the Nige­rian Fed­er­a­tion with a re­turn to re­gional au­ton­omy and lo­cal po­lice and a re­turn to the par­lia­men­tary sys­tem of govern­ment, cre­ation of state/mu­nic­i­pal po­lice, and lo­cal govern­ment au­ton­omy.

The Yoruba Agenda de­mands for a re-struc­tur­ing of the Nige­rian Fed­er­a­tion into one based on strong re­gional au­ton­omy or an out­right dis­so­lu­tion of the Fed­er­a­tion. In prepa­ra­tion for the Na­tional Con­fer­ence, a num­ber of meet­ings were called to reval­i­date this po­si­tion and de­velop strate­gies on how to pro­mote it. In one of the meet­ings, Wale Oshun, Chair­man of the Afenifere Re­newal Group, af­firmed that the: “Yoruba’s de­mand at the na­tional con­fer­ence is mainly re­gional au­ton­omy by re-struc­tur­ing Nigeria and we will not mind be­ing pushed out of the union if a true fed­er­al­ism is im­pos­si­ble,” He warned that - “All the Yoruba del­e­gates should know and be fully aware that whichever plat­form that throws them up, the con­se­quences of be­tray­ing the Yoruba course is very dire.”

It is dif­fi­cult to see how Nigeria can re­turn to the re­gional pol­i­tics of yester-years. In­deed, Nigeria was lucky to have sur­vived the dan­ger­ous path the pol­i­tics of re­gion­al­ism placed the coun­try on and we can­not re­turn to it, at least not along the lines of the 1963 Con­sti­tu­tion. The main cou­ple of Nige­rian pol­i­tics has been iden­tity mo­bil­i­sa­tion and per­cep­tions of po­lit­i­cal dom­i­na­tion. Iden­tity mo­bil­i­sa­tion has been at the lev­els of eth­nic, re­gional, re­li­gious and com­mu­nal con­scious­ness. These forms of con­scious­ness are in them­selves not a dan­ger­ous fea­ture in plu­ral states. They be­come prob­lem­atic when they be­come, or are per­ceived as ob­jects around which dis­crim­i­na­tory prac­tices and un­jus­ti­fied use of vi­o­lence are or­gan­ised. Ethno-re­gional con­flicts brought Nigeria to its knees in the 1964-1970 pe­ri­ods and led to a civil war in which over one mil­lion people lost their lives.

Re­gion­al­ism poi­soned the po­lit­i­cal life of the First Repub­lic be­cause it was closed linked to fears of dom­i­na­tion in the pub­lic imag­i­na­tion. Two broad is­sues are posed when ethno-re­gional dom­i­na­tion emerges as a po­lit­i­cal is­sue. The first is­sue is the con­trol of po­lit­i­cal power and its in­stru­ments such as the armed forces and the ju­di­ciary. The sec­ond is the con­trol of eco­nomic power and re­sources. Both are pow­er­ful in­stru­ments that are used to in­flu­ence the au­thor­i­ta­tive al­lo­ca­tion of re­sources to groups and in­di­vid­u­als. When demo­cratic tran­si­tion and its ma­nip­u­la­tion en­ter the agenda, the ques­tion of num­bers be­comes part of the game. Po­lit­i­cal forces seek to as­sem­ble the largest coali­tions that could as­sure them ac­cess to power, and apart from ide­ol­ogy and in­ter­est ar­tic­u­la­tion, pri­mor­dial is­sues such as eth­nic­ity, re­gion­al­ism and re­li­gion be­come ma­jor in­stru­ments for po­lit­i­cal mo­bil­i­sa­tion.

To save Nigeria from the death grip of the pol­i­tics of re­gion­al­ism, we cre­ated 36 rel­a­tively weak states (and the federal cap­i­tal ter­ri­tory) out the four re­gions of the First Repub­lic. Let’s re­mind our­selves why we did so. In the North­ern Re­gion, the North­ern Peo­ples Congress (NPC) in­her­ited power from the Bri­tish at in­de­pen­dence, as the rul­ing party both in the North­ern Re­gion and at the Federal level. In the 1959 federal elec­tions the party had enough seats to form the cen­tral govern­ment. The party did not con­test in a sin­gle con­stituency out­side the North be­cause it could rule the coun­try on the ba­sis of North­ern seats alone. It how­ever formed the govern­ment at the federal level in al­liance with the Na­tional Coun­cil of Nigeria and the Cameroon (NCNC).

One of the ma­jor po­lit­i­cal prob­lems of the First Repub­lic was wide­spread po­lit­i­cal vic­tim­i­sa­tion and re­pres­sion within the re­gions in deal­ing with the op­po­si­tion and ri­vals. Within each re­gion, all po­lit­i­cal for­ma­tions that did not fol­low the line were cas­ti­gated as en­e­mies, and the three, later four re­gional gov­ern­ments prac­ticed tyran­ni­cal rule in which all lo­cal op­po­si­tion was smashed. Obafemi Awolowo set the trend af­ter the 1951 Western Re­gional Elec­tion in which the NCNC had won more seats than his AG. Eth­nic pres­sure was put on rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the NCNC to de­camp to the AG, re­de­fined as the Yoruba party. Sim­i­lar pres­sure was also ap­plied to those ex­press­ing mi­cro-ten­den­cies with the Yoruba such as Ibadan Parapo and Ondo par­ties to join the Yoruba group. Re­gion­al­ism was hence­forth equated as obe­di­ence to one party, a ten­dency that has se­ri­ously weak­ened demo­cratic cul­ture in Nigeria.

In 1963, the NPC con­trolled Federal Govern­ment cre­ated a Mid-Western Re­gion out of the Western Re­gion. Of course, there was pop­u­lar ag­i­ta­tion for this re­gion by the non-Yoruba mi­nor­ity groups in the zone. How­ever, it was ob­vi­ous that the Federal Govern­ment had ul­te­rior mo­tives and cal­cu­la­tions, be­cause equally pop­u­lar de­mands for new re­gions by mi­nori­ties in the North­ern and East­ern re­gions were not tol­er­ated. What this ac­tion did in the West how­ever was to strengthen Awolowo’s com­mit­ment to an Oduduwa Repub­lic which has been re­vived to­day by calls for the Yoruba in Kwara state to be re­turned to the home­land as ar­tic­u­lated in the Yoruba Agenda.

The Yoruba Agenda continues to re­flect the pol­i­tics of re­gion­al­ism played dur­ing the First Repub­lic The of­fi­cial op­po­si­tion in the Federal Par­lia­ment -the Ac­tion Group (AG) - had Obafemi Awolowo as its leader. The AG con­trolled the Western Re­gional Govern­ment, was led by Ladoke Ak­in­tola as the pre­mier. In 1962 the AG ex­pe­ri­enced an in­ter­nal cri­sis and split. The re­gion was gripped in what ap­peared as a bit­ter po­lit­i­cal ri­valry (be­tween a fac­tion led by the party leader Awolowo and an­other fac­tion led by Ak­in­tola) that ex­ploded and got the west en­gulfed in vi­o­lent con­flict. In the process the Federal au­thor­i­ties de­clared a state of emer­gency and ar­rested Awolowo and some of his key lieu­tenants. They were charged with trea­son­able felony, on the al­le­ga­tion plan­ning to vi­o­lently over­throw the Federal govern­ment. A guilty ver­dict was passed at the end of the tri­als. Awolowo and some of the other ac­cused were im­pris­oned.

The NPC led federal govern­ment was happy to stoke the con­flicts in the West, partly to form an al­ter­na­tive power bloc amenable to it in the re­gion. Ak­in­tola even­tu­ally formed his own party, the Nige­rian Na­tional Demo­cratic Party (NNDC) close al­lied with the NPC and its lead­ers. The NPC, NNDC and the Mid-West Demo­cratic Front (MDF) en­tered into an al­liance called the Nige­rian Na­tional Al­liance (NNA) in 1964. The elec­tions trig­gered the po­lit­i­cal cri­sis that led to the civil war.

The his­tory of First Repub­lic was suf­fi­ciently strong to have kept the idea of re­gion­al­ism alive within the Yoruba po­lit­i­cal con­scious­ness. The same was not true for the other re­gions. In the North, the power of the NPC was sus­tained through mas­sive re­pres­sion of the in­ter­nal op­po­si­tion. Within the Hausa/ Fu­lani po­lit­i­cal space, the op­po­si­tion was led by NEPU, in the North East; it was led by the Borno Youth Move­ment. In the Mid­dle belt, the op­po­si­tion was ex­pressed through the UMBC. In­deed a ma­jor re­volt broke out in Tiv­land (the nerve cen­tre of the UMBC), against the NPC led govern­ment. The Tiv up­ris­ing was an­chored on a pop­u­lar per­cep­tion of po­lit­i­cal ex­clu­sion, marginal­i­sa­tion, ethno-re­li­gious chau­vin­ism, dis­crim­i­na­tory prac­tices and re­pres­sion by the NPC. The fact of the mat­ter was that there was no re­gion­al­ism in North­ern Nigeria. What ex­isted was NPC hege­mony and re­pres­sion of the oth­ers through the use of state power.

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