Whither Nigeria: Unitarism, Federalism, Confederalism or Separatism?
The original draft speech of the new Head of State declaring secession was modified by civilians who were holding discussions with the coup leaders. The revised version was broadcast to the nation by the new Supreme Commander, Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon on August 1, 1966. A portion of the speech implied that the intentions to secede or to resort to confederal arrangement were not abandoned altogether.
The July 1966 military coup was followed by further disturbances in both the North and the Eastern parts of the Country. The military governor of the Eastern region, Lt. Col. Odumegu Ojukwu, refused to recognize Lt. Col. Gowon as Head of State in succession to Ironsi who was assassinated. Secession of the East resulted into the declaration of Biafra, followed by the Civil War and loss of thousands of lives on both sides.
The Nigerian federal system of government was restored by Gowon and the ‘regions once again assumed’ autonomous status. However, because of the unified command structure of the military, in practice the country was being run as a unitary state. Further, due to exigencies of the threatened secession of the Eastern Region from the rest of the country in 1967, the country was broken into twelve states: an action that strengthened the Federal Government and weakened the states. In fact from January 15, 1966 to October 1978 and from December 31, 1983 to May 29, 1999 when the military was governing the country, Nigeria was only a federal state in name but was actually being run as a unitary state. During this period, there was hue and cry of domination (real or perceived) and/or marginalization of one ethnic group by another. As the military rulers happened to be Northerners, it was generally the Southerners - Yoruba and Igbos in particular that pointed accusing fingers at the military rulers. There have been persistent calls for revising the Nigerian constitution to reflect true federalism, administrative, fiscal, etc. and resource control.
The Federal Structure under the Military
May 1966 short - lived unitary constitution introduced by General Ironsi’s regime was replaced in July 1966 by Lt. Col. Gowon’s regime with a federal constitution.
When the military came to power in 1966, certain provisions of the Federal Republican Constitution were suspended or abrogated such as those relating to establishment and operation of state and federal legislatures, the offices of Prime Minister and Regional Premiers, President of the Republic and Regional Governors, as well as other sections that were considered inimical to unfettered military governance.
The suspended abrogated sections of the constitution were re-placed by terminologies which were consistent with military rules such as head of federal military government and supreme commander/commanderin-chief of the armed forces, military governors/administrators, Chief-ofStaff, Supreme Headquarters, etc.
The Supreme Military Council (SMC), the highest ruling body in the country, functioned as both a legislature and executive council for the whole country, through military governors who were also members of the SMC. The governors were permitted to promulgate edicts for their respective states. This state of affairs continued from January 1966 to July 1975 when Gowon’s government was toppled. The new military rulers headed by General Murtala Mohammed with General Obasanjo (former President) as his deputy decided to introduce a new constitution before handing over power to civilians. A draft constitution based on the American presidential model (as opposed to the parliamentary Westminster type earlier operated in the country) was deliberated upon by a Constituent Assembly comprising elected and appointed members. The outcome of their deliberation was the 1979 executive presidential constitution that was operated at federal and state levels, the number of the constituent units of the federation was increased from 12 to 19 states. The elected civilian government operated this constitution from 1979 to December 1983 when the military struck once again, under the leadership of General Muhammadu Buhari. This government lasted for only 20 months before it was ousted by another set of military officers headed by General Ibrahim Babangida, the erstwhile Chief of Army Staff. The new military president convened a constitutional conference / constituent assembly which reviewed the 1979 constitution and produced the 1989 constitution which was discarded by General Sani Abacha who succeeded Babangida’s appointed civilian head of an interim National government in November 1993. By this time, the number of states was increased from 19 to 21 and then to 30 states. Abacha also convened a constitutional conference which produced the 1995 draft constitution. The provisions of this constitution reflected the yearnings of the political elite for a more decentralized federal administration. It substantially increased the powers of states, at the expense of the all-powerful Federal Government. However, before this draft constitution could be put into effect, General Abacha died in June, 1998. The 1999 Constitution The new Military Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, who was in a hurry to hand over power to civilians constituted a committee of experts headed by a Supreme Court Judge to produce a new constitution, using the 1979, 1989, 1995 draft and other extant relevant documents as bases. The outcome of this exercise was the current 1999 constitution which reproduced substantially the over centralizing provisions of the 1979 constitution. The constitution came into effect on May 29, 1999.
The Obasanjo National Political Reform Conference
However, Chief Obasanjo was persuaded to commence a National Political Reform Conference during which members nominated by state and federal governments, civil society organizations, communities deliberated on the topic of political and other reforms. The conference set up committees which produced reports on various aspects of the issues before them. The plenary session of the conference agreed on most issues deliberated by the committees, but the few disagreements were reflected in the final report as minority reports. These include rotational presidency, resource control or allocation of funds on mainly derivative principles, tenure of office of chief executives, etc. These and other issues over which some sections of the country could not get approval from the conference have now formed part of the agenda of southern leaders forum which threatened to boycott the 2007 general election, seize control of their resources (mainly oil) and to opt for a confederal constitutional settlement as a prelude to the disintegration of Nigeria.
Oil as a Wasting and Declining Asset
There have been some developments in the global economy which threaten the supremacy of oil in Nigeria’s foreign exchange earnings. The U.S.A which buys about 40 percent of Nigerian oil production is using modern technology to extract crude oil from shale which is abundant in its territory. Its demand of Nigerian oil has reduced drastically making it difficult to sell oil in the world market. Several countries in Africa, notably Ghana, Kenya, Ivory Coast, Niger, Chad and others are now oil producers, while other African countries e.g. Angola have increased their oil production significantly. Further inland basins in Nigeria such as Bida, Sokoto, Anambra, Kogi have discovered oil in commercial quantities. All these add up to oil glut and reduction in its price. Nigeria will have to diversify its economy for the country to survive. It will have to depend more on agricultural and solid minerals production as well as other sectors such as tourism. National Population Census An albatross to the continuance of the Nigerian project is the persistent controversy over the national population census. At the national level was the belief by some Southern politicians/critics that the combined population of the South must exceed that of the North though no sound reason was ever advanced for such an assertion, which was contrary to the census figures recorded in 1911, 1921, 1931, 1952/3, 1963 and the 1973 cancelled census figures which confirmed this trend and enhanced the position of the North by giving it almost 60 percent of the population proportion of the country.
The population censuses conducted in 1991 and 2006 further attest to the supremacy of the North over the South regarding the relative extent of their population.
The next population census was due to be conducted in 2016 but the current Chairman of the National Population Commission (NPC), Mr. Festus Odimegwu, has generated an unhealthy controversy.
According to the immediate past Chairman of NPC (Chief S. D. Makama) the first thing the (current) Chairman did when he addressed staff of the Commission was to discredit the 2006 census…He (current Chairman) said all previous censuses in Nigeria, a section of the country had been cheating other sections, and that the (past Chairman) failed to correct that, and he (current Chairman) had come to correct that. The inference is that he is going to change the current demographic set up of the country. It appears he already has that mind set, forgetting that the census we conduct in Nigeria is de facto. That means you enumerate only those people you see.
According to Chief S.D. Makama, past Chairman of NPC, “the 2006 population census was a very credible one that was nationally and internationally acclaimed. All the constitutional processes of conducting a census were complied with. According to the 1999 constitution and the NPC Act, the commission is expected to present the census to the President who will subsequently present it to the Council of States, made up of the President, former Presidents; former Chief Justices and all state governors. Where they recommend that he accepts the census, he would do so. If not, he would reject it, and then the chairman and commissioners of the NPC will automatically resign on the day.”
For the 2006 census, the President presented the result to the National Council of States and they recommended that he accepted it. He also followed an additional constitutional process which stipulates that he should lay copies of the census results with the two chambers of the National Assembly. This, President Obasanjo did.
The Neglected Diaspora in West, Central and North Africa
According to the past Chairman of the NPC, the current Chairman of NPC is contemplating the inclusion of ethnicity and religion in the census questionnaire as well as counting “Nigerians in Diaspora. Ethnicity and Religion have been excluded during previous population census because of the potential crisis that they could generate. Counting Nigerians in Diaspora could pose great logistical and practical problems. It seems that when some people talk about Nigerians in the Diaspora, they are only thinking about Nigerians in Europe and the Americas forgetting that there are many Yoruba in Benin, Ghana, Togo, Brazil and Cuba. There are many Nigerians particularly Hausa Fulani, Kanuri, etc. who are found in many other countries in West Africa outside Nigeria. You find them in large numbers in Niger Republic, Benin, Togo, Ghana, Guinea, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Mali, Chad, Cameroon and Central African Republic. In North Africa, there are many Hausa Fulani people resident in Sudan. In the Middle East you find them in Saudi Arabia. Is the NPC doing its survey of Nigerians in Diaspora in these places? Conclusion Nigerian leaders past and present accept that the federal system of government is best suited for the country. The point at issue is what type of federation - “centralized,” “loose,” “true” which do we actually want? Sectional, regional, religious and other divisive leaders tend, at one time or another” to agitate for the adoption, of a type of federation that they consider would serve their interests as ethnic or sectional champions. They deceive their people by accusing other sections of perpetrating “crimes” of domination, marginalization, oppression, repression, etc against them. Such issues are emotive, sentimental and irrational and are likely to drag the country into disaster.
The choice before the country is - should we opt for unitarism, federalism, confederalism or separatism as the system of government best suited for the majority of the people? Federation with strong or weak central government viz-a-viz federating units (states) seems to be the best choice as the history of the country’s constitutional developments from 1914 to date amply testifies. In the matter of constitutional arrangements requiring settlement between diverse peoples, there should be no compulsion. Any section, region or ethnic group that wishes to opt out should be allowed to do so, provided that its action does not adversely affect areas contiguous to it.