Whither Nige­ria: Uni­tarism, Fed­er­al­ism, Con­fed­er­al­ism or Sep­a­ratism?

Sunday Trust - - PERSPECTIVE - Odumegwu Emeka Ojukwu Culled from the book Whither Nige­ria: Uni­tarism, Fed­er­al­ism, Con­fed­er­al­ism Or Sep­a­ratism? Al­haji Ah­madu Kurfi, OFR (Maradin Katsina)

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.

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