Case for the creation of states on linguistic basis

Chapter Four of Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s press release of 18th August, 1975.




IT would appear that the majority of our leaders and opinion- makers now agree – at any rate they pay eloquent lip-service to the concept – that the ideal Constitution for Nigeria is a Federal Constitution. But not all those who advocate a Federal Constitution for Nigeria know or even care to know the meaning and full implications of Federalism, both in theory and practice.

It is not my intention here to embark on the old but persistent, though not now often articulated, points of controversy on this subject. But there are certain issues of basic principles which must be mentioned here for the benefit of all of us including, especially, the Irikefe Committee on New States, and the Supreme Military Council which, for the time being, is the final arbiter of this vexed problem.

The first point to bear in mind is that a Federal State is a Composite State in which the supreme legislative power or functions are divided between the central authority on the one hand, and the regional (state) authorities on the other, in such a manner as to make the central and state authorities co-ordinate with and independent of one another in the discharge of their respective functions.

In this connection, our present Constitution is, in principle, an ideal Federal Constitution. It sets out a list of subjects which are exclusively reserved for the Central Authority, and leaves all other residual subjects not contained in the Federal list as matters within the exclusive competence of the states.

Under the military dispensation, however, apart from significant increase in the list of exclusive Federal subjects and of matters on the concurrent list, it is difficult to say that, in practice, the central and state authorities in Nigeria are independent of and co-ordinate with one another in the discharge of their respective functions.

Indeed, it appears to me that the system we are now operating is a Unitary Constitution with heavy devolution of functions to the so-called state authorities which are becoming more and more Provincial Authorities, with governors a little higher in administrative status than the French prefects. In the context of Nigeria, this kind of arrangement has very little chance of success under a civilian setting. With politics at its best, it would groan poignantly; and, at its worst, it would suffer nervous breakdown.

The second point to bear in mind is that there are fundamental principles which are deducible from the empirical processes and attendant turmoil of constitution-making all over the world.

I state them in the following terms:

1) If a country is uni-lingual and uni-national, the constitution must be Unitary.

2) If a country is uni-lingual or bi-lingual or multi-lingual, and also consists of communities which, though belonging to the same nation, have, over a period of years, developed some important cultural divergences as well as autonomous geographical and political separateness, the constitution must be Federal, and the constituent states must be organised on the dual basis of language and geographical separateness.

3) If a country is bi-lingual or multi-lingual, the constitution must be Federal, and the constituent states must be organised on a linguistic basis.

4) Any experiment with a Unitary constitution in a bi- lingual or multi-lingual or multi-national country must fail, in the long run.

I vouch for the soundness and universal applicability of these principles. But a good deal of study and investigation is required in applying any of the first three in tackling the constitutional problem of any given country.

I do make the claim that, after a long and sustained study and research, I know Nigeria and its peoples fairly intimately; and the conclusion to which this knowledge leads me is that of the four constitutional principles enunciated above, it is the third one that is applicable to Nigeria.

I believe we all know and agree, for instance, that the lbo, Hausa, Yoruba, Edo or Kanuri is a uni-lingual group with many dialects. If this is so, then each of these linguistic groups should be constituted into one state; unless, of course, it can be objectively established that, over the years, the Yoruba or Ibo or any of them has developed IMPORTANT CULTURAL DIVERGENCES AS WELL AS AUTONOMOUS POLITICAL AND GEOGRAPHICAL SEPARATENESS. In other words, if these divergences and separateness do in fact exist among any linguistic group, then a good case will have been made out for the breaking up of such linguistic group along THE ASCERTAINED LINES OF CULTURAL DIVERGENCES AND AUTONOMOUS POLITICAL AND GEOGRAPHICAL SEPARATENESS.

I have never claimed and do not now claim anything more than scientific validity for the linguistic principle applied to the creation of states. The principle has tremendous merits: it enjoys empirical vindication and approval (Vide the USSR, Switzerland, India, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia where the principle has been applied; and Spain, the United Kingdom, and Belgium where failure to apply the principle has led to much violence and turmoil); it is certain in its application and predictable in its results; it alone is capable of eliminating agitation for the creation of a new state on purely subjective and rationalised personal grounds; and above all, it makes for permanency in the number as well as in the boundaries of states in any given country.