Interrogating Falana’s Ekiti State University Convocation Lecture – 4

WE continue with Femi Falana’s Ekiti State University Convocation Lecture: “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 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 the 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. (I beg to differ: They had with both!)

“Almost two decades later, while in Calabar prison, Awolowo wrote other books – The People’s Republic and The Strategy & 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 frontiers 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, then, that, 32 years after the publication of “Path to Nigerian Freedom”, Awolowo sought to be Nigeria’s 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.

“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, made to the radical views of the two historians who were members – Bala Usman and Segun Osoba. It is the chapter entitled the “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 that 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 11. 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 and foreign loans in the 1980s. The Political Bureau of 1986 recommended the adoption of the socialist system as the best way to fulfill 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.

“Politics of Restructuring: At a recent memorial public lecture held in Kaduna in honour of the late Ahmadu Bello, Dr. Kayode Fayemi stated that “In essence, our desire to build a more perfect union should be anchored on the principle of devolution of powers – that is, re-allocation of powers and resources to the country’s federating units. The reasons for this are not far-fetched. First, long years of military rule have produced an over-concentration of powers and resources at the Centre to the detriment of the states. Two, the 1999 Constitution, as has been argued by several observers, was hurriedly put together by the departing military authority and was not a product of sufficient inclusiveness…” Fayemi concluded by calling for an equitable revenue allocation formula that will speak to the federalism Nigeria has adopted and give more resources to states and local governments, which bear more responsibilities than the federal government. In his view, a review of the sharing formula to 43 per cent for states, 35 per cent to the federal and 23 per cent to the local governments will go a long way to devolve more responsibilities to constituent units and reduce the concentration of powers at the Centre. In his contribution at the lecture, (Kaduna state’s) Gov. Nasir El-Rufai stated that restructuring “will empower State Governments to cease passing the buck to the President and the Federal Government when most of the problems our citizens face daily as a nation are, and can be solved by improved and focused governance at the states’ levels…”

Now, my comments: With the benefit of hindsight, one area where today’s Yoruba nationalists wished that Awo had toed a different line is on the Yoruba entering Nigeria under the unfavourable conditions of 1960. The Yoruba should NEVER have accepted Independence on such unequal terms. And when the Biafra opportunity presented itself, the Yoruba should have seceded rather than join hands with the North to “keep Nigeria one” Awo, of course, thought he would gain power or that like-minds would gain power, and then use the pedestal to correct the ills of the Nigerian federation skewed against not just the Yoruba but the entire South. He tried his best but circumstances beyond his control frustrated him at every turn; he went to prison and had elections rigged against him again and again. But there are those who felt it was Awo’s “morbid ambition” to be president of Nigeria that led him into compromising rather than standing firm on the necessity for true federalism before Independence. It is for history and posterity to judge!

But I doubt if Awo ever abandoned his apt description of Nigeria as “mere geographical expression” or if the country has risen above that expression. Sixty years after independence and 75 after the “Path to Nigerian Freedom”, Nigeria is not more united today than it was then. In fact, we are more “mere geographical expression” today than we were in 1960. That anyone champions “tribal irredentism” does not make them any less nationalist; what differs is the approach. The top-bottom/larger-state approach to development/nationalism has failed; bottom-top/smaller-state approach is a more fruitful option.

Why Falana glosses over or tepidly steps around the historic and historical injustice meted out to the Yoruba at every turn surprises me. Why he fails to understand or admit that it is this injustice which, rather than abate but gets accentuated, that is at the root of the burgeoning Yoruba self-determination push of the moment. Many who once rooted for Nigeria now proudly fly the flag of Oodua nation! True federalism or the splintering up of big-for-nothing, wobbling, fumbling and non-performing African nations like Nigeria is not necessarily antithetical or injurious to having an African perspective or ideological bent towards Africa’s emancipation – even unity! In fact, smaller, better run and greatly performing units emanating from larger entities like Nigeria holding everyone down is to be preferred.

Falana is enamoured of constitutional amendments; that is understandable (he is a SAN) but it has led us nowhere and may never do! What is the value of Chapter 11 of the 1999 Constitution if it cannot be enforced? It is mere decoration and cold comfort; of no use other than mere academic jingoism and legalistic summersault by legal juggernauts in law courts. The Nigerian ruling class will NEVER make that chapter enforceable – NEVER – otherwise, they commit class suicide!

Falana said “political parties are expected to include the elements (of chapter 11) in their programmes”! Which political parties, the present ones or the ones to come? Or those that have restructuring in their party manifesto, which campaigned on restructuring but denied it after winning election?

The likes of Fayemi and el-Rufai are beneficiaries of the stunted system in operation; so, their propositions are skewed in favour of the system. They are part of the problem and not of the solution. States as presently constituted are not federating units but beggarly “begging bowls” and unsustainable units created by military fiat acting as drain pipes on resources better channeled into development projects. States (and, if you care to know, local governments!) have helped to make the cost of governance prohibitive without bringing the expected and commensurate development nearer the people, value for money.

Falana rightly spoke of the fiscal and monetary policies required to create wealth but these cannot be put in place by those who hold the advantage in the present unfair, unequal, and unjust system. Like Falana also aptly opined, the subordinate ruling class in the South are “curiously” satisfied with the crumbs from the master’s table. To again quote Falana, this combination “has continued to undermine the national economy” causing untold grief and unprecedented penury to the vast majority of our people. Should such system be maintained or must we act speedily to destroy it?

TO BE CONTINUED!

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