I congratulate every Nigerian on the start of a new year. Without a doubt, the past year was full of challenges, some of which could not really be regarded as new in the Nigerian context. Yet, Nigerians have continued to soldier on with fading optimism for the future. In spite of the differences in tribal, religious or political leanings, we all agree that we have just this one country and, therefore, we must ensure that it attains the dreams of its founding fathers. Though tongues may differ and perspectives may not always align, most, if not all Nigerians, believe that it is still possible for the country to become the political and economic heavyweight nation it was projected to be at independence.
We must always remember that prior to 1884 (Just 134 years ago), there was no Nigeria. It was at the Berlin Conference of that year that a large area of land measuring 356,669 square miles, which is bigger than England and Germany, was put together as a country. It was an artificial creation done by Europeans without the consent or knowledge or approval of about 370 ethnic groups inhabiting the area. The inhabitants which include Yorubas, Fulani, Hausas, Igbos etc were merged together as one country. The major objective in bringing them together by Europeans was to allow for a more viable commercial enterprise and not because of any need to build a nation. This arrangement was bound to bring and indeed had brought problems of integration and evolution of a true national identity.
In 1948, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, who later became the Prime Minister during the First Republic stated as follows: “Since 1914 the British Government has been trying to make Nigeria into one country, but the Nigerian people themselves are historically different in their backgrounds, in their religious beliefs and customs and do not show themselves any sign of willingness to unite…” In 1960, after about 10 years of deliberation at Lancaster House in London, Nigerian leaders, including Zik, Sardauna and Awolowo agreed on a loose Federal constitution which would permit the different nations to develop at their own rate. In fashioning the independence Constitution, they were very much aware of the diversity of the ethnicities that make up the country. They recognised the strengths and weaknesses of the regions. Yet amidst all these they saw diversity not as disadvantage but more as a blessing to the new nations. The notion of unity in diversity was born. The national anthem itself took note of the diversity, part of which reads: “Though tribe and tongue may differ, in brotherhood we stand.”
I believe that most Nigerians are interested in a democratic government that can turn the country into nation properly so called. To make this a reality, there is a need for the concerted effort of all, the governors and the governed alike, in addressing many of the factors which are holding us back as a nation. One such factor, which I have identified time and time again, is the huge cost of running our present political structure. I have questioned whether we can afford the current set-up of 36 states, the majority of which rely only on allocation from the federal purse to survive? Why do we appear so comfortable with a system in which the executive and legislative set-up at the federal level is replicated across all the 36 states with a retinue of commissioners, special assistants, assistant special assistants, aides, etc? I have questioned whether we need two tiers of the National Assembly, when a huge percentage of the annual budget goes to the maintenance of the national legislature thereby depriving other crucial areas such as education, health and transportation of much needed funding.
Can we not borrow a leaf from Senegal which recognised the wastage inherent in the two-tier legislative system and abolished it? Is it not possible to have legislators serve on part-time basis rather than full time? These and many more are issues which call for urgent attention and which must be addressed by means of a National Conference with a mandate to explore means of restructuring the country.
Our so-called federal constitution which, de facto, is Military Constitution, is the greatest problem of Nigeria which is a country of nations. The operation of the constitution is too expensive with its attendant over-concentration of power at the centre, thereby rendering the States and the Local Governments totally impotent unlike what obtained under the Parliamentary Constitutions of 1960 and 1963. Any person who is in doubt about the appropriateness and efficacy of 1950, 1960, 1963 constitutions and the advantages of the Parliamentary System of Government over the Presidential System of Government should consult history books on the rapid political and economic development that took place in each region between 1950 and 1966. The facts are there and they speak for themselves.
I am convinced beyond all doubt that the only change that can change the country for the better and pave way for the evolution of one nation is the change that changes the structure of Nigeria. It is that change that will make politics less attractive, make each state to develop at its own pace and do away with all shades and shapes of criminality. It is that change that would enable the component parts of the country to develop their resources, provide employment, eradicate poverty and all shades of criminal activities and make individuals to become true Nigerians. It is that change that would enable each state to control its population, set internationally-acceptable standard for admission to tertiary institutions and bring back the glory of quality education from our universities. That change is the restructuring of the country. It is that change that would curb overconcentration of power in the centre and reduce corruption, promote harmony and unity and make the country metamorphose into a nation. Those who are campaigning for votes in the February 2019 election should make restructuring of the country the pith and core of their campaign. Seek the immediate restructuring of the country first and other things will fall in place. Thank you.
- Aare Babalola (OFR, CON, SAN) is the founder of Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti