When is a nation? Exploring the socio-political crises in post-independence Nigeria (1)

The presence of our great alumni as leaders, in all walks of life, is an index of the fulfilment of the dream. Celebrating 60 years of existence of this great institution is historic just as the exigencies culminating in its establishment as a truly indigenous university with all the trappings of originality. The evolution of the Great Ife from the temporary site in Ibadan to the present location speaks of determined resilience to succeed. The achievement of uncommon serenity and aesthetics, which transformed this haven of intellection to the most beautiful campus on the African continent, points the path of redemption to Nigeria.

It should, therefore, not surprise anyone that the contributions of this university have been phenomenal. The success story, that is Ife, supports the theory on the possibility of achieving greatness with collectivization of aspirations towards an objective. From conception to actualisation, the Ife Vision inspires across the country and beyond. It offers abiding lessons for those who wish to learn about the possibility of achieving greatness through sheer determination in the pursuit of excellence for ultimate happiness.

The massive investment in the education sector, by major stakeholders, underscores the level of seriousness, which propels decision-making, and the unrelenting quest to actualize the lofty objectives, for which these citadels of learning were established in the country. To realise these goals, genuine scholars must interrogate, continually, the workings of social institutions. The focus of research must be to proffer practicable solutions to socio-economic cum political problems. They must apply the principles of empiricism rigorously. No human problem defies solution. Science must take the lead in guiding any society to discovery.

The people of Nigeria must be apprised of the reasons for the pervasive cynicism and disaffection in the land. The phenomenal increase in the number of universities and other higher institutions of learning on one hand, and the embarrassing state of affairs in all facets of life, on the other, raises serious queries on the quality of instructions emanating from these places. The huge gap in infrastructural development indicts the academia and the government. The seeming lack of understanding of the basic principles guiding governance creates doubts as regards the competence of those whose job it is to show the way.

The dynamism inherent in human condition will not permit us to be lethargic. We must confront all challenges with unrelenting zest until solutions appear in the horizon. We must justify the categorization of our class as thinking beings. We must cast aside unprofitable superstitions in appreciating natural phenomena. Our pontifications must be to advance the course of development in our space. We must be availed of the knowledge to interact with our environment with a view to deriving maximum benefits accruable therefrom.

Our citadels of learning must justify their existence. Gigantic buildings do not make a university. The major pre-occupation of any institution of learning should be the constant interrogation of issues of existence in the pursuit of happiness. Factors militating against the actualisation of this lofty objective must be identified with a view to proffering solutions in real terms. Universities are established, primarily, to sustain disquisition into the nature of phenomena, strange and often limiting, stretching the capacity of the inhabitants of any given society. Institutions, which fail to connect with the current realities, in their immediate environments, betray the charters upon which their establishment rest. I thank the university management for providing this platform, which affords citizens and foreigners alike, the opportunity to ventilate views, not only on the immediate challenges of nation-building, currently experienced in the polity, a situation which forebodes untoward occurrences, carried in the womb of time, but to also compare the seemingly deplorable experiences here with happenings in the global arena.

It should be expected that the interaction with major players in the socio-political activities in the town should form an important part of convocation ceremonies of universities. Symbiosis, a synergy which should exist, ordinarily, between the town and gown, compels this moment. Any disconnect between the two, normally, marks the beginning of dysfunctionality in the structures upon which any modern society is built.

I suspect, very strongly, that my choice is anchored, not only on holding an important political office, which providence ensures that I occupy at the moment. It is also most probable that this invitation seems auspicious due to the perceived roles played, at crucial moments, in the course of our determination to serve the people in the best and most effective way possible. References to our modest interventions in the socio-political affairs of the country in recent times are pointers to the challenges faced by a transitional society such as Nigeria. The journey to modernity has been bumpy. We must address fundamental issues bordering on the current configurations in the polity.

We have never been under any illusion, even before we mounted the saddle to serve, that the task of nation-building, in a vastly diverse geo-political space, will require continuous, consistent and sincere engagements at all levels. Quick-fix mentality must be avoided to achieve amity, through deliberative governance, in a political arrangement with deepened heterogeneity. The attempts to always adopt approaches, largely cosmetic, will never achieve any meaningful and useful purpose. We must go to the roots of the noticeable dysfunction with a view to finding lasting solutions to the perennial problems bedeviling the country. We hope to proffer solutions which, in our reasoned view, should act as a guide to the redemptive pathway leading to peace and prosperity.

Great Ife, I have come back home to join other illustrious and proud alumni and alumnae to ruminate on the current challenges in the country. We must present it as based on knowledge and conviction. We assert, boldly, that Nigeria can fare much better than it is the case at present. The fault is definitely not in our stars but in ourselves that we remain perpetual underlings. All thinking people must raise their voices atall the challenges militating against the development of the country.

The Nigerian State presents her own peculiarities even as she grapples with her own share of the current global socio-economic crises. This multi-cultural and multi-religious country is at war on many fronts at present. These problems are not decreed by some divine malevolence. Every developed and peaceful society presents a case study in organization, policy consistency and, most importantly, collectivization of aspirations towards achieving set objectives in the pursuit of happiness.

The ultimate goal of every human settlement should be the attainment of peace, through security, and prosperity, through production of goods and services. Above all, all aspirations towards development must be hinged on cultural practices which support ethical probity and affirm life without reservations. No nation survives on hand-outs from other climes. The thriving countries are those which have resolved or are in the process of resolving the fundamental problems of nationhood. China, India, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and South Africa are examples of former dependencies which are not only free indeed but have joined major players in the global economy. Their cultures form the substrata for development.

Countries exist as  geographical entities with attendant socio-legal consequences. There also exist proper delineations defining boundaries and scopes of influence and obligations among the comity of nations. Countries, therefore, owe their existence to legitimacy arising from recognition by their own peoples who freely choose to live together, and affirm by international statutes at regional, continental and global levels. There are, however, several socio-economic hurdles to be crossed before the attainment of nationhood. There are, certainly, conditions precedent.

Nations come into being as a result of agreements among social groups. The commonalty of the human essence allows aggregations towards a defined objective. Cultural affinities ensure cooperation and collaboration between and among the social groups. The evolution of modern societies followed this linear trajectory, even on the African Continent, before the advent of foreigners, whose incursions into the socio-political spaces altered not only the structure but also, and deplorably, the natural courses of evolution truncated through forceful take-over of these societies by them. Almost all traditional societies enjoyed the advantages offered by the fact of homogeneity and affinity. Identities were constructed along ethnic lines. The reality of multi-ethnic conglomeration was witnessed when certain powerful and dominant groups pursued expansionist policies, with vigour, conquering and annexing vast lands occupied by peoples of diverse backgrounds, experiences and capabilities into a centralised political arrangement.

Ethical principles remained largely unaffected by the attendant political reality. These principles, which formed the basis of existence in traditional societies,  ensured steady development in modest terms. Progress was assured and since development is measured in terms of how any given people interacts with its natural environment, exacting energy to explore and exploit to derive benefits from nature’s gifts, most of these autonomous communities, villages, towns and empires couldan be regarded as developed. The permeating influences of acculturation, enculturation and possible assimilation are a strong factor in constructing identities. Contacts, established through trade, engendering bilateral and multilateral relations, conquests, subsuming erstwhile autonomous communities into a floundering heterogenous amalgam, often yield the centrifugal seeds, planted on a fertile soil of politics. This socio-political reality gives provenance to later agitations for the reconstruction of identities and reliance and reclaim of ethnic peculiarities as symbols of mobilisation.

Assimilation bears the insidious trappings of subjugation, anonymity and complete deracination. An ethnic formation finds itself in a quandary engaging the forces powerful enough to dilute and sometimes obliterate its very identity. Its very essence equates artificiality and subservience, its aspirations simple. Its plans and the execution of same bear the unmistakable imprints of immediacy, eclectic and uncoordinated.

Mobilising for agreed agenda poses very challenging possibilities as individuality is reinforced through governmental policies. The very logic of colonialism finds currency in subjugation and deracination. Cohabitation and cooperation on account of tribe or ethnicity is discouraged actively. All activities must be subjected to the prism of the colonial socio-legal principles for acceptance. All tribes, social groups, ethnic formations lose identities by official proclamations. They become subjects of the conquering forces, suddenly. They are to become citizens through the same process later. This happened after the so called political independence granted the former colonies without addressing the basic challenge of anonymity imposed by external domination. The new groupings, left intact for political expediency by emerging local leadership, who joined the colonialists to legitimize the subversion of their natural courses of evolution, pretended to represent the original groups. Propriety, as envisioned in the principles of equity and justice, espoused by the foreign rulers, became the new moral yardstick.

Social mobility started to be determined in terms of how best a person was able to imbibe foreign habits and attitudes. A “civilised” person was he/she who denigrated his/her own value-system as substandard, sub human and/or uncivilised. There commenced a creeping attitude of total denigration of the entire socio-economic value-system. Dependence is the result of conscious subversion. An attitude of uncritical embrace of an alien system will, inexorably, lead to subservience of the most pathetic hue.

Loss of identity is too big a price to pay for the new social order. Any society which suffers such misfortune can only develop to the extent to which the logic of domination and dependence permits. The various peoples of the new socio-political order struggle with issues of basic existence. This experience always brings with it a state of mental disorder. A group of persons starts to see the lifestyle of the conquering invaders as the best. This group’s ultimate ambition in life will be to be like the oppressors. Anything which reminds it of the past must be jettisoned.

While a local tyrant struggles to ape the lifestyle which, supposedly, marks him out as sophisticated and, therefore, entitled to lead and receive the same level of obeisance from the downtrodden, the people are left confused as they have suddenly become dependent on the system for basic survival. The so called rural-urban drift was carefully planned and executed for maximum exploitation. Those who had been engaged, gainfully, became despondent and disoriented with the new arrangement which ensured that only those who understood the way of the exploiters were accommodated.

Basic capacity to confront new challenges had disappeared. The erstwhile major contributors to the local economy had been reduced to redundant simpletons as menial jobbers. The rout was complete and almost irreversible. The foundation for a productive modern economy had been destroyed as all the former autonomous communities, corralled into colonial administration, were now dependencies with the grand delusion of a prosperous future hinged on hope. Young men and women, able-bodied, erstwhile professionals in a traditional setting, willing but confused on the best way possible to fight off an almost worthless existence, got trapped in the so-called urban centres.

“In this new arrangement, those whose contributions to real development could not be measured beyond the newly acquired esoteric tastes, showcased in the dexterous use of the language of the colonizer and specious affectation of urbanity, expressed through condescending treatment of their own people, are the new leaders. They arrogated to themselves the right to decide the best course for the people. Personal disagreements, engendered by greed and a predilection towards dominating others, became communal feuds.

 

RANDOM MUSINGS ON AFRICA

That is the sad colonial experience of most African neo-colonial states. None was designed to survive the period of exploitation. Every state owed its existence to the divisive politics deviously introduced to sustain colonial hegemony. The postcolonial states are artificial creations. Delineations and maps do not explain identities. These are mere administrative constructs for maximum expropriation. The mirage of infrastructural development during the colonial period was to reinforce this design, in the main. This was the structure bequeathed to the African peoples upon the departures of colonial powers.

Post-colonial states which labour under the delusion of the dubious assimilation policy, purporting to turn Africans into Europeans, soon discovered the falsity of the tenuous ground upon which their claim stood. Those who rejected the poisoned chalice of assimilation were punished. The colonial authorities simply disabled the machinery, upon which modern states rest, and adopted hostile and undisguised policies of reprimand.

The experience of the current Republic of Congo, formerly under Belgium, is instructive here. The war is unending. The other neo-colonial entities, which pretend to be satellite countries of France, are worse off. Acute deprivation has been their lot due to expropriation of their commonwealth by the colonisers. Any leader who may wish to change this sordid narrative will be given the Thomas Sankara treatment. Even the former British colonies are not in any way better than their counterparts.

The story is the same from Nigeria to Ghana through Kenya, with slight variations. The Southern African countries present peculiar scenarios. The former colonial powers were not in a hurry to depart. They harboured pretensions to “settle”, permanently. The direct consequence of this decision is the perpetuation of domination in all spheres of life. They simply grabbed the large swathes of arable land and confine the owners to a servile existence in the remaining parts. They controlled the commanding heights of the economy and ensured that the prevailing situation during the period of occupation remained fundamentally the same.

From South Africa to Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana and Angola, the struggles to evolve nations from the geo-political entities created by the invading forces appear perennial. The peoples of these countries are yet to come to accept one another as brothers, let alone start to reap bountiful dividends from vast endowments. Republic of Congo is at war permanently. South Sudan now appreciates the fact the struggle towards prosperity must begin with the attainment of harmonious relationship among the ethnic groups which make the new country. Ethiopia was never colonized. However, the internal contradictions in that socio-political environment threw up Eritrea whose people crave autonomy to direct their own affairs.

The continent, Africa, has suffered immeasurably in the hands of many invading marauders. The negative impact of the incursion and violent truncation of the natural courses of evolution of many tribal/ethnic formations appears irreversible. The reverberating effects of these invasions have been devastating. While it is true that there had been inter-tribal wars between and among the various groups before the scramble for and partition of Africa, the advent of invading forces was disruptive on a massive scale.

Many African states are still not independent in reality. The nominal independence granted many stopped at the parade grounds. The over bearing influence of the former colonial lords on major policy direction of most states presents a precarious situation. The aspiration for real development will continue to be a mirage until and unless African states reassess the current configurations with a view to encouraging truly autonomous states to adopt policies and programmes designed for full emancipation of their peoples. The major problem of diversity will become an advantage if properly harnessed.

 

THE NIGERIAN EXPERIENCE

The history of Nigeria is archetypal; the country occupies a very unique position on the Continent. There was no entity known as Nigeria until 1914 when it became a political and legal fact. Prior to this period, the erstwhile autonomous communities, towns and empires had their separate identities and acted as different. A town was either a vassal outpost of a bigger amalgam or the headquarters of a dominating people before the British Government corralled them into political units under the Crown.

The Order-in-Council of 1899 which came into force on 1, January, 1900, brought the towns and communities in the North together under the Southern Protectorate. This was for administrative expediency of the British colonial administration. The Colony of Lagos was administered was administered separately until it was merged with the Southern Protectorate in 1906.

The Northern Protectorate came in existence through Order-in-Council of 1899 which became operative on 1, January, 1900. The two Protectorates were administered as separate political entities under the British Government. The two Protectorates and the Colony of Lagos were merged to become one political entity under the authority of the British Crown in 1914.

Lord Fredrick Lugard was appointed the Governor General over the new country. All these arrangements were undertaken without any input from the peoples over whom the law would be applied. Nobody was consulted on the desirability, or otherwise, of foisting a strange and monolithic mode of governance on peoples of diverse backgrounds. What mattered to the new Lords was the attainment of peace among the locals to allow maximum expropriation of the conquered territories.

This political structure was sustained until independence in 1960 and beyond. All the adventures in constitutional administration of the colonial territory failed to take into account the peculiarities of the peoples who had been forced to live together under one central administration for the first time. The issue of divergence was of no moment to the British Government. It only took notice with regard to how to extort obedience maximally. Thus from the 1922 Clifford’s Constitution, to Richard’s in 1946, through Macpherson’s and Lyttleton’s in 1951 and 1954 respectively, to the so called independence Constitution of 1960, those who became Nigerians by colonial fiat were not only ruled by foreigners and their laws, they were afforded the opportunity to bring to the fore a truly organic document which encapsulates the yearnings and aspirations towards development of more 250 ethnic nationalities.

The 1963 “Republican Constitution”, adjudged the best legal instrument so far in the constitutional history of the country, was also an attempt by the ruling elites to perpetuate alienation. The ethnic nationalities of Nigeria had no serious input in the making of the Constitution. Their leaders purported to do on their behalf what they must partake in to claim ownership. The prevailing confusion led to the fall of the First Republic barely six years after the political independence.

It is important that the political activities which occurred between 1940 and 1960 be put in proper perspectives. A painstaking analysis of events, culminating in the establishment of Regional Governments before independence, will reveal an emerging pattern leading to increasing allegiances to ethnic cleavages. There were some specious claims to patriotism to a largely distant entity known as Nigeria. The various peoples of the nascent country were just getting used to an amorphous amalgam beginning from the nominal independence when the military struck in 1966.

Political leaders had emerged in all the regions of the country. The task of mobilizing the people against colonial rule was relatively easy. There seemed to be a common foe against whom they must unite. And united they did against colonial rule. But the fundamental issue, bordering on self-determination of the ethnic nationalities which felt marginalized had emerged. Political agitations for representation took on ethnic colouration as should be expected in a situation where the groups which were brought together under a pseudo-national umbrella had hardly taken time to understand one another. Suspicion engendered competition among the major ethnic groups. The emerging country benefitted immensely from the politics of that era.

The early nationalists appeared to have concentrated more on participating in the political affairs of the country as they felt excluded. They were among the new elites which comprised educated Nigerians and some returnees from Sierra Leone who settled in Lagos. Educated Nigerians who had gone to study in Europe and America had returned. They also wanted to be included in the scheme of political events. Though unelected, they imagined themselves as being among the new leaders who represented the people. The major failing of this group was their inability to connect with the grassroots. Their message received limited reception by the people.

It was this disconnect that the most outstanding politicians who came after the likes of H.O Davies, Adeyemo Alakija, Herbert Macaulay and others tried to bridge. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello, Tafawa Balewa, Ladoke Akintola, Samuel Okpara, Ernest Okoli and others came with a more vibrant message of redemption. Politicking became intense and the political gladiators returned to base to mobilise their various peoples. It had become apparent that the colonial political structure could not engender peace and economic prosperity. Something had to give and the new politicians were ready to the challenge.

The formation of Egbe Omo Oduduwa in the early forties set in motion a chain of events which chroniclers of the history of the country cannot miss. Chief Obafemi Awolowo had admonished Nigeria on the need to erect an abiding structure on a true federal structure. He had referred to Nigeria as a “mere geographical expression” as constituted. He had asked that while nobody could deny that the three major ethnic groups their position of eminence, he wanted minority rights respected. He opined that there could be no economic prosperity unless the people themselves were invited as practical partners in the Nigerian project. There could be no country without the people. Thus, he started the mobilization of the people of the South West for the struggle ahead.

This socio-cultural organization, Afeniferere, became a vehicle through which most of the Yoruba people ventilated their views on the imposed political structure. The political party, Action Group, was the unofficial party of the Region even when other political parties existed. Competition was intense and passionate among the prominent political groups. The logical consequence of this awakening was the phenomenal developmental strides undertaken by the three Regions between 1951 and 1960.

The adoption of the 1963 Republican Constitution was a bold step taken to reposition the nascent country to reflect the collective aspirations of the people. Aside from the decision to remove the Queen as the Head of State and the Privy Court in England as the final court in the land, a new Region, Mid Western, was carved out of the Western Region. Not a few believed the decision was arrived at for political expediency. Nevertheless, the action was salutary. All other constitutions, prior to this one, were imposed. The inputs of the indigenous peoples of the country were at best minimal. This was the first autochthonous document adopted as the grundnorm by the representatives of the people.

All the three Regions before independence were on the course to greatness. The monumental successes recorded by all of these regions were possible because the people were easily mobilized for economic activities based on the regional arrangement. It was easy for them to own the processes of development at that level than to cling to a distant political behemoth with all her alienating propensities. If development is indeed about the people, all the Regions were already showcasing ingenuities in their approach to governance.

This ground upon which we stand to observe this solemn graduation ceremony attests to the focus and sagacity of the First Republic politicians, with all their perceived failings. This was the period when farmers were indeed kings through government policies. This was the time when the government provided Agric. Extension services to farmers. This was an epoch when these Regions rivalled many European countries in development and many countries in the Middle East were plain deserts.

This was a period when parents in the Western Region were free to choose between sending their children to school and going to jail. Primary education was not only free. It was compulsory. Any parents who kept their children at home, when they should be in school, got sanctioned severely. Adult citizens participated in the economic activities. They paid taxes and the recalcitrant were sent to jail. Primary education was free and compulsory but parents were made to fulfill their obligations as citizens.

No Region depended on the Federal Government for survival. The principles of federalism were adhered to strictly by the politicians. The Regions had their Constitutions and their Parliaments. They had their judiciaries. The attempts to tinkle with the constitution led to the disrupted the march to real constitutional democracy predicated on genuine principles of federalism. The suspension of the 1963 Constitution and the promulgation of the Decree 34 of 1966 marked the beginning of the decline of the evolving nation and the suspension of the transition from an amalgam of nationalities forming a country to a nation.

 

THE MILITARY INTERREGNUM           

The military coup of 1966 created a crisis of confidence among the people of the country. The level of understanding among all the ethnic nationalities, especially the major ones, was appreciable despite the problems. It is correct to hold that politicians were reckless but the coup was a major setback in our quest for nationhood.

The abolition of Regional Governments and promulgation of Decree 34, 1966 which introduced a unitary system of government marked the beginning of the perennial crises in the country. The whimsical creation of the so called 12 States out of the existing structure further alienated the people from the political process. Unlike the Regions, the new states emerged through military fiat in a manner reminiscent of the colonial era. The introduction of a unitary system of government in a country as vast and diverse as Nigeria is a precursor to the socio-economic crises bedeviling the country.

While self-reliance was the major plank upon which the aspirations of the Regions were based, the deplorable state of affairs now is the debate on sharing formula of revenue not generated. The oil boom of the early 70s completed the lull into a state of unpardonable complacency. States stopped being components units indeed. No state was/is known for any serious economic activities ever since. The military compounded the already bad situation with yet another round of state creation. 7 more states were carved out of the existing 12 to have 19.

This oddity was extended to the so called local governments which were created by the military to the exclusion of the States. The departing administration also ensured that the names of these contraptions were enshrined in the 1979 Constitution. The Local Governments should be the closest to the people in the hierarchy of administration. The current structure makes it so distant and disconnected. Even some functionaries of the Federal Government make pronouncement on the operations of this tier of government and the unthinking applaud for agitating for non-existent autonomy.

The return to civil rule was brief. It took just four years for the military to return for another 15 years. The structure of governance remained unaltered in a fundamental way other than the replacement of the parliamentary system with presidential. The legislature became bicameral as against the unicameral system practised in the First Republic. There was the semblance of seriousness in the adoption of the federal system of government. A close scrutiny of the features, however, reveals the aberration that has been the Nigerian variant.

The military was forced to quit in 1999. The Fourth Republic is 22 years now. It is the longest reign by the politicians since independence in 1960. The regret, however, is the benumbing impression of pervasive degeneracy. The pretensions to some political rectitude with regard to the warped federalism foisted on the polity are no longer sustainable. The country groans under a heavy burden imposed by the inability of the political leaders to come to terms with the near-impossibility of sustaining the current structure.

Ours is about the only federation which has reduced the components units to mere outposts manned by appointed/elected prefects. Nigeria is the interesting ambience of confusion wherein strange elements stroll into a State with a mere paper announcing the take-over of a whole community for mining without recourse to the Governor or any local authorities. This is a place where the Federal Government seems more interested in granting “autonomy” to the Local Governments than concern itself with issues bordering on resource control.

Our universities should undertake studies on the viability of a federal system with a police command structure in a country of over 200 million people. How effective will the security architecture of a federal system with a highly centralized command be? What manner of intelligence gathering exists in a political structure where the primary users of credible intelligence must wait for further directives by separate authorities? Who indeed is the Chief Security Officer in the State?

The over centralisation of authority at the centre is at the root of the current crises in the country. No serious foundation for development can be laid on the fertile ground of mutual suspicion by the ethnic nationalities which form the country. No amount of coercion can pacify agitations for equity and justice in a country where the basic law militates against development such as the aberrant document known as 1999 Constitution. Nigeria must return to the path of rectitude where all ethnic nationalities are given enough space to soar as far as their ingenuity can take.

 

WHAT IS A NATION?

A nation is generally defined as a large group of people who share commonalty of descent, history, culture and/or language living in a geographical space.  It can either be a territory within a country or the whole space. The word natio in Latin refers to a tribe or group of people with shared attributes as stated above. It is natural that the people who are categorized as such will find it much easier relating with one another. It is usually the norm that there are more than one nation in a country.

Most countries are heterogenous. They have several ethnic nationalities coming together to form one political entity. It is very rare to find a modern country devoid of the attribute of diversity. Some are, however, lucky. Homogeneity is a major factor aiding peace and progress. Others too have diversity as a source of strength if the gains are harnessed properly. There are a few countries of the world which have garnered the advantages accruable from the fact of diversity.

India and South Africa present unique examples on how multi-culturalism can be a veritable advantage. India, with a population of over a billion, has not allowed any distractions arising from this fact. The Hindu are almost 1.094 billion, about 78.9%. The Muslims are about 200 million. Others are the minorities. India has more than two thousand ethnic groups. Every major religion is represented. India relies on her cultural background for advancement. The culture of resistance was used during the colonial struggle.

The country reclaimed her identity from the attempt at wiping off her cultural practices for imposed foreign values. She rejected all influences which readily predisposed the country to corruption and indolence. The leadership mobilized the people to produce or perish. They chose to live. India is a nuclear power today. India does not need foreign aids to feed her population. Indians think about India in resolving the internal contradictions which the dynamism inherent in human conditions continues to teach.

South Africa has five major racial groups. These are Black South Africans (76.4%), White South Africans (9.1%), Coloured South Africans (8.9%), India South Africans (2.5%) and others (0.5%). The South African experience is still fresh. The Black majority were confined into a slavish existence. The Apartheid system drew widespread condemnation from genuine lovers of freedom and pretenders.

The country is redefining herself within the context of multi-culturalism. She is an evolving nation aptly described as a rainbow nation. The challenges are still enormous. Economic power still resides comfortably with the minority settlers. But never again will the majority owners of the land be turned to serfs in their land while the minority lord it over them. The Southern peoples are turning adversity to advantage. The transition from a multi-ethnic country to a nation has begun in earnest.

 

THE NIGERIAN CONUNDRUM

Nigeria has over 250 ethnic groups but there are a few dominant ones. There are the Hausa, Fulani, Yoruba, Igbo, Ijaw, Kanuri, Tiv, Idoma and Ibibio. She has over five hundred languages but English is the official language, even after 61 years since the British left. Nigeria cannot be said to have evolved a national culture after her colonial experience. The confusion in the land is palpable. The country is underdeveloped because of the current structure. Insecurity has become an endemic issue. Some may be quick to refer to happenings on the global scene. Any dispassionate analyst can adduce some reasons readily as being responsible for the current crises.

The very fact of our diversity appears to be an albatross. From the point of amalgamation to independence, the country had moved somewhat steadily before the military incursion of 1966. The journey to nationhood was halted by that act and subsequent decisions to make the subversion permanent. From 1922 to 1960, the constitutions promulgated were not about the people. The 1963 Constitution, however, was different.

This was the first Constitution that had the input of the representatives of the people. It was indeed homegrown. It improved on the 1960 Constitution. Written in an elegant prose, its provisions set the powers of the component parts and limits of same. The Regions enjoyed greater autonomy to take decisions on matters affecting the people. The 1979 Constitution lacked originality and was not reflective of the aspirations of the people as should be expected in a federal system. The draft Constitution of 1989 was not used for a day. There was no provision of any significance there. It was not used for a day. It became the 1995 draft Constitution which the military planned to use to transmute itself to perpetual rule. It metamorphosed into 1999 Constitution solely drafted by the departing military leadership.

 

THE 1999 CONSTITUTION AND ITS MALCONTENTS           

The 1999 Constitution is an example of a gratuitous insult meted to the people by those trained with the tax payers’ money. There was never a time the so called “people” were consulted before the promulgation of the dubious document into law. No politician, elected or selected, saw the document before the jostle for political offices. The electorate was simply asked to queue and vote for anyone who got the clearance from the military authorities to vote.

The preamble talks of “the people”, dubiously referring to the people of Nigeria who had been taken for a fool’s ride by the military. The sudden demise of the Head of State, General Sani Abacha, led the military leadership with no choice other than to leave hurriedly. All attempts were made to pacify the South West of the country for the perceived injustice done against their son, who won an election but was not only denied the victory, but also incarcerated till he died in custody. Two candidates emerged from the same region as the late M.K.O Abiola, GCFR. One became the President and the rest is history.

This Constitution, written by the military, retained all the names of the so called 774 Local Governments, 36 States and FCT in the country, among other inanities that should not be found in the Constitution. The Chapter 2 contains provisions which are the very reasons justifying the existence of government at all levels. All these provisions are not justiciable. The people of Nigeria could not have sat to decide that no courts in the land could look into issues of governance affecting them negatively.

Perhaps, there would have been less agitations for equity and justice if most of the items on the Exclusive Legislative List, as reinforced by Section 251 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, are moved to the Residual and/or Concurrent List. Items such as education, health care, judiciary, police, prison services and resource control should be Concurrent.

 

The existing State structure is too artificial and unsustainable. The States are almost entirely dependent on hand-outs from the Federal Government. There is no state empowered to take independent decisions for the benefit of its people. Approvals must come from the centre on virtually everything. This Constitution vests all the lands in a State in the State Governor who holds same in trust for the people. The incessant attacks on farmers by criminal herders, who destroy the crops of these long suffering downtrodden members of the society, expose the impotence of State Governors.

Strange elements have been invading states to prospect for mineral resources without recourse to the authorities. Farmlands have been destroyed and the people are constantly exposed to ecological disasters to assuage greed. Unscrupulous elements grant prospecting licenses to people who move into lands with marauders. The security of these States is compromised, heavily.

This Constitution also provides for “Federal Character” for “National Cake Sharing”. There is a Commission which oversees the sharing of offices and other spoils of politics among the major ethnic groups. This manifest injustice is promoted as care for equity. In the same breath, the same document is silent on rotation of offices to complete the tragicomedy. Federal Character is good for as long as it affords certain persons the opportunity to benefit from the sacrifice of merit on the altar of mediocrity.

The current situation ensures that emphasis is on revenue allocation and not generation and suspicion is rife that the observation of this provision is whimsical. Some states are in court to ask the Federal Inland Revenue Services, an agency of the Federal Government to hands off the collection of sales taxes as this duty rests with the states.

The Federal Government, through the Office of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, is asking all States to “remit” Stamp Duty, tax collected on contracts awarded by State Governments, to it. We will ask to be apprised of the justification for this latest onslaught. The Federal Government also wishes to take over “Inland Water ways”, whatever that means. Our fishermen will soon need licences to fish from the Federal Ministry of Water Resources.

On the whole, the 1999 Constitution, as amended, is a document which lies against itself. it cannot be relied upon to administer a country as vast and divergent as Nigeria. It forms a part of the items to be discarded for the country to breathe.

 

WHEN INDEED IS A NATION?

It is pertinent to ask this question from scholars and other experts in this audience. There is a lot of misconception concerning the terms “country” and “nation”. It is important that this clarification is made to allow us appreciate the distance between us and the aspired state.

A country exists as a legal fact. The transition between a country and a nation appears tortuous. True statesmen will work at it until the dream becomes a reality. Only a nation will achieve economic prosperity. There will be peace and progress in it once the conditions precedent are met.

A multi-ethnic country transits to a nation if the following features are present:

 

  1. The adoption of a common language acceptable to all the ethnic nationalities as a medium of communication. It must not be imposed. There must be an agreement to use it as the official means of communication without coercion.
  2. There must be a national ethos agreeable and adopted by the component units which make up a country. Regardless of the diversity and seeming differences, all ethnic nationalities in a country must adopt a national culture of hard work, patriotism, honesty and thirst for knowledge.
  3. All persons must own the process of development in the country. No section must feel marginalized.
  4. There must be religious tolerance. There must be the respect for the other person.

 

IS NIGERIA A NATION?     

Nigeria is an amalgam of ethnic nationalities who must come together to agree to form a union. The meeting must not be compelled. All distinct groups must have an understanding on the best way to collaborate for the good of all. The agreements freely entered into must be reduced to writing. No particular group must be made to feel like a junior partner. The arrogant posturing that the unity of the country is not negotiable must be jettisoned for a more humble and intelligent response to natural agitations against discontent.

 

CONCLUSION

Nigeria’s transition to nationhood will have started if all of these suggestions are met. In addition, I submit, most humbly, that the current experimentation with six geo-political zones be sustained to hasten the process of real integration among the diverse groups in the country. Every geo-political zone should act as a unit of representation in all sectors. It should be free to determine its laws and the application. It should design its own curriculum of education to meet peculiar challenges. It should have its own apex court which will determine all matters affecting it. The federal judiciary should take care of issues in the Exclusive Legislative List as was the case.

This geo-political should be allowed to take charge of economic activities in its jurisdiction and pay taxes to the Federal Government as appropriate. It should take-over most of the roads tagged “Federal”, repair and toll same, if necessary. Most of the items in the Exclusive List should be transferred to the Concurrent and Residual List. The Federal Government should divest itself off these burdens and allow the component units to flower. Let these units control their resources and maintain their internal security. Let the Federal Government coordinate and not take over.

If these suggestions are observed, the current tensions will have been eliminated without breaking any sweat. The culture of laziness that has become endemic will change. No component unit will expect hand-outs from the Federal Government. There will be no basis for it. All will be encouraged to work assiduously for economic prosperity. No unit will depend on the so called bail-out funds tom pay a largely indolent bureaucracy which is part of the problems of the country. The geo-political zone will organize its civil service to respond to needs of the public. Redundancy will be discouraged.

Our dear country will have solved most of the current problems if these humble submissions are taken seriously.

Mr Vice Chancellor, Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you, profusely, for this opportunity. I am eternally grateful to my alma mater for the training.

I thank you all for your patience.

A lecture delivered by the governor of Ondo Stat, Mr Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN) at the 60th anniversary of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, Osun State.

 

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