By Gbogun Gboro
Nigerians from all directions, including some of our most prominent citizens, have been raising their voices to condemn the noisy agitations by some Igbo youths for a separate country of Biafra. These condemnations are proper because we Nigerians are afraid to have a repeat of the barbarous confrontations and civil war of the late 1960s. However, it is critically important that we should not look only at the noises by the youths in the streets but also at very respectable statements that some Igbo leaders have made concerning order and stability in our country. I refer to the memorandum sent to the National Conference and by extension to Nigeria and the world at large, by the leaders of Ohanaeze Ndigbo early in 2014. Their highly respectable memorandum does not call for secession, or the breaking up of Nigeria. It calls for a sensible restructuring of our federation so as to give our country a chance to settle down, survive and prosper. I hereby put forth their memorandum in order to remind Nigerians that not all Igbo are calling for secession or the dismemberment of Nigeria, and that many highly placed and respectable Igbo citizens have given very serious thought to the future, prosperity and greatness of our country. Here then is an excerpt of their memorandum:
The recognition of the significance of ethnicity was clear at the birth of an independent Nigeria in 1960. The larger ethnic units of Hausa/Fulani-Igbo-Yoruba formed the basis of the three regions –North-East-West. Ethno-based agitations aimed at asserting the separate identities of the smaller groups promptly sprouted in the Midwest, Middle Belt, and the Calabar Ogoja Rivers (COR).
The current concept of six geo-political zones is also ethnically based, with three zones for the larger nationalities, and three for combinations of the small nationalities. Thus the nationalities are recognized and accepted as the building blocks of Nigeria.
In all policy making, Nigeria must allow to its component nationalities free-play and equitable access to our country’s resources and strategic political command posts. Sustained imbalance in sharing responsibilities and the ‘national cake’ could make some nationalities feel not belonging. The break-up of ethnically composite countries, some very powerful and prosperous, like the former Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, took place along ethnic lines. We must avoid going the same routes, and we can only do so through an equity-oriented formula that creates a comfortable sense of belonging for all our nationalities.
At independence in 1960, what our founding fathers settled for was a full-blown federal structure, with three regions, East-North-West, as the federating units of our nation. All three regions were constitutionally equal in status. A fourth region, the Midwest, was created by regular constitutional amendment in 1963.
“Subject to the provisions of this constitution, the constitution of each region shall have force of law throughout that region, and if any other law is inconsistent with that constitution, the provisions of that constitution shall prevail and the other law shall, to the extent of the inconsistency be void”.
Almost thirty (30) years of military rule has transformed our federation into a quasi-unitary state bringing along with it political instability. It is important to admit that the federation upon which Nigeria was born and founded no longer exists. What now exists is an over-centralized central government called “federal” government.
For the sake of a SUSTAINABLE NIGERIA as ONE COUNTRY; AND FOR THE SAKE OF DEVELOPMENT; AND FOR THE SAKE OF FUTURE GENERATIONS OF NIGERIANS, we must face the FACT that the STATUS QUO is untenable. We must reaffirm and re-establish TRUE FEDERALISM as the best system for Nigeria.
TRUE-FEDERALISM is CRITICAL to the strengthening of the foundation of ONE NIGERIA. TRUE-FEDERALISM eliminates the fear of domination by one or a combination of groups of Nigerians over others and reduces ethno-cultural tension, thus releasing the positive and creative energies of Nigerians to the building of a nation that will be a pride to all black people on earth.
In other words, NIGERIA HAS A BRIGHT FUTURE AS ONE COUNTRY ONLY TO THE EXTENT THAT THE CONSTITUENT COMPONENTS ALSO HAVE A FUTURE. The primary challenge for us Nigerians is to reduce potential ETHNIC and SECTIONAL conflict areas to the SAFEST MINIMUM.
This means a sincere affirmation of true federalism by all Nigerians. This implies appreciable decentralization of power and responsibilities from the centre (federal) to federating units. This implies greater financial resources to the federating units in tandem with increased responsibilities etc.
One of the most important advantages of TRUE FEDERALISM is the equilibrium between the CENTRE (Federal) and REGIONS (Federating Units). In a country like Nigeria with multi-ethnic nationalities, the constitutional balance required by TRUE FEDERALISM should limit the tendency towards over-centralization.
The major danger and risk of imposing a strong central government (over-centralization) is that it can only be achieved only by those who control the levers of power. An all-powerful federal government controlling the bulk of NATIONAL PURSE and economic development is not desirable. It cannot endure and will not be tolerated indefinitely by the disadvantaged sections of the country, and there shall be several attempts to reverse it leading to serious and constant disequilibrium in the polity.
There can be no doubt that Nigeria was making more progress in national development in the pre-independence decade and the early years of its independence when it practiced a true federalism of three or four regions with more extensive powers devolved from the centre to the regions. Those were the days of the significant export of groundnuts, hides and skins, and the tin ore from the North; of cocoa from the West; of rubber from the Mid-West; and of palm produce and coal from the East of Nigeria. They were also the days of such achievements as the free universal education in Chief Awolowo’s Western region, and of the burgeoning industrialization of Dr. Okpara’s Eastern region.
To return to true federalism, we need a major restructuring of our current architecture of governance. We would need six federating units, instead of our present 36 units which not only sustain an over-dominant centre, but also compel the country to spend not less than 74% of its revenue on the cost of administration. If the existing 36 states must be retained in some form, they could be made cost-effective development zones with minimal administrative structures within the six federating units.
WITH THIS BACKGROUND NDIGBO STRONGLY ADVOCATE THE RESTRUCTURING OF NIGERIA INTO SIX (6) REGIONS BASED ON ETHNIC/LINGUISTIC GROUPSNAMELY:
- South-east region
- South-west region
- South-south region
- North-central region
- North-east region
- North-west region. With ABUJA as the FEDERAL CAPITAL TERRITORY
The (boundary) inequities and injustices of previous exercises shall be redressed In the delineation exercise for the new six-region federal structure.
Each region shall have the right to determine the number of states, local governments, and district/community councils that shall constitute the region, according to the limits of their resources.
The federal government shall not be involved in state, local government, and district/community council’s matters.
The powers of the central (federal) government shall be drastically reduced in favour of the regions as federating units. As a guide we recommend that federal government functions shall not exceed those exercised by the centre (federal) at Nigeria’s Independence in 1960.
We recommend that the institution of Police shall be two-tiered – a federal police, and a regional police.
The Nigeria armed forces shall be organized into six regional commands.
RELIGION: The government of the federation, of a region, of a state, or of a local government shallNOT adopt any religion as national, regional, state, or local government religion.
This is a noteworthy contribution to the Nigerian debate. We Nigerians should consider this memorandum and similar memoranda from other nationalities in the interest of our country, Nigeria.