Prof. Femi Olufunmilade
So much has been said and written about what Chinua Achebe calls ” the trouble with Nigeria”. Nigerians daily lament why a country immensely endowed in human and natural resources like theirs remain in the backwoods with its teeming population groping in hopelessness and grappling with grinding poverty. For millions of Nigeria, finding a plate of food to eat is a daily trouble. It is that bad!
Achebe said the real trouble of Nigeria is the failure of it’s leadership. The moralists tell us its our failure to love one another across religious and ethnic divides. They introduced unity schools, they established NYSC to take our youths to ethnic climes other than their fathers’, they set up committees for interfaith dialogue etc.
All of them are chasing shadows; not the object. Our main problem, from which every other problem flows is our failure to resolve our ethnic problem or what in more pedantic circles is referred to as the Nationality Question. In other words, we must come to terms with the fact that Nigeria is a motley crowd of dozens upon dozens of ethnic nations striving to find full expression for their individual identity as well as fulfillment economically, politically, culturally, socially etc.
Before the British conquered the kingdoms, emirates, and empires that were amalgamated into one country, they had existed as sovereign nations. By the time the British were taking their leave, they convened talks among the various ethnic nationalities in Nigeria at Lancaster House in London to, for the first time, decide by themselves the terms of their continued coexistence as one country.
The Lancaster House talks resulted in the 1960 Independence Constitution, which, essentially, is the same with the succeeding 1963 Constitution, except for the minor rechristening of the office of Governor General as President. The Constitution provided for regional autonomy within the Nigerian federation by affording each of the three major ethnic groups a semiautonomous space called region within which it could run its own affairs. The Hausa-Fulani had the Northern region, Igbo were dominant in the Eastern region, while the Yoruba dominated the Western region.
It was not a perfect Constitution we had at independence because minority fears were not addressed therein even though some feeble attempts were made to tackle them in the form of a Minority Rights’ Commission, which recommendations were never implemented. That explains why as early as 1962 there was a Tiv uprising against the Hausa-Fulani oligarchy in the north and, three years later, a 12-day revolution led by Isaac Boro – an Ijaw activist – demanding a Niger Delta Republic out of the Ibo-dominated Eastern region.
But, in spite of its imperfections, the 1963 Constitution offered a good framework for regional autonomy and competitive development among the regions. It, in fact, afforded a framework as well for addressing the minority fears with the creation of the Midwest region in 1964, which was essentially a region for a medley of minority nationalities.
But, alas, things fell apart on 15 January, 1966 when a military coup upturned the 1963 Constitution and replaced it with decrees. Other coups and change of government followed over the years restructuring our constitutional and governance set up in an awkward manner.
Hence, the cry of northern domination rose to a crescendo as northern military officers have had the upper hand in military coups and have used their positions in government to entrench an unjust federal system to the chagrin of southerners and northern minorities.
The structural disarticulation of the federal system we had at independence is at the heart of ethnic tension and all manners of injustice, inequalities, exploitation, and utter lack of patriotism in Nigeria.
The country is not working. Though you see some tokenist attempt at transformation here and there but they are like a flash in a pan. They offer illumination to nobody. This is why there is serious agitation for restructuring. But those benefitting from the disarticulated structure will have none of that. The attitude isn’t unique to them. The world over, where one ethnic or racial group has advantage over other groups within a country, restructuring or the adoption of an equitable system has never been conceded on a platter of gold. And this recalcitrance has been the source of civil wars in most countries that have experienced such a misfortune. That was the case in Rwanda, Bosnia Herzegovina, South Africa under apartheid, Ethiopia, Liberia, Sudan, Indonesia, and in Nigeria of 1967 to 1970, among several examples.
Today, because of the non-resolution of the Nationality Question, we behold the rise of militant ethnic agitators such as IPOB, MASSOB, OPC, Bakassi Boys, Niger Delta Avengers and so on.
Nobody loves Nigeria except those who want to pretend but everyone loves his ethnic group and that may explain why we have a president who seems to promote and protect the interest of his ethno-regional and religious kith and kin above the rest of the country.
Unless this trend is halted through the facilitation of a genuine interethnic dialogue akin to what took place at the Lancaster House between our founding fathers like Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Sir Ahmadu Bello and others, ethnic agitations will escalate to new heights and ultimately lead to the collapse of the wobbling structure of the Nigerian state.
Another option on the table before some advocates of restructuring is the legal option. To file a case to be pursued from the high court to the supreme court and, if need be, go outside our shores to the International Court of Justice at The Hague. The simple prayer shall be declaration of the 15 January, 1966 coup unconstitutional and criminal and a violation of our political right to self-determination, and, finally, demand for a restoration of the 1963 Constitution.
God save the king!