Nigeria: Yesterday, today and going ahead with Google

President Muhammadu Buhari

Archaeology research has revealed relics of ‘Nok’ culture which existed two thousand years ago, that Northern Nigeria was originally part of Mohammedian Empire of Sokoto and Bornu, a descendant from the ancient civilisation of Western Sudan which has its origin in the Great Moorish Empire. The Red Palace of Granada (Moorish Architecture) was built by rulers of the Arab State between mid-13th and 14th centuries, when Moors dominated Spain.

Similarly, the Southern Nigeria was traced to the Bronze age, which was mostly around the middle of the second millennium BC. There are still three 13th century Yoruba bronze heads of ancient Ife of South West Nigeria and two 16th Century of Benin bronze heads of South South Nigeria at the British Museum. The metal working of bronze requires a knowledge of specialized and intricate technical process plus the knowledge of relatively limited distribution of metal-bearing deposits and where these do not occur locally, there must be understanding of conditions favourable to trade in the raw materials, confirming some expertise among these people way back about 2000BC. These were people of knowledge and understanding, since ancient days.

European Influence
The earliest authentic records date European influence in Nigeria from 1472, when the Portuguese ships landed at Benin, Southern Nigeria. Archaeological research revealed that the Portuguese moved hinterland and made inconsistent and incoherent attempts to explore for minerals, particularly gold in the South West rain forest areas. The exploration was suspended for about 40 years before the Portuguese again, for the second attempt landed her ships, this time, in Lagos in 1515 AD.

Nearly a century later, a Captain Windham was the first British sea-captain to land at Benin. During the early 18th century, Sir Joseph Banks formed the African Association for the exploration of the regions surrounding the Niger River.

In 1830, Richard Lander traced the course of the Niger to Brass and this led to the exploration of the interior from the seas and the development of trade.

In 1849, the first British consulate was established at Calabar and in 1861, British forces occupied Lagos, then a major slave-dealing centre.

At the Berlin Conference of 1885, recognition was given to British interests along the River Niger and in 1886, control of the rivers was granted to the Royal Niger Company, who administered the territory for fourteen years. During this period, the present boundaries were fixed and in 1900, the British government took over administration declaring protectorates over Northern and Southern Nigeria.

Europe was busy, actively trying to colonise African Kingdoms and territories at this point in time; having learnt that the Portuguese was unsuccessful establishing a hold in Nigeria, Britain directed two of her institutions; the Cambridge Platonists and Florentia Academy to study and present a road map towards colonising Nigeria.

The combined report of these institutions, predicated on the establishment and existence of the Royal Niger Company in Nigeria, was summarised as follows:

To use Evangelism to introduce Christianity and Education
• To linguistically disconnect the newly educated children from their parents; their local languages be classified vernacular never to be spoken in school;
• That pupils must accept all instructions from the masters without challenge, as their parents were very wise and may contradict all teachings against their culture and religion;
• To expose children to the art of cramming and memorization. This was to guarantee a lot of knowledge with little understanding;
• The students to imbibe new dressing, culture and religion;
• To establish churches and schools in all viable communities. The first church in Nigeria was established by the Methodist Church Mission in 1842 in Badagry, Lagos State; while the first primary (elementary) school was established by the Mission in the same town of Badagry in 1843.
Consequences of the Education agenda of the British
• We now speak less and less of the languages of our culture.
• We acquired so much knowledge through cramming and regurgitation.
• We passed all our examinations with little understanding of the content of subjects taught.
• Comprehension as taught in most subjects particularly in English grammar, English Literature, History and even Religious studies were limited to what happened, where they happened, to who they happened, by whom they happened. There was nothing about Why and How they happened. It was seen as rudeness for students to ask Why and How at that time; denying young minds the art of critical thinking. This explains our difficulties in project implementation. We invite Chinese and Indians etc to help.
• We were dressed up in uniforms we considered superior to the apparel used by our parents. We still generally dress like them.

Northern and Southern Nigeria were amalgamated on January 1, 1914 with Lagos as the capital. The first governor-general, Sir Frederick Lugard, established the Nigerian Council. In 1922, under Sir Hugh Clifford, a Legislative Council was formed. The introduction of a new constitution in 1946 brought regionalisation to Nigeria’s government, and set the basis of the 1954 federation. The Legislative Council retained jurisdiction over the whole of the territory, but Regional Houses of Assembly were created with advisory powers. The three Regional governments created were the Eastern, with Enugu as the Capital; the Northern, with Kaduna as the Capital and the Western, with Ibadan as the capital.

Between 1954 and 1960, the three regions achieved self-government and the Nigerian Federation was granted full independence by Britain on October 1, 1960.

Self-Government 1954-1960
The Federal constitution of 1954 introduced the fundamentals of federalism into socio-political development of Nigeria. After the 1953 constitutional conference, regional autonomy and self-governments were accepted as a prelude to the independence constitution and independence in 1960. Monumental achievements took place during this period:
• The development efforts in the regions at that time still remain the real institutional legacies of today. For example, in the West, the first free universal primary education started in 1955. The self-government of the West empowered its people through this programme. Similarly, the East started free education programme a little later. Significant efforts were also made at the secondary school level.
• The regions placed the highest emphasis on agriculture as the main employer of labour as well as the main source of revenue for the respective regions. They all ploughed the funds to support education, agriculture, health and infrastructure.
• Training institutions were developed for different categories of youth.
• There was healthy competition among the regions.
• Federal system of government practised in Nigeria at that period, with autonomy for the regions encouraged self determination to succeed, as well as placed responsibility on the region to completely cater for its citizen and ensure full employment.
• Each region achieved the best it could and Nigeria was a giant in the world market for cocoa, cotton, the groundnut pyramid, palm oil and rubber. The quality of education in Nigeria was very high and its land was widely cultivated.
• In sports, from its own resources, the West built the First International Level stadium in Africa, even ahead of the federal government. The region was basking in the achievements of the yet to be obtained Independence and the liberty afforded the region and its people, hence the stadium was named Liberty Stadium.
• Establishment the first Industrial Estate in Africa at Ikeja, Lagos.
• From Rediffusion as a means of mass communication in early’50’s, the West established the First television station in Africa in 1959, even ahead of the central government.
• There was nothing like the ‘Federal Might’, as far as the people, their income and development of resources were concerned. There was dignity in labour and achievement.
• Stealing was such an aberration. It was the same story for the other two regions. It was unimaginable that those three regions that were developed on hard labour and relative integrity will now collectively belong to one of the most corrupt nations of the world. This is part of the Federal Might effect!
• The regions developed a most enduring quality housing programme
called Government Reservation Area (GRA) in most of their major towns and cities, in particular, in regional capital cities.

Independence, 1960
By October 1, 1960, the country obtained Independence from Britain. The honey-moon of independence, going through the learning curve of governance with new leaders and new experiences, the ups and downs of a brand new nation was only five years when the military struck in 1966.
In 1963, a new Mid-west Region was carved out of the non-Yoruba speaking provinces from the Western Region with Benin as its Capital.

Coup d’état, January 15, 1966
The military struck this day. Three of Nigeria political leaders amongst others were assassinated. They were: The Federal Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the premier of the Northern Region, Ahmadu Bello, the Sadauna of Sokoto and the premier of Western Region, Chief S.L. Akintola. A new administration was formed, headed by Major-General John Aguiyi Ironsi.

Despite the tremor, there still was a general feeling of optimism amongst the populace, since the role of the army as taught to children in schools were;
• To defend the nation from external aggression;
• To maintain the nation’s territorial integrity, securing its borders from violation on land, sea and air and
• Suppressing insurrection and acting in aid of civil power to restore order

When called upon by the President, but subject to such conditions as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly. The general expectation was for the military to proclaim a national government. Unfortunately, it was not to be.
“The federal structure of the constitution and government provided for devolution of powers to regions, with a strong regional structure and vestiture.

Brigadier Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi

General Aguiyi Ironsi promulgated Decree 1 of January, 1966 aborted all that. It established a Federal Council (Supreme Military Council) with specific functions, but vested authority in the Head of State, the Head of the Federal Military Government and Governors in the State. And so, the sovereign state of the people of Nigeria was subverted paving way for an individual, no matter how much he is manifestly competent, to combine the triple functions of the executive, the legislature and the judiciary by indirect inference. This event was the death of a growing federation in which was embedded fiscal federalism.

He was to proclaim a national government. However, without waiting for the report of the Nwokedi Commission which he instituted for the purpose of national government, he hastily promulgated Decree No 34 in May 1966. The decree abolished the four regions and instituted 22 provinces in their place. Thus within a few months into his regime, democracy and federalism had been abolished. He discarded the constitution by Decree 1 and ruled by decrees. By Decree 34, he vested national resources in an over-bearing central government which he was head.

From General Aguiyi Ironsi, General Yakubu Gowon took over, July 1966 through another military coup d’état. Drama of military coups cascading from one army general to the other for 33 years thereafter, involving eight actors as heads of state pushing and consolidating unitary governance system in a nation labelled the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

The period 1979-1983, of civil rule was equally based on military constitution of unitary command structure under the Almighty Central government, pretentiously labelled Federal Government. The current constitution by the military government in 1999 is also exactly more and more of the same pretence. There is the need for a change in governance process for the country to move forward. This is being called Restructuring.

Restructuring the Federation debate
All ‘Restructure’ means in Nigeria is a ‘change’. Since January, 1966 till date, all our constitutions have been produced by the Nigeria Army. We have collectively paid for it; we now should go back to the constitutions that prepared us for self-government and independence. We obtained independence from colonial masters in 1960, and were recolonized by internal masters, the military, in 1966. We are now seeking the independence back from our citizens, the military. The title of the book “The Federal Republic of Nigerian Army: The siege of a Nation” 2001, by a distinguished Retired Army General, M.C. Alli is very apt. We thank the military for the efforts so far, but we now want the Federal Republic of Nigeria back and no longer the Federal Republic of Nigerian Army. Restructuring is a debate, because a good proportion of the political office holders today were either not born or very young and only grew up in the Federal Republic of Nigerian Army. They have not seen anything different or better and are afraid; they will lose the lunch pack in front of them.

Restructuring in our context is simply that we should go back to the governance method of federating units that was inclusive, participatory, where we knew our neighbours and truly governed our communities.

The current system where the salary of workers in the entire nation is paid by the Federal government through monthly subvention from Abuja to state governors diminishes the stature of every citizen.

Restructuring is when every region contributes something to the centre and undertakes her own development agenda.

Restructuring is to make this country a Federal Republic of Nigeria that it used to be since 1954 and until 1966 January. It is not a new country, we did it before. Let’s do it again.

Effect of Restructuring
The change in governance system will first and foremost induce every citizen to work harder, knowing there is no free lunch. This will result in every federating unit able to pay the salary; and plan to improve peoples’ welfare, through more diligent resource optimisation, higher production of food and raw materials and creating, more job for the people, better quality of education, health and infrastructure. The society will be better driven to ethical standards because there will be less of hiding places for looting within the close knit federating space, unlike the present situation where some people in position of leadership and administration feel very free to loot in the big ocean of a country, Nigeria, hardly easy to monitor or control.

Restructuring is really freedom for the potentials of Nigeria to fully manifest. Nigeria developed so rapidly when it operated as a federal entity. It stopped growing and started degenerating as a unitary system.

Our citizens are generally bright, hard-working, creative and dignified. We can raise our heads up anywhere. We are bold and confident.

We (I was part of the youth at that time) were so glad, optimistic, challenged to hard work as the only path to growth, through the mirror of performance of our leaders, the founding fathers. We developed so much confidence that we were as good as or even could be better than our colonial masters as demonstrated by these leaders. The founding fathers were honoured severally including naming higher institutions after them: Nnamdi Azikwe, Tafa Balewa, Ahmadu Bello, Obafemi Awolowo and some others.

Way Forward
The youth of today are very talented, committed to work, eager for education. They are dynamic and ready to conquer the challenges of the world. But the system of unitary government is crushing them very badly.

We must specially appreciate Google for the gesture of free digital skill training of one million African youth in the past one year. Nigeria is quite a beneficiary. This is a genuine demonstration of practical commitment to the continent. We earnestly ask for more.

Our overdependence on crude oil to run the nation for so long is dangerous and degrading. We exploit oil as crude, sell as crude and the proceeds crudely and dishonestly administered. No value creation!

Every state in Nigeria has sufficient solid mineral and several natural resources for diversification to develop the nation. The youth, which constitute nearly 70 per cent of our population, are ready. As hard as the current federal government may be trying, she will always appear not trying enough. As much as she may be committed, she will always appear not committing enough. Most of our resources are still locked underground by the Almighty Unitary Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigerian Army.

The youths are willing, they are waiting, they are wishing, they are excited by technology and they are craving, but they are getting restive because of unemployment.

We need to go back to self-government of federating units now, to seek peace and allow Nigeria to work and grow.

• Prof. Omole, OFR is chairman of the Editorial Board of The Guardian Newspapers

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