A blind date
Since 1999, two of Nigerian presidents have tried to interpret restructuring in their own way. The latest been the unelected gathering of Nigerian leaders that deliberated on Constitutional reforms during the tenure of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. His successor, President Muhammadu Buhari, has assured us that the report of that conference is in deep freeze.
It is becoming clear that those who want restructuring will have to fight for it. They need to define it and struggle to market it through the political process. The opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, subjected to the inclement weather outside the corridors of power, is already suggesting that if only Nigerians can embrace the Jonathan Confab Report, then our problems would be solved. I don’t share the party’s optimism especially because it did little in that regard during its 16 years of power.
The attitude of the present government to restructuring of the polity is really an irony. For one, “the Progressive Camp” which the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, is said to be an off-shoot, has always been the camp more vociferous in the call for restructuring over the years.For many years, the APC and its numerous mutations, was in opposition since 1999 until the presidential election of last year. The emergence of Buhari, its flag bearer, as our country leader, has presented it with an opportunity to look more keenly on the call for political reforms.
Those who are cautious about the call for restructuring have their points. Indeed they have genuine reasons to fear especially when you consider the occasional combustive temper of our great country. When Nigeria became independent from British colonial rule in 1960, it was felt that the three regions were sources of centrifugal pull that may sound the death-knell for the federation. An example was often made of the East African Federation which soon developed into three countries of Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya. Why would Nigeria not suffer the same fate?
But Nigeria did not follow that path, thanks to leadership, goodluck and a combination of events. Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the leader of the opposition during the First Republic had advocated for the creation of states from the old three regions. He wanted the South to have four states (or regions as they were called then) and the North to have four too. The other two leaders, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, who emerged the first Premier of the defunct Eastern Region (Eyo Ita was leader of Government Business) and later titular Governor-General and President and Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, the Premier of the North, would not agree to Awolowo’s suggestion. When the opposition Action Group, AG, broke into two following the disagreement between Awolowo and his deputy, Chief Ladoke Akintola, the Federal Government used the opportunity to break the West into two regions with the creation of the Mid-West.
But the crisis was to show how unstable our Federation was. By 1966, the fate of the Republic was at stake. By the end of that year, Nigeria had had three rulers and two of them were dead. With the assassination of Prime-Minister Abubakar Tafawa-Balewa in 1966 and his successor, Major-General J.T.U. Aguiyi-Ironsi, Colonel Yakubu Gowon, Ironsi’s successor, was faced with the possibility of being the last ruler of a united Nigeria.
A Civil War and many political crisis and upheavals later, many Nigerians are still not convinced that the country has passed all the test of survival. It may not be in the intensive-care unit, but it is apparently not in robust health. In 1998, Chief Anthony Enahoro, the leader of the opposition National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, which had fought the military government relentlessly, wanted a Constitutional Conference to determine the future political arrangement of Nigeria.
But most members of the Nigerian political class would not agree. Many of them had participated in the activities of the so-called five parties, which Chief Bola Ige described as “the five fingers of a leprous hand,” which endorsed the dictator, General Sani Abacha to run for the Presidency. They jumped at the opportunity provided by the military to occupy political offices again. They are still jumping.
For the leaders of the Yoruba of the West, political reform means the re-assertion of the core essence of the old Western Region. The Alajobi Committee declared in the Year 2000: “The Yoruba people have the right to live under one government within the Nigerian Federation if possible; outside Nigeria if necessary.” The Committee members were not unmindful of history when the West made tremendous progress as one entity. No other institution exemplified this more than the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, which was conceived and built by the West. None of the succeeding states has succeeded in meeting that standard or surpassing it.
The Alajobi Committee therefore wanted a return to regional arrangement that would allow for the pulling of resources for the social and infrastructural development of the old West including the construction of new railway system and major highways. Now the old West is part of the Central Government and the political elite have embraced the ideology of silence. When successor generation of the political leadership joined the coalition that eventually produced the APC, it was expected that an agreement for constitutional reforms would be part of the bargain especially because of them claimed to belong to Awo’s School of Political Thoughts.
Now no one is sure anymore whether there was any bargain, or if there was, whether constitutional reform was part of it. A pre-nuptial agreement is not new in Nigerian politics. In 1979, President Shehu Shagari invited the opposition Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN, to join a “Government of National Unity.” The UPN gave conditions for coming into government. The ruling NPN would not agree and the proposed romance ran asunder. The NPN quickly found another bride, the Nigerian Peoples Party, NPP, under the leadership of the legendary Azikiwe.
By 1983, the UPN too was looking out for a new bride. It finally settled for the Committee of Concerned Citizens under the leadership of Dr. Datti Ibrahim Ahmed, an influential Kano physician who was believed to be the leader of the shadowy Kaduna Mafia. The negotiation from the Awolowo side was led by that redoubtable journalist, Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande, the first elected governor of Lagos State. The concern of the Committee was the full involvement of the old North in the future government that may be headed by Awolowo. The Committee may have been inspired by the late Major-General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, who was the number two man in the military regime of General Olusegun Obasanjo which handed over power to Shagari in 1979. Yar’Adua’s father was Minister of Lagos Affairs in the cabinet of Prime-Minister Balewa during the First Republic.
Addressing journalists in Kano on August 3, 1983, Dr. Ahmed said among other things that Awolowo had agreed to cooperate with the Committee if he gets to power with its help. In an Awolowo Presidency, it was agreed that “Awo shall appoint people from the North into key positions and ministries so that the participation of the Northern part of the country would be seen in the North as obvious and important.”
It was that agreement that produced Awolowo’s running mate during the 1983 general election, Alhaji Muhammadu Kura from Bauchi State who was a parliamentarian during the First Republic. This time around, if there was any such agreement between the Yoruba political elite of the old Action Congress, AC and the leadership of the old Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, that produced the APC, it remains a secret document.
Therefore, until such an agreement is revealed, it would be futile to speculate whether political reform was one of the provisions of the accord. This is more so because the leadership of the old AC was crucial to the publication of The Yoruba Agenda, an agreed document on future constitutional arrangement of Nigeria. If the leaders had no such agreement, then they have led their people into a blind date.
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