Priye S. Torulagha
More than any other time in the history of Nigeria, this is definitely the time to restructure the country territorially and constitutionally in order to legitimize it as a true sovereign state. It should be noted that since about 200 to 300 ethnic groups were forcefully put together by the British, Nigerians have never been allowed to decide the manner in which the country should be structured and governed. Therefore, technically, Nigeria is not an independent country despite the claim of sovereignty until the ethnic groups which constitute it are allowed to freely decide the nature and fate of the country. “Independence” will only take place after Nigerians freely determine Nigeria’s existence.
Nigeria has not been able to move forward due to the fact that it has many structural and governance problems that inhibit its growth. As a result, whenever it takes one very positive step forward, it ends up taking three steps backward. This is why Nigeria is still being described in terms of its potential rather than by its actuality. The following provides the reasons why restructuring is absolutely essential for the development and modernization of the political, economic and social institutions and governance of the country:
- Nigeria is a product of British military conquest. Thus, 200 to 300 ethnic groups were forcefully incorporated by the British without their permission. Obviously, Nigeria, like a vast majority of the modern African states, is a jail house or a detention center where 200 to 300 African ethnic groups are detained against their will. As far as the ethnic groups feel detained or trapped in a cage, they are not likely to cooperate in building a harmonious country.
- The Sir Arthur Richards 1946 constitution turned Nigeria into a tribal and regional confederacy. The 1946 constitution embedded a mechanism which has inhibited the country’s ability to create a homogenous united nation out of the diverse ethnic groups. This is why there is not one Nigeria but many Nigerias, depending on ethnicity, religion and regional affiliation. As result, every national policy issue is looked upon from a zero sum perspective with one side winning and the others losing. For example, the South-South and the South-East wants resource control and the Upper North opposes it. The South-East, South-West, South-South and the Middle Belt want a national referendum and the Upper North is not willing to go that route. The South and the Middle Belt insist on true federalism but the Upper North seems to be inclined towards the unitary system where the national governments is in total control and the states are given less freedom to maneuver. The Christian and traditional South and the Middle Belt incline toward the Western world and the Islamic North inclines towards Arabia and the Islamic world. This creates a problem for Nigeria’s foreign policy. The Upper North wants national grazing reserves for one ethnic group to do cattle business and the South-East, South-West, South-South and the Middle Belt are not eager to grant such a wish to a particular ethnic group to have the right to settle in every territory of the country. Thus, there is rarely a national consensus on anything. Sir Richards and the British colonial strategists, perhaps, did not want Nigeria to succeed as a vibrant political, economic and industrial power, hence, a constitutional tool was used to tactically disunite the country through the 1946 Constitution.
- Geographically, the manner in which the country is divided into the North and South is flawed. It is only in Nigeria where a country is physically divided into the North and South in such a manner that one region is much larger than the other. Generally, when a territory is divided geographically, it is supposed to have equal territorial space, using the North, South, East and West configuration. In other words, it is weird to have regions where the North is two times larger than the South. This is a fundamental structural flaw in the distribution of territorial land mass. If those who created Nigeria had wished the country well, they would not have established a country in which one region is twice the size of the other region. It is obvious that the Middle Belt would have been part of Southern Nigeria. In this case, states like Kogi, Kwara, Benue, and Plateau would have been placed in Southern Nigeria to create a geographical balance between the North and the South. The physical imbalance in the distribution of the regions creates distrust, frustration and instability as the Northern region seems to overshadow the Southern region.
- Another geographical flaw in Nigeria’s physical structure is that the smaller South is further divided into the East and West with a Mid-West sub-region while the giant North is allowed to stand alone as one region, even though the Middle Belt does not belong to the North.
- Before independence, the smaller ethnic groups insisted upon the creation of states during the Willink Commission’s Hearing. The suggestion was rejected. So, the small ethnic groups became vassals of the large three ethnic groups.
- On independence, Nigeria adopted federalism which in theory, requires the sharing of power between the national and regional governments. In practice, the country operated as a confederacy in which the regions functioned almost independently. This was why the regional premiers were almost as powerful and influential as the national prime minister. An individual like Ahmadu Bello was even more powerful that the prime minister of the entire country.
- When the military came after the January 15, 1966 abortive military coup, the military adopted a unitary system of government which took away the powers of the regions and later the states to make independent decisions. The unitary system centralized political and administrative power at the center and made the states dependent upon the national government. Even while the military regimes centralized political and administrative authority, they still pretentiously viewed the country as a federal entity. Thus, like in the First Republic, the military era too continued the practice of calling Nigeria a federal state while suffocating federalism through excessive centralization of power.
- During the First Republic, since the three major ethnic groups dominated the three regions, national resources were distributed based on derivation. The regions were largely responsible for producing and generating income for themselves using the resources in their territories. However, as soon as oil became a major economic commodity and it was found mostly in regions dominated by minority ethnic groups and the Igbos, the Petroleum Act was passed by the military regime of Gen. Yakubu Gowon. This deprived the ethnic groups in the oil region the ability to make decisions about the exploration and management of oil and gas in their territories.
- As stated above, due to the geographical imbalance between the North and the South, the South is compelled to serve as a junior partner, rather than as an equal partner in the political management of Nigeria. The North dominates the entire country in so many ways. For instance, Lagos States is more populated than Kano State. Recent statistics indicate that Lagos City has a population of about 21 million people. However, Kano State has 44 local governments while Lagos State has 20 local governments. How did this come about? It is exceedingly difficult to explain or rationalize why Kano State with a lesser population has more local governments than Lagos State with a much larger population. Similarly, due to the fact that the North is two-third of the entire country, in terms of geography, it has 19 states and the South has 17 states. Additionally, out of the 774 local governments in Nigeria, the North has 419 while the South has 335. Of course, the fact that the North is physically larger than the South does not mean that it has more people than the South. There is a general believe that the South is actually more populated than the North, yet, the North has more local governments.
- Following the geographical imbalance, the North tends to act as the dominant region in the country. This is why most of the country’s leaders have originated from the Islamic North. It is much more difficult for someone from the South to rule the country. For instance, whenever, an individual from the South tries to serve as the leader of the country, the person is expected to unduly appease the North as if the individual does not have a constitutional right as a Nigerian citizen to rule the country like someone from the Islamic North. A would- be-presidential candidate from the South must pass the North’s Litmus test, otherwise, the individual has no chance of succeeding. Moreover, the Upper North can literarily reject a Southern presidential candidate if the person does not dance to the strategic interest of the North. As a result, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo from the South-West never had a chance to rule the country. Similarly, when Dr. Alex Ekwueme was supposed to be the presidential candidate of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), there was opposition from the Upper North. Hence, he was dropped from consideration as a presidential candidate, even after serving as a vice president. When Chief Moshood Abiola appeared to be winning the presidential election of June 12, 1993 against a Northern candidate, the election was abrogated. In other words, the Upper North (Islamic) did not want Chief Abiola to become the president. When the military decided to quit the political business and return to barracks in 1998, the preferred candidate of the South-West region was Chief Olu Falae. The North opposed Chief Falae and selected Chief/Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo as the presidential flag-bearer of the Peoples’ Democratic Party PDP). When he became the president, he had to give three critical ministerial positions to the North as the region demanded. Being a Southerner, former President Obasanjo was powerless in stopping the Sharianization of some Northern states. Thus, Sharia Law was installed without any legislative discussion in the National Assembly. When Dr. Peter Odili decided to contest the presidential election of 2007, he had to spend vast sums of money to attract support from the North and the Southwest. Even then, he was unceremoniously dropped as the presidential flag-bearer of the PDP. When the late President Umaru Yar’Adua got sick, the Upper North refused to allow the vice president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, to take over the leadership of the country. As soon as he eventually became the president, threats of making the country ungovernable started to saturate the media. Jonathan had to spend a considerable amount of time and effort in appeasing the Upper North while attempting to run for reelection. He actually devoted more time throughout his tenure to persuade the North than the South to support him, yet, various tactics of ungovernability were deployed to shipwreck his administration. Alhaji Aliyu Gwarzo, a prominent Fulani leader from Kano, did not hide the intention of the Upper North when he said “No Goodluck or anyone else will stop us from taking back our power next year. We will kill, maim, destroy and turn the country into Africa’s biggest war zone and refugee camp if they try it” (Pointblanknews Magazine, October 2, 2014)
- As a result of the predominance of the North, the South is increasingly looking like a conquered territory of the North since most critical national decisions tend to favor the North. This is why Southern legislators in the National Assembly are almost voiceless and inactive. They are seen but rarely heard from. The governors and religious leaders in the Upper North have tremendous national influence while the governors and traditional rulers in the South have very little national influence. In fact, due to the overbearing influence of Northern political elites in the country, Southern political elites are very cautious in expressing themselves, fearing that if they talk too much, they could be punished.
- Apart from the pre-January 15, 1966 period, the Nigerian armed forces are dominated by the North, so much so that Southern military officers are barely noticeable. Almost all critical military and national security positions under President Muhammadu Administration are held by officers from the Upper North. In some circumstances, some junior military officers from the Upper North have more influence than some senior military officers from the South. A Southern military or police officer, to safeguard his or her job, would not take any action without getting approval from an officer from the Upper North. This was why former Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mr. Solomon Arase did not mobilize the police to stop marauding herdsmen from mobilizing and attacking Agatu community in the Middle Belt and Nimmo community in Igboland, even though everyone knew in advance that the herdsmen were about to invade those communites. The same reason could also be given for why the army remained quiet. They did not act because they did not get clearance from President Buhari to prevent the invasion, killing and destruction of Agatu and Nimmo communities.
- A vast majority of the military and police training and educational institutions are located in the North. Similarly, it is much easier for someone from the North to join the armed forces than someone from the South. A letter from an Emir can make a whole difference whether someone is admitted into the Nigeria Defence Academy (NDA) or get a lucrative employment.
- The fear of Islamization is a constant worry among non-Moslems in Nigeria. This follows a statement made by the late Sardauna of Sokoto, Ahmadu Bello, to the Moslems to spread Islam throughout the country. He was seconded by the late prime minster of Nigeria, Alhaji Abubakar Tafewa Balewa. Alhaji Aliyu Gwarzo, electrified the agenda for Islamization by saying:
It was either the Koran or the sword and most of them chose the Koran. In return for the good works of our forefathers, Allah, through the British, gave us Nigeria to rule and to do as we please. Since 1960 we have been doing that and we intend to continue. (Ibid.).
- Even though the population is almost evenly divided between Christianity and Islam, Nigeria is not a member of any international Christian dominated foreign political or economic or religious alliance. On the other hand, Nigeria is a member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the D8 – an organization of Islamic countries, the Islamic Development Bank and the Islamic Coalition against Terrorism, otherwise, referred to as Islamic Military Alliance. This means that even though Nigeria supposed to be a secular state, it is incrementally being Islamized through tactical joining of Islamic organizations. Therefore, when some Northern politicians introduced a bill which intends to nationalize the Fulani cattle business by granting land for cattle grazing in every state of the country, Southerners and Christians oppose the idea, suspecting it to be a ploy to spread Islam in the South by creating permanent Islamic enclaves throughout the country.
- Since Northern and Southern Nigeria were amalgamated in 1914, riots resulting in the killings of Southerners, Christians and non-Moslems have taken place in the North. It happened in 1953 and has continued into the twenty-first century. On the other hand, Southerners have never caused riots that lead to the killing of Northerners. Whenever an anti-Northern riot takes place in the South, it is always in reaction to the killings of Southerners in the North. Thousands of Nigerians have been killed and maimed due to the riots. How can the North and South co-exist since the lives of Southerners, Middle Belters, Ancestralists and Christians are always endangered by northern riots. Thus, for most Southerners living in Northern Nigeria, there is always the danger of being killed through religiously and politically motivated riots.
- Nigeria is made up of 200 to 300 ethnic groups, yet, there are some individuals from two ethnic groups who believe that they have an exclusive right to rule the country because the British gave them the mandate to rule the country. Without mincing words, Alhaji Gwarzo stated:
When I say that the Presidency must come to the north next year I am referring to the Hausa-Fulani core North and not any northern Christian or Muslim minority tribe (Pointblanknews, Ibid.).
- Petroleum started to become a major source of national wealth immediately after the Nigerian civil war in 1970. By 2015, Nigeria had almost totally depended on oil and gas for its national wealth. Oil and gas are found mostly in the Niger Delta/South-South, some parts of Igboland and the South-West zones). However, due to the fact that oil and gas are totally nationalized, the citizens of the oil region are very poor. On the other hand, the greatest beneficiaries of the oil wealth are Nigerians from the non-oil producing regions. In particular, oil shares (blocks) are owned mostly by individuals from the Upper North.
- While for about forty-five years now, Nigeria has almost totally depended on the oil wealth, the country has refused to carry out any environmental cleaning of the region. As a result, the South-South region is highly polluted with oil leakages, pipeline fires and gas flaring. Even the Nigerian plan to clean Ogoni land came by way of the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP). Thus, Nigeria is not interested in cleaning the polluted environment but wants to exploit the oil and gas with total disregard for the feeling of the inhabitants of the oil region.
- The 1999 Constitution was put together through the supervision of the military. Therefore, it was not a product of democratic discussion involving the ethnic groups that make up the country. This accounted for why an immunity clause was included to protect military officers who had engaged in misappropriation of public funds. Sadly, elected officials since 1999, have relied on the same Immunity Clause to protect themselves from prosecution for misbehavior while in office. Similarly, all the decrees and acts passed during various military regimes were imposed arbitrarily without the consent of the Nigeria people. To have a very representative democratic constitution, it is necessary to have an open debate involving all stakeholders in the country. Perhaps, the closest exercise to a representative constitutional debate was the National Conference of 2014 because individuals from different parts of the country participated in the exercise.
- The coming into power by President Muhammadu Buhari and the APC political party in May 2015 has deepened the desire for a national referendum to discuss the fate of the country. The demand became strident when President Buhari made a statement that he was going to favor the 95% that voted for him against the 5% that did not vote for him. After making that statement, he seems to have tactically decided to ignore hiring people from the South-East and the South-South zones of the country. Even the South-West zone which voted for him in large numbers has been neglected. In addition, he has tactically recruited individuals from the Upper Islamic North to occupy critical positions in the Federal Government. Meanwhile, he has not taken any active step to contain the violence perpetrated by Fulani herdsmen. President Buhari war on corruption seems only to be targeted at the officials of Goodluck Jonathan’s administration and the members of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) while corruption perpetrated by members of the All Progressive Congress Party (APC) are ignored and treated as non-crimes. His style of leadership creates the impression that he is northernizing and Islamizing the country to fulfil the dream of the late Ahmadu Bello. Hence, some people in the South-East and the South-South have revived the call for the creation of the Republic of Biafra and the Republic of the Niger Delta. Similarly, militant opposition to the exploration of oil and gas in the oil region has been reactivated. Thus, President Buhari’s actions tend to deepen the feeling that Nigeria is increasingly being treated as a country dominated by one ethnic group, despite the fact that it is made up of 200 to 300 ethnic groups.
- Due to the dysfunctional nature of the country, creativity and innovation are stifled, hence, Nigeria has not been able to develop as an industrial nation capable of competing in the global marketplace to sell finished industrial goods and services. It is interesting to note that Nigeria tends to kill motivation, creativity and innovation. This is why creative and innovative Nigerians tend to do very well in their professional fields outside the country but seem to do poorly inside the country. The reason is that inside Nigeria, the politics of ethnicity, regionalism and religion intercedes to dampen motivation. Moreover, the politics of personalism tends to force people to become “LOYAL” boys and girls to political godfathers and godmothers. The godfathers and godmothers are only interested in how much political power and financial wealth they can acquire. This is why loyalty is more important than creativity and innovation.
- As Nigerians become increasingly dissatisfied with the contradictions, imbalances, and unequal distribution of power and resources, the level of patriotism declines. Lack of patriotism feeds the desire to embezzle public funds recklessly to the detriment of the Nigerian nation.
Based on the enumerated points above, it is obvious that an increasing number of the Nigerian population are no longer satisfied with the current state of the country. Consequently, there is a need to conduct a referendum so that Nigeria’s 200 to 300 ethnic groups can discuss the fate of the country freely in a democratic manner. Therefore, the view by President Buhari and others that Nigeria is indivisible is not a convincing one. The argument for indivisibility of Nigeria has been shattered by the fact that the United Kingdom (UK) which is a member of the European Union (EU) decided to quit the union as its citizens felt suffocated by the policies and actions of the EU. Based on the desire of British citizens, Mr. David Cameron held a referendum to decide whether the UK should remain in the EU or leave. The citizens voted to quit the EU. If the British people who created Nigeria during the heydays of the British Empire can decide to quit a political arrangement which does not seem to satisfy their need, why can’t Nigeria’s 200 to 300 ethnic groups do the same if a political arrangement created through military imposition is suffocating them? By allowing the referendum to go through, the UK has opened the gate for the Scottish and Irish people to decide in the nearest future whether they should continue to remain in the United Kingdom or go their separate ways.
Indeed, President Buhari should adopt the attitude of Mr. David Cameron by responding to the wishes of a large segment of the Nigerian people and hold a referendum and or implement the recommendations of the National Conference of 2014. The Indivisibility of a forced union in which some Nigerians are treated as overloads while others are treated as serfs or conquered citizens cannot hold. A nation in which the citizens of one section of the country constantly use violence against the citizens of the other section of the country cannot be indivisible. An imposed political association in which one section of the country feels it has a mandate to rule the country cannot stand the test of time. This is why a referendum is needed. A referendum does not necessarily mean the dissolution of the country, rather, it is a means to restructure or redesign the country to the betterment of all Nigerians. Of course, some groups might decide to opt out of the Nigerian arrangement and form their own separate countries, if need be.
Indeed, a referendum is needed in Nigeria to avoid Alhaji Gwarzo’s view that:
The Christians in the north such as the Berom, the Tiv, the Kataf, the Jaba, the Zuru, the Sayyawa, the Jukun, the Idoma and all others are nothing and the Muslim minorities in the north, including the Kanuri, the Nupe, the Igbira, the Babur, the Shuwa Arabs, the Marghur and all the others know that when we are talking about leadership in the north and in Nigeria, Allah has given it to us, the Hausa-Fulani (Ibid.).
A country made up of 200 to 300 ethnic groups can only stand united as a sovereign nation when all groups are treated equally, regardless of ethnicity, region, and religion. Nigeria must be restructured to satisfy the aspiration of all Nigerians, not just one or two groups.