Osibajo and Awo’s inherited burden

If what federalism sets out to achieve is ‘individual and group rights defined in form of language, culture, and religion or socio-economic status’, the Yoruba by their history and temperament are federalists. Unfortunately, out of sheer mischief, the Hausa Fulani, who  according to Richard Sklar settled for confederacy in 1953, (ostensibly because their region was 70 years behind the south in educational development and because of the south’s disrespect for their culture),  and the Igbo and NCNC that opted for unitary system in 1959 (because of their mobility and educational advancement since they stand to gain more from a unitary system) have often turned around  to accuse Awo and the Yoruba of tribalism for insisting on a workable federal arrangement.

A workable federal arrangement that will guarantee freedom, liberty and equality for every linguistic group from the unfriendly inhabitants of the Mama Hills and the unsocial Mumuye of Muri Province became a lifelong pursuit for Awo who once accused his political opponents of carousing around while he burnt the midnight oil proffering solution to Nigeria problems. He started his crusade with the publication of “Nigeria: Path to Freedom” as a student at the age of 36 in 1945.

As a 39-year old Yoruba representative  at the 1948 Ibadan General Conference on the Review of the 1946 Richard’s Constitution, he  canvassed vigorously  for a federal structure based on ethnic nationalities  as against the  northern delegates’  insistence on a loose federation, with the centre controlling only Defence, External Affairs, Customs and the eastern delegates’ advocacy of  a unitary system.  Awo, accompanied by the late Alfred Rewane, his dependable ally and a pillar of Action Group took the crusade to Ahmadu Bello’s house in Kaduna.  The meetings yielded no fruit because the Sardauna, according to Rewane reminded Awo that those whose freedom he sought were once his ancestors’ properties. Awo remained undaunted. Two other meetings were held at different times at the Ikorodu house of Alhaji Gbadamosi and in Awo’s Ibadan residence.  Awo’s pursuit of freedom for the people of the Calabar, Ogoja and Rivers (COR Province), the Middle Belt and the North Eastern Nigeria, attracted little or no support from his Yoruba party members like S. L. Akintola, Bode Thomas and Rotimi Williams who did not mind confederation as canvassed by the north or any system for that matter as long as it guaranteed that the West was not ‘ruled by a one- eyed man king’.

At the 1958 Lancaster  House constitutional conference where October 1, 1960 was announced as the date for Nigerian independence by the British Secretary for the colonies, Chief Awolowo was the only delegate that stood up to insist that independence for Nigeria as a corporate entity was not enough.  “People of Nigeria”, he had argued, “must as individual citizens enjoy liberty, prosperity and equality under the law and Nigeria constitution”.

Probably as a result of the rivalry between Zik and Awo or out of envy for his unrivalled achievement  in the West between 1952 and 1959, the Igbo ‘unitarists’  found a willing partner in the ‘confederal’ Hausa Fulani feudal lords  desirous of protecting their fiefdom from contamination by Awo’s endless talk of freedom and liberty which partly precipitated the Tiv  insurrection in early days of independence, to throw the advocate of freedom and justice into prison barely two years after independence.  They labelled Awo a tribalist and coup plotter on the strength of an entry in his diary where he stated he had a dream that he became the Prime Minister of Nigeria. He was jailed for 10 years by political opponents who swore he would be too old if he ever survived his prison years to question how they govern Nigeria. Unfortunately, having removed one leg of the tripod, (AG in the West) the dispute over the 1963 census crisis between the east and the north which was settled in favour of the latter by the courts was all that was needed for the collapse of Nigeria’s edifice consuming in the process, most of those who had betrayed the spirit of the Nigerian constitution in 1962.

The coming of the military in 1966 was a continuation of the bitter war between the Igbo and Hausa Fulani political elite. Both President Azikiwe and Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa had made overtures to the military over the disputed 1964 elections.  A segment of the military that was sympathetic to Zik and NCNC used the 1966 coup as a cover to clear out those who opted to support Balewa in deference to the constitution. The July counter coup and reprisal mindless killing of Igbos by northern soldiers was an answer to the January selective killing of non-Igbo political and military leaders. An ill-equipped and ill-educated military and their selfish Igbo and Hausa Fulani politicians later plunged the nation into an avoidable 30 months civil war (1967-1970), replaced a workable structure with an unwieldy 36 states and 776 LGAs. Igbo and Hausa political elite are the beneficiaries of the current anarchy which allows the almighty powerful federal government to undermine the authority of weak states through local governments. This and other calamities that befell our nation in the last 50 years could have been averted if we had not rejected Awo’s ‘Nigeria: Path to Freedom.”

Now for the first time in our nation’s history, the mainstream Yoruba political tendency  embraced by Awo and his supporters is partnering with the Hausa-Fulani north to provide an alternative  developmental  paradigm  to that which the coalition of Igbo and Hausa Fulani  political elite had adopted since independence in 1960 to pilot  the affairs of the country which has only left a legacy of  thousands of underprivileged  illiterate Igbo youths who roam the streets of our urban centres hawking substandard imported goods and their northern counterparts  who according to Alhaji Kashim Shettima, became ‘victims of   mass hunger and anger, mass unemployment, bad infrastructure, mass illiteracy and ignorance and general hopelessness’.  Today, Osibanjo has an unenviable  burden of working closely with Muhammadu Buhari who incidentally had restructuring in his manifesto in 2011 and 2015  to take us out of the woods after 50 years of rejecting the boundless possibilities contained in  Awo’s “Path to Nigeria’s freedom’.

Osinbajo is starting where Awo stopped in 1962. Yoruba want for others what they want for themselves. His mandate from the Yoruba is therefore very clear and unambiguous. It is not about sharing offices. The Yoruba was after all, the worse for Obasanjo’s presidency. The Yoruba lost nothing conceding PDP Speakership of the current Lower House to the northwest.  The Yoruba want a restructured Nigeria with constituents power over law and order, education and public information; a restructured Nigeria where there is freedom and justice for all; a restructured Nigeria that protects the right of indigenes as enshrined in the UN charter; a restructured Nigeria where it will be impossible to climb the palm tree from the top by becoming a President without representing anyone or making  billions from allocation of oil block just because you claim to be a Nigerian.

It is restructuring that can end the orgy of killing of hundreds of helpless women and children at night in the Middle Belt region by unidentified ‘Fulani herdsmen’. Categorizing all forms of fraudulent activities ranging from the  peddling of fake drugs  to hawking of smuggled substandard goods as ‘business’  can only be stopped by restructuring. It is also the answer to corruption as there will be less to steal in Abuja  while  the government of South-south states especially Bayelsa where most of the state past chief executives have been accused by EFCC of converting over 70% of state allocations to personal use will be forced to face its own demon within a South-south zone or region or let off if the zone accepts President Jonathan’s thesis that ‘stealing government funds is not corruption’. Finally, it is the answer to Boko Haram who will be free to close down all schools and hospitals and revert to the cave age where services of doctors and engineers would not be needed.

I am sure Prof Osinbajo and Buhari, the president-elect have no illusion that their mandate or their capacity to confront the social problems facing the country is the answer to the structural problems that have bedevilled Nigeria since 1962. Their mandate and ultimate success in tackling social issues only provide a historic opportunity to study development in other societies such as India, Canada, Russia and even Europe and  develop the political will to put an to the man-made structural problems bedevilling our nation since 1962

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