On October 31, 1959, Chief Obafemi Awolowo told a distinguished audience including Sir James Robertson, then Governor General of Nigeria that very few events in his life time had given him so much pleasure as opening the Western Nigerian Television Service, (WNTV), which he described as ‘a modern miracle’. It was the first in Africa. The structures housing the project took less than three months to build with the help of 300 workers. Sir James Robertson in his opening remark paid glowing tribute to the ‘enterprise and determination’ of those behind the project and their overseas partners’ for achieving such a feat in such record time. The inauguration of the TV station was the icing on the cake of other achievements of the Western Region between 1952 and 1959. The regional government had not only successfully implemented its free education programme, it awarded during its first year in office, local and international scholarships to youths of Western Region than all the colonial government awarded to the entire country in their years.
The giant strides made by the Western Region were possible because we operated a workable federal arrangement. And the credit for that goes to the British colonial masters who realized very early that most of the educated elites with eyes on becoming new inheritors of power lived in denial pretending our cultural differences had been greatly exaggerated by accident of colonial rule. The colonial regime therefore took it upon itself to tell us the obvious- that the ‘Hausas of Zaria are different from the Bantu tribes men of the valley of the Benue’ just as the Scandinavians in the Baltic are different from the Slavs of Bulgaria; that we are a ‘collection of mutually independent native states, separated by difference of history and tradition, by ethnological and racial, tribal, political, social and religious barriers’.
Consequently, Hugh Clifford, the then Nigerian Governor General in an address to the Nigerian Council on December 1920 was unequivocal about a British policy designed to produce a ‘regional government that secures for each separate people, the right to maintain its identity, its individuality and its nationality and its own chosen form of government which have been evolved for it by the wisdom and by the accumulated experiences of generation of its forbearers’. This stated policy was what later influenced the constitutional changes of 1954, 1957 and the 1958 Lancashire debate at which October 1, 1960 was chosen as the date for our independence.
With the collapse of the first republic through the intervention of forces loyal to those who had earlier expressed their preference for a unitary system in a multi-ethnic society, we have – in the absence of an impartial British arbiter –been living in denial, running a federal system only in name. Expectedly, children of the Western Region’s miracle of the first republic have been in the forefront for a struggle for a restructured Nigeria. However, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, former CBN Governor and current Emir of Kano while labeling them as advocates of a ‘return to a nihilist era of ethnic agendas and tribal warfare’ accused them of engaging in ‘rabid tribalism and provincialism’.
What was probably lost on Sanusi who not too long ago claimed he was proud of his grandfather who supervised the famous Kano groundnut pyramids’ is that Yoruba advocates of a restructured Nigeria were yesterday’s children of cocoa farmers whose taxes were creatively deployed through marketing boards by Awo and his colleagues to provide free education, build industries and GRAs for those who have today turned out to be successful entrepreneurs, businessmen, lawyers, doctors and academics. But for the British structure that allowed each region to develop at its own pace without interference from others, and the dedication of Awo and his self-made colleagues to the cause of Western Region’s youths, there was only a thin line between them and the children of the groundnut farmers who ended up as emir’s labourers, almajiris or worse still ‘maitatsine’ religious fundamentalists..
For the Yoruba, restructuring is not ‘primarily about providing a constitutional frame-work, a formula for sharing the spoils of power’ as claimed by Sanusi. The Yoruba have a template of the ‘1959 miracle’. Restructuring is a vehicle for all ethnic groups at different levels of cultural development including those Clifford in 1920 identified as ‘cannibals inhabiting some hill tops’, ‘the anti-social tribes’ and ‘the naked warriors of the jungle’ for equal opportunity to develop at their own pace without interference from others.
Besides the Yoruba, other prominent Nigerians have in the light of our experiences in the last 16 years, identified what a restructured Nigeria should look like. For Chief Emeka Anyaoku, a former secretary-general of the Commonwealth, ‘the present ‘36 federating units and the federal capital territory, each with its full paraphernalia of administration, spending disproportionate amount of its resources on recurrent expenditure’, is responsible for the collapse of education and health sectors and infrastructural decay’. The most appropriate structure of governance for Nigeria, according to him should be a return to a ‘true federation of six federating units with each developing at its own pace, and the proceeds from “God-given” national resources’.
And as for Atiku Abubakar, a onetime vice president of the country, ‘the current federal structure arrogates too much functions and resources to the government at the centre, and thus killing the spirit of innovation and enterprise among the people’. He has therefore advocated for a political and governmental system that “empowers local authorities and gives them greater autonomy to address peculiar local issues, and enhances accountability, while contributing to the general good of the country.”
Here is where the president-elect viewed as the elixir for all our socio political and economic ailments comes in. As CPC candidate in 2011, he was the only presidential candidate who had restructuring as part of his agenda. Restructuring also featured in his current APC manifesto. The template has been made for him. We can start by devolution of power to the already identified six geo-political zones to allow them face their own demons. The federal government has no business in education, health, agriculture local government etc. Government should dismantle all the money guzzling agencies and transfer their services and the resources to the new zones or regions. The Federal Road Safety Commission, like many other government duplications have more than enough personnel to form the nucleus of state police for the new zones.
We are not being asked to invent the wheel. Europe after two brutal world wars realized part of the solution to hostility is a workable federal arrangement based on the peculiarities of their different communities. Today the whole of Europe is working towards becoming a federation.
What will finally define the Buhari government beyond fighting corruption, turning the economy around, making us proud Nigerians once again, all of which have been taken for granted by millions of Nigerians who have faith in his capacity to deliver on his promises is how he tackles the forces benefitting from the current anarchy we call a federal structure which allows politicians who by just claiming to be a Nigerian before being Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba or Munchi etc becomes president without representing anyone or secure oil block and made billions without work. That, as one can infer from Edmund Burke’s argument, is like climbing the palm tree from the top. No one can be a good Nigerian if he is not first a good representative of his or her people. Ahmadu Bello and Obafemi Awolowo who distinguished themselves as representative of their people are today remembered more by Nigerians than any living or dead former Nigerian head of state.