Chief Obafemi Awolowo observed as far back as 1945 that ‘given an option to choose between our educated elite, the traditional rulers and the colonial masters, Nigerians would choose in reverse order’. Driven by greed, the Nigerian political elite who often falsely swear in the name of their people remain the curse of Nigeria 60 years after independence. And independence as it has turned out was only freedom by the political elite to preside over an empire of slaves while democracy, a new value system was nothing but a means to an end. Sixty years after rejecting the path to Nigeria freedom, our current power holders continue to dig deeper into the hole.
Nigeria’s golden period in terms of constitutional development was between Lugard’s 1914 amalgamation and 1958 London Independence Constitution midwifed by the British. The 1963 Republican Constitution midwifed by NPC/NCNC coalition, the new inheritors of power erased almost all the country’s gain at nation-building between 1914 and 1958.
Lugard’s constitution introduced devolution of powers through indirect rule. The people collected their taxes, gave to Caesar what belonged to Caesar, and provided security for themselves through community policing. In 2020, 106 years later, our current inheritors of power are quibbling about the meaning of devolution of power.
The Clifford Constitution of 1922 introduced the elective principle which led to the formation of political parties such as Herbert Macaulay’s National Democratic Party (NNDP) of 1923. It is a paradox that almost a hundred years after, it is military leaders of ‘Nigeria Army of anything is possible’ such as Generals Babangida and Abacha and ex-military dictators like Generals Obasanjo and Buhari, that will be teaching Nigerian how to form or manage political parties.
Arthur Richards Constitution of 1946 created regions for the West, East and the North thus laying the foundation for federalism – a system that protects the rights of individual, guarantees freedom, liberty culture and religion rights and equality of every linguistic group. That was at a period Nigerian political leaders who lived in denial were advocating unitary system and confederacy. It is today very depressing that about some 74 years later, President Buhari and his APC will be feigning ignorance as to what restructuring meant.
Macpherson Constitution of 1951 installed parliamentary system, created House of Representatives and regional legislatures with wide powers to legislate for the good of their people. Revenue allocation was based on derivation, need and national interest.
Recognising the diversity of Nigeria, Oliver Lytleton Constitution of 1954 consolidated the federal arrangement by giving more powers to the regions and regionalizing the civil service. There was commitment to finding solution to our crisis of nation-building. Regional police commissioners for instance reported to their regional governors who in turn reported to the Governor-General. In 2012, Shehu Garba an unelected, Nigerian is declaring without restraint that security outfits set up by elected governors as chief security officers of their states as a result of the failure of the federal security apparatus must come under the control of the IGP.
During the 1957 London Independence Constitution conference, the imperial powers had to apply the carrot and stick approach to secure a consensus among our warring politicians. Chief Awolowo insisted that independence for Nigeria must mean that: “The people of Nigeria must as individual citizens enjoy liberty, prosperity and equality under the law and Nigerian constitution”. While the northern and eastern leaders rejected the quest and demand for self- actualization by minorities in the country, he had advocated for the creation of regions for the minorities.
But the administration of the police was to be handled by the Police Council, its operational aspects by the Inspector General of Police while federal and regional police were retained. And as if to confirm Awo’s earlier expressed sentiments that Nigerians have more faith in the British judicial system, the British umpire ensured the highest judicial power was vested on the Privy Council in London as against our Supreme Court.
But if further reasons are needed to confirm that our political elite were driven by greed for power to serve selves and not the people on whose names they falsely swear, the 1963 so-called home-grown Republican Constitution provided just that.
Its major provisions include creation of office of president, Head of State and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces to replace office of Governor-General, making the Supreme Court the highest judicial body and abolition of Judicial Service Commission with judges to be appointed by the president on the advice of the prime minister. There was also the retention of the emergency powers which allows the federal centre to deal with any regional government that fails to toe its line.
Besides the above self-serving provisions, nothing in the Republican Constitution advanced the course of ordinary Nigerians or addressed the national question. It was all about grabbing of powers by NPC/NCNC coalition partners which they misused in 1962 when they declared state of emergency in the West over the throwing of chairs at Western House by a handful of lawmakers while nothing happened in the north where there had been the Tiv insurrection suppressed only with the use of the military.
Indeed, a journey through memory further confirms that the greed for power by our aspiring new inheritors of power only heightened divisions among ethnic groups in Nigeria.
The Lagos Youth Movement was formed by Dr J. C. Vaughan, Mr Ernest Ikoli, Oba Samuel Akinsanya and others in 1934. But when Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe who joined it in 1937 upon his return from Ghana lost a bye-election for the Lagos Legislative Council seat to Jubril Martins by 90 votes to 33, he tried to undermine the body with his West African Pilot forcing Senator Odutola to blame him for ‘all the confusion and tribal hates then rearing their heads as products of Zik’s New Afica’ adding ‘During the days of our old Africa, the Ibos and Yoruba lived together as Nigerians’ and admonishing him to return his ‘New Africa’ to America by post.
In 1941, when Oba Akinsanya, Zik candidate for Sir Kofo Abayomi’s Lagos Legislative Council seat declared vacant to Ernest Ikoli, Awo’s candidate, Zik pulled all Igbos and Ijebus out of the body accusing Awololwo who had supported an easterner against his fellow Ijebu kinsman of tribalism and the Zik crowd believed him.
The schism between the Yoruba and Igbo could also be traced to 1951 Western Regional Parliamentary Elections. Zik supporters claimed he won but prevented by from becoming premier of the West while the AG pointed out the list of its candidates published by the Daily Times of September 24, and the list of 38 names of its victorious candidates published in the paper’s edition of September 26, 1951.
The military intervention of 1966 was also the result of power struggle between the Igbo and Hausa Fulani political elite following the disputed 1964 federal election. An ill-equipped and ill-educated military later plunged the nation into a 30-month civil war (1967-1970), and later replaced a workable federal structure with an unwieldy 36 states and 776 LGAs.