WE concluded on this page last week that efforts at resolving the national question through constitutional negotiations like statesmen ended with the British-midwifed 1958 Independent Constitution. Every other attempt starting with the home made 1963 republican constitution has turned out to have been driven by greed and intrigue of Nigerian political elite who instead of liberating the masses of their people on whose back they rode to power, from poverty, ignorance and disease, engaged themselves in deadly battle over what they would personally gain by prolonging the nightmare of Nigerians.
Both the north and the east got what they wanted from the 1963 republican constitution. The structure was retained especially with violent suppression of Tiv popular uprising and Isaac Boro Ijaw-led insurrection. There was silence on the controversial issue of boundary adjustment. For the Okun and Kwara Yoruba that had asked to be merged with their kith and kin in the west , it was a hope betrayed. But for the north, it guaranteed there would be no threat to their electoral fortunes as long as democracy is accepted as a game of numbers.
The East got the president and commander-in-chief of the armed forces that later became politicised with the imposition of Aguiyi Ironsi as head of the armed forces against the preference of the departing British head and the North recruitment drive, first by Col Gowon and later by other northern political leaders for young northerners to enter into the military in response to Igbo domination of the officer corps. They even lowered the entry point from WAEC/Ordinary Level GCE to typewriting qualification, as entry point. The only loser was the West that could no longer seek redress from the Privy Council of London.
But it was a pyric victory as Zik discovered when he approached the military for support over the constitutional crisis that followed the disputed 1964 elections. He was a titular commander-in-chief of the armed forces, in reality, they owed loyalty by virtue of the republican constitution to the prime minister. The January 1966 coup and the July 29 counter coup were the fall-outs of polarization of the military by our political elite.
Unfortunately, in the absence of Big Brother Britain threatening to apply the big stick, every other attempt at addressing the national question through a negotiated constitutional frame work ended up being worse than the previous one.
Thus, when General JTU Ironsi took over power in January 1966, he set up on February 21, 1966, a study group on constitutional review with representatives from the then four regions whose report was to be submitted for a referendum before promulgation.
However, Ironsi inexplicably came up with Decree 34 which turned the country to a unitary state on May 24, 1966. With Ironsi surrounding himself with Igbo advisers including Dr Nwabueze who was widely believed to have drafted the decree, this was considered too much of a coincidence because Zik and NCNC had up to 1959 wanted a unitary system. It was just as well that what could not be achieved through constitutional debate was effortlessly achieved with a military decree. But what goes round, comes around.
Yakubu Gowon reversed the decree and reinstated the country’s federal system with 12 states structure with six each from the north and south with his own decree. He then set up his own ad-hoc group with representatives from the four regions and Lagos to work on constitutional proposal. But this was abandoned following riots and mindless killing of Igbos in the north which eventually led to a civil war that lasted from August 1967 to January 13, 1970. The war led to consolidation of power in the hands of the north.
Murtala Muhammed inaugurated his own Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) on October 18, 1975. At the end, Obasanjo who succeeded him and the military inserted about 17 different items into the draft submitted by the Constituent Assembly. With the adoption of the presidential system with a very strong centre, the country seems to operate a unitary system – the very antithesis of what the federating nationalities that lost their freedom in 1966 and those struggling for self-actualization in the country wanted.
Besides the introduction of federal character principle designed for sharing of spoils of office and political offices by the elite, neither the national question nor the fate of the masses were considered. Even when they half-heartedly inserted Fundamental Objective and Directive Principles of state policy viz right to free medical care, free education, they added that they were not enforceable even in courts of law.
The self-serving short-lived Babangida’s 1989 constitution which further empowered the centre at the expense of the states collapsed along with his decreed parties – National Republican Convention and Social Democratic Party when he was forced to step aside following his annulment of June 12, 1993 election.
With his five political parties adopting him presidential candidate, after widespread assassination of political opponents, banning of newspapers and detaining of journalists, General Sani Abacha who died on June 8, 1998 had railroaded his 1995 largely boycotted constitutional conference to come up with a constitution that would allow him to transmute himself to a civilian president.
The 1999 constitution has been described as a military decree as no one saw it until the inauguration of Obasanjo on May 29, 1999.
Obasanjo’s own National Political Reform Conference (NPRC) of February 2005 submitted a report to the National Assembly in May 2006 which focused more on tenure-elongation as against nation building which he today champions.
The 2014 Confab was an after-thought by President Jonathan to seek support of southwest, the region that has been in the forefront of the struggle for restructuring. He shares the same affliction with all his predecessors for whom constitutional review or restructuring is not about resolving our crisis of nation building, but about greed for power.
Perhaps this explains why the lot of ordinary Nigerians today under the new inheritors of power is far worse than it was under the colonial masters, one of the reasons the late first civilian governor of Ogun State, Chief Bisi Onabanjo, alias “Aiyekoto” had advocated the return of the British shortly before his death.
The northern political elite remain the greatest beneficiary of independence. Yet with their near monopoly of power in the last 60 years, for the average northern poor, the offspring of the generation of farmers credited with the ‘groundnut pyramid’ miracle, it is still a matter of “labourer born labourer”. Over 80% of about 11million of out-of-school Nigerian children are from the north.
The Southeast is in league with the north, its rival. The poor masses of the East share the same fate with those of the North. Eastern political elite often fraudulent swear in the name of their poor to secure power only to build palaces among the squalor of their people in their villages while their youths hawk on the streets of Nigerian major cities.
In the Southwest where there was already a template for development, the current political elite are not different from their other Nigeria’s unambitious political elite. Compared to the first and second republics, Southwest political elite, the current inheritors of power are a disaster. Primary school education was free in the West in 1953. There were four equivalent of today’s RUGA located in different parts of Southwest besides imported cows called “malu’ for home- domestication. Today, 10,000 heads of cow are today daily consumed in the southwest. The only surviving cattle ranch set up in Ekiti by late Adekunle Ajasin collapsed under governors Fayemi, Fayose and Oni whose only enduring legacy is fighting over political offices.