The Unmaking Of Nigerian Federalism
March 30, 2012 – The Unmaking Of Nigerian Federalism
“Conscience is an open wound, only the truth can heal it” – Uthman Dan Fodio (1754-1817)
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” George Santayana, The Life of Reason, Volume 1, 1905
It was Uthman Dan Fodio, a Fulani and great Islamic scholar who described “Conscience” as “an open wound” that could only be healed by “the truth.” Whatever served as the inspiration for this concept could not be anything other than awesome. In fact, one of the finest stables in the Nigerian media market, The Guardian, definitely shares the depthness of this thought as it adopted this in its logo: “Conscience nurtured by truth.” The fact that this same Dan Fodio is the great grandfather of Sir Ahmadu Bello, the late Sultan of Sokoto and Premier of Northern Region, the man who has played a prominent role in the Nigerian vicissitudes makes it highly imperative that we all open our “consciences” and allow “the truth” to heal them, if Nigeria must be saved.
It is important that Nigeria returns to true Federalism if it must survive. In this era when there is clamour for the Sovereign National Conference (SNC), it is important that we try to look back in History and examine how our Federalism was unmade. This is because as the Spanish born American Essayist Geoge Santayana once contended, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” In this venture, all of us, regarfless of our ethnic background must allow “the truth” to nurture and heal our “consciences” for the sake of our collective survival as a country.
The Nigerian Federalism was unmade via two fronts: (1) Structural or Political and (2) Fiscal or Financial
In 1952, Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sultan of Sokoto and the leader of the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) made the following request to the Nigerian Colonial Seceretary, Mr. Oliver Lyttleton:
“If you want us (the North) to be part of this Nigeria you have in mind, then we want 50% of the membership of the National Assembly.”
It would be recalled that as a result of the elections of 1954, there were 162 seats in the Nigerian National Assembly. Out of this, the South had 83 seats (51.23%) and the North had 79 seats (48.76%), including the Yoruba people of Kwara. This means that if the Kwara people were not lumped with the North, they would still have less number of seats than 79, since this was based on population. This shows that the South of Nigeria has always been more populous than the North of Nigeria. But Sultan Bello, as evident from this 1952 request, has a different idea. If one considers his aristocratic background, one would have an understanding of his fear of “pure” democracy. Aristocracy is “the government of a country by a small group of people especially a hereditary nobility” which is “a group believed to be superior to all others of the same kind.” Thus for the Sultan to seek to dominate by any means necessary, would seem natural to him.
In 1957, he refused the independence of Nigeria because he insisted the North was not ready. But the North was ready when he got what he wanted, and more, before Nigerian Independence in 1960. The British overlords, in order to assuage Sultan Bello’s fears and put Nigeria in his control, created in 1959, 312 seats for the Nigerian National Assembly without any election or new Census. Out of this 312, the North was allocated 174 and the South 138 in the anticipation of the Parliamentary Political System being put in place for Nigeria’s independence. Sultan Bello asked for 50% of the seats in the National Assembly, he got 55.7%. Suddenly, an apartheid system was put in place as the majority South, became the minority and the minority North became the majority. This is where the future of Nigeria was unmade, and the seed for the destruction of the Nigerian Federalism was sowed.
This development gave unburnished confidence to Sultan Bello who declared on October 12, 1960, in an interview with The Parrot, just days after independence the following words:
“This New Nation called Nigeria, should be an estate of our great grand father, Uthman Dan Fodio. We must ruthlessly prevent a change of power. We use the minorities in the North as willing tools, and the South, as conquered territory and never allow them to rule over us, and never allow them to have control over their future.”
With Alhaji Tafawa Balewa firmly in charge in Lagos, Sir Bello’s confidence became ebullient. To him Chief Obafemi Awolowo has been a thorn in his flesh politically, having mainatained an effective opposition to the feudalisation of Nigeria. Earlier in 1959, he had vowed to make Chief Awolowo pay dearly for forcing him to canvass for the votes of his Northern people. Awolowo had to be caged. Thus in the Daily Times of May 3, 1961, Sir Bello said the following:
“I’m set and fully armed, to conquer the Action Group, AG, in the same ruthless manner as my grandfather conquered Alkalawa, a town in Sokoto province, during the last century.”
In May 1962, twelve months after this statement, the NPC Prime Minister of Nigeria, Tafawa Balewa, acting on instructions from Sultan Bello moved a motion to Declare A State of Emergency in Western Region. Below is an excerpt of Chief Awolowo’s contribution opposing the motion of Prime Minister Balewa on May 29, 1962:
“Not long ago after independence, there was rioting of a most severe nature in the Tiv Division of Northern Nigeria. Several lives were lost, several properties were destroyed, there was arson and a host of other crimes were committed. At that time, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was the Prime Minister as he is today. He did not think it fit to call this parliament to declare a state of public emergency in the Northern Region. Also in Okrika – there was widespread rioting in Okrika; again, several lives and properties were lost. I understand that this widespread rioting in Okrika occurred twice in the Eastern Region. The Prime Minister and the cabinet did not think it fit on that occasion to declare a state of public emergency in the Eastern Region.
“But, because the Action Group is pursuing the normal democratic processes as laid down in our constitution to oust someone who happens to be a very close friend of the Prime Minister, and also because the AG is looked upon as a moral foe to the NPC, this very far-reaching provision of our constitution is now being invoked, …..It is doing violence to our constitution and doing violence to the construction of words to suggest that what happened in the Western House of Assembly amounts to a state of public emergency.”
On July 16, 1962, exactly 46 days after Chief Awolow moved this motion and fourteen months after Sir Bello made the statement of conquest of the AG, Chief Awolowo was arrested on the trumped up charges of Treasonable Felony. On November 2, 1962, Chief Awolowo and 28 other members of his party were put on trial. After a hearing lasting eleven months, he was sentenced (September 11, 1963) to ten years imprisonment. This effectively shut down the opposition to the unmaking of Nigerian Federalism which continued unabated.
Thus, why Awolowo was incarcerated, the Northern Peoples Congress led Federal Government embarked on headcount. This exercise was headed by a Briton as Federal Census Officer, Mr. J. J. Warren. The exercise was later cancelled because it was unacceptable. Daniel Agbowu in his book “NIGERIA: The Truth” quoted from M. Crowder’s book, “Story of Nigeria” published in 1966 noting that “The 1962 figures were first questioned in the first place not by politicians but by the civil servant in charge of the Census.”
The Census was reconducted in 1963 but not without controversy. The figure released on February 24, 1964 is as follows:
This was in contrast to the initial figure of over 60 million. Dr. Michael Okpara, Premier of Eastern Region described it as “worse than useless.” Chief Dennis Osadebey characterised it as the “stupendous joke of our age.” Chief S. L. Akintola, revelling in his supposed invulnerability having allied himself to the NPC, which mastermined the incarceration of Awolowo, gladly “accepted the census figures” and said “the figures were accurate..” Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe, encumbered by his involvement in the Balewa government, could not effectively artculate the anger of his people as he pleaded that “all should remain calm” because the Census controversy “might plung the nation into disaster.” Chief Awolowo was meanwhile effectively out of circulation. Sultan Bello had come out smoking as he threatened that “he and his party were ready for a complete showdown” and “warn all Nigerians” that his “Government has accepted the published figures.”
Tafawa Balewa ignored all the protestations and went ahead to distribute the seats in the National Assembly as follows:
North 168 53.8%,
East 69 21%,
West (Lagos included) 61 19.6%,
Midwest 14 4.5%.
The Eastern Region Soilicitor General, Mr. D. O. Ibekwe “took out a writ in the Supreme Court to restrain the Federal Government from using the 1963 Census figures for delineation of the country.” But the Supreme Court said it had no jurisdiction over the case, thus the unmaking of Nigerian Federalism continued.
Crisis followed that action of 1964 by Tafawa Balawa. In the West, the people took their destiny in their hands to confront the government of S. L. Akintola in an episode ingloriously referred to as “wet e.” The Tiv Riots, simmering since 1960 also came to a head in 1964 in what was called “nande nande” (burning burning) and “atem ityough” (head breaking). The whole country went up in flames which unfortunately, consumed the main actors, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Sir Tafawa Balewa and Chief S. L. Akintola, as the Military ascended the political pedestal to continue the serial rigging of Nigeria’s Federalism.
As at the time the First Republic went up in flames in 1966, there were different constitutions for each region and Nigeria. Each region has its own High Commissioner in London. What does this mean? It meant that every region was in control of its destiny. Most historical analysists believed that General Aguiyi Ironsi who took over the reign of power from the uncoordinated plotters of the coup was the first leader who actually practicalised Unitarism of the Nigerian political space, at least officially. Reasons for this should not be difficult to decipher given the chaos that ended the First Republic. But this particular act coupled with the fact that in January 15, 1966 coup led by mainly Igbo officers, Sultan Ahmadu Bello, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa (both Fulani) and Chief S. L. A. Akintola (Yoruba) were killed. But this was reportedly an excuse for the July 25, 1966 coup led by Murtala Mohammed that eventually saw the installation of Lt. Colonel Yakubu Gowon as the military Head of State.
If the Northern soldiers abhored Unitarism, part of the reason they had allegedly staged a vengeance coup, one would have thought that things would have been different on taking power. But alas, that was not the case. The Aburi Agreement meant to calm the nerves after the 1966 pogrom that would have guaranteed each region the control of its own destiny was violated by the North led Federal Government which went ahead to break Nigeria into twelve states. One region, the North ended up with six states. The three other regions ended up with 6 states in yet another rigging of Nigeria. And then there was the Civil War and the unmaking of Nigerian Fiscal Federalism commenced in earnest.
The Constitution establishing Nigeria stipulated 50% derivation “in respect of any Mineral extracted from that region.” Sub-sections 1,2 3,4 and 5 of the Constitution explained this in detail. But this would not deter the rigging of Nigeria as Yakubu Gowon unilaterally took off 5% oil receipt of the Niger Delta leaving them with 45%. He then proceeded with another Census in 1973. At first, Gowon came out with a total of 79,758,969. The six states of the North got 51 million while the Southern six states were given barely 28,758,969. “This meant that the population of the North had jumped from 53.6% in 1963/64 to 63.8 in 1973/74 census. The Southern populatin had dwindled to 36.2% from 46.4%….” The Chairman of the census board late Sir Adetokunbo Ademola said “the figures published by Gowon were not my making.” Chief Obafemi Awolowo, now out of incarceration called the 1973 census a “barren exercise..”
To appreciate the extent of the rigging of the census figures, a comparative analysis of the figures alloted to the North of Nigeria showed that Niger Republic with 1,266,700sq km in land space in the desert has 5,013,966 population in 1973. Chad with 1,259,200 sq km of space had 4,011,856 population in 1973. But the North of Nigeria sharing boundaries with Chad and Niger Republic and with 679,534 sq km of space had 51million! The 1990/91 Census gave the North 47,261,959. Nothing points more to rigging when you look at the 1973 figures of 51 million and 1990 figure of 0ver 47 million. There is no scientific explanation for the reduced difference of almost 4 million.
The Northerners rigged the population in favour of the North and used it as a basis to create States and local governments to the North’s advatage as ameans to siphoning resources to the disadvantage of the South. The Northern Military rulers who created states made sure that the North always had more states than the South as the tables below shows:
Year Governing Official North West East Total States
1967 Y. Gowon 6 3 3 12
1976 M. Mohammed 10 4 5 19
1987 I, Babangida 11 5 5 21
1991 I. Babangida 16 7 7 30
1996 S. Abacha 19 9 8 36
At the risk of stating the obvious, it is an open seceret that the North has 64 more local governments than the entire South – North 419 LGs to South’s 355. What is obvious is the careless abandon with which money is allocated to the states and local governments of the North such that the North takes home 21/2 times what the former Eastern Region took, and 3 to 4 times what the Western Region took and at times, as much as 10 times what the former Mid-Western Region took.
According to “Nigeria: The Truth,” since 1980 when the Federation Account was introduced before the 13% derivation was resuscitated, the take home of each region in percentage of the total accrued money is as follows:
Not many Nigerians are aware that the Northern Region paid custom duties to the Western Region until 1976, when Murtala Mohammed took over the reigns of Government. Or that as at 1975 when Murtala Mohammend overthrew the Yakubu Gowon administration, the Niger Delta enjoyed 45% rents and royalties? Murtala Mohammed slashed it to 20% (Decree No. 6 of 1975) to assuage the Northern States, before Olusegun Obasanjo, through the Aboyade Technical Commission which recommended the removal of the remaining 20% of the rents and royalties, finally nailed the coffin of the Southern States without any protest from the people of the Niger Delta or other parts of the South.
Since then the North has been having advantages in appointments and resource distribution and have been robbing Peter to pay Paul. Now that the call for Sovereign National Conference is increasing, it is important that Nigerians isolate where the country went off the track and seek ways to retrace their steps as a way of moving forward. Way to go include but not limited to the following:
Install TRUE FEDERALISM and allow each region to have its own constitution according to the Principles of Self Determination;
This will put an end to the apartheid system where the minority North is lording it over the majority South.;
This will end the injustice against the South, the goose laying the eggs being deprived of appropriate entitlements to its resources;
Allow a minimum of 45% derivation if we cannot go back to the old 50%;
Allow state or regional police force and dismantled the Nigeria Police Force;
Decentralise the Nigerian Armed Forces and allow each region to manage its own defence;
Decentralise power generation (already in place); and
Let each Region or zone be able to enunciate its own economic plan without the Central Bank being able to overrule them.
Nigeria as is presently, will not survive much longer. It is either we restructure it as brothers or we part ways as friends who have irreconcilable differences. Apartheid – the domination of the majority (South) by the minority (North) – is what we have in Nigeria. It will not hold. Truth is bitter, but it is what the conscience needs as an open wound to get healed a la Uthman Dan Fodio. (Sahara)