By Lasisi Olagunju
Aye ti ba je! (the world has gone bad). A US dollar exchanged for N504 at the weekend. What this means is that your one million naira cannot buy two thousand dollars worth of anything. It will get worse going forward. On April 13, 2018, UNICEF released a statement in which it lamented that “since 2013, more than 1,000 children have been abducted by Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria.” That was three years ago. The same UNICEF, five days ago, said that in the first six months of this year, 950 pupils were abducted in northern Nigeria. You see: from 1,000 abductions in five years, the sore has festered to about a thousand victims in just six months. A different strain of terrorists called ‘bandits’ has joined the abduction business, deregulating it to our utter shock and shame. It may still get worse.
The leaders who created Nigeria placed a lone request before the God of creation. They begged Him to help “build a nation where no man is oppressed,” so that “with peace and plenty, Nigeria may be blessed.” In other words, they craved a nation of prosperity and of secure and safe citizens. It would appear the prayer was not answered. Even the British thought they worked towards this before dropping the baby in 1960. The child they formed on October 1, 1960 has turned out deformed. This is a very difficult period to be a Nigerian living in Nigeria. Every new year has been worse than the previous one. Last year was bad; this year is worse. For the rich, a bag of beans today sells for about N38,000; for the poor, a Kongo of beans is N1,200. A bag of garri for the rich is N22,000; the poor who buys per Kongo pays N600. A bag of rice is now N27,000. How much was a loaf of bread last year? How much is it now? Chicken that sold for N500 last year now sells for N2,300. Sallah is next week, how much is the smallest ram being sold in the market. Why has Nigeria progressively failed to give its citizens any reason to smile?
Predatory governance is the fruit of a structurally bad political system. It can only deliver misery the tidal wave of which is on Nigerians in epidemic proportions. Today we have nepotism of the worst strain; we have insecurity of the worst varieties; we have food inflation that kills; we have a total collapse of hope and a fear of war. The very worst is coming; it has not happened. It will happen unless those resisting the re-construction of Nigeria loosen their hold. Vice grips choke to death. The spring head of Nigeria is Federalism – without it, it can’t spring good water for the thirsty. It can’t even live. Federalism in our case is what Tor Blair (2018) describes as “the other side of the waveform.” It is what was negotiated and agreed; the very reason why the union of Nigeria was formed. But the river of Nigeria has turned its back on its source. This federation is in the jailhouse of power kidnappers. Now, that country of promise has become a jungle where nothing good thrives. Our military won’t work; our police system won’t work. Insecurity works to halt production of everything- food and fuel. Goodness, even common sense, has taken a flight. Mass murder; mass misery; mass abductions are the drumbeats of our definition. Nothing will move unless the vehicle is built back to the designers’ pact. The problem with Nigeria is therefore not APC and it is not PDP. It is not even Buhari and his cabal of (mis)managers. The problem is the anaemic system that makes it possible for bad persons to abduct the Villa and wax luxuriantly there while the people groan and gasp for life.
Keep the killer-constitution; change the government and its lords; replace them with the other side and you get the same result or even worse. The very bad storm that is tearing down our towns and villages and ravaging homes is just a howling symptom of a world that is about to end. The house will collapse soon unless it goes back to its federalist foundation. Meanwhile, let no one blame the British for what we have made of the impossible country they created. They, at least, tried to make the Abiku live while they were in charge. While preparing Nigeria for freedom, they called at the house of priests of wisdom who told them that this child would not live if it broke the taboo of its existence. There were conferences upon conferences – and conclaves of wisemen from every part of Nigeria. They all agreed that every being has his allergy, the thing he must run away from. A country of multiple tongues and tribes cannot be forced into the monogamous life of a unitary state and breathe. They agreed there would be explosions in repeated times unless Nigeria was a federation free of the monstrous grip of an almighty centre. That was the Nigerian covenant – now broken. If southern governors met last week and northern leaders are wailing, describing the meeting as a conspiracy against them and their president, it is because Nigeria is no longer a federation of equals. Indeed, every key content of the governors’ communique was a valiant attempt at reaffirming the federalist essence of the country. But the north is angry with them. Those attacking the governors forget that Nigeria is not like Adam, a being formed by decree from clay; and it is not Eve who was created by fiat from the ribs of a lonely man. Independent Nigeria is a product of decades of very rigorous negotiations and debates, insults and fights and resolutions. Alan Lennox-Boyd, Secretary of State for the Colonies (1954-1959) in a memo dated 31 July, 1957 attested to the lack of love in the stream that flows between the north and the south. He wrote: “The north fears and dislikes the more educated southerners and if they were not economically bound to the federation, (they) would be glad to be quit of it.” This is likely true even today.
A decade before 1957, the British were told their Nigeria would fail unless it was planted in the soil of federalism. And they agreed as they set to work. They knew the north-south division and all the other divides would stunt the nation to uselessness and death. They agreed with our nationalists that a well structured federation would cure the emerging nation of its infirmity.
On Thursday, 21 May, 1953, the British House of Commons held a robust debate on Nigeria and its survival as one country. The position of the British government was that only a weak central government and very strong regions would guarantee an ‘indivisible’ Nigeria. Addressing the parliament, the then Secretary of State for the Colonies, Mr. Oliver Lyttelton, spoke of “recent events” which he noted had “shown that it is not possible for the three regions of Nigeria to work together effectively in a federation so closely knit as that provided by the present Constitution.” He added that Her Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom, greatly regretted this, and “consider that the Constitution will have to be redrawn to provide for greater regional autonomy and for the removal of powers of intervention by the Centre in matters which can, without detriment to other regions, be placed entirely within regional competence.” He goes further: “It is at the same time necessary to ensure that the common economic and defence requirements of all regions are secured.” In order to “ensure these vital requirements of all regions, and at the same time to preserve the common interests of all the peoples of Nigeria,” he said there would “be a continuing need for a central organisation” but explained that “the form which that central organisation should take, and the powers which must be reserved to it, will require a careful study.”
The problem persisted. A conference on the Nigerian constitution was subsequently held in London on the 19th of January, 1954. There was a follow up conference in Lagos running from January to February, 1954. On February 10, 1954, Mr Lyttelton was back before the British parliament to give an update on the London conference, the subsequent Lagos conference and the “revised constitution” which he said would be “reviewed again …not later than August, 1956.” He informed the House that in the coming constitution, “the considerable differences which still exist between the regions are recognized by giving increased functions to the regional governments and making those governments more independent of the central government in carrying them out” while the central government “retains the functions essential to preserving the unity of Nigeria…” The 1957 and 1958 constitutional conferences deepened participation of the people in their regional legislature and sustainable growth of federalism in Nigeria.
On Thursday, 28 July, 1960, less than three months to Nigeria’s independence, the British government triumphantly informed the parliament in London that “the constitutional framework” for Nigeria “is a Federal Constitution, in which each region is self-governing in its own field.” It added that “the Federal centre, of course, is responsible for defence, security, external affairs and other matters which concern the whole of the country” while “each region has a separate judiciary.” The official who briefed the parliament was full of confidence that the structure that had been worked out for Nigeria would guarantee its unity and stability. He said “The Constitution, as we have worked it out with the Nigerians, has seemed to us to be workmanlike and fair, and to be a structure which will give confidence both in the regions and to all the races in the country of Nigeria, and will contribute to that political stability which is so necessary if the economic development of the country is to proceed as we should wish to see it. The Constitutions, both Federal and Regional, will be made in an Order in Council and Independence Day will be on October 1.”
The Federation of Nigeria was born on October 1, 1960; it soon abandoned the pact that welded disparate parts and thus wrecked its destiny. The centre, as it does today, became interested in what was not its business. Those who kidnapped the Federal Government thought they would not enjoy their prize unless they enlarged their coast and overran the south, particularly the West. They forgot all the years of toil and travel, the negotiations and the agreements that kept Nigeria as a federation of equals. Nigeria became an evil tree bearing fruits fit only for its like. There was a civil war; today there are wars everywhere you turn. An adherence to the rules of federalism would have built wealth and prosperity according to efforts and fate. It would have energized the security system to take care of the deviants and their sponsors who today appear resolved to sink the ship with their criminality. If criminals have effectively taken over the whole of northern Nigeria’s 660,000 square kilometers land mass and the south trembles in the frenzy of insecurity, it is because there is an Abuja that is not supposed to have the powers it wields. When everything is spiraling out of control as it is happening to Nigeria, my people would look into space and intone: Aye ti ba je (the world has gone awful, grim, parlous and bad).
The medicine man told his patient: use this as prescribed so that it will work as it works. The Nigerian Abiku would probably have lived as a normal child if we had not fed it the poison of unitarism. We turned the system upside down and still think things would function normally. We were given a federation; today it is the opposite of what that concept means. The daily deadly threats to peace and security; the pangs of hunger, starvation and the drought of good life are all products of Nigeria’s structural defects. What will kill Nigeria is right inside its being; it is its pig-headed obsession with what is not good for its health. We either restructure this house, rebuild it on the wisdom of its original design or it falls on all of us. The earth around it is sinking already.
The north’s misguided anger towards southern governors
By Lasisi Olagunju