It is often said that within politics, perception is reality and the truth is negotiable. It is with respect to this saying that I must confess APC have excelled in the current presidential election campaign. The perception of good governance in Lagos especially, has gone some way into solidifying it as a reality. Asiwaju Tinubu has also benefitted immensely from this perception of Lagos and has been able to use it to cement his place as national leader of the APC. Anyone that defeats an Atiku Abubakar in politics without the power of incumbency deserves plaudit.
Asiwaju is a deft politician. However he isn’t doing anything new. He is simply copying what Pa Awolowo did in the South West when he held sway, and what Dr Azikiwe and MI Okpara did in the East and Alhaji Tafawa Balewa and Sir Ahmadu Bello did in the North (collectively our founding fathers). Whilst Pa Awolowo was able to deliver on his electoral mandate in all of the South West, Asiwaju has only been able to do so mainly in Lagos. If Pa Awolowo failed to take his relative South West success to the centre, I doubt very much Asiwaju can as APC still seem a collection of strange bedfellows nationally. The East and Northern regions currently don’t appear to have their own version of Asiwaju, perhaps this supports Asiwaju’s ambition somewhat unlike Pa Awolowo that had commendable opponents in other regions.
What is interesting to note however is that this period, when the regions had considerable power, largely coincides with when all of Nigeria was mostly productive. During the first half of the 60s, prior to oil discovery and military incursion into power, agriculture was Nigeria’s biggest sector (some 60% odd of GDP) and main earner of foreign exchange. None of the regions had a mono control of the sector as each had its own area of strength within the sector. Further, Nigeria was a major exporter of agricultural products and was particularly a global leader in palm oil, cocoa and tomatoes. What the agricultural sector did then was that it allowed each regional leader to negotiate from a position of economic strength whenever they gathered to discuss central matters. It is not entirely clear to me, and I need to read more on this, why the founding fathers wanted control of the centre considering the autonomy and true federal nature of governance at the time. But jostle for the centre they did. We all know what happened in 1966 when tensions got too heated as a result of the failure of the struggle for power at the centre.
Whilst the various killings that led to the military’s incursion into power were wrong and unfortunate, it was hardly surprising considering that the formation of Nigeria as a country was never negotiated among those that were forced to bear the name “Nigerian”. Unfortunately our founding fathers failed to communicate with and reiterate enough to those that they led, the friction that was bound to occur, the length of time it was going to take and the need for patience to be exercised by all and sundry in the negotiation of what the “Nigerian identity” and “Nigerian dream” was. Perhaps, and in hindsight, what should have been made clear by the founding fathers was that all life was equal, irrespective of the region one came from and that justice would be full no matter whose ox is gored. This communication failure perhaps contributed to why the Aguiyi-Ironsi government was lenient and perceived to be lenient on the Majors that initiated the first coup and set of killings.
On the military’s part, the decision to create several states and weaken regional autonomy and power was a good strategy – a good strategy in that it allowed them consolidate power. Good for the military but bad for Nigeria. Why was it bad? It was and has remained ever so because that original question the “Nigerian identity” and the “Nigerian dream” are still unanswered some 55 years on.
The question is can we answer this question without each region going back to its position of economic strength – a position of strength that was largely enabled due to political and economic autonomy?
We’ve spent the last 55 years failing woefully at finding the answer to this question. There’s a Nigerian adage that says “when a youngster trips, they get up and carry on walking, whereas when an adult trips, they get up, look back at what caused the trip before carrying on walking”. At 55, we can safely assume that Nigeria is an adult. So why don’t we do what adults do, look back on what is causing us to trip over ourselves time and time again.
A lot of our national strife has been caused by the jostle for control of power at the centre. The jostle for power at the centre, when cabal interest wasn’t as complex today as it was in the 60s equally stumped our founding fathers. How much so now when vested interests are so vast (local and international), complex and when we have grave national economic and security issues on our hands.
Whilst we may not be able to revert 36 states back into 12 or even the original 3 regions, we should be able to produce a federal Constitution that guarantees the complete economic autonomy of state and local governments. Further, we should be able to come up with a Constitution that politically supports the economic autonomy of the state and local governments whilst at the same time pandering and recognising our multi ethnic multi cultural society.
In my last opinion piece, I mentioned the words “constitutional minimums”. I believe through these minimums, we can deliver a Constitution that guarantees the freedom of rights of every Nigerian citizen equally, whilst also delivering a social contract that is equitable. The basis of these minimums is purely “what is yours is yours, what is mine is mine, and what is ours, we decide”. I mentioned two examples of minimums in my last piece. I’ll give another one now.
Our Constitution can establish a federal police force that focuses on federal crimes eg crimes against the nation, those that threaten national security, sovereignty or crimes in violation of international law and when we’re obliged to cooperate with international partners. The Constitution would also have a law enabling the creation of state police forces. The Constitution would provide for each state to determine how it wants its police force to be structured and administered. The Constitution will also guarantee that any Nigerian can apply to join the police force of any state so long as they are resident in that state as a minimum. Of course such persons will still need to successfully negotiate the state’s police academy. Normal discriminatory laws will apply and would be filed and tried at federal courts. The rest of our judicial system would also have constitutional minimums similar to that of the police force.
The point of this piece is we need each level of government, each ethnic grouping and each state to be free from the fear of ethno-dominance and to be able to negotiate the future of Nigeria, their future, our future from a position of relative strength and not desperation or out of inducement of a stomach nature.