Enough of injustice in Nigeria
Chief Olu Falae, the former minister of finance and former Secretary to the Government of the Federation(SGF) has cautioned that Nigeria must be restructured before the next general elections in 2019. The octogenarian who was also the joint presidential candidate of the Alliance for Democracy, AD and the All Peoples Party, APP in the 1999 presidential election believes that for the country to move forward, she must go back to the 1963 constitution. He made the remarks and more in this interview with WILLY EYA.
Recently, Nigeria celebrated 57 years of independence amid discordant voices on the vexed issue of restructuring and you are one of the Yoruba leaders who recently converged on Ibadan to take a position on the issue. Do you think all these efforts would eventually lead to restructuring?
You know I am a leader in the South West and at the National convention, I was elected as the leader of the Yoruba delegation. So, I am central to the Yoruba position. The Yoruba position is my position and it is the same position I canvassed in my book, ‘The way forward for Nigeria’ which I launched since 2005 in Lagos. What we mean by restructuring is going back to the Independence Constitution which our leaders negotiated with the British between 1957 and 1959. It was on that basis that the three regions agreed to go to Independence as one united country. So, it was a negotiated constitution. This is because, if the three regions were not able to agree, there would not have been one united independent Nigeria. But because the three regions at that time negotiated and agreed to package a constitution, that is why they agreed to go to Independence together. When the military came in 1966 and threw away the constitution, they threw away the negotiated agreement among the three regions, which was the foundation of a united Nigeria.
So, the military did not only throw away the constitution but a political consensus negotiated and agreed by our leaders of the three regions in those days. When we say restructuring now, we are saying let us go back substantially to that constitution which gave considerable autonomy to the regions. For example, each region at that time collected its revenue and contributed the agreed proportion to the centre. But when the military came, they turned it round and took everything to the centre. That could not have been accepted by Ahmadu Bello, Nnamdi Azikiwe or Obafemi Awolowo.
This constitution we are using was made by late Gen Sani Abacha and the military; and Abacha came from only one part of Nigeria, so he wrote a constitution that favoured his own part of Nigeria. That is why I am saying, let us restructure and go back to what all of us agreed before. That is the meaning of restructuring. The regions used to be federating units, but in today’s Nigeria, they would now be called federal regions because states have been created in the regions. So in the West, you now have federation of Yoruba states which would belong to the Nigerian union at the centre. So, it is not like the region of old with all the powers. No. It is now going to be a coordinator of the states in the zone. That is what we mean by restructuring. And the regions would have a considerable autonomy as they used to have. For example, for the younger people, they may not know that every region then had its own constitution.
There were four constitutions at independence –the Federal constitution, Western constitution, Eastern constitution and Northern constitution. That was how independent they were and every region had an ambassador in London. The ambassadors for the regions were called Agent General so that you do not confuse them with that of Nigeria then called High Commissioner. So, Nigeria had four ambassadors in London. The ambassador for Nigeria then called a High Commissioner was M.T Mbu. The ambassador for Eastern Nigeria then was Mr Jonah Chinyere Achara, Western Nigeria was Mr Omolodun and for Northern Nigeria, it was Alhaji Abdulmalik. There were four of them. That was the kind of arrangement we agreed to, but the military threw it away and gave us this over-centralised unitary constitution. So, we said this is not acceptable any more; we must go back to the negotiated constitution which gave considerable autonomy to the regions, so that they can compete in a healthy manner. For example, Chief Obafemi Awolowo wanted to introduce free education in the West and other regions said they could not afford it, but he went ahead to introduce it in the Western region. He said he wanted to pay a minimum of five shillings a day, while others were paying two and three shillings. He went ahead and passed the law, making five shillings the minimum wage in Western Nigeria.
There was no problem with that. In Western Nigeria, the constitution provided for a House of Assembly and the House of Chiefs. In Eastern Nigeria, there was no House of Chiefs because they did not think they needed one. There was no problem with that and that is the kind of Nigeria we negotiated in London, but that is different from what we have today. So, we are saying let us go back to that arrangement which all of us agreed at independence and not what Abacha imposed on us, which is very partial, unfair and one-sided. That is the meaning of restructuring; it is to restructure unfairness and give semi-autonomy to the federating units.
Why does the North seem reluctant to shift ground on this vexed issue of restructuring? Based on the arguments from various quarters so far, it appears the whole South and even the Middle Belt have reached a consensus on the need to restructure Nigeria as against the position of the core North which still believes that the status quo should remain.
The North has not spoken. But when you say the North, what do you mean? I ask this question because the Middle Belt which constitutes about nine or 10 states are on the same page with the South on restructuring. We had a meeting in Abuja last week and I was there where we agreed on restructuring. And the states represented there by their leaders, were about nine. They include Benue, Plateau, Taraba, Kogi, Adamawa, Taraba, Kwara, southern part of Bauchi, southern part of Borno and southern Kaduna. So, when you say the North, you must define what you mean because nine states out of the 19 in the North are in support of restructuring. It is the North West alone which is now in the minority and which have not announced its position. It is meeting and setting up committees and also our meeting in Abuja last week also set up a committee to engage the North West on this matter. The idea is to fully persuade them to go back to what all of us agreed at independence.
To some people, going back to the 1963 constitution may not work considering that so many things have changed in Nigeria. For instance, 36 states have been created unlike the period in question when we had only regions and not states. Don’t you think there is merit in their argument?
But I have told you that when we go back to the 1963 constitution, the regional government of today would be a federal regional government because of the creation of states. That is not an issue. For instance in the East, it would be a federal regional government of the East. It would be the same thing in the South West and other regions. Why should we not go back to that arrangement? That is what we agreed before. How do you expect us to accept the unfairness in this constitution which gave Lagos State only 20 local governments and gave old Kano State 77 local governments? Is that not injustice? That is unfair and nobody would accept that. No reasonable man can argue that the unfair unitary constitution that we have today should continue. But at the same time, those of us do not want Nigeria to break up. What we want is that all of us should remain in Nigeria, but it would be a more balanced Nigeria, where the ethnic groups are free to pursue their priorities. The South West in those days believed in free education and we had it.
Those who did not want it did not have free education. Chief Awolowo decided to have the Muslim Western Board to take care of the Western people going to Mecca. The other people did not have it. Fine! We decided to have a House of Chiefs and the East did not want to have one and there was no problem. That is what we need. Nobody should be forced to behave like another person. Uniformity does not mean unity. This is because we are different people with different objectives, cultures and values.
A heterogeneous society cannot operate a unitary government. Look at Britain that is our former colonial power, they are of the same race, colour, religion, language and culture and yet today, you have four governments in Britain. They include the parliament in Scotland, the Assembly in Cardiff, the Parliament in Northern Ireland and the Westminster defacto federal government. So Britain itself has gone into a federation although they are homogeneous. Here we have about 600 different ethnic groups, not the same culture, not the same language and you want to treat us as a homogeneous country and a unitary government. It is not possible. It does not make sense.
The question by a school of thought in the North is: why is the call for restructuring more vehement now that President Muhammadu Buhari who is of the Northern extraction is superintending over Nigeria.? Their argument is, why did the South not champion the call for restructuring when former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan, both of the Southern region were in office?
Before Obasanjo was in power, in 1991 and 1992, we launched the request for restructuring. I remember the Press Conference addressed by Chief Anthony Enahoro. Former President Obasanjo was not near power in 1991. My book, The way forward for Nigeria’ was launched in 2005 and a whole chapter is on restructuring. They are only trying to tell lies and confuse issues but ask them, is it not true that we have an independent constitution and that their leader agreed to it and signed it. Are they more Northerner than the Sauduana of Sokoto, or are they wiser than him? So, they should not ask that sort of question and in any case, ask them why do they think I, a Yoruba man should agree to old Kano’s 77 local governments and Lagos State only 20 states. It is because they share revenue every month and they share it equally to the local governments. Kano has 77 and Lagos has only 20, why do you think we should accept that cheating? Who would tell me that kind of nonsense? Why don’t they believe on equity and fairness?
The money is coming from here. In any case, it should be clear that if Britain cannot run a unitary government, Britain with the same culture, language, religion and everything, and they now have four governments and they are asking for independence now, if they are asking for independence in a homogeneous country like Britain, why do they think that they can sustain a quasi unitary constitution imposed on us by a Northern military officer called Gen Sani Abacha? You have more questions to ask them than they have to ask you. I just want to conclude that restructuring is inevitable.
With the tension in the country now arising from all manner of agitations and particularly the crescendo for restructuring, what do you expect on the road to the next general election in 2019?
Look, who is talking of 2019? We are talking of restructuring now and you are talking of 2019. Most people are not interested in an election, if it is going to take place within this un-restructured Nigeria. The election would produce the same injustice and uncertainty. We must restructure before 2019.