57 Years After, The Unresolved Issues – Vincent Obia
Like any new system, Nigeria faced some inevitable teething troubles at the early stages of the amalgamation that birthed the country. The early problems bordered mainly on fears and suspicions of domination by the various nationalities that peopled the southern and northern protectorates, which were brought together in 1914 by the British colonialists to form Nigeria.
Prior to independence in 1960, the country’s founding fathers saw the need to negotiate a political and economic system that would address the concerns of the different regions and peoples. The negotiations produced the 1960 Constitution, which was generally anchored on the principles of independent development, healthy competition, and mutual respect among the federating units. The 1963 Republican Constitution tried to consolidate the budding societal equilibrium.
But the military, like a bull in a china shop, shattered the developing social balance. The military interventions in politics from 1966 increasingly destroyed the principles upon which the country was founded by bullying everyone into a pseudo-federal socio-political and economic system it had hurriedly cobbled together. The result was the return and amplification of many of the initial problems that troubled the country, and which the founding fathers had tried to solve with the 1960 and 1963 constitutions.
Today, 57 years after independence, Nigeria is still struggling with the national questions. Key among the unresolved issues are:
Since 1914, when the Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria was merged with the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria to form the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria, the country has operated nine different constitutions. Yet, it has continued to be in obvious and urgent need of an acceptable constitution.
The 1914 Constitution was the amalgamation document that set out the basis for association between the southern and northern parts of Nigeria. It defined the powers and limitations of each side in the new union. It was followed by the 1922 Clifford Constitution, which introduced the electoral principle in Nigerian politics; 1946 Richard Constitution that tried to increase the participation of the indigenous peoples in the determination of their own affairs; 1951 Macpherson Constitution, which introduced the federal legislature, the House of Representatives; 1954 Lyttleton Constitution, which introduced a fully federal system in the regions and Southern Cameroons; 1960 Independence Constitution; 1963 Republican Constitution; 1979 Constitution, which introduced the presidential system of government; and the 1999 Constitution. The 1989 Constitution, which was to usher in the Third Republic, was stillborn, as the democratic dispensation was aborted by the military.
Major constitutional conferences preceded the making of the pre-independence federal constitution of 1954 and post-independence constitutions of 1960 and 1963, making them popular and generally more acceptable. But the 1979 and 1999 constitutions are products of military-supervised constitution drafting committees and constituent assemblies that many believe lacked adequate representation and freedom to really represent the views of the people.
Thus, the introductory words of the 1999 Constitution, which say, “We the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria… Do hereby make, enact and give to ourselves the following Constitution,” have continued to generate controversy.
The I960 Constitution introduced provisions for acquiring Nigerian citizenship, and subsequent constitutions have made provisions for citizenship and the rights of the Nigerian citizen. Chapter III and Chapter IV of the 1999 Constitution specify the rights and privileges of the citizen. But the unwritten tradition of indigene/settler relations across the country, originating from the multicultural, multi-religious, and heterogeneous nature of the Nigerian society, has continued to conflict with those liberties.
Perhaps, there is nowhere that the illogicality of the unitarist and centralist principles being foisted on the country’s accepted federal system more obvious than in the area of citizenship rights. While the federal constitution defines who the citizen is and spells out his rights and duties, the subnational governments redefine these rights in line with their respective customs and traditions, causing conflict.
Nigeria has a long history of census, though, controversy has surrounded the issue of the country’s population. The first census was conducted in 1866 and it was followed by the censuses of 1871, 1881, 1891, and 1901. While the earlier censuses were restricted to the Lagos Colony and its environs, the 1871 census marked the beginning of decennial census in Nigeria.
It followed the decennial tradition of the British colonial masters. Tax records and other vital statistics were used as basis for the population enumerations, until 1941, when the Second War prevented the population count. The incomplete nature of the data used to determine the censuses made the exercises fundamentally defective.
The 1952 census represented the first modern census in Nigeria. Other censuses were conducted in 1962/63, 1973, 1991, and 2006. The country’s population is currently put at 182 million by the National Population Commission. NPC says this is based on the 2006 population figure of 140 million.
Many have, however, disputed the population figures, with critics dismissing census exercises in the country as based largely on negotiation and manipulation for political and economic reasons – rather than honest enumeration.
Religion has remained a hot topic in Nigeria. Though, the country’s constitution prohibits state religion, stating explicitly in Section 10, “The Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as State Religion,” the various tiers of government have engaged in religious activities that have seemed to cause controversy. One major example is the federal and state governments’ involvement in the sponsorship of religious pilgrimages. There seems to be no clear demarcation yet of the limits of government’s involvement in religion.
The 1954 Constitution firmly entrenched federalism and regionalism in the country and instituted the fiscal base of the federating units through the localisation of the marketing boards. The constitution formed the foundation for the 1960 and 1963 constitutions. But the advent of military regimes, with their central command structure, distorted that federal structure and replaced it with a centrist pseudo-federal system that has continued to be a source of tension. Many people and groups from different parts of the country have demanded the restructuring of the country with a view to bringing back the principles of fiscal federalism and resource control by the federating units.
The creation of states has remained a contentious issue in Nigeria, which no democratic government since independence has been able to successfully tackle. The 1946 Constitution introduced a tripartite structure of federating units. The Western, Eastern, and Northern regions were retained until 1963, when the Midwestern Region was added. On May 27, 1967, the military government of General Yakubu Gowon divided the four regions into 12 states.
The military regime of late General Murtala Mohammed brought the number to 19 when it created additional seven states on February 3, 1976. On September 3, 1987, then military president Ibrahim Babangida created Akwa Ibom and Katsina states to bring the number of states to 21. Babangida created nine more states on August 27, 1991 to make the total number of states 30. On October 1, 1996, the military regime of the late General Sani Abacha created six more states to make the current figure of 36 states.
The country is currently organised into six geopolitical zones and 36 states, with each of the zones having six states, except South-east and North-west, which have five states and seven states, respectively. There is a growing demand for at least one more state in the South-east for the sake of equity.
Generally, there has been an unremitting agitation for more states in different parts of the country.
The people of the Niger Delta have been at the forefront of the struggle for true federalism based on the principles of fiscal federalism, resource control, and environmental justice. They have generally believed that the diverse nationalities that make up the country can only coexist successfully and peacefully on the foundation of a clear restructuring of the federation anchored on the above principles.
The issues of fiscal federalism, resource control, and environmental justice have formed the main subject of the demands of the Niger Delta since the time of the Henry Willinks Commission in 1957. The commission had been set up by the exiting colonialists to examine the fears of domination and exploitation expressed by minority tribes in different parts of the country.
Series of conferences have been held on the Niger Delta question, but none has produced the desired solution to the problems of the region.
Various interventions in the form of revisions of the derivation principle, establishment of the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, Niger Delta Development Commission, and the Amnesty Office under the Presidency have failed to calm the agitations in the region.
This is amid allegations of corruption by key political leaders in the Niger Delta and deliberate attempts to cripple the various intervention agencies in the region through starvation of funds. There is a groundswell of suspicion that the interventions measures are merely meant to placate the people to allow a smooth flow of petrodollars from the region and not born of a sincere attempt to develop the region.