BluntPoint (1): Professor Sagay, Buy the Bride a Single-Bed
Dr. Aliyu Tilde
Professor Itse Sagay, SAN, has never hidden his fervent interest in the national question. In particular, he has, like many of us, expressed great dissatisfaction over the role that “the North” has played in shaping contemporary Nigeria. Two weeks ago, Thisday reported his renewed call for “true federalism”. In a lecture titled “True Federalism in an Emerging Democracy: A Case Study of Nigeria” which he delivered at Le Meridien Eko Hotel, Lagos, the Professor suggested “double-decker” approach to achieving a true federation. Handicapped by lack of Sagay’s entire presentation, we are compelled to use Thisday’s report to explain here what the approach of the professor is all about.
The basis for his “double-decker” suggestion is the lack of consensus among the six geopolitical zones on the political restructuring of Nigeria. According to him, four zones are “expressly demanding for a fundamental restructuring of the country”, reported Thisday, while “the Northeast and Northwest are unwilling to entertain the proposed restructuring consequently leading to contrasting wishes.”
“In the face of these contrasting wishes”, Professor Sagay presented, “we can establish a ‘double-decker’ or an asymmetric federation, in which the north west and north eastern zones and parts of the north central zone desiring it, can retain the centralised federation which we are operating under the 1999 Constitution, as between those zones and the Federal Government, on the other hand, and a loose restructured federation which is currently being demanded by the southern states as a minimum condition for their continued voluntary existence as part of Nigeria for the states demanding it.”
In the words of the reporter, Sagay said that “in such a system, one may envisage a situation in which the southern zones and the parts of the north central zones, sharing the same view, will establish their own independent police forces, a peoples militia, organise their own population censuses and control their mineral resources independently of the federal police, federal census and federal resources.”
“Under this arrangement,” the Professor continued, “ every zone and nationality will operate within the type of federalism it prefers. And in this manner, the Nigerian federation or the Union of Nigeria as the movement for national reformation draft calls it, will remain unbroken.”
The professor was quick to draw a similarity between his “double-decker” and the agreement reached in 1953 when the North chose to delay its self-government status until 1959, three years after the South.
I share Sagay’s view that we need to restructure Nigeria. Also, I can understand the reasons why Professor Sagay and the South generally have the notion that the northeast and the northwest are “unwilling” to part with the present arrangement. This is a conclusion that naturally flows from the belief that the North is the greatest beneficiary of the status quo because it lacks the resources to survive independently. That aside, few northern voices have really championed the cause of restructuring.
Let us briefly dwell on these points. For example, from independence up to the end of Abdulsalami regime, all the previous heads of state, military or civilian, have been northerners except Ironsi (1966) and Obasanjo (1976-1978), both ushered into power by destiny than by design.
In the same vein, the thesis of a “parasitic North” is not without its credible premises. The South has repeatedly made the point that the North does not produce a single barrel of oil, the sole commodity from which Nigeria earns its foreign exchange. This has made northern states heavily dependent on “gifts” and “donations” from the federal government. To worsen the situation, northern state governments have been reluctant in inventing means of generating substantial internal revenues though the region has vast land, mineral and agricultural resources. Understandably, therefore, many analysts believe that the North fears its incapacity to stand on its own feet in a newly structured Nigeria. Like a parasite, they say, it needs a host to suck and survive. (Needless to say that northerners have their defence against these charges. Moreover, many southern states are in the same “beggar” position as the North.)
Finally, nothing appears to express the perceived satisfaction of the North with the present Nigerian structure better than its silence, which even in Islamic jurisprudence is often interpreted as consent. While southerners have granted interviews, written articles and held conferences at home and abroad to propagate the gospel of restructuring, to my knowledge very few northerners have written on the subject or organized a conference to discuss the matter. On the few occasions they spoke, northerners have been equivocal, or rhetorical, or destructively critical of the idea of a restructured federation. Something, somewhere, may be a hangover of the civil war, continue to give the northern establishment the wrong notion that it is the custodian of a unitary ‘Federal’ Nigeria.
I personally appreciate the above general views of the south. However, I would like to state emphatically that the perception of northern satisfaction with the status quo is the construction of the northern establishment, the class of northern beneficiaries of the current unitary arrangement. Any dispassionate visitor to the North will be appalled by the disparity between the status of the commoners on the one hand and that of few privileged elite on the other. While the former are haplessly living in difficulties engendered by poverty, illiteracy, injustice and neglect, the latter are empowered by their exclusive monopoly over the monthly “donations” from Abuja to enjoy privileges of affluence, education, sanctity and patronage.
Southern advocates would have known that as a result of the above contradiction the less privileged in the North would support restructuring. Moreover, there are other factors contributing to northern dissatisfaction with the status quo. Some lament over the retrogression which the region has been undergoing since the mid-eighties in areas like education, culture and governance. The region, they believe, has been paying a high price for its “custodianship” of “One Nation, One Destiny.” Many northerners also are tired of being targets of frequent abuse and demonization. Today, the major tribes of the upper north, the Hausa, Kanuri, Nupe and others, are not the most envied in the country. That is not to mention the Fulani who some southern intelligentsia have already tagged “Tutsis of Nigeria”, who, like their Rwamdan counterparts, are fit only for elimination.
This misunderstanding – between the North and South over support for restructuring – has arisen principally from two sources: one, this is not a country where importance is attached to statistics. Otherwise, through simple polls, the South would have long discovered the presence of this silent majority among northerners that is ready to support restructuring along lines that are even more radical than what some southerners have proposed so far. Two, there has not been an exchange of ideas between the North and the South on the matter. Even in the media few writers move across the divide to express their views in a domain outside theirs. Conferences on restructuring have mainly involved only southern participants. For example, in the conference on the topic that produced the book titled Federalism and Political Restructuring in Nigeria which was sponsored by international institutions, sixteen of the twenty-three contributors came from the Southwest, two came from the Southeast, another two came from the Northcentral (one Yoruba and one Tiv), one (a Yoruba!) from the Northwest and another one from northeast.
Whatever is their disagreement, Nigerians must accept that the argument of restructuring is very strong and convincing. From the sad events of January 15, to the Civil War, to Okar coup, to June 12 and its aftermath, and finally to the present tenure of Obasanjo and its 4-19 origin, the country’s political history is often punctuated with crises arising from mutual distrust. Besides, the periphery has grown too large for the corrupt and inefficient centre to keep intact without deterioration setting in. The Yoruba for example are over twenty-five million. That is a big nation. What sense does it make to deny such a people autonomy of their choice? Why should anyone today in Sokoto, Maiduguri or Makurdi raise a finger against a new Biafra? What moral imperative or interest would compel the North to ‘save’ the oil rich Niger delta if its people now strongly feel that they will be better off with an autonomy that gives them exclusive control over their oil resources?
As the heat from the sun of its contradictions becomes unbearable, the nation must realize the stupidity of taking shelter in the oven of monotonous and empty national integration dialectic. All pretensions like “state creation”, “federal character”, “NYSC” “zoning”, “rotational presidency”, “power sharing” and so on have failed to settle its political contentions. Pre-1999, the problem was thought to be with the mediocre leadership the North has been accused of giving the nation. Today, with the woeful failure of Obasanjo in the last four years, it is clear that such mediocrity is not a monopoly of the North anymore. Apparently, something fundamental is wrong with the structure of the polity.
Neither is it possible, given the prevailing liberal world order, for the nation to stop any of its part from seceding. The world today will not sit and watch Nigeria kill a million of its citizens and starve three times that figure. Never. We have seen stronger unions, like Yugoslavia, disintegrating explosively simply because it failed to readjust at the most appropriate time.
To start a true restructuring journey, all that is required is for supporters of the project from the different zones to reach out to one another and work together using different avenues. They need to amalgamate into a massive national movement that would compel recognition by the establishment. They may not have a picture of the political structure the nation would end up with. They may not have a complete catalogue of problems waiting for them or the positions that will be articulated by every participant. Not even the modalities of the conference are clear. Yet, dialogue will not harm anyone. Dialogue, if started early and handled with scholastic maturity has the potential of overcoming their fears and enabling them to discover solutions to those problems. Dialogue can reconcile those positions that could at first instance appear irreducible and puzzling. Finally, dialogue is their best weapon against any opposition, be it from ‘nationalist’ ideologues or from beneficiaries of the present unitary structure.
With an ever-growing interest in the restructuring agenda nationwide, it appears that the crisis of consensus over its necessity is almost over. I therefore advise Professor Sagay to abandon his “asymmetrical”, “double-decker” reformation idea for lack of “contrasting wishes.” He should realize that nature has endowed the beautiful with a symmetrical structure, while couples, unlike kids, have always preferred the single-bed to the double-decker. So let Prof allow the baby of restructuring wear a symmetrical face. Later, as a bride, let him also, for goodness sake, buy her a single-bed.