By Lekan Sote
Those (mostly ex-military officers) who insist that Nigeria’s unity is not negotiable also contributed to making Nigeria difficult to live in. Practically all military coups in Nigeria were staged largely by members of the same ethnic group, safe for few “outsiders.”
The January 1966 coup was carried out mainly by Igbo officers; the countercoup of August 1966 was spearheaded by northerners. The coup that ousted General Yakubu Gowon in 1975 was engineered by northerners.
Also, the abortive 1976 coup in which General Murtala Muhammed was killed was essentially a project of Middle Belt officers. The 1983 coup that ousted President Shehu Shagari and that of 1985 against Major General Muhammadu Buhari were led by northern military officers.
The first failed coup against General Ibrahim Babangida (retd) was executed by Middle Belt officers in 1986, while the second, staged in 1989, was the handwork of a mix of officers from the Middle Belt and the South-South. Also, the phantom coup of 1997 against General Sani Abacha was led mainly by Yoruba officers.
This tendency is the greatest proof that even military officers, who preach the unity of Nigeria as if it was the Holy Grail do not completely believe in it: Sounds like they mouth the unity mantra to be politically correct, or because it serves their personal ambitions.
An unconfirmed story claims that whereas men of the Nigerian military of the colonial days would immediately obey a white military officer, they would rationalise on the motive of an order given by a Nigerian officer from a tribe other than their own.
The recent violent skirmishes between the Yoruba and their Igbo guests in Lagos State around the recently concluded general elections demonstrate that Nigerians are forcing themselves, or are being forced, to live together.
If there had been genuine conversations to fashion out the terms of their association as citizens of Nigeria, every ethnic group would have known how to conduct themselves and what to expect from the other.
For instance, this lack of formal negotiation led to the suspicion and unease that accompanied the attempt by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari to introduce Ruga farm settlement, in whatever variation, to the people of that part of Nigeria hitherto known as Southern Protectorate.
The Yoruba of South-West Nigeria and the Igbo of South-East Nigeria were the most vociferous against the Ruga idea. Even former President Olusegun Obasanjo accused the President of attempting to fulanise Nigeria.
And the Yoruba rights activist Sunday Igboho issued an ultimatum for the Fulani to vacate Oke Ogun in Oyo State, while videos showed the Igbo showing the unwanted herders the way out of “Ala Igbo.”
Some governments, like that of Ekiti State, even enacted laws to control the movement of the (mostly Fulani) herders. The Western Nigeria Security Network, known as “Amotekun,” was created by the Yoruba. The Igbo too created their own counterpart force, though it doesn’t seem to have sound legal and operational footing.
Because people change over the years, it is safe to argue that the assumptions that informed the pre-independence conferences that fashioned the independence Constitution of Nigeria may have gone past their sell-by date; they are no more relevant.
The United States of America, which is regarded as the oldest democracy in the modern world, recognises the place of altered assumptions and has wisely included a clause for Amendments in its Constitution.
The Amendment clause of the American Constitution says, “The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses (Senate and House of Representatives) shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to the Constitution.”
Note that amendments to the American Constitution do not require approval “by resolution of the Houses of Assembly of not less than two-thirds of all the States,” as provided in Section 9(2) of Nigeria’s Constitution.
However, the American Constitution allows that “on the Application of two thirds of the several States, (the Congress) shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments… which shall be valid… as parts of this Constitution.”
If those who wrote the Nigerian Constitution preferred the American presidential system so much, why couldn’t they copy the easier American way to amend the Constitution if they were not forcing Nigerians to live together?
President Goodluck Jonathan set up a constitutional review conference, but did not have the courage to implement its recommendations. Some allege that his desire for a second term as President his ability to choose the long-term advantage over the expediency of his short-term personal gain.
In the end, he not only threw away the opportunity of bequeathing a great future for Nigerians, he also lost his re-election bid. Like the generals, he saw only a personal advantage in the concept of Nigeria; he didn’t recognise an opportunity to do well by Nigerians.
Some observers argue that President Jonathan merely used the constitutional conference to bait Southern Nigerians, but rejected it, to placate Northern Nigerians, who profit from the current political arrangement, and want it to continue.
It is instructive to note that apart from former Vice President Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party, no other significant presidential candidate openly discussed the issue of restructuring. Okay, Bola Tinubu glibly raised it before an Arewa audience shortly after he emerged presidential candidate of All Progressives Congress.
Even though Buhari seems to be heeding the observation by Victor Hugo that “Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come,” by at least assenting to placatory and piecemeal amendments to the Nigerian Constitution, it is not far-reaching enough.
Whilst President Buhari’s amendment transfers railways to the Concurrent Legislative List and allows state governments to extend the reach of their electricity generating and distribution capacities to corridors where the national grid exists, it fails to leave the issues of local government authorities entirely in the hands of state governments as prescribed by Section 8(3) of the Nigerian Constitution.
This must be because of the implications for revenue allocation, which would have been resolved if his piecemeal “restructuring” had included the transfer of petroleum resources to the Concurrent Legislative List.
Indeed, what President Buhari and his acquiescent and indulgent National Assembly have done is no more than tokenism. The way out could be found in the Yoruba saying that when you give a ram you release the tether to the beneficiary.
When you consider the cumbersome provisions of Section 9 of the Constitution on “Mode of altering provisions of (Nigeria’s) Constitution,” you can only come away with the conclusion that the writers of the Constitution had no intention of amending the Constitution anyway.
It is necessary for the various ethno-national, religious and other tendencies in Nigeria to bring forth their preferences for the consideration of other Nigerian groups, with the intention of finding a way to accommodate each other.
If this is not done speedily, the ruckus that greeted the 2023 general elections will be repeated during every election year. And the misrepresentation about whether elder statesman Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu did indeed describe the Yoruba as “political rascals” will continue to linger.
The way to suture the diverse Nigerian political tendencies together is to have healthy conversations to chart a common goal together. If not, the lives of Nigerians will continue to languish in a waste.
- Twitter@lekansote1, lekansote.com
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