By Salihu Bako Ahmed
Before 1914, under colonial rule, Nigeria existed as the two separate entities of the Northern and Southern Protectorates, alongside the Colony of Lagos. In comparative size, the Northern Protectorate is more than twice the size of the Southern Protectorate plus the Colony of Lagos. The North and South were to become amalgamated as one colony known as Nigeria under a Governor-General (Lord Fredrick Lugard) in 1914. The Northern Protectorate was subsequently known as Northern Nigeria or Northern Region under a Lieutenant-Governor, and the Southern Protectorate known as Southern Nigeria or Southern Region, also, under a Lieutenant-Governor, both answerable to the Governor-General.
Shortly before independence, when Nigerians were allowed to govern themselves under British supervision, elections into the Regional Houses of Assembly, as well as the Central House of Assembly in Lagos, saw the dominace of some ethnic groups over others, especially in the Southern Region. These led to massive protests and political upheavals, resulting in the further division of the Southern Region into the Western and Eastern Regions, in order to bring about even representation in the Central House of Assembly in Lagos.
After independence, a series of succeeding agitations led to the following developments: the creation of more Regions; the advent of a bloody civil war; the creation of more states (from 12 to the now 36 states); and the division of the country into six geopolitical zones – all in the effort to ensure even representation across federal structural lines and check the evils of nepotism, hatred and avert unnecessary blood shed. As a protective mechanism, the Nigerian constitution under Section 14(3) further guarantees that appointments/representations at the centre shall be based on (the existing) Federal Character. (Note that the existing Federal Character arrangement is based on 36 States plus the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and six geopolitical zones – the North-East, North-West, North-Central, South-West, South-East and South-South.
Except for the appointment of ministers, which the Constitution clearly states would involve the appointment of a person from each of the 36 States, any other appointment to reflect the Federal Character principle, therefore, shall be based on geopolitical zoning. This means that if the Federal Government is to make six appointments, three of these will come from the North as a whole and three from the South as a whole, with one from each of the zones. Therefore, the appointments may have three Adamus, one Emeka, one Oluwafemi, and one Bassey. It is therefore, not surprising that a person with a superficial mind would easily jump to the conclusion and cry foul by pointing out that there are three Adamus but only one Emeka. Note also that, not all the Adamus, or Mohammeds, or Lawals, or Babachirs, or Yakubus from the North are muslims; many people who bear the name are christians – thats part of the complexity of the Northern identity!
This article is directed at the wailing wailers and their agitations about the appointments into the Federal Government, which they are of the view that it is lopsided. Such agitators seem ignorant of the demands of the geopolitical zoning of Nigeria. They refuse to be open minded in their views, and are perhaps simply blinded by ignorance or sentiments. Most of the agitators are comparing their respective geoplitical zones, e.g. the South-East, with the whole of the North (which is two-thirds of the overall size of Nigeria), taken as one geopolitical zone. Therefore, they compare the one appointment entitled to their zone with the three appointments due to the North as a whole. They cry out by saying, for instance, that “only one person has been appointed from the South-East, whereas three people have been appointed from the North!” They tend to forget that the North comprises three geopolitical zones, just like the entire South.
A Federal Character arrangement in which the North, which is two-thirds of the total size of Nigeria is allocated three geopolitical zones and the South, which is one-third, are both allocated the same three geopolitical zones each, is the fairest of all arrangements. Note also that the North-East alone has about 150 different ethnic groups speaking different languages, out of which it is to present only one person, and the South-South which has less than 15 ethnic groups is also to present one person. No Federal structuring or re-structuring arrangement can be fairer than this!
It is not about the North or the South. If it is, then of all the Northerners who have ruled Nigeria, can the North be said to be enjoying better electricity, education, roads, healthcare, etc than the South? Of all the Southerners that ruled this country, is the South enjoying better than the North? It is about good leadership. It is about accountability!
Some secessionist agitators have dismissed the 1999 Consitution as an unworthy military document and dissociate themselves from the opening words of the Constitution that says, “WE THE PEOPLE of the Federal Republic of Nigeria…” Well, for their education and information, the 1999 Constitution was drafted by the National Consitutional Conference held in 1994/1995, which comprised of intellectuals represented fairly from across the federation in anticipation of the return to civil rule. Therefore, YES the 1999 Constitution was drafted by the “PEOPLE of Nigeria”, and not by the Armed Forces Ruling Council. General Abubakar only adopted the draft Constitution and put it into force in 1999.
The Sovereignty of Nigeria is not negotiable because the opening page of the Constitution states that Nigeria shall be, “One indivisible and indissoluble Sovereign Nation under God.” Sovereignty, therefore, has to do with the “existence” of Nigeria as a nation, which is NON-NEGOTIABLE. However, the UNITY of Nigeria has to do with how we choose to live amongst ourselves – this can be negotiated and it has always been negotiated through a series of constitutional conferences, national dialogues and town hall meetings. We need to bear it in mind that the unity of Nigeria cannot be dissolved, but our inter-relationships can be negotiated.
What Nigeria needs now is not RESTRUCTURING, but TOLERANCE and the highest sense of PATRIOTSM. Hatred and bigotry are the greatest enemy of humanity.
Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Salihu Bako Ahmed writes from Kaduna.