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It is time Nigerians talked about Nigeria

By The Citizen
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Lee Kuan Yew, the architect of the modern day Singapore, visited Nigeria a few days before the military struck on January 15, 1966.

His visit was in connection with the Commonwealth Conference held in Lagos on Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe.

His conclusion about Nigeria in 1966 is contained in a book he wrote in 2000 titled, From Third World to First. On page 327 of his 729-page book, he concluded, 'I think their tribal loyalties were stronger than their sense of common nationhood.'

On January 1, 2014, the merger or amalgamation between the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria with the Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria to form the colony of modern day Nigeria will be 100 years old.

The Federal Government has, not unexpectedly, declared on Monday through the Secretary of Government of the Federation, Pius Anyim Pius, that it would 'unveil a centenary project to celebrate the amalgamation'.

In 2006, there were no centenary celebrations for the merger of the then Lagos Colony with that of the Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria with headquarters in Calabar and with Sir Walter Egerton as the first Governor.

On December 31, 1899, the British government revoked the Charter of the Royal Niger Company. On January 1, 1900, the British government took over the administration of the Niger Coast Protectorate, merged it with the area south of Idah, controlled by the Royal Niger Company, and proclaimed the new entity the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria; the other areas controlled by the RNC north of Idah were proclaimed the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria. Frederick Lugard was appointed High Commissioner for the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria, with its headquarters at Jebba, until 1902 when it was moved to Zungeru, and later, in 1917, to Kaduna. Sir Ralph Moore was High Commissioner for the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria, with its headquarters in Calabar.

Since the amalgamation was imposed with a seeming military fiat by a British officer, Lugard, the High Commissioner of the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria who later became the first Governor-General of Nigeria without any plebiscite or referendum, the amalgamation has been dogged with suspicion, scepticism, dubiety and mistrust by the various tribes.

This dubiety has led some to conclude that there is clearly no true Nigerian nationhood.

It is therefore left for the various tribes in Nigeria to interpret in their own way, the objectives of a true Nigerian nation.

The unchecked sweeping looting of the nation's wealth now going on at a high speed, and the favouritism, marginalisation, religious rivalry, electoral irregularities, iniquity, venal, noxiousness, violations, partisanship, lawlessness, bane and degenerations that we are now experiencing are natural fallout in the absence of a true nationhood.

Whether we like it or not, all these flaws and foibles are crippling the corporate existence of Nigeria today.

So, there is an urgent need for us to sit down and talk on which direction we are to go and whether it is desirous for us to amend the Charter of the amalgamation.

It will be precocious for us to feign that all is well with Nigeria as it is today.

Maybe, this was what former President Olusegun Obasanjo had in mind when upon been sworn in in 1999, he set up a committee under the chairmanship of Ambassador Yusuf Mamman to review the 1999 Constitution.

The committee was inaugurated on October 19, 1999 by the then Attorney-General and Minister of Justice Mr.Kanu Agabi (SAN). Others members of the committee were:

Chief Clement Ebri (Deputy Chairman); Chief Edwin Ume-Ezeoke ; Alhaji Iro Abubakar Dan-Musa; Dr.Shettima Mustafa; Chief Yohanna Madaki; Chief Alani Bankole; Chief Ayo Adebanjo; Mrs. Iyabode Pam; Air Commodore Bernard Banfa (retd.); Mrs Ayoka Lawani; Hajiya Basirat A. Nahibi; Alhaji Isiaku Mohammed; Chief A.K. Horsfall; Chief Ayo Opadokun; Dr. J.C. Odunna; Mike Anache; Dr. Amos Adepoju; Dr. Siva Opusunju; Chief Barnabas Gemade; Alhaji Umaru Ahmed; Chief Solomon Asemota (SAN); Alhaji Gambo Saleh; Dr. Arthur Nwankwo; and Dr. Maxwell M. Gidado as the Secretary while Mrs. M.V.I. Mbu served as the Assistant Secretary.

Later, an adjustment to the Committee's composition was made when Mamman; Adebanjo; Horsfall; Opadokun; Lawani; Nwankwo and Asemota, SAN were replaced with Dr. Stella O. Dorgu; Prince Valentine Ahams; Mohammed Babangida Umar; Alhaji Abdulhamid Hassan; Adeniyi Akintola; Sunday Kuku Iyakwo; and Dr. Olu Agunloye.

The chairmanship had earlier changed when Ebri took over from Mamma following his resignation as Chairman and Mustafa was elected Deputy Chairman.

On February 28, 2001, Chief Ebri submitted the final report of his committee's work to Obasanjo, the recommendations of which today have not been implemented.

'The committee recommended, among others, 'that emerging from prolonged military rule which suppressed free speech, Nigerians once again had the opportunity to voice out their deepest concerns about a country which they cherished so much and in several voices, wished for its rapid growth and maturity into an economically viable, politically stable and socially robust nation in the great African continent. In this sea of discordant voices, one could clearly discern criticisms of the 1999 Constitution as a Military enactment with unitary command features. Nigerians who spoke or wrote on the Constitution were unequivocal in their condemnation of the Constitution which they believed had sounded the death knell on our cherished Federal System. For most Nigerians in a deeply traumatised setting, only a Sovereign National Conference, where Nigerians could freely assemble and renegotiate the basis on which they will be willing to continue to live together would adequately address the contending national issues'.

Given the foregoing, I think it is high time we held a Sovereign National Conference to chart the course of this nation and how best the disparate peoples can live a fulfilling and meaningful life.

By Eric Teniola, a retired Director at the Presidency, now lives in Lagos