Restructuring: Abacha had solution to Nigeria's constitutional problem – Unongo

By The Citizen
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Second Republic Minister of Steel and elder statesman, Wantaregh Paul Unongo has attributed the problem of the Nigerian nation to the shaky foundation on which it was founded and blamed the colonial masters for creating a false impression that there are only three major ethnic groups in Nigeria whereas there are over 250.

Unongo blamed the colonial masters and the military for Nigeria's woes, whilst also saying that the founding founders and the elites saw all the problems at the onset but due to their crave for power, ignored all the signs.

Here are excepts.
The house that we built 56 years ago is shaky. What could be wrong with its foundation?

You asked a very big question. At times, I like a discourse. I was a university teacher and I liked stimulating students to argue. I think we Africans, especially Africans in Nigeria make everything that is ours as if it is unique. The house, Nigeria, was built by the British at least, 100 years ago, going by 1914 amalgamation.

In the process, you wouldn't argue that the British when they were seeking political power, they did not care about tribes, they did not care about the roughness or about the cement and water they used in building Nigeria but they did care in the other places they built. It's still the same British that built the greatest nation on earth, the United States of America.

And not only US, but many, many countries. Those countries had their problems but became stronger. Germany today is strong. How come we have not been able to build a strong, prosperous, happy nation for all the nationalities in this country?

I think if you want to play the blame game, the first to blame is Great Britain. They started Nigeria on a wrong assumption that there were three major tribes in Nigeria. So, Britain created Northern Nigeria, Eastern Nigeria and Western Nigeria. They became the federating units that became the federation of Nigeria during independence and after independence.

Somehow, they managed and succeeded to convince Africans that they tried to make us be like them, mimic and copy them, speak like them and were civilised in spoken English, that is Queen's English. There were some people that were rewarded for that.

But politically, the British built a tripod Nigeria based on falsehood, claiming that Nigeria was made up of three major tribes and that with the tribes in Nigeria, they were satisfied and convinced that they would make us a federal nation in a multi-national plural society. Well, some of us were children and were helpless to participate on advising.

I was a member of the United Middle Belt Congress. I happened to be the secretary to the leader of the United Middle Belt Congress and I had the privilege of working and seeing what happened in 1957, in 1958, in the London resumed constitutional conference of the then federation of Nigeria where    the N.C.N.C. and the Action Group accepted federalism but the functions of the central government to be specified while residual powers were given to the regions.

I noticed that the United Middle Belt Congress, went into alliance with Chief Obafemi Awolowo of the Action Group. Apparently, the British knew us Africans better than some of us knew ourselves. We believed that the British federalist, the person who articulated federalism based on multi-national states and national identities that existed in Nigeria was Awolowo.

The British African thinker, the Rt. Honourable Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, believed in one strong united Nigeria in terms of a unitary Nigeria without paying attention to what he felt were African principalities of tribes, and we were supposed to be educated and be ashamed of tribes to the extent that Azikiwe contested election in Lagos, the Western Region and he actually won but overnight, he was taught a shocking lesson that tribes were important. In the night, Awolowo turned his victory into failure by becoming the leader of opposition in the west. So, Zik ran away.

What am I saying? The structural arrangement of Nigeria was based on falsehood and on arrangements that produced three unequal federating members within the union in such a very funny way that one of the federating units called Northern Nigeria, had almost three quarters of the land mass of Nigeria and dictated whatever it wanted for life and this was a sign of what would create problem.

We pointed this out at the resumed London constitutional conference. The United Middle Belt Congress presented their own position, that Britain, the metropolitan power had an obligation to create a more suitable, a more viable nation states.

We accepted federalism but we said, Britain should create more regions so as to give people their own idiosyncratic loyalties to the tribal entities that would bond us when we congregate together as Yoruba people, as Igbo people and same for the people of the Middle-Belt and at that time, Eyo Ita was trying to make a case for an office in Calabar in Cross River state.

We expected that Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the greatest Nigerian federalist, who articulated the philosophy of creating viable federating units based on accommodating the numerous tribal entities in Nigeria would support us but he said we should accept what Britain was offering. Britain wanted the western type of development. Awo said we should listen to those people. The West and the East were more developed and more exposed to western education than the North. The North didn't worry about having independence.

So, Britain offered to give every region, regional independence. They looked at the argument that we posed to the nationality question, to re-arrange the three unequal regions and asked for those ready to take their independence and the Sauduana said, no, I'm not ready, I will wait till 1959. The East and the West got regional independence in 1957/58 and the north got in 1959.

But that was the beginning of the disappointment that some of us felt at the structural level, at the time of inception, which was not corrected, a mistake that was deliberate and it was quite clear that it would create difficulties for the Nigerian nation state .

The Africans like Awolowo told us, no, don't worry, we're your friends, when we take over power, we will restructure and create more regions. Of course, they didn't because they were not interested. They were more interested in ruling. So, they decided to oppose it.

It was only Midwest state that was only later on created by members of the union. Mid -west was created out of spite because we neglected to create at the structural level, more federating units knowing the African psyche, knowing that nationalities are into psychological loyalties, tribalistic loyalties in their various communication groups.

It was wrong for them to have that experiment just like the British who pretended that there were three ethnic groups in Nigeria whereas, we have over 250- 500 nationalities in Nigeria. Our thinking should have been above that of the British masters whose loyalty was to the colonial metropolitan power. We have nowhere to go. Our leadership was docile, it was imaginative but not tactful, and so we couldn't restructure Nigeria.


So, at the structural level and at the early political level, the foundation was weak. In spite of agitations in the universities and amongst youths at that time, we had thought our leadership would get it right but it didn't and that has become the bane of Nigeria.

Everybody wants to belong to a group but unfortunately, Nigeria became a farm where you grab and grab and when you get into power, you forget about building Nigeria and developing it but instead, people were filling their pockets and their friends pockets and people started competing for power, for themselves and for people that will help them to amass wealth.

So, I think the reason for today's problems in Nigeria should be blamed on the British and the elites leadership of Nigeria and the cowardice of those of us that were minorities, not making enough noise that we needed for us to be accommodated in Nigeria. Subsequently, I have always been advocating, stating that if we want Nigeria to be a great nation, it can be.

Great Britain is almost 2000 years. They have constitutional government, without a written constitution for over 1000 years. Scotland tried to break away from UK. In the United States, there have been skirmishes to the extent of fighting a civil war like we did but yet, they remained united and stronger.

Nigeria has never been given a chance to decide what type of constitution it wants. The only person who tried to give Nigeria a viable constitution was General Sani Abacha. If we had allowed Sani Abacha to propagate the constitution which he made us write, we would have come very close to doing what Nigeria would have wanted.

So, as far as I am concerned, this country needs to sit down in a sovereign national conference. We did not give the constitution we are using to ourselves. The British and the military imposed it on us. So, let Nigerians sit in a congregation or convention, do I call it national sovereign conference of the nationalities that make up Nigeria? We know that there are over 250 nationalities in Nigeria.

Even if some are 1000 in number, let them get someone that would represent them in the conference, whether we sit for six months, one year or two years, let us at least decide on how we want to live together, whether we will be states or something else.

We were three, we became four, then we got to 12, then 19 and Abacha came and made 36. This is annoying because it is experimentation. Nobody has the sovereignty of Nigeria. Nobody asked if I wanted to be in place called North Central zone. Nobody asked whether you'd want to be in South East zone and nobody asked the Ikwere people whether they want to be in the South South zone.

Let us respect the Nigerian people, let us convene a sovereign national conference of all the ethnic nationalities in the space called Nigeria. And at the end of it, what the sovereign people of Nigeria come out with will be a promulgation by them, a people-based constitution from the conference that would take cognisance of their individual differences. The only thing that is not negotiable is the unity of Nigeria.

I do not agree with the people that talk about break-up. We have fought a civil war in this country where about three million people died, some people said two million. We don't need to go through that war again. Let's make the best arrangement through the sovereign national conference. Nigeria has been groping in darkness. The British came and imposed a constitution on us. The military came and imposed a constitution on us. What about the Nigerian people?

So, lets talk about us. Let Nigerians determine the constitution they want.

This conference you are talking about, we have had series of them in the past but nothing was done with the outcome?

We didn't have any such conference. What we had was not sovereign but built by friends of dictators. They have nothing to do with Nigerians. Those in government invited their friends. My friends came to invite me to a conference and I refused to participate, because if it were to be a national conference, my people who know Paul Unongo would have elected me in a constituent assembly and say go and represent us and then, we should build a structure of the kind of Nigeria we want.

This has never been done. Powerful people, corrupt people, dictators, the colonialists, have pretended that they consulted us and imposed their will on us. Nobody consulted us. Obasanjo tried his own conference geared towards his third term agenda but it failed. That was just a waste of money. Let us for once, have a truly representative conference of the sovereign people of Nigeria.

Let Nigerians choose their representatives to a conference that will determine the kind of Nigeria they want, and after that, the constitution they determined cannot be presented to anything called national assembly because this will be the peoples supreme determination. It can be done and it should be done.

We have waited 56 years of independence or semi-independence because we are not independent economically. So, let us do it now. I don't want to fight another civil war. I know my people suffered a lot. I know the Igbo people suffered a lot during that war. So, I don't want another civil war .

The Nigeria Awolowo wrote in his book ; the Nigeria that is built on the principles of the battle fought and won and lives lost and for three years of brutal killing of one another, killing of friends, killing of brothers, we deserve a nation called Nigeria. And we can build the state of Nigeria determined by the components or constituents of Nigeria, not the one imposed on us by dictators. Why are people who are dictators both in military uniforms and agbada imposing constitution on Nigeria? Their incompetence is destroying Nigeria. Now, who is afraid of sovereign national conference?

You said nice things about the late General Sani Abacha's conference as one that would have brought Nigeria close to what a sovereign national conference would achieve. Can you expatiate on that?

I said that Abacha would have given us close to what a national sovereign conference would have achieved. He did not interfere in the deliberation of the conference he convened in his time. That conference was reacting to what General Gowon did, to what General Murtala Mohammed did and what General Babangida did. Abacha allowed people to sit down and deliberate.

And when we deliberated for one year and told him we were not ready yet, he said we should continue and we continued for another 6-7 months. But fate took him away. With all his faults and the draconian things he was perceived to have done, he was ready to give us a constitution that was people-oriented. If he was able to promulgate that people's constitution, it would have been much better than what we have in Nigeria today. We are not serious.

Why do successive governments jettison good things done by previous administrations?

No matter how bad a government is, there must be a few good things it did that could be built upon. You don't throw away everything because you want to do your own thing. It's just politics. Some governments when they come in, allow their wives to interfere with what happens in the nation states of Nigeria.

The woman who should be in the kitchen cabinet now uses $20 million to go to hospital because there is oil money. We have abandoned agriculture and all the benefits because there is oil money. The Niger Delta boys are blowing up pipelines. They don't want to go to the farm. The leadership we have in Nigeria today are like the apostles, the Judas in their midst, they do not recognise.

Look at Britain, the British rulers have loyalty to a metropolitan authority. They didn't care about Nigeria or what they did to Nigeria. But what excuse do we have for the way we treated Nigeria? The British eventually left for their own country.

Where would our Nigerian leaders leave for? Our leaders are behaving like the colonial masters. They acted like those people that are loyal to a foreign authority as if they were taking development to Britain and didn't care about what was going on in Enugu or Gboko or Akure because they wanted to behave like their masters. That was a terrible mistake because they had nowhere to go.


Eventually, nemesis would catch up with them or their children. The future generations would pay the price. They make big promises without articulating how to implement them and because of the structural defects in their policies, they begin to look for scapegoats.

All these are not taking us anywhere. When an unintelligent government succeeds the other, it begins to find faults with the things the previous regime did instead continuing with the good. There are many things to criticise in any government but we should not keep harping on those mistakes. What about the good ones? The people know the good things done by any government and where they began to make mistakes.

When there is development, about three or four governments take the glory. Let's take communication for instance, one government started with it, another consolidated on it and today, everybody was talking on different gadgets of communication. But the credit goes to three, four governments. That's how it should be.

When a government leaves office and another comes in with intelligent people, it should build on the good things the previous government started. When are we going to have people who are loyal to Nigeria? The tragedy of Nigeria is that people invest millions and billions to get into power and when they do, they become loyal to their pockets and to recouping all they spent to win elections and they jettison the problems afflicting the nation Nigeria. Such people should not be allowed to go into government in the first place.


When the civil war was brewing, I wrote a letter to our leaders and I told them that we cannot afford a civil war; that if we go into war and finish, we will still come back to the same problem facing Nigeria which needed to be negotiated in a roundtable conference. And we would now find out that what we invested in fighting a war could have been invested in re-negotiating this entity called Nigeria because after a war, the same problems will keep staring us in the face.

Ojukwu replied me, Tony Enahoro also replied. Those were the only two people that replied me. And what happened?They went to war and we lost some of the best brains we could have used to develop Nigeria during the civil war. We fought the war for three years and at the end of it, everything I said would happen if we fought a civil war happened. I don't know why people are still talking about war.

Let's build a harmonious strong union that would be like the United States. We are big. We are the biggest in Africa in population and whatever. Who put oil in Nigeria? It is not Yoruba or Hausa or Ibo. It is God. Nigeria is wasting time beating drums of war. We need a sovereign national conference where we'd speak to one another and come up with a people's constitution.

We have the Ben Nwanbuezes, the greatest brain in constitutional government, we had people like Chief Rotimi Williams at the time were doing the Abacha conference. And there are other Nigerians that are constitutional lawyers. There is no short cut to our unity. We have been delaying it. We have to talk as soon as possible, otherwise we pay painful prices. I've done my bit.

I'm over 80. I don't have power but I have God-given talents which I've made available to help my country. I know what Nigeria can do for the black race, for Africa. I know the consequences of breaking up Nigeria in Africa and I know the consequences of vibrations in Nigeria across the whole world. Nigeria is a great nation. Let's build it.

The agitations across nationalities are getting unbearable. There are Biafra agitators, Niger Delta Avengers, Fulani herdsmen menace and still the old Boko Haram issues. Will Nigeria survive them?

If you break up Nigeria thinking the small, small principalities will go away, it's a joke. They will go nowhere. The people who are kidnapping people are Ijaw people. In their own enclave, the kidnapping will continue unabated. We have seen this kind of thing in Libya, we have seen it in Somalia. In Somalia, how many are the tribes? They call themselves tribesmen and they are not up to 10 tribes.

In Nigeria, we have about 250 to 500. It's a joke. And people will stand up in Niger Delta and be blowing up things. Yet, we from South-South go to South-West to marry. The man from the North goes to the South to marry. The Ijaw man marries from Nsukka and the Igbo marries from the North Central and you want to break up. It cannot happen.

And now, you'd find Ijaws in Rivers, Ondo, Lagos, Bayelsa. So, who is separating from who? You'd see Igbo in South East and South South states. I'm Tiv, you'd see Tivs in other states outside Benue. How is the break up going to happen? You have Tiv in Taraba, yet Taraba is not a minority state. We have tribes whose language sound like ours and they are not Tiv. So many things are structurally wrong.

You talk about Hausa, yet there are the Fulani, Kanuri and other tribal nationalities in the North who we all call Hausa but they are not. These have their own agitations against the nation Nigeria and there is only one solution, like I keep saying from the beginning and that is to restructure Nigeria and correct the structural defect. The only way to get it right is by talking to one another and working out how we'd live together via a sovereign national conference. - Culled from Vanguard.