Bulletin #43: On Chief Bisi Akande, General Babangida and Nze Chidi Duru

By Femi Odedeyi

Coming on the heels of the Armed Forces Remembrance Day, held on January 15 every year, former military president, Ibrahim Babangida hit the nail on the head by unequivocally saying that “failure to achieve True Federalism is one of the aberrations of military regimes” which also “countered the democratic process”.

The first of these military regimes came into being on January 15, 1966, through a military coup, repeated on December 31,1983, and reinforced on November 18, 1993, after the annulment of the “June 12” democratic elections. The resistance to the military regime, with NADECO in the forefront, ushered in the current democratic dispensation with emphasis placed on Re-Federalization of Nigeria.

On his part, Chief Bisi Akande, APC’s deputy Chairman of the ruling APC Party, advised the members of the National Assembly to dump the 1999 Constitution written by the military leaders and adopt the 1960 Constitution for Nigeria to move forward, while Nze Chidi Duru, APC’s deputy National Organizing Secretary and a member of the Party’s National Working Committee said the Party is working towards the implementation of the El-Rufai Committee Report on True Federalism. All of them are united in anchoring their pursuit of True Federalism on “devolution” as a general principle from which other issues would be addressed.

The Yoruba Referendum Committee adds its voice to the calls made above, with the following additions:

(i) Having experienced various calls for True Federalism since 1999 without a specific pathway towards achieving it, it is now mandatory for the discourse to shift from merely calling for it, as was done by the three personalities named above, (and others before them) to devising the mechanism for actualization. The three Statesmen represent their various political constituencies in the quest for Re-Federalization, with Gen Babangida, though retired, clearly an active participant in military politics since 1966 thus would be considered an important voice in the military, while Chief Akande and Nze Duru clearly spoke on behalf of their political party.

(ii) The military, having “countered the democratic process” with a Constitution that is now expected to be discarded cannot be expected to provide the pathway, either directly through another military coup or indirectly through sustenance of its aspirations expressed through the 1999 Constitution, itself derived from legitimizing previous military coups through its many Constitutions, all aimed at homogenizing all the Peoples of Nigeria into one. This is administratively pursued through the atomization of the various Peoples into states which are made dependent on the central administration from where the ability and capability for the aspirations and expectations of the various Peoples are “packaged and managed”.

(iii) �� The National Assembly is not likely to simply dissolve itself by dumping the 1999 Constitution and adopting the 1960 Constitution. Even if it does dissolve itself, it cannot simply reconvene and convert itself into a Constituent Assembly to adopt another Constitution because it would have, by the dissolution, lost its Legitimacy and a new election into a partisan or non-partisan Constituent Assembly will be farcical and a waste of time and resources. Moreover, the 1960 Constitution can only be valid as a guide, with its general principles as the basis for further Constitutional negotiations. The El-Rufai Committee’s Report placed emphasis on the Constitutional Amendment expected to be conducted by the National Assembly to actualize its recommendations. The Amendment exercise was conducted without reference to the Committee’s recommendations.

(iv) From the above, and despite the attraction of “devolution” as the expectation of True Federalism, a major impediment is in the assumption that “devolution” as a cure-all is expected to be handed down to the Peoples of Nigeria by a benevolent authority (Presidency or National Assembly), which is tantamount to shaving our heads in our absence and which has become the obstacle in actualizing any of the aspirations and expectations.

(v) Experience in other climes shows that “power devolved is power retained”, hence, “devolution” is dependent on the authority or power behind it. Therefore, “devolution” is not the first port of call but the recognition of the power or authority behind it which is to be found in the Federating Units, and who, by virtue of their being the Federating Units, decide what is to be retained and what is to be given. States, as Nigeria's "Federating units" were imposed by military fiat and declared as such as a function of atomization of the Peoples hence they are, at best, administrative entities. This is one of the consequences of the aberrations of military rule.

(vi) Whether the Federating Units are called "states” or "Regions" is immaterial. A Federating Unit can be ethnic, as in Nationalities within a contiguous territory or territorial, as is the case with many Nationalities in Nigeria; the major point being that each Nationality/Federating Unit should be able to decide its preferences based on their historical and cultural considerations, which will allow them to take the fullest advantage of “devolution” by retrieving what they had lost during the previous dispensation.

(vii) Insecurity as currently on the rampage provides a good reference point. Security is primarily a "confidence" question. That is, the people should be able to have confidence in the security personnel working on their territory. With this as a consideration, most of the personnel will be indigenous thereby increasing intelligence gathering, investigations will tend to rely on such confidence, itself driven by the "doctrine and architecture" of not only the security forces but also the political entity it represents, to wit, self-recognition as a Federating Unit. On the contrary, a security doctrine and architecture grafted onto existing “states as federating units” will only compound the existing problems within the states, almost all anchored on internal power relations which will ultimately affect security/insecurity.

(viii) It can be said that Devolution’s “punch list” as stated by the three statesmen mentioned above, to wit: state police, more resources, and powers to the states, etc. are quite well known and accepted by advocates of True Federalism and all that is needed is to put them in place.

(ix) �� The Yoruba Referendum Committee does not share this view because the question arises as to why these had not been put in place since its advocacy since 1999? To put this failure at the altar of bad leadership is to wave a flag at the problem. Rather, we posit that this inability is because the beneficiaries of the “punch-list”, the people as Federating Units have no say in the development of the “punch-list” hence have no means of ensuring its application. This is why we advocate “Nationality Referendums”, and in the case of the Yoruba, a “Yoruba Referendum” to be conducted by the Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ondo, and Ekiti State Houses of Assembly. Similar Referendums can be conducted in culturally contiguous territories, while a mix of Nationalities within a territory can conduct theirs via their cultural and/or community institutions, mediated, if necessary, by the Houses of Assembly in the territories. These Referendums will be the Legitimate, Valid and Legal representation of the “punch-list” and cannot be traded away. This will provide the foundation for actualizing Re-Federalization of Nigeria.

(x) Therefore, the first steps to True Federalism and avoiding the past problems are in naming and recognizing the Federating Units. This can be done in several ways, to wit: there are recognizable and recognized Nationalities in currently existing states; the Yoruba, for example, whose historical and cultural existential realities demand a “regional” structure while Nationalities in the Middle Belt or Niger Delta/South-South can arrive at a workable structure within themselves without being limited to any forced relationships with any other. At the end, a new Federal Nigeria will be a mix of contiguous Nationalities and territories derived from a mix of Nationalities.

Editorial Board
Yoruba Referendum Committee.
On Sun, Dec 3, 2023 at 1:20 AM FEMI ODEDEYI < [email protected] > wrote:

Your Royal Highnesses,
The Yoruba Referendum Committee welcomes your direct intervention in the efforts to Restructure Nigeria. The Communique at the end of your Annual General Meeting held on Monday, November 27, 2023, provides a good basis for an engagement with the aim of arriving at a practical road map that will usher in a Restructured Nigeria of our dreams.

Your Communique demanded, among others, the following from the Federal Government: (A) to have specific constitutional roles for all traditional rulers in the country as a fourth tier of the government, (B) immediately expedite action granting Local Government Autonomy to Local Government authorities (C) create a special intervention fund for security which would be administered by the traditional rulers as a way to improve on the spate of insecurity in the country.(D) to critically look into the suggestions proffered during the last Constitutional Review Conference and (E) the Local Government Authorities and Traditional rulers as well as the States to have better control of resources within their domain.

The Yoruba Referendum Committee humbly responds to your Communique as follows:

i. The Federal Government cannot be asked to have specific Constitutional roles for all traditional rulers in the country as a fourth tier of government because there is no such tier in any Federation. A Federation is a system of coordinate jurisdiction between the Center (National) and the Federating Unit(sub-national). Therefore, asking the Federal Government to make traditional rulers a fourth tier of government already neutralizes the concept of Federalism.

ii. Traditional rulership is culture specific, especially in a Multinational and Multi-cultural country like Nigeria. As Yoruba Obas, you represent a specific culture within the Nigerian context, therefore, your role in governance of Yorubaland ordinarily should have no input from the center as the Yoruba and their Obas have, over the centuries, during pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial periods, established proven relevance and authority of the Oba, in their varied good, bad, and ugly components. Hence, for the Yoruba, our political space is also a cultural space with time-honored values. This historical and contemporary reality cannot be surrendered to the Federal Government. Besides, were the Federal Government to accede to this request means already the quest for Restructuring is already defeated because it presupposes that the existing STRUCTURE is a given; that is, the question to be answered is no longer the STRUCTURE of the Federation but merely the reconfiguration of its mode of governance.

iii. Similarly, “Local Government Autonomy” is anti-Federal in the sense that the Autonomy will depend on funding from the center. The entire quest for Local Government autonomy is anchored on its separation from the State Government with the excuse that the Local Government is nearer to the people and such autonomy will advance development without being hampered by the excesses of the State Government.

iv. We know, from our experience in the Western Region, that development, local or Regional, was not a function of the distance from the people, but the result of definitive policies geared towards development, with relevant agencies by both the local and Regional Governments. Hence, the Obas played pivotal roles in the development and application of the free primary education policies, local councilors played their roles in agricultural extension services, etc. These were neutralized by the various military interventions through which Local Government Administration became centralized via the Dasuki Reform recommendations and which has now led us to where we are, today.

v. The problem created by the continuous centralization of Local Governments cannot therefore be resolved by vesting the same central Government the authority to have direct funding, and therefore control, of Local Governance. Flowing with this will be the annexation and subordination of local security by the Center because it will control the utilization of the said funding. Our contention is that if the center will disburse special intervention funds for security, it also reserves the power to interfere and intervene in the execution of any security policy that will be put in place. The institution of the Oba will become an appendage of the political forces controlling the center at any point in time thereby removing them further away from their primary cultural constituency, comprising the people they govern as Oba. This is further reinforced by your demand on the government to critically review the solutions proffered during the last Constitutional Review Conference.

vi. The Conference avoided taking any decision(s) on the most fundamental issue before it, to wit: the nature of the Federation as well as control of the resources which was shunted to another time. Incidentally, one of your demands centered on resource control by “local governments, traditional rulers and states”.

vii. Based on the above, the thrust of the message we want to pass to you is that reviewing the conference is not necessary as it negates everything related to Federalism. What is needed is another approach towards achieving a Truly Federal Nigeria.

viii. We begin by acknowledging the major roles played by Yoruba Obas in the founding and activities of the Egbe Omo Oduduwa, founded by Chief Obafemi Awolowo in London, England, in 1945 and formally launched in Ile-Ife in 1947. One major reason stated at the Egbe’s formation was “the propagation of the ideal of a modern Yoruba State and Federal State of Nigeria through the agency of reliable persons who share our ideals”.

ix. Towards this end, the Egbe, through its memo to the Regional Committee on the amendment to the Richards Constitution established by the then Governor MacPherson, advocated the “grouping of Nigeria into various Autonomous States or Regions purely on ethnical basis” and that Regional Autonomy should be the prerequisite for a Central government and that if there was any area in which the colonial government wanted to experiment in giving Nigerians complete control over internal affairs, that area should be in the Regional Administration.

x. Chief Obafemi Awolowo drew extensively on the global models of shared governance between National and sub-national governments in arriving at this Federalist option. Yet, the Conference relegated this global imperative to the background in its conceptualization by denying Nationalities the freedom to choose who to speak for them at such an important meeting. This method of selecting or appointing delegates alienated most delegates from the Nationalities whose direct voice was needed on such crucial aspect of Restructuring the polity in Nigeria. None of the delegates represented any of the Peoples of Nigeria, hence were not bound to defend any imperative of the Nationality from which they were selected. Hence, the Conference could not align itself with the hopes and aspirations of the People which was supposedly the raison d’etre for organizing such Conferences in the first instance. It merely provided the ammunition to further unitarize Nigeria, thereby entrenching the country’s foundational crisis, which was against what the Yoruba had always advocated as being the basis for Federalism.

xi. The Conference did so by assuming the singularity of the geo-political space called Nigeria and all its solutions to its problems were relegated to maintaining that singularity while turning issues of Federalism into an administrative convenience even when it is obvious that the problem is exactly in that singularity. That is why the Conference promoted the ridiculous position that “states are Federating Units”. States, as we have them in Nigeria, are administrative entities, which were not even created by the residents but by military fiat. A country can have any form of administrative unit, which was why Aguiyi Ironsi replaced the Regions with “groups of provinces” which are now more or less the “states”.

xii. Every Union or Federation in the world is based on a Union of Peoples which may be administered either as states (as in the US) or Regions as in Germany. For a Federation or Union to exist, therefore, the Peoples inhabiting a geographical space must make that decision. That the Conference refused to see this point underscored the confusion in its understanding of the concept of Federalism in a post-colonial State like Nigeria.

xiii. When the case is made that the current states are now a reality which we cannot run away from, the short answer to that is, Yes, we can run away from it, in the sense that the political and economic circumstances that make for their creation is the root cause of Nigeria’s problems today, such that their retention or changing can only be by the Peoples affected themselves and not by fiat from the Center. Thus, the Yoruba may decide to make every Yoruba town or city an administrative center—that will be our choice based on our economic and political imperatives. While the Conference floated the idea of merging of States that may wish to, it did not prescribe the methodology for doing so and it could not have.

xiv. The above, and more, are the reasons the Yoruba Referendum Committee is proposing, for your consideration, the pursuit of a Legal, Valid and Legitimate mechanism that will aggregate Yoruba demands as the way forward. The mechanism is what we have called the “Yoruba Referendum” which will address the lack of political integration preventing the establishment of a Yoruba Regional entity and identity that will drive Yoruba economic, cultural, and social imperatives.

xv. Towards this end, the Bill for a Referendum has been submitted to the Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ondo, and Ekiti State Houses of Assembly, to be passed into Law and conduct the Referendum.

It is our candid hope that you will throw your weight behind this endeavor.

Thank you, sirs,
Editorial Board,
Yoruba Referendum Committee