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WILL EKWEREMADU PROVE AWOLOWO RIGHT?

By NBF News
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Trust politicians. They have diverse but clever ways of breaking unpalatable news whenever things go awry, especially news concerning sensitive issues of public interest. The commonest way is speaking with forked tongue or speaking tongue-in-cheek next to which is taking a tactical bow from their locality in order to piss in from outside.

Some politicians deftly combine both methods just like the distinguished Senator Ike Ekweremadu did recently via a lecture he delivered in faraway Canada. In the lecture entitled 'Nigerian Federalism a case for a Review' delivered at the Osgood Hall Law School, York University in Toronto, Canada, Ekweremadu who is supposed to be the midwife of the anticipated batch of new states in Nigeria, surprisingly made a complete U-turn and urged Nigerians to spare a thought on a possible return to 'regionalism' where the six geopolitical zones in the country will become the new federating units.

A return to regional system he said 'seems a major plausible thing to do if we are to nurse any hope of reversing the dwindling fortunes of our federalism'. Keen observers of the Nigerian scene, as result of this veritable bombshell, have since concluded that the unfolding scenario cannot but mean one thing– once again the post is being removed or shifted when the southeast is about to score a goal; just like what happens whenever they are about to produce a president for Nigeria.

It is unfortunate that postwar rulers of this country, who arrogated to themselves the power to create new states and to crown new kings, have not only played God in their vindictive display of high-handedness against the South-east, they have also sadly vindicated John Fuller's contention that 'democracy is not love of one's neighbor but hatred of all those who are outside one's own tribe, group, party or nation'.

After reading all what Senator Ekweremadu had to say in his controversial lecture the first thing that flashed through my mind was whether Chief Awolowo's prediction of 1978 was coming to pass at last? Is Ekweremadu the Garibaldi or Bismarck of Nigeria ? I asked myself. Chief Awolowo had warned in 1978 that if care was not taken in our unrestrained quest for new states, we would get to the point where a Garibaldi or a Bismarck could emerge in Nigeria to put a stop to the whole exercise and knock all the existing states together once again. Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-82) was the military arrowhead of the revolution that finally unified the disparate states in Italy in 1870. In the same vein Otto Von Bismarck (1815-98) was also the man who executed a similar unification task in Germany between 1856 and 1871.

Because of its relevance, in the face of Ekweremadu's proposition, may I be permitted to quote Chief Awolowo here in extenso. The federal constitution he said is still the best for a multi-ethnic country like ours. 'But there are certain principles which must be observed in creating the constituent states. But those principles have not been adhered to in Nigeria and consequently we have been having a situation where every unit or tribe and (we may even still go to the clan level in the end) is demanding for a state of its own… At the rate we are going, we will stop demanding for states when Ikenne becomes a state.

Take an Ijebu state, for instance, which some people are advocating… When we have an Ijebu state, it is going to be difficult to have a capital. The Remo will not accept Ijebu Ode as capital. The moment you have all-Ijebu state, you are on the road to Remo state … When we have an Ijebu/Remo state, then you are going to have a situation which will make for an Ipara state, Ikenne state, Isara state!' Therefore, in conclusion Chief Awolowo warned: 'I hope that they will never return to the exercise which was going on then… with everyone demanding a state of his own. All of that will come to a halt sometime, maybe not in my life time. But I predict that a Bismarck or Garibaldi will arise and will knock all these states together again… The Greeks say that anything that goes too far tends to produce its opposite' (The Guardian, 11/5/87 ).

What I make of Awolowo's argument generally is that he was not against the creation of more states per se but against the inability of successive Nigerian government to adopt the right attitude and principle that should guide the exercise in a typical federation like ours. That principle has to do with cultural and linguistic affinity. And it is interesting that Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe subscribed to the linguistic principle, according to him, 'in order to enable each ethnic group to exercise local and cultural autonomy within its jurisdiction.' Therefore we may as well give Ekweremadu's proposition a try. But in order to do that successfully we have to ensure that the six geopolitical zones have equal number of states. Luckily for us, the six zones meet Chief Awolowo's linguistic thesis. Hausa is the lingua franca in the North while Igbo and Yoruba hold sway in the South-east and South-west respectively. The South-south will have no problem managing their various languages-

Anyway, it should be pointed out here that every system is as good as its operators. Regionalism may yet confront us with novel problems if not handled properly with open mind-the kind of mind that respects Achebe's dictum: let the eagle perch, let the eaglet also perch; the one that hinders the other let his wing break. I don't know how old Ekweremadu is, but from all indications he was probably not old enough in 1964 when the leader of UPGA Dr Michael Okpara said 'the two worst threats to Nigerian unity are the practice of regionalism…and the fact that we have not been faithful to the most important principle of federation, namely, that there should not be any one state so much greater than the rest put together that it can bend the will of the federal government.' Dr Okpara's conclusion was that until these two threats are removed 'they labour in vain who labour for Nigerian unity.' UPGA believed in the creation of more states and in fact promised to turn Nigeria into a federation of 25 states based on the old provincial arrangement.

Of course, Awolowo's prognostication was neither a call to stop further creation of states in Nigeria nor an invitation to a revolution a la Italiana. No. He was only sounding a timely warning that we should handle the issue with utmost care and maturity lest we go the ways of those two European nations whose unification processes, according to one historian 'illustrate the eternal tragedy of politics-that great ends can often be achieved only by means which rob the ends of a great deal of their worth'.

I personally am not against any fresh arrangement provided we don't step into the new era with old prejudices or injustices which will sooner than later prove our Achilles' heel. For example, there will be no level playing field in regionalism if the South-east should enter it with five states while each of the other zones does so with at least six states. Therefore, in order to ensure an unblemished approach to regionalism let us first of all balance any existing imbalances concerning the creation of states and local government areas.

Nzeakah writes from Lagos.