‘It’s not differences that divide us. It’s our judgements about each other that do.’
– Margaret Wheatley
This war started in July 1966. When some soldiers from different extractions staged a counter coup and proceeded to dismantle the federal structure. The constitution was suspended, and a set of military decrees were issued which then became the legal instruments of governance. The Aburi Accord of January 5, 1967 was meant to return the country to its federal structure. However, the Federal Military Government practically abrogated this Accord by refusing to implement the terms. The final death knell on the Accord, and hence the Federal Structure of the Nigeria Nation was the declaration of the Republic of Biafra on May 30, 1967.
To consolidate the dismantling process, the various Military Administrations embarked on the creation of states at various stages between 1967 and 1991, a process that produced 36 states and Abuja Capital Territory. The sales pitch from the military to the public on the reasons for state creations anchored on the need to bring the government closer to the people for equitable, faster development, and the need to increase public participation in governance. These were bogus reasons for; one can achieve the same goals simply by creating and empowering local governments or counties with constitutional provisions. The main reasons for creating the first 12 state structures in 1967 and others subsequently were;
- To drive a wedge between the different ethnic members of the enemy, Biafra. Three states were created from the old Eastern Region namely, East Central State (core Igbos), Rivers State (predominantly Ikweres, Ijaws, Ogonis, and Nembes), and Cross River States (Ibibios and Efiks).
- At this juncture, the oil finds were within the Biafran enclave, but precisely in Rivers State, with Cross Rivers showing great potentials with ongoing explorations. Thus, if these other states realised the economic powers available to them, they would opt out of Biafra. After all, the brunt of the pre-war massacres and genocide were borne by the Igbos of all origins.
- The Federal Government had committed its war efforts on the credits extended by the Europeans, Russians, and Americans, guaranteed with oil revenue. You cannot pay with what you do not own. So, if the Federal Structure was dismantled, and a Unitary Government put in place, the ownership and control of mineral rights and revenues will be vested on the Federal (Unitary) Government who can then do whatever pleases it.
Whether by design or by a natural progression of human impulsive nature, there began the clamour for states creations and boundary. Thus it did not take long for the Military to institutionalise the tribal politics that the planners of the first coup sought to dismantle within the First Republic. And now we have 36 States of Nigeria that are all tribal enclaves in a country that looks like everything but a nation.
The creation of a Unitary Government has fostered a powerful central government where all who seek power look to get to at whatever cost. The prize of power in Nigeria is absolute power and stupendous riches for the loyalists. All these operators are prepared to kill to retain power. And they have been killing and maiming fellow Nigerians. The war against federalism is inconclusive because the protagonists have only won a pyrrhic victory. Mainly because the structure is inherently unjust, and the purveyors are insincere and largely incompetent, the opposition to this system of government is not silenced. Rather, it is growing louder and more agitated.
In conclusion, I see no way our children and grandchildren will have the kind of developed nation we dreamt of and promised them if we do not eradicate corruption and hold people to account for the various crimes and genocides committed. Holding people to account in this regard is not only, and must not necessarily be by incarceration. We can and should hold a national conference where we tell each other the truth, own up to our errors and mistakes, and apologise. Where necessary we must pay restitution, even if it is a token, but let it be sincerely offered and accepted. Only then can we begin to build our nation with the right people irrespective of ethnicity, for then we can freely institute good corporate governance anchored in the rule of law where everyone is equal in a federated union.
We must not lose sight of the fact that those countries that were in the same underdeveloped bracket with us some 50 years ago have moved on to become emerging economies of the world and have successfully taken millions of their people out of poverty. With my eyes, I saw Dubai and many desert cities transform into world-class cities to compete with the West. They did so with oil revenue as well. Time is of the essence not because we must be in a hurry to catch up, but because if we do not change our ways, the country will soon be torn to shreds.
To those who argue that the country must continue to apply federal character and cronyism, I say that is disingenuous. Early in the management of our economy, the military administrations enacted the indigenisation decree that mandated Nigerians to hold at least 60% shares in all major companies. Local content of Nigerian workers was also enshrined into laws governing the employment of workers in all sectors and the award of contracts. In the mid-90s, the need to attract foreign investments to grow the economy trumped the gains derivable from this system of transfer of technology and national participation in business, leading to the abrogation and modification of the extant laws. Today, it is noticeably clear that knowledge is not governed by ethnicity, or doled out to peoples of specific races. Let the best perform unhindered for when they succeed, the glory goes to all Nigerians.
To the new generation of leaders seeking to lead this nation and give it a break from its usual handlers, I challenge you to seek change. If you want to do better, you will need to find a way to curtail corruption, and a way of servicing our debts without crashing the economy. It is true that corruption is as old as man, but we have seen nations flourish in spite of it. They achieved the feat by putting in place structures that will deter corrupt practices, prosecute, and punish the corrupt. To the old in power, advocate and allow change to happen, for only then will posterity be kind to you.
If we look at these six wars that we have jointly examined in a period of four weeks, we can clearly see the problems of the country so starkly defined. It cannot be true that in a country of over 200 million inhabitants (estimated) we are unable to find well meaning, selfless, and educated citizens that will boldly lead this country, if not to greatness, but to a position where all citizens, working hard can have a decent living. In the doctrines of the two main religions we mainly subscribe to in Nigeria, it has been said that man was created for God’s pleasure. In creating us in His image, He must have said; “Go and do your utmost, utilizing your skills and abilities, and let’s see how far you can go”. Nigerians are abjectly failing in those injunctions for there is no national achievement that we can proudly lay claims to.
We have failed to win in any of these six wars because we are trying to prop up the wrong structure. Dare we start yet another war with this same structure that is our nemesis? No, because it will still fail. Nigeria is too large and too important to the African continent to fail. The consequences of such a failed state will reverberate all over the continent and live with all of us forever. It will be an ignominious shame of gigantic proportions and a waste of so much potential.