Restructuring hate-public policies in national democratic life
A few days ago, as I slumped onto a chair in some eatery after one very hectic day at work, which also took in robust discussions on the state of the country, and watching some politicians and guest speakers on some random television station pontificating on same, when I overhead this very animated verbal exchange between two persons.
I do not know why God is so partial towards these Naija people, one said. Why do you say this, countered the other. Why not? He just waved his hand, all the fighting and selling their own people to North Africa, West Indies, the Americas…No, no, no, interjected the other. Who told you they were from Naija area? My friend, do not interrupt me. You sabi nothing! Go to Cuba, go to Haiti, go to Bahia in Brazil, you’ll find original Sango and juju rites…konk version… and millions in the Americas. Leave dat matter. Anyway, look, Oyinbo companies that were buying slaves, palm oil, and other things, built barracks and compounds in Lagos, and declared it a colony. Another strong oyinbo company commandeer the Niger Delta area and call-am Niger Delta Protectorate with headquarters at Old Calabar; while the traders and oyinbo soldiers, who don form army, just tear race pass Benin, Oyo, Ife, Ibadan and all the other Yoruba-speaking kingdoms and formed Protectorate Territories of Yorubaland, ruled from Lagos. Then, this ogbonge Colonel, Lugard, first work for trading company….Oh yes, that National African Company that became UAC?, offered the other. Yes-o, you try sef. Anyway this no-nonsense man nonsense in the oyinbo army make London appoint-am Governor of all the Protectorates. The man take soldiers scatter Ilorin, Zaria, Kano, Sokoto, and everywhere north of Lokoja and put capital for one small riverside village, Asaba. Asaba? Yes-o…dem rule Sokoto and Kanemi empires…dose Maiduguri and Boko Haram people…from Asaba. London come vex with oyinbo companies and all their wahala, just jam all the protectorates together as one Nigeria, capital in Lagos. Shikena! Chei! Yes-o, no bi small tin-o!
But…if I may ask, what is Protectorate? Which kain nonsense question be dat? If you like, call-am protectorate, province, region, state, local government area, same ten and ten pence – just divide natural communities into any number of groups you want for tax purposes….No, come on! interjects the other. Shooo! See me see trouble-o. Just jam military conquest with colonialism gbagam you get grandmother of all looting – women, men to work without pay, taxes in form of cowrie shells, cattle, paper money and whatever, rubber, palm oil, palm kernel, groundnuts, cotton…Be serious, my friend, protests the other. I am…oyinbo companies and their Naija agents all over the country were very nice and wonderful in buying all agricultural produce at the price they wanted, and you paid price they demanded for their imported goods! Very good business all round, abi? So, you are telling me this economic short-changing started long…My frend, my frend, take-am easy. Na business…but wetin you dey do with the rubber, cotton and others before? When oyinbo stop buying them, nko? Leave dat matter, joor. Na today?
Yes, yes…stutters the other…you were talking about protectorate. Yes, Protectorate. You see, power is good-o. Money too. Wen you blend both of them…hmmm…you near God-o! Stop blaspheming…My frend, siddon there. Hear me so? You fit do anything you want, you nor go remember you be human being…Look, look, I know this part of the story…Governor in Lagos, assisted by two High Commissioners (renamed Lieutenant-Governors), one in Enugu for Eastern Provinces and another in Kaduna for Northern Provinces, made whomever they liked emir, oba, kings, and whom they relied upon for “indirect rule” system of alkali and sharia courts, and created “chiefs” in areas in northern and southern provinces where such characters never existed to function like traditional rulers and dashed them “native courts” to do whatever they liked. The burdens of taxation, corruption and arbitrariness of ensuing administrative practices were so devastating in scale and defeating of any decent existence that from 1927 communities exploded in waves of riots, at Aba, Burutu, Warri, especially violent and extensive in Tivland in 1929, 1939, 1945, and 1949 and other areas that had successfully resisted Islam till that point. Ah, my friend you try too-o! Were you sabi all these ones? Pretty well documented…great scholars…Dike, Biobaku, Afigbo, Tamuno, Ikime, Ezera, Ade-Ajayi, Coleman, Sklar, Crowder, Billy Dudley…E do, e don doooo se…and Okonjo. Okonjo…which Okonjo? E fit be papa of dat former Minister woman-o…sabi book sha.
That’s not all. Nationalist politicians…I know, I know…Lugard and ‘im northern Deputy nor like Lagos, all the Lagos lawyers, Lagos Colony wen get ‘im own National Assembly, Supreme Court, High Court, Magistrate court, and co and co, abi? More than that…Lagos had over 40 years head-start, since 1862, in more democratic political practices Lugard wanted not only to roll back but prevent from “threatening” his “indirect rule” in the Northern Provinces. Not only were professionals of all description excluded from mainstream of colonial administration, lawyers in particular were prevented from practising by the simple device of denying legal representation to all those brought before the various courts. The Supreme Court of the Northern Provinces in its whole existence from 1900 to 1914 when amalgamation was decreed, tried no criminal cases, and only civil case. And when it was scrapped post-Lugard period in preference for Lagos-based Supreme Court for the whole country, the northern lieutenant-governors sought to restrict its activities to Lagos alone…Okay, Professor, dat one don pass, sha, abi? Not really…it was the beginning of hate-public policies. Hate kini? Means official social, economic and other policies, institutions and administrative structures and practices based on racism, ethnic chauvinism and religious bigotry – in short, discrimination along all dimensions. Ah…iwe…you sef. The policies were based on hate, thrived on hate, generated hate and created a disorganised national society. So, naim make all the lawyers and professionals wen full the political parties from 1930s and 1940s and with dose trade union people fit give fire-for-fire, pepper oyinbo yansh so-tay ‘im no know wen dem organise elections in 1951, give internal self-government 1954, arrange constitutional talks and knack Independence for ground for 1960, abi? To madala!
Dis your hate policies…Not mine, theirs. First, the colonial administration gave European public servants higher salaries and used everyone else without pay and began paying very little when people ran away from railway construction and other projects, and when workers in public services and private mining sector protested, used the soldiers, police, emirs, obas, chiefs, and the courts to suppress all and kill some. The routine, brutal attacks on demonstrators and strikers were adopted by succeeding nationalist politicians and security agencies, as if protests have nothing to do with correcting existing wrongs. This way, ought-to-be country-protective institutions, have become regime-survival/perpetuation instruments. Old boy, wetin naa? Small small…wetin dis one mean? For most politicians, politics is business and in course of doing whatever it is they do with power and hang on to it, create a mixture of few good things, challenges and problems for different segments of the population at different times. The National Assembly, civil service, judiciary, intelligence and security agencies, other parastatals, trade unions, students’ organisations, communities and other interest groups in society react and should function in a manner to ensure laid down procedures, the law and Constitution are duly followed and negative impacts of even well-intended policies are minimised, if not eliminated. I see-am now…so for example, security people nor suppose to use people money to organise counter-protest against order people wen dey demonstrate against one tin or de order…na the business of the party…and the demonstrators wan make government do the correct thing, abi? And if dem nor demonstrate, bad bad things go just dey continue.
Yes, no dissent, no protests, no following procedures by those in authority, means no democratic life especially when the constitution itself overwhelmingly protects particular interests of those who imposed it. General elections (General Elections because there have always been Elections right from ancient times, the issue being number of persons allowed to participate) are merely a more democratic way of electing persons into political positions and it is after that democracy as a way of life is reflected in checks and balances and decisions which protect and enhance individual, community and human rights. We see that power-drunk bigots and their minnows deceitfully hold out Elections as the beginning and end of Democracy. Not true, for a majority can perpetuate tyranny by merely voting to do so, as Adolf Hitler’s National Democratic Party voted democratically to exterminate Jews, or how we invented ““Ghana-Must-Go-Bags” after Shehu Shagari’s political party sent packing overnight thousands of hapless and hardworking Ghanaian economic migrants amongst us on the shameless pretext of their planning to vote for the Opposition (not minding his government was in-charge of organising the general elections), or the National Assembly conniving with the military to occupy the Niger Delta and Southeast as a power-loving Chief of Army Staff fancies himself in the role of defining and decreeing, in a supposedly civil, democratic political dispensation, to the country and world his new terrorist organisations.
SECOND, THE CREATION OF REGIONS… There was nothing smaller ethnic groups in Eastern, Northern and Western regions did not do to get their own regions but were denied by the colonial administration during and after the Big 3 in successive constitutional talks opposed them, and in spite of the fact that population-wise the smaller ethnic groups collectively constituted majority in each region. No…you dey joke, fa. Not at all…instead they became officially labelled, literally cursed and treated as minorities, with minority rights. Non-Hausa-Fulani people were ostracized outside protective walls of cities in “strangers’ quarters”, sabon garis, and when these grew rapidly the inhabitants were denied political representation, being under-handedly “indigenised”, much unlike in Lagos and Western region. But throughout the minority areas in Northern region, stretching from Ilorin, Minna, Jos, Mubi to Maiduguri, force was used to create local governments for Hausa-Fulani settlers. The random creation of new emirates and emirs in Northern region continued unabated (even attempted in Abuja decades much later), several met with resistance and violence, just as many kings and chiefs mushroomed in the Eastern and Western regions. Chief Anthony Enahoro’s 1954 “motion for Independence in 1956” was not only rejected in Northern region, it led to riots in which many Southerners were killed, especially in Kano.
The trio of religious elite, so-called traditional rulers and cabals in political parties cemented their hate-producing pact at constitutional conferences to include “House of Chiefs” as integral part of political administration of the country. Old Boy, chiefs borku for dis country, sha…Please be serious! Anyway, this highly volatile and virulently infectious concoction, given the passions of the times, boiled over within a year of Independence that by 1961, Big 2 and Big 3 feeding on Big 1 had advanced considerably, and not only was Chief Awolowo thrown into jail in 1962 for “treasonable felony” and Chief Anthony Enahoro hounded in the UK and brought home for “trial”, Midwest Region ripped off from Western Region in 1963 as the two-Bigs tightened their grip on “minorities” in their own heartlands, but also mangled the Western and Federal elections 1964-1965 so badly that such were accompanied by widespread riots and deaths, which then precipitated a constitutional crisis when the president refused to invite the prime minister to form a government.
You nor see naaa…checks and balances good sha-o! Please can I finish? A few months later after a compromise was struck and a “national” federal government was formed, an “Administrator” earlier imposed on Western Region by the two-Bigs and its cabinet dissolved, came the January 15 1966 coup in which the prime minister, premier of the Northern region, premier of Western region, the federal minister of finance, and a few others, were killed and although “coupists” were drawn from all parts of the country, largely because Maj. Gen. Aguiyi-Ironsi, the highest-ranking officer assumed command and was slow at putting the coupists on trial (and were in fact being paid while awaiting trial though under detention) and the president and premier of Eastern region did not also lose their lives, it was branded “Igbo Coup”. The other “grievances” aired by “northern” officers were the Unification Decree that abolished all regions; rumours of an “Igbo coup” to eliminate northern soldiers (very much an afterthought many have argued); the promotion of several Igbo Majors to Lt Colonel; plans to swap the 1st and 4th battalions and to rotate the military governors of the different regions before scrapping them. The “northern” officers “revenge killings” began six months later in July led by Lt Col. Murtala Muhammed and Major Theophilus Danjuma, the latter’s group killing Major-General Aguiyi-Ironsi and his host in Ibadan, Lt. Col Fajuyi, and in a radio broadcast declared the “North” was leaving Nigeria, but were later talked out of it by some top civil servants and the British and American diplomats as Lt Col Gowon, the highest-ranking “northern officer” assumed leadership of the group and as thousands of “southerners”, especially Igbo, civilians, were massacred by soldiers and civilians alike all over the North – dubbed the pogroms.
The “northern” officers having produced the first haunting example of possible secession by any part, an example that has refused to go away since then, the counter-reaction came in July 1967 with the declaration of Biafra in the Eastern region by Col Ojukwu who, like other senior officers, saw no reason why a junior officer should be “commander in chief”, not to speak of single-handedly restructuring the country into twelve states…then followed a three-year long civil war. Many have doubted whether the restructuring of the four regions into twelve states by decree would have occurred had General Gowon been a Muslim and Hausa or Fulani or both. He probably would not be surprised, with the possible exception of Col. Joe Garba, about those in the junta who subsequently overthrew him, the signs obvious even as the Civil War raged late 1960s. In less than a year after, mostly northern minority military officers in return killed General Murtala Muhammed in an aborted coup. The larger irony, of course, once in power, the conspirators became more enamoured by and obsessed with the centralised control unification exercise could bring more than Aguiyi-Ironsi himself ever envisaged!
Anyhow, the states increased to nineteen, twenty-one, thirty and then to 36…Nobi true at all…na thirty-seven. What? Yes naa…Abuja na corner-corner wayo state, abi you nor dey see well? The number of states, distribution, size, and their capitals all imposed by the respective partisan juntas, the orchestrated “opinion-gathering” notwithstanding as was the case in 1989 when political party formation process, in General Babangida’s self-succession bid, ended with two imposed parties of “a little bit to the right”, and “a little bit to the left”, and General Abacha was the only presidential candidate for all the political parties he allowed to exist. Since then, the imposed politico-administrative structure has proved unsatisfactory by all objective standards, whether as regards equity in the number in the North vis-à-vis the South, or distribution of power and resources between the centre and the states, between the states, and between states and local governments. And only a few understand the non-existent basis for this spurious “Six Geopolitical Zones” that has been used off and on to rationalise all manner of self-serving decisions and actions.
THIRD… FORM OF GOVERNMENT. Decentralisation was the critical organising principle in Colonial and First Republic regionalisations, for the obvious reality of vastness of land, and multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-religious composition of the population. Of the First Republic, a non-Executive President oversaw the State, albeit in a multi-party parliamentary system where the Prime Minister elected by the party with most seats, was invited by the President to form a government. The regions had their respective Assemblies and governments, the latter formed by party with majority of seats, (with House of Chiefs fitting in uncomfortably somewhere) and Divisions. The centre only exercised control over foreign affairs, immigration, and military. Centralisation, the opposite, has been the opium of partisan juntas after Gowon’s regime especially, one of the heinous (sic) crimes of Gen Gowon was allowing respective State Military Governors too much freedom in managing their affairs (remember Unification Decree?)! The Executive Presidential type enthroned by the partisan juntas or putschists in both 1979 and 1999 Constitutions is of yet-to-be determined specie or model, save for its tendency towards central monopoly of power and not-to-be lamented elimination of House of Chiefs. Some dubious claims of its being the American type are ill-considered, sheer propaganda as the American States are in the mould of our First Republic’s Regions, decentralised governance and institutionalisation of social and political control in local governments and related structures, where, for example, medical doctors, accountants, lawyers, even trained in best universities, without passing professional examinations and procedures of each State cannot practice in it! each state has its own written constitution and code of laws, the only requirement imposed by the American constitution is that each state must have “a Republican Government” – that is, a civil democratic one, not controlled by the equivalents of a mixed-bag of cabals, self-opinionated putschists in mufti, small tyrants, kings, emirs, obas, chiefs, Imams, etc. And except for Nebraska, each state has an elected House of Representatives and a Senate. There is no Inspector General of Police commanding Commissioners of Police in the states; each state has its own police force, like we had from 1954 to January 1966. A State can even deny one status of Resident and you may then move to another.
To be continued.
• Professor Otobo is of the Faculty of Business Administration, University of Lagos.
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