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The Oasis Reporters

Saturday, 28 October, 2017

Ahmadu Bello Way landmark in Kaduna City.


Since the Abacha Confab, there have been loud and persistent calls for the restructuring of the Nigerian Federation. The most strident voices have been from the South and the Northern voice has been more muted. This has created the impression that the South is for and the North is against restructuring. The challenge for the North is that there has been a long break in its reflections on what it wants and this memo sets out to propose a path to and an outcome of restructuring that serves the interests of both the North and Nigeria as a whole.

In 1991, a group of politicians, intellectuals and technocrats from Northern Nigeria held several meetings in Kaduna and Kano to design and propose a new federal structure for Nigeria.
Among members of this group were Alhaji Sule Gaya, a former First Republic Minister, Alhaji Tanko Yakasai, Chief Sunday Awoniyi, Dr. Suleiman Kumo, Dr. Ibrahim Datti Ahmed, Dr. Mahmoud Tukur, Mallam Sule Yahaya Hamma, Alhaji Abdullahi Maikano Gwarzo and others. They came up with various constitutional, political and fiscal alternatives and options with which to negotiate with the rest of Nigeria to restructure the federation. They invited Chief Anthony Enahoro to Kano, held discussions with him and agreed to pursue a Restructuring Agenda together only for the Chief to rush to Lagos to hold a unilateral press conference to launch an agenda for restructuring under the Movement for National Reformation.

In 2003, after twelve years of advocacy without making headway, Chief Enahoro decided to return to the same group to continue the discussions he abandoned in Kano. The 2003 discussions held at a meeting room in Sheraton Hotel, Abuja with participants such as Mallam Adamu Ciroma, Alhaji Umaru Shinkafi, Alhaji Mahmud Waziri, Prof. Ango Abdullahi and others in attendance. The Chief narrated the contours of his journey in pursuit of restructuring since 1991 and outlined the results of his consultations within the three zones in the South. He wanted the three zones in the North to each outline their own positions so he could have an overall picture of the positions of the six zones in Nigeria.

Having listened to the Chief’s submission, the group referred him to the Arewa Consultative Forum, the umbrella socio-political organization for the North, which was founded in the intervening period in 2001. Chief Enahoro met with the leadership of ACF a couple of months later but could not sustain the consultations because he wanted separate positions from the three zones in the North on Restructuring, a position the ACF found rather condescending. Since then, a new crop of Northern intellectuals, technocrats and politicians, including office-seekers, have continued the search for a common ground with the rest of Nigeria on restructuring in different ways and for a but the Northern voice has not really been projected nationally.

The point about the current debate is that the South as a block appears to be for restructuring. This is however more apparent than real. When the questions of how to restructure and the content of restructuring are posed, there are significant differences in the positions in the South with divergences between the South West, South South and South East. Discussions on the issue in the North might also reveal significant differences between component parts of the North. It is therefore important to reflect on restructuring in a way that will promote both Northern and National unity. This is because the point of departure for the North is that it has more to gain from a united Nigeria and the restructuring must not be conceived as a priority to be against the interest of the North.


We need to introduce some history into the debate on restructuring. Protagonists tend to articulate their positions in a way that suggests Nigeria has not been restructuring. The fact of the matter however is that Nigeria has been restructuring since 1914, when the British amalgamated their three territories in the Nigeria area, the colony of Lagos and the two Protectorates to the North and South of the Niger. This symbolic act representing the “creation of Nigeria” has been widely castigated as an artificial act and a mistake. Such views erroneously believe that there are states that have been “naturally constituted”. We do know however that throughout history, state formations have occurred in a fluid and artificial manner. State cohesion has been built at a later stage. What the British created as Nigeria was made up of many autonomous and independent polities as well as diverse languages and cultures that were coerced into a new political formation. The problem of Nigeria is not so much the amalgamation of 1914, but the failure to forge a cohesive state from the said territories after independence.

Lord Lugard first structured Nigeria into a political system based on ‘indirect rule’ with a policy of non-centralised administration or separate government for ‘different peoples’. This policy led to the evolution of certain structures and institutions, which to a certain extent still characterise the contemporary Nigerian State. The basic principle of “Indirect Rule” was ‘divide and rule’. In the Emirates of Northern Nigeria and in the Yoruba kingdoms of the south west, indigenous political structures were retained and often reinforced by the colonial administration as the primary level of government, while in the South East as well as among some of the acephalous ‘Middle Belt’ societies, a new order of colonial chiefs known as ‘warrant chiefs’ was imposed. The system of ‘Indirect Rule’ had a profound impact on the evolution of Nigerian elites.

In the north, traditional elites were fully involved in the administration of British imperialism thanks to the system of ‘Native Administration’ (NA) and were therefore allies of the Crown. Secondly, they had a pact with Lord Lugard to keep Christian missionaries and by extension, western education, out of the Emirates. The result was that the pace of development of western education in the Muslim part of the North was very slow and the few that were chosen for the western schools were all employed in the NA. Thus, virtually the totality of the elite in the Muslim North collaborated with colonialism and had a stake in it. In the other parts of the country, Christian missionaries were given full freedom for proselytization and virtually exclusive control of Western education. It resulted in a fairly rapid evolution of a Western educated elite, to the detriment of traditional ruling elites. The new elite, however, had very limited chances of integrating into the upper echelons of the civil service even when they had high levels of education. Given their educational background and the frustrations of exclusion, they naturally drifted into political agitation and adversary journalism.

In 1938 the South was restructured into two regions, the West and East while the North was left intact – hence the origins of the tripartite political system. This system was formalised with the Richards Constitution of 1946. The Nigerian debate over restructuring started with the Richards Constitution. The nationalists – Hubert Macaulay, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Michael Imoudu rejected the Constitution because it was designed to perpetuate the colonial structure of sharing power between the Crown and Native Authorities and mobilised for a new structure in which citizens would be the repositories of power. They mobilised, travelled round the country, raised funds and went to London in 1946 to demand for a new structure. When five years later, they succeeded on placing self-government on the agenda with Governor Macpherson’s Constitution, the Nigerian political elite had agreed to a Federation based on the three tier regional structure Lord Lugard had invented. In the process, the profound demand for democratic government in which power resided with citizens was abandoned. The guiding principle of this “new” tripartite Federation was that each Region had a ‘majority ethnic group’, which was to play the role of the leading actor – in the North the Hausa, in the West the Yoruba, and in the East the Igbo. In fact the whole process of constitution making between 1946 and 1959 was an elaborate bargaining pantomime to find equilibrium between the three regions. No wonder the process resulted in the emergence of three major political parties each allied to a majority group.

The pre-independence restructuring was problematic because Nigeria was never composed of three cultural groups but of hundreds of cultural and ethnic groups dominated the majority groups. Although Nigeria was profoundly multipolar, the Hausa-Yoruba–Igbo political elites opted to maintain the colonial tripartite structure. It’s important to remember that none of the three regions of the First Republic represented a historic political bloc, as there were minority groups in each. The refusal of the British to create more regions in 1958 when the Willinks Commission affirmed that fears of domination of the ‘minorities’ by the ‘majorities’ were justified was virtually a disenfranchisement of at least 45 per cent of the population.

By Friends of Democracy

Friends of Democracy’:

Bashir Othman Tofa
Fatimah Balla
Sule Yahaya Hamma
Abubakar Siddique Mohammed
Sam Nda-Isiaih
Bashir Yusuf Ibrahim
Bilya Bala
Aliyu Modibbo
Usman Bugaje
Hubert Shaiyen
Kabir Az-Zubair
Jibrin Ibrahim


Greg Abolo

Blogger at The Oasis Reporters.

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