“ When something serious is going on, silence is a lie,” said Ape Abraham, founding editor of New York Times. The beauty of democracy is that it gives allowance for plurality of opinion to blossom. And irrespective of what anyone may say about the inadequacies of that form of government, freedom of expression to us, is still its best attribute.
It reinforces the fact that our disagreement must not only be during elections alone, but also on burning national issues we consider germane to our continuous existence as a people. We might not always concur, but our commitment to the advancement of our fatherland should and must not be questionable.
The freedom to speak one’s mind is not only an aspect of individual’s liberty, but also essential to the common search for the truth and the well being of the society as a whole. Any one that witnessed or read about the phenomenal development of the South-West during the first republic will not but agree with this writer that what we need to do to solve our myriad of intractable socio-political and economic problems and join the league of developed nations is the restructuring of the Nigerian federation.
There is no doubt that the first Premier of the defunct Western Region, the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo was the pioneer of good governance in Nigeria. He was described by one analyst as a political giant with an extraordinary mind and talent. His achievements as Premier are still evident and remained unmatched by any leader in Nigeria. One of the greatest achievements of Chief Awolowo was the adroit manner with which he galvanized the resources of the old Western Region to record monumental feats.
Today, state governors go cap in hand begging the Federal Government for money to pay their workers’ salaries while they also depend heavily on it to foot the bills of capital projects in their respective domains. But the reverse was the case when Chief Awolowo was piloting the affairs of the old Western Region.
As he was blazing economic trails, his counterparts in the Northern and Eastern states openly wondered where he was getting the funds with which he was creating the waves. While he was building the famous Cocoa House (the ultra modern 22 storey skyscraper in Ibadan), he was also constructing the biggest Olympic size stadium in Nigeria- the Liberty Stadium and at the same time beaming news and current affairs to his people through the first television network in Africa- the WNTV/WNBS. Awolowo continued his trail-blazing feat with the introduction of free primary education throughout the Western Region, built the Bodija Housing Estate, the State Secretariat Complex and many road networks, all of which structure has remained strong and solid more than half a century after their construction.
And all of these funded from only the farm produce and internally generated revenue. And as if all the aforementioned are not enough to draw the envy of other sister regions like the North and the East, Awolowo threw the then almighty Federal Government off the balance when he announced an unprecedented pay rise for its thousands of workers which the Federal Government could not afford to pay its own employees.
In banner headlines carried by the Sunday Times of October 10, 1954, titled: “5s A Day for West Government Workers”, the government announced the jumbo pay for its workers and immediately agitation commenced by Federal Government workers for a similar pay rise. But three weeks later on October 31, 1954, the same paper carried another report quoting the Federal Government as telling its workers that it would not allow itself to be stampeded into paying new wages.
It is noteworthy that workers in the two other regions did not even bother themselves with agitation for this jumbo pay increase because they knew their own governments could not afford to pay even half of it. Today, while state governments look up to the Federal government for bail-outs to pay their workers, Awolowo was actually creating precepts which even the Federal Government could not match.
I make bold to say Awo was able to perform these spectacular feats because he came at a time when our country, Nigeria was practicing a system of government-regionalism, which made it possible for the then 4 regions which the country was divided into to have control over their resources. Before the January 15, 1966 military coup, there were five constitutions operating in this country. There was the constitution of the Federal Republic of 1963. Then, we had the constitution of Northern Nigeria, Law of 1963, the constitution of Eastern Nigeria, Law of 1963, the constitution of Western Nigeria, Law of 1963 and the constitution of Mid-Western Nigeria, Act of 1964.
The four regions were administered as if they were sovereign states. Subsection 2D of Section 63 of the constitution of the Western Nigeria, Law of 1963 made provision for the appointment of Agent general for Western region, ditto for the three other regions by their constitutions. The Agent generals were like modern day ambassadors. Their schedule is not in conflict with that of Nigerian Ambassador in the United Kingdom at that time. Each of the regions had their own Chief Justices, Police commissioners, Legislative Houses and many other bodies.
Each of the regions differed on some key issues. The Western region even had a court of appeal which served as an intermediate court between its high court and the Supreme Court. The only uniformity was in the procedure for the establishment of key office holders. The centre had a premier known as the Premier of Nigeria and Governor-General while each of the 4 regions had premiers and governors.
All these were in place until the army struck on the night of January 14, 1966. In taking over power, General Aguiyi Ironsi told the nation that Nigeria wants an end to regionalism. Ironsi’s critics charged that the unitary system of government he introduced was a tribal agenda.
In spite of opposition by two of his appointed military governors, Ironsi went ahead to sign the unification decree 34 on May 24, 1966. Not long after, General Ironsi was toppled from power and General Yakubu Gowon took overpower on July 29, 1966. On August 31, 1966, Gowon abolished decree 34 and restored the federal system. On May 27, 1967, General Gowon created states, killed the four regions and handed supreme authority to the central government. It has been so since.
While in Kampala, capital of Uganda for OAU summit on July, 29, 1975, he was toppled and the late General Murtala Mohammed took over. The first act of General Muhammed was to set up a constitution drafting committee and a constituent assembly. He then did the unthinkable- he imposed this wasteful, extravagant and prodigal presidential system of government on the nation, without carrying out a referendum .The foregoing political indiscretion of General Muhammed halted the developmental stride of a progressive region like the South-West because the newly adopted presidential system of government took away the autonomy of the regions to generate and spend their internally generated revenue the way they deem proper and pay only an agreed percentage to the Federal Government.
The current revenue allocation formula where the Federal Government gets 52% of national revenues while the 36 states get 26.72% and Local Governments get 20.60% is a cog in the wheel of development of many states and the sole reason why some performing governor’s laudable efforts have yet to bear fruit.
The foregoing explains why one of the rare visionary leaders in the present political dispensation, Governor Rauf Aregbesola was financially handicapped to perform to the best of his ability. His lofty dream of taking our beloved state, Osun, to its Eldorado was hampered by an overbearing Federal Government who gets 52% of national revenue and still had exclusive control over income generating resources each state was endowed with, especially modern social amenities like railways, waterways and roads infrastructure owned by the Federal Government.
There is no gainsaying that a vision and mission driven governor like Aregbesola would have match, if not surpass the achievements of the late sage, Chief Awolowo if he had had the opportunity of operating in a similar environment like him (Awo).
Since we started its operation, five elected presidents have operated the presidential system of government and yet we continue to debate a suitable system of government that is the best for us. Some want a total review of the presidential system of government, some want us to go back to regionalism, some want a sovereign National Conference to determine a better system of government, and some want a return to the parliamentary system of government.
To some, regionalism still represents a kind of Camelot government, when some of their needs were met promptly, when the government was not deaf to their calls and when they had a functioning responsive government- open and proactive. They call it regional integration or Regional Resurrection. Our national problems did not begin when we adopted the presidential system of government, but it has made challenges worse.
Not a few will agree with this writer that as a people, this presidential system of government will lead us nowhere.
Aminu is the National Coordinator, Oodua Youth for Good Governance
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