EDITORIAL: Between Federalism And Unitary System

There is no gainsaying that this newspaper has been in the vanguard of the agitation for restructuring Nigeria along the principles of federalism. We have consistently argued that for the country to regain its lost glory and join the league of developed economies of the world, a return to full-fledged federalism of the independence era is a sine qua non.

Empirical evidence shows that this nation was better governed and on the path of an economic medium power before the brutal termination of the First Republic by the military on January 15, 1966. The present situation is not tolerable.

We recall that even though the colonial government brought the Nigerian regions together in 1914 under a unitary government of the British model, it never really lived under the illusion that a country having such a vast land mass and consisting of ethnic nationalities with different backgrounds, languages and cultures could live under a centralized government for any long period. It was thus that the Imperial Order in Council, which came into force on January 1, 1947, divided the country into three regions, each with a Regional Councils.

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Again at Ibadan General Conference, preparatory to the promulgation of Macpherson Constitution of 1951, the question on the structure of Nigeria was a major issue. The country got what might be described as quasi-federalism under the Macpherson Constitution but the crisis generated by the motion of self-government by Anthony Enahoro in 1953, which was supported by the Western and Eastern Regions but partly rejected by the Northern Region, led to the collapse of that constitution. The fallout of the crisis, for instance, led to the decision of the Northern Leaders to demand, among others, that, “This Region shall have complete legislative and executive autonomy with respect to all matters except the following: defence, external affairs, customs and West African research institutions; There shall be no central legislative body and no central executive or policy-making body for the whole of Nigeria; There shall be a central agency for all Regions… The agency shall be a non-political body; All revenues shall be levied and collected by the Regional Governments, except customs revenue…; Each Region shall have a separate public service.”

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It was this state of affairs that led to the promulgation of a full-blown federal constitution of 1954. The federal arrangement bequeathed to Nigeria both by the Lyttleton Constitution of 1954 and Independence Constitution of 1960 was thus a compromise between the centrifugal and centripetal forces that inhabited the disparate regions of Nigeria. Our founding fathers like Nnamdi Azikwe, Obafemi Awolowo and Ahmadu Bello settled for a full-fledged federation as the basis of our existence as a nation in 1954.

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Indeed, it was the attempt to dump the legacy of federalism by the then Military Government of General Aguiyi Ironsi via Decree 34 of 1966, otherwise known as ‘The Unification Decree’, that led to the deadly riots in the North and a chain of events which culminated in a 30-month costly civil war.

We have gone at length to recall, once more, these historical incidents in order to appreciate that the edifice of this nation was laid on a full-fledged federalism and that the successful attempts to destroy that basis is what has brought the country to this sorry pass.
The present unitary structure disguised as federalism, where all roads lead to Abuja, is not sustainable. This is the time to restructure Nigeria. The centre should concern itself only with core federal issues like defence, external affairs, currency and customs while each state or region should ‘eat what it kills’ under a proper (fiscal) federalism.

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