Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Nigeria: problems and prospects (part 1)

Peter M. Kaigama

"If a constitution drafted by Nigerians in true consciousness that its application shall be in the spirit of our norms and traditions but yet failed us, then I wonder what type of constitution should we opt for." Peter M. Kaigama of the Institute of Administration, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, writes on the problems of leadership in the West Africa sub-region.
In this article attempt is being made to look into the history of successive governments in Nigeria since independence by emphasising on problems which perpetuate the lives of millions of Nigerians resulting in reactionary change of government and leadership. Before I ponder over the issue, may I pose this question: WHERE DOES NIGERIA'S PROBLEM LIE? IS IT WITH THE TYPE OF CONSTITUTION, MODE OF DEVELOPMENT, OBJECTIVES PURSUED OR THE LEADERSHIP PERSONALIA? This question should bother every Nigerian in a search for solution.

African continent, particularly Nigeria, is said to be well endowed with adequate natural and material resources. If anything, we only need to explore and exploit these resources for maximum benefit. This endowment since over the centuries attracted competition amongst the world powers - taking advantage of their know-how paddled to the grazy land in Africa.

Amongst other competitors, Britain won the battle and established its base in Nigeria after an alleged treaty with the aborigines on ceded land purely for commercial purposes. This bona fide commercial intention of British government is clearly seen from their initial establishment.

Of course, very soon British government realised that there was need for an organised system of government such as would put their business ventures on most profitable terms. There was complete reorganisation and restructuring of the Nigerian society.

Native and customary laws were modified, codified and those considered barbaric were abolished. Finally, the British government imported into Nigeria the body of its governing system and the entire laws. Nigeria became subjugated until the attainment of independence on October 1, 1960.

As far back as the 1920s individual Nigerians had gradually acquired their education in all relevant fields, i.e. law, engineering, education, medicine, political science, to mention a few. Most of them trained in Western institutions, their conscience were eventually remodelled along the Western cultures. This primitive influence of colonial mentality still affect us today, so much so that our social, political and economic behaviours are patterned along that line.

Indeed, after 25 years of independence our constitution, the entire legal system and the laws, the civil service structure and its rules, the economic system and planning pattern, are all purely foreign in character a phenomena that over-stretch to affect our traditional values and religious tenets.

I must say that we need an orbit upon which our system of government should evolve, but certainly not whole- some importation of foreign practices and principles. Therefore, at independence after centuries of stewardship under British Colonial administration, Nigeria had already trained personnel who had fought for the independence and were ready to take over from the British.

During the colonial era many constitutions were introduced at intermittent periods. Each of the constitutions were criticised because of lack of participa- tion by Nigerians in appropriate positions in government and for inadequate representation at various levels of management. In 1960 a new constitution, supposedly drafted by Nigerians on British model, bequeathed full responsibility of government to Nigerians.

In 1963 Nigeria became a Republican State, thereby attained full autonomy as an independent country. Thus, there emerged government of Nigeria by Nigerians and for Nigerians. With this development there was high expectation by Nigerians for justice and equal opportunity.

The quest for power even after independence became very tense amongst Nigerians. The aspirations of the people were not met in the sphere of political representation and equal opportunity because of the problem of North and South dichotomy. Allegations of election malpractices were widespread even at the first election ever held. Dissatisfaction and disaffection amongst political parties culminated in violent riots.

Subsequent elections in the years that followed were susceptible to more violence. Leadership, therefore, became impaired at the Central government. The situation reached its peak in 1966 when for the first time a Military regime headed by General J.T.U. Ironsi took over power - a move initially taken by a dexterous young army officer, Chukwuma Nzeogwu. After six months the new regime was ousted by Lt-Col. Yakubu Gowon.

The second coup took place because of dissatisfaction arising from the introduction of a Unitary system of government which portrayed Ironsi's regime as a 'betrayer' - recalling the assassination of the Prime Minister Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the Premier of the North, Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Premier of the West Chief S.I. Akintola, whereas the Premiers of the East Dr M.L. Okpara and Mid-West Chief Denis Osabede, were spared. The malevolence resulting from this act which led to the assassination of General Ironsi, threw the country into a state of anarchy. There was wide- spread massacre in different parts of the country. Civil war broke out. It was fought with maddening chauvinism and intense malevolence. This sad development led to a secession attempt by the Eastern Region to form the 'Republic of Biafra'.

In the wake of the civil war a new set of problems emerged and from whence our leadership became fragile and path of development rough. Only seven years after independence, when all re- sources should be devoted towards a meaningful development to emancipate Nigerian people of the colonial perquisite, destructive measures to quell the civil crisis became the case. Millions of lives and properties were destroyed. The aftermaths of the war are enormous social vices, esteem aggrandisement in all strata of society. These are factors which any successive government must recognise and rectify.

The civil war ended in 1970 leaving its devastating effects which became the second phase of our development programme since independence. There were the problems of rehabilitation of the war victims, treatment of the grossly dehydrated masses, reconstruction of public and private establishments, residences and provision of infrastructure especially in the mostly affected war areas. There was also the need for collection and retrieval of war weapons which may later on militate against national security.

There arose a yawning anxiety in the entire population for a new purposeful leadership that could unite the nation and provide a better life for all. There was new hope of survival and sense of security began to develop in the minds of the people. There was joy and happiness that Nigerians severely disintegrated will once again live and work together.

It should be noted that Nigeria at Independence in 1960 had three regions North, West and East. In order to meet the desire of the people for an even political representation, a fourth region was carved out of the Western Region, i.e., the Mid-Western Region. Still in the revolutionary trend of even development, Gowon's regime in 1967 created 12 States out of the four regions. Yet in 1976 General Murtala/ Obasanjo Regimes increased the States to 19.

Without comparative analysis of leadership we have had since independence, credence must be given to Gowon's regime - having led Nigeria successfully through the civil crisis also provided relief to the aftermaths. The overzealousness of being too long in power corrupts any government. General Murtala's regime should be commended for its positive attempt to restore sanctity to public life.

In 1978 a Constitution Drafting Committee was instituted composed of eminent Nigerian scholars in various disciplines headed by Chief Rotimi Williams (SAN) a renowned legal practitioner. The Draft Constitution modelled along the American Constitution was ratified by a Constituent Assembly, consequently amended and adopted by General Obasanjo's Regime as the supreme law of the land.

The Constitution being drafted by Nigerians with beautifully declarative principles gave a satisfying impression that the desire of the people will be met - expectation of equal rights, justice and opportunity. The court shall be our source of restitution where the rule of law and impartiality shall be the guiding principles.

In this light, there was expectation for free education, free medical care, better conditions of service for Nigerian workers, provision for basic amenities in the urban and rural areas and employment opportunities. That in a bid to grow more food modern farming implements, fertilizers and insecticides will be provided for the farmers at normal prices.

n October 1979 after the election processes and controversy the new constitution ushered in a second civilian government with Alhaji Shehu Usman Shagari as the first Executive President of Nigeria.

No sooner had Alhaji Shagari assumed office than inadequacies shrouding the new constitution began to emerge. Anxiety began to mount over sharing of national cake - a hot cake! There were the controversial Revenue Formula and the issue of Federal character - i) Sharing of power among political parties, and ii) Distribution of appointments within a political party. Alhaji Shagari, a man of amiable character, did his feeble best to meet these constitutional requirements.

To be continued

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