By Nze Kanayo Chukwumezie
The popular maxim in Nigeria has been, “United we stand; divided we fall.” This makes a great sense. I have all this while believed in this maxim until recently when I put on my philosophical cap.
Taking us a little back down the memory lane, before Independence, Nigeria had the Northern and Southern Protectorates merged in 1914 to form a country by the British for administrative convenience.
At independence we created three states, namely East Central State, Northern State and Western State. They had their capitals in Enugu, Kaduna and Lagos. In 1963 another state was created called Mid-Western State with its capital in Benin. This marked the boom period in our history.
These four federating states were quasi independent, self sufficient, strong and worked round the clock to sustain themselves without recourse to the federal government. No need to go deep into these as they are well known. The period was the time we practised federalism by its full dictates.
As part of containing the civil war, Nigeria was divided into 12 states on 27th May, 1967, but that did not stop the war. The civil war cost this great country all it gained politically and economically.
Six years after the end of the civil war, the balkanization of Nigeria spiraled. In 1976, additional seven states were created to have 19 states, then 21 states in 1987, 30 states in 1991 till we got to this final 36 states’ structure of 1996 with the FCT also given the status of a state. Note that all states were created during military governments.
As mentioned earlier, division to 12 states and the other butchering that followed was not just for administrative convenience. The main aim was to break the unity that existed in ethnic groups. But the sad thing is that our political class, having succeeded in doing that, pocketed the country and the people. This makes the division a doom as against the time of division into three and four states that we recorded a boom and self sufficiency.
Retrogressing a little, after the 1966 coup, the federation of Nigeria was bottled and unitary government put in place. Most functions of the states were usurped by the federal government. We were then only paying lip service to being a federation from then till this date. It became worse after the civil war and with the discovery of oil. All the states abandoned what made them economically strong and viable, and started depending on the federal government for sustenance. This sorry practice has continued till date with no end in sight.
The questions are then: how united is Nigeria? How is the country faring as a united entity? Will the component parts of Nigeria still stand if divided? There are many other questions but let me stop at these three.
Please deduct your answers from this little comprehension that will conclude this write-up.
There came a time when some wise politicians reviewed our state structure and our ethnic linings, and grouped Nigeria into six regions namely, North Central, North East, North West, South East, South South and South West. You will from this see that this took us back to the Northern and Southern Protectorates. The 36 states were grouped into these six regions. But this regionalization was not perfected. There are no regional heads. The governors decide how and when to come or work together as regions. Also the “federal” government held strongly onto the functions that are supposed to be released to the states or regions in what we know as the Exclusive List.
Dividing Nigeria into 36 federating units (like we have in USA or even with independent units like European Union) is not feasible. Most states were created out of emotion, biases and sentiments, as such cannot sustain their existence. Not that they do not have what it takes to do that. All parts of Nigeria are blessed with many mineral resources. But some states seem to lack the human resources required for good administration. Thus with such division, we cannot stand.
Our best postulation is the six regional structure. This is the same structure as when we had four states with little adjustments within the three states of the South and the North divided into three regions. Whether as federating regions as in USA or as federating independent states as with European Union (EU), this division will stand and stand firmly. As things unfold, alignments will take natural courses.
Many countries that used to be one have broken into many countries: USSR is now 15 countries, Yugoslavia now six countries, even here in Africa two years ago, Sudan divided into two countries. We should not copy their methods of breaking up. We should actually avoid such manner of breaking up. We can understudy them to avoid making some mistakes that they made.
Our best bet should be true federalism as practised in America or a union of independent countries as with European Union.
Note too that United Kingdom (UK) has four countries namely, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Then if Northern Ireland is removed from UK, you have Great Britain with only three countries. Then Northern Ireland is in European Union while Britain is not. They (Britain) once joined EU and left after a few years. So we see alignments and realignments in action without war.
As a student of European Public Administration, I admired the Benelux structure then of Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg. They were three countries then with open borders, same immigration policy and same monetary policy. This is what expanded to the current European Union. The irony is that Brussels is the capital of Belgium and was the Capital of Benelux. Brussels is the capital of European Union. But in Belgium there are three language communities of French, Dutch and German. Then there are three federating units namely, Wallonia, Flanders and Brussels. They have their different governments, different parliaments etc. Yet one country with one King.
There are times the country has run without a prime minister due to disagreements between Flanders and Wallonia but the administrative structure will not be affected because of a well structured civil service independent of the political class and the King somehow shadowing.
Then talking of alignment. There is a hypothetical partitioning of Belgium to be dissolving into two independent countries that speak the same language (with the small part that speaks German staying with Wallonia), or have the Flemish part join the Netherlands and the Wallonia part join France. This is just hypothetical and could later be formally tabled for consideration.
This exemplifies that language plays a key role in bonding or unifying nations.
Such an alignment is also a possibility in Nigeria if we really want to get it very right. Smaller ethnic groups can merge. And strong federating units or federating countries can be formed, and we stand firmly whether united and/or divided.
Chukwumezie, Shamakin Igbo Arewa, wrote from Alaigbo