There was this Alaafin, monarch of the ancient Oyo Kingdom, who ruled over a century ago, known for his fiery and terrifying wickedness. He spared not both malefactors and critical elements opposed to his method of administration. For anyone who ran afoul of his whims, Alaafin got his dogari (palace guards) to behead them. He then asked the dogari to dig a very deep bottomless pit at the centre of the town whose depth and actual usage were hidden from the rest of the world. Carved out and designated, on the outward, as the shrine where Ogun the god of iron, was worshipped, this pit was however the place where heads of the victims of the Alaafin’s wrath were dumped. The specifics were shrouded from all but only a few in the kingdom.
After decades of the existence of this bottomless pit, one day, an itinerant drummer stood beside the purported shrine and with the cadence of a master drummer, he drummed that the shrine was actually a heads harvest pit. All who gathered were aghast. In droves, they began to evaporate from the scene, lest this tyrannical Alaafin descend on them. When words got to the king about the audacity of the drummer, the Alaafin summoned him to the palace and asked that he drummed the particular rhythm which he used to indict him of serial murders. This valiant drummer did exactly that to the Kabiyesi. Taken aback by his effrontery, all who gathered at the palace immediately began to sing his dirge. To their unbelievable shock, the king asked that the drummer be allowed to leave in peace. He also immediately ordered that the barbaric practice be halted and the bottomless pit filled up with sand.
For promoters of the ongoing review of the Nigerian 1999 Constitution – ostensibly President Muhammadu Buhari’s hirelings and their Hallelujah chorus group at the National Assembly – the above story should signal the road to travel to them. Anyone who truly desires a Nigeria of the dream of our forefathers should advocate a total U-turn from the ruinous and inequitable path that the Nigerian constitution has driven Nigeria. The Alaafin in the above story made a circuitous turn from the path of ruins. He knew, without being told, that he had reached the end of his tethers of villainy. Like the Yoruba bata drum which, when its drummer beats it to the point that it attains an auditory notoriety, it is an indication that it is on the verge of getting its leather hide face torn, the Alaafin had come to the point of rupture. The drummer epitomized a prologue to the calamity afoot for the Alaafin. If he stiff-neckedly chose not to move with the flowing tide, it would have spelled his doom and swallowed him. Alaafin thus immediately chose to totally disconnect from his past and erect a footstool for a new future.
One other road that these legislators on a frivolous junket should have trodden on the issue of a proper constitution for Nigeria is the gangrenous foot road. It goes thus: When a sore foot is badly managed overtime, so bad that it has developed gangrene, medics know that the solution is to remove the leg; not to tend it. Tending, mending or amending a gangrenous foot is not only an exercise in futility; it may be a route to death.
Like that drummer, Nigerians have repeatedly drummed into the ears of successive governments that the country was waiting to explode. Lawyers, for whom dealing with the constitution is a daily routine, have itemized over a hundred lacunas in the rule book which give constitutional fillip to the pall of mutual hatred, divisiveness and calls for secession that hang over Nigeria.
Right from the time of the forceful union called amalgamation of the North and South of Nigeria by Sir Fredrick Lugard, Nigerians were left with no doubt that Britain preferred one of the amalgam, to the other. The northern emirate system fascinated Britain. Its pliable and uneducated people who unquestionably carried out orders from the Emirs were the most fitting typology for the British racial exploitation system. They could not stand uppish emerging southern elite, many of whom studied in Britain and saw that the white man was not superior mentally to them in any regard. They even found out that Lugard and many of the colonial governors sent to Africa were the never-do-wells posted as recompense for their outlawry at home. Thus, right from the beginning, Britain and its colonial masters found the south a disagreeable model for its colonial administration. When they were thus leaving in 1960, they left the unseen fundamentals, the key of governance, in the hands of their northern lackeys.
Population census was where the rigging of Nigeria, from its fundament, began. Virtually all censuses in Nigeria were fraught with political and hegemonic intentions, leading to gross inconsistencies. The first census conducted in 1911 was done in only a small fraction of the country while the one of 1921 was fraught with inadequate staffing and misconception that it would lead to higher income taxes. It was thus boycotted. Its outcome gave the south 8.4million and the north 10.4million figures. The 1931 census on its own got inebriated by the tax riots while that of 1941 couldn’t hold due to the Second World War.
The 1952 and 1953 headcounts however gave the total Nigerian population as 30.4 million. Broken down, the North had 55.4%; East, 23.7% and the West, together with Lagos and Mid-West, 20.9%. This was actually the hub of the rigging of Nigeria. The mathematics of this census was that the North now had 174 seats in the parliament; East 73 and West, with Lagos and Mid-West, 65 seats. What that then meant was that, if you add the east, west, Lagos and mid-west figures, they were not up to ones allotted to the north. This surprised geographers of the world whose study across the globe had revealed that more people live in the periphery of coastal areas than in arid north. The United Nations atlas, for instance, says that 44% of all people of the world live within 150 km radius of the sea, due to the high importance of the coast to society. A bigger chunk lives in the semi-coastal areas.
Post-independence census was not any better. In May 1962, another headcount gave a provisional figure of 45.1 million as the Nigerian population count. Details of it revealed that the south’s figure was more than that of the north’s. Controversy ensued immediately, leading to its cancellation. The 1963 census, which later held, was even far more controversial as it returned a population figure of 55.7 million. This figure upped the previous’ with a difference of eleven million people in less than one year. Criticisms against it was that in the north, a lot of falsification of figures was done under the veneer of religion and culture, especially the ba siga, gidan aore ne (don’t enter, it is home of married women) system which signified restrained census officials from entering homes that had women in purdah. Subsequent census figures built on this inequity.
During the colonial era when Nigeria was administered as Crown Colony, Nigeria experimented with diverse constitutions, beginning with one of 1913, which took effect from January 1, 1914. It was followed with the 1922 Clifford Constitution, 1946 Richard constitution, 1951 Macpherson constitution and the 1954 Lyttleton constitution. Of all of them, the Lyttleton Constitution, which was named after the 1st Viscount Chandos, Sir Oliver Lyttelton and which began operation in 1954, could be said to be the first federal constitution of Nigeria. It had clearly spelt out federal principles and was what paved way for the Nigerian independence. It was then followed by the 1960 Constitution which reflected Nigeria’s sovereign nature but retained Queen Elizabeth as titular Head of State. The 1963 constitution, believed to be the best in the history of Nigeria, mirrored the plural nature of Nigeria and spelt out paths that each of the regions needed to walk to attain the height it desired. It was followed by the 1979 and then, the 1999 Constitutions.
Those who canvass that if Nigeria was really serious about undoing all the ills that bode calamity for her, she should return to the 1963 constitution, covet the constitution’s unhypocritical federal makeup. Some of its features include a provision for fiscal federalism, with the regions given power to collect revenues and pay agreed taxes to the federal government; the local (regional) police system; introduction of parliamentary system of government; creation of office of President; a federal parliament; even distribution of powers; powers to the regions to promulgate their own constitutions, among others.
The 1979 constitution, from where the 1999 constitution drew its strength, is very unitary in its tenets and gave untrammeled and even draconian powers to the federal government. Who administers the federal government today? It is the north, in dalliance with a sprinkle of lackeys of the south. Isn’t it pathetic that the north keeps on being in charge of customs and immigration, ports, Nigeria’s oil corporation and the key MDAs in Nigeria? The rigging of Nigeria by this section of the country is further reinforced by the humongous number of northerners in first-rate offices that bear the castrated prefix of “federal,” making other regions appendages that go to pour libations on the grove of this behemoth.
In all these, the north brazenly vitiated a crucial principle of federalism through rigging processes to become more powerful than the other federating units. It has emerged ever since and till this day, the Kabiyesi of Nigeria’s so-called federal practice.
It was that same rigging of Nigeria, from its census and constitutions over the decades, that resulted in a Muhammadu Buhari, with his avalanche of limitations, superintending over a country of extremely endowed peoples. A federally operated Nigeria would be a merit-driven Nigeria and will have no space for charlatans and ethnic bigots and canvassers. It will never give greater importance to cows ahead of human beings and can never throw up charlatans like Abubakar Malami.
This is why anyone who canvasses for an amendment of the 1999 constitution is either shamelessly naïve or merely embarking on a fruitless sprint. One major reason for this is that, the process of that amendment is so tedious and cumbersome that it can never be completed in the two years life of the Buhari government. Second, a government like one run by Buhari which got elected mainly due to restructuring being one of its electoral promises and which, in six years, has turned a deaf ear to it can never be trusted. Third is that, Buhari and his lickspittles benefit so egregiously from the imbalance and inequity in Nigeria, so much that it would be operating from the dreamland to imagine that they would forfeit this on a platter. To many people, Buhari instigated his lackeys in the National Assembly to begin this puerile and barren constitutional amendment process as a symbolic throwing of bones to a dog to chew, so as to take away distractions of the river of blood that Nigeria has become.
Dr. Festus Adedayo, journalist, lawyer, writes from Ibadan