Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE) Secretary-General Dr. Kunle Olajide spoke with Southwest Bureau Chief Bisi Oladele on the push for federalism as the country looks forward to another constitution review
Southern and Middle Belt leaders just called for the 1963 Constitution with necessary amendment and restructuring of Nigeria. As a leader in Southwest, in what specific ways will it solve the problem we are facing in Nigeria today?
In 1963, we had three regions, the fourth region was created in 1963 as well- making four regions, anyway. Now, we have 36 states. So, changes must reflect this new situation. But the changes are clear because it was on the basis of 1960, 1963 Republican constitution that we got independence and that was the constitution that was used in running Nigeria as at that time. It was purely a federal constitution. The federating units had absolute power to explore the resources and deploy 50 per cent of whatever they got from the resources according to their own priorities. The remaining 50 per cent was shared as follows: only 20 per cent went to the Federal Government as against the 52 we have today. The 20 per cent to the Federal Government was used for few essential services that were controlled by the Federal Government. The Federal Government had in its control the exclusive list at the time and that consisted of only 15 items. Today, we have 68 items on the exclusive presidential list which is a paradox in any federation. The citizens in the country reside in the states and not in Abuja. And then you have the bulk of the revenue going to Abuja instead of where the people reside. The balance of 30 per cent according to 1963 constitution was sent to the distributable pool to be shared amongst all the federating units and even the federating units that produced the resources should take part of it again. You can see clearly, it was not a matter of you getting resources from Apapa Port in Lagos, VAT from Lagos State, to Ogun State, Oyo, to Osun, Ekiti, Ondo etc and the whole of the Southern states, taking the VAT to Abuja,to be shared to some states that made no contribution to it at all. And then all the commissioners of finance from the Western states will no go cap-in-hand to Abuja at the end of every month to beg for peasants. In fact, the situation was made worse about two years ago when the TSA came into operation. All monies from the federal institutions go into the TSA that goes to Abuja and overlords stay in Abuja and decide even if LUTH or UCH wants to buy a few vehicles, they have to apply to Abuja, then Abuja might decide there is no money for them. And Abuja will now send the bulk of the money to states in the North that did not contribute to the resources. You can see injustice clearly. So, the call to go back to what we had, a true federalism in 1963, is to go back to the basis of our union before we got independence. I think it is necessary for me on this occasion to let you know that Sir Ahmadu Bello said he wasn’t prepared for Independence. In fact, in 1953 before McPherson Constitution in United Kingdom, Sir Ahmadu Bello walked out of the meeting. He said as far as he was concerned, he wanted to keep his own North to himself, he was not going to be part of Nigeria. It was Chief Obafemi Awolowo who went to persuade him that we were going to run a federal system which will give each federating unit (the regions at that time) absolute powers to do whatever they liked to do as priority. But, what do we have now? What we have now is not a federal democratic constitution, it is a unitary military constitution which lied against iteslf starting with “We the people of Nigeria“ whereas we were never part of writing the constitution. So, billion amendments can never make this fraudulent constitution belong to the Nigerian people.
Apart from this fiscal federalism and regionalisation, what other features of the 1963 constitution do you think will serve our interest today?
In the 1963 constitution, we had local government police as at that time. it is not only a central police. So, the question of security is something that various federating units (the states) would be able to take absolute control of because they will now deploy their resources.
In 1964, the priority of Chief Obafemi Awolowo was education as far as he was concerned and he was spending as much as about 50 per cent of the revenue of Western Region on education.
The priority of Ahmadu Bello was drafting northern youths into the military because he felt military power would be the in-thing at the end of the day and if we look at the country today, this is what has given the Southwest the edge in terms of leadership position in the country, the free education we had in those days and the priority given to education were the foundation.
The second thing is that it did not give absolute power to the premiers or the governors as we have now. In parliamentary system of government, which states that for you to be premier of Western Region at that time which stretched from the Atlantic Ocean to River Niger that has been divided to about 10 or 11 states, you only need to contest election in your constituency. We didn’t need to spend money all over the entire region. In other words, the political system established in the 1999 constitution is for business and commercial venture and not as politics ought to be.
To be governor of Oyo State, you will have to contest for election all over Oyo State as a presidential system. In this country and considering its state of economy, we are not ripe for full American presidential system. The governor must be a member of the parliament whenever it is sitting and nearly 80 per cent of the commissioners must be elected by their people in parliament so they must know their constituency but what do we have now? Somebody contests election as the governor all over the state and he spends billions of Naira. Of course, he has invested and he is going there to make multiple of what he invested.
Politics is not business, politics is service, so 1963 Constitution shows that politics is purely service – people wanting to go and serve but politics in the 1999 Constitution is business venture. You will invest like you want to make profit and you have gone to make profit and you want to make multiple of your profit back in government as a governor or whatever and that is purely what it is.
In other words, the democracy we practise today with the 1999 constitution is the democracy of tiny political leaders elite by the tiny political leadership elite and for the tiny political leadership and not for the people as it was defined by Abraham Lincoln. People are not at the centre of the 1999 constitution, it is only the political elite and all of them in Nigeria are less than about 20,000 and we are spending more money on them. You want to be governor, you will pay N25million to obtain a form.
Have you ever heard of any school principal now becoming senators? Whereas in 1963, Adekunle Ajasin and others were school principal. Senator Odebiyi was a principal but these days can anybody bear it? As a principal, where will he get the billions? In fact I am told they are to pick form for governorship in Anambra for 25million, and it is non-refundable. It is purely business, not service and that is a major difference.
Whereas in 1963 parliamentary system, ministers were members of parliament and they asked the premiers questions in parliament because he himself was a member of parliament who is the leader of majority party and the ceremonial governor invited him to government and his ministers, 75 per cent will come from that parliament, so the difference is clear but now once you become governor, the state is your personal property. All the revenues are in your pocket and all the money you receive virtually belongs to you and you can do with it as you please.
But, even with the 1963 Constitution, we had a very huge political crisis in 1965-1966 that led to the military intervention…
No, a lot of people have made that mistake. It was not the political crisis that led to the military intervention, it was the over-ambition of the young military officers communicating with their colleagues in Ghana that led to that coup.
Yes, we always have political crisis in whatever system. Don’t we have political crisis now? There will be, but it will be resolved, it will go over but the soldiers who took over government did not intervene. It was becoming fashionable in that city at that time. If you recall, the military in Nigeria and Ghana of the whole British West Africa were colleagues. So, when a set of colleagues succeeds somewhere, the other one here too said, let us ride on this little crisis and there is nothing wrong with that. We have seen crisis happening in other parts of the world and it does not bring the military in. It was over-ambition of those officers and It was fashionable then in Africa for military to intervene. It was not a failure of that system and I have tried to correct this several times. Even historians say it is the crisis in the West that brought the military. No, it could be resolved and contained.
Yes, people fought in their Assembly and killed themselves. Won’t they fight in other assemblies in the world today? They would have continued with the system but because of the plan of northern oligarchy at that time, blinded by the colonial ruler who has just departed and did not want to go, they were the ones teleguiding from the rear, the Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and others at the central parliament to declare a state of emergency in the West and they brought in Koyejo Majekodunmi as administrator.
It was a ploy, they wanted to weaken chief Obafemi Awolowo and if they had the opportunity they wanted to terminate his life. So, it was not failure of the system, it was ambition and over-ambition of the military and the military was controlled essentially by the north. We only had a handful of Southerners in the military. It was controlled by the northern oligarchy and the middle belt then which was part of the North at that time. So, whenever they see that any of their governments was failing, they will plan another coup. It is not failure of the system.