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Beyond 60 years of independence

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Brigadier-General Oluwole Rotimi was not the most flamboyant governor of the old Western State or Region. However, he was reputed to be a disciplined and good manager of state economy. When the Yakubu Gowon regime was overthrown in July 1975, he was one of two state governors adjudged not to have been corrupt by the incoming administration led by General Murtala Muhammed. The other governor so exonerated was the late Brigadier-General Mobolaji Johnson of Lagos State. On this note, Rotimi deserves our respect, his views on national politics, even when we may not agree totally with them, also deserve our attention. They would be deemed to have come from the honest mind that he is.

His interview with The Guardian, on March 20, 2005, ranged through a variety of issues. One seeks to amplify and endorse the retired army officer on one important issue of national significance he raised at the interview. This has to do with his view on the clamour for a return to regional politics by a section of public opinion. It is an important issue which requires an excursion into the history of our nation.

While one may not go as far as to impute a sinister motive into the agitation for a return to regional politics, the position here is that the states may have come to stay and any attempt to abolish them could be counter-productive. It would be like wanting to invite back a problem that had been resolved. The attempted secession of ‘Biafra’, as Rotimi competently reminded all, provided the springboard for the demarcation of Nigeria into 12 states by the Gowon administration in 1967.

However, the issue of state creation had predated independence in 1960, and had been contested violently by the minority ethnic nationalities, especially those of the Eastern and Northern Regions of the Nigerian federation. In recent years, even among the assumed homogeneous Yoruba group, the need to curtail the hostile rivalry between the Ooni of Ife and the Alaafin of Oyo, petty as it might seem in the eyes of many, was one argument advanced as justification for splitting old Oyo State into two: Oyo and Osun states. Ekiti people insisted on a state of their own, even though they were the dominant grouping in the old Ondo State. The Ijebus have not given up on having a state of their own carved out of Ogun State. While most of the Nigerian states are currently not viable economically, they would appear to have made up for that deficiency in the realm of political justification.

There is, however, no doubt that the affinity between the states varies from one region of society to the other. It is in this regard that the demarcation of the Nigerian federation into six geopolitical zones must be regarded as, perhaps, the only sane contribution of General Sani Abacha to our political development. The geopolitical zones could be upheld constitutionally for the purpose of leadership-rotation and power-sharing in a true federation, while the states remain as autonomous governmental units within the zones.

Rotimi bluntly opposed the clamour for a return to regionalism, which would have meant the scrapping of the state structure. In fact, he was of the opinion that the proponents of regionalism had a ‘hidden agenda’ that could eventually result in the disintegration of the Nigerian state. He could be right. However, it would be a great disservice to posterity if Nigeria were allowed to disintegrate, either through our action or inaction.

The Americans and Chinese, among others, are competing furiously among themselves for spheres of influence in the world. They operate, for profit and glory, in nations whose cultures and languages they do not understand. Sadly, our shortsighted opinion moulders would want to be remembered and celebrated for causing Nigeria to splinter into small nations, nations that would forever remain as spectators because they lack the wherewithal to influence events in the global arena.

These separatists and, of course, those relics of a prejudice era seem also not to want to acknowledge that our collective existence has done us good in terms of our being interdependent. For instance, no section of Nigeria – Hausa/Fulani, Igbo, Yoruba, etc – could have achieved a tenth of what they now boast of, had the oil wealth from the Niger Delta region not served our purposes in the last 50 or so years. Either directly or indirectly, most of our rich men and women owe their fortunes to the oil wealth. The break-up of Nigeria, God forbid, cannot be a peaceful one.

Nigerians are proud of their nation. Doubts about co-existence only arise at periods of extreme tension. In this regard, it must be stated emphatically that the future of our nation can only be guaranteed when the equality and rights of the component units no longer constitute an issue of serious contention. Ordinarily, the birth of Nigeria in 1914 via the amalgamation of diverse nationalities should not be viewed as a mistake. Our founding fathers might have, at various times, made unhelpful and easily-exploited statements about amalgamation being a mistake. However,they were ordinary mortals like the rest of us.

Most of the big and powerful nations of the world are an amalgamation of one kind or the other. Britain, our colonial master, is a merger of nationalities, while the United States of America progressed from being a mere confederation of 13 independent colonies to the global colossus it is today. Even with a frightening population of 1.5 billion people, China has not stopped fighting over a tiny piece of territory. With a leadership that can drive forward the values of unity, it might not be long before we appreciate the importance of our potential in an ever-competitive world. Nigeria can be one of the great nations of the world.

  • Dr Akinola, a researcher and scholar, wrote in from Oxford, United Kingdom
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