What is Nigeria celebrating at 59?


At Independence, in 1960, the future of Nigeria was bright. World leaders predicted that, 10 years later, the country would become a medium world power. But, 59 years after, there is gap between expectation and reality. Assistant Editor LEKE SALAUDEEN writes on tragedy of a promising country that squandered the opportunities of becoming a giant.

Fifty nine years after independence, Nigeria appears to be a toddler learning the rudiments of democracy. The country is at a crossroads. Across the six geo-political zones, there is no peace. In the North, the Boko Haram is on the prowl. In the Middle Belt, the Ombatse group has intensified killings. The brand of terrorism in the South is armed robbery and commercial kidnapping. Besides, there are problems of ethno-religious conflicts, and youth unemployment. Today, Nigerians are more divided along ethnic and religious lines than they were before independence.

On October 1, 1960, the future of Nigeria was bright. World powers acknowledged the enormous natural endowment, quality and quantity of its population and vast opportunities available to the former British Colony. The three premiers have laid examples of transformational leadership in the Western, Eastern and Northern Regions.

Unfortunately, the 1966 military coup halted Nigeria’s journey to greatness. It deepened the distrust and suspicion among the unequal regions.  The mistake of the first military ruler, Major General Thomas Aguiyi-Ironsi, who foisted the unitary system on the country through his controversial unification decree marked the beginning of the journey to gloom.

From the initial three regions, the country was split into 36 states by the successive military administrations. But, the structure had not changed the feelings of primordial sentiments by the estranged partners.

Yet, 59 years after independence, the rich country is in pains. The natural resource is domiciled in the Niger Delta Region. But, majority of its citizens wallow in abject poverty. Life expectancy has dropped abysmally in Nigeria to 44, one of the lowest in the world. Basic amenities such as portable water, electricity, medical facilities and roads are in pitiable state of disrepair.

There are some puzzles: Why is Nigeria difficult to change? Why has Nigeria failed to develop with abundant human and material resources at its disposal? Why has prosperity eluded the nation? Why are many Nigerians swimming in the deep ocean of poverty? What is responsible for the rising unemployment in the country?

Military adventure in power:

A renowned scholar, Professor Akin Mabogunje, blamed the economic woes on the military intervention in government. He said the military came to power when the country’s earnings increased tremendously, but they mismanaged the economy.

The elder statesman, said: “Instead of using the accruing resources of oil windfall of 1970s to improve and modernise our colonial infrastructure, we began by establishing a Public Service Review Commission, which enhanced personal emoluments of civil and public servants dramatically resulting in a national spree that depleted commercial stores all over the country of durable consumer goods such as air-conditioners, refrigerators, electric cookers, radio and television set. This, of course, forced a sharp rise in the demand for electricity beyond the capacity of the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) to provide and the consequence of that singular miscalculation is still with us till today.

“With the continuing and increasing inflow of the windfall from the petroleum, the military government with its unified command structure was no longer comfortable with a fiscal arrangement in which the governor of an oil-rich state could start to have a revenue-base close to that of the Federal Government itself. In consequence, the Federal Military Government subverted the existing fiscal arrangement of the Federation. Instead of the “derivation principle” of revenue allocation, it passed the Petroleum Act of 1969 which decreed that all royalties and rent from petroleum accrued to a Federation Account from which all levels of government, in consonance with the unified command structure of military administration, can have a share on some agreed formula.

“This Act allowed the Federal Military Government to begin the process of gratuitously creating states and local governments without any consideration as to their economic viability. It was assumed that they could all enjoy their share from the Federation Account which in popular parlance came to be referred to as “the national cake”.

Unitary constitution:

Federalism is often regarded as the appropriate system of government for countries with huge ethno- cultural diversities. Nigeria with over 250 ethnic groups inherited a federal system from Britain.

Although the 1951 Macpherson constitution was federal in nature, it contained some elements and ingredients of unitary constitution that characterised the previous constitutions. The Lyttleton’s Constitution that followed established three regions Northern, Western and Eastern, with autonomy in internal policy and administration. It gave the central government the responsibility for external affairs and regional policy.

The Lyttleton Constitution was a model for the Independence Constitution of 1960 and the 1963 Republican Constitution. Under these two constitutions, the regions had considerable powers, including concurrent authority with the central government over higher education, industrial and water development, the judiciary and police. Even though the two Constitutions were truly federal in nature, they failed woefully to address the issue of lopsidedness of the federation. The north was almost double the size of the combined Western and Eastern regions. Hence, the North dominated the central government.

The fear of domination culminated in the tension sparked the first military coup in 1966. The coup was led by young army officers of Igbo extraction. Following the coup, General Ironsi, who emerged as the Head of State, abolished federalism in favour of a unitary system, which, according to him, would foster unity in the country. Expectedly, the North viewed this action as an attempt to dominate the country, hence a counter- coup led by northern officers who installed Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon as the new Head of State, against the established military hierarchy. The first action taken by Gowon was to reinstate federalism.

Shortly before the outbreak of the civil war in 1967, the Gowon administration abolished the existing regions and created 12 states. The creation of these states weakened the power of the federating units . As a result, the military systematically abolished the 50 per cent derivation formula that was arguably the hallmark of the First Republic.

The post civilian regimes in the country maintained a federal structure, but implemented policies that encouraged Nigeria’s metamorphosis into a unitary state. With the power fully residing in the centre, the military men tore down the former regions into shreds, by increasing number of states in the country.

Failed constitutions:

The 1979 and 1979 constitutions imposed by the military were designed to obliterate the traces of true federalism in Nigeria. A mere perusal of the second schedule to the 1979 Constitution, which embodied the Exclusive List, shows that the Federal Government was given enormous powers, which encroached on the areas that were supposed to be in the concurrent list. For instance, the Federal Government had exclusive power over: aviation,  including airports, safety of aircraft and carriage of passengers and goods by air;  commercial and industrial monopolies, combines and trusts; copyright; evidence; fingerprints; identification and criminal records; Labour, including trade unions, industrial disputes and prescribing a minimum wage for the federal and states. It also gave it exclusive powers over industrial arbitration; Mines and mineral including oilfields, oil mining, geological surveys and natural gas; Police and so many other items. The 1999 Constitution, on the other hand, incorporated in its second Schedule Part 1, almost if not all the items listed there.

Similarly, the 1999 Constitution has been widely criticised by critics for fostering systematic disintegration. A professor o f Political Science, Lagos State University (LASU) Professor Sylvester Odion-Akhaine, described it as grossly deficient in addressing present political realities. He said: “The constitution subverts the federal principle in its overt strengthening of the centre, leaving the state weak and prostate”

These military constitutions are, therefore, the undisputed precursors of the present socio-economic and political woes. To provide a framework for addressing Nigeria’s multifarious resource control agitation by the Niger Delta states, citizenship, and the lopsided nature of the federalism must be addressed.

Defective federalism

Federalism is a system of government where the central and constituent units are not subordinate to one another. In a typical federal state, there is no master-servant relationship. Since both the central and constituent units derive their powers to exist or operate directly from the constitution, no government in such a union arrogates undue powers to itself or act as leader.

However, in Nigeria, the reverse is the case. Nigeria is a federation of an excessively strong central government accompanied by weak 36 states and 774 local governments. Abuja calls the shots and dictates the pace for states to follow. In a true federalism, the constituents do not surrender all powers. In Nigeria, the central government is to other governments and distributes national resources to others at its own whims and caprices.

At independence, the autonomous regions possessed the residual powers and functioned almost independently. The regions had independent revenue bases, separate constitutions and foreign missions.. All these changed under the military rule. Attempts by the state governments to reassert their autonomy during the Second Republic were aborted by the return of military rule. Some state governments that were controlled by parties other than the ruling party at the centre, the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), took the Federal Government to court on many occasions over matter of jurisdiction competence.

The trends also reoccurs in this dispensation when the former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, dragged the Obasanjo-led federal government to court over the issue of local government creation in Lagos State. Tinubu’s major argument was that the act, which suggests that the Federal Government sees itself as superior to the state government, is anti-thetical to the principles of true federalism.

One of the major features that makes federalism work is financial autonomy. This has never been achieved in Nigerian. The intervention of the government through national financial policies, grants-in-aids among other, increases the power of the Federal Government and makes the federating units subordinate to the central government. The increased revenue from oil boom has made the Federal Government to be more financially powerful over the state governments. As a result of this excess liquidity, the Federal Government embarked on some projects, which were meant to be in the residual list. The Universal Basic Education is an example.

The local autonomy for government is also considered as a problem of federalism in Nigeria. Today, the local governments are controlled by the state governments. But, the Federal Government is making moves to severe the relationship between states and local governments through direct funding of the councils. This move contradicts what obtains in countries where true federalism is practised.

Another issue is resource control, which is threatening the peaceful co-existence of the federating units. Nigeria has witnessed and is likely to witness more inter-ethnic crises, if states are not granted the right to rule and control their resources. Before the 1966 coup, regional government control led the resources generated within their domain. For instance, the Western Regional Government was responsible for the production and exportation of cocoa, the major cash crop in the region, to foreign countries. It only paid taxes to the federal government as stipulated in the constitution. Similarly, the Northern Nigeria Government and its Eastern counterpart handled the exportation of groundnut and rubber produced in commercial quantity in their territories.

The defective federal structure has promoted bitter sruggle between interest groups to capture the state.

A political analyst Dr Ignatius Onuoha, said the experiment with the Nigeria state and the lip service to true federalism must stop. This, according to him, “is because the experiment has made it impossible for our nation to harness the political, economic and other numerous benefits attached to federalism.”


The clamour for restructuring has polarised the country. Regions in the South believe in it, but they have different views over what it is all about. To the Ibos in the Southeast, restructuring will guarantee confederation; the Yorubas in the Southwest want a restructuring that  would take the country back to regionalism while the Southsouth is pushing for resource control. While the position of regions in the South are irreconcilable, that of the three regions in the North is a different ball game.

To the former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, the disintegration of Nigeria is imminent. The immediate solution is restructuring, he said. Similarly, Afenifere chieftain, Ayo Adebanjo is spitting fire that Nigeria will break up, unless zones are allowed to control their resources.

Radical northern politician Dr Junaid Muhammed said eminent citizens pushing for restructuring are trying to blackmail Nigerians into an unclear and bogus system of government. The second Republic politician posited that none of those calling for restructuring had been able to give a clear-cut definition of what they meant.

He said: “Until somebody can tell me what this restructuring is all about, I won’t be convinced about the call. These agitators of restructuring like Edwin Clark, Ayo Adebanjo, John Nwodo and others have not actually told us what would be restructured and how it will be done. That was how we were told that without Sovereign National Conference (SNC), Nigeria will collapse.”

Also, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) has rejected the call for restructuring, saying what the country needs at the moment is competent leadership at all levels. ACF spokesman, Alhaji Mohammed Ibrahim said heeding the call for restructuring would weaken the centre. He said Nigerians fought for unity and that it is not possible for the North to support anything that would cause disunity.

Legal luminary Malam Yusuf Ali (SAN) said until there is agreement among the ethnic groups on how to restructure Nigeria, there will be no progress.

The lawyer admitted there are problems that must be addressed, if Nigerians must live together as subjects of one nation. He said: “If we abolish the settler and indigene dichotomy and ensure equitable distribution of amenities, Nigerians will not mind if the father is president and the son is vice president. An Ibo man won’t care if a Yoruba is president, provided he is not denied of basic things of life.” He added that it is lack of faith that is causing suspicion among the ethnic groups.

Abandoned projects:

Nigeria political leaders often articulate visions in colourful and expensive development plans, policies and programmes mainly for chanting. The leaders are chicken hearted in the implementation of these plans, except to enrich cronies, political stooges or sycophants.

The non-performing leader often aspires to continue in office even after his tenure has expired. When he leaves or steps aside, or is forced out of office, the successor jettisons some of the visions of the previous leaders. He may even decide to abandon the programmes of the previous leaders for his new ones or panel beat them to feign some air of originality. The country abounds with abandoned projects and policy somersaults. The words of the political leaders are not their bonds, nor do people hold them accountable to their promises.

Oil as blessing and curse:

Despite Nigeria being the second African exporter of crude oil and the sixth in the world, it has not reflected in the nation’s development and standard of living of the citizenry. The nation’s under-development is associated with weak management and corruption. Nigeria has been overtaken in development by some other developing countries that were worse than our country in 1960. These countries include Malaysia, Indonesia and Venezuela. Even more disquieting is the fact that Nigeria lags behind many sub-Saharan African countries including Senegal, Ghana, Zambia and Cameroon in GNP.

Nigeria dropped in global economic ranking to 101st position out of 125 nations while the economy is still burdened with double-digit inflation, estimated at 13 per cent. Nigeria was placed 159th out of 177 countries of the world examined for the human development. Nigeria also lost 34 places (falling to rank 112) in the basic requirements sub-index, which alights the fundamentals for achieving sustainable growth, including strong institutions, adequate infrastructure, a supportive macro-economic environment and good basic health and education.

The World Bank estimated that 50 per cent of the federal roads have deteriorated in the last six years to the extent that it costs more to send goods from Lagos to Maiduguri than to send them to Europe.

Weak institutions and corruption:

Observers said Nigeria’s existing democratic structures are not yet effective. Accoring to an expert: “Its extractive political and economic institutions do not create incentive for the citizens to save, invest and innovate. Power and wealth are concentrated in the hands of those controlling state apparatus. Only those in control of or connected to those in political power are benefitting from the system. Lack of effective law and order and economic incentive has destroyed the environment.

“As such we cannot remain in a dysfunctional environment and expect good outcomes in what we do.  As our physical life is affected by the physical environment, so also our nation’s environment will affect the quality of attention the people will give to their actions. The system is corruption-charged, and that has affected the moral life of the people and the health of the economy.

“The political leaders can only change the system by changing their mental models. They are always on each other’s throat with their petty politics. Instead of dealing with broad national issues and creating an environment that would accommodate the interest of the diverse population. For example, former President Olusegun Obasanjo is always critical of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration instead of working collaboratively with the government to build a stable and brighter future for the country.”