The British Conspiracy: Educate North, Lose Nigeria

THE SUN Newspaper- Omoniyi Salaudeen

The age long agitation for the convocation of Sovereign National Conference once again resonated at the Sheraton Hotel, Lagos, where some eminent Nigerians met to brainstorm on the way to fashion a people’s constitution for the country. This is coming at a time when the National Assembly is planning to make another review of the 1999 constitution.

In this interview, Chief Richard Akinjide, a renowned legal luminary, faulted the perennial call for a new constitution, saying only a change of attitude can ensure stability in the polity. He said, “People think as long as you change the constitution, things will change. I don’t accept that. I think that is nonsense. The fault is not in the constitution, it is in the people.” Excerpts…

Some eminent Nigerians recently gathered in Lagos to renew the age long agitation for the convocation of Sovereign National Conference with a view to resolving some national questions. Do you see the imperative of such a conference now?
I don’t believe in Sovereign National Conference. And I don’t even think it is possible. But I believe there is nothing wrong, if we have a conference to look at ourselves, our constitution and other matters. For the reason I will give you, I will take the word sovereign out of it.

A sovereign national conference presupposes there is no government in place functioning in the country. But at the moment, we have the National Assembly, we have the federal cabinet, we have the elected president, we have elected state governors, we have the state assemblies duly elected, and we have the local government administration. So, there is no juridical basis or reason for any sovereign and I repeat the word Sovereign National Conference. If you remove the word sovereign, I am not opposed to the summoning of a conference. But when that conference is taking place, all the present structures right from the president to the governors, national and state assemblies and the local government must still be there functioning.

Some have argued that since sovereign really belongs to the people, the question of having two sovereigns does not arise. Isn’t it so?
Yes, I accept that the people are the sovereign. But the state assemblies in all the 36 states were elected. The governors of the states were elected by the people. The House of Representatives and the senate were elected. So also was the president. The constituency of the president is the whole country. Therefore, the people have exercised their sovereign rights by electing those they want to rule them since they cannot come out and rule themselves. During the time of the Romans, all legislations had to go through three stages. The first reading will be the roman senate.

After it had been introduced and read, the bill was submitted to the plebiscite of the Roman people throughout Rome. If the bill is passed by the vote of the people, then the bill was sent back to the Roman senate for third reading and then it could be passed into law. But if in the second reading, through the vote of the Roman people, it is not passed, then the bill is dead and that is the end of it. So, people are getting confused about the history of evolution of the sovereignty of the people and the synopsis. It is because of that confusion that people are making the statement which in some cases has no basis at all and cannot be supported.

You would recall that several attempts had been made in the past to hold a similar conference but they all ended up in fiasco. What modalities would you want to recommend for a successful dialogue to resolve some of the nagging national questions this time around?
As a great writer has said, the fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves. If you bring the constitution of the United States, which is working very well in the US, to Nigeria, it will not work because of the character, attitude and the human element in the Nigerian people. In the same vein, if you take the constitution of Nigeria to the United States of America, because of their character and the human element in them, it will work very well.

So, people think as long as you change the constitution, things will change. I don’t accept that. I think that is nonsense. The fault is not in the constitution, it is in the people. Go and look at the Chinese constitution, it is a very small document. And it is being used to govern 1.4 billion people. So, even if you summon another conference and write a new constitution, can you tell me it is going to work? The critical thing is that Nigeria is just a country and not a nation. You hear people shouting they want Yoruba president, they want Igbo president, and they want northern president.

Why don’t we say we want a Nigerian president? No matter from which part of the country he or she comes from, until we see ourselves as brothers and sisters, this nation cannot move forward. If you look at Italy, there was a time it was just a geographical expression and you have Republic of Rome, Republic of Viennese, Republic of Florence, and so on. That is the stage we are now, but we don’t want to admit it in our heart. Until they got a strong leader, who unified the whole of Italy into a single state, they had neither unity nor peace in Italy. The problem we have is that when somebody from another section is the President, another person is agitating and wanting president to come from their area as if the other president is not elected by the people of the country. That is the heart of the problem.

For how long will it take Nigeria to evolve to nationhood?
It will take time. Don’t forget that Nigeria is just over 50 years since we got independence. And with education and the National Youth Service (NYSC) programme and inter commerce, things will change. But we should not try to run before we can work.

But regarding the NYSC you have mentioned, many people believe that it has outlived its usefulness in view of the incidents that happened in the recent past. Do you agree?
That is another matter entirely. It was meant to supply cheap high level manpower for certain areas of Nigeria which were disadvantaged. But those areas are no longer disadvantaged. And I can see that in future, the youth corps will be abolished because its original purpose has virtually been satisfied. They said it was meant to wed Nigeria together, but has it really achieved that objective? However, in terms of supplying cheap labour to the areas that have no enough manpower, it has achieved its purpose. However, I have my doubt if it can unify the country.

With all the complaints of marginalization, agitation for resources control, state creation and others, do you still believe that Nigeria can evolve to real nationhood?
Certainly, it is quite possible. There is nothing wrong in agitating for more states. As regards resource control, I think we have gone over agitation for resource control. There is no serious agitation for resource control now. I accept that the people of Niger Delta where we produce 95 percent of our foreign exchange and 20 percent of our overall resources have been cheated for a long time. But I think that has been rectified now and I don’t think anybody is going to agitate for resource control now.

When we were producing cocoa in the South West, the revenue was not shared with other parts of the country. The revenue generated from cotton remained in the north. When we were producing palm oil and palm kernel and rubber from the East, the revenue went to the Eastern Nigeria. So, the argument of the people of Niger Delta is that the oil comes from them and therefore the resources from it should go to them. That argument, on the face of it, looks attractive. But if you look at the history of evolution of Nigeria, that argument cannot be supported. In 1916, the British enacted an order in council investing the mineral resources in Nigeria, including oil and gas in the Federal Government. So, it has become a federal matter since 1916.

They did not vest the resources of cocoa and groundnut in the Federal Government. Now, that order in council or what we call act of parliament of today was not amended until 1958. And in 1958, we were still British protectorate. British now vested it in the Federal Government. And that is why it has remained till today. So, you have to look at the historical evolution of oil and gas.

What has been done is to make sure that the people of Niger Delta get substantial part of their revenue and that is why a percentage of federal revenue goes directly to the region, about 13 percent or so. Besides, I think there is now a ministry of Niger Delta and the Niger Delta Commission. So, I think their agitation has been addressed. If the resources they have now are well used and they are not frittered away, the people of Delta should be happy. In the past, they have been cheated. Now, their grievances have been taken care of.

You were part of the making of the present constitution. Taking a holistic review of the document, what section of the constitution do you think needs amendment?
One, too much power has been given to the centre. If you look at the legislative list where you have the exclusive list, the power assigned to the Federal Government is just too much. And then you have the concurrent list where both the centre and states can make laws. The result is that the centre in legislative matters is very strong. And if you remember, the oil and gas are also being controlled by the Federal Government. And out of that, we get 95 percent of our foreign exchange and 20 percent of federal revenue. So, the dominance of the Federal Government is total. The state governments are just local governments masquerading as state governments. They cannot survive financially without the Federal Government which controls oil and gas.

Would it be wrong to infer from what you have said so far that the enactment of the order in council which vested the control of oil and gas in the Federal Government was a deliberate attempt to confer undue advantage to a particular section of the country?
There were three key architects of the Nigerian state. One was Lord Harcourt who was the colonial secretary at that time. Two, Lord Cartwright who was the chairman of the Royal Niger Company. And three, Lord Luggard, who was the Governor-General and a former employee of the Royal Niger Company. They created Nigeria and created a structure which suited British economic interest as well as the interest of the Royal Niger Company. They didn’t have the interest of Nigeria at heart.

Their primary interest was the British interest. Lagos was their colony and the rest of Nigeria was their protectorate. And that is the heart of the problem. There are documents in the archive in London which showed that Luggard deliberately created things so that the north will be dominant and the south will be subservient. Before the amalgamation was done in 1914, the British had been ruling the north for 14 years. When after the 1897 punitive expedition to Benin during which Benin Empire was incorporated into the Southern Nigeria, there were two Nigerias: Southern Nigeria and Northern Nigeria up till 1900. And Luggard was the only person who was the Governor-General of Southern and Northern Nigeria. When the amalgamation was done in 1914, he then became Governor-General of Nigeria.

So, the whole arrangement was structured to suit British interest. And there are documents to back that up. British colonial power was determined to see that north must rule Nigeria. To them, education was irrelevant; population too was irrelevant. Where things did not suit the north, they created it artificially. They did all this to favour the economic interest of the British because the three characters that created Nigeria were from the Royal Nigeria Company. They were former employee whom I will call the mercenary. The British believed that it is only the north that can protect its economic interest. But they left the north uneducated. In fact, Luggard’s doctrine then was: educate the north and lose Nigeria. That is the origin of our problem.

Can the National Assembly amend the constitution?
There is no other organ that can amend the constitution. You cannot amend the constitution without involving the state and National Assembly as well as the president. You can’t ignore the existing legal structure and say you are amending the constitution.

You mean they can initiate the amendment?
Certainly, they can initiate it. Who else can initiate it?

Can’t it be initiated by opinion leaders such as those who recently gathered to re-echo the need for a national conference?
When you talk of opinion leaders, who elected the people of the National Assembly? Is it not the people? Don’t think that the vocal minority in the papers, on radio and television are the critical elements in the society. The critical elements in Nigeria are the silent majority. And if the matters are put to plebiscite, these are the people who would decide through their votes.

How would you react to the recent judgment of the Supreme Court which sacked some five governors, particularly the scenario that played out in Kogi State where two different people were sworn-in as the governor?
First of all, Supreme Court ruling is the final. And all parties must obey it. If there is a problem about the interpretation of the judgment, the final arbiter should be either the Supreme Court to which parties concerned can return to for clarification or INEC which can give direction as to what should be done. So, I don’t see any problem there at all.

Are you saying that the INEC did the right thing by coming out to say that the person who had been elected is the right person to take over the government?
If a candidate was elected, given a certificate of return and duly sworn-in, of course, INEC must be right. In the first place, the election was conducted in accordance with our electoral law and in accordance with the constitution.

What about the argument concerning period of notification of election as stipulated by the constitution?
People can make all the noise they want to make, that is part of democratic norms. But the institutions under our law that have the final say are the INEC and the Supreme Court. If INEC gives a particular directive and people are not satisfied with it, they should go back to the Supreme Court. I don’t see any problem except those created by mischief makers.

The menace of Boko Haram is threatening the unity of the nation. What would you say about the way President Jonathan has been handling the matter?
First of all, President Jonathan is handling the crisis very well. And all Nigerians should support him. It is a very delicate problem. Lawlessness and the rule of law cannot co-exist. The constitution presupposes the rule of law. So, all Nigerians should support Jonathan. When President Shehu Shagari had Maitasine crisis in Kano, I was there in the federal cabinet. And it was well handled. Today, the matter is now behind us. When it started, it spread from Kano to Bauchi and Kaduna States. Bauchi of that time is now two states; Kaduna of that time is also two states now. Likewise, Kano state.

Yet, Shagari handled the crisis brilliantly. And I must say that Jonathan too is handling it brilliantly. And by the grace of God, the will of the Nigerian people will prevail.
Isn’t it dragging too long given the magnitude and the number of lives that have been lost to the crisis?
You made a point using the word magnitude. But how can you say it is dragging on for too long? Do you think the president will not like to solve it within an hour? Do you think he likes it to drag on? You must consider the fact that the president has intelligent report to which you and I have no assess. Therefore, all we have to do is to support him and pray for him.

In your earlier statement, you described the states as local governments parading as state governments. To that extent, would you support the agitation for the separation of state/local government joint account?
Local government is one of the tiers of government in the country. So, there is no reason why local government should not have their own accounts except there is any governor who wants to steal the money belonging to local government. That is not open to argument at all. The state governments have their own accounts recognized by the constitution, and local governments too are government on their own. If you look at schedule to the constitution, all the local governments are listed there. So, why should any governor say he wants to control them? The constitution does not put the local government under the governor. They are a government in their own right.

You mean that the argument by some governors that the control of local government is vested in the state is wrong?
The control of local government is vested in the constitution. The governor can only exercise powers to the extent that he is given that power by the constitution. But for any governor to say that he can control the local government is nonsense. I even heard some governors calling themselves executive governors. The constitution didn’t create any executive governor. If you read what is in the constitution, it just talks of governor; it doesn’t put any word executive before it. But the governors like to use executive for themselves which they are not.


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