When imperial powers ratified the final share-out of Colonial territories at the berlin Conference in 1885, Nigeria existed as three separate political units. These corresponded roughly with the present three Regions, and were administered by three different authorities. In 1906, the Eastern and Western zones were merged into what was then known as the Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria, while the Northern zone became the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria. These two zones were administered under separate authorities until 1914, when they were amalgamated and became the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria.
Since the amalgamation all the efforts of the British Government have been devoted to developing the country into a Unitary State. This is patently impossible; and it is astonishing that a nation with wide political experience like Great Britain fell into such a palpable error. In the White Paper(Cmd6599) to which we have already referred, some attempt is being made to rectify this original mistake. But it is only a partial attempt; and in many respects falls short of effectively checking the retarding influences of the existing unitary Constitution. The division into three Regions was arbitrary, and made only for administrative convenience. The proposed Constitution maintains the present division. It goes further, to devolve autonomous legislative and administrative functions on each region, and thus to strengthen the existing decentralization. There are a few sentences in the White Paper which indicate rather vaguely that the British Government now recognizes the federal character of Nigeria. But nothing is done beyond this paper recognition.
If rapid political progress is to be made in Nigeria it is high time we were realistic in tackling its Constitutional problems. Nigeria is not a nation. It is a mere geographical expression. There are no “Nigerians” in the same sense as there are “English”, “Welsh”, or “French”. The word “Nigerian” is merely a distinctive appellation to distinguish those who live within the boundaries of Nigeria from those who do not.
There are various national or ethnical groups in the country. Ten such main groups were recorded during the 1931 Census as follows: (1) Hausa, (2) Ibo,(3) Yoruba, (4) Fulani, (5) Kanuri, (6) Ibibio, (7)Munshi or Tiv, (8) Edo, (9) Nupe, and (10) Ijaw. According to (Nigeria Handbook), eleventh edition, “there are also a great number of other small tribes too numerous to enumerate separately, whose combined total population amounts to 4,683,044”
It is a mistake to designate them “tribes”. Each of them is a nation by itself with many tribes and clans. There is much difference between them as there is between Germans, English, Russians and Turks, for instance. The fact that they have a common overlord does not destroy this fundamental difference. The languages differ. The readiest means of communication between them now is English. Their cultural backgrounds and social outlooks differ widely; and their indigenous political institutions have little in common. Their present stages of development vary.
Politically, the best organized groups are the Hausas, including the Fulanis, who form the ruling class in the north, and the Yorubas. They had a highly developed system of government long before the white man came. The political institutions of the others, however were primitive and are still amorphous. The Constitution of the Yorubas is analogous to what is known as Constitutional Monarchy. The dictatorial powers which some Yoruba chiefs are wielding to-day are the making of the British Government, who at the beginning misconceived the true nature of Yoruba Monarchy. The Fulani conquerors were autocrats, pure and simple. They were just consolidating their conquest over the Hausas and a small portion of Yorubaland when the British came in the “scramble”, to strengthen their hands. The Ibos, on the other hand, are essentially individualistic. The unit of government is the family; and the biggest autonomous aggregation for all purposes of government is the clan, with all the heads of families combining to form the governing body. The Ibos or Ibibios cannot tolerate anyone assuming the authority of a chieftain among them. For this reason, the experiment of the “warrant chiefs” in the Eastern Region failed.
There are also vital differences in the potential abilities of the various national groups. In embracing Western culture, the Yorubas take the lead, and have benefitted immensely as a result. The Efiks, the Ijaws, the Ibibios and the Ibos come next. The four last named are particularly keen and ambitious, and are doing all they can to overtake the Yorubas. The Hausas and Fulanis on the other hand are extremely conservative , and take very reluctantly to Western civilization. Their eyes are turned to the East, from whence light and inspiration had come to them in ages past; and they seem to spurn to look westward. And if the race is to the swift, in spite of their lower cultural background, the Ibos or the Ibibios would certainly qualify for self-government, long before the Hausas.
Above all, a deep religious gulf runs between the Northern and Southern portions of the country. The peoples in the Western and Eastern Regions of the south, approach religion with remarkable moderation and nonchalance: Christians, Mohammedans, and so-called Pagans mix in society without restraint. The people in the North, however, are extremely fanatical about Islamism. They have an open contempt for those who do not share their religious belief.
All these incompatibilities among the various peoples in the country militate against unification. For one thing they are bound to slow down progress in certain sections, and on the other hand, they tend to engender unfriendly feelings among the diverse elements thus forced together. The more alert and ambitious groups, like the Yorubas, Ibos, and Ibibios, are impatient, and pursue an increase in the pace of political, educational and economic advancement; while the Hausas are indifferent..
The Yorubas, in particular, have suffered feelings of frustration for years. Under a system which aims at getting all the peoples in the country to the goal of autonomy at the same hour and minute, the Yorubas have been compelled to mark time on their higher level while the other sections hasten to catch up with them. Because of this, it is wrongly believed by some that the Yorubas are deteriorating.
It is evident from the experiences of other nations that incompatibilities such as we have enumerated are barriers which cannot be overcome by glossing over them. They are REAL, not imaginary, obstacles. Those who place these groups under the same Constitution ignore then at their peril. More-so, as it appears that these incompatibilities tend to grow in size as those concerned become more educated and civilized.
The Welsh and Scottish people are more adamant today for Home Rule than ever before. For upwards of seven hundred years the Irish people struggled to, and eventually did break away from England in spite of the fact that the latter did everything possible to give the former equal status within the British Constitution. The continent of Europe abounds in instances of a similar nature. Yugoslavia leads a very uneasy existence as a unitary state. The various linguistic groups are always demanding some sort of separate autonomy. The Croats, next only to the Serbs in number, and more than double the other three minorities put together, are the most insistent among the lot.
The agitation of the Sudeten Germans in Czechoslovakia, with the poignant episodes that followed it, are only too well known now. Under a system of proportional representation, they still clamored for autonomy. The Slovaks and the Czechs do not get on very well together under a unitary Constitution. In Belgium, too, the Dutch-Speaking Flemings have always demanded autonomy within the framework of the Belgian Constitution.
Experts can propound learned theories as to why people having different languages and cultural backgrounds are unable to live together under a democratic unitary Constitution. But the empirical facts of history are enough to guide us. It has been shown beyond all doubt that the best Constitution for such diverse peoples is a Federal Constitution. This is exemplified by the Constitution of Switzerland, which is acclaimed to be the best and the most democratic in the world, since it gives complete autonomy to every racial group within the framework. The amended Constitution of the U.S.S.R. wherein each republic becomes autonomous is also an instance in point.
With regard to the effect of religious differences on political unity, India is an outstanding example. Her experience is well worth bearing in mind in tackling the Constitutional problems of Nigeria. Lord Wavell’s Constitutional proposals are just a wee bit short of complete self-government. But to the astonishment of India’s friends and admirers, she is unable to get what she has for years been painfully working for, because of religious fanaticism.
It is now no more the Congress leaders, but the Indian Moslems of the Moslem League who stand in the way of India’s political advancement. And it must be said at once that the Moslems of Northern Nigeria are no less fanatical and intolerant than Jinnah’s Indian Moslems. What is more, the Government of Nigeria has all along helped to keep the flame of this fanaticism and intolerance burning brightly by pursuing a separationist policy in the North.
There was a time when the Government forbade Christian missionaries as they would hurt the religious susceptibilities of the Moslem North. And it is argued that this might react unfavorably on conduct of political affairs there. In the eyes of the Northerners, those who live in Southern Nigeria, unless they are Moslems, are styled “Kaferis”(pagans) no matter if they are Christians. And because they are “kaferis”, they are looked upon with contempt and revulsion.
At the Conference of the Northern Chiefs in 1942, a letter written by the West African Students’ Union came up for discussion. The letter touched on many problems affecting Nigeria as a whole; and the writers appealed to the Northern Emirs and their people for co-operation with those in the South in tackling these problems. The Emirs’ comment on this appeal for co-operation , as contained in the official report of the conference, is as follows: “ holding this country together is not possible except by means of the religion of the Prophet…. If they want political unity let them follow our religion.”
Rather than do anything to discourage this attitude, the Government, it appears, is systematically, though very subtly, doing everything to aggravate it, or at least keep it up. The education policy for the North is designed to make the Hausas disdain the progressive tendencies of the South. The average educated Hausa looks upon the educated Southerner as an ungrateful rebel against his white benefactor.
For a number of years now, some newspaper men in the South have tried in vain to get the Government’s approval to start publication of newspapers in the North, whereas a government-controlled paper is in circulation there. Furthermore, a sum of 90,000.00pound Sterling has been earmarked from the Colonial Development and Welfare Fund to start other publications there under Government auspices. At present, there are no Hausas with sufficient enterprise to start newspapers of their own. But even if there were, and they tried, they would be certain to meet with opposition.
People of Southern Nigeria are not at all deceived as to the British aim in the Northern part of Nigeria. It would appear that the British rulers say this to themselves: “ we have made a mistake in the South by giving them too much freedom. As a result, they are growing out of control. We will see to it that no such mistake is repeated in the North.”
To make assurance doubly sure the Government is doing everything possible to make it difficult for the enlightened Northerner to be contaminated by those in the South. In 1943, a headmaster in a government school in Kabba Province wanted to spend part of his holidays visiting important towns in the South. He was obliged(though) willingly on his part) to do so under the close supervision of officials. This was done in a friendly or paternal way, by arranging lodgings for him wherever he went, and instructing his hosts beforehand which places and what type of people were suitable for him to visit. Not long ago, two of the sons of one Emir visited Lagos. They were accompanied by an Administrative Officer.
Southerners who go to the North to work or trade have to be segregated, whereas Hausas are free to mix as much as they wish in the South. The seed for a future minority problem in the North has been sown by the Government. It will grow with growing political consciousness on the part of those who settle permanently in the North. When the bitter harvest comes to be reaped, as surely it must, unless the present policy is changed, the British Government should bear the blame.
We could cite other instances, some of them in fact unprintable. But enough has been said to show that there is a big rift between North and South which the Government itself is sedulously widening. If the present tendency is maintained, when the Hausas come to their own, they will surely demand a “Pakistan”, like Jinnah’s Moslems. Be that as it may. That is a question which will not arise in the near future, and we need not dwell upon it. The important point to note is that a Federal Constitution is the only thing suitable for Nigeria. And for the sake of smooth and speedy progress, steps must be taken now to develop the various ethnical groups in the country along this line. We must not wait until the situation becomes unduly complicated by long mutual friction and irritation. Already, there are enough signs to put us wise.
Strictly speaking, the political structure of any particular national group is primarily their own domestic concern. The others may criticize it the same way as French and Russians may criticize the British Constitution. But they have no right to try to interfere effectively in the shaping of such a Constitution. But that is exactly what is happening in Nigeria now. The Ibos, for example, unused to having chieftains, cannot understand why the Obas in Yorubaland or the Emirs in the North should be entitled to the positions they occupy. On the other hand, the autocracy of the emirs cuts the Yorubas think it is their business actively to work to bring about a drastic change in these Constitutions. This is certainly not the correct attitude. But as long as every person in Nigeria is made to feel that he is a Nigerian first and a Yoruba or Ibo or Hausa next, each will be justified to poke his nose into the domestic issues of the others. The only thing of common interest to all Nigerians as such, and in which the voice of one must be as acceptable as that of any other, is the Constitution of the central or Federal Government of Nigeria. The Constitution of each national Group is the sole concern of the members of that group.
If the idea of Federal Constitution for Nigeria is accepted, and if it is sincerely desired by the British Government to create a system within which the diverse elements may progress at varying speeds, amicably and smoothly, towards a more closely integrated economic, social and political unity, without sacrificing the principles and ideas inherent in their divergent ways of life… then the present administrative boundaries within the country must be redrawn.
As has been hinted above, the present three Regions were constituted, without regard to ethnological factors. The Yorubas of Ilorin, Offa and Kabba are included with the Hausas in the Northern Region, Ibos who properly belong to the Eastern Zone are grouped with the Yorubas in the West. There is no justification whatsoever for this arbitrary grouping. Certainly, these minority groups are at a considerable disadvantage when they are forced to be in the midst of other peoples who differ from them in Language, culture, and historical background.
But the readjustment of the boundaries of the three administrative Regions will not solve all the problems. In that event, the Western Region would be the only area inhabited by people who all belong to the same ethnical stock, and speak the same language. In the Eastern Region there are three main national groups, namely, the Ibos, Ibibios and Ijaws; and in the North there are five—the Hausas, Fulanis(who form the ruling class), Kanuris, Munshis and Nupes. Ass has been pointed out above there are a number of other national groups which are not recorded in the 1931 census.
Under a True Federal Constitution, each group, however small, is entitled to the same treatment as any other group, however large. Opportunity must be afforded to each to evolve its own peculiar political institution. Each group must be autonomous in regard to its internal affairs. Each must have its own Regional House of Assembly. Just now, however, it would be difficult to provide enough administrative staffs to handle the affairs of well over ten Houses of Assembly throughout the country. Even if such staffs were available, the revenue of the country is unable to bear the expense. For the present, it is enough if it is borne in mind that this is our ultimate goal, and if we begin forthwith to take steps which would ensure the speedy attainment of this end.
We need not be alarmed at the number of autonomous States which would thus emerge. The population of Switzerland is about 4,000,000, just about one-sixth of that of Nigeria. This country consists of four racial groups. These are divided into twenty-two cantons, each of which has its own Parliament and Government. The Romansch, who form the fourth racial group, are only 44,000 in number. They, too, have Regional Autonomy with a Parliament and Government of their own. Canada, with a population of about half of that of Nigeria, has nine Provinces, each of which has its own legislature. According to these and other well-known and well-tried Constitutional precedents, even as many as thirty to forty Regional Houses of Assembly would not be too many in the future United States of Nigeria.
With this end in view, there must be a readjustment in the composition of some provinces. It is essential that each ethnical group be constituted into a separate Province or a number of provinces. The present practice, whereby groups with small ethnological differences are divided up, must be reversed.(CHECK!!!!!)
An outstanding example of this practice is the case of the Ijaw people. They are at present divided among the neighboring Provinces of Calabar, Owerri, and Benin, with whom they have nothing in common but British overlord-ship.
A step in the right direction would be to constitute this and other similar scattered units into separate Provinces. This would make for better understanding and unity among the tribes and clans of the national groups concerned. This in turn would enable each group to make more rapid progress than at present; and as a result, the pace of the country as a whole would be considerably quickened towards a Federal unity.