Excerpts from Obafemi Awolowo’s “Thoughts on the Nigerian Constitution” written while in Cell D UP 2, Calabar Prison, June 1966.
Having reached the conclusion that “Federalism is imperative” for Nigeria, we find ourselves face to face with the question: On what basis should the country be organized into States?
On this question, the Federalists are sharply divided amongst themselves. They have as many formulae as there are active groups within their ranks. They have, for instance variously suggested that the basis should be:
(1) Linguistic or Ethnic;
(2) Partly linguistic and partly geographical;
(3) Provincial; that is to say that the new States should be exactly the same as old provincial units or a combination of two such units, if necessary;
(4) Related to the principal agricultural occupations of the people; that is to say that adjoining areas, where the main agricultural products are identical, should be grouped together to form, say, a Cocoa State, Kolanut State or Cassava State;
(5) The grouping together of all the contiguous minority linguistic units in each of the three original Regions( this is in fact the basis on which the Mid-Western Region was created out of the former Western Region).
Many Federalists run away from the linguistic formula, and embrace other formulae, partly because of the difficulties which the application of the former involves, and partly because of the opprobrious charges of Regionalism and tribalism which their espousal of this formula earns for them from their opponents.
Presently we will deal with the difficulties which the linguistic principle imports. But, meanwhile, we would like to dispose of the charges of regionalism and tribalism which, over the years, have been persistently levelled at the Federalists.
As derogatory epithets, Regionalism and tribalism mean, in our own understanding:
(a) Morbid adherence or loyalty to one’s region or tribe to the exclusion, prejudice and detriment of other Regions or tribes;
(b) Discriminatory practices designed to favor one’s Region or tribe at the expense of, or to the prejudice or detriment of other Regions or tribes;
(c) Inciting one’s region or tribe against the other regions or tribes; and
(d) Exploiting one’s popularity or standing in one’s region or tribe for unworthy ends.
In these senses, Regionalism and tribalism are evil, and inimical to the unity and overall interests of Nigeria. In these senses, we condemn and denounce them without reservation. Those who practice or encourage these evils should be given ruthless combat wherever they are found; and those who intend to embark on them should be loudly and openly inveighed against before their enterprise ever gets underway.
After all these has been said, there is an unfortunate habit, on the part of practically all the protagonists of Unitary Constitution for Nigeria, which must be deplored and roundly reprehended. They always apply Regionalism and tribalism in the derogatory senses which we have just defined, to advocacy for Federalism per se and the consequent demand for the organization of the country into states. To them, every Federalist is a regionalist-in the derogagtory sense; and anyone who advocates the organization of the country into states on Linguistic basis is daubed a tribalist. To apply regionalism and tribalism in this way, that is, in their derogatory senses, is, in our candid opinion, an enormous misuse of words. It is indeed an aberration conceived by unrestrained emotion and born of blind passion.
In all their writings and utterances, there is, paradoxically, a combined display of ignorance, cant, plain mischief, and sense of superior patriotism, on the part of the Unitarians, which, in the interest of the fatherland, must be kept firmly in check.
If Federalism means regionalism in the derogatory senses, and if the organization of a multilingual country into states on a linguistic basis is tantamount to tribalism in the opprobrious senses, then all the great and immortal leaders-dead or alive-of some of the most advanced countries of the world with Federal Constitutions and with Constituent States organized on a linguistic basis, must be condemned and denounced as irredeemable Regionalists and tribalists in respect of their own countries, and as the odious harbingers and exemplars of Regionalism and tribalism for other countries.
By this reasoning, George Washington, Vladimir Lenin, Jawaharlal Nehru, Mao Tse-tung and Josip Tito, to name only five, must bear the permanent stigma of being Regionalists and tribalists of the worst order. But it must be generally agreed that anyone who dared to accuse these great and famous men of “regionalism and tribalism” in the senses in which they are used in Nigeria, would instantly expose his or her sanity to very grave doubts.
In books, journals, newspapers, and on the radio, many otherwise knowledgeable people-Nigerians and non-Nigerians alike-use the word “tribe” in reference to the Ibo, Yoruba, Hausa, Ibibio, Edo or Tiv people, for instance. Some Nigerian anthropologists and ethnographers, who have a duty to enlighten the public on the matter, have themselves, for reasons of partisanship(or is it tribal) politics or allegiance, and in astonishing and shameless betrayal of academic mores, lent their support to this monstrous misuse of the word “tribe”. Fortunately, one does not need to be an anthropologist or ethnographer to be able to assert categorically and confidently, that the Hausas, Yorubas, Ibos and other Linguistic groups in Nigeria are not tribes. There is more than enough empirical evidence on the point.
Who, in his senses in and outside Britain, Canada, India, and the USSR, to confine ourselves to only four countries, has ever dared or will ever dare to refer seriously to the English, Scottish, Welsh, French-Canadian, Telugu, Bengali, Ukrainian and Tartar peoples as “tribes”? Of course, none!
Instead, the British people and their government speak of the “Scottish nation”, Welsh nation and not of Scottish or Welsh “tribe” or of Scottish or Welsh “tribalists”. What is true of the prevailing usage in Britain, in these matters, is a fortiori true of the usage in the USSR, Canada, and India. In these latter countries, the linguistic units are specifically referred to in the statutes and official documents as “National Groups” or “Nationalities”.
From the foregoing evidence, it is highly improper to refer to the Hausa, Ibo, Yoruba, or any other Linguistic Group in Nigeria as a “tribe”. Each of them is a “national” group. Furthermore, from the acceptation of the word, it is most insulting to refer to any of them as “tribe”. In the Concise Oxford Dictionary, “tribe” is defined as “a group of barbarous clans under recognized chiefs”. In view of this definition, it is strange that those who are sensitive, even to imaginary insults, can ply the linguistic groups to which they belong with this outrageous and undiluted insult, with such obvious relish.
We all know only too well that a man who is a native of England or Scotland or Wales, to confine ourselves to familiar grounds, has no inhibition in introducing or describing himself as English, Scottish or Welsh, and he will never imagine that an unpatriotic act or sacrilege has been committed by him thereby. In fact, he is as proud of his Englishness, Scottishness, and Welshness as he is of his Britishness. Here in Nigeria, however, when a man introduces himself as Ibo, Yoruba, or Hausa, he is besmeared as a “tribalist” and a doubtful patriot. He must be a “Nigerian” first and last; and nothing else.
But then, we are far from being consistent in our judgement and attitude; unless, which amounts to the same thing, we are prepared to confess to holding contradictory attitudes to tribalism at home, and to tribalism abroad. One or two instances of what we mean may be given.
We never, for instance, see anything wrong in a Briton being English, Scottish or Welsh. In fact, we always describe them as such: we rarely refer to them as British. We give full publicity to England’s, Scotland’s and Wales’ international soccer teams and to soccer contests between England, Scotland and Wales as international football matches. Whenever England plays cricket matches with Australia or India, it is great news here in Nigeria. At home, however, we resent and decry, with all bitterness that our spleens can manufacture, the formation of football teams on linguistic or ethnic basis, on the ground that they ate “tribalistic” and inimical to Nigerian unity. The English people, the Scottish people, and the Welsh people celebrate annualy and with great fanfare and glee their respective Patron Saint’s Day of St. George, St. Andrew and St. David.
In the United States, American citizens of irish origin, continue to celebrate St.Patrick’s Day with unparalleled public jollity. Here in Nigeria, we cheerfully accept invitations to functions arranged in connection with these annual events.
Yet we regard it as a crime against Nigerian unity for a Linguistic group to celebrate its own “National Day”. What harm, may we respectfully ask, do the members of a Linguistic or ethnic group do to the members of the other groups by the mere celebration, with festivity and pomp, of their “National Day”?
We are inclined to think that a good deal of the unreasoning resentments to which we have referred are due to the psychological mechanism known as projection. There is in fact abundant evidence, which we will refrain stating here, that many of those who see regionalism and tribalism, in the derogatory sense, in every harmless activity are themselves the worst offenders.(to be continued)