From Oluseye Ojo, Ibadan
A Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies, Toyin Falola, has identified over-centralisation of power at the centre as the reason federalism is not working well in Nigeria.
Falola, who is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin, United States of America, made the submission after reviewing the history of Nigeria from amalgamation of 1914 till the pre-independence era in the country, to the post-independence, military intervention in Nigerian politics, and the aftermath of the civil war in the country.
He disclosed this in an interview with journalists on the sidelines of the Sixth J.A. Atanda Lectures and Conference, with the theme: ‘Yoruba Culture and Society,’ held at the Babcock University, Ilishan-Remo, Ogun State. The conference which started on Monday in honour of a former chairman, Ibadan School of History, Prof Joseph Atanda, will end tomorrow (Wednesday).
Falola spoke against the backdrop of agitations for self-determination and secession in the country, saying: “There have been secessionist movements in Africa. In fact, I wrote a book: ‘Secession and Secessionist Movements in Africa.’ By and large, only few have been successful, which are Eriteria, Sudan and South Sudan. The boundaries of Africa, inherited after the colonial rule, have remained. In the case of Nigeria, Biafra started it and did not succeed. That’s secession, which is a new name, a new boundary and a new boundary.
“But you can have devolution of power, decentralisation, which means you will remain in Nigeria, but the centre will severe powers to the various regions. That was what we had in the First Republic.
“In the 1950’s when Chief Obafemi Awolowo was the premier of Western Region, that was what we had, regionalism. In the First Republic, we had Northern States, Western States and Eastern States, with each region, controlling its own resources, subject to some limitations on foreign policy and the Army. But for the military, following the civil war, centralised power and now we have over-centralisation.
“So, federalism is not working well. Some people would say why don’t you return to the constitution of 1963 and give each region its own authority so that they can govern themselves. Take the resources in the ports in Lagos, it is second next to the oil. Some people asked why all that money would go to the Federal Government to redistribute to all the regions.
“Every part of this country, every region and every group is angry at something. The Igbo are angry. the Yoruba are angry. The Ijaw are angry. So, how to minimise or reduce that level of anger is what we should be talking about.”
Falola stated further that the leader of the apex Yoruba self-determination group, Ilana Omo Oodua, Prof Banji Akintoye, was his “supervisor and teacher at Ife (Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State) in the 70s. He’s leading this movement and he strongly believes in it. His argument is that the progress of Yoruba people has been retarded by their membership in a republic. He does not want a civil war. He does not want a fight. He simply wants a more careful deliberation on the possible remapping of the country and greater autonomy to the Yoruba.
“At this time, the best advice one can give is decentralisation, and greater autonomy to the various regions. I don’t think creating a new country, with due respect, may be the best way to go. But seeking greater autonomy for each region to control its affairs may be the better option.”