Former Head of State, Yakubu Gowon, says there is nothing wrong with restructuring the country provided it is done within one Nigeria context.
Mr. Gowon said this when Shehu Sani, the Vice-Chairman, Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, paid him a courtesy visit in Abuja on Wednesday.
Reacting to calls by some Nigerians to restructure the country, Mr. Gowon said there was nothing wrong with restructuring.
He recalled that Nigeria was restructured under his leadership as the head of state with the creation of states in 1967.
“We can restructure within one Nigeria context. I did it in 1967; we created states to stop eastern Nigeria from seceding.
“We had to do something to ensure the fear of their seceding did not exist; a serious issue of a part of the country wanting to breakaway when we already lost a part to Cameroon.
“If we had allowed the eastern region to go away, the map of Nigeria would have looked funny; it would have been tilted one way.
“So, we decided overnight to break the fear through the creation of states. If we had to save the country that was the only way to do it.
“We also ensured that no state was too big or too small to threaten the unity of the country,’’ he said.
Mr. Gowon, in 1967, announced the creation of 12 states, namely, North-Western, North-Eastern, Kano and North-Central states.
Others are, Benue-Plateau, Kwara, Western, Lagos, Mid-Western, Rivers (a South-Eastern state), East-Central and East-Central states.
The former head of state added that the call for true federalism by some Nigerians was also not a bad idea, as long as it was done within the context of the nation’s unity.
“What is true federalism? As long as it means respect for oneness of our country, it is alright, but if it means to breakaway, it is not my way of thinking’’, he said.
An opinion piece by writer Jasmine Buari analyses this…he says What no one can contest nonetheless is that the prevailing system of “unitary federalism” has not served Nigeria well. Indeed, as Atiku puts it, “the practices it has encouraged have been a major impediment to the economic and political development of our country.”
We run a country where nothing constructive happens in government except it is sanctioned by Abuja, and by one man, the President of Nigeria.
The Federal government of Nigeria and the president are so constitutionally powerful that other tiers of government are at best appendages.
Every month, state governors and their accountants rush to Abuja to have their feeding bottles filled from the national baby-sitting nursery.
Without the federation revenue that is dispensed by the Federal government, the states and local governments cannot survive.
Today, so many state governments cannot pay salaries or embark on any development projects.
States were created in the expectation that by carving up the country into smaller units, the kind of threat that led to the Biafran secession crisis and the civil war of 1967-70 will not reoccur, and that the centre will have firmer control of the constituent units.
That has turned out to be an illusion, and a burden, with the crisis in the North East, the South East and the South South. There is so much unhealthy competition in the country, made worse by ethnic and religious cleavages.
Nigerians must find a new means of reducing unhealthy competition and make our democracy more consociational, and inclusive.
Along this line, there have been several recommendations including true federalism (to which the power elite driven by selfish, ethnic and religious considerations has shown no commitment), confederation and regional government (both of which in their purest forms, may further raise the risk of secession), a parliamentary system of government (which may not necessarily address existing fears, without a socio-cultural transformation), these, in addition to the view that there is nothing technically wrong with the current presidential system of government (the problem is with Nigerian practices and attitudes).
What may well work for Nigeria is a combination of structures, a mix that is constitutionally made possible based on local peculiarities.
Some say that borrowed models may not fit into local circumstances; the best way for a country to evolve is by working out its own structures and practices that best suit its purposes and historical experience.