The American system of federal government, which we have adopted, offers a great lesson of how a people of different origins, religions, customary and culture can live together as a nation governed by written constitution. The federation of America was the coming together of existing states, which voluntarily yielded some of their powers to the union for the benefit of the generality of the union. An essential element of the federation is that the union had no power over the states in matters not specifically yielded by the states to the union. Between 1776 and September 17, 1787 when the completed constitution was signed by 39 of the 42 delegates, there were long and arduous debates and comparisons. The constitution was finally adopted on June 21, 1788. “We the people of the United States in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, unsure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this constitution for the United States of America.”


From the foregoing, it is clear beyond doubt that Nigeria started the other way round; first the area now known as Nigeria consisted of over 400 nationalities. The British decided arbitrarily to call the area Nigeria. Originally, it was ruled as two countries, later as a unitary government, later again as three powerful regions and a weak centre and subsequently, the military fragmented it into unviable states and rules for over 30years as a federal government in name but in a unitary government defacto. As a young school teacher, Alhaji Sheu Shagari (who was to later emerge as the first Executive President (1979 – 83) had in 1948 written strongly against the amalgamation. Sir Ahamdu Bellow as quoted as saying that “amalgamation process” was a “mistake of 1914” in his book on “Nigeria” the German author Walter Schwarz had quoted Sir Ahmadu Bellow the Sarduna of Sokoto as saying, “I would rather be called Sultan of Sokoto than President of Nigeria”. The sage, Chief Awolowo held in 1947 that Nigeria was just a geographical expression, should not have come as a surprise. Nigeria by that time had only been a state for about 34 years, in the annals of state building, it needs more than even a century to develop sense of statehood and to transform a state into nation.


In fact as at 7th century, England was made up of the Independent states of Cornwall, Kent, Wessex, Essex, Sussex, Mercia etc. the area later undergone forceful amalgamation. In the last 95 years, the map of Europe has been drawn and redrawn several times. The first major re-drawing was in 1918 after the First World War. It involved forceful mergers and forceful dissolution of about 15 states it was followed in 1945 by another re-drawing of the map which again led to the disappearance of some states. It was then followed in 1991 by another re-drawing of the map which led to the disappearance of the Soviet Union and Eastern Germany and the re-mergence of Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Belarus, etc. Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia disappeared and emergence of Slovenia, Macedonia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Croatia, Czech and Slovakia respectively. In other words within spate of 95 years Europe has witnessed not one but several massive nationality revolutions which Africa has not experienced since the Treaty of Berlin in 1884.


We have lived together in a country as Nigerians for almostone hundred years either by accident or otherwise. I believe that nobody in his right sense ought to call for the break up of the country. The situation can be likened to a marriage between two adults in which both parties are not comfortable with the association yet neither party wants it to break up because of the children they have raised. We also do not want the labour of our heroes past and present to be in vain, but only on one condition. The people’s wishes should be allowed to be openly debated and adopted into their own constitution being the organic law that control and moderate socio-economic and political structures of the federation.


Our forefathers like their counterpart in United States foreseen all these and spent 10years deliberating on a people’s constitution that would accommodate the nation’s diversity. They came up with 1960 constitution which was later substituted with 1963 constitution. Under the 1963 constitution, the federal government was entitled to pay to each region a sum equal to fifty per cent of the proceeds of mining rents and royalty in respect of minerals derived from each region. The federal government was obliged to credit to the Distributable Pool Account 30percent of the proceeds of the royalty and mining rent received by the federal government after it had given 50 percent to the producing region. The federal government was only entitled to keep to itself only 20 percent. It was the 30 percent left in the Distributable Pool Account that was shared in the following manner: Northern Nigeria – about 40 percent, Eastern Nigeria – about 31 percent, Western Nigeria – about 18 percent, Mid Western Nigerian – about 6 percent. The system of derivation therefore encouraged healthy competition and consequential growth of the economy. Each region was assured that it was entitled, as of right, to about half of the entire proceeds of its region and also a further part constituting its own share from the Distributable Pool.

With the advent of the military, however, the federal structure was dismantled and discarded in preference for the military imposed “unitary system”. The revenue allocation system was also destroyed and the military controlled all the resources of the federation centrally. What Gen. Gowon did as an exigency of war later become permanent. Subsequent governments after Gowon’s decided to hold on to it, of course the federal government found allies in. lazy state governors who preferred to be going cap-in-hand to the federal government to collect the pittance tagged statutory allocations monthly.

The question then is whether it would still be reasonable to apply the 1963 formula where the derivative regions/states would keep about fifty percent of the entire nation’s wealth, while it would not be reasonable in the light of today’s reality, to give as much as 50 percent states, it would be reasonable to give to the states sufficient percentage and other relief options to enable them take care of their environment. The communities should be empowered to exercise ownership of their land. The government should review the land use Act. Mining and exploration activities should involve the government, communities and the corporate organisations. Functions of government, oil companies or mining companies and the communities should be specified.

In 1994 federal government replaced sale tax which was administered (collected) by state governments. Initially, the state governments were made to believe that they would receive 80 percent of the VAT collected by the FG in their respective states with 20 percent accruing to the FG as cost of administration and collection. But FG quickly inverted this to be 80 percent to itself and 20 percent for the state governments, it was after much pressure that the FG agreed to revert the formula to 35-35-30 for the FG, SG and LG. Under most federations, VAT (a proxy for sale tax) is administered and collected by state or regional governments (sometimes municipal or local governments, where they have the machinery to do so).Mr.  President  should be courageous and reverse this fiscal repression Gen. Abacha introduced.

The ample opportunity to have a semblance of people’s constitution was available during the constitution amendment debate. Because of a single item, tenure of office, the legislators out of selfish reasons throw away the opportunity, issues of fiscal federalism, devolution of power were slated among items for amendment. The trouble with some self-acclaimed leaders in this country is that a great deal of ignorance is traded as common sense. During the constitution amendment debate at the Senate floor, we saw the senators turned the hallowed chamber to theatre hall and themselves became quack comedians – you hears such words: my people oh! my people says no to third term, what did their people say on other items slated for the amendment were unknown.

The historic problem in democratic practice is the minority or majority tyranny. It occurs in a democracy when majority fail to listen to the opinions of the minority or when minority refuse to listen to the opinion of majority, then democracy would give way to autocracy. Democracies naturally produce a certain disharmony what is required is not agreement, but agreement to act, that is, a common mind to follow a certain course of action while still admitting differences of opinion. We must listen to contrary arguments and allow reason to prevail. The South/South delegation made there position on fiscal federalism known at the floor of National conference. The North delegation err in opposing the brilliant presentation and being adamant that the 13 percent should not be reviewed upward. In 2000 the former Governor of Benue, Akume now Senator spoke on behalf of the 19 governors from the north after their meeting and opposed the establishment of Niger/Delta Development Commission (NDDC). Sometimes a butterfly imagines itself to be a bird. For example how much Benue or Kano state for example contribute to the federation account, the answer is either nothing or a negligible amount. Yet Kano State has 44 local governments which routinely shared by local councils every month. The Kano State Government also partakes in the sharing of the volume of national income available to 36 states and FCT. More than about 88 percent of the money in the federation account is contributed by the nine oil producing states and Lagos. The Lagos contribution comes from custom duties at the Apapa and Tin Can ports, income taxes and VAT.  We must effectively treat the causes rather than symptoms, we must recognise that as important as democracy is, however, defined, it can only deliver stability through social and economic justice. The world is full of multi-national states, which have been huge successes such as Switzerland, Italy, France, Germany, Britain etc and multi-national states, which have been woeful failures such as Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia. Those have been successful, have been successful because they practice true federalism, with full autonomy to federating units. Those who have failed, have failed because they have failed to practice true federalism. They have run federal states along unitary lines and they have paid dearly for it.

It looks to me that the greatest danger to Nigeria unity is the refusal of those who refuse to allow for the restructuring of Nigeria.

Shakespeare in one of his immortal plays gave this advice to young Hamlet: “This above all, to thy own self be true. And it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man”. many  Nigerian leaders dead or alive were guilty of one of several acts of self-deception. It is an act of self-deception for anyone to argue that there is nothing wrong with the with the union. We must rebuild the foundation .

Olufemi Aduwo

National Coordinator,

Rights Monitoring Group(RMG)& Country Director,Centre For Convention On Democratic Intergrity(CCDI)