What I find strange is how an appointed official could talk down on elected governors carrying out the wish of their people. The situation leaves no one in doubt that something is wrong with this type of democracy forced on us by the military in May 1999. Those calling for the restructuring of the democratic process have valid points. It is the operation of an imbalanced system of government that could create chaos.


I find the January 14 press release by the attorney-general of the federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN) on the security outfit of the South-Western states very interesting. The minister could not find it dignifying to personally sign the release on an issue as weighty the one he was commenting on. He merely asked his media aide, Dr. Umar Gwandu, to sign the press release on his behalf. That has become the pattern of some top government officials, particularly those in the central government, these days. We have just marked the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the civil war in Nigeria. A tragic war it was, indeed. The anniversary should have reminded all of us, especially top government officials, of the need for caution with regard to national issues. Less arrogance must be applied. At the time the war ended, fifty years ago, Mr. Abubakar Malami was just two years old; so, in effect, he did not witness what led to the civil war. He is not alone. I learnt that he is very comfortable now and that his next ambition is to become the governor of Kebbi State, a land of equity, when the term of the incumbent, Senator Abubakar Atiku Bagudu, expires. The desired national unity in Nigeria, which has been fragile all these years, cannot be achieved through legal interpretations. This unity cannot be strengthened when there is master-slave relationship. If the idea of national unity in this country is still a dream, top officials of the central government, past and present, should share the greater part of the blame. By their actions and pronouncements, they are polarising the entire country.

What I find strange is how an appointed official could talk down on elected governors carrying out the wish of their people. The situation leaves no one in doubt that something is wrong with this type of democracy forced on us by the military in May 1999. Those calling for the restructuring of the democratic process have valid points. It is the operation of an imbalanced system of government that could create chaos.

Every Nigerian is a stakeholder in the Nigeria project. There is insecurity everywhere — a failure on the part of the central government – and elected state governors want to ameliorate the situation in their states, yet the central attorney-general of the federation and minister of justice says their collective action is illegal. I find this very difficult to understand.

Mr. Malami needs to be reminded, with all others like him, that there was a time in this country, in 1966 to be precise, when there were four regions in Nigeria, which all separate constitutions. These were the Northern Region, Western Region, Eastern Region and Mid-Western Region.

In the wisdom of the military and thanks to Generals Yakubu Gowon, Murtala Mohammed, Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha, the old Northern region now comprises nineteen states, including Abuja. These states are Adamawa (Land of Beauty, Sunshine & Hospitality), Bauchi (Pearl of Tourism), Benue (Nigeria’s Food Basket), Borno (Home of Peace), Gombe (The Jewel in the Savannah), Jigawa (The New World), Kaduna (Centre of Education), Kano (Centre of Commerce), Katsina (Home of Hospitality), Kebbi (Land of Equity), Kogi (The Confluence state), Kwara (State of Harmony), Nasarawa (Home of Solid Minerals), Niger (The Power State) and Plateau (Home of Peace &Tourism). Also, Sokoto (The Seat of the Caliphate), Taraba (Nature’s Gift to the Nation), Yobe (Pride of the Sahel) and Zamfara (Farming is Our Pride). The old Western Region is now made up of six states: Lagos (Centre of Excellence), Ogun (The Gateway State), Oyo (Pace Setter State), Osun (Land of Virtue), Ondo (The Sunshine State) and Ekiti (Land of Honour and Integrity). In the wisdom of the military also, the old Mid-Western Region now constitutes Edo (The Heart Beat of the Nation) and Delta (The Big Heart) States, while the old Eastern Region has now been split into nine states, namely: Anambra (The Light of the Nation), Ebonyi (The Salt of the Nation), Abia (God’s Own State), Imo (The Eastern Heartland), Enugu (The Coal City State), Akwa-Ibom (Promised Land), Rivers (Rivers of Possibilities), Bayelsa (The Glory of All Lands) and Cross Rivers (The People’s Paradise). The regions were separate and autonomous and they had agents-general in the United Kingdom, who were like ambassadors.

Section 64 of the Constitution of Mid-Western Region affirmed that: “Power to appoint persons to hold or act in the office of the Agent-General of the Region in the United Kingdom (including power to make appointments on promotion and transfer) and to remove persons so appointed from that office shall vest in the Governor, acting in accordance with the advice of the Premier; Before tendering any advice for the purposes of this section in relation to any person who holds any office in the public service of the Region other than an office to which this section applies, the Premier shall consult the Public Service Commission of the Region.”

Section 65 of the Western Nigeria’s Constitution stated that: “Power to appoint person to hold or act in the office of the Agent-General of the Region in the United Kingdom (including power to make appointments on promotion and transfer) and to remove persons so appointed from that office shall vest in the Governor acting in accordance with the advice of the Premier; Before tendering any advice for the purposes of this section in relation to any person who holds any office in the public service of the Region rather than an office to which this section applies, the Premier shall consult the Public Service Commission of the Region.”

Section 66 (1) of the Constitution of Eastern Nigeria stated that: “Power to appoint persons to hold or act in the office of the Agent-General of the Region in the United Kingdom (including power to make appointments on promotion and transfer) and to remove persons so appointed from that office shall vest on the Governor, acting in accordance with the advice of the premier. (2) Before tendering any advice for the payment for the purposes of this section in relation to any person who holds any office in the public service of the Region other than an office to which this section applies the Premier shall consult the Public Service Commission of the Region.”

Section 68 of the Constitution of Northern Nigeria states that: “(1) Power to appoint persons to hold or act in the office of the Agent-General of the Regions in the United Kingdom (including power to make appointments on promotion and transfer) and to remove persons so appointed from the office shall vest in the Governor, acting in accordance with the advice of the Premier. (2) Before tendering any advice for the purposes of this section in relation to any person who holds any office in the public service of the Region other than an office to which this section applies, the Premier shall consult the Public Service Commission of the Region.”

Territorial units did not have the power to appoint an agent-general unless they were sovereign states.

The constitutions of the four regions had differences, which made them sovereign and unique. For example, the Western Region created a Court of Appeal, which was the first of its type in the Federation. Section 52 of the Constitution of Western Nigeria stated that, “there shall be a Court of Appeal for the Region; the Judges of the Court of Appeal of the Region shall be—the President of the Court of Appeal; and such a number of Justice of Appeal (not being less than three) as may be described by the Legislature of the Region; the Court of Appeal of the Region shall be a superior court of record and, save as otherwise provided by any law in force in the Region, shall have all the powers of such a court; the President of the Court of Appeal of the Region and the Justices of Appeal shall be appointed by the Governor, acting in accordance with the advice of the Premier; A person shall not be qualified to hold the Office of President of the Court of Appeal of the Region or of Justice of Appeal unless—(a) he is or has been a judge of a court having unlimited jurisdiction in civil and criminal matters in some part of the Commonwealth or a court having jurisdiction in appeals from any such court; or he is qualified for admission as an advocate of Nigeria and he has been so qualified for not less than ten years; If the office of President of the Court of Appeal of the Region is vacant or if the person holding the office is for any reason unable to perform the functions of the office, then, until a person has been appointed to and has assumed the function of that office or until the person holding the office has resumed those functions, as the case may be, those functions shall be performed by such one of the Justices of Appeal as may from time to time be designated in that behalf by the Governor, acting in accordance with the advice of the Premier; If the office of any Justice of Appeal is vacant or if the person holding the office is acting as President of the Court of Appeal of the Region or is for any reason unable to perform the functions of his office, the Governor, acting in accordance with the advice of the Premier, may appoint a person qualified to hold the office of Justice of Appeal to act in the office of a Justice of Appeal and any person so appointed shall continue to act for the period of his appointment or if no period is specified until his appointment is revoked by the Governor, acting in accordance with the advice of the Premier.”

In the Constitution of Northern Nigeria, Section 6—1and 2 stated that, “the Adviser on Moslem law shall be appointed by the Governor, acting in accordance with the advice of the Premier; (2) A person holding the office of adviser on Moslem law may be removed from office by the Governor, acting in accordance with the advice of the Premier.”

Section 23 of the same constitution stated that, “the business of the Legislative Houses of the Region shall be conducted in English and Hausa: provided that all bills introduced in either House and all laws made by the Legislature of the Region shall be printed in English and, if any such bill or law is also printed in Hausa, the English text shall prevail in the case of a conflict between the two texts.”

Section 35 (1) of the Constitution of Eastern Nigeria states that the Governor acting on the advice of the Premier may appoint Provincial Commissioners from among the members of the Legislative Houses of the Region while Section 80 further states that notwithstanding any other provisions of this Constitution including in particular section 16 of this Constitution, no chieftaincy question shall be entertained by any court in the Region.

Section 2(5) of the Constitution of the Mid-Western Nigeria stated that, “(1) without prejudice to the provisions of section 9 of this Constitution, the House of Chiefs shall consist of — (a) the Oba of Benin, the Olu of Warri and the persons for the time being holding such other chieftaincies as may be prescribed by the Governor, who shall be ex-officio members of the House (b) fifty-one Chiefs having such qualifications and selected in such manner as may be prescribed by the Governor, who shall be ex-officio members of the House; (b) fifty-one Chiefs having such qualification and selected in such manner as may be prescribed by the legislature of the Region; (c) such Special Members, being Chiefs, as may be selected by the Governor, acting in accordance with advice of the Premier and (d) four members selected by the Governor, acting in accordance with the advice of the Premier, to represent the interests of groups of persons resident in the special area within the meaning of sub section (4) of section 14 of the Constitution, being groups whose interests, in the opinion of the Governor acting as aforesaid, are not represented by members of the House of Assembly for constituencies in those areas. (2) A person shall not be a member of the House of Chief by virtue of paragraph (a) of subsection (1) of this section during any period when he holds office as Governor: and the number of persons who are for the time being members of that House by virtue of that paragraph or paragraph (c) of that subsection shall not in the aggregate exceed ten. (3) The seat of a member of the House of Chiefs shall become vacant —- (a) in the case of a member other than the Oba of Benin, the Olu of Warri or a Special Member, in such circumstances as may be prescribed by the Legislature of the Region; and in the case of a Special Member, if he is removed from office as such a member by the Governor, acting in accordance with the advice of the Premier. (4) In this section “Chief” means any person who is for the time being recognized as a Chief under any law in force in the Region.”

All these goes to confirm that although the regions were within the same country, yet their constitutions were not the same. The various constitutions reflected at that time the different challenges of each Region.

But above all, Section 123 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria stated that it “shall have the force of law throughout Nigeria, and, subject to the provisions of section 4 of this Constitution, if any other law (including the constitution of a region) is inconsistent with this Constitution, this Constitution shall prevail and the other law shall, to the extent of the ‘inconsistency’, be void. 2. Nigeria shall be a Federation comprising Regions and a Federal territory, and shall be a Republic by the name of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. 3—(1) There shall be four Regions, that is to say, Northern Nigeria, Eastern Nigeria, Western Nigeria and Mid-Western Nigeria. (2)The Regions and the Federal territory shall consist of the areas comprised in those territories respectively on the thirtieth day of September, 1963.

In his book titled Nation Building, Professor Andreas Wimmer, the Lieber Professor of Sociology and Political Philosophy at Columbia University asked a pertinent question: “Why do some countries fall apart, often along their ethnic fault lines, while others have held together over decades and centuries, despite governing a diverse population as well? Why is it, in other words, that nation-building succeeded in some places while it failed in others? The current tragedy in Syria illustrates the possibly murderous consequences of failed nation-building. Outside of the media spotlight, South Sudan and the Central African Republic went through similar experiences in recent years. In some rich and democratic countries in Western Europe, such as Spain, Belgium and the United Kingdom, longstanding secessionist movements have regained momentum. Within our lifetimes, they might well succeed in breaking apart these states. On the other hand, there is no secessionist movement among the Cantonese speakers of southern China or among the Tamils of India. And why has no serious politician ever questioned national unity in such diverse countries as Switzerland or Burkina Faso?

Before answering these questions, it is necessary to define nation-building more precisely. It goes beyond the mere existence of an independent country with a flag, an anthem and an army. Some old countries (such as Belgium) haven’t come together as a nation, while other more recently founded states (such as India) have done so. There are two sides to the nation-building coin: the extension of political alliances across the terrain of a country, and the identification with and loyalty to the institutions of the state, independent of who currently governs. The former is the political-integration aspect, the latter the political-identity aspect of nation-building. To foster both, political ties between citizens and the state should reach across ethnic divides.

Such ties of alliance connect national governments with individual citizens, sometimes through intermediary political organisations such as voluntary associations, parties, professional groups, etc. Ideally, these ties link all citizens into networks of alliances centred on the state. In such countries, all citizens see themselves represented at the centre of power, even if their preferred party or political patron is not currently occupying one of the seats of government. Intellectuals, political elites, as well as the average individual will eventually see all citizens, irrespective of their racial or ethnic background, as equal members of the national community.”

I need not remind Mr. Malami that national identity is a collective phenomenon, irrespective of tribe and region.

Eric Teniola, a former director in the Presidency, writes from Lagos.