Former Vice Chairman Senate Committee on Labour, Employment and Productivity, Senator Victor Umeh, has said that Nigeria was a lot better under the arrangement where governments at the regional level were allowed to control resources found in their areas, but only had to pay a royalty to the central government.
Umeh, a former national chairman of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), who represented the people of Anambra Central for seventeen months in the 8th Senate, gave the indication in an interview.
The ex-parliamentarian lamented the situation as it obtains today where too much power is being vested at the centre, thereby giving the central government the leeway to run the country as a unitary system.
He noted that the 1966 coup d’état which disrupted Nigeria’s democracy at that time was the beginning of the country’s problem.
“If that coup hadn’t taken place, our problem may not have been this bad today. Even though there were challenges in the country before the coup, but Nigeria was running a regional system of government – a parliamentary system of government – and the regions were pursuing development aggressively devoid of any problem. We had eastern, western and northern regions. We also had the mid-western region which was later created.
“And all these regions were developing at their own paces with the resources available to them. They were contributing royalties to the Federal Government of Nigeria. You could see that the speed of development was quite high. And people controlled the resources available to them in their various regions. But, that coup that came in January 1966 overthrew the democratic government in place and brought in a military government headed by Aguiyi Ironsi.
“Military officers were appointed to head the regional governments as governors. Auiyi Ironsi was assassinated in the counter-coup of July 1966 and Yakubu Gowon took over as the leader of the Nigeria military government. Gowon balkanised Nigeria into 12 states. With that, the regional governments were scrapped! There was nothing like the regional government any more. The federal military government started controlling the states,” Umeh said.
The APGA chieftain added: “There is the clamour for us today to return to the regional government. And this is because, in that regional government, there was minimum interference in the activities and governments of the regions by the federal government. Today, everything is centralized. It wasn’t so under the regional government. For instance, apart from the police at the federal level, we had regional police that was under the control of the regional government at that time. The whole clamour for restructuring today and the fair call for a return to the regional arrangement is because the arrangement we have now has not helped the country.
You could see that without that coup the northern region would have done better than what the states in the north are doing today. The Northern Region, under the visionary leadership of the late Sardauna, Alhaji Sir Ahmadu Bello witnessed development. The Western Region did very well under Obafemi Awolowo. Under Michael Okpara, so much happened in the Eastern Region. And all the things they (the regional governments) achieved were from Agric produce as the major source of income at that time. Nigeria was mainly an agrarian economy in the Northern, Eastern and Western regions. The Western Region had cocoa. The North had groundnut, cotton and other Agric products, including cattle. The Eastern Region had palm produce, cassava and other Agric products. So, the economy then revolved around agriculture. And things were a lot better. At least, those of us who were young before the war can tell you that life was better at that time than now.”
According to him, “the civil war that followed the 1966 coups brought distrust within the Nigerian nation. The Nigerian people no longer see themselves as one. Other nations of the world fought wars and they came out stronger. America, for example, fought so many wars. But, America today is prided as the strongest nation in the world. The different internal wars fought in America did not drag the country back. Rather, the country became stronger through those wars. The way to build a nation is to pass through stages of disagreements, particularly in the case of Nigeria, where we have so many ethnic nationalities that makeup Nigeria. Regrettably, we have not been able to properly deal with the aftermath of the Nigerian civil war. The misgivings triggered off by the civil war are still there.
Ethnicity has remained a constant feature of Nigerian politics. There are about over three hundred ethnic nationalities in Nigeria. These are people who speak different languages; people who have different religions and cultures. All of them are found in the geographical enclave called Nigeria. Any nation that has this kind of configuration will certainly need exceptional and extra-ordinary leadership to keep the people together. And the only thing that can bring people together will be equity and fairness. Disappointingly, we have not had leaders (either through the military or civilian dispensation) who saw every ethnic nationality in Nigeria as an important part of the country. If we have had such people as leaders, Nigeria would have been very strong in its diversity. But it has not been so. It has been a situation where people who found themselves in power take power to the exclusion of others.
And it has continued to generate tension. There is a growing disaffection over the way things have been done. Nigeria has continued to run a unitary system of government, never mind that they call it the federal system of government. Nigeria is controlled from the centre. Whoever gets the mantle of leadership of the country controls everything happening in every part of Nigeria.”