There was a deep concern among prominent Nigerians who attended the recent launch of the autobiography in commemoration of the 90th birthday of Chief Ayo Adebanjo.
At the launch held in Victoria Island Lagos, the senior citizens in attendance expressed great worry about the degeneration Nigeria has continued to suffer for decades, in spite of the best attempts to reverse the trend.
They could not help but wonder where did the country start to get things wrong.
Some of the issues raised during the celebration of the Afenifere chieftain bothered on the Nigeria’s old political structure, distortion of the structure and the need to restructure the county.
The elders also deliberated about the sincerity of the political elite of the new generation and the consequences of their failure to save the nation from drifting.
Setting the tone for the discussion, former Commonwealth Secretary-General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku recalled how Nigeria was doing well under the regional arrangements of the 1963 Constitution, which the founding fathers of the country agreed on.
The erstwhile Commonwealth Secretary-General said there were healthy competitions among the regions that existed during the First Republic. “The level of the development would have been massive, if it had continued uninterrupted.”
He said the era gave Nigerians the feeling of belonging to a bigger country where everything based on the precepts of development and strong economy.
“That is no longer the situation in the country. The moment the regional arrangement was reversed and replaced with the current structure of governance, the country’s growth began to slide.
“The Western Region under the leadership of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Eastern Region managed by Dr. Michael Okpara and Northern Region by Sir Ahmadu Bello were well managed. Such was the times of massive improvement for the country.”
He, however, blamed the military intervention for the woes of the country, saying the military should not have altered the Republican Constitution.
“I lived in those years and there has never been any doubt in my mind that our country, Nigeria, was doing extremely well when it had a true federation of four regions, with each region developing at its own pace, with its citizens feeling proud to belong to the bigger Nigerian country.
“When we think about the progress we were making in those days, we think, first and foremost of the Western Region under the leadership of Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Those were days when there was healthy competition in the Eastern Region of Nigeria. Chief Awolowo’s counterpart, Dr. Michael Okpara, was also focusing on the development of his region; the agricultural development in eastern Nigeria was very significant; and in the Northern Region, Sir Ahmadu Bello was also learning from the experience of his colleagues in the Western Region, the Eastern Region and the Mid-West Region.”
Anyaoku said if the military had not intervened through the January 1966 Coup and subsequently perpetrated itself in power for so many years and consequently disfigured the First Republic Constitution, Nigeria’s story would have been different.
Former governor of Lagos and a National Leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Tinubu also agreed there is need to tinker with the present structure.
Tinubu, whose party, despite its campaign promise to restructure Nigeria to true federalism, has been dillydallying for nearly three years, said he was with Chief Adebanjo on the quest for true federalism.
He said such structure will only promote peace and unity in the country.
Read More: Ayo Adebanjo at 90: Our joy, his sorrows
“You cannot but praise Chief Adebanjo for his principled stance on restructuring, which means true federalism.”
The APC national leader said there should be opportunity for each federating unit to govern according to its blueprint. “It is about management of resources,” he said.
Buttressing the argument he had made at several fora, Adebanjo said restructuring is imperative in order reverse the damage of many years caused by the military.
He also expressed disappointment at the apathy and lack of principle of the current set of political leaders who consistently fail to bail out Nigeria.
“The absence of principle had accounted for why they (politicians) prefer to jump from one political party to the other unlike the politicians in the past.”
The Afenifere chieftain said Nigeria had no reason to be poor.
Pointing to another reason why Nigeria is slow in growth, Adebanjo said the present political parties, unlike the ones in the earlier republics are no longer operating on their manifestoes.
He recalled that Chief Awolowo in those days cancelled youth associations on account that there was no need for any segregation to achieve development and growth for the society, enjoined the Nigerian youths not to be satisfied with few slots offered to them in any clime, especially in government appointments.
“The strategy the late Awolowo applied in recruiting youths into politics encouraged them to be radical. That was the reason majority of us that believed in his idesa (Awolowo) could not change from one party to the other as they do these days.”
One of the panelists, Prof. Banji Akintoye, a member of National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), noted that the major problem facing the country was that successive governments had continued to push away the body of principles created by the defunct Action Group (AG) led by the late sage.
“The AG led by Chief Awolowo created a body of principles that we are finding difficult to keep aside. The moment we try to keep them aside, we would continue to have problems, and that is why successive governments in Nigeria continue to have problems,” Akintoye said.