The Asaba Declaration and the future of Nigeria, By Dr Dons Eze

Access Bank

At two different periods in history, Asaba was called upon to play major roles in shaping the future of Nigeria. In 1900, the British government took direct responsibility for Nigeria, and made Asaba, headquarters of Southern Province, while Lokoja became the headquarters of Northern Province.

Before then, the territory now known as Nigeria, was governed by the Royal Niger Company, a commercial conglomerate, whose only interest was to maximize profits through its trading activities, without giving much to the system.

At that time, the territory was organized in three administrative units. There was the Colony of Lagos and the Protectorate of Yoruba land, with headquarters at Lagos; there was the Niger Coast Protectorate, that comprized the former Eastern Region and parts of former Midwest Region, with headquarters at Old Calabar; and there was the empires of Sokoto and Kanemi, and some areas around the confluence of Niger and Benue rivers, with headquarters at Asaba.

But when Britain took over Nigeria in 1900, she reorganized the territory into two Provinces: the Sudan or the Northern Province, with headquarters at Lokoja, and the Southern Province, with headquarters at Asaba, while Lagos remained the capital.

However, the North and the South were differently administered and developed. For instance, while in the South, there was a legislative council that made laws for the area, the North was ruled by proclamations made by the Governor. Also, while the wind of change was blowing in the South, the North was shielded from the influence of Western Civilization.

Furthermore, there was the education imbalances between the North and the South. While children in the South were encouraged to attend Western education, children in the North only attended Islamic schools.

The South which was the cash cow of the territory, generated most of the revenue used by the colonial government in running the administration, and had consistently posted budget surpluses, while the North always operated deficeit budgets.

Therefore, it was principally for administrave convinience and to use the surplus revenue from the South to balance the budget deficeit of the North, that made the colonial government, in 1914, to bring the North and the South together under one administrative umbrella, called amalgamation.

Also, for administrave convinience and not willing to spend in a colonial territory, the British Government imposed the feudal political system existing in the North, on the South in the name of Indirect Rule, whereby it appointed some local stooges, known as Warrant Chiefs, and imposed them on the people to take charge of day to day running of the administration, while British colonial officials watched at the remote centres of the administration. This caused a lot of dislocation in the South, slowed their progress, and the country generally. By that time, Asaba had ceased to be the headquarters of Southern Nigeria.

Since then, Nigeria knew no peace. It was from one crisis to the other, a decent into anarchy or lawlessness, including a civil war, that took tolls in men and materials.

When Anthony Enahoro, an Action Group member in the Federal House of Representatives, moved a motion that Nigeria be granted self rule in 1956, the North stoutly opposed it, and argued that they were not ready for it. They even instigated riots in different parts of the North, which led to several deaths. The South had no option than to pander to the wishes of the North, and Nigerian independence was delayed for four more years.

In 2021, either by accident or historical antecedent, Asaba was again called upon to play role in helping to shape the future of Nigeria. Governors of seventeen states in Southern Nigeria met in Asaba, where they took some far reaching decisions, in particular, requesting that Nigeria be restructured.

After reviewing the state of affairs in the country, the Southern Governors concluded that only by restructuring that Nigeria would have peace and stability, and called on the federal government to urgently set machinery in motion for the exercise.

On paper, Nigeria claims to be a federation, but in practice, the country is run as a unitary system, where power and authority reside in a small group of people, or held by one man wearing a jackboot, who would be issuing orders at the top, without minding the diversity of the country. This had retarded progress and development and breeded anarchy in the system.

While the vast majority of Nigerians complain that the present system is tight and suffocating, and needs to be relaxed, a few people who hold the levers of power, and who benefit from the system, insist that things must remain as they are.

Nigeria claims to have borrowed her present political arrangement from the United States of America, but in the United States, it is incongruous, something unheard of, that somebody will call himself Inspector General of Police, and sit in Washington DC, where he will be directing police operations in 50 states of the Republic.

The Asaba Declaration by the Southern Governors is an excellent opportunity for Nigeria to save herself from perdition. 54 years ago, in 1967, when the country was on the verge of descending into the abyss, a similar meeting was held by the then military rulers at Aburi, Ghana, which would have rescued the sinking ship. But nobody listened to the voice of reason, or the devil was fully at work, and so prevented the people from doing what was right. When that opportunity was lost, Nigeria found herself fighting a civil war, which cost millions of lives.

It is said that he who wears the shoe knows how it pinches. In the face of the current security challenges in the country, state governors know how difficult it had been, getting permission from Abuja, before they could do anything to counter security threats in their states. Yet, they call themselves chief security officers of their respective states.

It is gladdening to learn that not only the Southern Governors are pressing for restructuring of the country. Other governors from across all the six geopolitical zones are equally asking for Nigeria to be restructured. At the last count, 23 out of 36 state governors were said to be in support of restructuring. It therefore remains only one governor, or one state, to override any Presidential veto against restructuring. This shows that the vast majority of Nigerians want the country to be restructured.

They say that our President is obstinate, that he does not hear, that he is deaf, and perhaps, dumb, and that he will not harken to the demands of millions of Nigerians asking for Nigeria to be restructured, goaded by a few selfish people around him, like Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, but as they say: “a fly that does not hear, follows the corpse into the grave.”

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