Chuks Okocha in Abuja
A former National Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Senator Victor Umeh, has said Nigeria was a lot better under the regional system of government, where each region was allowed to control resources found in its domain, but only had to pay royalty to the central government.
Umeh, who represented the people of Anambra Central Senatorial district for 17 months in the 8th Senate, disclosed this in an interview.
He lamented the current situation where too much power is being vested at the centre, thereby giving the federal government the leeway to run the country as a unitary system.
The former lawmaker 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 pace with the resources available to them. They were contributing royalties to the federal government. You could see that the speed of development was quite high. 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 further created 12 states in Nigeria. With that, the regional governments were scrapped! There was nothing like regional government any more. The federal military government started controlling the states,” Umeh explained.
The APGA chieftain added: “There is the clamour for us today to return to regional government. This is because there would be a minimum interference in the activities and governments of the regions by the federal government. Today, everything is centralised. It wasn’t so under the regional government. For instance, apart from the police at the federal level, we had regional police that were under the control of the regional government at that time.
The whole clamour for restructuring today and the fair call for return to regional arrangement were 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 tremendous development.
“The Western Region did very well under Obafemi Awolowo. Under Michael Okpara, so much development was recorded in the Eastern Region. Most of these regional governments’ achievements were based on agricultural revolution. They relied on 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 produce. So, the economy then revolved around agriculture. 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.”
Umeh said the civil war that followed the 1966 coups brought distrust within the nation as the Nigerians no longer see themselves as one.
He explained that other nations of the world fought wars and they came out stronger. The United States of 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, America 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 make up 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,” he pointed out.
He explained that ethnicity has remained a constant feature of Nigerian politics, adding that 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. The only thing that can bring people together will be equity and fairness. Disappointingly, we have not had leaders (either during 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 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,” he stated.