WHEN THE REGIONS WERE AUTONOMOUS AND FREE

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Abubakar Malami
Abubakar Malami

Eric Teniola canvasses caution on national issues

I find the press release by the Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, of January 14 on the Security outfit of South Western states very interesting. The minister could not find it dignifying to personally sign the press release on a weighty issue like that. 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 50th anniversary of the end of the civil war in Nigeria. A tragic war indeed. The anniversary should remind all of us especially top government officials on the need for caution in treating national issues. Less arrogance must be applied. At the time we ended the civil war, Mr. Abubakar Malami was two years old, so in effect he did not witness what led to the civil war. He is not alone.

I leant he is very comfortable now and that his next ambition is to be the governor of Kebbi State, when the term of the incumbent, Senator Abubakar Atiku Bagudu expires. The desired unity in Nigeria, which has been fragile all these years, cannot be achieved through legal interpretation. The unity cannot be strengthened when there is master- servant 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 a greater part of the blame. By their actions and pronouncements they are polarizing the entire country.

What I find strange is how an appointed official could talk down to elected governors doing the wishes 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 since 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- elected state governors want to ameliorate the situation in their states, the Attorney-General of the federation and Minister of Justice says the action is illegal. I find it very difficult to understand.

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

In the wisdom of the military and thanks to General Yakubu Gowon, General Murtala Mohammed, General Ibrahim Babangida and General Sani Abacha, the old Northern region now constitutes 19 states, and Abuja. The old Western region now is made up of six states. In the wisdom of the military also, the old Mid-Western region now constitutes Edo and Delta States while the old Eastern region now constitutes nine states. 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 affirms 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. The other regions had similar provisions.

You don’t have the power to appoint an agent-general unless you are a sovereign state. 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 states 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 10 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 states 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 states 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. The Eastern and Midwestern reions also had their variants. All these goes to confirm that although the regions were within the same country but their constitutions were not the same. The various constitutions reflected at that time their different challenges.

But above all Section 123 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria states that the constitution shall have the force of law throughout Nigeria, and, subject to the provisions of section 4, if any other law (including the constitution of a region) is inconsistent with it, the federal constitution shall prevail and the other law shall, to the extent of the ‘inconsistency, be void. Two, 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. Three, (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?