‘Only a truly Federal constitution can unite Nigeria’

Chief Obafemi Awolowo
Chief Obafemi Awolowo

By Chief Obafemi Awolowo

(Being the speech made by Chief Obafemi Awolowo at the first press conference he held at Ikenne, Western Region on 4th August 1966, after his release from prison by Military Head of State, Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon)

The political crisis which started in Western Nigeria in May 1962 has acted on the entire Republic of Nigeria like a fairly big stone dropped in a big calm lake. It has produced a series of ever-widening circles of ripples. In the event, the violence and killings which commenced in the West had extended their infernal and poignant visitations to all parts of the Federation.

We have nothing to be ashamed of in all that has happened, as our detractors would wish. But we do need to have remorse in and demonstrate our shock at what had happened as well as express our profound grief and sympathy for the dead, the maimed and dispossessed, in all parts of Nigeria, and to whatever political camps they previously belonged.

Those who may be tempted to rejoice at the awful fate that has befallen some of our countrymen, especially during the past nine months, should be reminded of this dreadful warning of Jesus Christ:

‘At that very time there were some people present who
told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had
mixed with their sacrifices. He answered them: “Do you
imagine that, because these Galileans suffered this fate,
they must have been greater sinners than anyone else in
Galilee? I tell you they were not; but unless you repent,
you will all of you come to the same end. Or the eighteen
people who were killed when the tower fell on them at
Siloam – do you imagine they were more guilty than all
the other people living in Jerusalem? I tell you they were
not; but unless you repent, you will all of you come to the
same end”’

My conscientious appeal to all Nigerians is that instead of mocking the dead and fallen; instead of scheming vengeance against those who had wronged or harmed us, we should strive to see what lessons we can usefully learn from the historic, though calamitous and tragic, events of the past four years.

As far as I am concerned, it is to the future— a future which we can make great and glorious by our united action, and invincible benevolence towards one another — that I have dedicated the rest of my life. Under no circumstances will I be drawn into any sterile recriminations about the past which, in any case is gone, irretrievable and irremediable.

During the past two years I have devoted my full time in gaol to an earnest search for solutions to Nigeria’s multitudinous and tantalising problems. One of my books entitled ‘Thoughts On Nigerian Constitution’ , which is devoted to a consideration of our constitutional problems will be published by the Oxford University Press during the first week of October. In approaching our constitutional problems, I had taken pains to study and analyse the constitutional evolution of every country in the world.

I make bold to say — and this will be substantiated by the contents of the book when published — that I did embark on my research with complete scientific objectivity. At the end of it, I was surprised — though pleasantly because of my previous stand in the matter — to be faced with the rationally and scientifically unassailable conclusion that only a truly federal constitution can unite Nigeria and generate harmony amongst its diverse racial and linguistic groups.

Unfortunately, it is not, recognised by the bulk of our people, including the intelligentsia and even some intellectuals, that the making of a constitution is applied political science. At this adolescent stage in the evolution of homo sapiens, it is no longer necessary for political scientists or enlightened constitutional lawyers to grope in the dark in the search of a constitutional formula suitable for our country — or any country for that matter, or apply the rule of thumb to the making of a constitution.

My own study and analysis have led me to the enunciation of certain laws or principles which must be observed in drawing up the constitution of any given country. I express the laws in the following terms:

I) If a country is unilingual and uni-national, the constitution must be unitary.
2) If a country is unilingual or bilingual or multilingual, and also consists of communities which, over a period of years, have developed divergent nationalities, the constitution must be federal, and the constituent states must be organised on the dual basis of language and nationality.
3) If a country is bilingual or multilingual, the constitution must be federal, and the constituent states must be organised on linguistic basis.
4) Any experiment with a unitary constitution in a bilingual or multilingual or multinational country must fail, in the long run.

I readily, concede that the former constitution had many defects. But federalism is certainly not one of them. It follows, therefore, that a step in the right direction is first of all to recognise the exact ailments of our nation. Once this is done, it should not be too difficult for us to devise appropriate remedies for them. But we must realise above all things else that in approaching our problems, at this juncture in our history, we must eschew any kind of partisanship — be it political or ethnical, and allow our thinking and reasoning to be guided by complete objectivity and rationality. Our hearts too must be ruled by unconquerable goodwill and irrepressible earnestness for Nigeria’s continued oneness. And our aspirations must be unflinchingly directed towards normative social objectives which are scientifically orientated.

In concrete terms, it is my firm belief that until we provide:

(1) employment,

(2) free education from primary to university level, and

(3) health services, for all our citizens,

the problem of unity will continue to plague us. And in this connection I hasten to predict that the breaking up of Nigeria into a number of sovereign states will not only do permanent damage to the reputation of contemporary Nigerian leaders, but will usher in terrible disasters which will bedevil us and many generations to come. Fortunately, with truly scientific and illuminated planning, all these social objectives can be ours in the immediate future. My appeal in this connection, therefore, is for unity and scientific planning.
Culled from: Naijapolitics

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