While waiting to visit a distant relation who was on admission at the Faith Mediplex along the Airport road in Benin City, I was confronted with the grim situation we have found ourselves as a nation.
For the thirty five minutes I waited outside, since the visiting time starts from 3pm, I saw four ambulances driving into the parking lot of the emergency ward and patients were rushed into the hospital in stretchers.
Three of the patients had oxygen fixed on them, which apparently kept them alive as they were rolled into the emergency ward. I was told on enquiry that they were transferred from the University of Benin Teaching Hospital because of the shut down of government hospitals nationwide.
Before I left the hospital, I learnt that two of the patients died at the emergency ward not quite long they arrived there. It was indeed a pathetic moment especially for the relations of the bereaved. As for those who could not afford to transfer their loved ones to a private hospital, it was obviously a sad experience, because they will have no choice than to wait indefinitely for the government hospitals to call off the strike.
The above scenario in the health sector shows how the federal institutions affected the lives of people in the states. It reminds us that we in Nigeria inherited from our colonial connections a country with an unstable structure in all ramifications and some Nigerian nationalists had the desire to create a new nation.
In the next 48 hours, Nigerians will be marking 57 years of independence from its colonial masters, Britain and presently on the front burner of issues to be resolved is the desirability of restructuring the nation.
There are two nationalists whose struggle for Independent Nigeria cannot be undermined when the history of the nation is been mentioned. They are Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Chief Anthony Enahoro, the man who first moved the motion for Nigeria’s Independence in the paliament.
Chief Anthony Enahoro once recalled that of all the nationalists who fought for independence, it could be said without fear of any challenge that Chief Awolowo stood firmly as one political leader with ideas of what a future Nigeria should be and you can always know where he stood on any issue.
According to him, “Chief Awolowo is better remembered today for the efficient manner he administered the affairs of the Western Region of Nigeria as Premier. The welfare schemes of free education, free medical services for children under 18 years, the co-operative system, the domestic science training for women, the Agriculture extension programme for local farmers, the information/ Radio vision network, the first Television station in Africa, south of the Sahara, the construction of the liberty stadium and efficient maintenance of a network of roads in Western Nigeria were all activities and events that made Western Nigeria a model to other regions.
Chief Enahoro, a Journalist, and pro-democracy activist disclosed that “there is a disconnect between the history of the nationalist struggle and the post independence era, hence Nigerians do not give enough regard to the nationalist struggle. I came across waves of youths, particularly, University students who asked me series of questions of what I was thinking about when I moved the motion for Nigeria’s Independence, when I was barely a youth of 30 years of age.
“Did I ever conceive situations where Nigeria’s education and health institutions will decline to the state things are today? Did I for see a situation where Nigeria will not be able to provide electricity services to its people and did I think of a situation that maintenance of road networks will collapse. Did I ever consider that we will get to the extent of corruption in which the country finds itself today? Above all, what was the kind of super structures on which a future Nigeria was to be built upon?”
These are genuine questions to expect from normal and resourceful youths of any nation in the face of an unworkable society we find ourselves today. The nationalists adopted a federal system of government at independence. The declaration was adopted after many years of careful study and planning. It was not a decision taken in haste nor was it an imposition. There were visits to so many countries like Britain, the United States of America, the defunct Soviet Union, Egypt, France and India, etc
It is unfortunate that the Military Generals who did not participate in the fight for independence intervened to meddle into the Nigerian political administration soon after independence. At the time the military took over the reins of government in 1966, the country operated a true federal system and the major issues of political conflict were all centered on the attempts by the federal government to dominate the regional governments. There were protests against internal domination in the regions.
In the words of Chief Anthony Enahoro, “One would have expected the military crops to look into the cause of grievances of the protesters. Rather, the military government banned all regional, ethnic and cultural associations.”
Chief Awolowo was quite clear right from his first book, Path to Nigerian Freedom which he wrote at the onset of his political career, that the only way to ensure a sustainable nation state was true federalism. His subsequent views in books, newspaper articles and public speeches, throughout his days on earth did not deviate from his earlier position that the survival of Nigeria lies in the construction of true federalism.
Many of the threats to Nigeria survival stem from the military imposition of arbitrary laws and regulations. They include, the 1999 constitution, the land use decree, the local government review of 1976 by the Obasanjo regime that imposed the supervisory councillorship system, the abandonment of the federal/parliamentary system of government for the unitary/presidential system, the reversal of the revenue sharing formula based on the principle of derivation.
It is clear that Chief Awolowo was right while most of his opponents were wrong. Though the military regimes prevented Nigerians from their right to self determination, with the democratic dispensation, it became apparent that the issue of self determination in a more straight forward manner is addressed. It is when Nigeria can determine their political structures, socially, politically, and spiritually that they can develop themselves and fight corruption.
However, Chief Awolowo confided in a few associates about his fears for a future Nigeria. In his own words, “at the conclusion of the constitutional conferences in London in 1958, I had an overpowering feeling of foreboding. His Majesty’s Government had refused to create new states in Nigeria or at least break the advert of independence on 1st October and I felt quite strongly that Nigeria had been sentenced to a long period of doom. I could not shake off the feeling for quite a time and I thought it was wise to confide in my Deputy, Chief Akintola, which I did. I confided in a few other colleagues.
“The foreboding that I had was that something untoward was going to happen to Nigeria. Whether the event or events would involve only Action Group or other parties, only me or other persons, I did not know that it would happen. I felt sure, but when it would happen I had no inkling” what a prophecy for today.
As Nigerians focus on how to restructure the nation, it has been posited that the dialogue should explore ways of ensuring the greatest good for the greatest number of the people. We must address our minds within the context of our federation or any other structure that we may come up with as well as commit to policies that will promote national unity and devolution of power and not division.
Eubaldus Enahoro is Assistant Editor with the Nigerian Observer