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INDEPENDENCE: What made Western Nigeria tick in the First Republic

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What made Western Nigeria tick in the First Republic
Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Premier of the old Western Region.

By Dayo Johnson, South-West Regional Editor

THE South Western part of Nigeria made tremendous impact in several spheres of life of the citizenry in the First Republic; especially in the area of education and commerce.

The Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife; Cocoa House at Ibadan, Liberty Stadium, the first to be constructed in Nigeria and Africa in 1960, the Western Nigeria Television which would later become the Nigerian Television Authority, NTA, among others are top projects implemented by the Western Region.

The political structure of the period between 1960 and 1966 with strong emphasis on regionalism was the key factor responsible for the success of the Western Region.

More importantly, allocation of resources  was decentralized just as there was devolution of powers.

The  Western part of Nigeria made tremendous inroad in the area of education with the free education policy of the government. This singular act is responsible for why the South Western Nigeria is the most educated, and progressive part of the entity called Nigeria today.

The resources generated from cocoa during the period were used to build infrastructure and the gigantic projects embarked by the government.

Sadly, the tempo of development in the First Republic was not sustained thereafter. Comparatively, 60 years after independence; the progress of the West has dwindled in terms of human and material developments. The fundamental thing that positioned West for progress and development in the First Republic was its policy on education and resource control.

The various governments of today’s South-West headed by governors who were beneficiaries of free education policies of the region have jettisoned the idea.

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According to Yinka Odumakin, spokesperson of Afenifere: “The Western region was thick because we had a federal constitution and leaders who are committed to the best interests of the people. Awolowo was not dreaming of personal skyscrapers but Cocoa house and the likes.

“That was why Western region watched television before Southern France. We built first world structures in a third world. Over half a million children were launched against ignorance in one day.

“We managed those programmes because we had heavy investment in manpower. The region paid the highest minimum wage. This coupled with efficient planning worked well for the region.”

Also, the Secretary Yoruba Council of Elders, Dr Kunle Olajide, described the First Republic as “the Golden era of Nigeria,” saying ”it is obvious, we had mutually coordinated regions and the country was making tremendous progress because there was healthy competition among the regions.

“The leadership in the West exploited their resources and deployed the resources according to their priority. The different nationalities we have, have different histories, culture, different religion, different belief and consequently their priorities will be different, so we didn’t have too powerful centre.

“On the exclusive legislative list there were only about 15 items and all the other items were on the residual list for the regions, all the regions were doing at that time was paying loyalty to the centre.

“Each of the regions pioneered by the West had their homes in London, there was identity. What do we have now? The military came and truncated our march to progress and democratic ideals because we were barely maturing in democratic practice at that time.

“We must also note that we had a parliamentary system of government at that time. We had regional legislature. We had bicameral legislature at the centre but they were all part-time not full-time. The recurrent expenditure at that time of the various governments cannot be what it is today.

“The recurrent expenditure of Nigeria now is about 70 percent of our revenue, for a country as huge as this that does not have a ready made infrastructure, we have a centralized and too powerful  Federal Government that is in charge of virtually everything whereas the people reside in the states and local governments.

”In the First Republic, the regional premiers were coordinate with the Nigeria prime minister in which case each had its own constitutional responsibility. They were almost equal but today the state governors are like headmasters or classroom prefects,   pupil-teacher reporting to the Principal. That is not Federalism.

“We are not fearing better now, naturally we made progress, but the progress is not commensurate with the resources of Nigeria because the resources were not wisely deployed.”

Also speaking, Ambassador Yemi Farounmbi said prudent system, quality personalities and proper structure accounted for the success of the Western Region  in the First Republic.

“There are three issues that made the West achieve greatly during the First Republic. First, was the structure. The 1960 or 1963 constitution empowered the regional governments to work for their progress and there was competition among the regional governments.

“The premier of the Western region, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and subsequently his successor, Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola, derived from the constitution, powers that allowed them to vigorously pursue policies and programmes that helped the region progress tremendously.

“Also, the quality of people managing the country was better than those in public offices today. The likes of Chiefs Obafemi Awolowo, S. L. Akintola, Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe, Sam Okpara and Ahmadu Bello were obviously not in government to make money but to use it to improve the lots of the masses.

“Beside, the system then unlike now was parliamentary. The Prime Minister as well as the premier were members of their respective parliaments and were also part of the debate on the floor but today, the executive arm of government pockets the other arms. The legislature that has the duty to check them has failed to so do.”

To Chief Ebenezer Babatope, a former Minister:  “The Western Region was able to achieve much in the First Republic because of the quality of people in government and the structure in the country.

”Chief Obafemi Awolowo inspite of the numerous barriers on his path at that time, was able to think out of the box and delivered good governance to the people of the region. However, for me, the greatest achievement of the region at that time was free education introduced by Awolowo and it was not just any type of education but quality education.

“He advanced education in the region because he believed that it is the only way to set people free and that was why today in the South-West  no one can just come and impose an opinion on the people, you will have to give us reasons to so do.

“Today, some people are agitating for Yoruba autonomy but the level of education among the people has made them to be asking questions as to why they are asking for a break up.”

However, an Elder statesman, Chief Deji Fasuan, disagreed saying “there was never a golden era as being portrayed.

According to him, “it is artificial to say that the First Republic created an atmosphere of wonderland in Yoruba land. The only thing that was spectacular in the First Republic was their introduction of free education at primary and secondary level, primary level mostly. So there is much improvement now, and situations all over the world have changed.

The fundamentals in those days were so rudimentary.  The fundamentals now for development are so high that to meet them you need to do much. I don’t agree that too much was achieved in the First Republic and very little has been achieved now because the population is much, the infrastructural requirement is much.

“Some achievements had been made, some pitfalls, some mistakes had been made by government caucus.  Substantially, Nigeria has moved forward, nowhere is a paradise in the world least of all Nigeria. There has never been a golden society, golden period. We are overestimating our success in the past saying that there was a golden era. There wasn’t any golden era, there was a struggling era.”

Milestones, achievements and developments

However, history continues to vindicate the first generation of post-independence leaders as the most focused, committed and dedicated leaders Nigeria ever had. They were focused on the need to provide good governance. In this respect, the West had the very best. Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his team really prepared for leadership and came equipped with a blue print for that purpose.

Then the Western Region government scored so many firsts in infrastructural and human capital development.

To confirm the developmental focus of the West, the first television station in Africa was established when France as a nation was yet to have such facility.

Education was also a prime focus of the administration as a policy on education was pursued seriously in conjunction with communities. This singular policy gave the region a head start in human capital development.

The agricultural policy of that era, though relics of today were astonishing, farm settlements were created, plantations established and even ranches too were established, while the many teak woods planted then have almost all been cut down without enough efforts to replace them.

Proper federalism

Nigeria continues to slide down because there are no standards any longer. Today’s political class takes no cognizance of our history, not focused on any destination but live for the moment.

Speaking on the greatest milestone achievement in the West, Ambassador Yemi Farounmbi said: “Obviously the greatest milestone achievement during the First Republic was education.

“The region had free education and made sure all children were in school including those that ordinarily wouldn’t have been in school. There were secondary schools built at the beginning of 1954, more teachers training colleges were built and the University of Ife.

“Chief Awolowo and his party believed that the best inheritance you can give any child is education and not just any education but proper education. The child of the Minister and the ordinary man attended the same school. So the best achievement was education.”

How did we manage those projects and programmes?

”The legacies of the First Republic have completely been repudiated, they are now relics completely treated with disdain.

”The only time Nigeria practised proper federalism was in that era when regional governments enacted policies that shaped education, commerce, health and other sectors.

”The First Republic Western Region government laid solid plans for our economic developments, created the Oodua conglomerate that had many business interest, manufacturing and the South West was a beehive of economic and commercial activities, car batteries, tyres, windscreen etc were manufactured here but today, we use Korean batteries and tyres while the resources and capability to manufacture them continue to lay prostrate.”

Speaking on the sustainance of government policies and programmes, Ambassador Farounmbi said: “The  policies and programmes were sustained because the political parties at that time were ideological. Action Group was democratic socialism, NCNC was partial socialism, so there was no political party that had no ideology and no party without cardinal programme to which they were accountable when they were in government.

Military intervention

”But of course, when the military intervened in 1966 and stayed for 13 years and in the course of that changed the structure of the country from basis of true federalism to a centralised federation, it became difficult to revert back from generation to generation.

“I believe if there was no military intervention, these parties would have matured as ANC of South Africa which is 500 years old, or would have been as old as the Democrats and Republican parties in USA or the Labour Party and conservative party in the United Kingdom. The oldest party we have now is just 21 years old. So that makes it difficult to sustain government policies and programmes.”

The way forward for the region and Nigeria

Political analysts posit that restructuring is the answer and it must be accomplished as the opposite to that will be an astonishing conflagration.

According to Ayo Fadaka, a political analyst: “The Nigerian federalism as currently practiced is an undue encumbrance to the health of the nation. It sinisterly pursues a goal of holding component units eager to pursue development down for those unwilling of even standing.

“Take for instance the Lagos metroline project awarded by the then Jakande government of Lagos State that would have taken care of today’s transportation challenges of the megacity so ignorantly and whimsically canceled by the military administration of Gen Buhari.

“It was a state government initiative and a federal government canceled it. We must restructure and go back to the First Republic era when the component units had autonomy e.

”Nigeria is having challenges today because the heterogeneous component of the nation is not respected, accepted and allowed to propel each unit to its prime. This development continues to breed suspicion and hate within the nation and unity of purpose and action continues to elude us.

“ For us to avoid war, turbulence and crisis in the very near future,  Nigeria must restructure now. It is the only panacea to the emerging agitation for secession, IPOB is already entrenched in the South-East and today in the South-West such groups are emerging. A stitch in time, as they say, saves nine.

“The current security challenges confronting the nation must be confronted headlong and conclusively resolved, failure of this will in the next few months or years give birth to local militias that will emerge across the nation with a view to self preservation, then the Nigerian nation will degenerate.

“ President Buhari must wake up from his deep slumber and be a commander-in- chief indeed, or quit if he is unable to be presidential. Ego and sectarian interest must begin to give way to national interest, if truly we have one.”

Also, an erudite lawyer, Banjo Ayenakin, said “In the next 30 years, if the South-West doesn’t go back to the drawing board and do what made it thick in the First Republic, the gap between the region and others may be bridged and the level of human and material development in the region may dwindle.

Human and material development

“The South-West should continue to advocate for true federalism with resource control. If the Southwest could attain the lofty height it had in the First Republic with the resources at its disposal; it is an indication that the future is bright. If Nigeria continues with the present political structure and economic policies; South-West will continue to be short-changed and its progress hampered.

The way forward according to Yinka Odumakin and Ebenezer Babatope is “to restructure, the country must be properly structured, that is why most of us are calling for restructuring. I believe in one Nigeria but it also has to be structurally sound for development. As you can see today, those who sought to impose feudalism on the country are the worst hit in terms of insurgency. The most affected regions were the ones who practised the feudal system.

“Nigeria must return to Federalism and parliamentary democracy.

To Dr Kunle Olajide “ what we should do now, those of us who believe in true federal system should mass mobilize to ensure that we have a truly federal Constitution otherwise Nigeria will keep taking three steps forward and 10 steps backward.”

“President Buhari must wake up from his deep slumber and be a commander-in-chief indeed, or quit if he is unable to be presidential. Ego and sectarian interest must begin to give way to national interest, if truly we have one.”

Also, an erudite lawyer, Banjo Ayenakin, said “In the next 30 years, if the South-West doesn’t go back to the drawing board and do what made it thick in the First Republic, the gap between the region and others may be bridged and the level of human and material development in the region may dwindle.

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