Fortifying The House That Luggard Built

“This house must not fall”, I wrote in my column of January 1, 2014, published in Daily Trust to mark 100 years of the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates of Nigeria. I have always believed that if we run an inclusive system which allows all parts to retain their cultural identity and achieve their potentials while also identifying with a larger unifying umbrella, then we have a chance to strengthen the house that Frederick Luggard built.

The least one would expect is that all parts of the country would subscribe to the same set of general values — e.g. responsible parenthood, compulsory primary/secondary education, girl child education, equality of citizenship and acceptance of the supremacy of the constitution. If we aspire to be one country in deed and truth, then we generally shouldn’t have any problem subscribing to those values.



But we hardly agree about anything. Most times, it is possible to correctly predict the ‘southern position’ on an issue and the ‘northern position’. This is in spite of the fact that there is no such thing as a Southern Nigerian political structure, nor is there one for the North. Both areas have fiercely independent minority groups who resent being lumped together with the majority as if they were mere appendages.

However, the political elite on both sides pretend to speak for the totality of the people in their geographical area. Thus, one man will stand up and say, “The North will not tolerate this”, or his counterpart in the South will make a similar boast. So, while the elite play their games, there is hardly a national consensus on anything.

In the raging debate over the best way to restructure the country, the ‘southern’ position (generally) is that Nigeria cannot make progress without dismantling the present system and designing a new mode of governance agreed upon by all the ethnic nationalities in the country while the general ‘northern’ position is to retain the status quo which, all agree, is skewed in favour of the North.

Normally, both sets of self-appointed leaders would have been expected to arrange a formal meeting where they can share and interrogate each other’s ideas and the rationale for such. But, in these climes, it appears that political points of view are cast in concrete. That is what makes many Naijamaniac patriots fear that Luggard’s house may not endure after all. Multicultural countries that have attained nationhood did not get to that point by decreeing unity. They negotiated it in a spirit of give-and-take. The cry for restructuring cannot be stopped by decreeing compliance with unitarism.

Leo Tolstoy captures the scenario beautifully: “I sit on a man’s back choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am sorry for him and wish to lighten his load by all means possible… except by getting off his back!”


Why The Fear?

Some people have asked: Are political leaders in the ‘North’ afraid of restructuring? An outspoken member of that privileged group, Senator Shehu Sani did not shy away from answering the question. He listed four reasons: (i) “The North see it (restructuring) as a South-West agenda. (ii) They fear that it’s only about control of oil resources. (iii) The fear of loss of political patronage, territory and economic privileges. (iv) Opportunism and lack of political will and courage by the past and present governments.”

It is going to be difficult to coexist, I think, if some states of the federation have not yet domesticated the Child Rights Act. So far, 34 of the 36 States of the Federation have fully domesticated the Child Rights Act, which deals with issues of child abuse, child labour, and forced marriage, among others. If children from a non-compliant state whose children are abandoned to roam the streets are ‘exported’ in thousands to a state which values the rights of children, would that be our fair idea of unity?

Recently, there was an outcry against the spectacle of weather-beaten and scantily clad street urchins literally germinating out of alleyways and streets and spilling into the Lagos-Badagry expressway in the Okokomaiko axis of Lagos. Many residents took to the social media to decry the unprecedented increase in the population of the children and appeal to the state government to clear the public space of the distressing sight.

Actually, the incidence of child beggars in Lagos can’t be described as entirely new. For many years, beggars, mainly from the northern states of the country and some from Niger, Chad and other countries in the Sahel region, have made Lagos their destination of choice in their quest for alms. The adults carry their children in tow and sometimes use them to blackmail or embarrass passersby.

What has made Lagos residents uneasy is the sudden upsurge in the population of those children — and they are crying out as they did last year. The Punch newspaper investigated the outcry and reported that the child beggars, aged between six and 15, had become a menace in areas such as Okokomaiko, Agege, LASU-Iyana Iba, Alaba Rago, Oshodi, Berger, Seven-Up and Ikeja, among others.

They could be seen harassing passersby. They stain people’s clothes and sometimes pilfer. One female commuter who lived around the old Toll Gate area complained that, “There are usually about 50 beggars on the pedestrian bridge. These beggars are always in a queue, like a gathering of soldier ants,” she said. “It is difficult to judge who is filthier between them and their nursing mother counterparts begging for alms with their babies”.

Whatever, anybody says in trying to rationalise this scandalous state of affairs where mere children are transported to urban centres to seek alms instead of being in school, decent members of society will continue to insist that the innocence and future of children should not be destroyed through the tolerance of irresponsible parenthood. It is no longer fashionable to hide behind religion in justifying the mass production of children without any plans of rearing them to responsible adulthood.


Advancing Democracy

Democracy Day 2024 comes up this week. Without doubt, the issue of restructuring and its many features— such as the establishment of state police, fiscal reorganisation and unbundling of the centre— will take on added energy as Nigerians from all walks of life make their feelings known. Prominent politicians all over the country are also likely to seize the opportunity to outline their ideas.

Already, there is a bill at the national assembly seeking to ban open grazing of animals so as to prevent the destruction of farmlands which often leads to conflict. Kano State under former Governor Ganduje was one of the earliest builders of ranches during the Buhari era. Katsina state under Governor Masari also announced a similar plan. Other states should emulate them. As Masari himself said, “The issue of animals wandering endlessly without control, grazing without properly mapped grazing routes should be over.”

Opposition leader and former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar x-rayed the cold shoulder given to the issue of restructuring by the northern elite: “Our current constitution does indeed concentrate too much power and resources at the centre… At some point our leaders and representatives will come together, discuss and work out a framework for restructuring our federation… The restructuring that I have been calling for involves changes to the allocation of powers, responsibilities and resources among the states or zones and between them and the federal government. It is clear to me that the resistance against restructuring is based on

three interrelated factors, namely dependency, fear and mistrust.”

With President Tinubu— reputed to be a champion of restructuring— in the saddle, it is hoped that concrete steps will be taken to reinvent the house that Luggard built and make it an enduring edifice. That will be the ultimate legacy. Happy Democracy Day 2024!

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