Being the Address by His Excellency Seyi Makinde, the Executive Governor of Oyo State, at the 12th Zik Lecture Series Holding at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra State on Thursday, 16 November 2023.
Permit me to stand on the existing protocol as I deliver my address.
Today, 16 November is the birthday of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe. Were he still alive, he would be 119 years today having been born 10 years before the amalgamation of Northern and Southern Nigeria in 1914.
Zik, as he is more popularly called was born in Zungeru, Northern Nigeria. He was educated in Lagos, in western Nigeria and his parents were of course from Eastern Nigeria. We can then understand why he had a national outlook. He believed in the oneness and indivisibility of Nigeria.
And so, as we rise from another election where ethnicity was used as a tool for campaigns and religion was placed in the front burner, this event, the Zik annual lecture, gives us another opportunity to talk about nationhood.
Let me share with you this quote I found that provides us food for thought at this time of our nationhood. These words were spoken by the father of Nigerian nationalism, who spoke Yoruba and some Hausa and of course his mother tongue, Igbo. He said, “Each of our three Regions is vastly different in many respects, but each has this in common: that, despite variety of languages and custom or difference in climate, all form part of one country which has existed as a political and social entity for fifty years. That is why we believe that the political union of Nigeria is destined to be perpetual and indestructible”.
Zik spoke these words in 1959, just 15 months to Nigeria’s independence. Today, over 60 years after Nigeria’s independence, Nigeria has managed to continue remaining “perpetual and indestructible”. We have survived a civil war and several campaigns by state and non-state actors to sow seeds of division that would separate us. Yet, we remain as one.
Perhaps, there is a lesson in there for us.
I believe in the unity of Nigeria. And I believe we should as a nation have moved beyond asking the question regarding whether we want to stay together. The question we should be asking is, “how?” What structure is best for us all. In the first republic, Zik worked with a parliamentary type of government. By the time the second republic came by, he was willing to work with a federal system of government. What this tells me is that he is a dynamic man who did not adamantly hold on to one system or way of doing things. He was determined to “think in accordance with the times”.
So, as we have a conversation around reclaiming Zik’s world and linking this to climate change and sustainability, a good question to ask would be, “if Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe were alive today and still able to influence Nigeria as he did in the past, what would he be telling us right now?” One thing we know for sure is that he would not be talking about breaking Nigeria apart or saying that because someone from his part of the country did not win elections, then the country should split.
No. I believe he would be forward thinking, focused on how to foster coherence through a structure that is fair to all. In 1949, Zik called it, “self-determination … within the framework of a federated commonwealth of Nigeria and the Cameroons”. I call it a restructuring along the lines of true federalism. In a restructured Nigeria, there would be less focus on who becomes president especially with reference to the person’s ethnicity. One of the main reasons that we are concerned about equity and justice in the centre is because governance is over-centralised.
It is my hope that the government at the centre today moves with the times and listens to the true yearnings of the people. Yes, we are facing economic hardship today, but we will not be the first country in the world to face economic hardship. As I hinted in my opening remarks, there are two ways to react to the difficulties we are facing: we can sit around and point fingers as to what would have happened if x or y had become president instead or we can think through how to come out of this hardship. We can innovate out of this hardship through healthy competition and collaboration between and among the federating units. A complete restructure of Nigeria is needed.
Thank you and God bless you.
16 November 2023