Sagay, a professor of law, said agitation for devolution of power enabled each region to develop at its own pace.
The constitutional lawyer said: “I think the first point to make is that Nigeria, to use Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s words, is not a nation. It is geographical entity containing many nations and the difference between a Yoruba and Hausa man or Igbo man is not less than the difference between an English and French man or German. Our original founding fathers observed this early in the political development of this country. They met in Ibadan in January 1950 where they hammered the future of this country and their unanimous conclusion is that we can only survive harmoniously under a strong federal system.
“It was on that basis that those strong regions merged and this whole orientation was repeated in the 1953 Lagos Conference, the 1954 Lyttleton Conference and the pre-independence conferences in 1959. Just before independence, the British from 1957, said that each region could ask for self-government but only external affairs will be handled by the British. Now, Eastern and Western region asked for immediate self-government and they got it in 1957 but the North said it was not ready at the time.”
Also, he said: “But eventually, the North asked for it in 1959 and got it. You can see that there was respect for differences, while there was general unity for the purpose of forming a country where we will all be together but the differences were realised.
“So, that was the spirit which the 1963 Constitution, you had the powerful regions and the federal level where concentration was on matters of common interest like foreign affairs, defence, currency, immigration and others; but the bulk of activities were transferred to the regions because they were closer to the people and the Constitution recognised that these regions contained people with different backgrounds, historically and otherwise.”
Noting that the 1999 Constitution was a mistake made by the military which has left states in a weak state, he said: “So, the mistake of the 1999 Constitution, which was made by the military and not by the people is to assume that every Nigerian has the same social and historical backgrounds and so, there should be a very tight Federal Government and very weak states.
“The 1999 Constitution turns a blind eye to these major social and ethnic divergence in Nigeria forgetting that all the various states and ethnic groups were independent when the British came. This is what the 1999 Constitution has overlooked and that is why there is so much tension in the land because the federal government is regarded to be too powerful therefore putting us together in a sort of tight embrace. The various states and regions want more autonomy and freedom to operate in their own way, whilst operating in the centre to form a united Nigeria.
“You will recall that with the 1960 and 1963 constitution, each region kept 50 per cent of its natural resources, they contributed 20 per cent to the federal government and then, the remaining 30 per cent was shared by all the regions on the basis of need.
“So, this is what people are asking for. They are asking for increased political power, increased fiscal federalism whilst interacting with members of the same country in unity. That is why I think the 1999 constitution was mistakenly drafted and foisted on Nigeria; that is why there is so much tension.”