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Abused Decree No. 34 and the demand for restructuring – Part 2

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General Ironsi

Continued from yesterday
In his observation then, Mr S.K. Panter-Brick, a notable British Historian of the London School of Economics, wrote that “General Ironsi’s assurance that the constitutional review committee was hard at work and that the unification accomplished by Decree No.34 in no way prejudiced its findings was, in the circumstances, no assurance at all. It would be difficult to organize any expression of opinion while such ban remained in force. It was, however, the ‘unification decree’, and that part of it which related to the civil service, which caused most immediate concern. Northern civil servants had already shown their anxieties in this score two months earlier when Lt-Colonel Hassan Katsina, in Lagos for a meeting of the Supreme Military Council, was reported to have ‘condemned’ the policy of Northernisation’ in the making of appointments.

On his return to Kaduna he was besieged with demands for an explanation. It was feared that in a unified service Northerners would be at a disadvantage. It was no consolation that the Decree provided for the delegation of appointments and promotions, except the most senior, to Provincial Civil Service Commissions.

It was the senior officials who controlled the administration. Moreover there was no assurance as to the qualifications which were to be taken into consideration when making appointments and promotions. If only formal educational qualifications were to be taken into consideration, to the exclusion of experience, local knowledge, and character, then it was feared that the majority of the senior positions would be filled by the southerners, unversed in and unsympathetic to the ways of those they were administering. These fears may have been exaggerated but they were real. They were accentuated by the knowledge that Mr. Nwokedi had made his report on the unification of the civil service to General Ironsi without having had it approved by the other members of the committee. This manner of proceeding was taken as a demonstration of the scant attention likely to be given to the claims of Northerners when it came to making appointments.” He went further to state that “Yet the fact that General Ironsi was caught in this kind of dilemma merely underlines the folly of centralizing the administration in advance of some agreement on the prior constitutional issues. This was compounded when he sought to overcome opposition by announcing his intention to stay in power for three years and at the same time prohibit all political activities.

There was no lack of warning of the probable consequences. Lt-Colonel Hassan Katsina, returning from the meeting of the Supreme Military Council immediately preceding the promulgation of Decrees Nos. 33 and 34, remarked that the egg was about to break. It cracked and then finally broke, under the impact of two opposing forces: a Military Government set on imposing its own form of centralized command, at least as an interim measure, and an opposition movement, less clearly led openly asserted, but sustained by growing feats of a fait accompli.”A few months before promulgating Decree No 34, General Aguiyi Ironsi on February 21, 1966, addressed the press. On that day he declared, “the public would like to know the kind of administrative reforms we intend to undertake and then we propose to establish in order to attain our objectives. As a first step, administrative reforms are essential in order to lay a solid foundation not only for the present but for the future as well.

Here the Press should reflect the thinking of the people and provide a forum for public discussion and constructive suggestions. The country needs a sort of nerve centre which will give the necessary direction and control in all major areas of national activities so that we will be in a position to plot a uniform pattern of development for the whole country. Matters which were formerly within the legislative competence of the regions will need to be reviewed, so that issues of national importance could be centrally controlled and directed towards overall and uniform development in the economic and social field; effective liaison and co-ordination should be established between the Federal authority and its provincial counterparts, if we are to avoid the pitfalls of the recent past and make a more significant impact both internally as well as externally.

The works programme of the Supreme Military Council and the Federal Military Government will necessarily include the establishment of certain essential organs which are indispensable for accelerated development in some major and sensitive areas where proper planning has been neglected, haphazard or unco-ordinated. We are undertaking a review of commercial and industrial development, details of which will be announced shortly.

Other equally important problems requiring early attention are: the formulation of an education policy related to the needs of a developing country such as Nigeria, manpower training tailored to meet the demands of the country, unemployment and its attendant social evils. The solution to the problems, you will admit, cannot be effected overnight. The new regime should be given time to tackle the heavy programme of work kit has been called upon to shoulder. We need maximum co-operation from all sections of the country and resources to the utmost in order lay a proper foundation for the present as well as for the future.

On the question of the political future of the country, the experiences and mistakes of the previous governments in the Federation have clearly indicated that far-reaching constitutional reforms are badly needed for peaceful and orderly progress towards the realization of our objectives. I have already touched on some of the major issues involved in my recent broadcast to the nation. It has become apparent to all Nigerians that rigid adherence to ‘regionalism’, was the bane of the last regime and one of the main factors which contributed to its downfall. No doubt, the country would welcome a clean break with the deficiencies of the system of government to which the country has been subjected in the recent past.

A solution suitable to our national needs must be found. The existing boundaries of governmental control will need to be re-adjusted to make for less cumbersome administration. We are determined that constitutional changes, which are prerequisite to the re-establishment of parliamentary system of government, will be undertaken with the consensus of various representatives of public opinion. Proposals for constitutional changes will involve careful and detailed analysis, so that the nation will eventually have a system of parliamentary government best suited to the demands of a developing country in modern times.

We expect that when the system of government acceptable to the people of Nigeria has been formulated, all elections to parliament will be by universal adult suffrage.”According to the decree, the Federal Military Council shall comprise of Head of the Federal Military Government and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters, Chief of staff, Nigerian Armed Forces, Head of the Nigerian Navy, Head of the Nigerian Air Force, Military Governor, Northern Provinces, Military Governor, Eastern Provinces, Military Governor, Western Provinces and Military Governor, Mid-Western Provinces. The Central Executive Council shall comprise of Head of the National Military Government and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces (President), Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters, Chief of Staff, Nigerian Army, Military Governor, Eastern Provinces, Military Governor, Western Provinces, Military Governor, Mid-Western Provinces, Military Governor, Northern Provinces, Administrator of the Capital Territory of Lagos, Head of the Nigerian Navy, Head of the Nigerian Air Force, Inspector General of Police and Deputy Inspector-General of Police. The ghost of Decree No. 34 is still haunting us today. Whatever merits that influenced the promulgation of that decree, it has turn to demerits. The decree has been exploited and abused. Restructuring is inevitable.

Concluded.
Eric Teniola, a former director at the Presidency, wrote from Lagos.


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