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Abused Decree No. 34 and the demand for restructuring

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Sunday, May 24th was the 54th Anniversary of the Promulgation of Decree number 34 by Major General Johnson Thomas Umanakwe Aguiyi Ironsi (3rd March 1924- 29th July 1966). Few people remembered. It was the decree that transferred all the autonomous power of the four regions then to the centre. The regions then were Northern Region, Eastern Region, Western Region and Mid-Western Region. Decree 34 came into force on May 24th 1966. Under it Nigeria formally ceased to be a Federation and was renamed the ‘Republic of Nigeria’, the Federal Executive Council became the ‘National Military Government’, the Federal Executive Council simply became the ‘Executive Council’ and Lagos the ‘capital territory’.

The Regions were formally abolished, but the Provinces (the next largest administrative division below the Regions) were grouped into ‘the Northern Group of Provinces’, the ‘Eastern Group of Provinces’, etc. These Groups corresponded exactly with the previous Regions and the four Military Governors continued in office administering the same area as before. The Military Governors however lost the power to incur expenditure on their own responsibility without prior consent. The federal and regional public services were unified into a single ‘National Public Service’. Control over the most senior posts was centralized. The power to appoint and dismiss ‘persons to hold or act in the office of permanent secretary to any department of government of the Republic or any other office of equivalent rank in the National Public Service’ was vested in the Supreme Military Council. The National Public Service Commission was to be consulted before any such appointments were made.

The power to appoint, promote, dismiss and discipline in relation to all other administrative posts was vested in the National Public Service Commission. This power was delegated except for the most senior posts to Provincial Public Service Commissions. The power to appoint the members of the Police Service Commission was vested in the Head of the National Military Government (under Decree No. 1 it had been in the Federal Executive Council). There was this fear among Northern elites especially among those of them in the civil service at that time that a unitary system of government will lead to the domination of the Federal Public Service by the Easterners. The fear was grounded on the assumption among the Northern elites that under Decree No. 34, they will lose out and that the Easterners will exploit, dominate and control the entire public service. Ironically, the reverse is the case in today’s Nigeria. Decree No. 34 was the albatross of General Ironsi.

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And that was one of the reasons why he was killed. To further cement the mighty powers in the centre the military in 1978 and 1999 established those powers in the exclusive legislative list in the constitution. Today no doubt those powers have been abused, hence the urgent demand for restructuring. If not for the obloquy or rather the scurrility of the mighty power in the centre under the guise of ‘this is our turn’ syndrome, there would not have been a demand for restructuring. If we talk about restructuring today, it was caused by decree 34 and its exploitation.

Is a protest demand on the mighty power of the central government and its exploitation. Restructuring is a legitimate protest of the inequality that exists in today’s Nigeria. Every Head of State or President or even the Head of Interim Government that have headed the central government since 1966 have failed to return the power back to the regions. If not for decree 34 maybe and just maybe we could have been in the same shoes like Switzerland, Belgium, Serbia or Netherlands whose regions or groupings are sovereign.

To add more to the mighty power of the central government, General Yakubu Gowon in 1970 promulgated decree No. 13 with the effect of shifting the bulk of the federally collected revenues to the Federal Government. Thus, the States got only 60 per cent instead of 100 per cent of export duty revenue, 50 per cent instead of 100 per cent of duty on motor fuel, and 50 per cent of exercise duty revenues. The balances went to the Federal Government, which also got 5 per cent of mining rents and royalties taken out of the 50 per cent that went to the States by derivation. For the shares among the States, this Decree explicitly adopted a two-factor formula giving equal weight to the principles of population and equality of States. Whether the States were satisfied or not could not readily be identified in view of the command structure of the Military Government. In 1971 the same General Yakubu Gowon promulgated Decree No. 9 which gave total revenue to the offshore oil production to the central government. The present might of the Central Government has its root to Decree No. 34 of General Aguiyi Ironsi.

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When General Ironsi promulgated the decree he also banned the eighty-two political parties that existed before the coup of January 16, 1966. The parties were NCNC, Action Group, Afenmai Peoples’ Congress, Awo National Brigade, Bornu Youth Movement, Calabar Emancipation League, Calabar, Ogoja, River State Movement, Common Peoples Party of Nigeria, Communist Party of Nigeria, Democratic Party of Nigeria, Dynamic Party, Eastern Nigeria Liberation Movement, Eastern Peoples’ Congress, Ghana-Nigerian Socialist Group, Habe Peoples’ Party, Ibadan Crusaders of Freedom, Ijumu Progressive Union, Kalabari Peoples’ Congress, Kano Peoples’ Party, Kano State Movement, Lagos Citizens Rights Protection Council, Lagos and Colony Peoples’ Congress, Lagos Separate State Movement, League of Northern Yorubas, Mabolaje Party, Middle Belt Congress of Nigeria, Middle Belt Peoples’ Party, Mid-West Democratic Front, Mid-West Youth Association, Moslem Peoples’ Party, Movement for Colonial Freedom, Muslim United Party, National Convention of Nigeria Citizens, National Emancipation League, National Youth Council of Nigeria, National Youth Front, Niger Delta Congress, Niger Delta Volunteer Service, Nigerian Communist Party, Nigerian Council for Peace, Nigerian Labour Party, Nigerian Marxist Group in Germany (GDR), Nigerian National Alliance, Nigerian National Democratic Party, Nigerian National Youth Brigade, Nigerian Peoples’ Party- The New Nigeria, Nigerian Socialist Group, Nigerian Workers Liberation Movement, Nigerian Youth Congress, Northern Elements Freedom Organisations, Northern Elements Progressive Union, Northern Elements Women’s Association, Northern Opposition United Party, Northern Peoples’ Congress, Northern Peoples’ Congress Youth Association, Northern Progressive Front, Northern United Party, Northern Youth Movement, Okpara Youth Brigade, Oshun United Party, Oyo United Party, Peoples’s Party, Peoples Progressive Front, Republican Party, Rivers State Movement, Socialist Labour Party, Socialist Movement of Nigeria, Socialist Party of Nigeria, Socialist Workers and Farmers Party, Socialist Youths of Nigeria, Tarka Youth Pioneers, Tiv State Party, United Action Committee, United Middle Belt Congress, United National Independence Party, United Progressive Grand Alliance Youth Front, United Peoples’ Party, United Progressive Grand Alliance, United Working Peoples’ Party of Nigeria, Zikist Movement and Zikist National Vanguard.

In the decree, General Ironsi also banned the following tribal and cultural associations. They were Bornu State Union, Egbe Atunlase Ibadan, Egbe Igbomina Parapo, EgbeOmoOduduwa, Egbe OmoOlofin, EgbeOmo Yoruba, Egbe Yoruba Parapo, Ekiti Northern, Ibadan Parapo, Ibibio State Union, Ibo State Union or Ibo Union, Ibo Youth Congress, Ibo Youth League, Idoma Tribal Union, Igbira Tribal Union I and II, Ijaw Progressive Union, Kajola Society, Lagos Aborigines Society, Oganiru Society, Okaa Society, OshunParapo, Otuedo, Oyo Parapo and Yoruba State Union.

When General Ironsi promulgated the decree, he had the backing of some key people. Thus Peter Pan (Peter Enahoro) produced a series of articles in the Daily Times exhorting General Ironsi to push forward without fear, ending with the call ‘to the battlements, my General’—- a rendezvous with death. On May 26, 1967, the Military Governor of the then Eastern Region, Lt-Colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu addressed the joint meeting of the advisory committee of Chiefs and Elders and the consultative assembly of the Eastern Region in Enugu. He declared on that day “the ill-fated Decree No. 34 was promulgated after it had been discussed and approved by General Aguiyi-Ironsi’s Supreme Military Council which composed as follows: Lt-Col Hassan, Lt-Col Gowon, Lt-Col C. Odumegwu Ojukwu, Lt-Col G.T. Kurabo, Lt-Col F.A. Fajuyi, Commodore J. Wey, Brigadier B.O. Ogundipe, Lt-Col D. Ejoor, AlhajiKam Salem, Mr. L.E. Edet and Major M. Johnson.”
To be continued tomorrow
Teniola, a former director at the Presidency, wrote from Lagos.

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