Ahead of a 5th alteration of the 1999 Constitution, the zonal public hearing conducted by both houses of the National Assembly continues the reveal the desires by Nigerians for fundamental changes that would move the country into a place of prosperity.
These suggestions include the well-known calls for state police, local government and judicial autonomy, decongestion of the exclusive legislative list, part-time legislature as well as removal of immunity clause for the head of the executives at the federal and state levels. The recommendations also include the thorny issues of state creation, diaspora voting and inclusion of referendum in the constitution.
What many may never have seen coming is the recommendation for a name change. It may be difficult to claim that this would be the first time the issue of a name change would be mentioned, as it had previously been raised during the 2014 National Conference. The critical part of this proposal however, is the name being proposed.
For tax consultant, Adeleye Jokotoye, who submitted the proposal to the House of Representatives’ Special Committee on Constitution Review during the South West Zonal Public Hearing in Lagos on Wednesday, June 2, Nigeria’s current name was an imposition of its past colonial masters.
In his presentation, he proposed a change of name to United African Republic or United Alkebulan Republic (meaning: United Mother of Mankind Republic); stressing that the development would physically and psychologically reflect a new beginning.
States like Ghana had changed from Gold Coast after their independence from Britain in 1957, Zimbabwe previously known as Southern Rhodesia between 1898-1964, also changed while neighbours, Northern Rhodesia took on a new name – Zambia in 1964; the year it became independent.
Others include present-day Benin Republic, which changed from Republic of Dahomey in 1975 – fifteen years after its independence; Upper Volta officially renamed by Thomas Sankara as Burkina Faso on 4 August 1984 and most recently, Swaziland reverted to Kingdom of eSwatini.
As has been pointed out above, although it is a common practice among countries on the continent to change names at critical periods in their history, reactions to this proposal by Nigerians is a clear indication that it is not only unpopular but would most certainly not see the light of the day.
Jokotoye’s argument is anchored mainly on the supposition that since the country is at “…crossroads in our history, it is mandatory that we change our name to reflect a new beginning which will be ushered in with a new constitution.” He would further argue that the choice of United African Republic, stems out of the fact that Nigeria is made up of hundreds of ethnic groups that need to be united.
As it has been argued at several fora, even with urgent importance of issues as restructuring (essentially devolution of powers and fiscal federalism) and fundamental electoral reforms, it is a known fact that these would not automatically transform the country into Eldorado. The capacity of leadership at all levels; character and competence remains a huge pre-requisite for real development to take place.
Jokotoye and others who share this school of thought of a name change must therefore realise that – no matter how well intentioned the proposal might be, it can never be a substitute for basics as justice, inclusion, as well as equal opportunities and fairness. Upholding these basics alongside the core principles of democracy is what is largely lacking in our drive to peacefully co-exist as one diverse people under God.
No amount of name change would equally wash away corrupt tendencies in the absence of strong and functional institutions.
As we await the final destination on this quest for a United African Republic, “Arise O’ Compatriots, Alkebulan’s Call Obey!”
Temidayo Taiwo-Sidiq is a Journalist, Political Analyst and Satirist with major interest in Nigerian Politics, Governance and Sports.