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Imperative of restructuring Nigeria and fears of the North

By Sunny Ogefere
26 April 2017   |   4:29 am
The president general of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief John Nnia Nwodo has utilized every available opportunity to express his displeasure at what he described as consigning the Igbos to the status of second-class citizen in Nigeria, saying that it is unacceptable.

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Nigeria’s federalism has become a scourge of sort or so it seems currently with the unending quest by virtually every section of the country, except perhaps the North for the reorganisation of the political framework on which the country stands.

The demand for an alternative administrative platform is born largely out of the frustrations by the citizenry that in spite of being together for over 50 years, there is still evidence of injustice, inequity and prejudice in the governance of the country.

This has manifested in varied forms of protest and agitation; some subtle and peaceful sublime like Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), while others have taken a violent form resulting in most times. The destruction of lives and property as exhibited by Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) and other Niger Delta militant groups.

Still, there are others, which are amorphous in thoughts and character perhaps known only for leaving trails of woes and desolation in communities likes Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen.

Furthermore, prominent Nigerians and stakeholders have argued in favour of restructuring including former vice president, Abubakar Atiku and former secretary general of the Common Wealth Organisation, Chief Emeka Anyaoku have thrown their weight behind it.

Atiku has seized every available opportunity to harp on the matter, contending that Nigeria as presently structured is economically unproductive and politically weak. He said: “The restructuring that I have been calling for involves changes to the allocation of powers, responsibilities and resources among the states or zones and between them and the federal government.”

To Anyaoku, Nigeria’s federalism allows too much power and resources at the centre to the detriment of the country’s ethnic nationalities. According to him, the founding fathers would be “disappointed to find that instead of a few viable federating units in which effective economic development can be planned and pursued with security, better policed and maintained, we now have what I would describe as a plethora of nonviable federating units with an all-powerful central government.”

But while the people have advanced restructuring as a better option to enhance the unity of the Nigerian nation and thereby promote growth and development of the country, the government and some conservative elements in the North see it as a threat or rather a call to divide the country.

The newly installed leadership of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the socio-cultural umbrella body of Igbos worldwide, has been critical of the Nigerian political configuration, which it blamed for the alleged marginalization and unjust treatment of Igbos in the country.

The president general of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief John Nnia Nwodo has utilized every available opportunity to express his displeasure at what he described as consigning the Igbos to the status of second-class citizen in Nigeria, saying that it is unacceptable.

Speaking recently in Lagos at a dinner organize to honour him, he decried the purported deliberate exclusion of Igbos in strategic positions in the country as well as the killing of youths from the South East region agitating for their rights.

According to him, only restructuring of the governance make-up would assuage the situation, stressing that even an Igbo presidency in 2019 is not an issue compared to the challenges before the country.

His words: “The agitation for Igbo presidency in 2019 is a non issue as far as I am concerned. As the president of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, I am apolitical; I am not a member of any political party. This is an issue for political parties; it has nothing to do with me. The issue of power rotation among regions is not new, it is some how aligned with the doctrine of federal character which is in our constitution.

“No party has called for nomination. I don’t think agitation for Igbo presidency is important now; what Nigerians are asking for is restructuring of the country to be a true federation. It cannot continue to be a federation in name; the political lexicography for federation is an independent federal unit.

“The moment you have independent federal unit, being state or regions and they have control over the resources they produce, they will contribute on agreed proportion to the Federation. The question of who is president and where he comes from will die down. It is going to be a matter of who is competent.

“MASSOB and IPOB organisations, no matter how divided they appear in public, are basically motivated by the same sense of outrage and bitterness. Our young men and women can no longer tolerate a second class status in their own country.”

Afenifere, the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group which has been agitating for the restructuring of Nigeria, recently had to vent their anger over the issue following the Ife clash between Hausas and Yoruba.

They were particularly bitter that the government of the federation controlled by the Hausa/Fulani exhibited bias and discriminatory attitude towards the Yoruba in the handling of the crisis.

The same position was taken by the Pastor Tunde Bakare, Serving Overseer of Latter Rain Assembly when he criticized the conduct of the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Ibrahin Idris over the arrest and detention arising from the Ife clash.

Speaking during a sermon titled ‘Raising of a model leader,’ Bakare argued that public officers should not be allowed to promote ethnic agenda in the country noting that it is not the way of righteousness

“If there is a fight between two people, you don’t arrest one person and leave the other. What you do is to arrest the two and let the law takes its course. To arrest one party and leave the other and even go ahead to justify it is an abuse,” he stated.

He stressed the importance of justice and equity in nation building, contending that conduct of the IGP in the Ife incidence is one-sided and unacceptable. The national publicity secretary of the Afenifere, Yinka Odumakin noted in particular that a situation a crisis erupt in Ile-Ife and it is taken over by the federal government would not make for peace and unity in the country.

According to him, the various clashes across the country stemmed from the skewed structure of governance operated in the name of federalism. His words: “It is all the fallout of the fact that we have refused to build a nation, a proper country. All they have been doing is command and control, social injustice. It has built up and reached a boiling point; so we must restructure this country to allow every section of the country to live their lives.

“It has got to a point now where we have to resolve this matter once and for all. If they don’t want Yoruba in this country, they should tell. Go to the United Nations, the countries that are more populated than Yoruba nation are not up to 40. So we can be a nation on our own if this kind of things will continue. We cannot continue to suffer to say we belong to Nigeria; to hell with it.”

To him, there would be no lasting peace in the country except it is restructured. Former federal commissioner for Information cum leader and advocate of rights of Niger Delta people, Chief Edwin Clark, has been unrelenting in the quest for restructuring and resource control by the people.
According to him, the existing predicament of the country is far from the desires of the founding fathers that sacrificed for the independence of Nigeria.

“As President Muhammadu Buhari used to say, if we don’t kill corruption, corruption will kill us; but I am saying, if we don’t restructure, restructure will kill us,” he stated.

Similarly, an environment activist and promoter of the rights of the Niger Delta region, Annkio Briggs called for the implementation of 2014 report on restructuring of the country.

She argued that any suggestion demanding patriotisms to Nigeria from the South South and South East zones could only be adhered to when the Federal Government approves 100 per cent ownership and control of resources for the affected 11 states.

She told a gathering at Owerri, the Imo state capital that Briggs contended that the enemies of the regions are not telling the people the truth. “It is our enemies that are frustrating our agitation to get 100 per cent resource control. It is necessary for our representatives in the National Assembly to work towards legislation to realise our demand, else they should remain in Abuja after leaving office.

“Our representatives are not in Abuja to make money, but to serve; I cannot die for the survival of Nigeria, if anyone is going to die for Nigeria to survive, it has to be Nigeria. What I want is 100 per cent of ownership of resource control and nothing else,” Briggs stated.

She called for a collective resolve to ensure that more attention is given to the 11 states in the two zones. Immediate past governor of Anambra stste, Peter Obi canvassed that restructuring seems the only solution to the myriads agitations and pent-up resentment towards the Nigerian nation.

“We are in a democratic regime and it is important that the rule of law should be obeyed no matter whose case is involved. I’m advocating for the restructuring of Nigeria. It remains the only panacea to various agitations and deep-seated anger that have consistently stoked tension and prevented Nigeria from moving forward.

“I wish to appeal to the Federal Government to change its hardline posture on this issue and yield to the persistent clamour for the release of Kanu and other Biafran activists, to douse the tension in the country, especially in the South-East and South-South geo-political zones.” “The Federal Government should engage them in dialogue. Every agitation in the world is resolved through dialogue and not by means of force,” he said.

In contrast, Northern leaders have rejected the calls for restructuring of the country, rather asking that the federal government should vote more funds for the exploration of oil in the north.

This betrays the fear of the North that should the regions or states be allowed to control their resources and develop at their own capacity, they might end up financially stranded; hence, the charge on the government to intensify the search for oil in the region.

Emir of Kano, Muhammad Sanusi II attested to this when he stated in Kaduna recently that if Nigeria is split into components, Northern Nigeria would be the poorest, having been bogged down by religious and cultural constraints.

Said he: “We have adopted an interpretation of our culture and our religion that is rooted in the 13th century mindset, that refuses to recognise that the rest of the Muslim world has moved on.”

But congregating under the platform of Northern Delegates Forum (NDF) drawn from members of the 2014 National Conference, the northern elders asserted that the North was not given fair representation in the conference with 189 delegates despite its landmass of 70 per cent and 55 per cent of the country’s population.

Their grouse according to their spokesman and former minister of Power and Steel, Bashiru Dalhatu, is that “The 2014 national conference had 492 members and the north which constitutes about 70 per cent of the country’s landmass and 55 per cent of its population was allocated 189 delegates while the South with only 30 per cent of the landmass and 45 per cent of its population was given an incredible 305 delegates.

This they claimed was designed to put the North at a disadvantage, insisting that the clamour for the restructuring of Nigeria along some undefined contours have been contrary to the existing constitutional order.

“We reiterate and maintain our position that the report of the confab is of questionable legal validity, the outcome of a process that lacks popular mandate or support and major decisions were arrived at by undemocratic means or at variance with due process,” Dalhatu stated.

He disclosed when they met in Abuja that the Forum disassociates from any attempt by any group to seek to implement or force the federal government or any of its institutions to use the report of the conference, under any guise for the purpose of restructuring Nigeria.

NDF urged sponsors or individuals agitating for restructuring to respect the existing constitutional order, maintaining that to do otherwise would lead to chaos and anarchy.

In addition, they pleaded with members of the National Assembly to be wary of and not rely or act upon a confab report, which NDF alleged is full of flaws. The Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC) however denounced the northern elders for backing out of the on restructuring as resolved at the 2014 conference arguing that such move is an affront to the collective psyche of Nigerians.

The OPC accused the northern elite of acting like they own Nigeria, insisting that regionalism is the minimum option for a united Nigeria, failure of which the country would be heading towards the path of disintegration.

A statement issued by its national coordinator, Gani Adams, particularly decried their posturing saying that it amounted to a call for anarchy in a country. “Let it be known to those supporting the continuation of the current locust regime that the only alternative to regionalisation of Nigeria is self-determination.

“Nigeria started with a system that allowed each region to develop at its own space and the Yoruba benefitted a lot from the system which promoted hard work and rapid development across the country,” Adams asserted.

Nonetheless, a public affairs analyst and an advocate of restructuring, Chief Joseph Okpala argued that separatist agitations remain the trump card for a united Nigeria. According to him, the country has been stagnated and deprived of progress because of the alleged dubious foundation laid by the British colonial rulers.

“We got it wrong from the foundation of corruption the British government laid in Nigeria, whereby they gave undue advantage to the north. They manipulated the census figures to give the north undue advantage, and the result is why it is difficult for Nigeria to know its population, which is a sine qua non for planning for development,” he stated.

Okpala argued that no sane society could thrive under an arrangement where the people are browbeaten and conned, stressing: “When you are oppressing a people and cheating them … You are sowing a seed of trouble, and the fruit it bears is the renewed agitation for Biafra.

“When America was oppressing the Blacks, it gave rise to agitation championed by people like Martin Luther King Jr, but because they were dealing with intelligent people that wanted their nation to be great, the wall of segregation broke down, and they opened their door that later gave rise to (Barack) Obama becoming the President of US.”

It was gathered that while four regions of the country favoured restructuring to free the zones to function within their different spheres of capacity, two zones are vehemently opposed to it.

The regions in support are South West, South South, South East and North Central while North West and North East are opposed.

Sources claimed that during his first tenure as civilian President, Olusegun Obasanjo chickened out of a process aimed at restructuring the country when representatives of North West walked out of a meeting convened to address the issue.