All is quiet on the western front
Let me start with a confession. I have not read the manifesto of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC. However, I had expected that one of the new grounds the party would cultivate is the abandon forest of constitutional reforms. So far, it has shied away from this. Indeed, some of the pronouncements of its red-cap chiefs suggest that it is militantly opposed to any form of constitutional amendment. We may recall that President Muhammadu Buhari, before he was halted by illness, had said on national television that he would have nothing to do with the reports of the Constitutional Conference brokered by his pliant predecessor, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.
It is not out of point to regard the APC as the successor-political estate of Chief M.K.O Abiola, the great man whose sacrifice formed the cornerstone of our struggle against military rule. Indeed when Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was sworn-in as the elected successor to General Abdulsalami Abubakar, many of the leaders of the struggle regarded him as an undeserving beneficiary of Abiola’s great struggle. It is a fact of history nonetheless that Obasanjo had suffered as much as, if not more, than most of the leadership of the opposition. It was not surprising therefore that Obasanjo paid scant attention to the call for the restructuring of the Federation. As President, he played his game as an advocate of a strong Federal Government. He and members of the military class, especially those who spent their youths fighting in the Civil War, are suspicious of the call for constitutional reforms. They fear it might spiral out of control. I disagree.
Therefore, when the APC was swept into power over the debris of Jonathan’s House of Commotion, we believed change has come. It is true that the new President is a born-again military dictator. He was surrounded during the campaign by our leaders who had been with us for many years in the call for the restructuring of Nigeria. They eventually brought him to power. Since then, we have been waiting for him to kick start the process of constitutional reforms that would usher in a new era of change for Nigeria. The change is necessary for without it, the future of the republic would be uncertain.
The structure of Nigeria has been a matter of contention right from colonial times. Indeed, shortly after the amalgamation of 1914, some of the top colonial officers have argued that the Northern and Southern Protectorates should share the Niger and Benue rivers as the natural boundaries. But this was opposed by Lugard who regarded the North as his own territory. Indeed for sometime, he was both Governor-General of Nigeria and Governor of the Northern Protectorates. However, when the Western and Eastern Protectorates were created, the River Niger at Asaba was used as their common boundary.
At the last Constitutional Conference in London before independence, our leaders and the colonial officers could not agree on the creation of additional regions as demanded by the minority ethnic groups. In the end, they set up the Willink Commission to look for way to “allay the fears of the minorities.” By the time of the first coup in 1966, many parts of Nigeria were in ferment over agitations for new regions. The Tiv revolt was raging and Chief Joseph Tarka and many of his leading lieutenants were often in detention or in prisons. In the South-South, the Izons (Ijaw) under the leadership of Isaac Adaka Boro, were in open revolt. Attempts to talk things over failed when the Leaders of Thoughts Conference, called by Colonel Yakubu Gowon, collapsed in 1966 as a fatal prelude to the Civil War. It was in the attempt to solve the problem that General Yakubu Gowon created the 12 states federal structure in 1967. Today, Nigeria has 36 states and the Abuja Federal Capital Territory.
By the time Abiola was running for the Presidency in 1993, it was clear that the federation was no longer working. There were simply too many states, too many governors, too many commissioners, too many government agencies and extra-ministerial bodies. Then General Sani Abacha seized power in 1993 and the following year, Abiola was thrown into detention. The resolutions of all the Afenifere leadership at all its meetings in Owo, Ondo State, under the leadership of Chief Michael Adekunle Ajasin, from 1994 onward was that Abiola must be released from detention unconditionally and he must be allowed to exercise his mandate by forming a Government of National Unity. The duty of the Government of National Unity would be three: to restructure Nigeria so that the federating units would be between six and eight regions, to revert to parliamentary system and to practise fiscal federalism. But Abiola died suddenly in July 1998 one month after the death of Abacha.
The death of Abiola, however, did not change the political focus. The leadership of Afenifere now led by Senator Abraham Aderibigbe Adesanya had waged the struggle with many powerful allies including opposition National Democratic Coalition led by Chief Anthony Enahoro, the Eastern Mandate Union led by Chief Arthur Nwankwo and the Middle-Belt Congress led by Chief Solomon Lar among others. All the leaders were agreed that Nigeria was ripe for a restructuring. Which way to go was the problem.
The attention by 1998 was focused on who would be the President and carry out the desired restructuring of the federation. Chief Anthony Enahoro, who was in exile in Maryland, USA, declined to run for the Presidency because he would not agree to the transition programme of the military without restructuring preceding it. Indeed, he regarded Afenifere participation in the transition programme as an act of cowardice if not outright betrayal. In the end, both Chief Bola Ige and Chief Olu Falae made a go for it with Falae wining the presidential ticket of the Alliance for Democracy, AD, alliance with the All Peoples Party, APP. Falae’s running mate was Alhaji Umaru Shinkafi of the APP.
The Afenifere leadership also attempted to sell the restructuring idea to the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Chief Obasanjo. Attempt to hold a meeting at the Ore-Close, Surulere, residence of Otunba Solanke Onasanya ended in a fiasco as Obasanjo insisted on coming to the meeting with a large entourage which included the late Chief Sunday Afolabi and Donald Duke, then the governorship candidate of the PDP for Cross River State. When he came to power, Obasanjo tried reluctantly to play the card when he appointed a Constitution Review Committee under the leadership of veteran Awoist, Chief Ayo Adebanjo. As soon as it was set up, the committee virtually became an orphan.
Now the people of the South-West regard the current ruling party as their own child. Its leading lights have appropriated the leadership of the Yoruba people and it is expected that they would champion the cause of their people in the ruling party. So why are most of them silent now and why are they shy about discussing The Yoruba Agenda which has been documented in a pamphlet of the same title?
In 1996 also, The Family Handbook of Idile Oodua, a pan-Yoruba organization, also declares: “We re-affirm the determination of the Yoruba people to live under one government of an autonomous region within the Federal Republic of Nigeria. We believe that the formation of such an autonomous region is the inalienable right and duty of the Yoruba people.”
Now the APC is in power and there is silence on the Western Front. This must be due to the complicity or the compliance of the Yoruba leaders within the APC for they cannot claim ignorance about what the Yoruba want. They know the quest for regionalism and parliamentary democracy is not to weaken Nigeria, but to strengthen it. If the regions are strong, then our federation would be strong and it would not be constantly harassed by Boko Haram and similar evil brigades. Why should our people in Ado-Ekiti wait for the Federal Government to construct a rail line from Ado to Lagos when this can be done by our regional government? The silence on the Western Front gives one the tingling feeling that there is not much difference between the old power brigade and the new one. Indeed, the APC is like the PDP minus the PDP.
In truth, not every part of our great country would welcome the idea of regionalism and parliamentary democracy. But that should not make the political elite of the South-West to pretend that they are unaware of the Yoruba Agenda or The Family Handbook, both of which enunciated why Yorubaland should have a single government within the Federal Republic of Nigeria. This was also the position at the controversial Jonathan National Conference.
In 1995, before he fled into exile, Chief Enahoro, a natural-born patrician, addressed the meeting of Afenifere in Owo, at the country home of Chief Ajasin. Chief Enahoro declared at that meeting held at the height of Abacha dictatorship: “If other people are willing to go into slavery, I am not obliged to follow them.”