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Mind your language


Democracy profits from a cacophony of voices. But if we must deepen democracy and get to some reasonable point in the current national discourse on restructuring and make some sense of it, it shall behove us to mind our language.

There is, in my view, a lot of hot air in the discussion, a lot of hard position: it’s like if we don’t restructure, we are damned and if we restructure we are damned. A lot of must is thrown into the conversation, not a quarrel mind you, conveying the threat of a clear and present danger.

In addition to minding our language, a little reflection on history might also help. It will help, for instance, to throw more light on the genesis of this whole business, so that nobody is held responsible for the path not taken or for some position becoming a hard core of implacable opposition developing into new found enmity.

Talking about making new enemies, where none is necessary, brings to mind the contributions of Ayo Adebanjo, elder statesman and chieftain of Afenifere, the Yoruba socio-cultural organisation. He believes the northerners are opposed to federalism and that is the reason, he thinks, they have become strong enemies of restructuring.

In the good company of this respected elder, who, in my view, has proved to be a little less than a statesman, are two eminent professors. One is Akin Oyebode, professor of international law and jurisprudence at the University of Lagos and the other is Banji Akintoye, chairman of the political committee of Afenifere.

Prof. Oyebode contends that “anybody who mouths the shibboleth that Nigeria’s unity is not negotiable is merely advertising his or her own ignorance.” And certainly that should include President Muhammadu Buhari who has not hidden his disdain for those who talk flippantly about the breakup of the country. Oyebode must also include the iconic and well respected Chief Olu Falae, who says “restructuring is absolutely necessary; however, the unity of Nigeria is non-negotiable.”

Remember this respected professor? The one who was alleged to have helped to bring about the 1999 constitution when General Abdulsalami Abubakar, who succeeded General Sani Abacha as head of state, was eager and desirous of handing over to a democratically elected government, the one who now turns around, without batting an eyelid, to describe the same constitution as an illegitimate child of the military? Nobody says the erudite professor is not entitled to his opinion, except that one is left aghast that all the academic accolades and the international exposure do little to curb some people’s propensity for the use of the language of violence.

The other day, Professor Banji Akintoye, not a military man for sure, was sounding so militant on national television, Channels TV. You would be forgiven if you mistook him for a retired parade ground commander. Every sentence he uttered was prefaced with the word must. The command of some professors is like the command of the generals. And they must be obeyed. And it must be done the way they wish it to be done. When asked to go down memory lane and talk about the genesis of the current agitation for restructuring and the path apparently not taken, he said he did not believe in the past. He was more interested in the present and what must be done to save the situation.

Reminded that the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress, APC, had set up a committee and members are going round the country gauging the opinions of the citizens at town hall meetings, he condescended a bit. He agreed that what the party is doing was good. But he dismissed the capacity of Governor Nasir El-Rufai for the assignment saying “that small boy governor can’t do it” not only because he is avowedly opposed to restructuring but because, in his view, he lacked the capacity and the experience for it.

Apparently, this professor has forgotten the pedigree of this “accidental public servant.” Or possibly he was on the moon when “this small boy” distinguished himself as the director general of the Bureau of Public Enterprises and later served President Olusegun Obasanjo as minister of Federal Capital Territory, FCT. He did not lobby for it. He was picked on his own merit.

The good thing about this debate is the unintended consequences accruing from it. So far it has succeeded in throwing up a lot of things that we must have taken for granted before. We’re learning every day, for instance, that for some people arrogance has no limit and it is not tempered by good education which should confer ample character and learning.

It is, therefore, not difficult to see why some people become exasperated they simply can’t be persuaded to suffer fools patiently. The other day, critics were bent on taking Professor Ango Abdullahi, the former vice-chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria to the cleaners for throwing his support behind the Arewa Youth Coalition who, reacting to Nnamdi Kanu and Co of the Biafra irredentism, gave the Igbo in the North quit notice. He did not support them because he believed the Igbo must leave the North, he did so believing that the responsible elders in the South East were not living up to their responsibility as elders to reign in on the rascality of the youths who were bent on setting the region and the whole country on fire.

When another respected elder statesman, Tanko Yakasai, insists on being shown the blueprint for restructuring, he is not advertising his ignorance as Professor Oyebode would have us believe. He does not want anybody to take him round the bend for the fun of it. He does not want to tango with people who behave like naughty children who cry endlessly just to draw attention to themselves.  At his age, he has seen much about this country to know when people are sincere and when they are just grandstanding to score cheap popularity.

History has a clear trajectory of this country’s constitutional development. Only people with thick political blinkers will pretend not to notice it. There is some insistence on the return to the 1963 constitution. That constitution provided for federalism quite alright. But it was a federal structure with four regions; the West, the Mid-west, the East and the North. But those who want a return to that federal arrangement talk about six regions. Where is that coming from? We did not have six regions in 1963. And the current unrecognised zones are mere political contraptions.

It is good to glamourise the founding fathers, Obafemi Awolowo, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Alhaji Ahmadu Bello as we do today but we have forgotten that the constitution they operated which we are praising to high heavens was once criticised for entrenching power on regional lines and they failed utterly to develop a cohesive national ethos and build a nation. Competition among the regions was good for economic development but it was a disaster for political integration and development and the alliances and the bitter struggle it engendered at the centre created political instability. The politics of the period “came to be consistent only in inconsistency.” At the end of it all, the centre could no longer hold. The rest, they say, is history.

That history tells the story of a 41-old Nigerian Army officer by name Major General Thomas Aguiyi Ironsi who had seized power from military rebels who led the first coup of January 15, 1966. This Ironsi became the first military head of state. To restructure the country in tune with the demands of some hot headed elite, he decided to abolish the federal structure and equally do away with the regions. Those who lived in perpetual fear of the huge North clapped for him. Their saviour had come. Don’t forget his famous declaration: “I am convinced that the bulk of our people want a united Nigeria and that they want in future one government and not a multitude of governments.”

That proclamation marked the end of federalism – true, fake or false federalism! If you google it, you would find that this revolutionary leader was not from Sokoto, the seat of the caliphate.  The only voice of opposition to his audacious move was from one Suleiman Takuma who wrote in the New Nigerian of April 19, 1966. He said loud and clear that “Federalism is good for Nigeria.” For his impetuousness, he was rewarded with detention. The last time I checked, it did not appear as if this odd Suleiman was a long lost relation of an Ayo Adebanjo or an Oyebode, the authentic proponents of federalism and restructuring.

Yes, let’s have restructuring and federalism that works. But as Olu Falae has cautioned, let’s do it through dialogue, not through fear and intimidation. Certainly not through blackmail.

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