Monday, 25th September 2023

Rising voices of socio-cultural groups as alternate regional governments

By Anote Ajeluorou (Head, Politics)
15 August 2019   |   3:09 am
Increasingly, Nigeria may have started a gradual return to the old regional framework upon which the country gained independence. This is more so with the rising stridency of voices from the regional blocks that not only make input to the national discourse but vehemently act as opposition to the centrist government in Abuja.

NCP National Chairman, Dr Tanko Yunusa

Increasingly, Nigeria may have started a gradual return to the old regional framework upon which the country gained independence. This is more so with the rising stridency of voices from the regional blocks that not only make input to the national discourse but vehemently act as opposition to the centrist government in Abuja.

This has become obvious from the manner these regional groupings daily form the alternative, opposition voices that respond to and shape issues of national governance. Significantly, President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration may have awakened these voices where they had been silent before now with its handling of many national issues.

In fact, many have begun to see in these voices the need for restructuring the Nigerian political framework to reflect the true federalism that these regional voices continually clamour for away from the current, non-performing centrist framework that has failed to meet the aspirations of many Nigerians.

And so from Ohanaeze Nd’igbo from the Southeast to Afenifere and Yoruba Council of Elders from the Southwest, from Pan-Niger Delta Development Forum (PANDEF) in the South-South to Leaders of Middle Belt Forum (LMBF) from North Central, and to Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) and Northern Elders Forum (NEF) from Northwest and Northeast, the socio-ethnic groupings seem pitted against the Federal Government of Nigeria which continues to blunder from one policy to yet another. Also, the north-south divide seems at its worst moment of distrust as new waves of disagreements, largely arising from insecurity, currently challenge the already existing fragile relationship.

Arewa Consultative Forum and Northern Elders Forum
THESE are the two voices that tend to speak for the north, but they do so from two philosophical positions. Indeed up until recently, the ultra-conservative Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) had been the only voice for the region, aligning its position with the northern oligarchy that literally forbids change to the Islamic religion and culture that defines the way life is live up north. But a certain younger element would later feel otherwise and is desirous of aligning the north with a more progressive society that is at pace with modernity. Thus Northern Elders Forum (NEF) was born to steer the north from its ultra-conservative outlook.

So while ACF speaks with the vice of the northern oligarchy that represents the band of conservative emirs that seek to perpetually dominate the country even when it lacks the requisite tools to run a modern, progressive state like Nigeria, it is happy merely clinging onto power, from the days of the military to the civilian administrations. NEF, on the other hand, wants a Nigeria that works for all, as Dr. Tanko Yinusa suggests.

Many progressive-minded people in both north and south believe that how and when ACF and NEF overcome their suspicion of the south is at the heart of Nigeria’s development. In spite of producing over 80 per cent of the country’s leaders and less than five per cent of Nigeria’s resources, the north still finds itself lagging far behind the south in almost all development indices. Perhaps, it is time the north looks hard at itself in the mirror and admits to the perennial failures of its leadership cadre. That it is time the zone begins a radical soul-cleansing to escape the self-inflicted poverty that has a direct link to the insurgency and banditry spawn in the zone and spreading south.

Also, some argue that the north needs to set aside its tendency towards empire-building mentality, as a development economist, Dr. Jimanze Ego-Alowes puts it, and embrace their more progressive and modern southerners. This way, he said, the north would not only benefit from the ingenuity of the south but stop holding the south down from exhibiting its true potential.

Middle Belt Forum
The Middle Belt Forum (MBF) had until recently been a part of the ACF, is the North Central part of the country. While the romance lasted, people in the Middle Belt that comprises of Kogi, Plateau, Benue, Kwara, Nasarawa, and the Taraba States felt they had an affinity with the North West and North East that form both ACF and NEF. But with the increasing violence visited on them by herders from the core north, they began a proper self-evaluation of their relationship with the north. Recent developments show that they had been margilised partners of the north. But this only became glaring in the aggressive push by Fulani herders to the south in what many consider a colonizing mission of the north, using herders as its advance foot soldiers.

It all began in Plateau State in early 2000 when the state was set on fire in Military President Ibrahim Babangida’s unbridled push to carve a local government for the Fulani settlers. The state is yet to return to its former tranquil self after the devastation of those years. Tension is still a daily fare. And now from Benue to the Taraba States, the orgy of violence resulting from Fulani herders and farmers’ clashes has sent many local inhabitants to their early graves. The recent killing of three policemen allegedly by soldiers in Taraba State and the freeing of a kidnap kingpin have set the security apparatus against itself.

Now, leaders in the zone have reached out to their southern socio-cultural counterparts whose demands seem to be in sync with the new realities confronting it from which it must seek survival strategies. The north’s conservative tendency, Middle Belt Forum has come to understand, does not suit a state seeking to progress in 21st modern, technological terms.

And so rather than a unitary system masquerading as federal structure that both ACF and NEF favour, the Middle Belt Forum is beginning to see things differently. Leaders of Middle Belt have seen that Nigeria’s over 50 years of conservative-driven leadership has failed to advance it any step farther than it started in 1960 at independence.

Pan-Niger Delta Forum
PERHAPS, the zone that has born Nigeria’s under-development burden the most is the Niger Delta or South-South geo-political zone. Its rich oil mineral resources have kept Nigeria functioning today as a country. Ironically, it has nothing to show for its magnanimity except degradation of its environment as the Ogoni failed clean up exercise by the Federal Government shows. Other communities are in similar dire conditions.

With pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), the zone keeps making its voice heard along with the other regional bodies.

Those who spearheaded agitation for better living conditions for the zone were two of its class of 1999 governors – Chiefs James Ibori and Depriye Alamiesieyegha of Delta and Bayelsa States. Both men asked for 100 per cent resource control of the oil wealth and clamoured for a restructured federation. They, however, managed to price 13 per cent derivation from the Federal Government for oil-bearing states of the zone.

After these two men, radical elements took up the gauntlet to form the Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) which took off where the two men stopped agitating for the zone’s fair access to the wealth criminally taken from it to feed other less productive zones.

With the current state governors busy playing to Abuja political gallery, PANDEF has stepped in to fill the void of regional leadership gap. Like Ibori and Alamiesieyegha, restructuring and true federalism are its main focus so a measure of equity could be restored to its marginalized people. It is why they readily align with other zonal groupings that have the same pursuit of a restructured federation.

Afenifere and Yoruba Council of Elders
LIKE other southern socio-cultural groups, Afenifere and Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE) represent the interests of southwest states of Osun, Lagos, Oyo, Ekiti, and Ogun that pride themselves as the most progressive states in the country on account of carrying on their first premier, Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s progressive political ideals. Such ideals are encapsulated in a truly federal structure, which Nigeria currently operates in breach. But the zone is also the most afflicted in terms of having everybody aligning with this vision as conflicting petty political interests rear their heads to thwart these avowed ideals. The need to balance the ideal with individuated interests has been at the core of splitter groupings in the South West that often leave it in a state of paralysis.

In a country where zonal sentiments are whipped up to gain personal, selfish national advantages dressed as group interests, the South West has seen itself contesting against itself to gain national advantages. While the philosophical tendency is oriented towards restructuring and true federalism, individual ambitions often see the zone tending towards a conservative leaning and thus aligning with the conservative north for short-term political advantages. It is perhaps the reason why an acclaimed progressive politician like Ahmed Bola Tinubu would align politically with an ultra-conservative like President Buhari.

It is also for this reason that Afenifere suffered as splinter group, with one referred to as Afenifere Renewal Group to take the body away from direct political involvement and remain a voice for the larger Yoruba nation and not one subsumed under individual interests. It is this pan-Yoruba group that readily aligns with the southern socio-cultural groupings to demand for a better and restructured Nigeria that would serve the interests of all.

Ohanaeze Ndigbo
THE foremost socio-cultural organization in the South East of the country Ohanaeze Ndigbo has a herculean task of giving a single voice to a largely republican people where every man is an eze (king) in his obi (home). It is why the body sometimes largely speaks at variance with governors from the zone who mainly serve interests that do not necessarily align with those of the average South Easterner. Like the other southern socio-cultural groups, Ohanaeze Ndigbo has kept the restructuring conversation alive with its insistence on the marginalization people from the zone.

As opposition to the government
ON why the regional voices’ seem strident in being up in arms against most policies of government, Dr. Takno Yinusa, argues, “There is no coordinated activity to see the impact of government. So, there is either one annihilation or marginalization cry from part of the country or the other. There are elements in the country interested in causing disunity, to create chaos. Unfortunately, we have leadership not taking cognizance of these forces causing disunity to decisively take action against them. The system is polarized completely; this country is completely unstable and the government is not doing enough to stop the drift.”

Yinusa said even a child born today could well diagnose Nigeria’s problems that range from a poor power supply, lack of a network of roads, instability, poor infrastructure, and poor economy, noting that if these were fixed, “Nigeria will function and Nigerians will unite. Unfortunately, we don’t have a government with the capacity to effectively do any of these and that is the problem.”

To lend credence to the position of LMBF is one of its leaders, Dr. Isuwa Dogo, who said the rising stridency of voices of socio-cultural groupings is merely in response to bad governance currently plaguing the country.

According to him, “We’re simply responding to issues of bad governance, issues incapacitating the economy of Nigeria, that Nigeria is in a comatose state, and the level of insecurity is unprecedented. Although we don’t have a civil war or external aggression, the dead are piling up every day. Only people who are callous that will not respond to these.”

He said as elders of their respective zones, it behooves them to ensure that “sanity prevails and not anarchy. If you wake up every day it’s all about death. The value of life means nothing; that is why people get killed because of N10. Nigeria is descending every day; life is short.”

Dogo is insistent in urging the socio-cultural groups to step up and “tell our political class the truth: Nigeria is descending into abyss and anarchy. We don’t have peace, but we are not at war. If something happens in Bayelsa, Sokoto, Enugu, we should condemn it. We condemn in totality what happened in Taraba State. Security forces should work together. We need comprehensive, systemic overhauling of security operations.”

Also, according to PANDEF’s Secretary-General, Mr. Alfred Mulade, until Nigeria realises the need to adopt recommendations of the 2014 confab report peace might continue to elude the country, adding, “600 recommendations on restructuring, fiscal federalism, resource derivation, state policing, devolution of powers and scraping of 68 items from the exclusive list. These are some of the decisions reached and then somebody sits down and says he won’t touch them. Not all of them can be done with executing fiat by but legislation. The government is a continuum. Issues we’re confronting are issues those recommendations deal with.

“People are trying to narrow the essence of that conference. President Goodluck Jonathan did his bit. If he’d returned he could have implemented the report. Those saying because Jonathan didn’t implement it, therefore, others shouldn’t do it do not have love of Nigeria at heart.

“A state governor doesn’t have a catapult; he can’t command a boy scout. Killings have become mere numbers. Only Boko Haram was the only issue during President Goodluck Jonathan’s time. Now it’s banditry, herdsmen, kidnappers and much more.”

An Afenifere chieftain, Prof. Seth Akintoye, is alarmed at how fast Nigeria is descending into anarchy. He argues that because politicians have messed up the country, it was no longer possible for the socio-cultural groups to keep quiet else the country further slides into anarchy.

As he put it, “It used to be just politicians in Nigeria. Things have gone beyond that level. We’re facing a situation akin to war; we’re fighting a war. People are coming to kill and banish you from your land. And we must stand up and defend our land. This is no longer politics but the war we are facing now.

“So, Afenifere doesn’t have to be responding once in a while, but we have to do so every day. This is war and people are finding ways to defend themselves.”

Akintoye said President Buhari has not done enough to rein in his Fulani brothers, saying, “There’s a plan by the Federal Government to inculcate Fulani enclaves all over Nigeria. People have better defend themselves.”

For Akintoye, “we cannot have a better national conference than the one held in 2014. It can help solve Nigeria’s problems.”
President for all

AS President Buhari and his government keep fumbling from one controversial policy to yet another, it is these regional socio-cultural groups that have kept hope alive for most Nigerians. Also, with state governors unable to raise their voices for fear the administration might prompt Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to wave evidence of sleaze against them, it is these zonal groupings that act as opposition and boldly speak their people’s minds against perceived oppression in the land.

And so until Buhari decides to run a government that benefits all Nigerians, these regional bodies will keep continue to a vigil and maintain their oppositional roles to keep Nigeria together.