Saturday, 3rd June 2023

When agitation for restructuring comes with higher pitch from the creeks

By Niyi Bello (Political Editor) who was in Yenagoa
28 March 2018   |   4:28 am
More than ever before and with more commitment, the agitation for restructuring of the Nigerian federation took fresh vibrancy as the ethnic nationalities from Southern and Middle Belt parts of Nigeria...

Edwin Kiagbodo Clark

More than ever before and with more commitment, the agitation for restructuring of the Nigerian federation took fresh vibrancy as the ethnic nationalities from Southern and Middle Belt parts of Nigeria, spoke with a strong voice demanding a redefined Nigeria before the next round of elections.

The persistent call for restructuring of the Nigerian federation in line with true federalism got more strident last weekend when hundreds of compatriots drawn from the Southwest, Southeast, South-South and the Middle Belt regions of the country gathered at Yenagoa, capital of oil-producing Bayelsa State to demand, with a loud cry that resonated in the outlying creeks, that government architecture must be redesigned before next year’s general elections.

The demand by this rich array of nationalists from Afenifere, the Yoruba socio-cultural and political group, its Igbo counterpart, Ohaneze N’digbo, Middle Belt Forum (MBF) as well as the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), was the climax of a two-day meeting that culminated in a grand rally at the picturesque Ox-bow Lake Pavilion located at one of the numerous waterfronts of the metropolis.

To drum in the seriousness of the demand which among others, came to be known as ‘Yenagoa Declaration,’ participants at the event that was witnessed by thousands of delegates of various groups from across the six core Niger Delta states, vowed to do everything legally and humanly possible to ensure that “Nigeria is redirected from this path of doom that the country has taken since the principle of true federalism was thrown overboard by military coupists.”

Coming at a time that the nation’s unity was at its lowest ebb with armed herdsmen slaughtering hundreds across the land amid a spirally downward economy that portends nothing but gloom in the socio-political space, the demand seemed to align with the thoughts of many other prominent Nigerians, including past leaders, that something urgent is needed to be done to save the country.

Perhaps with the richest array of leaders across the country in recent times and a big statement on the handshake not only across the Niger but also across the Benue, the Yenagoa rally, in the words of Professor Godini Darah, a co-chairman of the central planning committee of the event, was a follow-up to the one on the same subject hosted and held in Ibadan, the political capital of the Southwest last year.

Bayelsa governor, Seriake Dickson who played host to representatives of his brother governors in the six states of the geo-political zone, set the tone along the theme of the rally, “Restructuring the Nigerian Federation,” when he declared in his address that only restructuring will guarantee the development, unity and peaceful coexistence of the country adding, “those championing the cause of restructuring are the patriots and true believers in the Nigerian project.”

In his remarks, the Special Guest of honour and former President of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan urged Nigerians to closely study the recommendations of the 2014 National Conference, which he brokered, with a view to finding a common ground in resolving issues agitating the people. Represented by Senator Nimi Barigha Amange, Jonathan said the call for restructuring is not misplaced as it would go a long way in addressing the structural challenges of the country and ensures equal rights to all Nigerians.

Chairman of the occasion, Chief Albert Horsfall, spoke more forcefully when he said, “The oil and gas belong to us, our freedom is a constitutional right, above all it is God given right and nobody can give it to us or take it from us, therefore we should stop complaining. We of the Niger Delta own this oil, the money that accrues to the country from it is ours, today you may be in charge, but tomorrow, we may be in charge, that is why we are asking for restructuring, tomorrow we will take to ourselves what belongs to us and we will snatch it from those who have been sitting on our lives for so long.”

Speaking in the same vein, National Leader of PANDEF, Chief Edwin Clark said, “The purpose of this rally is for us to manage our own resources and if the governor of Bayelsa State as a federating unit of Nigeria was allowed to manage its own resources, what we are seeing in Yenagoa today would be different. There will be more improvement and that is why we are gathered today. The gathering today is the greatest gathering of the people of four regions in one place.

“What are we fighting for is restructuring. We want quality in this country, we want to feel that we are all members of this society, a situation whereby the resources I have in my backyard are been mismanaged by others and they feel that I should be thankful to them for the privileged they have given to me, I will never allow it and that is the purpose of our gathering. We must trust ourselves, no more going back, nobody should chicken out, nobody is more important than us in this country, we are all equal.”

Going down memory lane, leader of the Afenifere delegation, Chief Ayo Adebanjo who led a team that comprised of Chief Olu Falae, Supo Sonibare, Professor Banji Akintoye, Dr. Amos Akingba, former Ondo governor, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko and Yinka Odumakin among others, said what is today known as the struggle for resource control was started by Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the late Premier of the defunct Western Region who made a strong case for the minorities in the 1954 London Constitutional Conference. He expressed the readiness of the Southwest to sustain the clamour for restructuring because “without it, Nigeria cannot continue to exist.”

President-General of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Chief John Nwodo

Presenting the position of Ohaneze Ndigbo, its President, Chief John Nwodo who came in company of Chief Guy Ikoku, Dr. Walter Ofonagoro and others said “We have come here to dramatize the solidarity of the people of Southern and Middle Belt of Nigeria in the call for a new structure of Nigeria based on equity and the principles of federalism. Why do we want restructuring, for young people who have come here, I want you to be the apostles of this principle, which is why I am asking this question like a teacher ask in the class and I will help you to answer it. We want restructuring because every country is moving forward but our country is moving backwards.

“Today, Nigerians are killing Nigerians everywhere, in Ondo, the nearly murdered former Secretary to the Government of the Federation in his own farm. In Benue, they are killing them day by day, in Plateau; they are butchering them day by day, in Enugu they came to Uzuwani Local Government and killed 100 people, in Agatu in Benue state, and they killed 500 people. It has never been this bad.”

Leader of the MBF delegation, Dr. Bala Takaya who came with Air Commodore Dan Suleiman, Senator David Jang and others, in his submission, called on youths and the womenfolk to join in the task of taking back the country from the precipice. While stressing that the Middle Belt is in the vanguard for the call for true federalism through restructuring, he said only true federalism will give a sense of belonging to all ethnic nationalities in Nigeria and stop the ongoing ethnic cleansing across the country.

While the elders in the large gathering, mainly octogenarians who have seen it all since the dawn of day in Nigeria were affirmative but diplomatic in their approach, the same could not be said of the younger elements who declared with unveiled threats that the volatile region that produces the bulk of the country’s earnings, could still be enveloped in violence and economic sabotage if the demands for resource control and fiscal federalism are not met.

The warnings came in the speech of leader of Niger Delta Volunteer Force (NDVF), Asari Dokubo who said that given the scenario that the country has found itself with a leadership that does not want to do anything along the line of restructuring; the best option would be to take to the creeks again.

Also speaking in a more direct manner, President of Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) who led hundreds of fierce-looking youths to the event stated matter-of-factly that “we are going to take this country through another round of restiveness again. We are poised to do everything possible to tell those who want to play politics with restructuring that they are wrong. We must restructure this country and take over the control of our resources.”

A new platform
The night before the rally, a meeting of the leaderships of the regions was held at the Creek Haven Government House where a new political front, the Mass Alliance for Inclusive Nigeria (MAIN)

Front was floated to give flesh to the restructuring agitation. The new movement, which may transform into a political party is a baby of the alliance formed out of the coalition of ethnic nationalities from the Southern and Middle Belt regions of Nigeria.

Rising from the meeting that went late into the night, the coalition decided to float the platform to actualize the agitation for restructuring of the Nigeria federation and according to MBF’s Takaya, “the new platform will effect the restructuring of the Nigeria state to a federal system of government, where each and every federating unit shall hold equal and coordinate powers with the central authority, and where no state is subjected to inferior position in the country.”

Legacy format detected for design:

Speaking at a press conference that ended the meeting and heralded the mega rally the following morning, Takaya who spoke on behalf of all the leaders present invited “fellow Nigerians, desirous of equity, fairness and justice in the affairs of our dear country, to join us in the task of saving the sinking ship of the state. Our desire and commitment is that our dear country, which it has pleased God to bless with abundant natural and human resources, as to guarantee her citizens ‘good life for all, and life more abundant,’ may resume her delayed journey towards the fulfillment of its manifest destiny.

Ayo Adebanjo

“We declare, without equivocation at all, that Nigeria shall be great again, and in our life time. We specifically call on the youths, in whom the destiny of this country lies, and our womenfolk, on whose shoulders God has bestowed our homes, as rightful custodians to family legacies, to assume ownership and join in the task of taking back our country. We are one with any organization that is committed to these noble ideals directed at saving a nation that is evidently currently enveloped in crisis.

“In the days ahead, more information on the direction of engagement in MAIN Front, including where it is headed in the increasingly charged and intolerant political area, shall be unveiled by the steering committee. In the meantime, we invite you all to bear in mind that the duty of snatching Nigeria from the precipice into which it is racing, is that of all to champion.”

In a communiqué issued at the end of the meeting, the group re-emphasized its time-honored position that restructuring of the federation will definitely address the series of national security and developmental challenges been encountered by the nation.

The meeting among other things called on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to ensure that a mechanism is put in place to enable the registration of all eligible elections to avoid disenfranchising any part of the country. The meeting also emphasized the imperatives of free, fair and peaceful elections in 2019 and cautioned that anything that will jeopardize the election will constitute a threat to democracy and must be addressed immediately.

It also called on the Federal Government to take the war against insurgency more seriously and put an end to it, just as they condemned the murderous activities of herdsmen and urged the government to put an end to the menace.

The communiqué was signed by Takaya, Professor Jerry Gana and Air Commodore Dan Suleiman for the MBF, Chief Edwin Clark, Alabo Tonye Graham-Douglas and Air Commodore Idongest Nkanga for the South-South, Chief John Nwodo, Chukwuemeka Ezeife and Dr. Walter Ofonagoro for the Southeast, while Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Chief Olu Falae and Femi Okunroumu, signed on behalf of the Southwest. Other prominent leaders at the event include Chief Turner Isoun, Professot Tim Menakaya, Major General Zamani Lekwot and Senator Bassey Henshaw.