By Dayo Johnson, Ola Ajayi, Shina Abubakar Ojo, Rotimi Ojomoyela and James Ogunnaike
Some Yoruba leaders, at the weekend, reacted with cautious optimism to the news that a coalition of northern groups was supporting the demand for the restructuring of the country but rejected zoning.
“We keep our fingers crossed because this type of grandiloquent declarations are not new from the leadership of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) and the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) which are the only known groups among those which issued the communiqué”, a chieftain of Afenifere and a member of the 2014 National Conference, Chief Olusola Ebiseni, said.
On his part, a former National President of Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE), Dansaaki Samuel Adeleye Agbede, said, “If they truly and sincerely want to pursue the option of restructuring, they will get the attention of people.”
Also reacting to the development, a notable Yoruba leader and former Nigeria’s envoy to the Philippines, Dr Yemi Faroumbi, disclosed that no President would succeed with the present Constitution of the country.
The Yoruba of the South-West region have been at the forefront of the campaign for the restructuring of Nigeria in a way that more powers will move from the Federal Government to the states.
The campaign became louder in the wake of the worsening insecurity across the country, leading to the demand for state police as against the present structure which provides for federal controlled police.
Proponents of restructuring speak about fiscal federalism which will see state governments being given more responsibilities but control the resources in their domains, earn money and pay tax to the Federal Government.
They point to the arrangement in place during the First Republic when the regions grew at their own pace with the Western Region making money from cocoa, Eastern Region from palm oil and rubber and Northern Region from cotton and groundnut, a situation that engendered healthy competition until the military came and foisted unitary government on the nation.
NEF, ACF, Coalition of Northern Groups, CNG, and other conveners of the Northern Peoples Summit had, on Friday, said that restructuring the country was now a vital necessity for Nigeria’s survival as one united entity.
The North, they, however, insisted, will not be stampeded or blackmailed into taking major decisions around rotating the presidency.
While reading the communiqué after the Summit held at the Arewa House Kaduna, Prof. Doknan Danjuma Sheni, Chairman of the Communiqué Drafting Committee, said the Northern Peoples Summit, convened on the 7th and 8th of April, 2021 at Arewa House, Kaduna, discussed issues bedeviling the North and the Nigerian state.
“These include security, restructuring, economic, politics and the survival of the Nigerian state”, Sheni said.
“After two days’ intensive discussions, they resolved to sustain the Summit as a productive forum for utilizing Pan-Northern assets in the search for resolution of Northern problems”.
According to him, they also resolved to encourage northern elites and political leadership to improve their levels of sensitivity to inclusiveness and management of the North’s pluralism.
“The North will be stronger if it addresses its internal weaknesses particularly around ethno-religious matters as it relates to its challenges with the rest of Nigeria.
“Perception and practice of creating minorities and majorities among northerners should have no place in the North, nor is discrimination on the basis of place, faith or ethnic group of any Northerner.
“The North believes that restructuring the country is now a vital necessity for survival as one united entity”.
The communiqué was signed by Air Marshal Al-amin Daggash for NEF, Amb. Ibrahim Mai-Sule for ACF, Dr. Usman Bugaje for Arewa Research Development Project (ARDP), Engr. Bello Suleiman for Code Group (CG), and Dr. Sadiq Umar Abubakar Gombe for The Northern Movement (TNM).
Others were Comrade (Dr.) Innocent Ahure for Northern Dev. Resource Centre (NDRC), Alh. Bashir Othman Tofa for Kano Concerned Citizens Initiative (KCCI), Haj. Bilkisu Oniyangi for Arewa Initiative for Good Governance (AIGG), Dr. Rose Danladi Idi for Northern Initiative Forum for Dev. (NIFD), Nastrura Ashir Shariff for CNG and Yerima Shettima for Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF)
Speaking on the development, Ebiseni, a chieftain of Afenifere, said his group would keep their fingers crossed until they were sure of the northern groups’ position.
His words: “We keep our fingers crossed because grandiloquent declarations are not new from the leadership of the Arewa Consultative Forum and the Northern Elders Forum which are the only known groups among those which issued the communique.
“They were delegates at the 2014 National Conference where decisions on restructuring the Nigerian state were taken by consensus only to sing new and discordant tunes since Buhari’s presidency came into office.
“They sought relentlessly to confuse Nigerians by asking that the issues in restructuring be defined while the Southern Leaders and Middle Belt Forum insisted on the Resolutions and Reports of the 2014 National Conference as the minimum template for peaceful coexistence and development of Nigeria, its land, nationalities and people.
“We are not taken in but nevertheless encouraged by this born-again declaration by elements from the far North.
“We only wait for more details in the hope that the nation may thereby be pulled back from the precipice”.
Agbede, a former National President of YCE, demanded sincerity on the part of the northern groups, saying, “This is what we have been advocating and advising. People should not leave a matter to an extent when it will be uncontrollable.
“We are having problems all over Africa. Insurgency and kidnappings and other crimes things are spreading. The issue of unity should be put aside for now and let’s discuss if these people truly want us to live together because there is no way you will be dominating people and you continue to show you are dominating them.
“Then you are talking glibly about one Nigeria. It is self-deceit and mere hallucinations because all these people having an illusion that they will overrun everybody, it will not happen as they think.
“If they truly and sincerely want to pursue the option of restructuring, they will get the attention of people.
“The younger ones don’t want to see us eye-to-eye because of the attacks, kidnappings and killings they are witnessing on daily basis.
“We are witnessing unbridled nepotism on daily basis. These youths are looking at elders as if we have sold them out.
“It is not so but we are very careful about the aftermath of violence. It is better we sit down at a round-table and discuss.
“There is no way we are going to sit down and talk if these killings and kidnappings continue. So, we say let’s avoid genocide and needless murder of citizens of Nigeria.
“My emphasis is on sincerity. If they’re sincere, they will have listening ears from the elders of other ethnic groups in the country”.
Faroumbi, a former Nigeria’s envoy to the Philippines, believed that no President would succeed with the present Constitution of the country.
He said, “Unless we write a people’s Constitution for Nigeria, no matter who is the President, no matter where he comes from, he is not going to make much success.
“Fundamental requirement today is a rearrangement of the Constitution, a reordering of our priorities, a re-examination of all the errors we have made in the last 40 years since we abolished federalism.
“I believe that is the most critical thing that the nation requires. If we do that, we will find that the presidency is not as important to our lives as it is now.
“If we reduce the 52 per cent of the total revenue that goes to the Federal Government to about 40 percent or less, as recommended by the 2014 National Conference, we may find that the presidency does not hold all of us by the jugular again.
“If we reduce the number of items on the Exclusive List from 68 to the 22 that it used to be, then we you will find that all our lives will not depend on a President or on a central government.
“So it might be in our interest to rearrange our Constitution, have a true federal Constitution, where the federation units will no longer be subordinate to the central, where the powers would be deposited nearer the people, that is, more powers at the local government and at the state level or whatever the federation units are, than at the centre.
“If we do all of these, like we had until January 1966, you may find that the clamour or the bitter struggle for the presidency wouldn’t be there, because the powers or resources will be nearer the people at the federation units”.
The Yoruba position
Also reacting to the communique, YCE Secretary General, Dr Kunle Olajide, described the issues raised by the northerners as a welcome development, saying it raised hope of a beginning to an end in the struggle for the disintegration of the nation.
“For me, the Northern Peoples Summit is a very welcome development. Reading through the communiqué, immediately you get the impression that virtually all parts of this nation are not happy with the situation of things”, Olajide said.
“We had our own summit in 2017 and we raised some of these issues, we had a long time ago identified some of these fundamental problems that have now snowballed into major crisis in the country today.
“We must congratulate them. Though there are few items in the communique that need to be discussed, let me say it straight away, the position of the Yoruba nation is that we need a truly federal people’s constitution for this country because we cannot run away from the fact that we are different peoples that make up this country. And when the colonial masters were amalgamating us, they did not seek our consent, it was like a forced marriage. We are different peoples with different cultures and even up to this moment different beliefs.
“So, let us begin from the beginning now, let the people of Nigeria sit together and jointly decide how they want to live together like the Americans did in the eighteenth century.
“We must sit down and agree on the powers we want to concede to the Federal Government and the ones we want to give o the other federating units that make up the country, we will agree on them and put them in the new constitution”.
Ebenezer Babatope: Decision a bit late, but …
Also speaking, a former Minister of Transport and a close associate of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Chief Ebenezer Babatope, said: “No part of the country would gain from the nation’s break-up. And like the great sage, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who fought for a united Nigeria, said the Yoruba nation is very desirous of realignment of the country to ensure that the nature of our federal structure is properly defined.
“We cannot run away from the fact that we are a federation and we must ensure that we do everything to maintain our unity, no matter the cost.
“The leaders today must realize that it is important to so do. We were born as Nigerians and we don’t want to live as people from different nations born out of Nigeria.
“The northern groups, if they have realised the need for restructuring, though, a bit late, it is the right way to go. The pressure on who becomes the President will reduce drastically. More powers and resources would be within the federating units and more focus would be on good governance at that level”.
Otunba Tayo Onayemi, Ogun State Coordinator, Yoruba Interest Group, reacted angrily, saying,
“The fragmented and dubious North of Nigeria is at it again, dictating pompously.
“The Fulani are using the Hausa and other willing members of the North to issue orders to the South on how to exercise their fundamental human rights while at the same time playing the victim. Were they alive when Gumi was educating us about the ethnic war declared on the South by Fulani?
“Deceitful slave masters, the South will react shortly and appropriately.
“Our focus is disembowelment of the contraption called Nigeria.
“The forced amalgamation has expired since 2014.
“Southerners will never again be dictated to by the North about how we will live our lives,where to go and who we will associate with. Never”.
Chief Jimoh Olawale Taofeek, founder, Oduduwa United Peoples Association (ODUPA), also spoke.
“Those groups calling for restructuring now as a vital necessity for survival are yet to wake up to the reality in Nigeria”, Taofeek said.
“Let’s not shy away our responsibility. Restructuring is not the best option for the country in the present situation that we find ourselves.
“Instead, the best solution is for each region to go on peaceful sovereignty without embarking on violence so as to design the way forward of governance towards the growth and development of each region”.
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