By Ayo Oyoze Baje
“No state is poor in this country; it is this over-dependence on the Federal Government.”
– Gov. Nyesom Wike of Rivers State
The fundamental flaws that define the recurring ugly decimal of political instability in Nigeria include dysfunctional political structure of the high cost of accessing political power, humungous costs of the pay packages of political appointees, some leaders’ greed-driven, selfish, sectional agendas far removed from the national interest and of course, lack of an enduring allegiance to the nation-state. Against this dark background it is little of a surprise therefore, that over six decades after political independence Nigeria still ranks as the world capital of extreme poverty and home to the world’s highest number of school-aged children out of school. Indeed, that it still parades malnutrition conundrum of the children caught in the dehumanizing web of stunting, wasting and lack of vital nutrients to promote sound health paints the picture of leadership failure. That this paradox of preventable poverty has persisted in the midst of abundant natural and human resources, spanning the decades is a telling indictment of the political elite. That is irrespective of the political parties that have governed the country ever since. In the face of all these challenges, one cannot but commend the courage and candour of concerned Nigerians who have ventilated their views on the shoddy state of the country and brainstormed to fathom the best way out of the wood. Incidentally, the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum (SMBLF) is one of such groups of patriotic Nigerians.
Recently, members of the group, chaired by Chief Edwin Clark, Ayo Adebanjo, George Obiozor and Pogu Bitrus – leaders of Pan Niger Delta Forum, Afenifere, Ohanaeze Ndigbo and Middle Belt Forum, respectively, met in Abuja and came up with several declarations. That was after meaningful and painstaking deliberations on our current socio-economic and political quagmire that should serve as food-for-thought for those who cherish a peaceful country. The meeting was also attended by former governors, ministers, federal and state legislators, top politicians and professionals from the southern and Middle Belt regions. The communique, which was signed by Clark, Adebanjo, Obiozor and Pogu, stated that power must shift to the South in 2023 when Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari would leave office. It is worthy of note that the plum position of Nigeria’s president has been swinging between the North and the South in line with a power rotation arrangement that has been in place since the country returned to civilian rule in 1999. Ordinarily, given the long period of denial of the people of the south-eastern geo-political zone the post of the president, should swing in its favour. But some northern politicians of note have indicated interest in running for president. With the contentious delays ahead of the national convention of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) there are indications that the 2023 presidential election may be thrown open to all the regions. Ditto for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). According to the communiqué of SMBLF: “The basis of any viable democracy, especially in a diverse and complex country such as Nigeria, is fair and even sharing of power” Leaders of the Southern and Middle Belt forum warned that any political party that did not zone its presidential ticket to the South should not expect support from the four regions represented in the meeting – South-East, South-South, South-West and Middle-Belt. Well said. But it must be noted that when it comes to winning elections candidates with the majority votes would be declared as winners.
What this means therefore, is that members of SMBLF should do more than they have said with regards to mass mobilization and enlightenment of the voters, fence-mending with those in clear opposition to their position and prevent all forms of betrayal that may arise from within its fold. The said SMBLF leaders should be reminded that their demand that power should shift to the South was openly opposed by the Northern States Governors’ Forum, the umbrella body of governors of the states in Nigeria’s northern regions at a meeting in Kaduna in September 2021. It stated that the demand by the Southern governors was unconstitutional. And like it or not, the north commands the largest number of eligible voters. One’s concern therefore, is the fact that not a few of our political leaders are putting the carte before the horse. The undue and extreme focus of concentrating enormous political powers at the federal centre is an aberration that should be done away with before the 2023 general elections. Focus should rather go to the holistic restructuring of the current contraption of a country where the state governors still go cap-in-hand to Abuja for the so called monthly allocation. If, for instance, the country is restructured along the six geo-political zones catalyzed with true fiscal federalism power would be devolved from the bloated centre to the zones. Less attention would be on who becomes the next president. Political tension would be drastically reduced. Internecine struggles for who controls Aso Rock will be the exception rather than the rule of the seasonal political gambits and games. Better still, the unleashing of the latent, huge economic potentials of the zones would engender healthy competition as it was during the First Republic in the ‘60s. Back then the Northern Region, under Sir Ahmadu Bello boasted of the true pyramids of cotton and groundnut along with the high-selling hides and skin. The Eastern Region with Michael Okpara had its oil palms and rubber to galvanize the fastest developing entity under the Commonwealth countries. And of course, the Western Region under the sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo called the economic shots with cocoa revenues that funded Free Education policy, construction of good access roads, the Liberty Stadium, the iconic Cocoa House and the first television station in Sub-Sahara Africa. It is gratifying that the SMBLF leaders aligned with my thoughts. They noted that Nigeria’s Constitution and structure were grossly flawed and lopsided. They are demanding the fundamental restructuring of the country through the enactment of a new constitution that would enthrone equity, fairness and justice. “It must be One Nation, One System,” the communique said.
On the sensitive issue of insecurity the communique condemned “the continued senseless killings of innocent citizens across the country by terrorists and criminals,” especially in the North-West. It called on the government and security agencies to redouble efforts to safeguard the lives and property of Nigerians. Impunity and injustice must be vehemently rejected if Nigeria must realize her full potentials as a prosperous nation.”
While advising the National Assembly to only give consideration to bills that would promote equity, justice, peace and national cohesion instead of issues that would exacerbate conflicts and crisis in the country, it urged governors and members of the National Assembly of the South-East, South-West, South-South and Middle-Belt to commit themselves to the subject of restructuring. As the months roll into weeks and days before 2023 general elections, the robust content of the communiqué of the SMBLF should drive the philosophies, principles and policies of the political parties. This will no doubt, douse the tensions built over the years by the separatist agitations. A stitch in time saves nine.