From Petrus Obi, Enugu
His incarceration in 1984 at Kirikiri prisons following the military coup which aborted the second republic gave him time to think about Nigeria. It was a blessing in disguise as he came out of prison with the idea of six geo-political zonal structures, which he canvassed in the 1994 constitutional conference. It later became a convention, and has taken care of minorities in the South and Northern parts of the country.
The 17th Annual Convention of the Igbo Youth Movement which held recently in Enugu provided another forum to discuss Nigeria and former Vice President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme was in his elements. He recalled that: “it was on the basis of balancing the interest of the minority and majority that I came to the conclusion that we should have six regions or geo-political zones as you call them as at 1994 constitutional conference- three in the North and three in the South.
“From the South, you have South West, the Yoruba, you have South East, the Igbo and then you have two minority groups, Midwest and COR (Calabar, Ogoja and Rivers) as South-South, making three zones in the South.
“In the North you have the North West, which is Hausa/Fulani; then the North Central, Middle Belt which is aggregation of minorities ranging from Tiv’s to Idoma’s to Igalla to Nupe to Gwari and so on, and then in the North East again minorities predominated by the Kanuries in Borno and Yobe and then other minority groups in Adamawa and Taraba, Gombe and Bauchi.
“So, on that basis, we had three major geo-political zones and three minority geo-political zones: three in the North, three in the South, so parity on both sides.”
“There is need for us to return to the basics from what we inherited from our founding fathers,” he said.” He recalled that what Nigeria negotiated and agreed with colonial masters before independence was a regional government where each has a constitution, which was annexed to the Republican Constitution of 1963.
The republican constitution, he further noted provided for 50 per cent revenue sharing formula for the regions, 30 per cent to a distributable pool, and 20 per cent to the centre. Speaking on the theme of the convention, “Still in search of True Democracy,” Ekwueme and all other political actors who attended agreed on the need to restructure Nigeria starting with the immediate implementation of the 2014 National Conference report.
Also, Yoruba leader Ayo Adebanjo noted that the autonomy the regions enjoyed under the federal constitution gave each region the liberty to develop at its own pace and priority.
It was his view that to put a stop to the various acts of uprising in the country today, be it Niger Delta Avengers, MASSOB, IPOB or the new agitation for the state of Biafra, it would require a change of our constitution to allow for the restructuring of the country under a truly federal system. “Then, and only then, can we have peace in the country without which there can be no progress,” he said.
Former Minister for Information Prof. Jerry Gana stated that the nation’s founding fathers were right by agreeing to a federal structure, which he described as the best to guarantee peace, equity and justice.
In a remark entitled “that we may live together in peace”, Prof Gana stated that Nigeria should resolve as a people to love their God with all their heart, mind and strength; because then, they will be able to love their neighbour as themselves.
“In a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious and geographically diverse nation like Nigeria the only viable form of structure for governing, for living together in peace, is federalism.
“Therefore, our founding fathers devised excellently. If they had chosen any other form of association, the difficulties would have even been greater than this. So, federalism is the way forward; it is really the nature of that federal structure that we are now searching to make sure it works.
Niger Delta activist, Ankio Briggs who received the award of “Amazon of Truth” from IYM expressed dismay at the blame of murderous and criminal activities of Fulani herdsmen on Chadians and Nigeriens. She said that if that is the case, it then means that Somalia’s militants were responsible for the blowing of oil pipelines in Niger Delta region in the name of Avengers, and that nobody should blame Ijaws and other ethnic nationalities within the region.
“Our diversity is not our problem, it is the people who are manipulating the diversity wrongly that are our problem and we should not allow them.
“A lot of people have made a lot of sacrifices in Nigeria but there is a way people are made to feel in Nigeria, there are people that feel like they are second class citizens.
“I do not believe and I don’t buy into that idea, I do not believe that Nigeria must break but what I do believe is that if Nigeria continues the way Nigeria is going, that Nigeria will break. But that doesn’t mean that I want Nigeria to break.
“So, the problem must be solved. We cannot have a situation in 21st century of Nigeria, where people are slaughtered in broad day light, people working in their farm; we must discuss these things, I’m not agitating people, I’m speaking the truth.
“It is infuriating to say Biafrans didn’t see the war, therefore if they cry, there will be war. You cannot threaten a man who is dead that you are going to kill him. He is already dead.
“We have a religious problem in this country and we must accept it and face it. I’m a Christian, I have never seen where a Christian group has gotten up and gotten angry because of what; there is a governor today that spoke blasphemously about Jesus Christ, he is still alive, he ran for election, he is a governor today; nobody kills him. What is the meaning of blasphemy?
“Blasphemy is not in any law in Nigeria, therefore, to say that you will behead a woman that she blasphemed; you behead somebody, then you bring four people and say that they are the people and you jail them for how long?
“No! The punishment should go further than the four people. The governor should be held accountable politically, the Emir of that place.
“How can you say that a Christian who is living and working in the North that he did not observe a fast of Muslims, then you attack him in this new Nigeria? I have not heard of it before, this is a new thing that is coming and we must say no!
“On the 28 of September last year (2015), our president went to the United Nations as the president of Nigeria, not as a Muslim president or Christian president; he went as president of Nigeria and he called upon the United Nations to without delay grant the Palestinian people self determination. How do you lock up my brother and my son, Kanu for saying exactly the same thing, how? And Kanu is a Nigerian asking for that in Nigeria and a Nigerian president went to United Nations on behalf of Nigeria and made the same request on behalf of somebody who is not a Nigerian and you are now locking him up, no!
In his speech, former governor Peter Obi of Anambra State stressed that he supports restructuring the country on the basis of fiscal federalism even as he said there was need to urgently address the high cost of governance in the country.
He said that any governor who said he can’t pay salary should give way for other persons with better ideas. Governor Obi who was honored with the award of “Best Governor Ever” stated that the governors cannot be complaining of not having money when they lavish it on frivolities. For another governor of Anambra State, Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife who also received the award of “Igbo Peoples General”, the 2014 national conference report recommended additional 18 states to make for 48 state-structures in order to address some inequalities created by the military.
“We wanted to succeed at Abuja (2014 confab) on the issues we discussed. That made us broaden a group, consultative group and we from the East and West found that some people are suffering especially in the Middle-belt and they demanded some structural changes in their area.”
President of the IYM, Evangelist Elliot Uko said he was pleasantly surprised that the speakers spoke the truth for all to hear; that Nigeria should urgently restructure along the lines of true fiscal federalism. The delay in implementing the 2014 confab resolutions is dangerous. The centrifugal forces pulling on all sides, clearly indicate that Nigeria might burst at the seams.
“The truth about our dear Country is that some people have a post 1970 mindset. They want to take back Nigeria to the heady days in the early 1970s, when their word was law, when everybody trembled at their presence, when they shared our patrimony according to their whims, while the whole country worshiped them as the victorious army of conquest.
“They find it hard to see, that the unitary structure they instituted cannot carry us through. They refuse to accept the fact that the present 36 state structure is unsustainable. As their old and archaic thoughts about Nigeria, clashes with the reality on ground, they erroneously resort to brutal suppression of the truth, in the false hope that the people would be cowed into submission.”