Opinion (4/7/17) – Restructuring Nigeria: Waiting For Tinubu & Buhari, By Sam Ohuabunwa
It is so gratifying that Nigerians are coming to a consensus on the need to restructure the Country. It has been long in coming. The cry first started after June 12 1993. NADECO fired the first shots and PRONACO took on the main fight. Major proponents were the Yoruba of the South West with support from the South South and the South East. The leading lights of this struggle included Chief Anthony Enahoro, Adekunle Ajasin, Professor Wole Soyinka, Dr Beko Ransome Kuti, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Chief Ayo Opadokun, Chief Oluwide Omojola, Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu, Dr Kalu Idika Kalu and Olawale Okunniyi. The Yoruba Socio-political organization AFENIFERE has since stayed on it, with rising and falling tempo.
To lower or fully stop the agitation for a National Sovereign Conference which would restructure Nigeria, the North granted the West the ‘right’ to produce the replacement for Abiola. The Northern establishment led by Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalami Abubakar anointed Olusegun Obasanjo to become President. To everybody’s surprise, the call resumed after a few years of Obasanjo’s Presidency forcing Obasanjo to call his own bluff and empaneled the National Political Reform Conference in 2005. Even this did not stop PRONACO from proceeding on its own conference in 2006. Both CONFABs produced copious recommendations that would lead to restructuring the Country to return it to a proper and stable Federation. As would be expected, the PRONACO recommendations were more far reaching. Nevertheless none of these was easily acceptable to the North. I was in the 2005 Confab and I was surprised that virtually all the delegates from every part of the Country were unanimous in identifying the problems of Nigeria, its consistent stop & go syndrome that has made it a laughing stock to the World, but when it came to proferring the Solutions, the North, particularly the core North opposed virtually every change. They seemed to prefer the status quo. And that bothered me to no end. Finally the recommendations of 2005 did not see the light of day!
Then the South South agitation for Resource control came on strong on the scene. Asari Dokubo, Ateke Tom, Government Ekpemupolo( Tompolo), John Togo and many others formed their different militant units, the most dangerous being the Niger Delta Vigilante(NDV), Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer force( NDPVF), Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta( MEND), the Niger Delta Liberation Front( NDLF) and lately the Niger Delta Avengers( NDA).They made life unbearable for the oil companies in the Niger Delta, taking hostages, bursting pipelines and in the process impaired Nigeria’s ability to produce and export oil and gas. Some got into bunkering business big time.The oil companies shut down their operations and some relocated to Lagos. This forced Obasanjo to call the National Conference on one hand and to cede the vice presidency to the Niger Delta on the other hand. Again this power concession to the Niger Delta or the South South did not quite quell the militant agitations until President Umaru Yar’adua played the amnesty joker which calmed the agitation. But only for a while, because the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta( MEND) came on very strong in 2012 even when their ‘man’ Good luck Jonathan was the President, showing that the problem was much deeper than just being allocated the Presidency.
Then Jonathan came to power and the music changed. The Boko Haram insurgency started causing so much damage and disquiet. First,the fight against Boko Haram was seen by some people as a fight against the North, while some people saw Boko Haram as rebelling against the marginalization or mis treatment of the North. Jonathan tried his best to prove that he was not anti- north. While he was doing so, the rumblings in the South East with increasing activities of the MASSOB and the nascent birth of the IPOB combined with rumblings in the Middle Belt and the continued agitations for restructuring by the South West to compel him to call the 2014 National Conference. Again at this confab,the North generally opposed all talk about restructuring and it took great wisdom of the leadership of the conference to come with some agreements,most of which were only minimal requirements to keep the Nation together, nothing really far -reaching or revolutionary. Yet a few months ago, even these agreements that came from a high dose of compromise on all sides were repudiated by some of the Northern delegates.
For years, the agitation for Biafra by MASSOB( formed about 1998) went on without much trouble except for the occasional stay at-home order by the group,which were usually only partially successful. Mr Uwazurike the leader of the group had a running battle with Obasanjo, going in and out of detention. But the mainstream Igbo paid scant attention to him. The ante was raised when IPOB was born about 2012 even while their South-South ‘kinsman’ Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan was in power. But many Igbo and most other Nigerians never knew they existed, except those who occasionally stumbled unto ” Radio Biafra” which broadcasted from London or so. Enter President Muhammadu Buhari who announced that he would discriminate against the South East & South South Regions that gave him 5% support in the 2015 Presidential elections. He followed the announcement by ensuring the total exclusion of the South East from his appointments, except for the ministerial appointments where the constitution compelled him to appoint at least a minister from every State.He focused on the North that gave him 97% support. This enraged the Igbo and the Niger Delta People who were also discriminated against.
To pour petrol into fire, PMB authorized the arrest, detention and trial of the relatively unknown Nnamdi Kanu, the acclaimed IPOB leader. His followers poured out to the streets to ask for his release, Nigerian Security forces used live ammunition to break up the protests causing heavy casualties in Aba, Asaba and Onitsha. This drew the attention of many Igbo who hitherto had been kind of aloof to the IPOB struggle. When the federal Government refused to release Kanu on bail, support for him and his cause rose astronomically. And all over the Country a new chapter was opened on the restructuring campaign.
This matter drew in the Niger Delta avengers in 2016 who did not only support Nnamdi Kanu and his call for Biafra but went on to announce their own Republic of Niger Delta. Nigerians from all walks of life and regions began to support the call for Restructuring the Country. As all these were going on, the militant Fulani herdsmen who had limited their terror largely to the North Central Region and the Christian Farming regions of the North West and North East began a forceful March to the South, sacking communities, kidnapping, killing and maiming innocent citizens in Enugu, Anambra, Abia,Delta, Ondo and EKITI States mainly. This introduced the fear of an alleged new wave of Islamization to the unsolvable Nigerian equation.
At this point, Atiku Abubakar spoke forcefully that it was time we restructured Nigeria to help save Nigeria from itself. His,was the first major voice in support of restructuring from the North. Soon a couple of other Northerners began to soften their long held hard stand against Restructuring. Not long after, another Oracle spoke in Support. That was Olusegun Obasanjo who went on to add that it was time to allow the Igbo produce the President for Nigeria. Then Alhaji Shettima and his band of Arewa Youths-escalated the discourse when they gave a 90-day quit notice to the Igbo living in Northern Nigeria. In addition, they made what looked like a passionate appeal to the Government of Nigeria to allow the Igbo go through a UN – supervised self- determination referendum so that they could have their peace, since according to them the Igbo were responsible for all the ‘sins’ of Nigeria and ‘had not been humbled enough’ by all the vicissitudes visited on them by Nigeria.
Thereafter the dam got broken and the cry for restructuring the Nation and for self determination filled the air. From the Middle Belt forum, from the South west- AFENIFERE and the Odua Peoples Congress, from the South East, Ohaneze Ndigbo,Alaigbo Development Foundation, the World Igbo Congress and the World Igbo Summit came on strong, from the South South and then from the North.The Sultan of Sokoto began to call for dialogue and for the first time asked the Governments to arrest the armed Fulani Herdsmen. The Emir of Kano also spoke in similar tones. The Southern Peoples Assembly consisting of the three Regions in Southern Nigeria came together to forcefully demand for restructuring Nigeria. And then another Oracle spoke – Ibrahim Babangida, former Military President of Nigeria who fought every move to restructure Nigeria since 1993, came strong on the need to restructure Nigeria NOW. Even the APC progressive Governors forum has joined in the call for restructuring Nigeria despite the embarrassing tardiness and ambivalence
of their party on the subject which was on their manifesto. And then the National Assembly led by the Senate as representatives of the People has responded to the clarion call, directing the Presidency to represent the 2014 Confab report.
It is therefore gratifying that we have finally achieved a National consensus on the urgent and imperative need to restructure this lop-sided and unstable Federation to set it free to soar and excel. The only voices we are awaiting for, to start this critical redemptive work for Nigeria are those of Bola Ahmed Tinubu and PMB. But realizing that both Tinubu and Buhari had been in support of PRONACO and its strident recommendations to restructure Nigeria in 2006, it will be a monumental tragedy if history now records them as those who opposed or stopped a national consensus to restructure Nigeria peacefully! I pray that does not happen.
Mazi Sam I. Ohuabunwa OFR
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