For close to six decades of gaining independence and more than 100 years of its amalgamation, Nigeria is still evidently a work-in-progress with agitations for its restructuring fast becoming a national agenda. But where does the Yoruba agenda sit in all of these? Ademola Babalola asks
Nigeria as it stands today bears the semblance of a failed nation. Nothing appears to be working. Its various ethnic nationalities and tribal configurations are still enmeshed in needless blame game and mistrust that could make the marriage of over a 100 years end up in divorce sooner than envisaged. A nation that gained independence since 1960 is still in search of quality leadership, good governance, accountability and remarkable developments of all major components parts comparable to some countries that gained independence about the same time.
This informed why agitations for secession or restructuring have been on the rise of recent. Curiously, save for a few notable northerners like former Head of State, Ibrahim Babangida, and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, agitators for the nationâ€™s restructuring or returning to regional governments of the old are people of the Southern Nigerian that make up 17 States of the 36 States and the Federal Capital Territory.
While the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) led by Nnamdi Kanu is seeking Biafra Republic â€“ a move that continues to threaten the very fabric of Nigeria to its foundation â€“ the other southerners nay Yoruba are divided over what they are looking for at the moment. Some of its front line politicians, recently canvassed for Oduduwa Republic and this stand was echoed by a former Minister of Aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode, who called on the Yoruba elders to prepare for an agitation for Oduduwa Republic if restructuring was not possible.
â€œIf we cannot have regional restructuring, let us prepare ourselves for Oduduwa Republic. That is the thinking of the majority of our people but as a first step, let us demand for restructuring. We appeal to the federal government, all political leaders and all parties, let us restructure this country and devolve power to the state. Give us the power to live our lives. Nobody can suppress the Yoruba people, nobody can stop us, we are the sons of Oduduwa and we shall go forth,â€ Fani-Kayode had insisted.
The Yoruba Liberation Command said restructuring was too late to save the nation. According to the groupâ€™s spokesperson, George Akinola, Yoruba had been trampled upon in the Nigeria arrangement, saying it was time to gain independence.
â€œOur position is that it is too late for restructuring in Nigeria. In 1962, there was a problem in Nigeria when Awolowo was arrested. Several other crises in the country led to a coup. Yoruba have been losing their footing on the ground since then. In 1993, the June 12 election won by MKO was annulled. See where we are today. We are not for restructuring or national conference but Oduduwa Republic.
â€œWe are serious about our demands. Every region has its agitation. Nigeria is the impediment to the development of the Oduduwa Republic. We had television before France and radio before South Africa. Look at where we are today. Restructuring is what we need and we are talking to our leaders. They talk about giving the country another chance but I think that has ended.â€™â€™
Instructively however, the proponents of the Oduduwa Republic are in the minority as the outcome of the summit maintained stand on restructuring or devolution of more powers to the states.
In this category are the Ooni of Ife, Oba Enitan Ogunwusi, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Dr. Kunle Olajide, Aare Afe Babalola, former Governor Gbenga Daniel of Ogun State, OPC National Coordinator, Chief Gani Adams, Chief Adeniyi Akintola, SAN, Dr. Tokunbo Awolowo-Dosunmu, the President of Yoruba Council of Elders, Chief Idowu Sofola, SAN, Archbishop Ayo Ladigbolu, the Atayese group led by Chief Tokunbo Ajasin, Prof. Remi Sonaya, Chief Wale Oshun, Ambassador Babatunde Fadunmiyo (Represented Kogi Yoruba speaking areas) and Adebayo Daramola.
While Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State graced the event and carpeted some Yoruba leaders as enemies of the race over their agitation for self-actualisation, his brother Governors of the western States of Ogun, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, was represented by Commissioner for Integration, Bashorun Adebola Adeife. Others were the Commissioner for Special Duties, Osun State, Ogunsola Toogun, who represented Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola; Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Bimbo Kolade represented Senator Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo state and Professor Wale Ademodu represented Arakunrin Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State.
Ohanaeze in the South-east and Pan Niger Delta leaders led by Chief John Nwodo and Albert Horsfall respectively supported the summit with far-reaching positions and recommendations.
Nwodo, who led the South-east delegation to the summit, said Nigerians, especially, people in the Southern part, were being ruled with a set of document they were not party to, adding that it was time for every region to dictate its level of development as it was in the regional system of the past.
â€œIs it wrong to have a say in your country? Is it right to be ruled by a document that you are not party to? What we are saying today is that the people of Nigeria must have a say in the way they are governed. It is not only the Yoruba that are saying it; we the Igbo are saying it loud and clear. Many people have tried to destroy restructuring by saying it is a ploy by Southern Nigeria to monopolise the God-given mineral resources in the area. Those who are doing this do not love Nigeria.â€
Leader of the Pan Niger Delta Forum, Albert Horsfall, said Nigeriaâ€™s structure was lopsided and that it gave undue advantage to a set of people to be at the saddle, because of questionable population figure that remained unproven.
Horsfall said, â€œThe whole issue of restructuring depends on the control of what you or your soil produces. We in the South-south have for several decades provided the engine room that runs Nigeria but we are still expecting to be given the privilege to run our own affairs. That is the restructuring that we are talking about. The rest of us in the South speak with one voice over restructuring. We believe in one Nigeria but every country must do something and contribute something to the nation. We do not want a system called federation but based on unitary system of government.
However, with just 24 hours to the All Progressives Congress (APC) zonal meeting on the desirability or otherwise for the much-talked restructuring of Nigeria, coming a few days after the Yoruba Summit, where the zone canvassed strictly for restructuring of Nigeria along federal lines, there appears to be a long way to go as no end is in sight by these agitators for restructuring.
While Nigerians are eagerly awaiting the outcome of the APC on restructuring within the next few days, the agitators are unambiguous and emphatic that for Nigeria to continue as an indivisible corporate entity, it has to be renegotiated. The reasons are not far-fetched. Yoruba mostly inhabited by the South western part of Nigeria was blessed with many â€˜firstsâ€™ in the annals of Nigeria.
Talk of the high quality infrastructure like the first sky scraper, the 25-storey Cocoa House Ibadan; the First Television Station in Africa; the best network of roads; the first modern Stadium; the first modern Housing Estate; set up the Pilgrimsâ€™ Welfare Board and was visionary to make Primary Education free for all its people which till date places them in vantage position in Nigeria.
With all these achievements made possible under a regional government pioneered by the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, whose philosophy and vision for development was clear, the place of the Yoruba was long secured.
Daughter of the sage, Dr. Tokunbo Awolowo Dosunmu, while joining those calling for restructuring at the summit remarked thus: â€œThese times, and, particularly, this campaign for political restructuring, calls for unprecedented determination and steadfastness on the part of those of us who believe in the need for a true Federal Republic of Nigeria. And, on the part of the apprehensive, the times call for a willingness to dialogue, with a view to charting the way forward together, towards a mutually rewarding future as well as a more enduring and stable polity.
She recalled that Awolowo â€œHad a fantastic team which, in his own words, was â€˜unexcelledâ€™ and, â€˜of which any head of government anywhere in the world would be proudâ€™ and, crucially, for the purpose of this gathering, the constitutional provisions that guaranteed the powers that were required to actualise his vision, as well as access to the resources without which it would have been impossible to prosecute the ground-breaking projects that set the Western Region apart from the rest.
â€œOf course, he also possessed an extraordinary capacity to harness and appropriately deploy the resources at his disposal, but we need to remind ourselves that the constitution under which he operated at the time has proved to be the most faithful, yet, to Nigeriaâ€™s professed federal status.
â€œWe are here, therefore, to declare our resolve to regain our giant development strides, which were the envy of our compatriots in other regions of Nigeria and which were admired and, indeed, emulated by other developing nations, who today have, embarrassingly, streaked past us into the modern age.â€
Chief Awolowo had been an avowed federalist from 1933 (when he was just 24 years old), and until he breathed his last in 1987, he did not recant.
In his book, â€˜Thoughts on the Nigerian Constitution (1966)â€™, Chief Awolowo had this to say, â€œ… a unitary constitution will not work in circumstances which warrant a federal constitutionâ€¦ Suitability is, therefore, the essence of a constitution. This is so for all countries of the world. It is so for Nigeria, where the search for a suitable constitution has gone on for more than 20 years, and still goes on today with renewed vigour and reanimated fervour. We predict that the search will go on â€¦ unless we are realistic and objective enough to give ourselves now a constitution which is suited to the circumstances of our country and which will, therefore, endure.â€™
He continued, â€œâ€¦in any country where there are divergences of language and of nationality â€¦a unitary constitution is always a source of bitterness and hostility … On the other hand, as soon as a federal constitution is introduced â€¦ any bitterness and hostility against the constitutional arrangements as such disappear.
â€œAnd to those who always invoke the bogey of disintegration in response to legitimate calls for a truly federal constitution for Nigeria, Chief Awolowo said, â€˜â€¦if federalism had not disrupted the unity of those other countries which have operated this type of constitution for decades it cannot by itself impair or ruin the unity of our own country.â€™ The book was written in 1966.
Another bright mind, playwright and Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, also had this to say: â€œLike I said when I visited the Women Arise (For Change Initiative) the other day, it doesnâ€™t matter by what name you call it. We all know what we are talking about. We all know that this nation was deconstructed and that what we live in right now as a nation is not along a structure that expresses the true will of Nigerians.
â€œSo, when people use words like â€˜restructuring, reconfiguring or call it reconfiguration, return to status quo, or call it reformulating the protocols of our association or use a single word like restructuring, it doesnâ€™t matter. Everybody knows what we are talking about. That is number one.
â€œAlso, there are those who try to divert the attention away from the main issue by mouthing platitudes, clichÃ©s like it is the mind that needs restructuring. You know those I am referring to. This is a constant process â€“ restructuring the mind. It is both an individual exercise as well as a theological exercise. People go to church and mosque to have their minds restructured. They go to school and extramural classes to have their minds restructured. Restructuring the mind is not the issue.
â€œI find it very dishonest and cheap time-serving, trivialising the issue when I hear expressions like â€˜it is the mind that needs to be restructured.â€™ Who is arguing or denying that? Why bring it up? Why is it a substitute? We are talking about the protocols of association of the constitutive parts of a nation. We are talking of decentralisation. That is another word. This country is over-centralised.
â€œAre you saying we cannot reconstruct the mind and reconstruct the nation at the same time? Call it by whatever name. We are saying that this nation is long overdue for reconfiguring. That is the expression I choose to use now.â€
A peep into the current Yoruba documents bears resemblance of the similar national conferences of 1994/1995 Constitutional Conference convoked by the late Head of State, General Sani Abacha, and the National Political Reform Conference (NPRC), convoked by ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Below is the highlight of Yorubaâ€™s Summit recommendations compared with those of the previous conferences, namely the 1994/1995 Constitutional Conference by Abacha; the 2005 National Political Reform Conference, convoked by Obasanjo and lately, the 2014 National Conference by former President Goodluck Jonathan, which the current President Muhammadu Buhari vowed never to have anything to do with it.
The summit was attended by Yoruba and other southern leaders, who said they came to offer solidarity to the Yoruba position on restructuring. They came in large numbers and added colours to the event with their traditional performers.
In the 16-point communiquÃ© dubbed Ibadan Declaration, which was signed by the summit chairman, Chief Afe Babalola (SAN), and the Chairman of the Planning Committee, Dr Kunle Olajide, and read by National Publicity Secretary of Afenifere, Yinka Odumakin, the Yoruba elders insisted that Nigeria must return to proper federation as obtained in the 1960 and 1963 constitutions, stressing that this had been the position of the zone since the 1950 Ibadan Conference was held.
â€œYoruba are clear that restructuring does not mean different things to different people other than that a multi-ethnic country like Nigeria can only know real peace and development if it is run only along federal lines.â€
The summit proposed that in the new arrangement, the Federal Government could make laws and only have power in relations to items specified on the legislative list contained in the constitution of the federation.
â€œEach region shall have its own constitution containing enumerated exclusive and concurrent list. Contiguous territory, ethnic nationalities and settlements shall be at liberty through a plebiscite to elect to be part of a region other than the region which the current system has. The power to create state shall be within the exclusive power of the region provided a plebiscite is conducted following request by the agreed percentage of the ethnic nationality within the state.
â€œThe power to create local government and assign functions to them shall be vested in the state. States shall be entitled to manage all resources found within their boundaries and the revenue accrued thereof. The sharing ratio of all revenues shall be 50 per cent to the state, 35 per cent to the regional government and 15 per cent to the federation,â€ the communiquÃ© stated.
Whilst there is no mistaking what the Yoruba and by extension, the Southern Nigeria desires if the nation must move away from her current phase, the question remains: how realistic is the Yoruba agenda in the current political configuration? Not only time is qualified to take a guess at this poser, chance too might hazard a guess.