•  Want killer herdsmen declared terrorists

Christopher Isiguzo in Enugu

Prominent elder statesmen and political leaders from the South-east, South-west, South-south, and Middle Belt regions of the country rose from a one-day parley in Enugu thursday insisting that for the nation to achieve lasting peace, unity, justice and prosperity, restructuring of the polity has become not only imperative but sacrosanct.

The parley tagged, “Handshake Across the Niger – A Celebration of Igbo/Yoruba Friendship Beyond Brotherhood,” put together by Nzuko Umunna, in collaboration with Ohanaeze Ndigbo and Afenifere, also frowned upon the wanton destruction of lives and property in Benue State and some other parts of the country by suspected herders and called for the declaration of the killer herdsmen as terrorists.

Delegates to the parley included the President of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief John Nnia Nwodo, who led the South-east; Afenifere leader, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, who led the Yoruba delegation on behalf of Afenifere leader, Pa Reuben Fasoranti; Chief Edwin Clerk, represented by Idongesit Nkagha on behalf of South-south; and former governor of Plateau State, Senator Jonah Jang and the leader of Middle Belt Forum, Mr. Timothy Gwandu, who led the delegation from Middle Belt.

The late military Head of State, Gen. Aguiyi Ironsi, and former military governor of the old Western region, Col. Francis Fajuyi, who were both killed during the counter-coup of July 29, 1966, were also posthumously honoured.

In a communique issued at the end of the parley and signed by Nwodo and Adebanjo, the leaders declared unflinching support for a truly federal union of Nigeria that is democratic, stable, secure, peaceful, just and fair to all its citizens.

They also committed to work in close partnership and through peaceful means to restructure Nigeria, reducing and restricting the duties of the federal government to only matters of national importance on the Exclusive List of the Constitution, while granting the federating units the right to take full responsibility for local, developmental and residual matters.

They said this will lead to healthy competition and co-operation among the federating units, in place of the present dysfunctional arrangement that merely superintends over the sharing and consumption of rents, and holds some states and zones down for others to play the elusive game of catch-up.
They also expressed commitment to the peaceful devolution of power, fiscal federalism, land/resource ownership/control, and the reform of component structural and systemic institutions to radically reduce the escalating cost of governance.

The delegates further resolved to collaborate to create mutually beneficial opportunities, build a strong alliance to advance their ever growing mutual interests, while striving together to meet the common responsibilities of building a united, coherent and prosperous nation – a state of free peoples, freely relating to one another across the dividing lines of tribe, religion, region and politics.
“We are committed to working tirelessly towards joining the economically-performing nations – China, India, Brazil, Israel, Singapore, South Korea, Malaysia and Thailand etc. – not as a dependent state, but as a competitive producer and exporter of knowledge-based goods and services; committed to the immediate implementation of pro-federalism recommendations of the 2014 National Conference, in particular those affecting the efficiency of governance.

“We believe that the fore-going measures will reposition Nigeria to reach credible nationhood, attain its full potential and respect in the community of nations, thereby enabling us to effectively lead the campaign for the political and economic renaissance of Africa and the black race – the very goals for which the Zik of Africa and the sage, Chief Awolowo, and a host of other founding nationalists lived and sacrificed so much for,” they said in the communiqué.

They noted the immense strength of Igbo-Yoruba close affinities of kinship and brotherhood, shared origins and cultural/ethical values, a common worldview and inherent love of freedom and justice.

According to them, the Hand Shake Across the Niger (HSAN) parley was anchored on the heroism of Major-General Ironsi and Lt.-Col. Fajuyi, which they observed was though long overdue, and has finally burst the myth of Igbo-Yoruba irreconcilable differences and spiteful rivalry.

This, according to them, has provided a new impetus for the resurgence of the same bold, patriotic and nationalist solidarity of the two ethnic groups from the 1930s to the 1950s that earned independence for Nigeria in 1960.
The conferees also resolved that the parley will not be a one-off event, but only the first of a progressive and continuous re-socialisation project that will, in short order, reach out to embrace other compatriots in the South-south, Middle Belt, North-central, North-east and North-west zones of the country.

They therefore agreed to establish a standing Joint Action Committee to drive this process, and to continuously articulate fresh ideas and strategies to sustain the current zeal and momentum of the mutual understanding and collaborative actions aimed at resuscitating Nigeria politically and economically, in order to position her to earn her rightful place among the contending nations in the world.
Earlier during the session, the elder statesmen had noted that anybody who is against restructuring is an enemy of the unity of Nigeria, insisting that the nation also needed a new Constitution before 2019 general election.

While observing a minute’s silence for the Benue victims who were killed recently by suspected cattle herders, as well as for Ironsi and Fajuyi, they agreed to rely on the supreme sacrifice paid by the two late military leaders to let bygones be bygones and forge a new union that will ultimately lead to national unity, emphasising that the unity between the South-east and South-west remains a catalyst for Nigeria’s unity.

Nwodo, in his remarks, said arrangements were being made to bring back the remains of two Igbos killed alongside Benue indigenes by the herdsmen in the recent attacks for proper burial in line with Igbo tradition.

“Our irrevocable stand that Nigeria must be restructured is non-negotiable. To abandon restructuring is to self-destruct Nigeria.
“Every credible analysis shows that unless we devolve powers to the states and allow them control of their natural resources and basic utilities of powers, environment, education and infrastructure development, Nigeria will collapse.
“Anyone opposed to restructuring is a proponent of the liquidation of Nigeria,” he said.

Adebanjo on his part said the re-union gathering was a catalyst for the unity of Nigeria.
“As long as the Igbos and Yorubas are squabbling, we will be destroying ourselves. The coming together of both groups will strengthen the unity of Nigeria and that is the handshake across the Niger. Those who are against this unity are sowing seeds of discord.

“We have not come here as a gang up or alliance, we have come here to fight a common oppressor. If you go into the (2019) election without restructuring and a new Constitution, you are deceiving yourself. We must go into the election with a new Constitution.

“(President) Buhari is the problem of Nigeria by opposing restructuring. Dividing Igbos and Yorubas is a thing of the past, we are already looking forward into the future, not the past.

“I want to warn you, Mr. President will not do restructuring in peace because his people are the beneficiaries of the lopsided structure. What is happening in Benue is an example and if you don’t nip it in the bud, the country is gone,” the Afenifere leader said.
A former Minister of Aviation, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, in his contribution, called for the proscription and categorisation of the herdsmen as terrorists.

Others at the parley included former Governor Segun Mimiko of Ondo, Chief C. O. Adebanjo of Kwara, Chief Yinka Odumakin, Chief Olu Falae, Prof. Banji Akintoye, Senator Femi Okurunmu, Mrs. Bucknor Akerele, as well as members of the late Col. Fajuyi’s family led by Donald Fajuyi and Mrs. Sholape Fajuyi, among others.

On the Igbo flank were Obi of Onitsha, Nnaemeka Achebe, Prof. Anya O. Anya, Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife, Ikedi Ohakim, Prof. Joe Irukwu, Ifeanyi Ubah, Dr. Alex Otti, Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa, Senators Enyinnaya Abaribe and Chris Anyanwu, and the deputy governors of Abia and Imo, Ude Oko-Chukwu and Eze Madumere, respectively.

Enugu Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi was also represented by the son of late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Mr. Uwakwe, while the Anambra governor was represented by the Secretary to the State Government, Mr. Solo Chukwudebelu.

Also in attendance were Prof Pat Utomi and the widow of the late Ironsi, Victoria.