Peter Ishaka probes the lofty intentions of Dr. Don Pedro Obaseki to address the perceived marginalisation of the ethnic groups in the Midwest region
What exactly is the Midwest Summit about?
The Midwest Summit is actually a gathering of the 12 tribes of the Midwest Region. When you say 12 tribes, it’s actually by the Grace of God that we’re almost as biblical as we can get. There’re 12 tribes, we have five tribes in the present day Edo State largely, and we have seven in the present day Delta State.
So what this is about is actually to address the emasculating situation where the Midwest Region has found itself. The Midwest Region is perhaps the only part of Nigeria that has been so terribly marginalised. And nobody seems to talk about it. We’ve been put in the back burner; meanwhile we stand at the trigger of this nation. We’re the singular most important fabric of this nation. And we have to remind people that prior to the unsolicited intervention of the military in our polity, the Midwest happened to be the real exercise in democracy that this country has ever had. The Midwest remains the only and singular constitutionally created part of the Nigerian federation.
This was as a result of the 13th of July 1963 plebiscite. The Midwest was created as a separate and equal federating region of this country through due constitutional process. It was endorsed by majority of 89.01% of eligible indigenes of the area which was then in the Western region. So by the 8th of August 1963, the Western region assembly affirmed the outcome of that exercise. And by the next day, the 9th of August 1963, the Midwest region was born. We endured military rule for three decades. But we have continued to suffer the consequences of the near destruction of the entire fabric of our socio-political and economic life. We now ask ourselves today: is this the country our forefathers who fought against British imperialism hoped for? The answer is definitely no. So we decided that we can no longer afford to sit back and hope as usual, that the negative passions of ethnic jingoists will blow away. Or that the convenient dismissive stance of those who gained from the present situation will resolve the problem. The Midwest Movement is a vanguard for the Edo and Delta peoples made up of professionals, entrepreneurs, captains of industries, those in the press, academics, politicians of all shades. We decided that we must address these now.
A couple of years ago, some ethnic jingoists started drawing maps all across Nigeria, purposely creating new fiefdoms for themselves. In this their unilateral declaration, the place that has become some form of sandwich and butter for them is the territory of the Midwest. We’re taking into consideration history, because we cannot be blind to the history of our people. We decided to come up to let everybody know that we cannot be the canon folder to anybody or any group. We shall not be collateral damage to the selfish intentions of any group of persons or ethnic jingoists. We decided to assert the distinctiveness and the uniqueness of the Midwestern people, both as a people and a geographical expression.
Nigeria has been faced with so much debilitating upheavals, and those who have suffered are the people of Edo and Delta. It is time to say we do not advocate for a dismembering of this nation. We want a more equitable, a more justifiable distribution, not only of the wealth of this country, but also of the originating sources of those wealth.
The summit is to put together all those who aspire to rule Nigeria after 2019 to tell us their plans. What is the plan of each of these parties and their presidential candidates? That is what we want to know, because if there’s any of them that do not commit openly to the restructuring of the nation, to use the right word, to the re-federalisation of Nigeria, we will do everything humanly possible to make sure that they don’t even have access to campaign in the region of Edo and Delta. That is the real reason for the summit.
Why didn’t we call this summit when all the others were screaming about Biafra and Oduduwa or Middle Belt is that we’re a very strategic and tactful people, we believe that when we aggregate our collective brain power, we’ll be able to discern how best to tactfully and strategically move our region forward. We chose now because we wanted all the parties to choose their presidential candidates. There is no need joining the huge cacophony, going around Nigeria or social media. We know that at the end of November we will know who all the presidential candidates are. We have thus invited all the presidential candidates who have agreed to come
Why did you choose Asaba as the venue?
The choice of Asaba is very deliberate. Edo and Delta are like Siamese twins; we are the two component parts of the whole. In Urhobo, we say when one hand washes the other, the hands will be clean. So what we do is to demonstrate the unique engineering that takes place in the Midwest, we have decided to move our activities fluidly between both states. All our major meetings have been held in different senatorial zones. When we held our Midwest Declaration, it was held in Benin, in August last year. In October last year, we also held our first major plenary and we chose the rural town of Ufuoma in Ughelli to host it. But today we chose Asaba because Asaba is the home town and birth place of the first Premier of the Midwestern region, the Rt Honourable Chief Dennis Osadebe, who was also the first Senate President of an independent Nigeria in 1960. That is why Asaba was chosen. And secondly, Asaba is the gateway from the east into the Midwest and Asaba was the first casualty of the invasion of the Midwest by the Biafran forces. More so, Asaba is a major theatre during the Nigerian Civil War. That is why we are a little wary now, in case Nigeria is faced with any kind of debilitating conflagration. In 1967, all the battles that took place outside of the eastern region took place only in the Midwest. So we were like canon folders, we were like collateral damage, we were the pacifists who were meant to pay for our pacifism. This time, we won’t let that happen.
Nigeria will remain a nation that must take into consideration the critical positioning of the Edo and Delta peoples as the nexus of this nation. That is why we call ourselves the Heart Beat of Nigeria or the Big Heart of Nigeria.
Who are those expected to attend the summit?
We have written to and we have got confirmations for those outside of the Midwest region; those who are attending the summit are basically all presidential candidates. The President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari had been written, but in his capacity as the APC Presidential Candidate, same with Atiku Abubakar, as the PDP Presidential Candidate. We have Kingsley Moghalu, who is attending as the YPP Presidential candidate, we have Omoyele Sowore, who is attending as the AAC Presidential candidate, Alister Soyede, attending as the Presidential candidate of the YES Party and our home grown presidential candidate like Victor Okhai and the Better Nigeria Peoples Party candidate, the Reverend David Esosa Ize-Iyamu. They are those coming.
All those who have been involved in the leadership, whether the leadership is economic, business, industry, political, academic, all persons, community leaders, youth, student leaders, women leaders are congregating in Asaba. Asaba is going to be a gathering of the tribes, so every Bendelite, every Midwesterner, all those who are involved in the Midwest project and have contributed immensely to the Nigerian federal project are the ones we expect to attend. It is an all comers affair but it is going to be strictly structured.
I listened to the short video on the creation of the Midwest region in 1963. Are you nostalgic about your past?
A man who does not appreciate his past cannot discern and construct his future. We are nostalgic about the past. Remember the simple phrase, ‘Up Bendel’, it was something that took the entire nation by storm. We were almost at every juncture the best in every thing we did. The Midwest projected Nigeria to the rest of the world. We are nostalgic and we want to be able to resurrect that nostalgia because it gives hope
In that nostalgia, we are also educating our youths and our leadership who seem to have forgotten about that very nostalgic past, we are telling them that in Nigeria, barely two years and 10 months after independence, Nigeria went to the polls and created a region and that all the constitutions of Nigeria, right from the Macpherson constitution through to Independence 1960 Constitution or the 1963 Republican Constitution, even the faulted 1979 Second Republic constitution or even this fourth republic constitution of 1999 only prescribed one way to create a federating unit in Nigeria and that is via a plebiscite or a referendum. But the only time that has been successfully done was on 13th July 1963 when the Midwest plebiscite was held. Every other thing has been balkanized by military fiat.
So we want our people to know that as at 1966 January 15, when the military first intervened in politics in Nigeria, we were one over four, until 1967 when General Yakubu Gowon, balkanized Nigeria into 12 states, he shrunk us from being one of four equal federating units to one over 12, by creating 12 states. Prior to that, there were just four capitals in Nigeria: Kaduna for the northern region, Enugu for the eastern region, Benin City for the Midwestern region and Ibadan for the Western region.
Now there was further balkanization on the 3rd of February 1976 when General Ramat Murtala Mohammed divided Nigeria into 19 states again by fiat and the Midwest was only barely rechristened Bendel, which was a combination of Benin and Delta provinces. Meanwhile, the western region has been re-divided into Ondo, Ogun, Lagos and Oyo State. The eastern central states were re-divided into Anambra and Imo, and then there was Rivers State. And then the north which used to be one region was now turned into 10 states but the Midwest remains just one state. So we moved from one over four, we were shrunk to one over 12, and Murtala Mohammed shrunk us to one over 19 until 1991 when General Ibrahim Babangida now divided Nigeria into 30 states. With some level of magnanimity they split our state, the Midwest State, which they later christened Bendel State into two, moving the Benin part which they christened Edo State and the Delta part, Delta State. Meanwhile we now shrunk to two over 30, until 1996 when General Abacha created 36 states and we became two over 36 or arithmetically one over 18. So it is a very simple thing and in that nostalgia we are also feeding people with the negative repercussions of the shrunken destinies of the Edo and Delta peoples.
I want to take you back quickly to the 60s, in the times when all those who were involved in the politics of this country sat around the table and negotiated the union; that was why they were federating equal units with equal rights all contributing to a central government and the most prevalent fiscal federal structure then was a simple arithmetic of 50, 30, 20, where the originating unit held on fiscally to 50 % of all revenues, of all resources that are derived from it, and then they put into the central or federating accounts another 30% while the federal government hold on to 20%. So the 50, 30, 20 per cent formula worked. It was along the line around 5% here and there, until the declaration of the unitary government and the practice of same by successive military administrations. By the time it got to the 1975 entrance into our national life by the Murtala Mohammed regime, it was totally wiped out. We can remember that in 1980 the late Prof. Ambrose Ali, as the governor of the old Bendel State har to take the federal government to court on the allocations and the revenue formula. That lasted for a while and the state government won that case, but again the advent of the military in 1983 when Major General Buhari came to power abrogated or truncated that again until 1999, 2000, when led by the then Delta State governor, Chief James Onanefe Ibori, there was a resuscitation of the fight for resource control which led to a paltry 13% derivation. There must be a devolution of power. There must be a restructuring of the Nigerian federation according to federal lines because the Nigerian constitution is based on a lie, a lie that says ‘we the people’. How, where, when did we the people accede to that constitution? It is actually a unitary constitution, where every power is actually at the centre. Nigeria is the most skewed federal structure in the world. There must be a systemic dismantling of the Nigerian federal structure as it is presently constituted and then it should be structured along negotiated federating lines, principle and paradigms. That is the only way we can actually move forward as a nation.
What additional demands are you making for the old Midwestern region?
We are asking that Nigeria should be structured properly. The first thing you can do outside of devolution of political power is to address the fiscal, financial implications of our federalism. That the states of Nigeria should go cap in hand every month or every other month to Abuja to a funny federal revenue allocation commission is a travesty in federalism. The federal government has nothing to share, it only takes. Then there must be a look at the list, the exclusive list, the concurrent list must be clearly looked into. What business does the federal government that owns no farms have with Ministry of Agriculture? There must be first and foremost the need for a proper federal arrangement and our demands in these are key and those are part of the things that would form our Midwest Charter. At the end of this, we will have a Midwest Charter and all the candidates who are running must agree to it.
Remember the simple phrase, ‘Up Bendel’, it was something that took the entire nation by storm. We were almost at every juncture the best in every thing we did. The Midwest projected Nigeria to the rest of the world. We are nostalgic and we want to be able to resurrect that nostalgia because it gives hope