On True Federalism They Stand

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Gideon Arinze writes that recent 20th anniversary of Igbo Youth Movement provided yet another platform for the pressing calls for devolution of power

The main hall of the Universal Hotel, Enugu was filled to capacity. From the East to the West and to the South, notable sons and daughters of the country gathered to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the Igbo Youth Movement (IYM) to once again, ponder on the lingering question of true federalism and how to get Nigeria working again.

A socio-cultural organization established in the 90s by an illustrious son of Igbo extraction, Elliot Ugochukwu-Uko, the IYM has been one among series of organizations in the forefront of the pursuit of a better Nigeria where every section will be adequately represented and where everyone will have a sense of belonging.

Comfortably seated and patiently waiting for their turn to speak at the event were the National Leader of Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC), Comrade Abdusalam Ambali, a former Secretary General of Igbo social cultural organization, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Nduka Eya, son of late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Uwakwe Azikiwe and First Republic Minister and elder statesman, Mbazulike Amaechi.

Recall that the late Azikiwe and Amaechi, who is the only surviving Minister of the First Republic from Southern Nigeria, were part of those who fought really hard to keep the country together.

Others present at the event were former Akwa Ibom State Governor, Obong Victor Attah who delivered a paper on the topic, ‘How to Get Nigeria Working Again’ and renowned Igbo women leader, Maria Okwo.

These individuals had all been drawn to represent the different regions in the country and to further underscore the importance of the demand and how it is going to affect all sections of the country, even though Northern region was not represented at the event, there is widespread push for restructuring and true federalism as the only answer to Nigeria’s problems.

Over the years, Nigeria has been faced with enormous national developmental challenges. These challenges hitherto have ranged from political instability to extreme poverty, high unemployment rate, low and unstable economic growth, dearth of infrastructure to huge depreciation of the Naira.

There have also been the more depressing challenges of militancy/insurgency in the North, widespread regional agitations and/or resentment in the South, farmer/herder clashes which have gradually permeated the entire country.

Equally worthy of note is the fact that despite being a ‘Federal Republic’, authority in the country largely flows from the top to the bottom. The central government which sits in Abuja allocates budgets to the remaining states that exist in the country, controls natural resources and makes far-reaching decisions regarding infrastructure, health, education and other critical sectors.

Recently, there have been moves by the Senate to amend the Land Use Act, which will now allow the Federal Government to absolutely have control of land across the country. If that is achieved, states across the federation will be stripped of powers over land. The people at the grass roots will ultimately not have control over the land they use for production.

The resultant effect of these challenges is the increase in the call for the adoption of “True Federalism in the country, all of which have climaxed into series of movements. From civil society groups to cultural organizations, there have been growing demands for more powers to be allocated to states.

Many groups and individuals, especially those in the South-South and South-East, say they do not benefit from the system operational in the country, claiming that devolving powers will allow citizens to hold their local politicians more closely accountable and also allow states more control over their resources which will breed more growth and development.

And so, the question on the lips of everyone present at the event was what must be done to adequately re- write the narrative in the country so the dreams of those who fought for her unity, peace and progress will be achieved.

Mounting the podium, amid wide cheers from visibly excited Young men and women, founder of IYM, Ugochukwu-Uko went down memory lane to when he established the IYM which according to him was intended to deal with the false notion that Ndigbo have been permanently silenced by their defeat in the civil war.

“I discovered the need to inspire my people, especially the younger generation to speak up and stand up for their rights as our elders have been cowed by the humiliation and trauma of the defeat of 1970,” he said.

Describing the experience so far, as ‘bitter sweet’, Uko said the movement has achieved a lot in its 20 years of existence.

So far, the IYM has been able to, through series of seminars and conferences, re- awaken the consciousness of the younger generation to the fact that they have a voice in a country whose leaders appear completely ignorant of the demands of the citizens.

But Uko remains resolute, pledging to continue to fight, through dialogue and meeting of minds, till sanity returns to the country and till the dreams for which the IYM was established is fulfilled. “In the next 30 years as I shall mark the 50th anniversary of the IYM. God who established the IYM will never allow the adversary triumph,” he said.

Uko said further, “Just as Mahatma Gandhi said, “First they ignore you, then they mock you, then they oppose you and finally accept and admire you’ ,”So it is with every novel and noble idea all through history. IYM is no exception.”

The National Leader of Oodua Peoples Congress, (OPC), Comrade Abdusalam Ambali did not mince words in expressing his disgust with the present structure in the country which allows power to flow directly from the centre downwards, a situation which has made it impossible for states in the federation to make good use of their resources towards their development.

Ambali expressed the readiness of the congress and by extension, the South West to support the moves to get Nigeria working again through the adoption of true federalism which would allocate powers to states to control whatever they get.

”We believe in restructuring and are willing to contribute in whatever way to make sure that the dreams of having a Nigeria where all voices will be heard is achieved.” That way, we are going to put an end to the feeling of marginalization among sections in the country,” he said.

Former Governor of Akwa Ibom state, Obong Victor Attah completely faulted the recent verdict which said that only four states of the country were viable based on their internally generated revenue, saying that if the revenue from those states that were taken to Abuja for sharing were left for them, they would have been better off.

In his paper, “How to Make Nigeria Work,” the former governor, emphasized on Nigeria adopting true federalism, saying that, “our system of sharing is the problem” as nobody can distribute the money equitably.

While he disagreed with suggestions for states to be merged, saying that nobody wants to relinquish power, he insisted that the best alternative would be for regional cooperation by the states to pursue development.

First Republic Minister of Aviation, Mbazulike Amechi did not mince words in describing the country as one that is made up of criminally minded leaders whose activities, over the years, have crippled the growth and development of the country.

While he pointed out that there was every need for Nigerians to meet and renegotiate the basis of unity, Amechi said that “the Afenifere, Ohanaeze, Niger Delta and Middle Belt Organizations
along with Southern Nigeria Peoples Union, have all met and been
demanding a restructuring of the country.

He however noted that these elitist groups cannot compel the powers that be to agree to restructuring.

“Today, we are living in a country where rulers refuse to listen to the loud cries of the ruled, today we are living in a country where the rich are getting richer and the poor getting poorer, a country where the corrupt and criminal elements are in control,” he said.

He drew the attention of everyone to the fact that the various organizations in the forefront of the demand for a new Nigeria have made efforts to reach out to the Federal Government with the demand. “The pious resolutions of Ohanaeze/Afenifere and others are like whispering an advice to a deaf ear. Only action, peaceful non-violent, non-provocative action will force a come together of the leaders and politicians.

If the youths, students, organized labour, market men and women; religious leaders, professionals, civil liberty organizations commence non-stop, non-violent, peaceful demonstration and match on the road for one or two weeks, Amechi believes they would draw the attention of the world.

There is no better time to return to through federalism than now that nothing seems to be working in a country touted as the ‘Giant of Africa’. Little wonder former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, once said that federalization will “deepen and strengthen the country’s democracy as it will encourage more accountability.” Also, former military President, Ibrahim Babangida has been widely quoted saying that “restructuring has become a national appeal, whose time has come.”

QUOTE:

The resultant effect of these challenges is the increase in the call for the adoption of “True Federalism in the country, all of which have climaxed into series of movements. From civil society groups to cultural organizations, there have been growing demands for more powers to be allocated to states.