On re-inventing Nigeria
By Onigu Otite
It is heartening that our Senate summoned courage and sound political will recently and requested for the report of the 2014 National Conference of notable Nigerians assembled by our former President Goodluck Jonathan, from all over Nigeria. It was one of the best gatherings of quality Nigerians since our independence in 1960. The problems of our peaceful co-existence though noticeable since then but became alarming very recently. We could have avoided this recent ugly situation if some of the conference recommendations were critically examined and adopted.
The 600 recommendations/conclusions with suggested action plans, reached with consensus by 492 delegates under the Chairmanship of Justice Idris Kutigi and his deputy, Bolaji Akinyemi, erudite Professor of Political Science, provided formidable data for a peaceful solution to our current crisis. It is possible to regard this crisis as a drama of productive and counterproductive ethnic political illusions in our national context. Those at the centre of this drama are only a few of the 389 thoroughly researched and identified ethnic groups in Nigeria. It involves the hausanisation of the several minority groups including the 80 in Adamawa State, the 51 in Bauchi, the 23 in Borno, the 32 in Kaduna, the 19 in Kebbi State, the 25 in Nasarawa State, the 52 in Plateau State, the 39 in Taraba State etc. and the intended Biafranisation of every group in the South Eastern part of Nigeria, including Akwa Ibom State’s seven ethnic groups, the 30 ethnic groups in Cross River State etc. It is thus misleading to say that the conflicts with their October 1 ultimatum are between the Hausa-Fulani of the northern part and the Igbo of the south-eastern part of Nigeria. Their positions and assertions involve internal colonialism. Nigeria’s Delta region consists of several economically powerful but politically powerless ethnic minorities.
Any ethnic group seeking a separate identity and citizenship outside Nigeria, has a lot of issues and problems to consider. No one may sincerely want to get out of Nigeria only to wish to rejoin the country. The solution to this unnecessarily created problem is clearly indicated in the deliberations and recommendations of the 2014 National Conference.
The Urhobo people delegated one of their first eleven, versatile and dependable Professor G.G. Darah, to the 2014 conference and from discussions and his write-up in The Guardian of May 26, 2017, it is obvious to many people that the solution to our current crisis lie in the formulation and adoption of a new constitution reflecting a restructuring into autonomous Regions and States, and the operation of fiscal federalism. This suggestion is not new. Our former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar and Senator Tinubu and many others including General Babaginda have consistently argued for the restructuring of Nigeria while the issue of resource control was in the front burner of arguments by Chief James Onanefe Ibori and Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha before their trips to London. Many other Nigerians have followed this line of argument of these eminent Nigerians. Let it be properly understood that our 36 political-administrative states have sufficient land and waters as well as oil and, or minerals which they can exploit for their own survival and security. Each state only needs to get to its backyard to undertake this necessary task. Who is then afraid of restructuring? States and Regions can form the units of restructuring, paying an agreed percentage of their income to sustain a weaker federal centre which will thus attract a lower level of competition than we have now.
Nigeria’s social and politico-economic problems can be resolved if we adopt the main recommendations of the 2014 National Conference. This is with special reference to fiscal federalism and revenue sharing, federating units and the devolution of powers, natural economic resources (mines and minerals) and their exploitation. Our 49 minerals spread all over the country can help sustain our economy to a large extent as our petroleum and gas resources decline. It has been estimated that our solid minerals in Taraba and Plateau states alone exceed those found in some developed or developing countries such as China, Indonesia, and Vietnam.
Nigeria also needs to restructure in terms of multiple police establishment and state creation, boundary adjustment and state capitals throughout our six geopolitical zones in the country. These issues are already well treated and concluded in the 2014 national conference.
One good thing is that the Senate has asked for a copy of the Report of the conference submitted in 20 volumes, hopefully to continue from the last government their own serious and urgent consideration and approval of the salient issues of restructuring to achieve peace and competitive development in Nigeria. They may also want to examine the 1975 Conference Report under Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.
October 1 is our common national date, our common heritage, and we should like to regard all declarations about that date from all parts of our dear country as mere blackmail and counter blackmail at the expense of our national peace and development. What we need to continue as one people, one nation, is positive reciprocity not animosity between north and south or east and west. Our current youth should continue to respect our elder statesmen who were once active youths in this country. Some of these elders are already approaching the waiting room for their golden boarding pass to depart for heaven, not hell. Let them have peaceful exit in a restructured Nigeria under fiscal federalism.
Of course, our military and other defence arrangements are ready, as always, in case any group attempts to be funny and get out of bound in what they say or what they do. For some of us it remains wise to assist our Acting President with a peaceful environment to enable him promote his sterling efforts to hold our country together in which we will continue to have our proud identity and citizenship.
We need to cooperate with our amiable Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo, an erudite, hardworking and focussed Professor of Law himself, to accomplish this aim under the Buhari Administration.
Our present youth, many of whom have not experienced any war, should be reminded over and over again that war does not pay any positive dividends, only destruction and trauma. When as a youth, I arrived Warri from London during the 1966/67 session to do fieldwork, I did not consider it funny when confronted with smart soldiers jumping from their vehicles to physically proclaim the biafranisation of the region. All onlookers, including myself, were jolted and frightened and rushed everywhere unprepared to leave the urban area for the unsecured rural communities. Of course, starvation, insecurity and death followed in many cases. It was not an experience to repeat in one’s life time or by our next generation. But we should thank General David Ejoor and DR S.O Ogbemudia for assisting General Yakubu Gowon ‘‘to Go On With One Nigeria.’’
Regarding the northern and southern Nigerians, Professor B.I.C. Ijomah, in his recent newspaper article has referred to pre-colonial and colonial British official statistics to argue our continued need for regional interdependence, in reply to comments from a northern Nigerian educated elite, Professor Ango Abdullahi.
We should by now learn to stop our ethno political drama, and the evils of ethnic majoritarian democracy in our country in which the numerous and overwhelming minority ethnic groups exist as strategic stakeholders. The majority ethnic tripod groups should refrain from playing games or what some deep analysts may call ethno-political illusions and counter illusions.
The three major ethnic groups, major only because of their numbers, should learn to avoid the over exploitation of the numerous ethnic minorities encapsulated in the six geopolitical zones. While not trying to trivialise their separatist demands, they should uphold equity and social justice for all of us, Nigerians.
Restructuring involves both political and economic restructuring. Each state/region of the Nigerian federation is expected to identify and recognise its grassroots economic units: the oil producing communities, its food crop producing communities, its fishing communities, its commercial-trading communities, its manufacturing hubs, etc.
Strictly speaking, our national crises are caused and compounded by our so called elite who exploit and mismanage our exclusive socio-cultural symbols for their selfish interests. None of the groups or regions agitating for their separatist identities outside our Nigerian identity, is internally united. Each has its own problems of unity and integrity, of fission and fussion, and of its own Biafra.
It is unrealistic for people from the major ethnic groups to cry out against marginalisation. What of the minor ethnic groups, for example the ethnic groups in the Niger Delta? Who is marginalising whom? Are the major ethnic groups in control of politico-economic power and resources marginalising one another? Nigerians should learn to change this kind of game, develop a new mindset and promote good governance to benefit every group in the country.
Professor Otite, formerly at the University of Ibadan, now lives in Warri.