By Ikenna Emewu
These days have been heated with issues of Nigeria’s unity and how best to achieve and sustain it. The differences have been expressed in agitations for secession, quit notices to others and many more. Most of the interventions argue that the only way out of the quagmire is in tweaking the structure of the nation.
While the drama lasts, South East leaders in Ohanaeze Nd’Igbo, the Governors’ Forum, traditional and religious leaders have spoken and taken positions on the issues at hand.
Daily Sun sought the position of the South East caucus of the National Assembly and the leader of the Senate arm, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, spoke on the way to resolve the issues.
How South East got here
We must situate things in proper context. The context is that when this government came to power and commenced appointments, the way it did it, we started raising our voice against the lopsidedness.
I had cause to send a message to Nigerians on what this government was up to. I said then that the President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, was making a grave mistake and that the decisions he took were not in the best interest of the country. But we were sure of one thing, because 20 years is not eternity, Buhari will come and go.
So the reason for all these issues of agitation in the region is that APC alienated parts of the country through appointments and it was deliberate, to completely isolate sections of the country of which the South East is a principal part.
It is that act of alienation and the Islamisation of the key security apparatus of the country that led to this renewed agitation by a people who felt they were better off in an independent country rather than here where they are treated as second class. So we must always situate this on the reasons and causes. It is not strictly that the Igbo want a separate country per se. It is a reaction to the alienation orchestrated by Buhari’s policy of discrimination. So whenever these issues are discussed, let’s not forget the foundation that gave rise to them.
If you want to situate the Igbo in this, always recall that we had a discussion in all the principal groups in Igboland, Ohanaeze, governors, traditional rulers, church leaders, National Assembly members, and we deliberated and agreed on one thing, that exiting Nigeria was not an option because Igbo actually need a larger place than Nigeria and we need to work with other parts of the country to change the structure of things; it is the structure that gave one person the express powers to undo and maltreat some people as he wants, so we need to understand that what the Igbo leadership needs is a change in the structure of Nigeria to favour and put all on the same pedestal of equity.
We also need to know how we got to this point. When Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was President, the agitations across the nation were not as much because he included all. When President Yar’Adua came, there were agitations and he brought them under control because he took care of them through justice, fairness and understanding of the facts in what the agitators said. It was same in President Goodluck Jonathan’s era.
But Buhari came with a policy of discrimination, which he implements to the letter to exclude parts of this country and even Christians, even though his deputy is a Christian. His appointments favour northern Muslims and others feel they have no stake in this policy of exclusion and, therefore, want out of the system and you won’t blame them because it is unfortunate that someone should be treated like a stranger in a country said to be hers, and you expect her to keep quiet and take it all?
A President of Nigeria is not supposed to be in a mode of exclusion in the manner of Buhari.
Secondly, the Nigerian Constitution and past leaders knew that such tendencies would come up if there were no rules to guide appointments and that is why they put in place the federal character rule to check impunity like that of the Buhari government. The government ignores such laws that create balance and fairness.
He is Muslim and has a Christian deputy, and that should be reflected in all sectors, including the security system. Most of all, the South-Easterner is most affected and doesn’t feel safe or okay about it.
What restructuring means to us
Restructuring means for us the establishment of structures or systems that guarantee fairness and some level of autonomy for a people to manage their affairs and not rely wholly on the inclinations of the central government. There should be equity and safety for all citizens because the system takes care of them. With such a situation, none would agitate for a place of his own because all is well. The absence of these conditions breeds agitations and would continue to do so.
And those of us from the South East and some others believe that, in the past, we had done much to come to that (restructuring) state and they are indicative in some past national conferences in Nigeria including that of 2014 that discussed and drafted extensively on a new structure for Nigeria.
But we understand that some feel it means break-up of the country. That is not true. It only means people and regions should have some level of freedom to do certain things for their progress and wellbeing without waiting for Abuja. A situation where you wait for Abuja before taking decisions over things and issues at the back of your house doesn’t make for progress. So let certain things be handled by certain parts of the country for progress.
The options for this government to resist restructuring are limited. I foresee it complying. If the calls are getting higher and make things difficult to manage, then there must be an answer in restructuring.
Moreover, the APC manifesto provides and enshrines restructuring and it was one of the major campaign slogans. So we don’t foresee that a party that lays claim to integrity would get to powder and renege on its promise to the people and for which they were voted. So APC and Buhari have no way out of keeping their promise of restructuring Nigeria, if voted into power. They have no reason to abandon their promise, otherwise they have no reason to seek the peoples mandate again in 2019. We are saying APC must do what they promised Nigerians.
Northern NASS caucus and restructuring
I don’t share the fear or belief that the National Assembly members from the North would frustrate the restructuring move, if it comes before the National Assembly, because, in the House we don’t do our business based on where we come from in Nigeria but purely on national interest.
Again, the idea of a monolithic North is a farce and long forgotten. For instance, the latest issues, like some youth groups asking the Igbo or some other people to leave the North, has exposed the old notion of a monolithic North as lie.
After that order, the people of Southern Kaduna refuted it even though the order was made in the same Kaduna. Moreover, Benue, Taraba, Kogi, Plateau and some other states also issued statements disowning the North and declaring to be Middle Belt and also welcomed the Igbo and other southerners to be evicted from the North to come to their domain. So, if there is the need for voting on the issue in the National Assembly, members from such areas are surely going to align with and make sure restructuring carries the day.
Those who have always feasted on the system because they come from the North would not want a change, but the states of the middle belt like Kwara, Niger, Plateau and Kogi know better and, in today’s Nigeria, everyone is so enlightened to have known where he or she belongs and what is in his best interest and would also pursue it given the slightest chance to do so. We don’t believe anything of national interest would be resolved on where we come from.
Definitely, building alliances is exactly what is going to happen. Everyone, in the larger interest of Nigeria, would align and do the bidding of his constituents. So, when the game starts, I, for instance, would go back to my constituency and seek their position and where they want me to vote. That would be the same with all of us and at last there are definitely going to be alliances and all like minds with same interests would come together to make sure what they want is achieved for the good of a better Nigeria.
So, what would happen would be amendment of the laws and the Constitution, and that is why leaders of this nation in the past met and agreed on the terms of the structural change in the nation.
We would simply revisit the documents that exist and agree on the details spelt out and, in those areas where there had been no discussions or agreements, we draft and come to a conclusion, amend the Constitution and move the country forward.
The point is that you can’t preclude anybody from discussing issues that border on his core interest.
2014 Confab report and Senate
Yes, we called for the Presidency to present the report before us and we stand on the call. It is our duty and we await the Presidency or the executive to act on it and we hope they won’t neglect the call made in the best interest of the nation for the continued unity of Nigeria.
Restructuring favours North
Restructuring Nigeria can never be of any disadvantage to the North. That fear, if it exists, is not borne out of facts. I can never imagine how restructuring the country would go against the benefit of the North. The point really is that we want a more efficient system for all. We want it to do away with inefficiency and do away with the beggar-bowl tradition. We target a system that would empower and make Zamfara own the gold in their area and have the power to mine, get the proceeds and make returns to the central government and rest this centralisation of everything that seems to breed laziness and everyone waits for Abuja for sustenance.
That is how a federation works, not someone sitting in Abuja to determine and decide how gold in Zamfara should be mined, who mines it, how much is made from the mining, who gets what quota and also decides ho much he gives Zamfara that owns the gold. No, that’s not proper. Let the people own their fate. That is the review we seek. We know that these fears are from the spillover of the military retardation from Lagos and later to Abuja.
South East Development Bill
The bill seeks the establishment of a commission that would handle the development of the states of the region through a joint states’ plan. But there is an aspect of the bill that many people have not seen or refuse to look at. It never provided that the federal government should fund the plan. The funding will come from the allocations given to the states from which a certain percentage goes into the commission to handle development plans of common interest to the region so that, if you have to develop, for instance, a river basin scheme that flows across some states in the region, there should be a commission to handle the project without waiting for the individual states.
It also wants to start from where the ‘three Rs’ pronounced at the end of the civil war in 1970 stopped. According to that proclamation, there was supposed to be Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Reconciliation. Reconciliation was done but not the two other Rs and they need to be done because that gap is what has been causing the South East to lag behind others and there is the need to bridge it and make the people feel that they belong to this country. The intention is to complete the full reintegration of the South East to Nigeria.
Regarding the position of the South East senators on the government of Buhari, the Deputy Senate President and I led the Senate Caucus to meet the President in September 2016 and we explained to him the fears of our people because they are being rejected by him, sidelined by his administration and also the fears that the feeling is compounded every day by the lopsidedness of his appointments. We also brought to his attention the moves by President Yar’Adua to assuage the feelings of the Niger Delta region and how successful they were.
It is just sad that today, close to a year after that visit, we haven’t got the benefit of any response in action and rather an insistence by the government that what it does is right. They are the reasons for the problems we face today.
I have to reiterate that nobody in the South East wants to leave Nigeria because he thinks there is a better country somewhere. The entire situation is expression of hopelessness at someone that never wanted to treat our people like part of the nation and the youths express it in agitation. We have every need to review things and give justice to all. Restructuring is the surest way to that.