By Chinelo Obogo
Prominent leaders from the Southern part of the country yesterday said without restructuring and devolution of powers, there may be no general election in 2019.
This formed part of the discussion held at a colloquium on restructuring organised by the Island Club, Lagos.
The colloquium titled ‘Restructuring: Challenges, implications and the way forward’, was attended by prominent leaders in the South West, South East, South South and the North.
Niger Delta activist, Annkio Briggs, who was one of the discussants said she had the mandate of the Niger Delta people to speak on their behalf. She said if the country does not restructure, there would not be elections in 2019.
Annkio Briggs said: “The country is like a moving train without brakes and in order not to crash, we need to restructure. All regions must come together and agree on restructuring and everybody must say what restructuring means to them, and we must agree on restructuring before 2019 election. There is so much injustice in the country.
“For instance, there are 419 local governments in the North and 365 local government in the South and the north gets far more resources from the Federal Government than the people producing oil in the country. Niger Delta is producing more and getting less.
We must have a new constitution or we can use the 1963 constitution and work on it. We can have a new constitution that will take care of these injustices like the issue of Fulani herdsmen and religion. If we cannot restructure, we should call the zones together to call for a referendum, so that each zone can determine how they want to live.”
The lead discussant, Prof. Stephen Adebanji Akintoye, said the federal government has become inefficient and corrupt because of oil revenue from the Niger Delta. He said the abandonment of export products that were helping Nigeria has become a problem.
“Restructuring has become inescapable for Nigerians. The struggle for a rational federal structure has been a major concern since we were young men. Nigeria needs to restructure due to the harsh effect of the federal structure of Nigeria. Youths in South-East, Niger Delta and South-West are telling us that they do not want to be part of Nigeria anymore. It is under this that the cry for restructuring is growing louder.
“Some people are saying restructuring is a confusing idea and I dare say their strategy is clever, but not clever enough. We want a federalism that is widely acceptable and the best structure is federalism whereby each zone would be a federating unit and control and develop its own resources for the good of its people. This is the only solution to our nationality problem.The structure we operated in 1963 was very productive because each region had its constitution and controlled its resources,” he said.
Prof. John Ogu, a former Deputy governor of Ebonyi State, who represented the President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, John Nwodo, said the marginalisation of the South-East and the unfair treatment meted out to the Igbo from the end of the civil war till date were the factors that aided the rise of separatist groups like the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB).
He said: “What IPOB is doing now is a cry for justice.They are saying the Igbo have been treated very badly and have been marginalised since the civil war ended, and it is only restructuring that can remedy some of those wrongs. It can be done by amending the 1999 constitution holistically or by creating a new constitution. “Restructuring does not mean the disintegration of the country, but making Nigeria a federation and changing the unitary system of government, that the military handed to us, to a federal system of government to ensure security.”
Former governor of Ondo State, Olusegun Mimiko, said restructuring is not about the North against the South.
“Restructuring is decentralising power to make a way from distribution and consuming arrangement for every federating units to increase its fiscal resources for development. The country is on a precipice. No one can predict what will happen on October 1. Any country that cannot boast of security for its citizens and property is not worthy of being called a country. We need to have state and local police to protect the lives of citizens and property. The ruling party has said voters should not vote for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 2019 because of restructuring, so we are now watching to see whether the All Progressives Congress (APC) will restructure before 2019.”
A former Minister for Information, Labaran Maku, agreed with the consensus on restructuring. He said: “Nigeria needs restructuring. It offers Africa and Africans a great hope if we can reform the structure and its internal powers. The majority of us believe that restructuring will make Nigeria a great country, and these kind of debates are needed to ensure that restructuring works.”
Ayo Adebanjo, a chieftain of Afenifere chastised northern leaders who are opposed to restructuring. “The military introduced this constitution which thrives on a unitary system of government, but you cannot run Nigeria on a military system of government, because we have so many ethnic groups. We have passed that stage where people will try to make us think that restructuring is new. It is not. We must restructure now or the country may not survive. The North does not want to agree on restructuring because they are beneficiaries of the awkwardness of this 1999 constitution which was thrust on us by the military” he said.
General Alani Akinrinade condemned what he described as the deafening silence from most prominent northern elders over the quit notice given to the Igbo living the north before October 1 by northern youths.
He said: “Besides a few northern elders who criticised the northern youths for the quit notice given to the Igbo, I am sad that most of the elders I expected to have condemned it have maintained a deafening silence.”