Magnus Eze, Enugu
Despite threat by a segment of pro-Biafra activists, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) to disrupt the South East summit on restructuring; notable Igbo leaders from all walks of life will converge on Awka, Anambra State capital today.
No issue is more topical in Nigeria at the moment than the call for the restructuring of Nigeria. Its currency is such that even key actors in the perpetration of a unitary nation; like former Military President, General Ibrahim Babangida, have categorically declared that restructuring has become a national appeal whose time has come.
The renewed call for the restructuring of the country has continued to receive vent from ethnic nationalities especially from the south-west, south-south, south-east and the middle-belt.
The south west not long ago held a well-attended conference where the region made its position explicitly known on the imperative of reworking the Nigeria structure to give room for equity and justice.
Similarly, the Niger Delta under the aegis of Pan Niger Delta Elders Forum (PANDEF) led by elder statesman and former Federal Commissioner of Information, Chief Edwin Clark, also had a fruitful summit in Yenegoa in March and came up with a clear position too on the issue.
Therefore, the Awka gathering today; it was gathered, is a continuation of what these other regions, including the middle-belt had done.
The concourse comes on the heels of the May 4, 2018 visit to the leadership of the Senate by leaders of the south and middle-belt, where they called on the legislature to drop partisan politics in handling the affairs of the country, and asked that a national emergency be immediately declared in that regard.
In making their positions on various issues affecting the country known, the elder statesmen said: “in situations like this, unless the National Assembly rises like the conscience, the commitment and the patriotism to unveil the façade of partisan politics, partisan advantages and face the real issues of the nation, we stand on the edge of a precipice.”
The leaders drawn from South-West, South-South, South-East and North-Central include the leader of the Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo; Chief Edwin Clark; President General, Ohanaeze Ndi’gbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo; a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation and ex-Minister of Finance, Chief Olu Falae; and the first Military governor of Plateau State, Air Commodore Dan Suleiman (rtd.).
Others are a former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Obong Victor Attah; a former governor of the old Anambra State, Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife; and Publicity Secretary of Afenifere, Yinka Odumakin to mention but a few.
These groups had not been alone in the campaign for Nigeria to be restructured. Erudite scholar and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Prof. Maxwell Gidado, a former presidential adviser on constitutional matters, who now teaches at the Nasarawa State University, Keffi in a public lecture on the national question delivered at the 2018 Induction of Fellows by the Nigerian Institution of Surveyors (NIS) in Abuja, recently averred that the Federal Government is too big, and too powerful relative to the federating states; hence the need to discard the “feeding bottle” federalism which is currently obtainable in the country.
He noted that the growing call for constitutional amendment to restructure the country was patriotic, and added that “the yearnings of many Nigerians have been the desire for a renewed federalism to make it work, some have called it the national question; others call it restructuring. Obviously our federation is not working well, and has not worked well for a long time. Indeed, it is safe to say that it is broken, and therefore, needs fixing”.
Advocating for fiscal federalism, Gidado asserted that Nigeria must emulate modern democracies by adopting tax-centred revenue base derived from personal income tax, property tax, corporate tax, licences and duties.
According to him, taxation is sustainable revenue base that compels governments to promote increased economic activities, and respond to the demands of their taxpaying citizens.
He therefore called for enhanced, diversified economic activities and productivity in order to enlarge the tax base; meaning, what he clearly asked for was an enterprise based economy.
Meanwhile, sound bites from a cocktail of intellectuals from the south- east have given insight into what to expect from the Awka summit today.
In what appeared a precursor of what to expect from the summit, eminent businessman and chieftain of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Anambra State, Dr Obiora Okonkwo, on May 15, took the campaign for restructuring to the University of Nigeria Nsukka; (UNN) when he delivered the 2018 public lecture of the Faculty of Social Sciences.
Mounting the podium at the Princess Alexandra Auditorium of the university, Okonkwo who spoke on “The value of diversity: Restructuring to save Nigeria”, asserted that as a businessman, the only option left for an enterprise that is not doing well was to rejig it.
Like Gidado and many others; Okonkwo stated that too much power is concentrated at the centre and therefore called for devolution including the fiscal.
He said: “I also believe that our national financials ought to be restructured. The system of government that brings 36 states to the centre at the end of every month to share money is not sustainable. Whatever we decide that the federating units shall be called; regions or states, all partners in the federation must have capacity to develop internal resources with which they can develop at their own pace.”
In the same hue, a presidential aspirant, who is eyeing the 2019 contest, Prof. Kingsley Moghalu at a town hall meeting in Enugu last week, categorically declared Nigeria a broken nation; that is on the slide of becoming a failed nation.
The former Deputy Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) maintained that the country needed to be fixed; adding that if elected president, his government would undertake a constitutional restructuring of the country into six geopolitical zones, to bring stability, harmony and prosperity.
His words “this country is on a time bomb. I am talking of restructuring Nigeria in geo-political zones, that’s what will bring prosperity. Geopolitical zones have what we call in Economics, the economics of scale. Half of the 36 states in this country cannot pay their salaries; half of the 36 states are not solvent because they were not created with any economic models in mind. Some of them were created as gifts to friends. So, we will restructure this country so that every part of Nigeria will be able to take charge of its affairs. No part of Nigeria will hold any part of Nigeria back; nobody in Abuja would hold you down because when we work in our regions; with the regions interconnected with infrastructures, inside themselves; within themselves, the economies of this country will grow.”
Regardless, President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo on his part has said that the Igbo in partnership with some other regions were waging a diplomatic warfare to redeem its independence through restructuring of the federation.
“In our view, any war to be pursued solely as Igbo will not be as efficiently prosecuted as one in which we pursued with people who now agreed in our point of view that the agreement our forefathers had for a federation in 1963 was overthrown by the war and our federation became a unitary system in which the federal government became the Almighty.
“A federation is usually a union of federating units who donate their power to a federal government for things that are common to them, and retain their independence for things which are primary for them. But this is not what we have in Nigeria today. Every month, we all go to Abuja to get money from revenue collected from resources in our various federating units”, he stated.
Speaking at a function in Enugu penultimate week, Nwodo disclosed that the renewed call for restructuring was yielding result since the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) which previously abandoned its campaign promise to restructure Nigeria had recently revisited it.
He said “Since we began the Southern and Middle Belt Forum, the ruling party has just remembered that it promised Nigerians restructuring. It has activated a committee headed by the governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai and it has finally come to admit that we can have regional police, that we can have sovereignty over our natural resources including oil. However it expressed reservations for offshore oil to be controlled by the federal government. They have never conceded these before.”
Nwodo also indicated that the south east would be pushing to make restructuring a major campaign issue in next year’s general elections.
“We are now pushing to say, anyone who wants to govern Nigeria in 2019, your manifesto should include restructuring; we will vote for no one who does not want restructuring,” he stated.
In the meantime, aware of the precarious state of things in country, former Chairman, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Prof. Chidi Odinkalu has warned that the entity called Nigeria may not survive the next two generations if things continued this way.
Delivering the maiden edition of Nkata Umu Ibe; a monthly dialogue instituted by Centre for Memories, Enugu, he stressed the need for collaboration and good neighbourliness for Ndigbo.
“The only people who can survive it are here; but we may not be able to do it alone, we need solidarity of the communities around us because if we don’t, we may exterminate ourselves in a land economy that is not sustainable. If we don’t manage our populations well and our land tenure well, we may not be able to succeed on the land tenure that we have,” Odinkalu warned.
From all indications, Daily Sun’ s findings reveal that the Igbo have maintained their resolve to remain in Nigeria but they want an enterprise economy; where there is economics of scales, they want a Nigeria where equity and justice are the watchword. They want a country where everybody is free to grow within his ability. And that’s just what the Awka summit will be pushing for today.
In all, the South East is expected to rise from the concourse today with a bold statement on its dissatisfaction with the current state of things in Nigeria and at the same time unveil a blueprint that would make the charter sustainable.