Speaks on Awolowo, the Yoruba agenda
By Hugo Odiogor
Lt General Alani Ipoola Akirinade is not a man of many words and his contributions to securing the peace and unity of Nigeria have been well documented. The officer and gentleman, in every sense of the word, took great risks to his life when he joined the battle for restoration of democracy as a member of National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) at a time the late General Sani Abacha was up in arms against anybody who stood on his way.
Akinrinade stood his ground and perhaps General Abacha could not mess with this war hero out of respect for his wartime credentials and contributions to securing Nigeria’s unity.
He shunned politics because he could not see himself joining the band of deceitful men and women, who see it as an avenue to promote greed and hypocrisy for self-aggrandizement and vainglory.
The opportunity to encounter the former Chief of the Defence Staff (CDs) and later Minister of Agriculture and Industry in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State at the annual Ijaw National Congress and his disposition to the National Conference was enthralling but his nomination by his state as a delegate to the conference must warn any body that thinks that the gathering would be mere talk show.
”I do not wish to leave Nigeria as a country where my grand children are not certain of their future”, he told Sunday Vanguard. His advice to President Goodluck Jonathan, the convener of the National Conference, is equally poignant. His words: “President Jonathan must rise above playing politics with the hopes and aspirations of the Nigerian people who see him as instrument of divine will to forge the traumatised nation anew.
“By agreeing to convoke a National Conference, it would seem that President has been eventually persuaded that something is structurally wrong with the current political and the structural configuration of the nation”.
One of the benefits of having Akinrinade at this National Conference is his neutral political disposition but, more importantly his total support for the owners of Nigerian land and resources and the minorities who have for long clamoured for true and fiscal federalism.. Said Akinrinade: “It is my fervent hope that President Jonathan would not be the first Ijaw President and the last President of Nigeria”.
Apart from supporting the agenda of the Yoruba, Akinrinade was unequivocal that the unity of Nigeria is negotiable. He said, “In September this year, after over 700 years of Rule Britannia, the people of Scotland will be voting on whether to remain part of or become independent from the rest of the UK.”
Akinrinade would therefore be a rallying point for such ethnic nationalities such as Igala, Tiv, Itsekiri, Isoko, Urhobo, Birom, Efik, Ibibio, Anioma, Jukun, among others, who would look up to him to bring the progressive view of late Chief Obafemi Awolowo as enunciated in his books entitled: Thoughts on the Nigerian Constitution and Path to Nigerian Federation, to guide deliberations at the National Conference.
Akinrinade said deliberations at the conference would be hot, negotiations would be nerve wracking because the North would not easily give up the advantage which the 1914 amalgamation conferred on it, in the same way other regions have woken up to realise that the master / servant relationship that was the product of Lord Luggard finding a wealthy bride for a not endowed groom would not endure.
As far as Akinrinade is concerned, “Something must give at this conference, whether we like it or not, Nigeria would not be the same after this conference; it is only a stupid man that would hear that his house is on fire and he would be fiddling like Emperor Nero.”
He said the time has come for Nigeria to discuss issues pertinent to the various regions and to correct the past mistakes as part of the process of our nation- building instead of shying away from them”.
On Jonathan’s disposition to the National Conference
The former CDs said the conference represents a historic opportunity to redeem what is wrong since what is famously referred to as the mistake of 1914. “We must all plan to take advantage of the National Conference, as limited in scope and presentation as it might be, to make the case for fiscal and· political autonomy for the states.. We must not go to the conference to lobby or campaign for’ any presidential candidate, because that is to forfeit a good opportunity to redeem Nigeria”, he said.
“If President Jonathan, an Ijaw man, has been in government for about six years and has not been able to change the revenue mobilization and distribution system, nor has he been able to implement the clear United Nations report on cleaning up the environmental mess in Ogoni land which costs a mere one billion dollars, it is clear that the issue is not who is in government but the structure of the Federal Government. It is the structure that needs to be re-designed.
The forthcoming National Conference, may have fallen far short of what was expected by many and there may by issues with the modalities set for it, but I believe it is still a golden opportunity for Nigerians of diverse cultures, political beliefs and religious orientation to rub minds on the state of the nation and come up- with an acceptable template for moving forward.
“The National Conference is also important because, for the first time in the political history of the country, we have a member of one of the minority groups serving as President of the nation.
“Although regarded by many as less than perfect, the election that brought Dr. Jonathan to power is a historic landmark for the nation and its various constituent nationalities.
Chief Awolowo, under more auspicious conditions, must have moved in his grave, that his wish;, which he expressed in 1983, ‘that he wanted to see an Ijaw man as President and a Birom as deputy in Nigeria’ is partially fulfilled. I know that it would seem that, initially, President Jonathan did not see anything wrong with the status quo, but fate has miraculously intervened again to make him realise that there is something wrong with the structure that hinders the realisation of the hopes and aspiration of Nigerian and the minority groups in particular.
By agreeing to convoke a National Conference, it would seem that Jonathan has been eventually persuaded that something is structurally amiss with the current political and structural configuration of the nation. Having now seen the light, Jonathan must rise above playing politics with the hope and aspirations of the Nigerian people and see himself as an instrument of divine will to forge this traumatized nation anew. This is the only honour and respect he can pay to all those Ijaw heroes and heroines who have fallen in the struggle to redeem the nation.
“This is the first time in the history of the nation that an ethnic minority would emerge as the President of the Federal Republic. The ethnic minorities have never had it so good in the history of the nation. They have both the yam and the knife as they say. Fate and human political engineering have miraculously and providentially intervened to place the destiny of the nation in the hands of an Ijaw man.
Without any exaggeration, this is an opportunity in a millennium. It may never come again, or at least for a long time. Although the Ijaw people, as we have seen, have been in the forefront of the quest for a true federalism in Nigeria, although they have sacrificed in terms of blood, sweat and tears, this is the time to truly walk their talk.”
The Awo reminiscences
Akinrinade recalled that the patron saint of true federalism in Nigeria was Awolowo.” From the forties, Awolowo has championed the cause of true and authentic federation in Nigeria. In his book, Path to Nigerian Freedom, the late sage argued that Nigeria was not a nation in the real sense of the word but an unwieldy conglomeration of ethnic nationalities,” the Osun State nominee to the National Conference said.
“According to him, the future and survival of the mutually contending nationalities lay in a true and authentic federal arrangement in which the constituent units had a great measure of authentic fiscal and political autonomy within a federal umbrella. This will banish the fear of the domination of the minorities by the majorities. The resulting healthy competition and rivalry would accentuate and accelerate economic growth for the whole nation.
Let us hear him in The People’s Republic(1968) ,’Since these principles were first publicly enunciated in Thoughts on Nigerian Constitution about two years ago, several events happened which, rather than weaken, have tremendously strengthened their validity.
‘In Britain the Scottish Nationalists are ground fast; and the likelihood is greater now than ever before that the Scottish people may have an autonomous Government of their own under a federal or quasi-federal Constitution of the Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
‘If the Scottish Nationalists succeed in their aspirations, the Welsh will certainly not be left behind. In Belgium, the language feud between the Flemings and the Walloons has assumed alarming and frightful proportion.
‘It has threatened the continued existence of the five centuries-old University of Louvain; and it has brought down one Belgian Government.
There are now strong movements in Belgium for the partition of the country into Flemish- and French-speaking Sovereign States, and for the union of the two linguistic groups in a Belgian federation. In Spain, the minority ethnic groups there have begun what appears to be a determined and concerted agitation for regional autonomy within a Spanish federation.
‘Right here in Africa, those who advocate federalism for Sudan have emerged, in recent elections, as the strongest political party in the southern part of the country. Sudanese leaders who hold contrary views will only succeed in delaying, but will certainly fail in preventing the ultimate evolution of Sudan as a federation of the various ethnic and linguistic units which inhabit the country.
‘I realize that many multi-lingual and multi-national countries continue to be governed and administered with a great measure of stability under a unitary form of constitution. But I am of the opinion that the stability enjoyed by these countries with inappropriate constitutions is false and an illusion; and that such stability is possible, mainly because there is, temporarily and for reasons which can be ascertained and demonstrated, an absence of national consciousness and ferment among the ethnic units which compose these countries.
‘And since time and the forces of dialectical progression are not on the side of any fundamentally defective system, I predict that every multi-lingual or multi-national country with a unitary constitution must either eventually have a federal constitution based on the principles which I have enunciated, or disintegrate, or be perennially afflicted with disharmony and instability.”
Belgium today Akinrinade said has one of the most radical federal constitutions in the world with the following four articles as its openings:
“Article 1: Belgium is a Federal State made up of communities and regions.
Article. 2: Belgium is made up of three communities: The French Community, the Flemish Community and the German Community.
Article. 3: Belgium is made up of three regions: The Walloon region, the Flemish region and the Brussels region.
Article 4: Belgium has four linguistic regions:
The French-speaking region, the Dutch-speaking region, the bilingual region of Brussels Capital and the German-speaking region.
Each commune of the Kingdom is part of one of these linguistic regions.”
The former NADECO chief went on: 9 July 2011, after one of the longest civil wars in Africa’s history, which started in 1955, South Sudan became independent from Sudan.
“Had he been alive, I am sure Chief Awolowo would have appreciated how much he was proved wrong, namely that in all the cases he mentioned, the outcome had been more extreme than he predicted. No doubt the old man is smiling in his grave and probably wishing Nigeria, as presently structured, well.
“I am not aware that he predicted the emergence of Czech and Slovakia, nor the balkanization of Yugoslavia with the attendant human misery nor what became of the mighty USSR or that Eritrea will separate from Ethiopia
“Awolowo walked his talk when he became the premier of the old Western region. He was a militant advocate of the restructuring of Nigeria on states based on linguistic compatibility and cultural continuum.
“He championed the cause of the COR states. It will be recalled that Awolowo did not oppose the creation of the Mid-West region even against the argument of hard-headed pragmatists in his own party who considered this a politically obtuse surrender of initiatives to hostile federal authorities. Awolowo had initially withheld his support based on the argument that the new region might not be economically viable.
But upon becoming premier, his access to hitherto classified papers convinced him of the viability of the new region. He was never to look back even when the new region went to the rival NCNC as predicted by his internal opponents.
Views on the Yoruba Agenda
Akinrinade acknowledged that the Yoruba are asking for a new design of the federation.
“The new design is to make the zones or regions or by whatever name called to be the federating units, going back to the parliamentary system in place until 1966; transferring the power to tax to the federating units; changing the system of public order and law enforcement to ensure all tiers of government have the ability to enforce the laws they make, adjudicate and administer punishment within their jurisdiction, make education a residual matter or must the Yoruba watch egalitarianism washed away by jettisoning the teaching of history and embracing such backward ideas like nomadic education and Almajiri schools in the name of unity?
Creating a constitution court to adjudicate on all constitutional matters and disputes between states; allowing each state or federating unit to have a judicial system on non-federal crimes that go all the way to their own Supreme Court and terminates there.” The former CDs stated,: “Will it not minimize conflict if there is clear provision in the Constitution for sections that feel severely aggrieved to elect to opt out of the federation at any time instead of resorting to arms?
“Some countries with federal Constitution have this clause, but they seldom use it, but it is there to warn against any form of bullying”.