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Homogeneity in heterogeneity: Redeeming the Yoruba identity

BY WOLE OLANIPEKUN, SAN

YESTERDAY….
The lecturer explored some distinctive traits of the Yoruba and narrated the values of education. He also argued that the Yoruba traditional political system is naturally federal in character, saying that is why the Yoruba race has always been at the forefront of Nigeria’s socio-political evolution to federalism.

The only logical answer to this poser is in the negative; and this therefore invokes, triggers and activates Awo’s 4th rule of federalism, id est, “a unitary constitution in a bilingual or multilingual or multinational country must fail, in the long run”. This informed and prescient proclamation is now living out in this country. The Constitution of a people should be the codification of the mind and soul of their union, the foundation of their existence and the articulation of the substance of who they are, what they live for and how they have chosen to live. In Joel J. Seidemann’s words, it is the “birth certificate” of the people.” But when this foundation is destroyed, what can Nigerians do? I have consistently submitted at other foras that the problem with the 1999 Constitution is not only its many ill-thought provisions, but even the manner of its promulgation. I employ the word ‘promulgation’ very advisedly, seeing that it was an offshoot of military shenanigan, a relic of our dark past and a product of a skewed process. Contrary to the preamble of the

Constitution that “we the people … hereby make and give to ourselves the following Constitution”, it was they ‘the Federal Military Government’ who through Decree No 24 of 1999 foisted this albatross on us!

It is therefore only normal that over the years, and more so, in recent times, the agitation for a truly federal and all- inclusive Nigeria has reached a deafening crescendo. This is the hottest topic in the polity as we speak; whither Nigeria?

Must we continue in the uneven arrangement and alliance in which we have found ourselves? Have we not pushed this beleaguered arrangement called Nigeria to the brink, mandating us, as a matter of survival, to take urgent but calculated steps to retrieve it from impending implosion? At the launch of a book titled; ‘We Are All Biafrans’ in June 2016, a former Vice-President of Nigeria and former presidential hopeful, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, again broached the subject of restructuring Nigeria. In the Guardian Newspapers of June 1, 2016/8 Atiku enthused thus; “Agitations by many right-thinking Nigerians call for a restructuring and renewal of our federation to make it less centralised, less suffocating and less dictatorial in the affairs of our country’s constituent units and localities. As some of you may know, I have for a long time advocated the need to restructure our federation.

Our current structure and the practices it has encouraged have been a major impediment to the economic and political development of our country. In short it has not served Nigeria well, and at the risk of reproach it has not served my part of the country, the North, well. “The call for restructuring is even more relevant.today in light of the governance and economic challenges facing us. And the rising tide of agitations, some militant and violent, require a reset in our relationships as a united nation.”

Atiku, on Thursday, April 27, 2017, again took the opportunity presented by the public presentation of a newspaper to deliver a further call for the restructuring of Nigeria. This time, he highlighted the fact that “restructuring will facilitate the emergence of a leaner bureaucracy, enhance efficiency, block wastages and promote more prudent management. It will make for happier constituent units more committed to the progress and unity of the country and the emergence of a sense of nationhood”, and also outlined some steps which, in his view, must be taken to achieve these lofty ideals.

On the occasion of his 78th birthday ceremony, ex-military ruler, Ibrahim Babangida added his voice to the growing clamour for a restructured and/or renegotiated Nigeria.

According to the Daily Post feature of June 26, 2017, Babangida made the following remarks on the imperatives of a restructured Nigeria; “If we have repeatedly done certain things and not getting the desired results, we need to change tactics and approach, and renew our commitment. It is our collective responsibilities to engender a reform that would be realistic and in sync with modern best practices … I will strongly advocate for devolution of powers to the extent that more responsibilities be given to the states while the Federal Government is vested with the responsibility to oversee our foreign policy, defense, and economy.

Even the idea of having Federal Roads in towns and cities has become outdated and urgently needs revisiting. That means we need to tinker with our constitution to accommodate new thoughts that will strengthen our nationality. Restructuring and devolution of powers will certainly not provide all the answers to our developmental challenges; it will help to reposition our mindset as we generate new ideas and initiatives that would make our union worthwhile.

The talk to have the country restructured means that Nigerians are agreed on our unity in diversity; but that we should strengthen our structures to make the union more functional based on our comparative advantages. Added to this desire is the need to commence the process of having State Police across the states of the Federation.”

In the land of the rising sun, the East, the call for restructuring has also been strident and recurrent. At several fora, the Pan-Igbo society, Ohaneze Nd’Igbo, has lent its voice . in support of the call for a restructured Nigeria. It will be unfair not to distinguish between Nnamdi Kanu led Indigenous People of Biafra call for an outright secession of the east from the clamour of Ohaneze to restructure. In fact, as recently as June 29, 2017, my friend, the President-General of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Chief John Nnia Nwodo stated very categorically that the East remains “part and parcel of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, bound by its laws, no matter how repressive or unjust”.

Coming home, it will not amount to delusion of grandeur to arrogate to the west the leadership of the clamour for restructuring crusade. Over the years, several Yoruba leaders of thought and groups have not only endorsed the clarion call for restructuring but have also joined the chorus for a restructured Nigeria. And recently, at the meeting of the Yoruba Leadership and Peace Initiative held in Ibadan as recently as 29th June, 2017, Yoruba elders again made the call for the restructuring of Nigeria. They noted that Nigeria must be restructured to reflect true federalism and promote regional and national development.

The leaders also charged the federal government to commence the process of implementing the report of the 2014 National Conference as a template for restructuring of the country”, in which today’s celebrant participated, leading the delegation of ex-Governors of Nigerian States. Chief Osoba’s position in respect of the 2014 Confab, which articulates most unambiguously, the position of the South West, brings the foregoing point further to life, hear him: “I tell you, there will be partly consensus for some key issues on devolution and some other key issues because most of us believe there must be devolution of power. Most of us have been in government before and what we ask is, why should somebody sit in Abuja and determine how primary education in Yobe, Yenogoa and, in Benin will be run and which teacher should teach the local language? … For us, that is an impossibility because primary school education has nothing to do with the Federal Government;primary education is cultural … It is only a grass root person that can teach a child his language, culture and values.

It is a waste of money for someone to be in Abuja and . determine the kind of building to be done in the primary school in my village; the culture is not the same. The system of building is not also the same … There must be devolution. Some people are scared of regionalism, especially our brothers from the Northern part of the country. They feel it will be used to short change the North

The reason why only the Lagos sea port is working and others scattered across the country are not working is because we have not provided the infrastructure ..• When we go back to regional system, let the regions create states as much as they like; let them create as many local governments as they like. But we can continue sharing revenue based on the same indices, so that nobody in the North will be short-changed. But it is unfair for some states to be apportioned more local governments than their peers like in the case of Lagos and Kano with 20 and 44 local governments respectlvely.”

I agree with the above position wholly and adopt it as mine. It is therefore saddening that the 2014 Confab report has been gathering dust in what the President referred to as “so-called archives”.” However, even though the government of the day initially maintained a hard stance, refusing to entertain any discourse on the restructuring of Nigeria, it appears that this reality is beginning to dawn on all concerned, as it has been recently reported that there now plans being put in place by the All Progressives Congress to inaugurate a Technical Committee on the restructuring of Nlqeria.” It is clear that the debate about the continued unity of the people in the entity called Nigeria and on what terms is one that cannot be halted or truncated. It is a debate that is ripe and which time has come. We must act with urgency to save Nigeria from the brink of total paralysis and implosion.

This leads me to ask; what then should be the stance of the Yoruba nation? What should our role be in the raging debate?

The elders at the Yoruba Leadership and Peace Initiative were apparently conscious of the need for the Yoruba nation to take a united stand when they remarked thus; “the time has arrived for Yoruba people to put on the thinking cap and take a stand on the current agitation across the ethnic groups in Nigeria” I cannot agree more. We must ensure that our voice is not drowned out in the tumult of agitations across the country.

In addressing the subject of what our stand should be on the restructuring of our federal system, let me state that there should be no areas/subjects termed as “no-go areas”. This has been one of the undoing of past government efforts in this regard. In the run up to the 2005 National Conference, President Olusegun Obasanjo handed down some no-go areas” to delegates at the conferenceand, unsurprisingly, this signalled the futility of the entire exercise. A communique released by the Yoruba Assembly (an umbrella body for several socio-political groups in Yorubaland) on June 26, 2017, succinctly captures the need for exhaustive discussions on the state of Nigeria, including its unity or otherwise. Reacting to naysayers who insist that discussions on the unity of Nigeria is a no-go area, the Assembly stated thus; “The on-going methodology of stemming the crisis by the presidency,whilst commendable for at least opening a fresh chapter in crisis management in Nigeria, has not provided any window of redress, as it seems only interested in affirming the worn cliche that Nigeria’s unity is not negotiable. That statement cannot hold true under a civil setting or democracy.

OLUSEGUN OSOBA

Nigeria’s unity is negotiable. We can negotiate it to remain together or otherwise. If however we choose to remain together, the terms of engagement must be clear and acceptable to all Nigerians.”

That said, I have always been, and remain, an advocate of a restructured federal system; and if some people are irked by the word ‘restructuring’, then may I remind them of the need for us to restore our federalism to what it was before the military intervention in and interruption of our democracy in 1966.

As I said at the convocation lecture earlier this year at the Ekiti State University, Ado-Ekiti, “One cardinal problem bedevilling our federalism today arises from the over- concentration of powers in the Federal Government, thereby creating an all-powerful, overbearing and domineering centre. I agree with Professor Wole Soyinka when, in considering the over centralisation of power in the Federal Government, he remarked thus: “Centralisation, in short, has been the bane of the nation – on any level you choose – and nothing will answer the necessity of a harmonious relationship and development of its parts other than a severe curtailment of the control of the centre over the functioning of its parts.”’” Hence, I wholeheartedly believe that the Yoruba nation must insist on the devolution of more powers to the States within the federation.

We must push for Nigeria to operate a more prudent and viable federalism. The current set-up of 36 States has not only proved to be unworkable, but it has also become a financial burden on the Federation’s till. According to the Annual States Viability Index Report for 2016 over 14 states in the federation are insolvent, with several more owing workers’ salaries. According to the report, “without the monthly disbursement from the Federation Account Allocation Committee (FAAC), many states remain unviable, and cannot survive without the federally collected revenue,’?” Astoundingly, the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) of Lagos State alone is more than the total slim of the IGR of at least 30 States in Nigeria. In this regard, reverting to regionalism is an option which must be seriously discussed in the ongoing debate on restructuring.

Regionalism would engender healthy competition and enterprise amongst the regions. Instead of waiting for hand- me-downs from the central government, regions would have no choice but to look inwards and explore possibilities within.

I am not alone in this call for the collapse of the current State arrangement in regions, in a document presented by the Yoruba Assembly in May, 2014, titled: Regional Autonomy … Or Nothing, on page 13, it was posited thus; “The South West is committed to the consolidation of the 36 state structures into a Regional structure. This is what is in the best interest of Nigeria and the people of each Region. The South West is reaffirming and rededicating itself to this principle. Any attempt to only tinker with the splintering of Nigeria [for instance,the recommendation to create an additional state in the South East] will only entrench a logic that has proven deleterious for Nigeria’s political and economic development.Its implications would be felt on all other critical dimensions of Nigeria’s over- centralised governance; in resource mobilization and revenue sharing formula, in the continued concentration of the national security in federal hands; in impeding integrated planning for socio-economic development along Regional lines.”

Permit me to add that regionalism is an integral part of the idea of federalism espoused by Awo. Indeed, under the regional system presided over by Awo and the Action Group, Western Nigeria recorded tremendous progress in education, healthcare, infrastructure, etc. The progress recorded during that era still forms the basis of the developmental advantages enjoyed by the South-West over and above other regions in Nigeria and, for the sake of posterity, we must consolidate on this. The document produced by the Yoruba Assembly brilliantly articulates some of the ideals of the Yoruba nation in the quest for a restructured Nigeria. This brings me to the 2014 National Confab Report, which touches on virtually all our challenges as a nation, making elaborate and well- thought out suggestions to some of these problems. We must continually push for life to be breathed into the report by way of implementation. It must not be consigned to the “so called archlves?” Thankfully, the Senate recently requested the Federal Government to forward the 2014 Confab report to it as a Bill. The report must be given full implementation. In this light, ours must be a case of vigilance, engagement, persistence and insistence on the tremendous potentials of a restructured Nigeria.

May I further state that beyond the issue of regionalism, our negotiation with other constituent units of this country must be predicated, influenced and inspired by who we are. Our terms of engagement must be tempered by our Omoluabi mantra and must take into consideration our comparative advantages in education, research and agriculture. This should inform our demands for the control of our port and our lands. Going forward, we must be able to design our schools’ curricular to represent our culture as a people and what we represent.Community, camaraderie, mutual respect and brotherly affection must again become the key components of our existence as a people. Let us not negotiate from the place of weakness, we must proceed from the place of strength, and that can only be sourced from our common identity as a people. Let me also add that in the face of the interest of the Yoruba people, sub-ethnic affinity or political affiliation must fade. This is a critical time for the Yoruba Nation, history will not forgive us, as leaders, if we do not make the most of it. Since a chain is only as strong is its weakest link, we must immediately begin to work on resolving our internal differences and strengthening areas that are weaker than the rest.

It was the great boxing champion, Mohammed Ali, who said “to be a great champion, you must believe you are the best. If you are not, pretend you are”. While it is very essential that a restructuring of the Nigerian architecture is urgently implemented, I submit that we need not wait until such a time before we begin to lead the way in what a restructured union premised on regionalism can look like.

Perhaps, if we cannot convince the naysayers by words, we would by action; since, in any case, action is said to speak louder than words.

lto be continued.
Being the text of a lecture delivered by CHIEF WOLE OLANIPEKUN on 14 July 2017 at Ibara, Abeokuta, Ogun State, to mark the 78th birthday of his Excellency, AREMO OLUSEGUN OSOBA


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