By Vincent Ujumadu
MAY 21, 2018 has become remarkable in Igbo land as it was the day Ndigbo were united with one voice to make bold their position for a better Nigeria. The day, which has been dubbed by the Igbo intelligentsia as the ‘Famous Awka Declaration’, was the highpoint of years of brainstorming exercise by leaders of all the arms of the apex Igbo socio –cultural organization, the Ohaneze Ndigbo, which articulated the stand of Ndigbo in the envisaged restructured Nigeria project.
Professor Charles Chukwuma Soludo, former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, who read the Igbo agenda to the highly cerebral audience that included leaders from other ethnic groups in Nigeria, including the Afenifere, the Niger Delta, the Middle Belt, among others, said it was the result from accumulated years of work by successive regimes of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, as well as the various Igbo think-tanks, especially the submissions of the Igbo Leaders of Thought for the 2014 National Conference; Igbo positions for the 1994 Constitutional Conference and 2005 and 2014 national conferences.
It also included the report of the committee set up by South East Governors on the review of the 1999 Constitution; the report of the World Igbo Summit by the Igbo Renaissance Centre, Uturu, Abia State; various submissions and reports by Aka Ikenga; IzuUmunna; NzukoUmunna; the Igbo intelligentsia; the World Igbo Congress; reports of various meetings and conferences of Igbo stakeholders and leaders, among others.
After collating the reports from various groups, the Ohanaeze Planning and Strategy Committee and the organizing committee for the Awka Igbo Summit on restructuring also embarked on town hall -style consultative meetings in Abuja, Lagos, and Enugu where inputs from major segments of Igbo society were gathered. Memoranda and inputs were also received from over 40 pan-Igbo groups, the nongovernmental organizations, NGOs, and individuals, after which draft was presented and debated at the National Executive Committee and the Imeobi of Ohanaeze Ndigbo.
Essentially, the Igbo are demanding a new Constitution for Nigeria. Under this, there should be a constitutional conference, backed by a law enacted by the National Assembly, where the people of Nigeria would agree on a new, truly federal Constitution. Similarly, a Constituent Assembly should be constituted to agree on a new Constitution for a new Nigeria, which should be approved by the people through a referendum to give it legitimacy and validity. Thereafter, the National Assembly should repeal Act 24 of 1999 (of which the 1999 Constitution is only a Schedule), thereby effectively voiding the 1999 Constitution.
Other demands include that under the presidential system of government, which Ndigbo agreed should continue, the various regions should determine the type of government to operate at that level;. the tenure of office of the President should be a single term of six years and there should be five Vice Presidents, one from each of the geopolitical zones or Regions, except the Region or zone of the president, and each also to serve for a fixed term of six years. Each of the Vice Presidents will be assigned supervisory responsibility over two or more ministries such as Defence, Internal Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Finance, Infrastructure and Works, so as to give every zone a sense of belonging and a strong voice in major decision making. The office of President should also rotate among the six geo-political zones of Nigeria.
There should also be six regional governments, each comprising the current states within each zone and other states that might be created within the zone from time to time, just as the existing six geopolitical zones should be enshrined in the constitution as the basis for sharing national political, economic and social amenities, offices and opportunities in an equitable manner among the zones.
The recommendations further said: “Ndigbo demand that Nigeria give effect to the recommendation of the 2014 National Conference which states that “in the spirit of reconciliation, equity, fair play, and justice, there shall be created an additional state for the South East zone; and all other requests for state creation shall be considered on merit. One additional state in the South East should be the irreducible minimum. But if states remain the basis for sharing resources and opportunities in Nigeria, we demand an equal number of states per geopolitical zone or region.
“Local Governments should be scrapped from the Constitution of the Federation and should be in the exclusive list of the Regional/State Constitutions.
“Whether the Regions or States become the federating units, and whether or not equal numbers of states are created in each zone, Ndigbo demand that equality of the six geopolitical zones should be enshrined in the Constitution. Politically, representation at the federal cabinet as well as the twin chambers of the federal legislature should be based on equality of zones or regions. Furthermore, sharing of revenues, distribution of infrastructure by the Federal Government, and federal character principle will be applied on the basis of equality of zones.
“The concept of state of origin should be scrapped from the Constitution of the Federation and replaced with state of residence. As an alternative, minimum residency and civic rights and responsibilities should include that any child born of Nigerian parents anywhere in Nigeria will acquire the indigene ship rights of the area at birth, and any Nigerian citizen who has resided in any part of Nigeria and paid taxes there for a period of ten years can acquire the indigene ship rights of the area, except for the right to their traditional stool.
“There should be a two or three-tier police structure with defined responsibilities namely, a Police Force for the Federation and controlled by the Federal Government, and the Regional/State Constitutions to establish separate Police Forces for each region and each state. The Police Force at every level will be headed by a non-partisan professional. The power to appoint and remove such a head of police will be vested in an independent body.
“There should be a truly federal system that gives control of resources to the component units and replaces the current system of unconditional transfers with conditional transfers from the centre. States should have control over all the natural resources within their territory. Fiscal federalism presupposes the revocation of the Land Use Act of 1978, the Solid Minerals Act, as well as the various Petroleum/Gas Acts and amendments since 1969. The right of ownership, control and exploitation of these and other assets should be returned to the states and/ or federating units.
“The taxation powers of the various tiers of government should be reviewed to give the federating units greater flexibility and scope to generate revenue internally. States within the federating units should collect and keep 50% of rents, royalties and profit taxes on minerals derived from their states; pay 20% to the Regional Government, and 30% to the Federal Government; provided that each tier of government will save at least 5% of the receipts from natural/mineral resources as Future Generation Fund.
“The Federal Government should set aside 40% of revenue collected from the states/regions as a Distributable Pool Account (DPA). The balance of 60% plus 60% of its own independent revenues such as customs duties, federal VAT, federal income tax, etc. will be deployed to its diminished responsibilities. The sharing of DPA should be equitable and should replace the present unconditional revenue allocation to the states and local governments.
“Nigeria must maintain an appropriate balance between merit and affirmative action in the conduct of national and regional/state affairs, and the distribution of appointments, amenities, opportunities and privileges among constituent parts. For example, while 60% should be reserved for merit, 40% could be reserved to ensure federal character principle or affirmative action. The Federal Character Commission should be replaced with Merit and Equal Opportunities Commission.
“Elections into the office of the President and the Federal Legislature should be conducted by the electoral body of the Federal Government. Elections into regional/state offices should be conducted by electoral bodies set up by the Regional/State Constitutions or laws.”
The applause that greeted the demands was an indication of their acceptability. President of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo said all the arms of Ohanze accepted the recommendations by the various committees that drafted the stand of Ndigbo on the restructuring, adding that Nigeria needed a constitution because ‘the present constitution was dead.’
Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremmadu, the highest Igbo political office holder, said he stood by his colleagues of the southeast in adopting the position on restructuring, assuring that he would be at the fore front of the bill at the national assembly. According to Ekweremadu, the resources in Nigeria were enough to make Nigeria the greatest nation in the world if only she could sincerely adopt restructuring.
His words: “We will network with our brothers and sisters from other parts of Nigeria, carry everybody along in the exercise and engage those not sufficiently convinced that Nigeria will be greater if restructured.”
Professor Jerry Gana, a former federal minister of information, who is from Nigeria’s North Central said that it was for the rest of Nigeria to consider the proposals of different parts of the country, and see which one is really good for a greater country. “Let us agree and restructure Nigeria for the security and development of Nigeria. The democratic position is to allow for dialogue and freewill discussions that will arrive at a beneficial conclusion for the benefit of all,” Gana said.
He also advised that the national assembly be allowed to discuss the issues and refer them for public referendum before they pass the bill into law. “We should allow ourselves to listen to one another and not to do anything by force,” he suggested.
Elder Statesman and chairman of the summit, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu observed that in the life of any nation, there should be a time to pause and reflect into the past, reflect on the present and peep into the future, adding that though Igbo had a great past and great people that championed Nigeria’s Independence, they have not had a fair deal in Nigeria.
He said: “Today, things are no longer the way we want them. In as much as I believe that the future of the Igbo is great, there are some concerns. The federal government of Nigeria should be grateful to Ohaneze Ndigbo for coming up with the programme for the restructuring of the country for the benefit of all.”
Senator Victor Umeh, an APGA senator, said he was happy that the issue of rearranging Nigeria had refused to leave the headlines. “The South- South, Middle Belt and the South West are also organizing themselves for this. The military constitution we are using now is the root of all our problems. It is a fraud and must change. That is why we need to review it urgently. The way forward is to accept that the current constitution was set up by General Sani Abacha and foisted on the rest of the people. The unity of the country remains at risk if we do not restructure,” Umeh said.
Chief Ayo Adebanjo, leader of the Southwest socio-cultural group, Afenifere, said that restructuring was being proposed “because we love ourselves”. “Without restructuring, we are only paying lip service to national change,” Adebanjo insisted, arguing that those opposed to restructuring could not be wiser than their founding fathers namely, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and wondered why the present leaders were hesitant to restore the country the way those founding fathers set it up. He congratulated leaders of the South East for taking a stand on restructuring and encouraged them to stand firm in their resolution and not allow the notorious “Nigerian factor” to foul it.
Chief Edwin Clark, leader of the South- South and a former federal commissioner for information under General Yakubu Gowon suggested that the youths should be carried along in the process of restructuring . According to him, “the youths have been treated very unkindly by the federal government of Nigeria.”
In the words of Professor Soludo: “The Nigerian project is at a crossroads. It does not command universal acceptance at home and it is much diminished abroad. For some sections of the population, the promise of Nigeria: peace and unity, faith and progress are becoming broken dreams.
“The capacity and objectivity of the Nigerian state, its leadership, critical institutions and agencies are questioned by many. On the global stage, Nigeria is rapidly fading from any serious reckoning. It cannot secure and fend for its citizens at home; neither can it project power to protect its citizens abroad. Despite its abundant potential and promise, most Nigerians agree that Nigeria as currently structured and governed is not sustainable.”
“The present 1999 Constitution foisted by the military regime (falsely dubbed a federal constitution) unhinged all the structures of true federalism and bequeathed a de’facto unitary system with concentration of powers and resources at the centre. With the choking unitary system, Nigeria has remained relatively unstable, oscillating unpredictably between the flickers of hope and despair. Most Nigerians agree that this system cannot survive and endure for much longer.”
Recalling that the calls for restructuring had become even more strident and desperate in recent times, Soludo said further: “The Yoruba nation held a rally at Ibadan in September 2017 and published its agenda for restructuring Nigeria; the South-South geopolitical zone held its own summit in Yenagoa in March 2018 and endorsed its template for restructuring; the All Progressives Congress (APC) set up a committee on restructuring and its recommendations are public knowledge; the 19 states of the former Northern Region have also set up their own committee on restructuring and its report is expected; the Middle Belt zone is scheduled to hold its own summit on restructuring, while several political parties have made ‘true federalism’ the centre piece of their manifestos for a better Nigeria. At no time in Nigeria’s recent history has there been broader support for restructuring the federation than now.
The governor of Anambra State, Chief Willie Obiano, the host governor, observed that in the past 58 years, Ndigbo had worked tirelessly with fellow Nigerians to lay the foundations for a better federation and a more perfect union.
He said: “We have made the most sacrifices and more often than not, we have also paid the supreme price for the unity of this country. But we have made these sacrifices in the belief that in the contemporary history of mankind, the road to nationhood is often paved with the blood of patriots. Indeed, Ndigbo have paid the price for Nigeria’s greatness. We paid in blood. We paid in full!
“The future summons us to a brighter dawn! And we must walk in the shadows of our fathers. Yes, our fathers played a major role in Nigeria’s long road to independence. And today, we have gathered to dream a balanced federation into existence for Nigeria and Nigerians.
“The question on everyone’s mind today is ‘what kind of country do Nigerians want Nigeria to be?’ This is the question that will determine Nigeria’s promise; Nigeria’s future and Nigeria’s greatness. Happily, different ethnic groups and geo-political zones have made bold efforts to ask this question in recent times.
“We have answered the call of history. And hopefully, history will be kind to us. If our fathers invested their youthful hopes and the power of their intellect in the Nigeria of their time, we have invested our wealth, our enterprise and our emotion in remaking Nigeria. Indeed, no other ethnic group has as much emotional investment in the Nigerian project as Ndigbo. And now, we have been called upon to re-imagine Nigeria. We welcome this challenge with both hands. For if we rose from the ruins of the civil war to rebuild Eastern Nigeria in record time, there should be no doubt about what Ndigbo can bring to the table in a fair, just and equitable Nigeria.”
Despite an earlier threat by the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, to scuttle the summit, the attendance was very impressive and kudos must be given to the Nigeria Police which ensured that the summit was held in a convivial atmosphere. One noticeable sour feature, however, was the absence of the other four South East governors namely, Governors Dave Umahi of Ebonyi of Ebonyi, Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu and Rochas Okorocha of Imo at the Awka summit, Though some of them sent representatives, some people argued at the venue of the summit that their presence would have given more impetus to the Igbo demands.