Viewpoint

January 30, 2024

Restructuring: Tinubu, Yoruba and the Jos summit

Okuama

President Tinubu

By SOLA EBISENI

It is no exaggeration that Nigeria is in the firm grip of diverse criminality which assumed unbridled terrorism under President Muhammadu Buhari.  Yet, there’s no end in sight. The recent dastardly terrorists attacks in Plateau State at the eve of Christmas remain unrelenting leading to last week’s declaration of a state of emergency in form of curfew in Mangu Local Government by the State: the unravelled motives behind the Ibadan bombardment still being attributed to mishandling of mining explosives; the widespread killings of farmers on their land and forceful occupation of their homes; commercial kidnappings all over the country,  are some of the signs not only that things are falling apart beyond the hold of the centre but also that the widening cracks may be beyond any mending soon except government hearken to voices of reason with the determination to save, from collapsing, the house built by Lord Lugard since 1914.

Enduring excruciating economic hardships, the cry of Nigerians is that they be saved from incessant killings and dehumanisation by being made to witness the killings of their husbands, children and the rape of their wives, mothers and sisters. Well-meaning Nigerians and organisations are unanimous in calling on the President to decisively deal with these existential issues both as the Commander-in-chief of the armed forces in the  immediate and ultimately by restructuring the country,  backing it up with a new constitution.

One such pressure was the two-part editorial of Vanguard of Tuesday 16 and Wednesday 17 January titled: “Time to restructure Nigeria is now” which added a new dimension in such a curious manner that it becomes so important that the first part be virtually reproduced hereunder.  The Vanguard wrote:

“Although the entire Southern Nigeria, the Middle Belt, and some Northerners have been strident in calling for the restructuring of Nigeria, the South-West, or specifically the Yorubas, to their credit, can be said to be the greatest advocates of a restructured Nigeria.

“It began from Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the political father of the Yorubas who can also be called the father of true federalism in Nigeria. Awo, as he was fondly called, faithfully advocated for a federal socialist democratic system of government, a system that would bequeath each region autonomy and the freedom to adopt policies best suited for its people without unnecessary interference from a central government.

“Suffice it to say that Chief Awolowo spent much of his political life canvassing for ‘political self-determination of each ethnic or linguistic group’ as the only way to guarantee sustainable peace and unity in Nigeria. The endless crisis that has engulfed Nigeria since the abortion of the First Republic with its 1963 Constitution, which was closest to Awo’s federalist manifesto, has proved Awo right!   

“We can, therefore, in all good faith, call on all Nigerians, especially the Yorubas who have historically been in the forefront of the agitation, to demand restructuring from the Federal Government. It is an altruistic demand to make. It is time to put into practice what we preach.

“Since after Olusegun Obasanjo, the Yorubas have another four, or eight years at most, to prevail on Tinubu’s government to actualise the Nigerian dream and the Yoruba dream of restructuring, or true federalism. Four, or eight years may seem a long time, but before you know it, eight years will be gone!”

Still quite bemused by what appeared a blackmail of the Yoruba just because one of her sons is current President of Nigeria,  I became more surprised, being part of the delegation of the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum, SMBLF, on a condolence visit to the Government and people of Plateau State on the Christmas eve massacre,  that the opinion expressed by Vanguard in its editorials under reference, resonated every where we visited.  

Of course, the first port of call by the delegation led by the Leader of Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo,  was the office of the Governor  Caleb Manasseh Mutfwang who received us in company with his entire cabinet, the Speaker of the State House of Assembly and leaders of thought in the state and the Middle Belt led by former Governor, David Jonah Jang and General ZamaniLekwot(rtd).

 Chief Ayo Adebanjo who is also the Deputy Leader of SMBLF led by Chief Edwin Clark who couldn’t make the journey, was accompanied by other leaders including the National President of the hosting Middle Belt Forum, Dr. Bitrus Pogu,  elder statesman and former Military Governor of Rivers State, General Zamani Lekwot (rtd), Dr. Stanley Kavwam, the National Publicity Secretary; the Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, delegates included its National Chairman, Senator Emmanuel Ibok-Essien, Professor G.G Darah while Ohaneze Ndigbo was led by Chief Kenneth Okeugo, President Ndigbo in the 19 Northern States. Mogaji Gboyega Adejumo the National Publicity Secretary was part of the Afenifere delegates.

 Delivering the message of SMBLF, Chief Ayo Adebanjo decried the wanton killings in Nigeria, particularly the Middle Belt which motive was quest for land by force. Quoting the former Chief of Army Staff, General T.Y. Danjuma, he insisted that the Federal Government, particularly the Buhari administration, might not be exculpated from the killings bearing in mind several controversial policies on land use coupled with its refusal to act on available information on the identity of the sponsors of terrorism as publicly revealed even by officials of government.  He advocated immediate change of the constitution to re-enact true federalism and its components including State Police.

General Zamani Lekwot who responded on behalf of the people of the Middle Belt, thanked the SMBLF for the solidarity visit. The former Military Governor of Rivers State,  who became famous for his leadership of the people of Kataf nationality in Southern Kaduna tasked President Tinubu on the restructuring of the federation based on his antecedent in the NADECO struggles and the role of his Yoruba people for which he charged the Afenifere leader to prevail on the President. 

In his response, Governor Caleb Manasseh Mutfwang, a lawyer whose gubernatorial mandate,  nullified by the Election Petition Tribunal and the Court of Appeal, was just four days earlier on January 12, restored  by the Supreme Court, agreed that no time was more auspicious for the nation to rise against those factors affecting the much needed unity of the country. According to the Governor, the need for state police could not be overemphasised considering the impracticability of a single police command structure effectively securing the vast Nigerian territory and its large population. 

At the palace of the Gbong Gwom Jos Paramount Ruler of the Berom Kingdom and President of the Plateau State Traditional Council His Majesty, Da Jacob Gyang Buba, to the astonishment of visitors and disappointment of agents of violence, natural rulers from all parts of the state, in their full traditional regalia which speak of their region and religion, were gathered in their numbers to welcome the SMBLF delegation.

 The Kabiesi (as I called His Majesty who spoke Yoruba fluently) is a retired Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs and led the Plateau delegation to the 2014 Conference. His Majesty would prefer the colonial title of “natural rulers” which depicted the immemorial existence of their positions. 

Down memory lane, His Majesty recalled the olden days when security of communities were coordinated through the palaces. On restructuring, he insisted on the immediate implementation of the 2014 National Conference reports.

 Former Governor David Jonah Jang who thanked the delegation on behalf of the people also enjoined the President on the need for restructuring the polity and acknowledged the leading roles  of the Yoruba in its advocacy.

Chief Ayo Adebanjo extended the visit to the family of late  Chief Solomon Chief Lar where he was received by his widow,   Professor Mary Lar, and other dignitaries in the family and others from the Middle Belt. Mama Lar recalled the age-long relationship between Chief Obafemi Awolowo and the people of the Middle Belt and also insisted on the restructuring of the Nigerian federation as a land when no nationality is oppressed.

It cannot be overemphasised, as revealed in the Jos Summit, and repeated by Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State on another Afenifere visit,  led by its Deputy Oba Dipo Olaitan. to the Government and people of Oyo State on the Ibadan explosion, that Nigerians are agreed on the need for the restructuring of the polity. The new dimension of putting the Yoruba on the spot because President Tinubu is a matter for another day.  Time, as they say, will tell.

Nigeria, we hail thee.

•Ebiseni is the Secretary General, Afenifere.