In what could easily pass for one of the single largest gatherings of ethnic nationalities in recent times, leaders drawn from the Niger Delta, South West, South East and the Middle Belt, converged on Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital, to drive home their demand for immediate restructuring of the Nigerian Federation.
Most of those who spoke highlighted the need for the current President Muhammadu Buhari-led government, to expedite action and begin the process of renegotiating the current federal structure, or on the alternative, allow the country to drift by allowing the status quo.
Former President Goodluck Jonathan, who is currently on a mission to Sierra Leone as an election observer in that country, in a prepared speech read on his behalf by Senator Nimi Barigha Amange, maintained that the 2014 confab report spearheaded by him remains the most inclusive roadmap to pulling Nigeria from the brink.
Some other leaders from all parts of the country, except the ‘core north’ who were present during the event organised by the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) were: elder statesman, Chief Edwin Clark; President-General of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief John Nwodo Jnr, and a chieftain of the pan Yoruba socio-cultural group, Chief Ayo Adebanjo.
Former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief Olu Falae; former governor of Plateau state, Senator Jonah Jang; Leader of the middle belt group, Dr. Bala Takaya; Senator Stella Omu, Walter Ofonagoro, Asari Dokubo and representatives of governors from the region also spoke during the event.
Recalling the efforts he made as President to change the current trajectory of the country, Jonathan said: “I am delighted that Nigerians of various ages, classes and trade and of diverse faith and different zones are showing deep commitment to this spirit-lifting debate towards arriving at a practical and acceptable solution that will guarantee a better future for our country and our hardworking citizens.
“I am even more delighted that this geopolitical zone, the Niger Delta is quite upbeat about the public consultation and debate going on across the country. This is heart-warming because it’s a pointer to the fact that the Niger Delta has come a long way from the time of unease and militancy to the present situation where the people of the zone can gather to hold a peaceful dialogue and conversation on how best to move our federation forward”.
He added: “Last month Hon Seriake Dickson, my state governor, who is playing a role in this consultation led a delegate of key Niger Delta leaders to my office in Yenagoa to brief me on the work being done by the committee set up by this group. I consider today’s event as the culmination of those efforts.
“I believe that this is the way to go in order to avoid the opposite action which could bring about destruction to lives, property and the very thing that holds us together as members of the Nigerian federation.
“For a long time, citizens of this nation had felt the need to reappraise, reform, restructure our federation to make it work for all Nigerians. I convened the 2014 national conference as my own answer to that national yearning. I always explained to people that in convening the confab I had my mind trained on establishing a polity that could work for our people and further unite our country, one that could close the gap among tribal, ethnic, or religious lines.
“It seems that until we come up with a more generally acceptable way of running our country, there is every likelihood that our nation will continue to witness agitations and protests from groups and nationalities that believe rightly or wrongly they have been handed the short end of the stick”.
Jonathan argued that if implemented, every part of this country would have the confidence and the assurance to realise their full potential and to participate equally in those activities that deliver development and progress.
According to him: “The role of the over 500-member conference made up of young and old, of diverse people from all walks of life as true representatives of different interest groups in the country was to thoroughly and truly discuss and agree on every issue that has for long agitated the minds of Nigerians on how best to run the federation”.
He maintained that the delegates did the job to the best of their ability and to the satisfaction of most stakeholders where decisions were uniquely reached by consensus.
“Recent agitations, clamours and proffered solutions have not radically departed from these findings. It’s a confirmation that the 2014 confab report needs to be looked into by the authorities. The confab report contains recommendations that provide answers to most of the questions that agitate the minds of Nigerians today.
“I am delighted that a forum like this one and many others are being convened to further focus attention on these issues that have been comprehensively covered in that report”, he said.
The former President noted: “I urge a particularly close study of the recommendations of the conference with a view to finding a common ground and aligning yourselves to the call for their implementation. I strongly believe that if implemented, the recommendations will go a long way in resolving Nigerians structural challenges and set the country on the path of sustainable development where Nigerians have equal rights to the political and economic space. No society makes progress where the blood of the innocent and the weak water the ground for causes which they have no hand in creating”.
In his presentation, Chief Falae aligned with the former President, explaining that it would be difficult to achieve the kind of consensus achieved by the 2014 national conference.
“In 2014, President Jonathan after a lot of pressure set up a national conference. I was a member of that conference and not just that, when we got to Abuja, the delegation from the southwest and delegates from Yoruba speaking parts of Kwara and Kogi jointly decided to make me the leader of the Yoruba Delegation”.
He said in that capacity, he was able to work with the South-south, South-east and the Middle Belt, noting that they were able to work together on 600 resolutions, which they arrived at without a single vote, but through unforced consensus.
He said there were ballot boxes throughout the period for those who disagreed on any resolution, stressing that for the four months that the conference sat, nobody objected to the resolutions.
“We had 600 resolutions which were passed by consensus; that has never happened in this country. We never had that kind of consensus report in our history. So, when President Buhari said he will not read the report, I said he couldn’t mean it. Because whether anybody likes it or not, if Nigeria has a future, that future is in that report”, he argued.
He added that without incentive or intimidation all delegates signed the document, stressing that Buhari cannot turn round and say he is not implementing the report.
“How can anybody turn round and say he is not reading it. That he doesn’t know what restructuring means. That he has reservations and then won’t read it”, the elder statesman questioned.
He noted that in any case, the All Progressives Congress (APC) government has already read the report, insisting that the governor el-Rufai report was lifted from the confab document.
In his remarks, the PANDEF leader and one-time Federal Information Minister, Chief Clark said the Nigerian state without restructuring is a failed one.
He pointed out that the recent order by the Inspector General of Police that arms should be mopped up should be seen as being stage-managed without the disarmament of Fulani herdsmen.
“The present situation has turned us to a second class citizen. We are asking the Inspector General of Police that his order that everybody should drop arms is confusing. We are asking that until when they ask the Fulani herdsmen to drop their arms, many will not obey his order”, Clark said.
Chairman of the Middle Belt Forum, Dr. Takaya, said: “the issue of restructuring is a foregone conclusion as far as the middle belt is concerned. On restructuring we stand.
“We fought to keep Nigeria one because we love Nigeria. We do not want any part to break away from Nigeria. There were mistakes made by officers during the war. From now on, let just remember that the middle belt and south south are the same people.
He said if the south does not stand in solidarity with the middle belt concerning the killings and abduction of people in that zone, they (the killers) will soon overrun the south since the middle belt is currently serving as a buffer between both regions.
In his comments, Jang said the country under the APC has become directionless, with the country drifting off the cliff.
He said Nigeria is a nation that calls itself the giant of Africa, yet cannot govern itself, noting that “it will be a shame if this is the kind of Nigeria that his generation is passing on to the youths of the country”.
Nwodo bemoaned the division in the country and urged young people to be the apostles of restructuring wherever they go, noting that every other country is moving forward while Nigeria is moving backward.
Nigerians are killing Nigerians everywhere, he said, insisting that restructuring will fix many issues creating tensions in the country.
Adebanjo urged a return to the federal constitution, arguing that it was the military that distorted the federal system that was working for Nigeria at the time.
“Some rascals drew us back. It was on the basis of this constitution that we got Independence. They reversed the situation. When they wanted to leave in 1999, we asked them to return us to where they picked us from, back to federalism.
“That is restructuring. Buhari cannot be more northern than Tafawa Balewa. They should not confuse us by saying restructuring is trying to break up Nigeria. We are under an oppressive government.
“I accuse the president of aiding and abetting the cattle rearers to kill us and I mean it. I don’t want Adesina, (President’s Spokesman) to come and say it’s not true. What the President should do to refute my accusations is to declare the cattle rearers a terrorist organisation. How many people did IPOB kill before he declared them a terrorist organisation?
“It should not take him anything to disarm the cattle rearers. They don’t rear cattle with ak47. The people must be disarmed and arrested”, he declared.
Governor Dickson had earlier said that those calling for the restructuring of Nigeria are the true lovers of the country, declaring that all over Nigeria there are cries for justice.
“The calls for restructuring which we are all here to reiterate is a call for a return to the original founding principles. All our leaders here are the real lovers of Nigeria and not the other way round.
“And no blackmail, intimidation should sway us to abandon this noble cause. Our nation is crying for justice; our nation is crying for freedom; our nation is crying for prosperity; our nation is crying for unity; unity that is sustainable; unity that is founded on justice”, he said.