Contrary to claims that northern Nigeria will never support restructuring or disintegration of the country, a prominent member of the Northern Elders Forum (NEF), Professor Ango Abdulahi, spurned the view, writes ADEBIYI ADEDAPO
“If we find truly that we cannot develop and guarantee the welfare of our people as a nation, and the solution is to go our separate ways, why not?” Ango Abdullahi
It is a common view from some quarters in the polity that the northern part of the country is a parasite, living on the oil rich and the more economically viable south.
This feeling contributed in no small measure to the agitations from various groups, questioning the current federal system of government which guarantees more power to the centre as against the states as federating units.
These groups’ mainly from the south have relentlessly demanded the restructuring of the country’s federalism to adjust the revenue sharing formula, while some are bent on seceding from the federation.
However, in a shocking outburst, Prof. Abdulahi declared that the north was not afraid of disintegration, saying it was very possible for Nigeria to break into regions, if the federating units refused to continually live with understanding.
Abdullahi while speaking at a book lunch in Abuja noted that; “if Lugard made a mistake in 1914, let’s correct it now, why not? If Nigerians cannot live together and allow peace and development to reign, then let’s go our separate ways and to our different places so that we can concentrate and develop our children and grandchildren in peace. There’s nothing wrong with that. So many countries have gone through that before. So I don’t believe in all these emotions and sentiments that Nigeria is indissoluble.”
He stated further; “We might not be one, in terms of language or in terms of geographical location or in terms of customs or in terms of history or in terms of religion and so on, but as a people put in one country our first job is to understand one another, understanding one another will be the basis for working together. This wish of being one is Utopian because if you look at examples of other parts of the world there’s a lot to learn from. Take for example India that got independence in 1948, yet one or two years later Pakistan was created, and in another one or two years, Bangladesh emerged out of Pakistan, because there was insufficient basis on which India would stay together in the first place.”
The north has nothing to fear
Prominent Northern leaders have in the past explained contribution of the region to national development, thereby rebuffed insinuations that the northern region is parasitic on the oil rich south.
Elder Statesman and major financier of the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN) Alhaji Isyaku Ibrahim, who witnessed Nigeria’s development from independence, explained that the north has always being a rich partner in the Nigeria project.
He noted that Nigeria’s first budget, after October 1st 1960, was about £30 million, £ 17 million of this amount came from the north.
According to him, the larger portion of the remaining came from the west because they were selling cocoa, which was in the high market in the world, the rest was from the eastern region.
“The first budget, after October 1st 1960, the budget which the first republic minister of finance, Festus Okotie-Eboh read in the parliament, it was about £30 million, £ 17 million of this amount came from the north, and the larger portion of the remaining came from the west because they were selling cocoa, which was in the high market in the world, the rest was from the eastern region.”
He also said that northern Nigeria would survive and flourish without the oil-wealth, noting that during the three years of Nigeria’s civil war, oil revenue was not deployed into the war.
“Nigeria did not explain what we were doing during the three years of the Civil War; it was this same agricultural products, with our tin mines and columbite, that was how we financed that war, with cocoa, because the whole of eastern region was cut-off. So now, oh…. we are parasites, what were they from the amalgamation in 1914, what were they producing, you should ask them that question, southwest like I told you produced cocoa, the eastern region, palm kennel.”
Isyaku said the north will never be a parasite in Nigeria, citing the vast land as a potential wealth; “do you understand the meaning of geo-politics? In geo-politics, when a region has land, automatically the region is rich, the north has over 200 million square meters of land, how can you say the north is poor, or we are parasites, you should go and educate them.”
Restructuring aimed at denying north oil revenue
Another elder statesman of the northern extraction, Alhaji Tanko Yakasai said Nigeria has no alternative yet to oil revenue.
“At the moment, we are still dependent on oil revenue. So, to ignore oil as a main source of foreign exchange earnings and also, as a realistic source of generating revenue is unrealistic. But it is a good idea to the extent that we should begin to think of opening other revenue sources for the country. And it is not something of a magic wand. You have to plan it and you have to work and implement the plan.”
He also said that agitations for restructuring was mainly to deny the northern Nigeria it share of the oil revenue, which according to him was borne out of hatred for the north.
“They are only fighting and shouting restructuring because of the share of revenue the northern states are getting.”
“You see the way most of those people are agitating for restructuring is unpatriotic. Most of those people who are calling for restructuring in Nigeria today are doing it with some kind of hate in their minds. The thing that is working in their mind is to find a way of denying states from the North of getting the kind of share they are getting from the Federation Account. You see some of the factors that the government is using to distribute revenue are God-made and not man-made. For instance, when they talk of population, the Nigerian people were not created by the Nigerian government.”
“It is God who created the Nigerian people and concentrated some of them in a particular area, which is the North and which always has more than 55 per cent of the total population of Nigeria. If you go through the records from 1911 when census was started, even before the amalgamation, the percentage in the North is roughly 55 per cent of the population in Nigeria. Now, if you go with the other factor, that is landmass; the North has two third of the total landmass of Nigeria.”
“You cannot deny a northerner those advantages given to him by God simply because he is getting some revenue based on those creations. These people who are talking of restructuring are actually hiding their real intent under the slogan. They are yet to explain what this restructuring would mean,” Yakasai said.
Niger-Delta wants ownership of resources
Confirming Yakasai’s position, foremost Niger-Delta Activist Ms. Aniko Briggs while reacting to enquiries by Leadership, noted that restructuring Nigeria would require a constitutional amendment, as the issue of resource ownership and control has to be redefined.
“I agitate for a Sovereign National Conference, what we had in 2014 was a national conference, not a Sovereign National Conference. Disintegration may necessarily not be the result, but to make it a crime of treason is ridiculous. We must be allowed to decide freely, I agree with Prof. Ango Abdulahi, that Nigeria should be discussed, it is great that everybody is coming to the realisation that there is nothing that cannot be broken.”
According to Briggs, the agitation of Niger Delta activists was not to dis-integrate Nigeria, but to claim ownership and control of land and resources in the oil rich area.
“I read that Alhaji Yakasai said anybody discussing restructuring of the Nigeria hates the north, but anybody who doesn’t want to talk about restructuring alsohates the south. Everybody needs to use whatever they have to develop. Statements from some people in the north, makes me feel it is a waste of time to discuss restructuring of Nigeria, we don’t want to break Nigeria, but we also don’t want to continue in circles, the reality is that we want to develop and develop ourselves. We don’t need any federal government to come and develop our land for us. ”
Our campaign not for dis-integration – Afenifere
The pan Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere insisted on the restructuring of Nigeria’s current federal system of government. Secretary General of the group, Bashorun Seinde Arogbofa, noted that Afenifere’s campaign did not include breaking-up Nigeria, but said the Yoruba nation was not afraid of standing alone.
“Our country does not need to break up. What the country needs now is restructuring, not break-up. We don’t want the country to break, we want it restructured. We want the country to be restructured so that every component would be able to live according to its own wealth. If they (North) want to go away, that is their own headache. We are not afraid to stay alone but we are not supporting that. I don’t think that is the solution to our problem.”
Igbos back restructuring crusade
Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekwerenmadu, while speaking at the 2016 Convention of the World Igbo Congress in New York, noted that without restructuring, successive leaders would only be dealing with the symptoms and not the root causes of Nigeria’s festering illness.
Also, the President of the Ohaneaze Youth Council, Okechukwu Isiguzoro, said the continued existence of Nigeria should be subjected to a periodic review.
“If the President fails to restructure the country, if he fails to look into the 2014 National Conference report, then I sincerely believe that what Ango Abdullahi said is very possible. Nigeria’s unity is negotiable; it should be subjected to periodic review. At the constitutional conference, all the stakeholders, all the various component units came together; they sat down and said this is the best way to restructure Nigeria.”
“The answer to the problems in the polity is the implementation of the 2014 National Conference report. We want to believe that in his wisdom as a former military Head of State, and now, a democratically-elected civilian President Buharishould know that Nigeria needs to be restructured. I believe what Ango Abdullahiexpressed is a sentiment that is prevalent in the North because it is becoming glaring to the North that Nigeria can break up.”