One of the most debated issues in the Nigerian public space at the moment is the clamour for the political restructuring of the country. It has now become a singsong across the length and breadth of the country. But the debate has attracted diverse views and demands such that there appears to be no clearly defined understanding among Nigerians on what restructuring means and whether it will move the nation forward or disintegrate it.
Among the various views and demands anchored on restructuring is the agitation by some people for a return to regionalism as in the first republic arrangement of the federation. Others say what is needed is the devolution of some of the powers and roles of the federal government to the states, to shed the current unitary-like political structure and return to the practice of true federalism. Yet, for some, it is about a restructuring that would allow communities greater control over the resources in their domains. The issue has been further complicated by the rise of separatist groups agitating for a reconfiguration that will allow the break away of any part of the country desiring to do so, to chart its own destiny.
Against this background and the resultant mounting tension in the land, a policy advocacy group known as the Yoruba Leadership and Peace Initiative (YLPI), organised a non partisan retreat of Yoruba leaders from the South-West region of the country in Ibadan on Thursday, 29th of June at the Lead City University Conference Centre to brainstorm on the issue and proffer the way forward for the nation. Tagged the Yoruba Unity Retreat, the forum was attended by distinguished and experienced statesmen, leaders of thought and eminent professionals from the South-West.
At the retreat, the state of the nation address of the group delivered by its convener, Otunba Deji Osibogun, gave an insightful background to the deliberations. In the address, he noted that the struggle for restructuring had come a long way, from the days when Nigerians wrangled over how to convene a national dialogue on it, whether sovereign or non sovereign conference, to the actual bold steps taken by the Obasanjo as well as Jonathan administrations to bring the people together to dialogue and fashion the way forward. He noted that the 2014 National Conference convened by Jonathan was a major breakthrough in the struggle as it was in that conference that participants representing various ethnic nationalities, groups and instititions, agreed on the major outcomes expected from the proposed restructuring.
Among the agreed expectations are the return of the nation to the practice of true federalism with the states as federating units and the concomitant devolution of powers, roles and resources from the centre accordingly. Otunba Osibogun therefore called for the implementation of the 2014 National Conference recommendations before the next general elections in 2019. After a serious brainstorming session by participants, a communique was issued on the resolutions and decisions of the retreat.
The communique affirmed the unity of the Yoruba people in the South-West states namely Oyo, Ogun, Lagos, Osun, Ondo and Ekiti as well as Kogi, Kwara, Edo and Delta states. and pledged the commitment of the Yoruba Leadership and Peace Initiative and the Yoruba race in general to the unity and continued territorial integrity of Nigeria. The communique, however, strongly stated that the Yoruba people insist that in view of the economic and political challenges facing the Nigerian nation, the political restructuring of the nation had become imperative and overdue, requiring a return to the practice of true federalism, devolution of power, more resources to states and local governments with a view to maximizing the advantages of each constituent unit of the federation.
It is significant that the position adopted by Yoruba leaders at the retreat has become the popular stance of numerous leaders and groups across the country including the Afenifere from the South-West, Ohanaeze Ndigbo leaders from the South-East, leaders from the South-South as well as the Southern leaders Forum and also the Southern and Middle belt Forum. Although the whole of the north is yet to take a formal a position as it awaits the report of an advisory committee, some of its notable leaders such as former President Ibrahim Babangida and former Vice President Abubakar Atiku have strongly endorsed restructuring.
In fact, Atiku insists that not only is restructuring necessary, it is feasible and some aspects of it such as the devolution of some roles and responsibilities of the federal government to the state governments can be achieved without constitutional amendments.
From all indications, a national consensus already points to the necessity for a political restructuring of the country and it appears that the easiest way to go about it is to implement the recommendations of the 2014 National Conference. But as of now, that option is still elusive given the reluctance or cautious approach of the present Buhari administration to the issue. Another set back is the rejection of devolution of power by the upper chamber of the national assembly while voting recently on constitutional amendments.
It is not yet clear whether the committee set up by the ruling All Progressives Congress on restructuring will be able to recognise the demand as a very serious concern of the people of Nigeria at the moment and therefore convince the administration to address it accordingly. What is however clear is that the struggle for restructuring can no longer be wished away, nor suppressed nor ignored. The earlier it was addressed, the better.
Ahead of the proposed restructuring, Yoruba leaders, in the communique released, also urged the states of the federation to realise that for the devolution of power and resources to translate to positive change in the lives of the people, state governors must invent new initiatives of providing better governance, management of resources and service delivery. In this regard, the leaders urged the governors of the South-West states to set up think-tanks and develop achievable programmes tailored to the developmental needs of their states while also integrating with their counterparts within the region to effectively address matters of common interest and concern.
The governors of the South-West states were also advised to begin to harness the various potentials of their states, especially in agriculture, including reviving the Awolowo – era Farm Settlements, to boost food and cash crop production towards achieving food sufficiency, sustainable foreign earnings from cash crop produce and mass employment opportunities for the youths.
It will be recalled that agriculture was once the major sustainer of the economy of the region during the first republic. As of today, agriculture is still a major sustainer of the economies of many countries, including the United States despite its technological advancement.
For example, Ohio state in the United States accounts for a large volume of trade between the country and China with a single crop soybeans, which it exports in millions of tonnes to the hugely populated Asian country for the production of animal feed. It is the belief of the Yoruba Leadership and Peace Initiative that the South-West states do not need to depend on federal allocations for their sustenance. For instance, they can develop their vast agricultural potentials such as cocoa, rice, cassava and even yam (which is used to produce pharmaceutical starch) as well as natural and other resources to sustainably develop their states.
In actual fact, no part of the country is poor. Every part has various agricultural, natural and other potentials that can be exploited to sustain its development. The practice of true federalism empowers the federating states to harness these resources and apply them to the areas of need which may vary from state to state. This is what the nation needs now.
In carrying this agitation for restructuring forward over 100 Yoruba groups have decided for a summit at Adamasingba Stadium , Ibadan on September 7, 2017 at 10 am to work out a common front to address the issue.
To me the YLPI summit communique of June 29, 2017, should be taken as a template at this rally- there is little or nothing to add to it.
Olamiti (FNGE), a Media Consultant, writes from Abuja.