Why agitations and separatist demands refuse to die
Kidnappers place N50m ransom on ACP
Agitations and separatist demands could be traced to when the Rivers State-born late Major Isaac Jasper Adaka Boro led a gang of youths in a 12-day ‘revolt’ against the then federal government. Boro and his group demanded a separate state that would be allowed to have total control of the huge oil resources in the Niger Delta. However, his ‘revolution’ didn’t last beyond 12 days as federal forces overran them. But the trial and jailing of Major Boro and his subsequent release by the General Yakubu Gowon government and his eventual death in the civil war did not end the agitation which he set in motion. Nigerians have seen the likes of novelist Ken Saro-Wiwa and his brand of agitation. The country has also witnessed agitations from the likes of Alhaji Asari Dokubo and other Niger Delta militant groups demanding more share of the nation’s wealth.
Many peace-loving Nigerians agonise on the fact that 50 years after the civil war that followed ethnic tensions which led to the death of about three million citizens, Nigeria is still struggling to preserve her national unity, just as her peers in the international community are making huge economic progress. After the 1967-1970 civil war triggered by secessionist demands by the Igbo in the Southeast, there is a current revival of this sentiment in the same region with renewed calls for the establishment of a state of Biafra, which is threatening the country’s unity. Groups like the Movement for the actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and Indigenous People of Biafra among others, rejuvenated the demand in recent times, with allegations of marginalization and poor development. In the Northeast, the militant Boko Haram group came with an ideology that prohibits western education, seeking to carve out a Caliphate out of Nigeria.
In the Southwest, the O’Odua People’s Congress (OPC) agitated for and demanded an Oduduwa Republic following the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election which was believed to have been won by the late Chief MKO Abiola on the platform of the Social Democratic Party (SDP). The OPC agitation continued till when the government, in order to pacify the Southwest, made an arrangement that produced Chief Olusegun Obasanjo as president.
The National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) formed on May 15, 1994 by a coalition of Nigerian democrats who urged the military government of General Sani Abacha to step down in favour of M. K. O. Abiola, also recently regrouped with a declaration of the military operation in the Southeast as a gradual military takeover and demanded among other things, a return to the 1963 Constitution and regions to control own resources.
The regrouping of NADECO came amidst calls by a former vice president, Atiku Abubakar, for the devolution of powers to the country’s federating units for Nigeria to develop.
Apart from Atiku Abubakar, other notable Nigerians as well as the National Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Senator Bola Tinubu, have openly canvassed restructuring as the only panacea to the nation’s challenges.
According to Atiku, restructuring will enable the 36 states to acquire more powers, which will enable them to generate more resources for regional development.
“The arrangement of the country in the last 50 years has not served us very well. I am not a product of the current structure of Nigeria, I am a product of the First Republic. I saw the regional government at work and I have also seen this arrangement at work, and that was why I came out to the detriment of my career to advocate restructuring of Nigeria and I still stand by what I said.
“I believe what is more important is the devolution of powers and resources to the various components, whether you want to call them states or regions. There are other issues that must be tackled along with the political restructuring of Nigeria; the economy is also a very important issue.
Atiku declared that only lazy states in the country were afraid of restructuring, adding, “I don’t know what fear those who are afraid of restructuring are having, those who are afraid of restructuring of Nigeria must be lazy.”
In a statement released after a meeting in Lagos, the NADECO group said: “It is time once again to rise and defend democracy in our dear country. We are very troubled by recent national developments and are forced to issue this warning to all our compatriots that democracy is once again under threat in our nation!”
While condemning military operations against the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) in the Southeast and the plan to take it to other areas in southern Nigeria, the group called for the entrenchment of true federalism in the country.
An elder statesman and technocrat, Ahmed Joda, said the North ceded the presidency to the Southwest in 1999 to placate the region over annulment of the June 12 presidential election and help keep the country together.
Joda who spoke Thursday at the All Progressives Congress (APC) Northeast zonal public consultation on true federalism warned Nigerians against using ethnic and regional sentiment to plunge the country into a war, saying the Northern and Southern federating units were created by the colonial government for administrative convenience and not to divide the country along ethnic and religious lines.
He lamented attempts to cause disintegration of the country in the name of restructuring and devolution of powers, saying the country could not afford the repeat of civil war horrors.
“Some northerners committed a sin against the Southwest by annulling the most credible election in the political history of Nigeria, so when there was another election in 1999, northerners cleverly picked a Southwest presidential candidate and voted for Obasanjo massively to clean the political sin the North committed against the South-West,” he said.
The Pro National Conference Organization, (PRONACO), a Pan Nigerian movement initiated under the leadership of the late Chief Anthony Enahoro and Professor Wole Soyinka to resolve Nigeria’s constitutional challenges, recently announced plans to reconvene its adjourned national conference after persisting demands for the restructuring of Nigeria.
The group’s spokesman, Olawale Okunniyi, told newsmen in Lagos that the move to reconvene the confab which was adjourned in May 2007 became necessary following series of consultations with eminent leaders of thought and well-meaning political leaders in the country over restructuring and selfdetermination agitations.
“PRONACO would not like to watch the country slide into a major civil strife before invoking its standing mandate to intervene in the worrisome political tension and ethnic acrimony currently embattling the country’s political space owing to contentions over the constitutional structure of Nigeria,” he said.
The group however indicated interest in
meeting President Muhammadu Buhari on the urgent need to convene a government driven national consultative panel to advise him on how to proceed on the issue so it does not distract governance.
PRONACO said it had finalised plans to request national leaders in the country to play key roles towards the success of the proposed confab tentatively slated for January 2018.
Some leaders identified to play key roles at the proposed confab include; Prof Ben Nwabueze (SAN), Dr Ahmed Joda, Mallam Adamu Ciroma, Dr Paul Unongo, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Prof Ibrahim Gambari, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, Chief Edwin Clark, Chief Bisi Akande, Dr Usman Bugaje, among others.
Nigeria and Africa’s richest man, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, also said recently that the reason for the current agitation for secession and restructuring of Nigeria was lack of economic opportunities. Agitations as a result of diverse reasons Others think that the current secessionist movement and clamour for restructuring has more to do with political marginalization.
A constitutional lawyer and Executive Director, Human Rights Monitor, Festus Okoye Esq. said: “Agitations, protests, lobbying, canvassing and civil disobedience are ingredients constitutional democracy. Some democracies entrench right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion as well as right to peaceful assembly and association and right to freedom of expression and the press in a written document to prevent descent to dictatorship and arbitrariness.
He added: “Informed, rational and patriotic citizens use constitutionally guaranteed rights to highlight issues peculiar to them and draw the attention of the government to such issues and use the weapon of sit-ins, protests and civil disobedience to force the government to jettison unpopular policies.
“Other groups lobby their representatives in parliament or the national and state assemblies to attract projects to their constituencies, force them to abandon unpopular bills and or to promulgate laws that give meaning to the welfare and security of the people. In other words, there is nothing intrinsically wrong, obnoxious, obscene or treasonable in agitations, protests and civil disobedience.
“Unfortunately, some of the agitations in Nigeria are laced with the ingredients of treason and strike at the heart and soul of the Nigerian nation, leading to breakdown of law and order and the loss of lives and properties. Agitations must be conducted within the framework of recognized constitutional and legal principles that does not create an atmosphere of fear, anxiety, panic, loss of lives and destruction of properties.
Okoye believes that some of the agitations are a mask by the ruling political elite to get political mileage and advantage as some of them manipulate the fears and ignorance of the ordinary people and sell dummy and mask their personal interests with the grab of ethnic and religious marginalization.
He says separatist agitations would fizzle out when the political elite in Nigeria becomes more patriotic and nationalistic and begin to govern with a sense of justice, equity and fairness and use resources for the benefit of the ordinary people.
Political observers think it would be difficult to end agitations in Nigeria, obviously because her ethnic and religious diversity. However, it is also believed that one important factor that helps the agitations to defy solutions is the inability of the agitators to clearly spell out their actual demands.
According to Alhaji Bashir Othman Tofa, a presidential candidate of the defunct National Republican Congress (NRC), most of the agitators do so out of frustration on issues which concern them alone.
He said, “It has become clear today in Nigeria that when any group of people talks about restructuring, they mostly speak in reference to their own frustrations about the country. And the most important and popular among such frustrations are three namely; marginalization, dominance, resource and opportunities distribution.
“So, if we can sit and carefully sort out these three issues intelligently and with love of our country at heart, I am sure we shall be right and Nigeria can progress in all ramifications and certainly become a great country. In my view, if Nigeria can have patriotic leaders to steer its affairs with equity, the country can excels in all human endeavors because governance is all about correct leadership.”
Alhaji Tanko Yakasai, a former political adviser to former president, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, said the agitations could not be addressed because government was not sincere in addressing them, adding, “Government should not allow such issues to compound and become big problems.”
“Had it been government paid serious attention to the issue of IPOB, it would not have become a big problem for the country. If the federal government handled Nnamdi Kanu very well, the situation wouldn’t have reached this stage but unfortunately they did not.”
Yakasai said the agitators for restructuring had failed to give real details of their demand, hence, could not get support from across the country, adding, “They have failed to bring out a blueprint for Nigerians to understand details of their demands.”
Chief Femi Majekodunmi, a close ally of former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, thinks some of the agitations are simply to distract the focus of government.
“There will be agitators and separatist calls year-in-year-out because we will always have those who will want to rock the boat of any government in power,” he said.
According to him, the situation in the country since independence has been always such that people in the opposition would come up with issues either realistic or not, either feasible or not feasible to get relevance against the government of the day.
“You go and look back, It is purely for selfish interest reasons. Give them attention now and they forget their agenda again. The government of the day should always remain focused and undeterred.”
But, a social commentator and publisher, Chief Wale Adedayo, disagrees, saying it would be unfair to dismiss agitations as “selfish”.
To him, the agitations and separatist agenda started when the military failed to implement the 1963 agreement for regional government, which led to the 1966 coup.
“The military should be blamed. The agreement was to be that all the regional governments would remain so till the military came in 1966. So, if we still have agitations, we have to blame it on the military and not even on the independence we are celebrating.”
Adedayo suggested that the implementation of that agreement would bring lasting peace and stability to the nation.
“If we have this regional autonomy and we are still having agitations and any separatist call, then we can begin to apportion sentiments to such calls,” he said.
Solution to endless agitations
An elder statesman, Prof. Biyi Afonja, noted that the perceived marginalization by agitators might not be unconnected to the “annual ritual” of separatist and agitation calls, adding, “And, yes, I will agree with those who observe that when they are not in power you don’t hear such calls”.
Dr. Ezekiel Izuogu, a former governorship candidate of the SDP in Imo State, believes that although Nigeria is 57, she would probably continue to witness agitations and separatist demands as long as injustice and dishonesty remained in the system.
Acknowledging that Nigeria has come a long way, he is still worried that it is yet to outgrow such base and trivial matters as tribalism, nepotism, sectionalism and ethnic considerations in the manner Nigerians do their things.
“We’re wasting a lot of time fighting for nothing - tribalism, ethnicity, nepotism and sectional interest instead of national interest before other interests,” Izuogu said. However, the chairman of the All Progressive Congress (APC) in Imo State, Chief Hilary Eke, says there may be no end to agitations because past leaders of the country failed to do what they were supposed to do.
“In a situation where Nigeria is blessed with abundant human and material resources and we are still talking of bad roads, poor electricity, lack of water supply and other such public utilities, it means the agitations will continue,” Chief Eke said.
A former National Assistant Secretary of the defunct Nigerian People’s Party (NPP) and a member of the late General Sani Abacha’s Transition Committee on States, Local Government Creations and Boundary Adjustments, Chief Maximus Okuta, said all the nations needs to do to stop agitations and separatists demands is equity and justice.
He said: “Once there is equity and justice, those agitations will stop, if you look at each of the agitations, they have good cases. In the east where you have the southeast, the only region, southeast as a region having five states, is it equitable? There is a region enjoying seven states. As a matter of fact, if you want to be equitable, in my view, you make the whole regions have seven states. That will solve part of the problems. You come to local governments, incidentally, I served in the then Transition Committee of General Sani Abacha on States Creation, Local Government and Boundary Adjustment.”
On the solution to the agitations, the 75-years old politician said: “First of all, we have to be sincere… If we are sincere, is very easy for the parties to agree, then the modalities will be worked out. General Abacha, based on the instructions he gave us, nearly balanced up the issue of local governments. The agitations could have stopped. In that committee, based on criteria…remember prior to this time, no criteria was set up for the creation of local governments. But this committee had criteria for the creation of local governments, and tried to apply equity and justice to balance up.
“Suddenly from the blues, one gentleman, it was alleged appeared on the scene, who claimed
In a situation where Nigeria is blessed with abundant human and material resources and we are still talking of bad roads, poor electricity, lack of water supply and other such public utilities, it means the agitations will continue
to be Director General at National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS) in Kuru, had the ears of General Abacha and our recommendations were jettisoned. And the gentle man said that the General had ordered 30 percent local governments should be created across the board.
Senator Joseph Waku puts it this way: “Agitations here and there can never stop. Even if agitations such as Biafra eventually succeed and the Igbos leave, there will continue to be agitations in the Biafra they are currently agitating for. There will always be competition but competition should not suggest that we should part ways. We will always remain together and resolve issues that need to be resolved without any insult to anybody. Together, we will achieve better in this country,”.
He added: “After that we became regional government (at independence), the western region, the eastern region and the northern region. Later, the restructuring took place in the west by having mid- west region. After that, General Gowon came and gave us seven states. That was restructuring and Murtala later added five to give us twelve states. Is that not restructuring? Babangida came and increased the number of state from 12 to 19. Is that not restructuring? And then, Abacha moved it to 36 states. Is that not restructuring? So, to me, I think Nigerians are busy-body people.”
A former president of the Council for Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN) and PDP gubernatorial aspirant in Benue state, Engr. Felix Atume, tied the issue to alleged inequitable distribution of wealth across the states of the country in fairness to the generality of the common people.
Atume worried that if the much talked about restructuring does not translate into accountability for the people, especially, at the states level where the executive reigns supreme, then there would still be more desires to fulfill.
A first class traditional ruler of the Sankera Kingdom in Benue State, Tor Sankera, Chief Abu King Shuluwa, wondered why some Nigerians are never satisfied by consistently craving for things to be done in their own way, positing that the various forms of agitations and separatist demands in the country always heightened when a northerner is occupying the presidency.
He noted that none of the geographical zones in the country could survive without the other because there would still be minority agitations against the majority in the minority territory.
In the same vein, a Commissioner at the Public Compliant Commission (PCC) in Benue state who is also a retired Commissioner of Police, Alhaji Abubakar Tsav, emphasised that corruption and greed are responsible for the agitations that have refused to die.
According to him, the agitations from various quarters are rarely of any value to the common people such as water vendors, drug hawkers and others who carry out menial jobs except the political class who want to remain relevant in the scheme of things in the country.
Tsav cited instances with those who have served as governors in the country and have gone to the senate yet want to continue to remain in power to dictate the pace, stressing, “it is the political class who are agitating for relevance and not because they have the interest of the country at heart.”
He added: “The outcry for restructuring is useless as far as I am concerned. Politicians are just exploiting us, the agitations are not worth it. If there are concerns, the National Assembly should handle it. I’m thinking that corrupt people under investigation are conniving with the vulnerable in the society to agitate in order to cause confusion and to make the country ungovernable.”
The ex-police commissioner expressed concern that the initial thought of establishing the National youth service scheme, federal tertiary institutions as well as colleges to foster unity among Nigerians soon after the civil war was not working much as expected as few vocal political individuals are creating too much talks for their personal interest.
The minority leader in the Benue State House of Assembly, Alhaji Audu Sule, said the different agitations had refuse to die from the moment the country deviated from the legacy of the founding fathers which harped on unity.
Sule said the agitations and separatist demands were propelled by ethnicity, sectionalism, religion and tribalism among others in such manners that some applied intimidation instead of dialogue as means to actualise their aims.
The Obong of Calabar, Edidem Ekpo Okon Abasi Otu V said despite such agitations, Nigeria would remain one country.
A former Governor of Plateau State and one time Ambassador to Kenya, Fidelis Tapgun, says adopting federalism as a system of government has been one of Nigeria’s greatest problems and blames it the persistent agitations in the country.
“A lot of people expected that we should have gone beyond where we are now.
There are so many things that needed to have been done but were not done, especially now that there is this agitation for restructuring of the country. We have adopted this federalism that has not functioned. Before independence, we were operating a system that was functional, the regions were functional, the premiers in the region were functional people and even at the federal level, it was a functional federal government but since we adopted this federalism, we call it federalism but it is a unitary government because everything is now focused at the centre and it is causing a lot of problems. It is this thing about centralisation of administration in this country that is making it unwieldy for the federal government to operate. If we had returned to what we were before independence, I think we would have moved faster.”
A former Minister of Internal Affairs Senator John Shagaya, says to strengthen the country’s democracy as it stands today, certain vexed issues must be addressed.
“Agitations will continue to be part and parcel of any developing nation but all that is needed is to have sincere leaders who will attempt to ensure equal distribution of national wealth. Looking at the issue of restructuring people are talking about, my take is that no part of the country is afraid of it for as long as the restructuring reinforces the unity of Nigeria. The sovereignty of Nigeria as it stands today is not negotiable so to strengthen our democracy and unity, the following vexed issues need to be addressed; control of the armed forces, federal police, creation of state police, control of national security organs such as the DSS, NIA, SIB, Customs, NIS and nationally created Task Forces during emergencies. Issues of responsibilities of states and local governments must also be addressed as well as review of some of the items under the exclusive legislative act, foreign relations and rotation of the presidency.
“It must be remembered that we have come a long way. So responsible constitutional matters should only occupy our conversions on restructuring. Thank God the National Assembly is reviewing our constitution, submissions by geopolitical zones will serve a useful purpose. but noise on oil should not preoccupy our valuable time as oil is soon to be out of fashion in the next few years. We should as a nation look into the future where agriculture and solid minerals will rule the world.”