I stumbled on a very important document in my archives – namely, the written message brought by a distinguished delegation of Northern leaders, representatives of the Arewa Consultative Forum, to a meeting of the Yoruba Unity Forum holding at Ikenne on December 15, 2012. Arewa Consultative Forum is the topmost organization of the Hausa-Fulani political leadership of the North; and the Yoruba Unity Forum is one of the topmost organizations of the Yoruba political leadership of the Southwest. The said document is therefore a message exchanged between two organizations representing the two largest nationalities of Nigeria – the Hausa-Fulani and the Yoruba. That makes it a truly historic document. What the prestigious delegation of the Hausa Fulani leadership had to communicate to the august gathering of Yoruba leaders that day at Ikenne says much about our country.
But before I come to the core of the ACF message, I take some liberty to comment on the delegation from the North and the way they handled their message. I must give honor to whom honour is due. The ACF message was very expertly and carefully worded. It was printed, with late Sir Ahmadu Bello’s picture emblazoned on it. And the ACF representatives thoughtfully made some copies available for distribution at the YUF meeting, and generally delivered their charge with great dignity – dignity appropriate in the communication of one great nation to another great nation. I read this document a day or two after its message was delivered at Ikenne and I was highly impressed then. Reading it now nearly three years later, I am still impressed.
Even so, I find the core of the message shocking and embarrassing – because of what it principally proposes. Though Nigeria has fallen very low at home and in the wider world, I still would wish to be proud of my country’s leaders when they make important statements. The message of the ACF to the YUF on December 15 2012 was a very important statement. In the light of what we all know and admit concerning our country, and in the light of the things that the message itself acknowledges about Nigeria, I cannot say that I am proud that the statement of this message was made by some of the most exalted leaders of my country.
The central proposition of the message was that no real change is needed in the way that Nigeria is organized and managed today! That proposition is summed up in the following staggering sentence: “Today, we have reached a point at which certain groups are calling for a re-negotiation of many settled issues in our nation”!
What does ACF mean here by “many settled issues” – many settled issues that “certain groups are calling for a re-negotiation of”? Surprisingly, as they spell out quite unmistakably in their message, they mean the structure that the Nigerian federation has today – the structure that, gradually and deliberately between 1966 and 1999, the Federation of Nigeria was given by a succession of Northern military dictatorships punctuated now and then by Northern-led civilian presidencies.
The ACF message urges that, in discussing this all-important issue, and other issues concerning the pitiful decline of our country, we should eschew recriminations. I agree totally. And I am sure that most Nigerians would agree. Recriminations will not solve the titanic problems of our country.
Any group that continues to insist now that our federation’s structure as it is today is “settled” and not open to discussion obviously needs to rethink in the interest of Nigeria and all its 180 million citizens. It is the duty of all patriots and all lovers of Nigeria’s recovery, orderliness and prosperity, to tell the ACF and its principals that it is dangerous to Nigeria for a prestigious nation likely the Hausa-Fulani nation to continue to stonewall over the question of restructuring our federation properly.
As we prepared for independence in the 1950s, our political leaders were in no doubt that our nationalities should be given the recognition and the development freedom that they deserved. That is why they agreed to a federal structure for Nigeria. And that is why they allowed each of the Regions of the federation to manage itself in its own way. The Regions made commendable achievements in development, and at independence, our country was a land of hope and pride, a country that the world viewed with great expectations. All that was needed was to take the regional autonomy lower to the level of the nationalities – to grant the petitions of the group of minority nationalities in each Region a Region of their own.
But, unfortunately, after independence, the Northern politicians who controlled the Federal Government decided to themselves that the Federal Government must control all things in Nigeria, and that the federating units must all be subject to the whims and caprices of the controllers of the Federal Government. By the beginning of the present century, our country had become a battered and broken entity on the edge of a precipice. An overwhelming majority of our citizens, in all Regions of our country, are wallowing in poverty and hopelessness. Even the North was beginning, as at independence, under Sir Ahmadu Bello’s highly respectable leadership, to make impressive economic and social progress. In a group of youths visiting the Northern Region from the Western Region in 1961, I had the privilege of visiting this great premier of the North in his office, and of listening to him for a few minutes as he told us, his sons, what he was doing for the people of our Northern Region. I left his presence very proud of him, and very proud of my country and myself. Now, the North is sunk and sinking in poverty, and countless youths of the North are reacting to their hopelessness by giving their energies to callings that are dedicated to destroying, killing and wrecking. And yet, some of the men whom God has elevated to high positions of leadership in that same North are telling us and the world that the distortions that have led our country to these disasters are “settled” and not open to discussion? It is unbelievable!
Most Nigerians say that the present structure and situation of their country is untenable and unsustainable. The Yoruba nation, the Igbo nation, the nations of the Delta, the nations of the Middle Belt, and the Kanuri and related peoples of the Northeast, all speaking through countless voices and organizations at home and abroad, say so. It is time the Hausa-Fulani leadership come forth to say so too.
The dream of a Hausa-Fulani domination of Nigeria is anachronistic and unattainable. Striving for it is chasing shadows – and chasing shadows in a manner that only generates Nigeria’s decline and generates ever-increasing poverty and hopelessness for the millions of Nigerians. The dream of a prosperous and great Nigeria is attainable. We can make Nigeria prosperous, and we can all prosper together in Nigeria. That is a goal well worth striving for.