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Issues as Nigerians mark June 12

The celebration of June 12 this year as Democracy Day was used by some Nigerians to renew calls for restructuring of the country. JUDE OSSAI, BIOLA AZEEZ write on some of the inherent issues.

FROM 1999 and 2014, three major national summits have been held to discuss ways of addressing issues considered as obstacles to national unity and progress. The conferences came under different names and under different administrations. All the initiatives were meant at implementing reforms that could promote nation building, integration and cohesion. The core issues, which form the basis of protests, agitations and even threats of various dimensions, include the minority question, convoluted federal structure, unjust derivation principle and dominance of political power by a section of the country.

Similar conferences were held during the prolonged military interregnum, but all of them failed to make those germane issues the centre of such assembly. The outcome of such gatherings paled into insignificance because of lack of sincerity by the initiators.  It is recalled that former President Olusegun Obasanjo set the Oputa panel as part of the efforts to reconcile all the ethnic nationalities by addressing all issues of injustice human rights abuses but the panel met a brick wall because of the intransigence of some powerful forces in the country. His administration also organized the National political Reform Conference of 2005; its outcome hung in the balance till date because of political expediency. There was the 2014 National Conference organized by the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan. It made far-reaching recommendations majorly on the imperative of power devolution, revenue allocation and derivation.

All those efforts aimed at tackling the problems of the country from the roots was not restricted to official circles. Some eminent citizens and pro-democracy organisations embarked on similar initiatives, especially in the buildup to Nigeria’s return to civil rule on My 29, 1999. However, June 12, 2019 provided yet another opportunity for Nigerians to renew their demand that the authorities take practical measures to address the lack of equity, justice and fairness in the country thereby threatening the national unity. For example, some leaders in Enugu, the Enugu State capital used the opportunity of the June 12 Democracy Day to reinvigourate the campaign for devolution of powers from the centre so as to reduce friction and disharmony that has hampered national unity. The people said the authorities would be deluding themselves to think that the contentious issues militating against national integration would fizzle out without a deliberate move to tackle them squarely and sincerely. Though the celebration was low key throughout the state, there was no tension unlike during the May 30 which the leadership of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) set-aside to honour those that lost their lives during the Nigerian civil war between 1967 and 1970. According to them, the series of act of injustice and marginalization of other ethnic groups remain a sore point in the quest to evolve a workable federal arrangement. In the opinion of Dr Don Eze, “While other people look at June 12 with regrets and disappointment, we (Ndigbo) look at May 30 with hope and confidence. June 12 is the celebration of an aborted democracy, a presidential election that was held on June 12, 1993, but was annulled by the military. May 30 is the celebration of freedom from injustice, from despotic and oppressive rule, the birth of the Republic of Biafra that was said to have been aborted.”

The fit of anger among other concerned parties in the Nigerian project cuts across some Nigerians in the United States over the protracted problems at home.  Reflecting on the adoption of June 12 as Democracy Day in Nigeria, members of a pan-Yoruba organization, Egbe Omo Yoruba in North America said the earlier the country was restructured the better for the future of the Nigerian federation. According to the national president of the pan-Yoruba organisation, Dr Durojaye Odimayo Akindutire, the codification of June 12 was not an end itself, as it must be complement with restructuring to guarantee a stable and workable system. He said the fact that the Federal Government had recognised June 12 as democracy day by the federal Government, did not mean the struggle for true federal structure had come to an end. He stated: “Ironically, 26 years later, the ghost of June 12 is partly laid to rest on June 12 this year when the day is marked and celebrated as Democracy Day in Nigeria. it is partly laid to rest because some of the other key fundamental issues pertaining to true federalism, genuine democracy, equity, fairness and good governance in Nigeria that were raised back then are yet to be addressed.

“These are devolution of power from the centre to the federating units (states) vis-à-vis items on the Exclusive and Concurrent Lists in the Constitution; resource control by the states/zones; fiscal federalism in terms of revenue sharing; regional/zonal autonomy, while the authorities must encourage a system that promotes merit-based appointments.”

Another issue that bothered most people was insecurity, which has suddenly took other dimensions in the Southern part of the country. Cases of herders engaging in kidnapping for ransom has becoming alarm. According to Dr Akindutire, “Daily stories of banditry, genocide, ethnic cleansing, herdsmen, terrorists, land grabbing, kidnapping, killing of farmers, raping of our women, burning of our villages, damage to our farms and displacement of our people filled the airwaves and social media. Some are saying some of these are not true. Even if one of them is true, Yoruba, we do not deserve this.”

A number of other mass-based groups like the Middle Belt forum; Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), Ijaw National Congress (INC) and others also identified other issues like kidnapping and violent activities of herders as exacerbating the issues begging for realistic attention. Their grouse is that there is no evidence that the authorities are determined to ensure justice. Who will bell the cat?

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