Future of Nigeria: Yoruba, Igbo leaders back North’s call for referendum

Lanre Adewole, Bola Badmus | Lagos, Jude Ossai | Enugu and Muhammad Sabiu | Kaduna

FOLLOWING a call for a referendum on the restructuring of the Nigerian federation by the pan-Northern Nigeria group, Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), key Yoruba and Igbo groups and leaders have expressed their readiness for the exercise.

Secretary-general of the ACF, Murtala Aliyu, had on Thursday told a national newspaper that “the North is not afraid of restructuring.

“What we want is to define what it is that we want. If we want to be in Nigeria and if we don’t want to be in Nigeria, let’s sit down and agree.

“We can restructure. We can become a confederation. We can devolve powers. We can have state police and all that we want. 

“But I can tell you that the thinking of the North now is that we should have a referendum if we want Nigeria or not.

“If we want Nigeria, then, we must sit down and see how Nigeria will work. If we need the country, let’s sit down and decide that we need the country first. 

“Then we can now sit down and decide on how our country can work for all of us. 

“If we decide that we don’t want the country as it is, then… I mean, countries have gone apart, Czechoslovakia and quite several other countries, including Sudan, had gone apart. We don’t want to go to war. The North is not going to be intimidated again to accept anything. 

“We have to sit down and resolve whether we want this federation or this country as it is.”

The Ohanaeze Ndigbo and Afenifere, in separate reactions, told Saturday Tribune on Friday that what the ACF called for fit into their own demand, on the future of Nigeria.

We are ready for it – Ohanaeze

The Ohanaeze Ndigbo described the call by the ACF as a welcome development. The president-general of the apex Igbo socio-cultural group, Chief John Nwodo, said: “Ohanaeze welcomes the idea of a referendum. This is what IPOB has been calling for – a referendum for the aggregating geopolitical zones or the people to decide

whether to still remain in the present unwieldy marriage of convenience or go their separate ways.

“ACF is just talking because they know that there is no provision for a referendum in the constitution and that it will inevitably lead to the republics of Biafra and Oduduwa which the North has been dreading.”

On restructuring, Chief Nwodo, who spoke through his media manager, Emeka Attamah, said: “the term is very clear to everybody unless they are pretending. They are just trying to buy time as they know it must come to pass. 

“The earlier the ACF faces reality and restructuring is carried out, the better for all components of the country and the country at large. They are just putting off the good, not evil, day.”

It’s a shame descendants of those who wanted confederation in 1953 no longer understand federalism –Afenifere 

On its part, the pan-Yoruba sociopolitical group, Afenifere, said it had a simple message for the ACF: “bring it on.”

Afenifere’s spokesperson, Mr Yinka Odumakin, was unsparing in his group’s response.

He restated the position of Yorubaland on the issue of togetherness.

He said: “It is shameful that descendants of those who demanded for confederation in 1953 are telling us they do not understand federalism which restructuring is all about in 2020.

“We have been advocating that referendum should be in our constitution and we are not scared of holding one on the future of Nigeria.”

Referendum is the only alternative to war –Gani Adams

In his own reaction, the Aare Ona Kakanfo of Yorubaland, Chief Gani Adams, said he welcomed the call by the ACF, emphasising that a referendum is the only alternative to war.

He suggested that each geopolitical zone should decide what it wants. He told Saturday Tribune that a referendum “is the peaceful way of deciding should we continue to be a nation called Nigeria or not.”

According to him, “it is very clear that the majority of the Yoruba people want a new nation and I respect their views as a leader. That is a peaceful way we can have a peaceful nation. 

“Instead of going to war, we should have a referendum for Nigerians to decide if we can be citizens of this country or not. On the basis of that, each region should do its referendum, to decide.

“ So, I commend the statement coming from the Arewa Consultative Forum and I support that move as the Aare Ona Kakanfo. I support the Yoruba people having their own nation, in a way that will not involve war or crisis.”

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ACF’s call is good news –Ladi Williams (SAN)

Chief Ladi Williams (SAN), eldest son of the late legal luminary, Chief Frederick Rotimi Alade Williams (SAN), said he was happy at the news that the North is ready for the renegotiation of Nigeria.

Chief Williams called the ACF’s proposal the most sensible move from the North in history.

He suggested that for allegations of bias to be completely removed from the referendum, global and continental bodies like the United Nations (UN) and African Union (AU) should superintend the exercise.

He proposed that the country should be broken into six geopolitical units to engender healthy competition.

Each geo-unit, according to him, should also have its Supreme Court, to eliminate the kind of bias currently rocking appointments to the singular apex court in Abuja, where President Muhammadu Buhari has been accused of politicising and ethnicising the lifting of justices of the Court of Appeal to the highest court in the land.

He said: “This (proposal for a referendum) is fantastic. In my humble view, the North is being sensible for the first time. Britain, which foisted the current arrangement on us, is even talking about Scotland seeking to go.

“Referendum and everyone working on his own, it means each man will govern himself. All these complaints of nepotism and ethnicity won’t be there, that people from a particular zone in the country are being put in total charge of the security and so on. For me, I have always said if the entire military leadership is from a village, I won’t have a problem with it, as long as they can govern well and do the job very well. But it must also be noted that no village has the monopoly of competent people.

“We can now have healthy competition. We should have the referendum, conducted by United Nations and African Union, to avoid the situation of some people claiming it has been rigged from the beginning, like Trump is accusing the Democrats now.

“The proposal is fantastic. Nobody will say he is a second-class citizen again because an Egba man would now be dealing with an Ekiti man. They are both Yoruba.  The problem will now be how to manage the minority questions in each area.

“The restructuring should be on geo-political basis. Each zone should have its Supreme Court. The Supreme Court in the South West can be located either in Lagos or Ibadan. I am from Abeokuta, but from the perspective of convenience, Lagos or Ibadan would do. All the administrative capitals of the past can be utilised because the infrastructure would still be there.

“So, there won’t be the situation we have now that President Buhari is delaying the appointment of an Ondo person for someone from the North to become her senior again at the Supreme Court. The only way to reduce tension is for each zone to have its own (Supreme Court).

“On record, I agree with the ACF and this is the most sensible arrangement to come out of the North, in my humble view.”

We’re not afraid of anyone leaving Nigeria –Coalition of Northern Groups

The Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG) said it is in support of a referendum as suggested by the ACF, adding that the North is not afraid if any groups want to leave Nigeria. 

It said, however, that the referendum must follow the due process.

The national president of the CNG, Yerima Shettima, in an interview with Saturday Tribune, noted that Nigeria is a signatory to a United Nations law which allows any part of a country which wants to exit a union to go inasmuch as the necessary steps are taken.

He said it was unfortunate that the Nigerian government was foot-dragging on this.

According to him, it is time the government domesticated this agreement by amending the constitution so that this provision would be included.

Shettima criticised groups “who want to drag the country to war simply because they want self-rule or self-determination.”

He said: “Let there be exit for whoever wants to go, but living together as a united country is better for everyone. I share the same sentiment with the ACF. Oftentimes, other regions say the North is afraid of division, split, to the extent that we are called all sorts of names: We are lazy. We are this or that.

But the fact of the matter remains that it is very sad and very unfortunate that the Nigerian government has refused to abide by the law of the United Nations.

“There is a provision of the UN charter that guarantees rights of nationalities under international law and Nigeria is one of the signatories of that document. In normal circumstances, going by that arrangement, it is expected that Nigeria ought to have domesticated it in our constitution.

“Even though some of us have reservations about the 1999 Constitution – because we feel that it should be amended – the Nigerian government should stand by that agreement and create room for the exit of whichever zone wants to go so that it would not appear as if the North is afraid. For us, if somebody wants to go, let that person go, like the secretary general of the ACF said. We don’t have any problem with any individual or group leaving, but go through the processes.

“The country should not be dragged into war. There are processes. If the Nigerian government refuses to acknowledge that all that is needed to be done is to write back to the UN, let the UN compel the Nigerian government to amend its constitution to abide by that agreement.

“Let there be exit for whoever decides to go. That way, we will not divide at once. There are certain conditions that have to be met, like asset sharing and so on.

“At the end of the day, it starts from local level, to state and national level. When we get to the national level, we can now come up with a referendum. The government can organise that and see if you are really speaking for your people.

“If at the end of the day, the majority of the people are opposed to leaving, you know you have lost the battle. But staying together as a united country is better.

We should talk about the  type of political arrangement we want. I think this is better than splitting into units.”

It is a distraction –Femi Falana

Leading rights lawyer, Mr Femi Falana, refused to join the referendum crusade. To the Senior Advocate of Nigeria, the proposal is a diversionary tactic to take attention away from the real issues confronting the nation.

In a telephone interview with Saturday Tribune, he said : “The call is diversionary and I am not interested in the debate. They are just diverting attention from the critical issues affecting the people; poverty, insecurity, unemployment and so on. We should be talking about what would impact the people positively, not this call (for referendum).

“Look at the Yoruba race now, can we make claim of marginalisation? We have had the presidency for eight years and another Yoruba has been vice president for more than five years.

The Speaker, House of Representatives, is Yoruba, but in what ways can you say all these have impacted positively on the zone? The debate is diversionary. It is not addressing the critical issues.”

NIGERIAN TRIBUNE

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