Restructuring: Time is running out on Nigeria — Ezeife

In this interview, a former   governor of Anambra State, Okwadike Chukwuemeka Ezeife speaks on  restructuring  Nigeria, saying that for the country to continue to exist as an entity as envisaged by her founding fathers, restructuring has to be now.

According to Ezeife, there would be no peace and unity without justice or Nigeria should forget its existence as one indivisible entity.

Excerpts:

Nigeria is going South once again. The issues that cropped up before the civil war are rearing up again. People talk about restructuring but the North is set against it. How do we avoid a looming predicament?

My take is that the government of the day recognises the dangers and the fact that time is running out on Nigeria. When we talk about restructuring which is the only thing that can unite Nigeria, what we mean is going back to the agreed Nigeria, the Nigeria agreed by our founding fathers, our heroes past. That Nigeria was a country with regions as federating units. That Nigeria was doing well as a nation. We have had crises prior to 1966. That was when regions were jettisoned for the creation of states and not only that, but the country became too unitary in accordance with military dictatorship.

Now, even after the war, the running of the country became even more unitary and the military leaders created more states and more local government areas by fiat and not by negotiation with anybody. Therefore, they created 36 states and Abuja.

Nineteen states in the North and the rest in the South. They also created more local governments and the imbalance became so glaring and the imbalance in the local government areas are now more pronounced than the creation of states. For example, Kano and Jigawa have as many local government as the whole of the South East zone. Kano has 44 local government areas, Lagos has 20. So, you can understand the languages we use when we talk about restructuring.

Then to make matters worse, Nigerian people are not in control of how many states or local government areas created. It was all a military affair. So, it was a monumental corruption that got into the system that led to the woeful failure of Nigeria and nothing in all these bothered about the peoples’ opinion.

As for Nigeria going South, I don’t know. But I know that many people have been making efforts to douse the tension in the country. The northern youths gave quit notice to the Igbo in the North. People were on edge. Everybody is making an effort to ensure that this country remains one. Governors are making efforts to ensure that we remain one.

The quit notice is a very serious thing. Back in 1967, even the way back to the East was more dangerous than where people were staying. Middle-Belt withheld some people who were going home and killed them on the way home. And now, Middle-Belt has come out to openly oppose the eviction given by the North to the Igbo. From Southern Kaduna, Kogi and Benue, all these have come out to say they are not in support of the eviction notice served the Igbo in the North. So, there is a hope that it may not be a repeat of 1967-1970 pogrom. I think God is trying to showcase the fact that Nigeria is created for a purpose and that purpose for which Nigeria is created has today become the rallying point of all Africa and of all black.

 

Your position on Nigeria’s unity and restructuring appeared not acceptable to all, even to some people who used to talk about it in the past. In the days of National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, the so-called progressives including the APC national Chairman, Chief John Oyegun talked about restructuring but today, Oyegun is singing a different song and that was shocking.

Let me tell you about John Oyegun. He’s my friend and I will tell you that in his position as chairman of APC, he must suppress his own thoughts and beliefs. I can also tell you that nobody from South-West, nobody from South-South and nobody fro South-East is talking against restructuring. Nobody from North-Central, that is Middle-Belt is talking against restructuring. The South-South from where Oyegun comes from is the core of restructuring. But he is also APC. And with APC’s concentration in the North, the party is not even bothered about restructuring and is not worried about it. APC has failed as a party ruling Nigeria. APC is not opposed to many issues not going well with the Nigerian state. It’s not opposed to herdsmen invasion or the fact that the North has dominated the polity or that things are not the way they ought to be. APC is not bothered by any of these issues.

The president is not in the country. Who are the people doing these things. Recently, Arabic studies was introduced into the school system and this did not go down well with others.

 

That is why restructuring ought to be now. We need to go back to the zonal system of governance whereby, if they like, they could introduce Arabic studies in the Northern region and the South could have their own different curriculum. That is why restructuring would serve every group in Nigeria because when the country is well restructured, no part of Nigeria would go away but if we dangerously continue to do things the way we do now, I’m afraid it will affect us as a nation. Biafra may not be the best way to go but if things continue the way they are, you give these agitations more ground to thrive.

 

You talk about Biafra. Most if not all of those Biafra agitators were not born during the war, they have not seen war. There is tension in the South-East now whether we believe it or not. The South-East leaders met Saturday night in Enugu but were loudly silent on issues raised by Kanu’s Biafra. What are the Igbo leaders doing about Kanu?

We have talked to him before and we are still doing so. He is a very determined youth. That is why he is where he is now. But he has to watch it. We have cautioned him against making bad mistakes. He was alleged to say that without referendum on Biafra, there would be no elections in Anambra. I don’t know whether he said it or not. He seems to have good intentions but I think he doesn’t know enough. What is wrong is that many people seem to believe and go along with anything he says. He appears to be very humble, kind, determined and because of that, he has a lot of people who believe in him and obey him. But a lot of people are wrong in obeying him. How things work is different from what he knows. He cannot say no to election in Anambra. If there is no election in Anambra, which government continues in Anambra? Anarchy or what? If there is no election in Anambra, who upholds what? Are we going into war? See, many countries have gone to war. Look at what Boko Haram has done to the North-East. Look at countries that fought war in Africa and elsewhere. We have talked to him so that he doesn’t spoil what he has achieved already. He shouldn’t spoil everything. The sit-at-home directive was obeyed but it was not by the strength of any organisation. People died. We lost men. So I think it is our responsibility to make things work but not to throw away the baby with the water. We must not make the young man look bad but when he makes mistakes, we should let him know. And people should not just obey any unreasonable order given by Kanu

 

So, what kind of restructuring do the Igbo want?

The restructuring we want is to transform Nigeria as a whole. Every part of Nigeria, the Middle-Belt, parts of North-West and North-East; the entire South. The restructuring we want is going back to the agreed Nigeria. We agreed on something before the war. We have found that we are going backward in every direction. Therefore, we have to get back to going forward. We need to have a federal government where there is fiscal federalism and the way to go is to go back to the federating units or regions running their own affairs. We have to go back to how it used to be when we had the regions and we run our individual regional affair. The zones, the regions or federating units this time should be in control of its security. Therefore, there should be zonal police and state police. The Federal police should be at the borders like the army.

The kind of restructuring we want is not difficult at all because it is on paper. The independent constitution of Nigeria, federal and regional are still available. It is available now. The report of the 2014 Conference which was a best organised conference, best attended, best in terms of coverage, in terms of people from various areas, even youths, old men, old women, men, women; disabled, able; all kinds of people were represented in the 2014 conference. And they reached agreement on almost everything. Only on a few things were agreements not reached. There was total agreement in other things. Therefore, we have the raw materials to work with. What we need now is the realisation that time is running out and before the end of November, there must be a gathering to fine-tune things. Whether you call it a national conference or whatever, we must gather to fine-tune things, maybe for at least six mouths.

 

Another conference?

Not a conference really. But a gathering that is needed for immediate action to be taken on the deliberations of the 2014 Conference. What they will do is to look into the independent constitution of the regions and the independent constitution of the federal government; the report of the 2014 conference. These things are readily available. It is to fine-tune them to fit into the zones. Many came from different zones of Nigeria to attend the conference; to work out their own constitution. So, each zone should single out anything they want for themselves so that no zone should feel bad about integration. We don’t want any group to say they are being taken back to ‘Egypt.’ We want every group to identify with what is happening, to make decisions of their own on the government they want for their own zone and their constitution. The zones can decide on rotation, which state should lead. For instance, in the South-East, Ebonyi State can start. The chairman of the governor’s forum at present is from Ebonyi State. He can continue for eight years and after that, Enugu, Anambra, Abia and Imo and so on.

Each zone decides on what type of government. States will decide which state comes next. That should apply to every zone. So, we would make sure that in first month, each zone would decide their constitution and by the middle of next year, every aspect of restructuring is completed and it has become something on the ground. If they need referendum, they can factor it in also.

The materials/templates for work, including the 2014 Conference Report and the Independence Federal and Regional Constitutions are available. The existing states have their interests which need to be fully accommodated. Members from the states should work to ensure that, there is not, for any state, the feeling of ‘’going back to Egypt’’.A restructured Nigeria, with justice prevailing is in the best interest of every group of Nigerians, large or small.

I want to also suggest that by mid, or end, of September 2017, the Federal Government should set up a body (perhaps Sovereign National Conference/Constituent Assembly/ Some Other) to work out details of a New Nigeria based on improvements to our old durable foundations. Perhaps, the first month should be devoted to the participants from each zone working out their zonal constitutions, which will then go to the Conference/Assembly for further actions as necessary.

The structure of New Nigeria is adopted by mid-2018. A chunk of the Conference/Assembly time should be devoted to developing anti-corruption measures with a view to achieving, as much as possible, a zero-tolerance of corruption in the society. The Body should also work out ways to empower women for electoral offices, in view of their special qualities. This can be done by creating women exclusive constituencies.”

 

But the national assembly is saying something about working on a document of the 2014 conference

We do not want the national assembly to dabble into any aspect of the document because the composition of the national assembly resulted from the imbalances that were imposed by the military. So, the truth is the truth. If you want to have one Nigeria, we must go back to agreed Nigeria. The national assembly cannot do anything. The national assembly is dominated by the north. It is not possible for the north to accept. The country as it is today favoured only the North. But the restructuring we are talking about is total. It is nothing to do with the national assembly. This talk about indivisible Nigeria is not workable under the present circumstances. That is the truth we must all tell ourselves.

In my view, Nigeria was created by God, through the instrumentality of British imperialism. That Nigeria was created for a purpose by God. The God purpose for creating Nigeria I believe, was so that Nigeria would become a rallying point and big brother for all blacks on earth. And eventually, to wipe away the shame of slavery on the black on earth. So, Nigeria was created for that purpose but the many tribes in Nigeria should have that feeling of belongingness in the Nigeria state to achieve this purpose. That God wants us to be one Nigeria because His purpose cannot be achieved if we don’t remain one. That God also wants us to be well structured, with peace and unity reigning. Therefore, that God wants a restructured Nigeria now.

We cannot talk about unity of Nigeria being automatic, Nigeria being indivisible, one Nigeria not being negotiable. Those are stupid nonsense. Those should come with restructuring, based on justice and fairness. Without justice and fairness, you cannot talk about peace, you cannot talk about one Nigeria not being negotiable or about one indivisible entity. Because God wants one Nigeria, God wants restructuring. Nigeria has failed comprehensively and woefully. We need to go back to the foundation laid by our heroes past. But this government doesn’t seem to understand what is going on. If they want the Nigeria to govern, restructuring should be completed by the middle of next year, completed in the proper form. What is proper form? Going back to the federating units, not 54 states, and Abuja. 54 states and Abuja as federating units is nonsense. Therefore, we should go back to the six geo-political zones which have been around as federating units.

 

What is this talk about the amalgamation of 1914 expiring in 2014? Was the amalgamation meant to last for 100 years?

Well, I’m not emphasising amalgamation because I believe every group of Nigeria has more to benefit from one Nigeria than what we were before amalgamation. Therefore, I don’t want to talk about expiration of amalgamation. Long time fellowship of every group, large or small, is better than a disintegrated Nigeria. If we say we don’t want restructuring, then, we are saying we don’t want one Nigeria.

We must go back to the ‘’agreed Nigeria’’, that is, the structure of Nigeria, as agreed by the founding fathers – our heroes past! That ‘’agreed Nigeria’’ was a federal structure, with regions as federating units. Initially, there were three regions: Eastern, Western and Northern regions. Midwestern region was created later, making four regions: three in the South, one in the North. Each region had its own constitution and operated fairly autonomously. The Federal Government handled issues universally agreed to be federal responsibilities – issues like: external relations, currency, weights and measures etc.

There was fiscal federalism as the resources for running the Federal Government came, basically, from the federating units. Each region controlled its resources and grew at its own pace. The people owned their regions in the sense that people in the regions were, particularly, concerned about how their regions were run. That was mainly because the money spent in the regions was basically internally generated – contributed by the people of the regions, through taxation, other payments etc. That is different from the present situation, wherein revenues ‘’come’’ from the federation account.

With that former structure there was peace and satisfactory progress. The  agreed structure was rubbished by the Nigerian military, at the beginning of the Nigeria/Biafra conflict.

The Nigeria/Biafra war, then predicted to be only a ‘’police action’’, was adopted to isolate the Igbo from the rest of eastern Nigeria. Twelve states were thus created: six in the North, six in the South. The running of Nigeria was also made more fully adapted to military central command system. This central command has given Nigeria a unitary, as opposed to, federal, structure of government. After the war, the military continued to run the government in Nigeria – making it progressively more unitary and more dictatorial. It was thus easy for the military to, basically dictatorially, create not only new states, but also new local government areas (LGAs), without considering the fairness of their creation or distribution. “Today, we have 36 states plus Abuja, sometimes treated as if it were a   state, 19 states in the North, 17 in the South. The imbalance in the distribution of local government areas (LGAs) is, by far, more pronounced. For example, Kano and Jigawa (which was created out of Kano) have between them almost as many local government areas as the whole of the South east geo-political zone; Kano has 44 LGAs, Lagos 20, Bayelsa 8, etc. Both the states and the LGAs get allocations of revenue from the Federation Account. The unfairness of these military creations are problematic, but that is not the main reason for the clamour for restructuring.

The main problem is that as the country is currently structured and run, the country is growing backwards – indeed, taking giant steps backward. The Nigerian people at federal, state and LGA levels do not police the expenditure of revenues allocated from the Federation Account, and this and other factors, have led to monumental corruption which has eaten deep into, and permeated, every fabric of the society, leading to the comprehensive and woeful failure of Nigeria. We note that the very well composed 2014 National Conference approved the creation of additional 18 states. Those who doubted the wisdom of so many new states, should think of the new suggestion of twelve regions and 52 states for the Middle Belt. The problem is that the extent of dehumanisation and suffering to which some Nigerians are subjected cannot be imagined by many Nigerians.

Without taking account of the new information from the Middle Belt, we have 54 states plus Abuja to deal with. We should adopt the least controversial and most efficient approach to restructure Nigeria, instead of rediscovering the wheels with attendant new controversies. The line of least resistance appears to be to adopt the present six geopolitical zones as the Federating Units and allowing the states in each zone to work out their constitutions, with the recommendations of the 2012 Conference and Independence Constitutions of the former regions as templates. Of course, they may introduce new elements forced by current realities. One such, is to make the zones responsible for their internal security – with external security left with central government. In this case, the coexistence of Zonal and State Police Commands should be seriously considered, for greater effectiveness and efficiency.

Whether we want to adopt the above line or choose any other approaches, we must be aware that we are running out of time. – Culled from Vanguard.

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