The leadership of major socio-cultural groups from Southern and Middle Belt part of Nigeria on Monday charted a new path for the emergence of a new constitution for Nigeria.
Their proposals, made at a dialogue session christened, ‘The ‘Nigeria’s 2023 Presidential Transition Inter-ethnic Peace Dialogue,’ in Abuja, came against the backdrop of the ongoing constitution review process being carried out by the National Assembly through public hearings in all the six geopolitical zones of the country.
The groups adopted a common position urging for an emergency national conference to birth a new constitution and pave the way for the restructuring of Nigeria.
The socio-cultural groups, comprising Afenifere (South-west), Ohanaeze (South-east), Middle Belt and Southern Kaduna Peoples Union (SOKAPU), said it was possible to reverse the current challenges facing Nigeria if the federal government could implement their recommendations.
Convener of the summit, Kennedy Iyere, said Nigeria might not make reasonable progress in 2023 if no genuine dialogue was held to address contentious issues.
Leader of Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, while presenting the position of the Yoruba, which was also adopted by both the Ohanaeze and Middle Belt Forum, said the process for a genuine consensus on an acceptable national constitution should henceforth begin with the production of position documents by all nationalities between now and December.
He stated that going forward, Nigerians should be allowed to exercise their mandate and sovereignty on how they want to live together under mutually beneficial terms.
He added that the various regions in the country should be allowed to choose the type of government they want to adopt within their area, under a truly federal structure, which will guarantee some measure of autonomy and control over resources and policing of their entities.
According to him, there should be no artificially prescribed number of regions in a manner that may foreclose the rights of the people that desire to organise themselves as a semi- autonomous regional member of the Nigerian state so long as the territory desiring such regional status can guarantee its self-sustenance and viability as an entity.
Adebanjo said: “Flowing from the above, something like the United Regions of Nigeria (URN) is hereby proposed.
“In this proposal, powers, mandate and authority to formulate the articles of association to form the Central Government of Nigeria shall in effect lie jointly and severally with the ethnic nationalities occupying their respective territories and not with lawmakers who were randomly picked.
“Nigeria shall be subsequently organised into a union or federation of voluntarily associating and cooperative regional entities like we had up till 1966. Unlike what we have presently, each region may have a constitution of its own which would spell out how it is to be governed.
“There would be a national constitution binding all the regions in the country together. In this latter, constitution would spelt out mutually agreed terms under which the peoples of the country agree to cohabit together as citizens of the same country.”
He added that the proposal should serve as a template to encourage other ethnic nationalities to organise themselves and prepare terms that would guide their relationship with each other in the country in a harmonious and mutually respecting manner.
“From such collation of terms would emerge regional constitutions out of which National Constitution would be forged. The constitution, be it at regional or national level, must accord unqualified respect to democratic norms and the rights of the people to actively participate in matters that have to do with their lives,” he said.
Adebanjo added that the constitution must also emphasise true federalism in such a way that no region or area would have power to lord it over another region or area.
Among the expected contents of the envisaged regional constitutions as envisaged by Afenifere are unreserved powers of the regions over natural resources in their respective areas, like agriculture, education, health, electricity, security and economy.
He also proposed that each region should contribute 10 per cent of what it generates to the national purse, while retaining 30 per cent; with the states taking 35 per cent and the local governments taking 25 per cent.
Adebanjo said in order to ensure that the proposal would not be abandoned like other reports that have come from various panels or assemblages constituted by governments, timeline would be suggested to guide the process.
According to him, under the proposal, ethnic nationalities should be encouraged to prepare their document on terms of engagement between now and December 2021.
“The documents from the nationalities in which they propose the kind of regional government they want to form be collated and considered between January and March 2022.
“The product of this process should then produce the document that will become the Constitution of the United Regions of Nigeria or Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“A national referendum can be conducted on the adoption of the final Constitution for the Restructured Nigeria around the middle of 2022. The said constitution can then become effective from October 01, 2022.
“A committee can be set up to work out the details of the proposal hereby suggested. We are ready to present the details as we conceive it to the said committee if formed,” he said.
The Afenifere leader also described as erroneous attempts to equate agitations for self-determination by groups in the South with secession. He said issue of true federalism must be central in every constitution or article of engagement for the federating units.
He added that the concept of true federalism that is acceptable to Afenifere is that which emphasises self-determination.
On its part, Ohanaeze said while it endorsed the proposals by Afenifere, there should be an emergency national conference to consider the proposals of various ethnic groups and also to review the reports of previous national conferences so as to come up with a new constitution accepted by all.
Former Governor of Anambra State, Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife, who made the presentation on behalf of Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide President General, Ambassador George Obiozor, said the genesis of the problem being witnessed in the country started when the military took over power in 1966 and removed the federal constitution that would have guided the country to a viable economic and political entity.
Earlier, Obiozor who spoke briefly before leaving the meeting for another engagement, warned that no one should be under any illusion that he could pocket the rest of the country and dictate what they should do.
Former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Ghali Umar Na’Abba, urged Nigerians to focus on issues that promote national unity, adding that “any region that decided to pull out of Nigeria will not leave the way they think it is going to be.”
However, tension was raised when the leader of the Northern Consensus Initiative, Dr. Awal Abdullahi, said that the North was no longer opposed to a breakup of the country.
He said: “The North before now was saying we don’t believe in separation, but as I’m standing, I’m telling you that if there is going to be separation tomorrow, the North is ready for it; we are also ready. Let’s go our different ways and I am telling you this with all sincerity. Northern Nigeria before now did not want to hear anything separation but as at today, as I speak to you, the North is equally ready.
“What I am saying might be controversial, but I am speaking the mind of Northerners and I have no apology to anyone in this hall, although I respect the leaders and elders here but I have no apology to anybody on what I say.”
However, the Leader of the Middle Belt Forum, Mr. Pogu Bitrus, countered Abdullahi’s position, saying that the Middle Belt will not pull out of the country with the core North.
He said: “So if my brother says the North is going, be sure the Middle-Belt is not going with you; you are on your own. We have served and sacrificed for this country. The war that occurred, the Middle-Belt was used to fight while the North sat back to enjoy.”
Bitrus stated that the Middle Belt has adopted the proposal of Afenifere and Ohanaeze as a common position on ways to rescue the country.
He added that the 2023 general election can only hold if the government enacts electoral law approving electronic voting.
He said the region also supported the restructuring of the country.
President of the Southern Kaduna Peoples Union (SOKAPU), Mr. Jonathan Asake, also supported the call for a national dialogue to fashion out a new constitution that will guarantee equity and fairness to all nationalities in the country.
Also, another group, the Interfaith Dialogue Forum for Peace (IDPF), met yesterday in Abuja and canvassed a national dialogue to address the challenges facing Nigeria.
In a communiqué jointly signed by the Co-chairmen of IDPF, Mr. Kunle Sanni Ishaq and Bishop Sunday Onuoha, the religious leaders said: “We are using this medium to appeal to the Nigerian governments to do the needful by organising a national dialogue so as to provide a forum for holistic suggestions and recommendations that will bring about the new Nigeria that will address the yearnings and aspirations of the citizens, as well as ensuring public safety and protection.”
Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja