…It should be fair and just to all – Gov Tambuwal
…It’s just a fraction of our problem in Nigeria – Usman Bugaje
…Let’s go our separate ways – Ango Abdullahi
By Ben Agande
Kaduna – In what appears to be a build up to a firm position by the North on the now vexed issue of restructuring, some leaders in the region are making the useful noises about the issue, just as there are those whose position comes with potentials of further muddying the waters. In this report, you will read about the thinking f a section of the North while simultaneously attempting to make sense of how some view the restructuring debate.
Former member of the House of Representatives and leader of the Arewa Research and Development Project, ARDP, Dr Usman Bugaje, last week convened a two day conference to aggregate the opinion of northern leaders on the raging agitation in the country for restructuring. Coming at a time that there appears to be no common ground on what constitutes restructuring, the conference provided an avenue for keen political watchers of developments in the north to have a glimpse into the thinking of a section of northern leaders and intelligentsia think of restructuring.
Like the push for independence in 1953, the North, no doubt, is again a late entrant into the restructuring debate. But as it is with many political events in the country, the north seem to seize the opportunity created by the agitation for the restructuring to take the driver’s seat in ensuring that the region is not shortchanged when and if the country is eventually ‘restructured’.
The ARDP’s conference is one of the many platforms created by various groups in the North to present a common position on the vexed issue of restructuring. At the political and traditional leadership level, the northern Governors Forum and traditional rulers from the 19 northern states have set up a joint committee to articulate the position of the north on restructuring. Series of town hall meetings have been held to collate the opinion of northerners from all walks of life on restructuring. The committee also plans to hold public hearings in all the 19 northern states to get a broader view of the people on what they think on restructuring.
Incidentally, the chairman of the northern governors and traditional rulers committee on restructuring, Aminu Tambuwal also chaired the conference convened by the ARDP on restructuring. Titled “The North and the Future of Nigerian Federation” the ARDP organised the event in collaboration with major northern organizations like the Sir Ahmadu Bello Foundation; the Northern Elders Forum; Arewa Consultative Forum; Code Group; Northern Delegates Forum; Arewa Reawakening; Jamiyar Matan Arewa and Forum for Northern Youths.
WHAT THE LEADERS SAID.
Tambuwal, who set the ball rolling with his speech, started by dismissing the assumption across the country that the North was opposed to or afraid of restructuring because it was a beneficiary of the warped structure in the country.
According to Tambuwal, what the north wants and desires is a restructuring that will accommodate the interests of all the people’s of the country in a fair, just and equitable manner.
“The idea that the North is against restructuring because it benefits most from the current state of things is circumscribed and patently false. The fact that some people continue to parrot such a lie only help to give credence to the flawed argument. Let us be clear: the North wants restructuring as much as anyone else. However, as a people we do not easily jump unto the bandwagon because we are always there for the long haul. We believe that any decision we take must be inclusive, and respect procedures and processes so that the outcome is sustainable.
“I think we should first, as a country, agree on a mutual definition of the term restructuring. In my view, if restructuring means taking stock of our arrangement to ensure that no state takes a disproportionate amount of the resources, or most of the available space in the education or job sector, or subjugate the others’ culture or religion, or lords it over the other so that the number of the poor and uneducated whose future is circumscribed by their circumstance is shared proportionately, then we are game.
“We all want a country where there is peace and progress, where justice is a given, where all lives are safe and people can pursue their legitimate livelihoods wherever they choose. I believe each state in this country has areas of comparative advantage and life is a cycle so that what was once the largest revenue earner can in time become less so while something else takes ascendancy.
“As a country, we must look to the future and agree on what in the long run will benefit us all. I must give kudos to the organisers for choosing such an appropriate theme for this conference, The North and the Future of the Nigerian Federation” he said.
But former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, who is perhaps the most vocal voice in support of restructuring in the north was more forthcoming.
Represented by Dr. Awwalu Anwar, the former Vice President said “My idea of restructuring is devolution of power to the states with the resources. The Federal Government should only be bothered about the economy while the states should be left to provide education, security and build roads.
“The North stands to gain more if there is devolution of power. If there is local police, there would not have been Boko Haram for instance, because they would have had the intelligence to stop them. The new North has nothing to fear (about restructuring) because we have the land, the people and resources. History will not wait for us. The North should direct the process and the outcome.
“To me, if a state is given the responsibility of providing security, state police will better secure their areas because they will be familiar with the nature and peculiarity of their security challenges.
“In the whole of this, the north has nothing to fear because we have the land, we have the population and we have the resources. The north has nothing to fear because oil will soon become history” he said.
But if Tambuwal and Former Vice President Atiku were conciliatory in their submission, the former Vice Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University, ABU, Zaria, Professor Ango Abdullahi, who is the poster boy of northern irredentism, was more confrontational and manifestly divisive in his contributions.
According to him, the whole gambit behind the clamor for restructuring was aimed at intimidating the North and possibly short changed it; as such, the clamor only gain currency when a northerner is in a position of leadership in the country. This is not true. Since May, 1999, when Olusegun Obasanjo was sworn-in as President and Commander-in-Chief, the South West geo-political zone made its position known, having largely canvassed the same position on the platform of the National Democratic Coalition, NADECO.
But Abdullah, known as one always given to betraying his sectional disposition, continued: “I was a student in the University of Ibadan when we got independence and we saw that each time there was a need to unite Nigeria, the north made the largest sacrifice.
“Now we have 36 states from three regions which existed in 1960. No country has had constitutional conferences like Nigeria, yet it has not created the basis for a united country.
“Let us go our separate ways. If on the other hand we give credit to the British and our founding fathers (and they deserve credit), and we cannot contain restructuring based on what existed in 1914, we should go back to 1960. The North is not afraid of getting our north back.
“The governor of Sokoto State who is the chairman of the Northern Governors’ Restructuring Committee, and chairman of this conference, we do not want you to rush into committing us, the views of the North should be collected, nobody should stampede us” he said.
For governor Nasir El Rufai of Kaduna State, the focus on what should be the position of the North on restructuring should not obfuscate the more pressing problems that the region faces.
Governor El Rufai who was represented by his deputy, Bala Bantex, said the North should be concerned with addressing the dual challenge of poverty and deficiency in education in the region.
“It is the responsibility of the north to carry a ‘national plaque in the quest for restructuring” as it is the elder brother in the Nigerian federation and should handle the issue of restructuring in an amicable and harmonious manner” he said.
The conference also provided an avenue for other groups in the region to speak truth to the political leaders in the region. The Jamiyar Matan Arewa, a coalition of northern women, used the opportunity to challenge political leaders in the region.
According to the group, for as long as the northern political leaders fail in their responsibilities of providing good leadership, there can be no progress even if “the restructuring is done up to the family level”.
For the northern christians, restructuring will not make any sense if the right of any Nigerian to practice his faith is not respected.
The position of the Christian body was conveyed by Air Commodore Tanko Ato (rtd), who said “Our position on the restructuring debate is that Nigeria is better and firmer together. To us, it does not matter whether we restructure or not, what matters to us is the united North and Nigeria where we respect each other’s faith and freedom of worship.”
The JNI, represented by Bashir Dahiru Bauchi, maintained that the North had always contributed to the country even before the coming of the colonial masters, so the region should see itself as “a big brother. We are better as a united Nigeria than going our separate ways. Nigeria is held in high esteem in world politics, but it will be devoured by the world powers if broken into pieces,” he said.
The convener of the conference, Dr Bugaje, said the resurgence of the call for restructuring represents failure of leadership at all levels of government.
“The raging debate about the future of our federation is only a fraction of the problem. We must see it as the first and necessary step that will help us prepare for our future. It is therefore important that we bring a lot of objectivity and maturity. Mere display of emotions is not going to be useful here. We need to think through whatever proposal we make. We should realize that we can’t force any view on anybody in this day and age. We must seek to persuade and not dictate” he said.
It was an advise that those who think their loud voice is enough to intimidate others into submission should take seriously.