Participants at the ‘Nigeria’s 2023 Presidential Transition Inter-Ethnic Peace Dialogue’ organized by Youths Off The Street Initiative became enraged on Monday when the Middle Belt Forum stated that it would not support the North if Nigeria broke up.
The event, which had the theme ‘Restructuring and 2023 power shift: Nigeria’s make or break factor for political survival’ and was convened by the President of YOTSI, Kennedy Iyere, was attended by leaders of ethnic nationalities such as the leader of Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo; President of the Yoruba Council of Elders, Dr Kunle Olajide; and President of the Southern Kaduna Peoples Union, Jonathan Asake.
Others included Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, former Governor of Ondo State; Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife, former Governor of Anambra State; Dr. George Obiozor, President of Ohanaeze Ndigbo; Ghali Na’Abba, convener of the National Consultative Front and former Speaker of the House of Representatives; and Prof. Pat Utomi, a political economist.
At the event, the leaders of the country’s major socio-cultural groups adopted a common position demanding an emergency national conference that would result in the emergence of a new constitution and the restructuring of Nigeria.
They claimed that if the Federal Government heeded their recommendations, it would be possible to reverse the current challenges confronting the country and prevent Nigeria from disintegrating.
However, tensions rose when the Northern Consensus Initiative’s leader, Dr. Awal Abdullahi, stated that the North was no longer opposed to the country’s disintegration.
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He stated, “Previously, the North said, ‘we don’t believe in separation,’ but as I stand here, I’m telling you that if there is going to be separation tomorrow, the North is ready for it.” We are also prepared; let us go our separate ways, and I say this with complete sincerity.
“Previously, Northern Nigeria did not want to hear anything about separation; however, as I speak to you today, the North is equally ready. What I’m saying may be divisive, but I’m speaking for Northerners, and I make no apologies to anyone in this room. I respect the leaders and elders here, but I make no apologies for what I say.
However, the confusion caused by his statement had not yet subsided when another speaker, Dr Pogu Bitrus, President of the Middle Belt Forum, took the rostrum to respond to Abdullahi’s position.
According to him, the Middle Belt will not abandon the country along with the core North.
“So, if my brother says the North is going, you can bet the Middle Belt isn’t coming with you; you’re on your own,” he said. We have served and given our lives for this country. During the (civil) war, the Middle Belt was used to fight while the North sat back and watched.”
Bitrus stated that the Middle Belt accepted Afenifere and Ohaneze’s proposal as a common position that would save the country.
While presenting the Yoruba position, which was also adopted by the Ohaneze and MBF, Adebanjo stated that the process for reaching a genuine consensus on an acceptable national constitution should begin with the production of position papers by all nationalities between now and December.
He stated that in the future, Nigerians should be allowed to exercise their rights and sovereignty over how they wanted to coexist on mutually beneficial terms.
According to the nonagenarian, the various regions of the country should be allowed to choose the type of government they want to implement within their area under a truly federal structure that would 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 order to deny the rights of people who want to organize themselves as a semi-autonomous regional member of the Nigerian state, as long as the territory desiring such regional status can ensure its self-sustenance and viability as an entity.
According to Adebanjo, the constitution must also emphasize true federalism, so that no region or area has the power to lord it over another region or area.
Among the expected contents of the Afenifere-envisioned regional constitutions were unreserved powers of the regions over natural resources in their respective areas, such as agriculture, education, health, electricity, security, and the economy.
He also proposed that each region contribute 10% of what it generates to the national purse while keeping 30%, with states taking 35% and local governments taking 25%.
Dr. George Obiozor, President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, stated that while the organization fully supported Afenifere’s proposals, it believed there was a need for an emergency national conference to consider the proposals of various ethnic groups as well as review the reports of previous national conferences in order to come up with a new constitution accepted by all.
In the interest of transparency and equity, he said the time had come for political power to shift from the North to the South.
The Chairman of the Igbo World Assembly, Dr Nwachukwu Anakwenze, who spoke from Los Angeles, warned that the country was running out of time.
“We are in the final hours of our existence as a country,” he said. We’ve reached the eleventh hour, and it’s almost too late. We have a lot on our plate. It’s never been like this before. Appointments from a specific area because you are the president have not been made. That has never happened before. We can’t stand it; we demand restructuring and power devolution.”