The nation was jolted by the near total compliance to the sit-at-home order issued by the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) by residents of the South-east in commemoration of the Biafran war anniversary on 30th May. Most Nigerians had hitherto believed that the IPOB struggle for an independent State was an agitation by a few disgruntled individuals jostling for a piece of the national cake but the compliance of majority of the Igbos to the sit-at-home order is an eye-opener. That has since triggered a chain reaction from different ethnic groups across the country.
First, the umbrella body of Arewa youths issued a three-month ultimatum to the Igbos to leave Northern Nigeria. This was followed by the declaration that a Niger-delta republic will be declared on October 1 by a coalition of Niger-delta militants. They also asked Northerners in the region to leave before the date and demanded the return of oil blocs owned by privileged Northerners to the region. The drumbeat of discord is echoing across the country as different ethnic groups are poised to defend their regional interests as against national interest.
It is instructive to note that the Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo has since swung into action to douse tension. He has read the riot act against divisive speech and has ordered security agencies to ensure the protection of lives and property across the country. In what seems like a carrot and stick approach, Prof Osinbajo has been meeting with leaders of thought from the North and South-east suing for peace and unity. While we think his efforts so far are commendable, much more needs to be done. We will only be scratching the surface if we don’t address the national question – how do we want to co-habit within the Federation, if we must stay together?
Not a few political analysts believe that the Nigerian Federation is dysfunctional and at best unitary in structure. We cannot agree more. The present system of Government in which the centre is so powerful, controls much of the resources is an invitation to persistent agitations by Regions/States who have a paternalistic view of the Federal Government and feels marginalised if one region is perceived to be favoured above another. Despite the principle of Federal character enshrined in the constitution to ensure equitable distribution of appointments, regions have been seen to complain of being short-changed at one point or the other.
We believe the Federal government can lead the way in permanently dousing this tension by putting in place modalities for restructuring of the country. There should be devolution of powers from the centre to the States/Local Governments. We should go back to the era of true Federalism similar to what was practised in the First Republic where Regions/States exploit their resources; keep at least 50% of their resources; contribute a certain percentage to the contributable pool for other states; and pay taxes to the Federal Government.
Government will succeed in taking the sail out of the wind of those that shout from the rooftops about marginalization once power is devolved from the centre and regions/states control a substantial part of their resources. If this is done, agitations will shift from the centre to the States and Governors will be held accountable.
We have heard several leaders declare that the unity of the country is non-negotiable. We beg to disagree. While we believe we are stronger together and our strength lies in our size, we cannot continue in a tension-soaked, forced marriage. The Federal Government should not shirk from conducting a referendum if need be for people of the South-east or any other region to decide once and for all if they want to be part of Nigeria.
The Senate has promised to look into the 2014 national confab report. That is a step in the right direction on the short term. The confab recommendation reducing the Federal Government’s share of the revenue formula to 42.5% from 52.8% and the increasing States allocation to 35%,should kick-start the process of devolution of powers.
We will only be postponing the evil day if we don’t take the bull by the horn and address the national question. We believe every region can have a sense of belonging within a united Nigeria but we can’t continue to shy away from the fact that all is not well. The time is now to address our fears. It has haunted us for too long.
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