Vanguard (Lagos)

3 September 2012

Nigeria: North Tackles Yoruba Leaders On Autonomy

NORTHERN leaders, Sunday, spurned Yoruba leaders' agitation for regional autonomy and a return to the parliamentary system of government, describing the clamour as a recipe for Nigeria's disintegration.

Yoruba elders under the banner of Yoruba National Assembly, YNA, had after a meeting in Ibadan last Thursday, canvassed a return to the parliamentary system of government and granting of regional autonomy to the South-West.

They also called for removal of the immunity clause for criminal offences; a new Nigeria consisting of a federal government and six regional governments (based on the current six geo-political zones) operating federal and regional constitutions, respectively; and adoption of Regional and State Police force structure among others.

But responding to the development, some prominent northern leaders, who spoke exclusively to Vanguard, kicked against YNA's call, saying that the agitation would plunge the nation into incalculable crises and hasten her break-up.

However, Secretary-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nduka Eya, said the demands of the Yoruba leaders were in tandem with the position of Ndigbo, which had been sent to the National Assembly for inclusion in the on-going constitution amendment exercise.

Former Kaduna State Governor, Alhaji Lawal Kaita, said the call for regional autonomy and a return to parliamentary system of government was self-serving and had the semblance of secession.

Kaita said: "I do not really understand what they mean by regional autonomy. They should be bold enough to say that they do not want to be part of Nigeria any longer and stop talking about what does not make sense anymore in the country.

No longer ideal -- Kaita

"Regional autonomy and parliamentary system of government can no longer serve a complex society like Nigeria and our founding fathers were wise enough to jettison the system and adopt the present Presidential system, which to all intent and purposes, remains the best for a country like ours," he noted.

According to the founding member of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, neither the granting of autonomy to any region in the country nor a return to parliamentary system of government would solve the socio-political problems of the nation.

Kaita said that all that was needed to make the presidential system more useful was to strengthen the institutions of government to serve the citizens better and reposition the country as a strong, united nation in the world.

Gen. Mohammed Buhari discussing with National Leader of ACN, Bola Tinubu at a meeting in Abuja

Adding his voice to the debate, National Secretary of the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, Buba Galadima, described any call for regional autonomy as an invitation to the dissolution of the country.

"If they make the mistake to allow the kind of regional autonomy requested by the Yoruba, it is a recipe for the country's disintegration because of the kind of politics being played in Nigeria. Our political immaturity would lead to dismembering the country as soon as any region is granted autonomy," the politician noted.

Galadima warned that the country could disintegrate if urgent steps were not taken to address the growing sense of injustice and marginalisation of sections of the country by the government.

He maintained that demands for autonomy and other issues were borne out of perceived injustice and inability of the administration to provide the basic needs of the people.

It's retrogressive -- Haliru Mohammed

In his submission, immediate past Minister of Defence, Dr. Bello Haliru Mohammed described calls for a return to regional structure as retrogressive.

According to him, states replaced the regions because of demands by ethnic nationalities for self-determination, adding that a u-turn to the old structure would be a repeat of the scenario where major ethnic groups like Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo were in total control of the regions and marginalised other groups.

The former Acting National Chairman of the PDP said rather than advocate regionalism what was required of the country now was to sit down and work out the modus operandi of our federation to accommodate all the ethnic diversities without any section feeling dominated.

His words: "Going back to regional structure is going to be retrogressive because states were created because of the demand by ethnic nationalities for self determination. To go back to regional structure where the major ethnic groups like Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo were in complete control of the regions is dangerous.

"General Yakubu Gowon responded to the demands of the minority groups and created states to allow for some level of self-determination for ethnic nationalities. Going back will make major ethnic groups to continue to dominate the minorities. Now, there is some level of equality between the nationalities regardless of the number and size.

"What Nigeria needs now is to sit down and work out our modus operandi of a federation that would accommodate all our ethnic diversities without one section feeling a sense of domination by others. Federating units should be different ethnic nationalities as we have in states. If there is need for creation of more states like in the case of South-East and also to break some of the larger and more populated states in the North and South, that can be accommodated rather than going back to regions."

However, a former Senator from Kano State, Usman Kabiru Umar, stated that he would support any political restructuring that would bring about a strong, united and progressive Nigeria, where every citizen would have a sense of belonging. "Now, if they say that autonomy and return to parliamentarism would guarantee the promotion of peace, development and a united Nigeria, so be it,"

Indeed, Eya, who spoke in his personal capacity as a public commentator, said the South-West clamour for six regions was sound.

"Before the Presidential system was introduced, we had four regions. The North accepted the regions and we had Parliamentary system. The presidential system is very expensive; if we continue with it, we will soon go bankrupt. The parliamentary system worked for us. Then, if you did not win an election you cannot become a minister. Now the president appoints ministers from everywhere and they are not accountable to the people.

Noting that Ohanaeze had prepared a document on the constitution amendment, he said: "We agree with the South-West on six regions, which should become the federating units. The Federal Government should have nothing to do with state or local government creation.

"There is constant demands for new states and local governments because the military made them avenues for getting more allocation from the centre. Local governments should be states' creation; they are not federating units. We stand for equity, fair-play and justice. The military gave North undue advantage and they do not want to relinquish it," he said.

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