Enugu, Awka, Onitsha, Kaduna — Political, religious and traditional leaders from the southern part of the country gathered in Awka, the Anambra State capital, yesterday, calling for a restructuring of the federation.They attributed the pockets of agitations across the country to a faulty federal structure, which they said has placed some ethnic groups at the mercy of others.
They stressed that the path to successful nationhood must address lapses. They also agreed on the retention of the existing six-geopolitical zones, saying they should be institutionalised as part of the constitution.This decision, however, met with disapproval from some at the event, who felt the gathering should have defined in simple terms the kind of restructuring acceptable to Ndigbo.
The banned Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) had threatened it would disrupt the summit. This might explain the heavy presence of security operatives around Alex Ekwueme Square, the venue of the summit.The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that heavily armed personnel of the Army, Navy, Police and NSCDC were strategically positioned at roads leading to the venue.
Officials of the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) were also around Aromma Junction and the Alex Ekwueme Square, to ensure a free flow of traffic.Police anti-bomb units were also stationed in and around the venue. Traffic was redirected from the area as workers at the Federal and State High Courts, State House of Assembly and Universal Basic Education Board were searched before passing through the venue to their offices.
Former Central Bank Governor, Chukwuma Soludo, presented the position of Ohanaeze Ndigbo on restructuring at the summit. He also leads the body's restructuring committee.Soludo said the proposition would create a peaceful and progressive country. He blamed some of the grievances across the country on a poor political structure.He said: "We demand a new constitution. We demand a constitutional conference backed by law, enacted by the National Assembly, where the people of Nigeria will agree on a new, truly federal constitution. A constituent assembly should be formed to agree on a new constitution for a new Nigeria. Such a constitution, the people's constitution, should be approved by the people of Nigeria through a referendum to give it legitimacy and validity."
Among other demands, the summit called for a six-year tenure for the president, five vice presidents to be appointed from the geopolitical zones, rotation of the presidency among the zones, scrapping of the local government system, and creation of additional states for the Southeast.The President of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo, said all the arms of the body accepted the recommendations by the committees that drafted the resolution.
He insisted Nigeria needs a constitution because the current constitution is "dead."Anambra State governor, Willie Obiano, said there was no better time for a conversation aimed at strengthening the unity of Nigeria.He said what Ndigbo want from the country is a sociopolitical arrangement that "must ensure a just, fair and equitable federation where all citizens are guaranteed the freedom to be the best they can be and aspire to the highest position in the land, regardless of tribe, culture or religion."
He added: "I have combed the pages of history and our contemporary times. And I boldly declare that I did not find a perfect human society anywhere. Every nation on earth is a work in progress. Citizens of both advanced and developing countries continue to ask their countries hard questions that will lead them to a better federation, a better nation and a better society. And Nigeria cannot be an exception to this rule. So, we must ask Nigeria hard questions too."
In his speech, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, who chaired the event, said that in the life of any nation, there should be time to pause and reflect on the past, the present and the future. He said: "Today, things are no longer the way we want them. In as much as I believe that the future of the Igbo is great, there are some concerns. In 1966, Igbo didn't know about the coup, but they were slaughtered in the civil war that lasted 30 months.
"Today, killings are taking place in Benue State, and it may be others in future. People talk about Fulani herdsmen. But we have Fulani people in government as senators, as ministers and traditional rulers, yet the killings have continued. The Federal Government of Nigeria should be grateful to Ohanaeze Ndigbo for coming up with a programme for the restructuring of the country for the benefit of all."
Dignitaries at the summit include Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu; former governors, Chukwuemeka Ezeife and Olusegun Mimiko; Obi of Onitsha, Nnamemeka Achebe; former Minister, Jerry Gana; and former presidential candidate, Chief Olu Falae.
In a related development, the Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG) convened a summit at Arewa House, Kaduna State.In a five-page communiqué by spokesperson of the group, Abdul-Azeez Suleiman, the CNG said: "For the avoidance of doubt, the North fully supports the restructuring of the country and shall be prepared to represent itself in any debate on the issue."
It, however, noted: "The North shall not settle for any restructuring plan that falls short of a total, comprehensive and holistic reordering that should first and foremost include the peaceful, democratic and civil determination of the people or groups of people that truly and sincerely wish to remain part of the Nigerian federation."
It noted: "The seeming endorsement by some Northern leaders of a brand of restructuring that clearly places the region at a disadvantage is unacceptable and must be discountenanced. Any reorganisation process that fails to involve the discussion of the limits and extent of all the federating components with regard to available space and resources shall not be acceptable to the North."
Still on restructuring, Bayelsa State governor, Chief Seriake Dickson, noted: "There is nothing human that is perfect. Nation building is work in progress and is actually not something that will be finished by one leader, party or government, or even by one generation. Our leaders, our founding fathers gave us this country, but we cannot claim that the present structure of this country is perfect."
He said this when he paid a visit to Kaduna State governor, Naris El-Rufai, yesterday.He used the opportunity to "assure those that may not have properly understood the concept of restructuring that restructuring is not evil and portends no evil, no doom for Nigeria."