The leader of Afenifere, a pan-Yoruba group, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, at the ‘Nigeria’s 2023 presidential transition inter-ethnic peace dialogue which held at Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja, on Monday, declared that Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution is a fraud, adding that the constitution was arbitrarily imposed on Nigerians by the military and has been the major source of threats of disintegration of the country.
The Afenifere leader, therefore, advocated that the only thing that can save Nigeria from a second civil war and disintegration is to change the Nigerian constitution to a federal system.
Adebanjo in his keynote address at the Dialogue, pointed out that majority of the things causing tension, disharmony, instability in Nigeria, namely revenue allocation, security, ethnicity, devolution of powers etc., have been taken care of by the founding fathers in the Pre-Independence Federal Constitution.
He decried that “unfortunately, however, the military (dominated by Northern Muslims) incursion into the political arena in 1966 scuttled the constitution and introduced a military unitary system. Since then, we have not got our bearing.”
Adebanjo commended the sponsors and organizers of the dialogue titled: “Nigeria’s 2023 Presidential Transition Inter-Ethnic Peace Dialogue.” for their concern and love for the continued existence of the country in peace and unity.
He emphasized that the organizers of the program acknowledge the fact that Nigeria is presently faced with ‘critical threats’ capable of engendering another civil war and ‘forceful political break-up’. He cited that the organisers in the invitation letters to participants indicated inter alia: “Nigeria is on the brink of a second civil war and certainly will not survive it.
The political atmosphere is already over-saturated with tensions and getting more combustive and volatile.
“This is the reason we must act now, in order to prevent the ethnic cleansing, bloodbath, mass murder, genocide and forceful disintegration waiting to happen. The damaging consequences will be grievous if these critical warnings are taken for granted. We are sitting on a ticking time bomb, and it is about to explode.”
Adebanjo maintained that there is no doubt whatsoever that Nigeria is presently faced with critical threats of imminent second civil war and forceful political break-up and perhaps even more.
The Afenifere leader stated that indicators of these could be seen in part in the scale of banditry going on in the country, in the unprecedented level of kidnapping and destruction of government properties as being witnessed presently in the southeast and, of course, the strident voices for secession.
“When the foregoing and many others that we have not mentioned are put into consideration, there could not be any controversy that Nigeria is indeed on the precipice.
“To us in Afenifere, it is possible to reverse this trend and prevent Nigeria from falling into the dungeon and perhaps break into pieces that cannot even be sewn together ever again.
“Although we are at the precipice now, to us, the solution is simple. Change the constitution to a federal system,” Adebanjo declared.
The Afenifere leader argued that the present 1999 constitution is tilted in favour of the North against the South. “It arbitrarily creates more states and local governments in the North than the South, and based on this fraud, prescribes sumptuous monthly financial allocations to the states that produce very little, if at all, while those which produce more get only a bit.
“For emphasis and clarity, the creation of states and local government areas was not based on the principle of equity, justice and fair play. For example, against all known demographic norms, the North with enormous areas of unoccupied arid land is said to be more in population than the South.
“It is only in Nigeria that the known rule in geography all over the world that the nearer the desert the fewer the population is obeyed in reverse with the North claiming a population that cannot be physically verified except you are going to count the cows and the cattle in the area.
“This false population is used to give more political representation in the Legislative chambers where decisions affecting the whole country are taken. Also, and in a manner suffused with impunity, Kano State which was created in 1967 and with an identical population with Lagos State created on the same date and time now has 77 local governments with Lagos State still paddle with 20 local government areas,” Adebanjo further declared.
The Afenifere leader also pointed out that “under this obnoxious constitution, the governors are described as the Chief Security officers of their respective states, but all the apparatus of security are vested in the federal government, this makes it impossible for the governors described as chief security officer to be able to deploy the personnel of any of the security agencies.”
He maintained that “it is a firm contention of Afenifere that the 1999 constitution is a fraud. Its preamble says, ‘we the people of the Federal Republic.’ The question is, did we make the constitution? Are we Federal?”
He decried that the President Buhari government now tells Nigerians to amend a constitution they never made; and to make logic stand on its head, the amendment is to be made by the National Assembly which is a beneficiary of the fraudulent constitution.
He expressed that the Afenifere believes the country needs a brand-new constitution agreed to by all the nationalities in the country.
“If a new constitution is made on the basis of true federalism, there will be no more agitations for Biafra, there will be no more agitations for Oduduwa Republic, and other self-determination groups. Because what gave birth to their agitations would have been taken care of.
“So, we are calling on all those who are supporting President Muhammadu Buhari to persuade him to let us change the constitution to what we can call our Constitution, a constitution that prescribes genuine and true federalism that heralds a restructured Nigeria,” Adebanjo said.
He assured that if this is done, Buhari’s name would be written in gold. According to Adebanjo, “having such a constitution that restructured Nigeria to federalism will prevent the country from going under.”
Adebanjo clarified that Afenifere does not believe or support secession; declaring: “we owe no apology for being the chief advocate for restructuring Nigeria to Federalism. Let the opponents of restructuring and cohort of the Federal Government stop the blackmail or labelling advocates of restructuring as secessionists, for advocates of restructuring are “Federalists not Secessionist.”
He asserted that the irreducible minimum condition of Yorubaland of being part of Nigeria is a restructured Nigeria to Federalism. The Afenifere leader insisted that “Yorubaland will not be in Nigeria under the present military imposed constitution.”
He highlighted: “It is on record that we are the only organization that has fought relentlessly for the unity of this country.
“When the North led by Saudana of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, wanted to separate in 1953 when it declared the nine-point program of separation, it was our leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, that persuaded the North from so doing as the fears of the North under a Unitary form of government will be taken care of under a federal system.
“This action gave Chief Awolowo the pseudonym ‘Father of Federalism in Nigeria.’
“It is worth recalling – for those who either did not know or for those who might have forgotten – that Afenifere party (Action Group), was the only party that had elected members in all the parliament in every part of the Nigerian federation during the First Republic.
“It is the opposition party led by Alhaji Sule Maito in the Northern House of Assembly, opposition party in Eastern House of Assembly led by S.G Ikoku, and opposition party in the Federal House led by Chief S.L. Akintola, and of course, formed the government in the Western Region, under Chief Obafemi Awolowo. No other political party had that distinction.
“So, for anyone to underrate the contributions that we, the Yoruba, have made to the unity of this country, it means that the person is either not conversant with contemporary Nigeria history or is being mischievous.”
Adebanjo, thereafter, revealed what the Afenifere members are bringing to the table for consideration.
According to him: “we believe strongly that the proposal below will bring us back from the precipice and salvage the country.”
He narrated that at independence, Nigeria was being run on a federal structure with three near-autonomous regions. This was later increased to four with the creation of Mid-Western Region. But the military junta that seized power in 1966 dismantled the regional structure and instead imposed a unitary system of government on the country. “The damage this caused was devastating and we are still writhing under its debilitating effects even now!”
He said that it is a universal axiom that power resides with the people.
“For this reason, we are hereby proposing that ethnic nationalities and peoples of Nigeria be allowed to exercise their mandate and sovereignty on how they want to live together under mutually beneficial terms.
“Flowing from the above, something like the United Regions of Nigeria (URN) is hereby proposed.
“The structure can take the following form:
But before talking about the form, let me emphasize that there should be no artificially prescribed number of regions in a manner that may foreclose the rights of the people that desire to organize themselves as a semi- autonomous regional member of the Nigerian State so long as the territory desiring such regional status can guarantee its self-sustenance and viability as an entity.
“In this proposal, powers, mandate and authority to formulate the articles of association to form the Central Government of Nigeria shall in effect lie jointly and severally with the ethnic nationalities occupying their respective territories and not with law makers who were randomly picked.
“Nigeria shall be subsequently organized into a Union or Federation of voluntarily associating and cooperative Regional entities like we had up till 1966.
“Unlike what we have presently, each region may have a Constitution of its own which would spell out how it is to be governed. There would be a National Constitution binding all the regions in the country together.
“In this latter constitution would be spelt out mutually agreed terms under which the peoples of the country agree to cohabit together as citizens of the same country,” he advocated.
He further declared that “Afenifere is hereby proposing as one of the resolutions of this Summit, a template that would make it possible for – indeed, encourage – every ethnic nationality to organize themselves and prepare terms that would guide their relationship with other ethnic nationalities in the country in a harmonious and mutually respecting manner. “From such collation of terms would emerge Regional Constitutions out of which National Constitution would be forged.
“The Constitution, be it at Regional or National level, must accord unqualified respect to democratic norms and the rights of the people to actively participate in matters that have to do with their lives. The constitutions must also emphasize true federalism in such a way that no region or area would have power to lord it over another region or area.”
According to Adebanjo, among the expected contents of the envisaged Constitutions are unreserved powers of the Regions over natural resources in their respective areas, agriculture, education, health, electricity, security, and economy etc.
He maintained: “It is hereby further proposed that each region furnish 10 per cent of what it generates to the national purse. The region retains 30 per cent; the states take 35 per cent while the local governments take 25 per cent.”
He stated that in order to ensure that this proposal does not go the way of various Reports that have come from various panels or assemblages constituted by governments, timeline is hereby suggested in the following manner:
Ethnic nationalities in the country be encouraged to prepare their document on Terms of Engagement between now and December 2021. The documents from the nationalities in which they propose the kind of regional government they want to form be collated and considered between January and March 2022.
The product of this process should then produce the document that will become the Constitution of the United Regions of Nigeria or Federal Republic of Nigeria.
He reiterated that the issue of true federalism must be central in every of the Constitution or Article of Engagement so produced.
True Federalism that emphasizes Self-Determination.
A National Referendum can be conducted on the adoption of the final Constitution for the Restructured Nigeria around the middle of 2022.
The said Constitution can then become effective from October 01, 2022.
Adebanjo advocated also that a Committee can be set up to work out the details of the proposal hereby suggested.
“We are ready to present the details as we conceive it to the said Committee if formed.
“It is the belief of Afenifere that it will be unrealistic and unpatriotic in our present precarious disintegrating tendencies that Buhari government should contemplate holding any election before the proposed harmonious constitution becomes operative. “We believe there should be a country before an election is contemplated.
“Afenifere presents this proposal for the consideration of this dialogue; in the hope that its faithful implementation will save the country from disintegration and its citizen will henceforth live in peace and unity,” Adebanjo declared.