Restructuring: How North tilted towards return to regions
Northern leaders at the just concluded conference on restructuring in Kaduna seem to favour a return to regional governments, our correspondent reports.
At the conclusion of the conference by northern elders on ‘The future of the North and the Nigerian Federation,’ a euphemism for a discourse on the vexed issue of restructuring which held in Kaduna on Thursday, it was evident that the North is not happy with the reactionary label slammed on it by the other geopolitical zones.
Northern leaders, made from various political divides and religious leaders, intellectuals of various hue and the traditional institutions who turned up for the much publicized occasion, did not mince words in sending the message across that it was not happy with the current structure of the country.
The conference organized by the Arewa Research and Development Project (ARDP) in collaboration with key groups of the North including; the Sir Ahmadu Bello Memorial Foundation, the Northern Elders Forum (NEF), the CODE Group, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), the Northern Reawakening Forum, the Northern Delegates Forum, the Jam’iyar Matan Arewa and the Forum for Northern Youth Organizations in Kaduna became a veritable platform for letting the world know how the North feels about the issue.
The issues for discussion encapsulated in the word ‘restructuring’ have been outlined into 10 basic items which include true federalism, derivation principle, resource control, devolution of power, state police, local government autonomy and others with each item viewed from different standpoints according to geo-political divide.
Convener of the conference, Dr. Usman Bugaje in his opening remarks said he does not believe there’s anything like ‘true federalism’ the leitmotif of the agitation by the other regions to start with.
He said, “People who talk about true federalism clearly need to revise their notes and realize that true federalism is not only misleading but also untenable since every federation is unique and there are no two federations that are the same.” Similarly, Dr. Bugaje said, “the concept of fiscal federalism has been grossly misunderstood and many are reading their parochial wishes and confusing the debate.”
Governor of Sokoto State, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal was even more down-to- earth.
He said the idea that the North is afraid of restructuring because it is benefitting from the current structure is false.
“The fact that some people continue to parrot such a lie only helps to give credence to the flawed argument. Let us be clear: the North wants restructuring as much as anyone else. However, as a people we do not easily jump unto the bandwagon because we are always there for the long haul. We believe that any decision we take must be inclusive, and respect procedures and processes so that the outcome is sustainable,” he said.
Former Vice Chancellor of the Ahmadu Bello University and Secretary of the Northern Elders Forum (NEF), Professor Ango Abdullahi even went beyond that to say that the North is not afraid of going back to having regional structures across the geo-political divides.
He said some of the current agitations are mere political manoeuvres which the North will not take.
He said, “If we can’t go back to1914, we should go back to 1960, regional governance. North is not afraid of getting its North back, just Iike those that want East and West. I see this as a political manoeuvre and the North will not take it,” he said.
“We reminded him that the North has always sacrificed for the unity of Nigeria. I was a student when we got independence and we saw that each time there was need to unite, Nigeria, the North made the largest sacrifice. The North has always wanted a peaceful country. Now we have 36 states from three regions which existed in 1960. No country has had constitutional conference like Nigeria, yet it has not created basis for a united country.
He added, “Such clamouring is not new, because it has always been an antecedent of the South whenever a Northerner was in charge of leadership. Some of our various formations were unhappy with what was happening to the North, we decided that we must confront it and thanks to our efforts we succeeded in changing leadership.
“Since assumption of Northern leadership, we have witnessed demands like they always occur whenever a northerner takes over leadership. The Governor of Sokoto State who is the chairman of the Northern Governors restructuring committee, and chairman of this conference, we do not want you to rush into committing us, but views of North should be collected, nobody should stampede us,” he said.
But by Thursday, after five key speeches were delivered and eight position papers covering issues on restructuring were presented in the two panel discussions chaired by 15 panelists, it was clear that the position of the North is going to be different from what the South, comprising South-South, South-East and South-West are clamoring for.
At the end the conference the basic demand centered a round the devolution of power to make for strong regional governments with a weak central government.
Dr. Bugaje, who spoke with our correspondent, confirmed that the aggregate view of participants at the conference was for restructuring of the country to have a weak center while the regions should be imbued with more powers to control their resources.
He said the conference was able to establish that the North had never clamoured for the current structure where power is concentrated at the center but that it was General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi who as head of state, structured the country along a unitary system.
“So from there you can see an indication of what the North wants, for a weaker center so that the regions would be stronger. But we have three different positions on that,” he stated.
Daily Trust learnt, however that while the decision for a regional government has been accepted, the pattern it would take has remained knotty and unresolved.
The northern leaders have, however, resolved to consult further before formally taking a common position on the issue as the conference ended with a resolution to prepare and consolidate on one northern united position on the current debate.
Convener of the conference, Dr. Bugaje, said his group, the ARDP and the other collaborating teams will liaise with the Northern Governors and the Traditional Rulers Committee to make sure that the views expressed at the conference see the light of day in the formation of the northern stand.
He said the report of the conference will be communicated to all participants through their e-mails.
“The main objective of the conference was not only to respond to the demand for the review of the nature and structure of the Nigerian federation, to examine and evaluate the North as a major component of the Nigerian federation, but to also get experts to guide the North in identifying its priorities and position as it goes into the debate and the forthcoming negotiations,” he stated.
In addition to that, the Northern Governors’ Forum and Northern Traditional Leaders Council Committee on Restructuring of the Nigerian Federation has inaugurated a technical committee, reflecting the diversity of Northern Nigeria to look at the issues surrounding the call for restructuring and get the aggregate views of the North and present same to the committee for use during the proposed Town Hall/Public Hearings across the 19 Northern states.
The proposed town hall meeting would be the final process where the position of the 19 Northern states would be made known.
The conference was well attended with the representatives of the governor of Kaduna State, Nasir Ahmed El-Rufai, who was represented by his deputy, Yusuf Bala Bamtex, various organizations like the Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI), which was represented by Bashir Dahiru Bauchi, representative of the Christian Association of Nigerian, Air Commodore Tanko Ato (rtd), representative of the Jam’iyar Matan Arewa, Ambassador Marina Mohammed, representative of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, Auwal Anwar, representative of the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar and Chief Gabriel Adukwu and the Yariman Zazzau, Munir Jaafaru.
Others are former ministers, Ibrahim Dasuki Nakande, Murtala Aliyu, as well as leaders of various youth organizations.