They were gathered together on this Thursday morning at the National Institute of International Affairs to listen to an interesting array of speakers, and to participate in discussion on a topic that has been agitating the minds of Nigerians from all works of life all across the land. The topic was ‘Restructuring – a Panacea For justice and peace In Nigeria’.
It was organized by ‘Voice Of Reason’ (VOR), a group of opinion leaders from the South-West, who considered it necessary to make a stand in the public space in order to rescue the nation from what they saw as imminent perdition. The main plank of their advocacy was a conviction that Nigeria as at present constituted and operated was a flawed federation and a failing state. Working at improving operations using the present model was throwing good money after bad, or doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results.
There was an impressive array of speakers lined up from all across the nation.There was Olisa Agbakoba. And Abduljelil Tafawa Balewa. Tony Nnadi. Tony Nyiam. Ann Kio Briggs – soft-spoken firebrand advocate in the cause of the South-South. Toyosi Akerele-Ogunsiji, one of the new voices. And sitting in the front on the audience side, eager to engage, were such redoubtables as Ray Ekpu, Tola Adeniyi and Shina Fagbenro-Byron.
Proceedings kicked off in earnest with an opening address by the Chairman of the occasion – Olorogun Sonny Kuku. With his husky voice and famous sense of humour, he tried to put the audience at their ease. He was a man of many parts – physician, businessman, traditional chief whose title translated roughly as ‘warlord’ or ‘General’ of the Ijebu army. Beyond the easy affability he was a man known to be hard as steel.
The VOR group had gone to the trouble of preparing a draft constitution for a restructured Nigeria. It was to be a living contract between consenting federating units in a truly federal republic and was meant to serve as a discussion draft to be shared with other stakeholders for the kind of ‘contract’ that would ultimately replace the all too flawed ‘military’ document that currently purported to represent the people’s will. One of their members talked the audience through the highlights of the document.
And then it was time for the main discussants. Toyosi Akerele-Ogunlusi set off the talk. She was a thirty-four-year-old, the youngest person on the panel. She was voluble, and she had a lot to say. Her generation were not being reckoned with in the scheme of things, she averred. And yet they were not only the future of Nigeria, they were also the present of Nigeria.
‘Give us the autonomy to take decisions on things that belong to us …’ She was full of energy, and passion. A course mate of hers at Harvard had become a Minister in the government of President Macron of France soon after they left school. That was a country that valued youth and education. People who were not afraid of ideas.
The tone was set. The deliveries that ensued harped on various areas of discontent with the polity but came back to the same conclusion. A new way was needed. Restructuring the federation was the way.
For Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, veteran of many battles – physical as well as legal – you had an abiding image of him in your mind with a massive black swelling over one eye after an encounter with the police during a protest march at Yaba, Lagos in the hey-day of the Abacha dictatorship – the questions were being asked in the wrong order. Before going on to talk about restructuring – which was the ‘how’ of being a nation, the question needed to be asked first ‘Do we want to be together?’ Once beyond that, having answered in the affirmative, as he expected, he cautioned that the current language of the restructuring push was too harsh and was alienating those in the North of the country who might otherwise have bought into it. Bridges would need to be built with like minds, and it should not be assumed that they did not exist or were incapable of seeing that there was a value proposition for everybody. He referred to the Aburi Accord and the 2014 National Conference report as take-off points.
Ann Kio Briggs in her soft, persuasive voice spoke of how injustice continued to be the lot of her Niger Delta people.
Odia Ofeimun, writer, polemicist,leapt in from the floor to say that people should not set too much store on the Aburi Accord as it was a flawed document itself, and had been rightly shot down by minorities, afraid of domination by their regional ‘brothers’.
Ray Ekpu chimed in to assert that Nigeria’s peoples were inextricably bound together, whatever anyone said. The best strategy was to form a committee of stakeholders to drive the restructuring project, the platform on which a united functioning Nigeria with reasonably contented federating peoples, could be constructed. The work was urgent.
Tola Adeniyi, ex editor of Daily Times, and former spokesman for military President Babangida sounded like a man who had seen too much and was disillusioned by the plethora of contradictions concerning the Nigerian entity he had observed over the years. There were problems, including the 1914 amalgamation itself, but the real problem now was a minority with an agenda, wanting to ride on the back of religion and chaos. It was necessary to resist, using knowledge, teaching the people.
For Tony Nyiam, where structures and actions were based on a flawed constitution that was not of the people, such actions were not ‘legal’, but illegitimate.
Tony Nnadi, firebrand, breathed fire, recommending a referendum before any action to push any reorganization of the nation’s architecture.
Dr Tafawa Balewa brought a breath of fresh air to the debate. He was scion of a famous Bauchi family, whose mother came from Ogbomosho, and who lived abroad from the age of two years. Medical doctor, physicist, inventor with a beguiling smoothness of elocution.
‘I feel schizophrenic at the nature of this discourse…’
Nigeria was not doing so bad in the early days in his father’s days (his father was Nigeria’s first and only Prime Minister, he averred, giving an anecdote about the deliberately contrived parliamentary shenanigans between his father, Chief Remi Fani-Kayode-Femi’s father – (‘who was inclined naturally to be combative’) and Zik that led to the parliament’s approval for the building of the Niger Bridge. It has been a downhill journey since the military came. ‘We have a scale of mediocrity now (in leadership) which is dipping into the abyss of insanity…’)
The discussions, arguments and postulations went on deep into the afternoon.
The conclusion, such as it was, was that the Nigerian entity was probably secure, but seriously in need of reconstruction through the agency of a restructuring. It would be necessary to build a consensus of sorts, so that everyone everywhere, including the youths all across, could see more promise than danger for themselves in that ‘born-again’ country that all the speakers agreed was the Nigeria that could work. That promise, after all, was the purpose for the gathering, according to the conveners, the VOR.