Secretary of the Planning Committee of the Yoruba Summit, held in Ibadan, Oyo State Capital, last Thursday, Mr Yinka Odumakin, in this interview, speaks to the issue of restructuring and why it offers Nigeria the best opportunity to remain united and prosperous. He also takes on antagonists, saying their opposition to restructuring only serves to fuel the desire of separatists. Excerpts:
Alhaji Tanko Yakassai pooh-poohed the Ibadan conference, saying it was not representative enough, just as he claimed that Muslims were not effectively represented there?
Okay you heard what he said too. Some of his positions are very funny and, therefore, he amazes me a lot.
He said there were lesser Muslims than Christians at the conference. Was he in Ibadan on Thursday? Did he take a census or did he ask people to raise their hands to be counted? Our elders should try to be credible. In Yorubaland, we are different because religion is never an issue with us; in a family you would have Muslims and Christians. Muslims spoke, Christians spoke. Chief Idowu Sofola, leader of the YCE, who spoke at that summit, is a Muslim. We do not wear religion on our head. What binds us is culture. In that same televised interview, he made reference to Ohanaeze and South/South leadership as represented. So, he expects us to come and meet him first in Kano, tell him that Yoruba want to meet, he should tell us who and who to invite. Can you imagine that arrogance. The insult.
NEPU (Northern Elements Progressive Union), of which Yakassai was a member, organised a riot in Kano to protest the rejection of Pa Enahoro’s independence move. When the North was to give conditions on how to come back to the negotiation table, it gave an eight-point demand which spelt confederacy, demanding that each region should have its own army, police, port, customs. If we are now asking for federalism and you claim you do not know what it means, you that asked for confederacy, what are you talking about? The latter is close to secession. But, today, because some people are reaping where they are not sowing, they claim not to know what restructuring means. Elders like Yakassai should make themselves credible and should stop this type of talk. The other time, he said Yoruba talking about restructuring just want to take away the two advantages the North has – population and land mass. But I’ve always told people who say this that if you have more population, train them, put them to work and let them contribute to the GDP and stop using them to share money in Abuja. You have more land, cultivate the land.
In the First Republic, there were four regions – Western, Eastern, Mid-West and North. Today, one region, the North, has 19 states; three regions, put together, have 17 states. What does that tell you about the structure of Nigeria that we have today?
Sokoto, Lagos, Kano, these were Divisions. Today, Lagos Division is one state, 20 local governments. Kano is now two states, 77 local governments. Sokoto has become three states. Where did we agree on all these things? You used the control of military fiat to do what we have on our hands now. Look at the number of local governments, 774, out of which 449 are in the North. What we are saying is that we must re-negotiate these things. But when you begin to put it in our faces, we are no fools. They inflated the constituencies in the House of Representatives and you now begin to taunt us, after you have done all that.
For us, we believe that we can re-negotiate and make everybody happy.
What actually do you think is the fear of those in the North who do not want restructuring?
It is the fear of losing the feeding bottle. A child being breastfed may think the best to have on earth is breast milk…unknown to the child that there are several other delicacies that are not dependent on the mother offering him breast. The child out of lack of knowledge may not know that the mother would also not be producing milk all the years of her life.
How can these fears be assuaged?
2014 conference allayed that fears by removing mineral resources from the exclusive list and setting 5% of Federal Government allocations to prospect them while we continue the sharing culture in the transition. This would spread co-prosperity North and South .It is also an assurance that there is no plan to punish any section of the country.
What really was the Ibadan declaration meant to achieve?
The communique from the Ibadan Declaration is very clear. But it’s only those who want to obfuscate that would say that restructuring means different things to different people. Restructuring simply means, we are tired of military constitution, take us back to the federal constitution negotiated by our founding fathers. Interestingly, the whole process started in Ibadan in 1950 when the conference of Nigerian leaders held there. They voted for a federal constitution and that was the constitution that we had in 1960. It was truncated when the military struck in 1966 and then this military arrangement. Today, we have a constitution which pretends to be federal innate but is actually unitary in structure. Look, all the problems confronting us today are the periphery but they have their vertical links with this constitution. This is what Ibadan has declared, that for the Yoruba nation, this is where we stand, we want to return to true federalism. And our friends from the South/South and the South/East have also said they are on the same page with us.
Why do you say the constitution is unitary?
It was Decree 34 of 1999 that we call 1999 Constitution. There are 67 items on the exclusive list, the highest in the history of constitutionalism in Nigeria, and the remaining items on the concurrent list and there is a provision in that same constitution that wherever there is a clash between the federating units and the Federal Government, the Federal Government would take precedence. Therefore, all powers in Nigeria today are vested in the Federal Government. It is never so in any federal constitution. In a federal constitution, you have the Federal Government and federating units that are co-ordinates (not subordinates), unlike what we have where the Federal Government takes control of all the resources in the country, sits on it and calls other units to Abuja and shares out, calling it bailout. It is not done like that. The only land that belongs to the Federal Government today is the FCT. And FCT produces nothing. So you take oil and gas receipts, you take VAT from Lagos and other places and you sit on it and say you are Federal Government, you get so bloated, you take over functions that should not belong to you and a minister of works, who doesn’t even know where many of the roads are, claims to be in charge of federal roads. It is not done.
What is the viability of an Oduduwa Republic as some people are clamouring for?
I need to say this: Since independence, the Yoruba have been subjected to all manner of indignity within the Nigerian union, from Awolowo to MKO Abiola. In 1962, the Emergency Declaration in Western Nigeria, all the travails of Awolowo, Abiola was locked up for five years – they took him alive and brought his lifeless body to us. In all these instances, the Yoruba have never questioned the corporate existence of Nigeria for once. And up till now, we are insisting that we can restructure the country and make it progressive for everybody.
That is not to say that there are no people or groups within Yoruba land who are saying we are wasting our time. Some people came to Ibadan, insisting that restructuring is too late, that we should just move for what you just asked now.
But we are saying we can negotiate a proper federation that would make all happy.
As far back as 1967, Awolowo said, in his book, THOUGHTS ON NIGERIAN CONSTITUTION, that any attempt to run Nigeria along unitary lines would produce discontent, disharmony and that the whole machinery of government would crumble under bureaucratic centralism except you give Nigeria to superhuman beings to run. That is where we are now.
The mainstream Yoruba leadership is not asking for Oduduwa Republic. But there are other people who are asking for it and we are saying to them, ‘calm down, let us restructure’. If you restructure Nigeria, we don’t need that. But if you fail to restructure, you will only be arming those elements asking for Oduduwa Republic. Because they will ask us, ‘what have you brought back with your restructuring?’
Did the Ibadan meeting, in any way, consider going back to regionalism?
The question was out. Mind you, there were three documents before the participants: The communique which I read; there was the Ibadan declaration, read by Professor Banji Akintoye, and there was the Yoruba Working Document on Restructuring and Mr. Niyi Akintola, SAN, moved the motion to adopt these documents, seconded by Chief Fasoranti and the whole assembly adopted these documents as the position of the Yoruba people and which will form the basis of our negotiations with the rest of Nigeria.
Good enough, the entire South was in Ibadan – S/West; S/East, led by the President of Ohanaeze, Chief Nnia Nwodo, was there; and the S/South, led by Chief A. K. Horsfall, was there. They put their signatures to the position of the Yoruba people.
What would you say to those who insist that all the restructuring noise is needless, that the National Assembly is the best place to go? Or, you do not expect to get the type of amendments you want in the National Assembly?
You cannot get it from this National Assembly.
The National Assembly members are lawmakers. We are talking about an autochthonous constitution here, an organic document to which the people have willingly submitted themselves. The National Assembly is empowered to make laws within the constitution. We are not talking about the legality of the National Assembly; they cannot give us a constitution. They can only amend it.
But the process is on-going? That is what they are doing?
That is what they have not done. Look at the whole issue of devolution of power. They abandoned it.
Your members are in the National Assembly from the three zones of the South, so why not lobby them to get this through for you?
That is true; we have people there. But the last time they voted, didn’t you see the way the votes went. 46 to 48 on the issue of devolution. That shows you regional divide in the chambers.
Why is it difficult for the National Assembly to do it?
Those who keep shouting ‘go to the National Assembly’ know why they keep saying that. They know what they have done. The numbers are not there. There is a clear lopsidedness which is being used to block what some people do not want. that is the crux of the matter. There are some provisions that need close to 70% votes for them to pass. But these were not put there by Nigerians. This was a constitution prepared by General Sani Abacha for self-transmutation; he died, they went to pick it from under his pillow; they set up the Nikky Tobi panel to tinker with it.
As of the time President Olusegun Obasano was sworn-in in 1999, there was no clean copy of that so-called constitution. It was still being printed in the press in Abuja.
Yet, they say “we the people…”. Which people?
But if the National Assembly is ready to do the needful, we are ready to work with them. If they realise that there is an historic responsibility to address this drift in Nigeria, to ensure that we re-work the constitution, we will work with them. In fact, it will save everybody all the problems, the agitations.
If they act statesmanly, we can solve the problem. But if they continue the way they voted on devolution, then they cannot have the final say.
How do you hope to succeed without the North?
When you say North, there is a groundswell of support for restructuring in the North. The Middle Belt was with us once when we met in Abuja and the people there are for restructuring. If you go to the North-East, people like (former Vice President) Atiku and the rest of them; and if you go to the North-West, you are not in lack of support for restructuring. Today, it is those few, powerful people who are against restructuring. It is not just a southern issue.. It is a nationwide thing but there are a few powerful forces who are standing against restructuring. We can develop resources in all the states and make the states viable, that was part of the 2014 Conference Report. It is just that the 1999 Constitution vests everything in the Federal Government. We can even use Federal Government money to develop these resources for the states for a period of about five to ten years, so that everybody will benefit.
Some people are of the view that some leaders in Yoruba land in times past cannot be free from complicity regarding how we got to this point. What do you say to that?
There are very few Yoruba people who contributed to the unitary push in Nigeria but they are an exception to the Yoruba norm. Yoruba are federalists in nature. Even in things like sharing of inheritance,Yoruba use federal principles in polygamous setting. Yoruba towns are run on federal lines from time immemorial.
What other forms of engagement are you looking at, with a view to getting all regions or zone?
The engagements have started with the presence of like-minds from other zones at Ibadan. With Middle Belt on the same page, the engagement will now be with the core-North to build consensus towards a restructured polity that would allow all federating units to pursue happiness to the fullest of the country on board?