By Emmanuel Aziken, Clifford Ndujihe, Dapo Akinrefon, Charles Kumolu & Gbenga Oke
Former military president, General Ibrahim Babangida, retd. yesterday, called for the immediate restructuring of the country on the basis of a growing national consensus to redefine the connections that bind the country.
Babangida’s call, which included devolution of powers by the central government to the states and the creation of state police, was upon his appeal to Nigerians to lessen the embers of war fanned by those he claimed were ignorant of the consequences of war as being spread by ethnic and religious jingoists.
Babangida’s call was largely welcomed from geopolitical groups, including Afenifere, Ohanaeze Ndigbo and some prominent Nigerians, including former presidential candidate, Chief Donald Etiebet; and former spokesman to President Olusegun Obasanjo, Mr. Akin Osuntokun, among others.
Top officials of the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, were still consulting last night on the development and the body was yet to come out with a position at press time.
Babangida, whose statement came against the background of ethnic disharmony orchestrated by the eviction order to the Igbo in the North, affirmed that the country would do better if it drew on the collective potentials of all elements.
He said: ‘’Nigeria, my dear country, is not a stranger to crisis, nor is she immuned to it. In a profound sense, she can be said to have been created out of crisis, a nation state that will continue to strive to subdue and transcend crises.
‘’In over a century of its formalized colonial architecture, Nigeria has grown and made remarkable progress in the midst of crises. The most tragic and horrendous episode in Nigeria’s history has been the 30 month Civil War of July 1967 to January 1970, in which many of our compatriots lost their lives. Indeed, many others also suffered terrible injuries of human and material dimensions.
‘’So, who really wants to go through the depth and dimensions of another Civil War in Nigeria again? Who does not know that that Civil War was preceded and started by intolerance and a series of hate pronouncements, hate speech, hate conducts and actions that were inflicted upon one another by the citizens?
‘’Today, with a deep sense of nostalgia, I still carry within my body the pains of injury from the Civil War: there is nothing romantic about war; in any form, war is bad, condemnable and must be avoided.
‘’I need hardly say I am very worried by the current on-going altercations and vituperations of hate across the country by individuals, well-known leaders, religious leaders, group of persons and organizations.
‘’We need to remind ourselves that conflicts are not evidently the stuff of politics and governance, particularly so of democracy, hence we must apply caution in our utterances, body language and news reportage.
‘’The management of conflicts is the acid test of maturity, of mutual livelihood and of democratic governance. We cannot and we must not allow the current hate atmosphere to continue to freely pollute our political landscape unchecked.
‘’Personally, I reject the proceedings of hate and their dissemination and urge my fellow citizens to strongly condemn the scourge and orgy of the current crisis which, in my view, is an outcome of vengeful appetites within the multiple contexts of our democratic governance and the profound inequalities that have distorted our social relations.
‘’Nonetheless, it is not the place of leaderships to fuel and hype conflicts nor should we allow losers and gainers of our governance regimes to make pronouncements and threats that exploit our ethnic, religious and geopolitical construct. Democracy, anywhere in the world, is a work in progress; and one that is subject to constant evolution and debate.
‘’The drums of war are easy to beat, but their rhythms are difficult to dance. Starting wars or political upheavals comes with the slightest provocation, but ending them becomes inelastic, almost unending with painful footages of the wrecks of war. I have been involved and its ripples are tellingly unpalatable, with gory details of destruction and carnage.
‘’I am a Nigerian, a citizen, patriot and concerned stakeholder. It is my strong belief that Nigeria can attain greater greatness if we all nurture our minds in the direction of building a nation, and accepting responsibility for its successes and failures.
‘’We cannot deny or repudiate our progress at nation-building in spite of the limitations and challenges that we have continued to experience.
‘’As a people, we need a proper study and understanding of our history in order to correct the warped perceptions of our past so as to minimize the dangers of badly skewed stories of our democratic experience in governance; and to regenerate mutual confidence and uphold the tenets of living together as one country.
‘’No one government or administration can provide all the answers to the myriad of problems and challenges confronting us as a country; no matter how determined, resolute, committed and motivated such a government is.
‘’The citizens have their roles to play, and their obligations to fulfill in order to motivate government in achieving its stated goals and objectives. Governance is a function of the leadership and the followership. It is a two-way traffic that demands certain responsibilities from those involved.
‘’Of late, Nigeria has become so sharply divided with emotions running high on the least provocations. Once tempers are that high, the fault-lines become easily visible and with the slightest prompting, the unexpected can happen.
‘’But I want to believe that Nigerians are still their reasonable selves’, highly endowed in various skills and intellectually empowered to compete anywhere in the global arena. As a Nigerian, I have had the rare privilege to benefit from robust relationships from different people across the socio-political divide; East, West, North and South.
‘’I have also immensely interacted with persons from all the numerous tribes, cultures and ethnic configurations dotted across the entire gamut of Nigeria’s expansive lands. I have made friends, built alliances, nurtured relationships and sustained linkages amongst Nigerians of all shades and opinions. In fairness, Nigerians are great people.
‘’In those hours, moments and duration of friendship and camaraderie, no one talks about origin, geopolitical zones or even states. The issue of religion does not dictate the flow of discourse. We deal with ourselves based on our character and content, and not the sentiments of what part of the country we hail from.
‘’The inalienable fact that Nigerians can live in any part of the country to pursue their legitimate aspirations is a strong indication that we have accepted to invest in the Nigerian project, and are no longer driven by mutual suspicion but mutual respect.
‘’That we have not fully realized our potentials as a great nation is not enough reason for us to want to demolish the foundation of our nationhood or rubbish the labours of our heroes past; both of which are borne out of our collective efforts to build a truly great nation, and great people.
‘’If we have repeatedly done certain things and not getting the desired results, we need to change tactics and approach, and renew our commitment. It is our collective responsibilities to engender a reform that would be realistic and in sync with modern best practices.
‘’For example, restructuring has become a national appeal as we speak, whose time has come. I will strongly advocate for devolution of powers to the extent that more responsibilities be given to the states while the Federal Government is vested with the responsibility to oversee our foreign policy, defense, and economy.
‘’Even the idea of having Federal Roads in towns and cities has become outdated and urgently needs revisiting. That means we need to tinker with our constitution to accommodate new thoughts that will strengthen our nationality.
‘’Restructuring and devolution of powers will certainly not provide all the answers to our developmental challenges; it will help to reposition our mindset as we generate new ideas and initiatives that would make our union worthwhile.
‘’The talk to have the country restructured means that Nigerians are agreed on our unity in diversity; but that we should strengthen our structures to make the union more functional based on our comparative advantages.
‘’Added to this desire is the need to commence the process of having State Police across the states of the Federation. This idea was contained in my manifesto in 2010 when I attempted to contest the presidential elections.
‘’The initial fears that state governors will misuse the officers and men of the State Police have become increasingly eliminated with renewed vigour in citizens’ participation in, and confidence to interrogate power.
‘’We cannot be detained by those fears and allow civilization to leave us behind. We must as a people with one destiny and common agenda take decisions for the sake of posterity in our shared commitment to launch our country on the path of development and growth. Policing has become so sophisticated that we cannot continue to operate our old methods and expect different results.
‘’I also want to appeal to the Nigeria media to be more circumspect in their news reportage. They should always weigh the security implications of the contents of their news and the screaming headlines that stare us in the face every day, especially at this fragile period of our political emanations. ‘’The media play an important and remarkable role in shaping the flow of discourse. Their level of influence is also not in doubt, but as the fourth estate of the realm, it has a greater responsibility to moderate public discourse in a manner that will cement inter- and intra-cultural relationships. If Nigeria works, it benefits all her citizens; if it fails, it hurts all her citizens too. The media should be patriotic in its present engagements to berth a new Nigeria of our dreams.
‘’On a final note, I really wish we see strength, determination, commitment and confidence in our diversities rather than adversities. As a heterogeneous country with flourishing skills and numerous endowments, we should dictate the pace in Africa and lead by example of what is possible amongst a people that are focused and determined to pursue common national goal.
‘’As a former Military President who had the rare privilege to travel around Africa to sustain the African cooperation through peace-keeping operations, I have come to the conclusion that nations are driven by a common ideal and not by the homogeneity of their race.
‘’I saw Somalia, such a homogeneous conclave yet one of the most troubled countries in Africa today. I saw South Sudan, which broke away from the old Sudan, but peace and stability have eluded them. Rwanda genocidal experience is not romantic either.
‘’But a President from the minority ethnic group has repositioned the country to assume its pride of place in the comity of nations. That a people share common identity, language, history, doctrine, culture, mores and values is not synonymous with development, growth, stability and peace.
‘’When we went into peace-keeping operations in Sierra Leone, Somalia, Liberia and Congo, we had in mind to sustain oneness in Africa even though we are a continent of different countries all bearing different logos and identities. Our motivation was simply that we are Africans.
I am therefore appealing to the sensibilities of all of us, young and old, leaders and followers, groups and organizations, that in the interest of peace and stability of our country, we need to sheathe the sword.
‘’ At 76, I have seen it all. I have seen war. I have fought war. And I have survived war, even though I still suffer the pains and injuries of war, it is part of the selfless sacrifice to keep the union afloat. We must build a country that is forward looking for our children and future generations of Nigerians.
‘’We cannot afford to toil with the destinies of the 170million Nigerians by the shape of our discourse and the content of our interaction. We must carry out conscious attitudinal orientation that will change the mindset of our youths and the held beliefs of the elderly.
‘’We must explore the therapies of dialogue and constructive engagements in our desire to make life more meaningful for our people. My friends cut across all regions, zones and states. I am proud to be a Nigerian because I see hope in the youthful population of Nigerians. I see remarkable skills and raw talents that can stimulate enterprise and innovations.
‘’[This is the end of the Holy Month of Ramadan, a month in which Muslim faithful have dedicated their lives to seek closeness to God, and forgiveness of their inequities.
‘’It is a month of penance; a month of prayer for physical, moral and spiritual rejuvenation, regeneration and rebirth. I urge my countrymen and women to use the occasion to look ahead with hope and renewed dedication to the service of our country.’’
Reactions trailed the development from different sections of the polity.
A Daniel has come to judgement – Ohanaeze
Commenting on General Babangida’s support for restructuring, state police and opposition to hate campaigns that could lead to civil war, President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief John Nnia Nwodo, said the former military president is in a position to know the right prescription to Nigeria’s challenges given his experience.
He said: ‘’A Daniel has come to judgement. With his experience in governance, General Babangida knows what needs to be done to save the country. I cannot agree with him less. Let’s restructure the country immediately.’’
IBB’s intervention should have come earlier – Ikokwu
To Second Republic politician and lawyer, Chief Guy Ikokwu, General Babangida’s call should have come earlier than now, however, he can rally his former military colleagues and supporters on the need to urgently restructure Nigeria.
His words: ‘’IBB’s reaction to the issue of Nigeria’s polity and state of governance is not really new. As a leader, this should have come from him much earlier. He should let his military colleagues and supporters understand that this matter is very serious, the country is at the precipice and requires just a push to tip over. He should tell his supporters and followers that restructuring using the recommendations of the 2014 National Conference is the immediate starting block for saving the country.
‘’Only a restructured economy can make Nigeria’s economy to grow at not less than 7 per cent with meritocracy and equity that will ensure that people are no longer indolent. With restructuring, each of the six geo-political zones will grow faster than any country in West Africa and Nigeria will be the shining light for Africa and the Third World.’’
The powerful minority should support restructuring—Afenifere
Describing IBB’s position as a wake up call, the pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere appealed to opponents of restructuring to throw their weight behind the agitation.
Afenifere’s National Publicity Secretary, Mr Yinka Odumakin said: “All those, who can see where this country is headed can tell where all these would end without restructuring, are making the right calls. We hope the powerful minority still opposed to restructuring can see reason.”
IBB’s intervention will help—Osuntokun
In his remarks, Mr Akin Osuntokun, political Adviser to former President Olusegun Obasanjo said IBB’s intervention was timely and would help to foster a nation-wide concensus on restructuring.
Osuntokun said: “IBB called for restructuring? Well that’s great. He always had more political empathy than his peers despite his self destructive ambiguities. My advocacy for restructuring has always been at personal cost. Given the inevitable ethno regional predicate of any Nigerian debate, personal relationships across the regional divide tend to be strained by arguments over the structural review of the status quo. IBB’s intervention will help to temper runaway sensitivities to the debate and hopefully foster Nigeria-wide consensus.”
I support true federalism but — Etiebet
Reacting to IBB’s stand on restructuring, former Minister of Petroleum, Chief Don Etiebet, said he supports restructuring but Nigeria must fight corruption to a standstill before it kills Nigeria.
He said: “Former President, Ibrahim Babangida, has come out to support what the All Progressives Congress, APC, Governors said few days ago that Nigeria needs to adopt true federalism. However, on top of the restructuring, we need to put the country on the path of law and order, government office must be treated with probity, it is very paramount”.
He said further, “Lets abide by the fact that restructuring is good and I also support true federalism, united and indivisible Nigeria, we must also take all steps to ensure we fight corruption.”
Restructuring now tool for politicking —Adeniran
Also speaking, Chairman of Centre for anti-Corruption and Open Leadership, CACOL, Mr. Debo Adeniran said: “Call for restructuring has become a tool for politicking. They now want to use it for selfish interest. Coming from someone, who has occupied the number one leadership position in the country shows that it has become popular. Even before Babangida left office we the members of NADECO called for an equitable Nigeria where everyone will be treated fairly but it was not done. “His regime had the opportunity of convening a Sovereign National Conference but he wasted the opportunity, so when people like that talk, they should not be taken seriously. If anybody is saying there should not be any call for self determination, what did the person do when he had the opportunity of making Nigeria a true nation?”
New Ideas are needed – Bernard Mikko, PDP, spokesman
Speaking in his personal capacity, Mr. Mikko said yesterday: New ideas are needed and I do agree with Gen Ibrahim Babangida, the former military president that a “conscious attitudinal orientation that will change the mindset of our youths and the held beliefs of the elderly” is needed. What I don’t understand is the call by some sections of the political class for “devolution of power” to achieve autonous authority or legitimacy.
Devolution is the granting of power by upper level of government to a lower one. It is synonymous with unitary state and in sharp contrast with federalism. Therefore, clear and unambiguous details of any contemplated reform or changes must be worked for robust debates.
In perspective, several attempts in the United Kingdom to devolve power to sub national entities have failed, particularly the three Home Rule Bills of 1886, 1893 and 1912. The U.K experience has not been able to resolve the problem of Northern Ireland, Wale and Scotland. Italy and Finland have been able to “devolve powers” to local authorities because they are basically unitary states. Any fundamental reform, change or restructuring must not be sentimental so that a profound economic and social development can be achieved.
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