The Background/Introduction

On behalf of the coalition of willing organizations convoking this national conversation for national unity and equity, namely: Igbo Leadership Development Foundation, Gregory University Uturu, World Igbo Summit Group, Centre for Intl Advanced and Professional Studies Lagos and New Generation Leadership Foundation, I welcome you all.

This national dialogue is deemed our modest contribution to peace building and in helping to resolve the many challenges of national unity and national development besetting and unsettling the polity today.

Between January 3rd and 4th, 2020, World Igbo Summit Group assembled South East leaders in Gregory University Uturu to review contemporary affairs in our nation and moving forward. The fate of Ndigbo in one united and restructured Nigeria was affirmed. It was also resolved that there was a great need to reach out to the other zones in the country to fashion out ways to salvage the nation and put her back on the path of true unity reconciliation and development – as a nation that works for all citizens regardless of creed, ethnicity or political persuasion.

It is that resolution that reinforced the need for the formation of this coalition for national unity and for the calling of this national conversation by the ILDF and its allies. Let it also be known that this event is not going to be a one-off. The national conversation is planned by this coalition to last for at least 2 years, until a renewed national understanding and common grounds for peace and unity are firmly established in our country.

Our coalition sees Nigeria as a great work in progress, with so much already attained and much more yet to be attended to. We also believe that nations are not natural but conscious creations of men on purpose as Nigeria was created by the colonial government some hundred years ago.

You are aware that the journey of Nigeria to nationhood began in earnest in 1914, following the amalgamation of North and South Protectorates by Lord Fredrick Lugard on behalf Her Majesty the Queen of England.

There were only 28 persons involved in the so-called “amalgamation” of January, 1914. While 6 persons were Nigerians, the rest were British including Frederick Lord Lugard himself, Lewis Harcourt (the secretary of state for the colonies whose name Port-Harcourt city took after leaving the original “Igweocha/Obumotu”) and other European officers in charge of the two Protectorates. The following were the ONLY “Nigerians” officially involved in the amalgamation signage:

• A lawyer, Sir Kitoyi Ajasa (representing the African community in Lagos as a Legislative Council member of the Colony since 1902). Lagos was mainly for the British. Then the rest were summed up as “African community” which included the returnee slaves of Sierra-Leone, Nigerians themselves, Ghanaians, etc.

• His Highness, Oladugbolu (Alaafin of Oyo)

• Hon. R Henshaw (Obong of Calabar)

• Hon. Maiturare (Sarkin Mussulumi and Sultan of Sokoto)

• Hon. Abubakar (Shehu of Borno)

• Hon. Usuman (Emir of Kano) also signed the amalgamation treaty.

Instructively, no person from South East Nigeria appended his or her signature on the treaty for some reasons.

Historically verifiable also is the fact that North and South Nigeria continued to be administered as separate entities despite the said amalgamation, until the coming of Sir Arthur Richard as Governor General of Nigeria and his Constitution in 1945/46. It was Sir Arthur Richards Constitution that brought North and South Nigeria under one government for the very first time.

Before the coming of Sir Arthur Richard who brought the leaders from North and South Nigeria together to the same table for the first time, the Governor General ruled the North by Proclamation while governing the South Nigeria through the Legislative and Executive Councils. It was more than 30 years after the amalgamation when Britain seemed to have made up its mind to retain Nigeria as one country.

Dear compatriots,

Permit me to further note: between 1946 and 1960 when Nigeria finally got her flag independence was only an intervening 14 years within which the North and South Nigeria leaders had at their disposal to understand themselves and form a nation. Fourteen years timeframe, in my estimation, was rather too short to work out a meshing process for the over 250 ethnic nationalities that make up Nigeria and over 370 spoken languages and dialects.

Nigeria was even so weaned without resolving many fundamental issues and contradictions such as the fear of the minorities that they would be swamped and subjugated by the three major ethnic groups in Nigeria, namely Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba.

3. Nigeria as a Federal Environment

However, there was one issue on which they reached consensus and understanding: Our founding fathers and British colonial government agreed that since Nigeria is a federal environment, it would best be administered as a federation. Thus the Constitutional Conferences of 1953 and 1954 paved the way for a truly federal Nigeria and cemented the union as a federal entity in the 1960 Independence Constitution.

There is also abundant evidence that Nigeria thrived greatly under a federal system. Compared to growth and development of Nigeria and her Regions in the First Republic when federalism was practiced in Nigeria, the nation has actually stagnated (some say retrogressed) under the current unitary arrangement. Then, when federalism was given its primacy of place, the economy of the Eastern Region under Sir Michael Iheonukara Okpara as Premier, was adjudged the fastest-growing in Africa by the World Bank. While the Western Region under Chief Obafemi Awolowo as Premier was comparatively growing as fast and the Region was able to establish a TV station before some countries in Europe; and the Northern Region under Sir Ahmadu Bello as Premier, led the world of agriculture.

Since the Nigeria Biafra civil war, successive military regimes have corroded and eroded federalism and replaced it with a system that is more unitary than federal in outlook and essence. In every federation, power is shared between the Federal government and federating states. But in the unitary 1999 Constitution, just like the others before it since the civil war, the Federal Government is given powers in about 66 areas while the States are given mere concurrent powers in about 16 areas. What concurrence here means is the Federal Government equally having the powers to legislate in the areas allowed the States while retaining the top-heavy powers to legislate exclusively in the over sixty areas as well as the power to override the States.

That is what makes today’s Nigeria a unitary system and federal only in name. What we have today is a clear departure from the federal system bequeathed us by our founding fathers and colonial Britain.

Fact is: most of the powers that will engender real growth and development are tied in the exclusive list. Solid minerals, Electricity, Railways, Ports, Security etc. are all tied to the federal exclusive list to be executed only by the federal Government, which has not been able to live up to the expectations of Nigerians. In summary, Restructuring consequentially is: returning to the States the powers taken away by the military from Regions.

This coalition also calls for Federation Equalization Fund, a body to be saddled with developing 6 Economic Hubs for the 6 geopolitical zones based on the Ricardo’s principle of comparative advantage and prepare the zones for fair competitions and cooperation as obtained before and after independence.

Chief Dr. Olusegun Obasanjo, GCFR, former head of State and former President of Nigeria days ago reechoed the urgency of Restructuring when he said: “When I was elected President the agitation was true federalism but now it is restructuring. If we don’t address it they may go from restructuring to self-determination and this will be a serious problem. If Boko Haram can get external support, any group that decided to go will get support from within and outside. So we must address the issue now.”

Like General David Jemibewon also said and I again quote: “The fact remains that we are not making progress in Nigeria and if we are to make meaningful progress, we need to do certain things differently from the ways we do them.”

Dear elder brothers and sisters,

Let me illustrate a greater Nigeria under true federalism using non-oil natural deposits and endowments. Cassava which grows in every state in Nigeria has the potential of yielding more revenue than oil if produced and exported at industrial level.

The other is solid minerals. Nigeria is endowed with dozens of solid minerals identified in 450 locations in the country, covering all the States and most local governments in Nigeria and they exist in very large commercial quantities, each capable of driving the nation’s economy just like crude oil has. What is even more fantastic is that the solid minerals deposits are evenly distributed in the country.

For the avoidance of doubt, a mineral is a naturally occurring substance that is solid and inorganic, representable by a chemical formula, usually abiogenic and has an ordered atomic structure. The Nigerian Extractive Industry and Transparency Initiative, NEITI report states that there are over 30 different kinds of solid minerals and precious metals (Sapphire, Aquamarine, Topaz etc.) buried in Nigerian soil waiting to be exploited.

A well mined and well processed solid mineral and gemstones attracts more money than a roughly or badly mined/processed one and the processing of these in Nigeria will provide much employment for our stranded youths in the value additions chains.

May I draw our attention to two giant economies that do not rely essentially on oil to top the range: Lagos is the 6th largest economy in Africa and it is not based on oil.

The economy of California is the largest in the United States, boasting a $3.137 trillion gross state product as of 2019. If California were a sovereign nation (2020), it would rank as the world’s fifth largest economy, ahead of the India and behind Germany. State of California in the USA is the 5th largest economy in the world and it is driven essentially by agriculture and knowledge.

Agriculture is one of the prominent elements of the state’s economy: California leads the nation in the production of fruits, vegetables, wines and nuts. The state’s most valuable crops are cannabis(for medical use), nuts, grapes, cotton, flowers, and oranges. California produces the major share of U.S. domestic wine. Google, Hollywood, Micro soft, Apple and many others are all native to California.

The point I am driving at is that the strength of Nigeria is not in crude oil. It is in agriculture and human resource. Nigeria has the potential to lead Africa to the world stage through agriculture. Africa is seen by the rest of the world as the last frontier of human evolution and development and Nigeria has a huge role to play in making this happen.

In Northern Nigeria alone, the nation has up to 167 dams that can be fully deployed to make the North an agro hub of West Africa. Nigeria relies on imports for her fish and other protein supplies where as these dams could produce all the foo the nation needs and make foreign exchange from exports.

Our teeming youths have not found agriculture interesting and attractive. Question is: how do we make agriculture attractive to the youths? One key step is the return of produce boards to buy off farm products from the farmers as was the case in colonial time and even after.

I am aware that the NNDP has been working hard to stem rural urban migration. But a lot more work needs to be done to encourage the youths to make a living in the rural dwellings through creation of conducive environment with amenities pushing them to the urban centres.

Solving such problems will start with resolving the nation’s power supple logjam. Can’t the nation fare better by making the National grid optional by simply moving the electricity to the concurrent list?

Nigeria is not doing well is most aspects of national life to the point that the nation now relies on small countries like Rwanda for training in ICT whereas it should be the other way round.

4. Federal Character as a Containment and Unity Principle

Nigeria adopted the federal system of government after independence in 1960 to assuage the feelings of the over 200 ethnic minorities. To provide further a sense of belonging the ‘Federal Character Principle’ was inserted into the 1979 Constitution.

Hence, the 1979 Constitution states “the composition of the government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from few states or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that government or any of its agencies” (Section 14 (3) of the 1999 Constitution).

Without federal character principle, alienation in Nigeria would have been intolerable due to our winner-takes-all mentality. However, Federal Character Principle has been largely observed in breach. For many years the Federal Character Commission has operated without a Board. With the Board inaugurated days ago, we hope the Commission will restore the lost glory of the principle which once gave every section of Nigeria hope and feeling of being carried along.

Of late, very worrisome separatist agitations have been going on up north and down south of the country, al due to the feeling of exclusionism. The elders here gathered and elsewhere need to distill the voices of discontent and fashion ways of turning them into a positive and unifying energy towards building an indissoluble and indivisible nation of our dreams.

As patriots, we do not have to wish away these centripetal forces. We do not only have to listen to them but also act.

Listening is good but acting is better.

The nation now needs the Wisdom of Solomon and I believe that you the elders can offer it. If the nation cannot afford a fresh commission to tackle grievances, let us expand the scope of the national Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution and empower it to be alive to its responsibilities. The body must shun politics, ethnicity and religion while carrying out the onerous national assignment and must give every part of the country a sense of belonging.

Like Martin Luther King Jr once said, “Injustice to one is injustice to all”. American society which we claim to copy has evolved using social justice and equity to the point of electing a black man in the person of Barack Obama, a descendant of former slaves, President of a white dominated country and the US is the better for it.

In the same vein, the coming to power by Nelson Mandela in South Africa after 27 years of incarceration for fighting apartheid is a lesson to Nigerian leaders who are still reluctant of letting the civil war experience go.

In the same vein, those who oppose Nigeria President of Igbo or minority extraction, should see the beauty and win-win workability of all inclusive existence.

5. Rotation of Presidential Power

From the 2014 Nigeria National Conference recommended amendment of the constitution of the federal Republic of Nigeria to provide for; The principle of zoning and rotation of elective offices at the Federal and state levels on the basis of excellence, equity, gender, justice and fairness.

The office of the President to rotate between the North and South and amongst the six(6) geopolitical zones. The Confab went further to recommend the adoption of the Nigerian charter for National Reconciliation and integration, saying it should be the basis of our union as a Nation and guarantee of the National existence.

So much can be revealed by dispassionate examination of contemporary arguments and counter-arguments about zoning and power rotation, and the overall implications of these principles for the consolidation of democracy in Nigeria. Because geopolitical zone structures roughly approximate to ethno-national groups, they play a central aggregating role in Nigeria’s body politic. However, arguments about zoning and power rotation tend to undermine the geopolitical system and bolster the nation’s North/South division.

The Nigerian presidential elections are often driven by logics of ethnicity, geopolitical zones, and geographic dichotomization which are often employed as justifications for claiming the presidency. Post-election riots and Nigeria’s general lack of security are rooted in, and dictated by, the logic of this struggle for power. Delimiting the country in terms of North and South rather than geopolitical zones, depersonalizes and undermines ethno-national identities, which are important building blocks for the Nigerian Federation. It may also result in the creation of structural flaws that will drive and sustain political tension within the polity and pose a serious challenge to the consolidation of Nigeria’s democratization.

All things considered, the benefits of zoning far outstrip leaving it to a free-for-all in our heavily monetized, ethicized and religion-driven electoral process. It is therefore the hope of the conveners that the national conversation would engender national unity, social amity in the polity by adopting ways and means of achieving equity of which rotation is key, given our peculiar circumstance.

In order words, the clearest pathway to the nation’s unity is equity achievable through fair implementation of federal character and by extending it to the office of the President of the country through rotation.

The Governor of Kaduna State, His Excellency Mallam Nasir El Rufai just said and I quote: “The Northern APC will have to sit down and endorse someone, most likely someone from the South, because after eight years of Buhari, I don’t think the Presidency should remain in the north unless there is some extenuating circumstances. But all things being equal, we will honour our agreement and we keep our words.’’ That is the patriot’s spirit of equity and farness.

Speaking at the Silver Jubilee celebration of the Sarkin Fulani of Lagos, HRH Alhaji (Dr.) Mohammed Abubakar Bamado II recently, the president of the Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, Yerima Shettima also stated that though the northerners are being marginalized, and therefore, deserve to continue as the number one citizen of the country in 2023, he outlined what Igbos need to do to win presidency seat . this was equally reechoed by Alhaji Isa Funtua who advised the Igbos to play politics of inclusion.

Generals Yakubu Gowon and IB Babangida have also in the recent past lent their support for the emergence of Nigeria President of Igbo extraction.

Speaking to the BBC recently His Excellency Dr. Gowon said and I quote again: “If doing so (making the Igbo President of Nigeria) will bring peace, it should be done…There was a time the PDP started rotational presidency, if that was continued maybe the Igbo would have produced a President but that didn’t happen. If that can be done now, I don’t have a problem with it…”

6. Reconciliation, Healing and Nigeria President of Igbo Extraction

Former Minster of Water Resources Alhaji Muktar Shagari summarized he need for reconciliation in a recent tweet and I quote: “Our unity is our strength, let us stay together in peace and love for each other, irrespective of tribe, religion or political persuasion. We can surely resolve our problems by talking to each other not by punching one another.”

This National Dialogue should equally not shy away from addressing the issue of reconciliation in order to ramp up national unity. When the Nigeria Biafra civil war ended in January 1970, the then Head of State and chairman of this occasion, His Excellency General Dr. Yakubu Gowon, GCFR declared ‘No victor no vanquished’ and instituted the famous 3 Rs – Reconciliation, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen,

Nigerian President of Igbo extraction should not be debatable if a genuine reconciliation has actually taken place in our country since the civil war ended. Permit me therefore to observe that the most important R namely Reintegration, was inadvertently left out and its omission consequentially hampered the actualization of Reconciliation. Like Mahatma Gandhi once noted, no one shakes hand with a clinched fist.

This national coalition of the willing believes that there is one symbolic gesture, which will enact national unity and that is genuine reconciliation. To us, though the shooting battles of the Nigeria-Biafra civil war may have ended 50 years ago, the war is still going on in some other forms with both sides still unhappy with each other. Yes, you can win the battle and still lose the war.

Let me assure us that Nigeria President is safest with the Igbo man and therefore a win-win for all Nigerians, given the fact that the Igbos are in every nook and cranny of Nigeria, developing the places where they live and pursue their happiness. It is not therefore possible for the Igbo to offer a divisive presidency since he is bound to protect all parts even for the sake of his investments.

Yet, the reality is that parts of the country appear scared of the Igbo man. He is isolated and excluded from the scheme of things, to the point that today’s Security Council has no Igbo man or woman in it, given the impression that the war is not over and that they are not wanted in Nigeria. This is fueling the agitation for Biafra.

The Obasanjo government, recognizing this lingering palpable tension and the negative energy it constituted against national harmony, unity, and development, instituted the Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission of Nigeria. Also known as the Oputa Panel, the commission was created by President Olusegun Obasanjo, (as he then was), in 1999. Its mandate was to investigate human rights violations during the period of military rule from 1984 to 1999. In terms of reconciliation, the commission also worked towards unifying communities previously in conflict. Surprisingly, it did not work on Nigeria-Biafra civil war as a main target, which made it an aberration.

Unsurprisingly, the Oputa Panel ended, achieving very little or nothing with the many principal actors staying away. Those who attended only rehashed the sad memories, and reopened the healing wounds.

Compared to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission set up by Nelson Mandela when he became President of South Africa after his 27 years’ incarceration, the Oputa Panel really pails into insignificance. The Nigerian nation has grieved for 50 years on over an avoidable war and made a ruse of the ‘No victor no vanquished’ verdict proclaimed by Yakubu Gowon at the end of the civil war.

This National Conversation should seize this moment to enact a genuine reconciliation to heal the land. Since the 6 zones of Nigeria are here fully represented here, let them say “sorry” to each other and put the civil war behind and move forward. Like Nnamdi Azikiwe also said: let us bind the nation’s wounds, quicken the healing and unite our people.

Let us stop pretending as if all is well with our country. The North and the old South East (the erstwhile Biafrans) must genuinely forgive each other in order to put the civil war truly behind. The core North have not forgiven the Igbo man for the first military coup in which some of its leaders were killed. The unfortunate and highly condemnable act has been erroneously tagged an Igbo coup which it was not. For there is no history record anywhere that Igbo leaders sat down to hatch or inspire a military coup d’état. It was purely a military misadventure for which Ndigbo have suffered (and continue to suffer) gravely and unjustly.

Ndigbo on the other hand have not forgiven the North for the attendant pogroms and the civil war, which claimed millions.

Do not also forget, the two military officers who foiled that same coup were Igbos namely, Colonel Emeka Ojukwu and Major General JTU Ironsi. Besides, Igbos enjoyed commanding heights in nation’s government, economy and military then.

Both sides must forgive and let go of the past so that they and the nation can move forward. Igbos would say one holding another on the ground is holding himself as well(onye ji onye na ani ji onwe ya). The only advantage the holder may enjoy is being on top of the victim. But he or she too cannot move an inch unless he or she lets go the other on the floor with him. That is the case of Nigeria since the end of the civil war, a sad narrative that needs to end for the nation to move forward. It is the only way to recover the nation and put her back on track.

We are all Christians and Muslims and we all know the place of forgiveness in the affairs of men. Like Dora Akunyili said (may her soul rest in peace), we are: good people, great nation.

Finally, we recall that President Muhammadu Buhari, when he was military Head of State said in 1984, we have no other country to call our own. Let us stay back here and salvage it together. That is what this coalition has set out to achieve and the main essence of this national conversation.

Since history is delivered in moments, today is one of such moments in the annals of our nation’s history. Let no ethnic group or zone win today. Let Nigeria be the winner. Let it be said ever after that, a group of patriotic and concerned Nigerians gathered in Abuja and resolved to move Nigeria forward.

Let the communiqué to be produced at the end this one day national dialogue be referenced long after as a turning point; as the Abuja declaration on National Unity and equity.

May I on behalf of the coalition that has called this National Conversation for national unity, thank you elders and patriots for gracing this historic event with your presence.

May the Almighty guide us to the truth, true brotherhood and genuine reconciliation.

May the Almighty bless our labour of love and determination to stand in the gap for our great country Nigeria and our people.

Long live the federal Republic of Nigeria.

Thank you for your kind attention.

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