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Southern Nigeria Peoples Assembly And National Unity
As leaders of thought from the three zones in the Southern part of the country step up efforts to build bridges across the Niger, KUNLE ODEREMI situates the underlining general currents.
Dateline was Thursday, 23, August, 2012. The venue was the residence of the Awolowo dynasty in Ikenne-Remo, Ogun State. And the event was yet another historic gathering by Yoruba leaders in the quest to reinvigorate unity among the Yoruba nation. Expectedly, the turnout was impressive, with the dignitaries comprising men of integrity, high calibre and pedigree. They included astute politicians, seasoned administrators, academics, clerics and first class traditional rulers.
One remarkable thing about all of them as they moved into the Efunyela Hall was the undisguised countenance that they were in Ikenne for serious business and had their minds on history and posterity. Thus, it was no surprise that speaker after speaker asserted that the time had come for the three zones in the South to create a common platform in the light of certain stark realities relating to the Nigerian federation. But they were unanimous on the imperative of the Yoruba nation reaffirming its unity as a precursor to the proposed Southern Nigeria Peoples Assembly (SNPA).
Another discernible and significant feature of the gathering was the issue of integrity, which the leaders declared was vital to galvanizing the people in the redemption mission by the South. The argument was that the credibility of the leaders behind the latest initiative cannot be compromised because of the fundamental issues inherent in the National Question now as the build-up to amending the amended 1999 Constitution gathers steam. There was also the opinion that the synergy that could propel the regional integration should be preceded by each of the zones forging unity, so that they can fully use their individual comparative advantages to strengthen the South.
It is not the first time Southern leaders have tried to form a common formidable front to promote the cause of the region and nourish Nigeria as a federation. For instance, in the last 12 years or thereabout, some eminent citizens and individuals made frantic moves to cement cracks among the diverse ethnic groups that make up the South. The general expectation in 1999 was that with the exit of the military from power, the era of divide and rule tactics was gone and the South could, indeed, commence genuine efforts at building bridges across the Niger and later extend the new spirit of accommodation and unity to other groups of stakeholders in the North.
Governors from the three zones in the South had enlivened such hope when they momentarily rose above political affiliations and evolved the Southern Governors Forum, with its maiden meeting held in Lagos State. Many had thought the opportunity the South had craved for had actually arrived, given the initial seriousness coupled with the publicity blitz that accompanied the activities of the governors. Throughout their meetings which also took place in Benin City, Edo State and Owerri, Imo State, the agenda of the governors and by extension, the South, comprised resource control, fiscal federalism, true federalism, and other vexatious issues that appear a clog in the wheel of national unity, political stability and economic progress. The gains of that pragmatic effort by the governors was soon consumed by the intrigues that preceded the 2003 elections.
With the Ikenne meeting, the stage appears set for the much-touted Southern forum. The parley came at the time the country is on the teeter owing to general insecurity, coupled with raging public disquiet over certain salient issues bordering on constitution amendment. Within the space of months, the leaders have met and taken a number of fundamental decisions central to striking relevant compromises and agreements on the way to achieving a more cohesive and progressive federation. The leaders, who met recently in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital, where they came up with a draft constitution on the proposed SNPA, have scheduled another meeting for Owerri in October to possibly ratify the document after it would have been properly scrutinized and subjected to rigorous debates by the leaders at their various zones.
To demonstrate its commitment to the new dawn, the Yoruba Unity Forum (YUF) has drafted its own constitution which seeks to deepen unity among the Yoruba in Nigeria and the Diaspora. The document also seeks to mobilise the Yoruba for their real integration into the Nigerian project by deepening its (the race’s) collaboration with other stakeholders in the Nigerian project. The draft constitution is currently in circulation among the people for vetting and contributions from the Yoruba spread across the nine states, including Kwara and Kogi, as well as in the Diaspora, as the leaders are expected to meet again a week before the planned meeting of all the Southern leaders in Owerri.
Nonetheless, some stakeholders in the South have raised a few posers concerning the current progressive move by the leaders to create a common platform from which they can always speak with one voice and pursue a common agenda within the context of the Nigerian federation. One of the issues is the readiness of the leaders and, indeed, the three zones in the South for flexibility and compromise in the new course. This is against the background of the inability of past leaders in the South to adopt the principle of give and take. The consequence was that those initial initiatives at creating the common platform crumbled even before they crystalised.
The other factor borders on trust, which is critical in political engineering and social contract. According to some observers, the schism among the political and business elite from the zones constituted a wedge in the past and the success of the current experiment will depend on how far such negative tendency is played down, if not completely eliminated this time round. Under the new order, the pedigree, calibre and credibility of the forces behind the initiative cannot be overemphasised. The question of their moral standing before the Nigerian people and their integrity among the political class and other strata in the larger society is critical for achieving trust, confidence and understanding at the national level.
The initiative of the Southern leaders underscores the poignant comment of a former Chief Justice of the Federation, Justice Alfa Belgore, about the Nigerian nation. He said, “The greatness of Nigeria is unique. It is only a very few countries that have what we have. This is one of the greatest countries in the world.” It also corroborates the position of a former chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Maurice Iwu, on unity among the people. “We have to work together to sustain this democracy. We have to join others to stop anything that threatens our democracy,” he asserted.