By Dennis Agbo
Last Thursday’s meeting held in Enugu was intended to strengthen the relationship between the Igbo and the Yoruba ethnic groups and geared towards achieving a balanced federation. But the meeting went beyond that expectation as minority ethnic groups from the South-South and the Middle Belt joined the parley.
The meeting, tagged, ‘Handshake across the Niger’, was not the first of its kind but the question arising is whether it will help the clamour for a restructured Nigeria where all stakeholders in the country would have a fair deal.
It also became a platform for the demand for action against the rampaging herdsmen, particularly in the wake of the new year day killings in Benue.
Nzuko Umunna, an Igbo group that organized the summit, said the significance of the coming together was to open a new door that would accelerate nation – building and create the synergy to make the country better.
The speakers from the four geopolitical zones that attended the meeting were concerned about the issues of insecurity believed to have been engineered by herdsmen across the country and the demand for restructuring.
They accused the federal government of either completely ignoring or paying lip service to the issues. The speakers believed the handshake should not only be across the Niger but also across Benue/Plateau and the Niger Delta.
One of the organizers of the event, Dr. Law Mefor, said that moving forward, the handshake summit would move to Port Harcourt and Jos with a view to aggregating opinions on how to carry out the political reform which, he noted, ends at constitutional changes.
Mefor said the National Assembly was crucial in the process and that ethnic organizations, Afenifere, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Middle Belt Forum and the Pan-Niger Delta Forum, were the ones driving the process.
He agreed that it was possible the convocation could lead to political interest pressure, particularly as 2019 elections approach but maintained that the underlying agenda was to make President Muhammadu Buhari see the dire need for restructuring.
Afenifere chieftain and leader of the Yoruba nation to the meeting, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, said the meeting was a catalyst for the unity of Nigeria which, according to him, the ‘enemies of Nigeria’ did not want to take place.
He noted that it was not a gang-up meeting or a forum for the formation of a political party but a meeting against the common oppressors of progressive Nigerians.
Adebanjo said: “It’s only restructuring that can guarantee your rights in Nigeria. Cheating, injustice and even corruption can only be wiped out through restructuring. President Buhari will not do that, instead he has ensured that all military and paramilitary institutions are under his control and he has refused to name herdsmen as terrorists yet he pounced on IPOB that seeks for justice.”
Adebanjo said the issue of inequality was a major problem for the country, arguing that until all the people of the country were made equal stakeholders, the agitation for restructuring will not abate.
He recalled that early statesmen, such as Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Ahmadu Bello, realized the need for a balanced federation and operated true federalism. He there wondered how President Buhari could claim to be more northern than the Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello.
President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo, said herdsmen were threatening Nigeria’s unity, adding that it was unfortunate that the federal government had refused to declare them as a terrorist group.
Nwodo observed that it was important that the upcoming generation was carried along in what was going on the country, noting that it was the reason he made sure that secondary and university students were brought to the event.
He expressed disappointment on the way security agencies were paying lame attention to the escalating insecurity situation in the country and implored people from other nationalities to invest in the South-East like the Igbo invest in every other part of the country.
He stated that the quest for restructuring was no more negotiable and irrevocable and asked the federal government to yield to the popular demand of the people of Nigeria.
The Middle Belt Forum made two presentations which exposed the “hypocrisy of the Hausa/Fulani domination and its arbitrary leadership on the rest of Nigerians” that they noted was in majority.
Newly elected chairman of the forum, Chief Timothy Gwambe, said research showed the Hausa/Fulani dominating the North-West and the North East were about 33 million going by the 2006 population census, whereas the four geopolitical zones of the entire South and the Middle Belt control over 99 million people.
Gwambe, from Southern Kaduna, therefore, wondered how the minority will be using force and apparatus to lord it on the significant majority with all their attendant education, industry and dynamism.
A former governor of Plateau State, Jona Jang, saw the handshake across the Niger as the rebirth of the country, expressing discontent on the style of leadership of those he accused of not pursuing the unity of Nigeria.
“We must ensure that true federalism which our fathers handed down to us prevails,” Jang said while regretting that the military, which he was part of, foisted the 1999 Constitution on Nigerians.
Representatives from the South-South also made presentations, speaking in the same manner as their counterparts from the other zones but it was the speech by the former Minister for Aviation, Femi-Fani Kayode, that reverberated at the summit.
Fani-Kayode’s speech attracted the solidarity of pro-Biafra women who, at extreme case, said it was not restructuring that they wanted but outright concession of an independent country.
The pro-Biafra women, who almost disrupted the event, said they were annoyed that nobody was addressing the killings of their sons last year by the army when soldiers swooped on the South-East under the guise of Operation Python Dance II.
It took the effort of the chairman of the local organizing committee and chairman of Capital Oil and Gas, Dr. Ifeanyi Ubah, to calm the Biafra agitators and returned peace to the summit.
Fani-Kayode wanted the Miyetti Allah group, the umbrella association for herdsmen in the country, declared as a terrorist organization and went ahead to accuse President Buhari’s government of an agenda to cripple Igbo businessmen.
He said it was a period of reckoning as the people have come together to say no to being slaves to a handful few in Nigeria. “I call for the proscription and banning of Miyetti Allah and herdsmen”, the former minister added.
The immediate past governor of Ondo State, Dr Olusegun Mimiko, said it was the ‘handshake’ initiative that could lead to the advancement of Nigeria, noting that every genocide in history emanated from evil perception of racial/ethnic superiority/insecurity, whereas the greatest nation of modern times was built on an idea of equality.
Mimiko stated that Nigerians in their quest for rapid development must eschew ethnic prejudices and build politics around positive ideas.
He said, ‘We now live in a world where machines are being built to think, a world in which Artificial Intelligence threatens our fundamental assumptions of employment. We can therefore not afford to be cocooned in the prejudices of the past, some of which are based on the perceptive errors and indiscretions of some of our leaders living or dead.”