Two northern groups, the Arewa Consultative Forum and the Northern Elders’ Forum, appeared to have softened their hard-line positions against the calls for the restructuring of the country.
The two bodies had consistently called for caution on such calls, arguing that such attempt might lead to the break-up of the country.
On Sunday, the NEF said the North was ready for dialogue with other regions of the country, but would not give up what it called its advantages.
On its part, the ACF gave conditions for supporting any call for the restructuring of the country.
The National Publicity Secretary of the ACF, Alhaji Muhammad Biu, who stated this in an interview with one of our correspondents in Kaduna, said the forum respected any view that would strengthen the unity of the country with equal rights and opportunities for all citizens.
The ACF and NEF said these while reacting to a statement by a former Lagos State Governor and National Leader of the All Progressives Congress, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu.
The former governor, at a lecture organised by the King’s College Old Boys’ Association in Lagos, had stated that Nigeria needed restructuring for correct balance.
He had stated, “It would be better to restructure things to attain the correct balance between our collective purpose on the one hand and our separate grass-roots realities on the other. We must listen to what is being said so that we can determine what it really meant.
“We are like the bewildered couple who has got their marriage licence after a lavish wedding; yet, neither of them really understands the meaning of marriage or their roles as husband and wife in it.
“Legally, they are married but functionally, their union is a crippled one. This couple will be at loggerheads until somehow they forge an agreement on what type of home they want and what are their respective duties in making that home come into existence.”
The NEF said the North was opened to dialogue, noting that the region, because of its political and geographical advantages, would not be stampeded into taking decisions that would be inimical to its development.
The Chairman of the NEF, Mr. Paul Unongo, stated this during an interview with The PUNCH on Sunday.
Unongo argued that the acerbic rhetoric and threat of secession in the South-East were only making matters worse as dissenting views in the North (on restructuring) were becoming more united.
He stated, “The North is very open to dialogue. I am the chairman of the northern elders and nobody can say we will not encourage dialogue. We love Nigeria but we will not be stampeded into carrying out someone’s agenda.
“The uneducated North of pre-independence times was not the same North of today. Today, we have Ph.D holders in every discipline.”
Unongo disclosed that he and other members of the United Middle Belt Congress had a meeting with the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, in 1957 where they demanded that Nigeria must be divided into several sub-regions before independence.
He said Awolowo argued that they should channel their energy into ensuring independence after which the nation would be restructured.
The NEF chairman said after independence, the Premier of the Northern Region, Sir Ahmadu Bello, rejected the idea of creating more regions in the North as doing so would reduce the influence of the North.
Unongo added, “We told Awolowo to reject independence until Nigeria was divided into more equal parts. Awo said we shouldn’t worry and that once we gained independence, this would be done. I said I knew this would not be done. Today, Awo is dead and we are independent.
“We spoke in 1957 and today is 2017, that is about 60 years ago. Because I was a small boy carrying Tarka’s bag, they didn’t listen to me. Today, we understand the advantage of being a big region. So, if today, you don’t offer them anything and you say give us your advantage so that we can have a restructured Nigeria; and with the way the Igbos are doing their own agitation, I don’t think you will get many responses from the North.
“I think we need a dialogue. I will be prepared to do that and I will remind them of what I said in 1957 and how my prediction came true.
“It will not be easy for the North to say take away our advantages and give us nothing. They (southern elements) were the ones that allowed the British to do this.
“I told Awolowo that no one would allow you to create more regions after independence.”
On its part, the ACF said it would respect Nigerians’ views on a structure of government that would strengthen the unity and peacefully coexistence of Nigerians for equitable development.
The forum stated, “ACF respects the views of Nigerians on any structure of government that will strengthen our unity and peaceful coexistence for equitable development.
“ACF reaffirms its commitment to one united, indivisible and indissoluble Nigeria with equal rights and opportunities for all.
“We also support due process within our democratic institutions in effecting any structural change for the common good of all.”
Tinubu wrong on restructuring, says Junaid
Also, a northern elder statesman and Second Republic lawmaker, Dr. Junaid Muhammed, rejected Tinubu’s call for devolution of power and a less powerful Federal Government because “Nigeria’s democracy has not yet stabilised.”
Muhammed said, “I don’t agree with that kind of restructuring. If you go through the theory of democratic countries, devolution of power becomes an issue once the system has stabilised. I am not persuaded that Nigeria’s democracy has stabilised. So, the issue of devolution does not quite complement an argument you want to canvass.”
FG must listen to the people’s voices –Afenifere
On its part, the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere, commended Tinubu for supporting the call for the restructuring of the country.
The Secretary-General of the organisation, Chief Sehinde Arogbofa, on Sunday, said it was a welcome development for Tinubu, who is a national leader of the APC, to join other Nigerians to support the calls for true federalism for Nigeria.
He stated, “Tinubu and his people were not enthusiastic about restructuring before and now that he is coming out at last to support it, I think he should be appreciated, I think he is ‘born again’. But I am not surprised that he is giving the whole thing a second thought.
“I don’t think any serious person in this country should oppose restructuring except those ones that want to play politics with it.
“Some leaders, even in the North, are supporting it; so, one is surprised when some are saying no to restructuring. Tinubu has done well for supporting the calls, it is a welcome development.”
Also, the group said the calls for the restructuring of the nation could no longer be ignored by the Federal Government.
“When we (Yoruba leaders) met in Ibadan, the South-South and South-East were with us, and the calls for restructuring were more resonant even at the APC public hearing and I think the government has to look into the demand.
“President (Muhammadu) Buhari has to listen to the voice of the people and ensure that this is done,” Afenifere National Publicity Secretary, Yinka Odumakin, stated on Sunday.
He noted that majority in the country was for restructuring, adding that he was not surprised by Tinubu’s position on the issue having being an advocate for the restructuring of the country over the years.
Odumakin recalled that the APC chieftain was part of the National Democratic Coalition which had always stood for the restructuring of Nigeria, noting that this was the basis for supporting the late Moshood Abiola during the June 12, 1993 elections.
IYC hails ex-Lagos governor
In its own reaction, the Ijaw Youth Council equally hailed Tinubu for speaking out in support of restructuring.
IYC President, Mr. Eric Omare, told The PUNCH that Nigerians had been surprised that the former Lagos State governor had been silent on the issue of restructuring.
Describing Tinubu as a frontline advocate of true federalism, Omare said, “Before now, some of us were surprised that he (Tinubu) kept quiet while the demand for structuring was gaining momentum.
“It has been our thought that before now, since the government he played a very active role in supporting is in power, he would engineer the process of restructuring.”