The umbrella body of northern Nigeria, Arewa Consultative Forum, has said the North has buried its initial plan to walk out of the National Conference, if the agenda of the conference does not address issues that affect the North.
A communiqué issued by the Northern Elders’ Forum after its two-day meeting in Kano on March 11, 2014, had asked delegates to the conference to stage a walkout whenever it became clear that their interest was at stake.
The northern elders had also dismissed the national conference saying, it “lacks a constitutional basis or any form of legitimacy or authority to speak for the people of the North or other Nigerians.”
They also said the proceedings, conclusions and recommendations of the confab would not be accepted by the people of the North.
After a retreat of northern delegates to the National Conference on Thursday in Abuja, the ACF however stated that the North would fully participate in the conference.
The National Publicity Secretary of the forum, Mr. Muhammadu Ibrahim, told SUNDAY PUNCH that the ‘Kano Declaration’ had become a thing of the past, saying they were only interested in the unity of Nigeria.
He said, “Forget about the ‘Kano Declaration’ that the North may stage a walkout. It is now a buried issue. We are participating fully in the conference. We are participating because we are interested in the unity of Nigeria.”
A major outcome of the retreat was the formation of an alliance between the core North (North-West and North-East) and the Middle Belt (North-Central) under an umbrella called the Northern Delegates’ Forum.
The NDF, which is co-chaired by the Chairman, ACF, Ibrahim Coomassie, and Chairman, Middle Belt Forum, Prof. Jerry Gana, would serve as a platform for the delegates from the 19 states of the North.
A communiqué released at the end of the retreat stated that the NDF, in collaboration with appointed members of the North’s think-tank, would harmonise the positions of all parts of the region.
Meanwhile, the South-South and South-West delegates to the national conference have started reaching out to delegates from other zones, to drum up support for regional autonomy.
SUNDAY PUNCH gathered in Abuja, on Friday, that the delegates had begun to convene caucus meetings to discuss the matter.
At various times, prominent Nigerians from the two zones had canvassed for regional autonomy and fiscal federalism, stressing that more powers should be devolved to the regions.
Speaking during the week, the spokesperson for the Ijaw Republican Assembly, Mrs. Annkio Briggs, who is also a delegate at the National Conference, confirmed the development to SUNDAY PUNCH.
She added that the South-South was going to align with the South-West and other groups on fiscal federalism and regional autonomy.
She said, “Our demand for self-determination is not about breaking up Nigeria. It is like regionalism, which Nigeria used to practised. It’s the military that scattered it.
“At the conference, we will agree with groups that have a similar position with us. For instance, the South-West also believes in fiscal federalism and regional autonomy. If they put that on the table, we will support them. We will also put it on the table.”
Brigss was, however, quick to add that the South-South would support any other geopolitical zone that presented any issue that would be beneficial to the Nigerian federation.
“If the Igbo put something on the table, we will support them. I hope they would also support our positions, if they agree with them,” Briggs said.
She added the search of liked-minded groups for consensus would help to rebuild Nigeria on the basis of justice, trust, equality and brotherhood.
Speaking in a similar vein, spokesperson for the Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, told SUNDAY PUNCH on Friday that the South-West, South-South, South-East and the Middle Belt shared similar views on the issue of true federalism.
Odunmakin, who is one of the South-West delegates to the conference, said these geopolitical zones would push for federalism with “a little autonomy” at the regional level. He added that the true federalism being canvassed for, would have regional autonomy and resource control as its components.
He said, “A peep into the agenda of the geopolitical zones shows that there are a lot of stakeholders who share common interests. Quite a number of zones are saying that Nigeria has to be a truly federal country, with a little regional autonomy. These zones are the South-West, South-East, South-South and the Middle Belt. We have yet to know the actual position of the North on this.
“The idea is to build a consensus around issues; that is the way to go. The challenge is how to convince others into buying our ideas.”
Also, the Secretary of the Middle Belt Forum, Mr. John Dara, confirmed that the delegates from the zone had met with other zones to set an agenda for the conference. However, he did not name the areas where the zone and others would collaborate.
Rather, he said the zone had taken decisions on the issues it considered as priorities. According to him, these issues are peace, security and sustainable development.
Dara said, “Having identified our focus, we have reached out to all the zones in southern Nigeria. People should not presume that we are in perpetual enmity with any part of the country.
“We believe that the Middle Belt, as our name implies, should be a bridge between the north and the South. We should foster unity, peace and stability. We are reaching out to all interest groups in Nigeria to make sure this conference is a success.”
As for federalism, he said, “The concept of true federalism is a misnomer. Federalism is either federalism or not federalism. Federalism is when you have federating units coming together to form a nation where they share resources and responsibilities.
“Federalism always needs adjustments or fine-tuning in terms of what will be the responsibility of the government at the centre and the responsibilities of the federating units.”
However, early indications that northern delegates are likely to oppose the lobby for fiscal federalism or autonomy for state emerged on Thursday, after a retreat organised by the Arewa Consultative Forum.
A Kano State delegate, Dr. Junaid Mohammed, said Nigeria had “federal units” and not “federating units” as proponents of fiscal federalism would want others to believe.
He said, “What is it they call fiscal federalism? Why are we talking about federating units as opposed to federal units? Federating units are quasi-independent countries that agreed to come together and devolve certain powers to a federal or central government. They would also agree to devolve certain financial control commensurate to the powers devolved to the central government.
“But every state in Nigeria today is not a federating unit, it is a federal state. It is a creation of the Federal Government. “If the Federal Government decides to withhold money generated by it, it is justified in law. The states, which make up our federal system today, are a creation of the fiat of the Federal Government.”
He explained that he and his northern colleagues were prepared to build a consensus with delegates from every part of the country on issues of common national interest. However, he said they were not prepared to “indulge anyone” whose idea was based on narrow, self-serving interests.
The Secretary-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Dr. Joe Nwaorgu, who is also a delegate to the conference said the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation had decided that no Igbo group would canvass for the dismemberment of the Nigerian state no matter how stormy sessions become during the conference.
He said, “There is no cause for alarm. Ohanaeze Ndigbo, just like other Igbo groups, believes in the unity of Nigeria, where there is equity and justice for all. We would do the best to ensure that this is actualised at the conference. Any deviant is not a patriotic Nigerian.”