The pan-Yoruba socio-cultural association, Afenifere, has advised President Muhammadu Buhari to ensure Nigeria has a “brand new constitution” before the next general elections in 2023.
It said Nigeria’s current state of insecurity could lead to the disintegration of the country if urgent steps were not taken by the federal government to pull the nation back from the “precipice.”
Afenifere leader, Ayo Adebanjo, spoke on Monday at an inter-ethnic peace dialogue on the 2023 presidential transition in Abuja.
The event was organised by the Youths Off The Streets Initiative (YOTSI), in collaboration with Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Afenifere Group, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE) and Northern Elders Forum (NEF).
The event witnessed impassioned speeches from diverse ethnic groups across Nigeria.
Speaking on the theme, ‘Restructuring and 2023 power shift: Nigeria’s make or break factor for political survival,’ Mr Adebanjo advised Mr Buhari on how to achieve the task of a new constitution for Nigeria.
He said, “It is the belief of Afenifere that it will be unrealistic and unpatriotic in our present precarious disintegrating tendencies that the Buhari government should contemplate holding any election before the proposed harmonious constitution becomes operative. We believe there should be a country before an election is contemplated.
“There is no doubt whatsoever that Nigeria is presently faced with critical threats of imminent second civil war and forceful political break-up and perhaps even more. Indicators of these could be seen in part in the scale of banditry going on in the country, in the unprecedented level of kidnapping and destruction of government properties as being witnessed presently in the South-east and, of course, the strident voices for secession.
“When the foregoing and many others that we have not mentioned are put into consideration, there could not be any controversy that Nigeria is indeed on the precipice.”
How to get a new constitution
In his presentation, Mr Adebanjo noted that it was possible to reverse the trend of crises troubling the country.
He contended that the current 1999 Constitution being operated by Nigeria is a “fraud,” adding that the ongoing process of amending it by the National Assembly, whose members he described as beneficiaries of “the fraudulent constitution,” would not yield the desired result of restoring harmonious living in the country.
Mr Adebanjo cleared the air that Afenifere was not interested in the secession calls across Nigeria.
The nonagenarian said, “We are hereby proposing that ethnic nationalities and peoples of Nigeria be allowed to exercise their mandate and sovereignty on how they want to live together under mutually beneficial terms.
“Flowing from the above, something like the United Regions of Nigeria (URN) is hereby proposed. The structure can take the following form:
“But before talking about the form, let me emphasise that there should be no artificially prescribed number of regions in a manner that may foreclose the rights of the people that desire to organise themselves as a semi-autonomous regional member of the Nigerian State so long as the territory desiring such regional status can guarantee its self-sustenance and viability as an entity.”
He proposed a regional organisation that entails having the terms of the central government to be determined by the various ethnic nationalities and not by the lawmakers whom he said are randomly picked.
He added that each region would have a constitution of their own under the proposed system and there would also be a national constitution binding on all the regions.
“In this proposal, powers, mandate and authority to formulate the articles of association to form the central government of Nigeria shall in effect lie jointly and severally with the ethnic nationalities occupying their respective territories and not with lawmakers who were randomly picked.
“Nigeria shall be subsequently organised into a union or federation of voluntarily associating and cooperative regional entities like we had up till 1966. Unlike what we have presently, each region may have a constitution of its own which would spell out how it is to be governed.
“There would be a national constitution binding all the regions in the country together. In this latter constitution would be spelt out mutually agreed terms under which the peoples of the country agree to cohabit together as citizens of the same country.
“Afenifere is hereby proposing as one of the resolutions of this summit, a template that would make it possible for – indeed, encourage – every ethnic nationality to organise themselves and prepare terms that would guide their relationship with other ethnic nationalities in the country in a harmonious and mutually respecting manner. From such a collation of terms would emerge regional constitutions out of which the national constitution would be forged.”
“The constitution, be it at regional or national level, must accord unqualified respect to democratic norms and the rights of the people to actively participate in matters that have to do with their lives. The constitutions must also emphasise true federalism in such a way that no region or area would have power to lord it over another region or area.
“Among the expected contents of the envisaged constitutions are unreserved powers of the Regions over natural resources in their respective areas, agriculture, education, health, electricity, security and economy etc.
“It is hereby further proposed that each region furnish 10 per cent of what it generates to the national purse. The region retains 30 per cent; the states take 35 per cent while the local governments take 25 per cent.”
Mr Adebanjo also suggested a timeline and the modalities for getting a new constitution.
He proposed that the new constitution, going by Afenifere’s plan, should become effective from October 1, 2022.
“In order to ensure that this proposal does not go the way of various reports that have come from various panels or assemblages constituted by governments, timeline is hereby suggested in the following manner:
“Ethnic nationalities in the country will be encouraged to prepare their document on terms of engagement between now and December 2021. The documents from the nationalities in which they propose the kind of regional government they want to form be collated and considered between January and March 2022.
“The product of this process should then produce the document that will become the Constitution of the United Regions of Nigeria or Federal Republic of Nigeria. As stated earlier, the issue of true federalism must be central in every of the Constitution or Article of Engagement so produced. True Federalism that emphasises self-determination.
“A National Referendum can be conducted on the adoption of the final Constitution for the Restructured Nigeria around the middle of 2022. The said constitution can then become effective from October 01, 2022.
“A committee can be set up to work out the details of the proposal hereby suggested. We are ready to present the details as we conceive it to the said Committee if formed,” Mr Adebanjo said.
In its presentation, Awal Abdullah, said the northern part of Nigeria was ready for breakaway should other regions agree.
Mr Abdullahi, who presides over the Northern Conscientious Initiative, explained that it would, however, be better if the country stayed together owing to intermarriages that have taken place.
Earlier, a former Speaker of Nigeria’s House of Representatives, Ghali Na’Abba, said there was an absence of leadership in the country.
Na’Abba decried the spate of violence across the country, adding that the masses are bearing the brunt of the mayhem of the crises.
“The worst amongst us is being enthroned to manage our affairs,” the erstwhile Speaker said on Monday in Abuja.
In a veiled reference to President Muhammadu Buhari’s inability to halt the pervasive insecurity in Nigeria, Mr Na’Abba urged Nigerians to take power back from the political class.
The president of Ohabaeze-Ndigbo General, George Obiozor, who briefly registered his presence at the event said “self-determination does not amount to secession.”
A former governor of Anambra State, Chukwuemeka Ezeife, also spoke on behalf of the Igbo sociocultural group.
Mr Ezeife, in his remarks, adopted the position of Afenifere, adding, “We should work together to rescue Nigeria.”
While condemning the assassination of Ahmed Gulak in Owerri, Imo State, Mr Ezeife said, “Any attempt to amend the 1999 constitution is a waste of time.”
The event was attended by representatives of other ethnic nationalities like the Middle Belt Forum (MBF), Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) and the Southern and Middle Belt Forum (SMBF).
Other dignitaries included former Aviation Minister, Femi Fani-Kayode, ex-governors Olusegun Mimiko, C.O Adebayo of Ondo and Kwara States, Josephine Anenih, Kofowora Bucknor, Mazi Ohubunwa and Pat Utomi.
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