The two major achievements of Chief Nnia Nwodo as the Ohanaeze President General, the apex pan Igbo organization, were leading Ndigbo through the 2018 Awka Declaration and co-founding the South and Middle Belt Forum. The Awka Declaration was the epic presentation of a position document on May 2018, encapsulating the position and demands of Ndigbo to remain a happy and integral part of the Nigerian federation.
The Awka Declaration was the product of years of brainstorming exercises by leaders of all the arms of the apex Igbo socio–cultural organization, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, which articulated the stand of Ndigbo in the restructured Nigeria project. Afenifere, the Niger Delta, the Middle Belt, and some others witnessed the presentation.
The Awka Declaration was teased out of the submissions of the Igbo Leaders of Thought for the 2014 National Conference; Igbo positions for the 1994 Constitutional Conference and 2005 and 2014 national conferences as well as the report of the committee set up by South East Governors on the review of the 1999 Constitution; the report of the World Igbo Summit by the Igbo Renaissance Centre, Uturu, Abia State; and various other submissions.
Apart from collating the reports from various groups, the Ohanaeze Planning and Strategy Committee and the organizing committee for the Awka Igbo Summit on restructuring also embarked on town hall-style consultative meetings in Abuja, Lagos, and Enugu where inputs from major segments of Igbo society were gathered. Memoranda and inputs were also received from over 40 pan-Igbo groups, nongovernmental organizations, NGOs, and individuals, after which the draft was presented and debated at the National Executive Committee and the Imeobi of Ohanaeze Ndigbo.
In the Awka Declaration, Ndigbo demanded a restructured Nigeria via a constitutional conference, backed by a law enacted by the National Assembly, where the people of Nigeria would agree on a new, truly federal Constitution. The Awka Declaration also called for the Constituent Assembly to be constituted to agree on a new Constitution for a new Nigeria, to be approved by the people through a referendum to give it legitimacy and validity.
The Declaration also called for the tenure of the office of the President to be a single term of six years and the office of the President should also rotate among the six geo-political zones of Nigeria. Ndigbo at Awka called for six regional governments to be enshrined in the constitution as the basis for sharing national political, economic, and social amenities, offices, and opportunities in an equitable manner among the zones.
Ndigbo demanded that Nigeria give effect to the recommendation of the 2014 National Conference, which states that “In the spirit of reconciliation, equity, fair play, and justice, there shall be created an additional state for the South East zone; and all other requests for state creation shall be considered on merit. One additional state in the South East should be the minimum. But if states remain the basis for sharing resources and opportunities in Nigeria, we demand an equal number of states per geopolitical zone or region. Local Governments should be scrapped from the Constitution of the Federation and should be in the exclusive list of the Regional/State Constitutions.”
The Awka Declaration also read in part: “Ndigbo demand that equality of the six geopolitical zones should be enshrined in the Constitution. Politically, representation at the federal cabinet as well as the twin chambers of the federal legislature should be based on the equality of zones or regions. Furthermore, sharing of revenues, distribution of infrastructure by the Federal Government, and federal character principle will be applied based on equality of zones…”
The Declaration called for a two or three-tier police structure with defined responsibilities and a truly federal system that gives control of resources to the component units and replaces the current system. The Declaration noted that Fiscal federalism presupposes the revocation of the Land Use Act of 1978, the Solid Minerals Act, as well as the various Petroleum/Gas Acts and amendments since 1969. Ndigbo want the right of ownership, control, and exploitation of these and other assets to be returned to the states and/ or federating units.
Those opposed to restructuring could not be wiser than their founding fathers namely, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and departing colonial Britain that declared that federalism is the best arrangement for Nigeria to make progress and achieve unity.
In the words of Professor Soludo who read out the Awka Declaration: “The Nigerian project is at a crossroads. It does not command universal acceptance at home and it is much diminished abroad. For some sections of the population, the promise of Nigeria: peace and unity, faith and progress is becoming broken dreams….The present 1999 Constitution foisted by the military regime (falsely dubbed a federal constitution) unhinged all the structures of true federalism and bequeathed a de facto unitary system with a concentration of powers and resources at the centre. With the choking unitary system, Nigeria has remained relatively unstable, oscillating unpredictably between the flickers of hope and despair. Most Nigerians agree that this system cannot survive and endure for much longer.”
In summary, this is what Ndigbo want out of Nigeria. Among the three leading candidates, only Atiku Abubakar has made restructuring an issue. He is so inclined to a restructured Nigeria that he wrote a book on it in 2004. From his book, Atiku is aware that the unity of the country remains at risk if the nation does not restructure. He is aware that this is the call of history that must be answered so that history will be kind to him.
Besides, the inconvenient truth is that a northern president is better positioned to restructure the country for the reason of necessary buy-in of the north, the region with commanding numbers in the national assembly and state houses of assembly. What this means is that the desire of a president to restructure the country is one thing, being in a position to negotiate it with the north is another thing altogether. The President must have the support of 2/3rd of National and 24 states of the federation.
Ndigbo should remember the Awka Declaration which they proclaimed in May 2018 and also bear in mind that Atiku Abubakar is in the best position to restructure the country and realize the demands of Ndigbo as contained in the historic document by Ndigbo.
· Mefor, a forensic/social psychologist, is a fellow of The Abuja School of Social and Political Thought and can be reached via 09130335723 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets @DrLawMefor