With the nomination of a powerful Yoruba delegation to the National Conference, the North has suddenly realised that the initial de ja vu feeling that the exercise was doomed has come to a futile end. The All Progressive Congress (APC) controlled states face-saving turn around to embrace the conference must have jolted the northern political establishment and now they have to come to Abuja well prepared as other parts of the country are coming to the National Conference. All is set for robust clash of ideas, vigorous negotiations, lobbying and relentless canvassing of views and positions.
There will be display of tempers, outpouring of invectives, recriminations and lamentations.
There have been consultations across the country as the South-west is making spirited efforts to reach out to the South-east, South-south and the Middle Belt to build a consensus.
For the Jonathan administration, the turn around by the opposition may have saved the conference from credibility problem since the Yoruba have been the champion of national dialogue.
There is no doubt that there is a big difference between what Nigerians want and what the political class in favour of the status quo is prepared to give to in their desire for change. The mutual distrust within the political class can be seen from the opposition of some elements to the modalities and composition of delegates to the conference.
Politicians, who have become beneficiaries of the imperfect union that the British created in 1914 when the Northern and Southern Protectorates were amalgamated, are reluctant to accept the ideas of those who see themselves as real owners of the land and resources of Nigeria, whose interest and destinies must form the cardinal agenda of the National Conference.
Consequently, the issue of providing the legal framework for the conference, the issue of funding as well as what happens to the out come of the deliberations at the conference have been contentious. To the political class, the National Conference is a waste of time and resources or perhaps an opportunity for grand standing and diverting the attention of Nigerians since elections are close by. Put differently, only the beneficiaries of the unjust social, political and economic order are against discussing Nigeria.
The great betrayal
There is no doubt that after 100 years of existence and 54 years of nationhood, Nigeria still appears rudderless.
Elder Fred Agbeyegbe, President of the Lower Niger Congress and Itsekiri National Congress, told Sunday Vanguard that the problem of post-independent Nigeria started immediately after the Sardauna of Sokoto declared that â€œthe new nation called Nigeria shall be the estate of the North which shall use the minorities in the North as its willing tool and the South as its conquered territory, whose resources would be used to develop the Northâ€.
According to the legal luminary, northern political, military and religious elites have used this template either in appropriating the resources from the South, waging war against the other ethnic nationalities, initiating acts of terror against their fellow Nigerians or introducing their religious worldviews on secular issues.
Tony Nnadi, Secretary General of Movement for New Nigeria, is of the view that the North has lost the right to insist on the unity and indivisibility of Nigeria when it breached the secular status of the country and introduced Sharia law and Islamic ways of life in its 12 states, thereby limiting the right of Nigerians who are not from that region or do not profess Islamic faith.
Boko Haram insurgency is seen by many people as a fallout of the rebellion of the northern political elites.
The mass defection of northern politicians from the ruling PDP because a southern Minority is at the helm of affairs of the ruling party is also cited as part of the rebellion.
A member of Osun State delegate the the National Conference, Gen. Alani Akinrinade, told Sunday Vanguard, last week that:â€by agreeing to convoke a National Conference, it wold seem that President has been eventually persuaded that something is structurally wrong with the current political and the structural configuration of the nationâ€.
Notable among the contentious issues are fiscal federalism, restoration of regional autonomy, resource control, internal security, structural imbalances in the political and economic relations between the constituent units in the country and introduction of ethic and religious bigotry into the polity.
Akinrinade, a former Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) and a leader of the defunct National Democratic Coalition NADECO) that fought the Abacha military administration, said, â€œPresident Jonathan must have come to the realisation that we have structural imbalances created by the 1914 amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates and the unitary federal system created by the militaryâ€.
Chief Dappa Brieye Diete Spiff, the first military governor of Rivers State, said â€œthe time has come for Nigeria to correct the past mistakes in its nation-building rather than shying away from facing the challenges frontallyâ€.
Acting President of Ijaw National Congress, Mr Charles Ambaiowei, told Sunday Vanguard that when President Goodluck Jonathan assumed office, he told the nationâ€™s minorities that the days of lamentations were over, noting, however, that, today, the lot of the Ijaw man has not improved. â€œWe have nothing to show for the fact that our son is the President. The East West Road remains a mirage even when another Ijaw man was the minister in charge of Niger Delta Affairs. All these show that, fundamentally, there is something wrong with the structure and the system we operateâ€, he said.
The 2014 Ijaw National Day celebration in Yenagoa, last week, was, therefore an opportunity for the Ijaw to rally other ethnic nationalities to support their quest for fiscal federalism through bridge- building.
Apart from the Igbo who declared Biafra to challenge the unjust federal system, the Ijaw, the fourth largest ethnic group in Nigeria, have remained in the front line of the struggle for recognition of the right of the minorities in Nigeria and they have produced the likes of Isaac Adaka Boro and Kenule Saro Wiwa as icons of their struggle for equity and good conscience in Nigeriaâ€™s political history.
Ambaiowei said the Ijaw have been in consultations with the Ohaneze Ndi Igbo (Igbo), the Afenifere, (Yoruba), the United Middle Belt Congress, the Urhobo, the Itsekiri, the Ibibio and other ethnic minorities in their quest for true fiscal federalism, resource control, restructuring of the country along regional lines, devolution of power of the constituents of the country, and respect for the citizenship.
â€œWe propose a ten-federating regional structure retaining every legislative power excerpt the following legislative powers ceded exclusively to the Federal Government: Defence, foreign affairs, immigration, citizenship, naturalisation and alien issues, aviation policy and regulations, nuclear energy policy and management, central banking and currency management, coinage and legal tender,bills of exchange and promissory notes.
Ohaneze Ndi Igbo, the apex political and cultural organisation that speaks for the South-east, through its President General, Chief Gary Igariwey, told Sunday Vanguard that the demands of the region are not different from that of the South-west which include the parliamentary form of government, a review of the revenue allocation formula in accordance with derivation formula listed as resource control, citizens right, and security of lives and property.
The North has also aligned itself to resource control and fiscal federalism. On the surface, it might seem that the National Conference will be rancour free. But Akinrinade was not deceived by the fact that the North has included some of the demands proposed by the rest of the country.
He said those who enjoy the privileges of any system would hardly give up those advantages, no matter how unjust the advantages may be. This is why the North often seems to be unfazed by the complaints and agitations from the other parts of the country.
But the Middle Belt, which has become the beautiful bride of Nigeriaâ€™s politics, holds the ace in the National Conference.
Balance of power
When 12 northern states introduced Sharia law in the administrative units under their jurisdiction, they saw it as a political master stroke to checkmate the leadership of former President Olusegun Obasanjo as Nigeria returned to democratic governance.
Most of the states embarked on the process of introducing the Islamic law to assert the religious and political autonomy of the North. Incidentally, the states that pioneered the move were controlled by the opposition political party, All Peoples Party, (APP), but it soon spread to other states won by the PDP, which was also controlled the Federal Government. Sharia was also seen as some form of resistance to the leadership of Obasanjo, a Christian from the South-west.
Obasanjo described the introduction of Sharia â€œas a political storm that would fade with timeâ€ but the emergence of acts of terrorism as a tactic of political negotiation stunned Nigerians. The President of United Middle Belt Congress Mr. Abuka Onalo Omobaba, said with the introduction of Sharia and Boko Haram were meant to redesign Nigeriaâ€™s political map and re-order its destiny, and at the same time advance the Caliphate agenda to Islamise Nigeria.â€ We must know that the emergence of Boko Haram was a move by the North to show its resistance to the political authority of a non-Muslim over northern Muslims..
But it has equally created a wedge between the far North and the Middle Belt states occupied mainly by minority national groups who are mainly Christian,â€ he added.
According to him, the political ramifications of these actions were the geographical redefinition of northern Nigeria between the minorities namely the Igedes, the Idomas, the Eggons, the Biroms, the Jukuns, the Tivs who are geographically located in the North central region.
â€œThe minorities spread across Niger, Nasarawa, Kwara, Kogi, Benue, Plateau, Taraba. The Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello strongly opposed the creation of Middle Belt Region which was championed by the late Joseph Tarka. This was based on the fact that the Sardauna had declared on October 1, 1960, that the minorities in the North will be the willing tool of the North in the new nations called Nigeria,â€ he said.
â€œWe are going to the National Conference to demand for a political identity that defines who they are, their culture and heritage in the Northern region. We are Middle Belt region and not North Central as the North prefers to call us,â€ Abutu added.
With that pronouncement, the ethnic minorities in the North take their stand at the National Conference in Abuja.
The northern political establishment has always been opposed to the effort of the Middle Belt to establish a political identity that reflects the history, culture landscape of the region.
The leader of the United Middle Belt Congress, the late Joseph Tarka, was persecuted and tried for his efforts to establish the North-central Region as distinct from Northern Region. During the fourth republic, Mr. George Akume, as the governor of Benue State, faced a backlash from the north when he tried to start from where Tarka stopped in the first republic. There is a new wave to push for a Middle Belt identity at the National Conference.
Mr. Masha, president of Birom Movement, told Sunday Vanguard, â€œWe are going to Abuja to assert our identity and reclaim our independence from those who want to forcefully take our lands and annex us.â€
Said Masha: â€œWhat you see as the endless violence in the Jos region and in other parts of Plateau State is a deliberate attempt by the Fulani to renew their Jihad using modern political instrument and government support. You read accounts of women and children who are slaughtered in their farms, villages are attacked at night and villages are wiped out. They are determined to take our lands as they are pushed out of the desert regions. â€œ
The creation of a separate identity for the minorities in the North would make them hold the balance of power in Nigerianâ€™s political process and give the region an independent voice and negotiating power as they could become the swing states of Nigeriaâ€™s politics.
The economic viability of the Middle-Belt region is seen in the deposits of such solid minerals as bauxite, uranium, gold, tin, lead, iron ore etc. in the region. Even in the forth coming presidential election, the ruling PDP and the opposition All Progressive Congress (APC) would depend on the outcome of the votes in Niger, Nasarawa, Kwara, Kogi, Benue, Plateau, Taraba to determine who goes to Aso Rock. From all indications, what happens to this renewed agitation for a Middle Belt identity will mean much to the president and the opposition as we now have the new bride of Nigeriaâ€™s politics.
Who is afraid of the North?
There concerns that the minorities in the North and South can never unite to pursue a common agenda, because of the traditional mistrust between them and the fear of the more powerful groups like the Hausa-Fulani, the Igbo and the Yoruba.
There is eternal bickering between the minorities who the former Vice Chancellor of the University of Calabar, Prof. Emmanuel Anyandele, described as â€œatomistic societies that are perpetually at war with themselves.â€ The North has been adept in manipulating the minorities in that region
The President of Birom Movement, Mr. Abass Mafsang Choji, told Sunday Vanguard that the North has to negotiate itself back to Nigeria.