Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, yesterday in Kaiama, Bayelsa State, openly disagreed with the position of the federal government that the unity of Nigeria was non-negotiable, insisting that what was non-negotiable was the right of the people to self-determination and to freely decide their future.
On the same day, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar remarked that no amount of effort aimed at suppressing the agitation for restructuring of the federation would succeed.
Just about two weeks ago, Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo, reiterated the position of the Buhari administration, declaring that Nigeria remaining as one nation was a done deal, but speaking during the interactive session in Kaiama tagged “A Day with Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka” with students of the Ijaw National Academy, the literary icon said it was not only hypocritical, but dictatorial for the federal government to maintain the position on Nigeria’s unity.
The professor of Comparative Literature noted that all countries the world over were products of negotiations, stressing that Nigerian leaders who hold a contrary view were missing the point.
“We are mixing up the argument. When people say, especially former leaders and especially those who bear enormous responsibility for the question of breaking up or not breaking up, our roles in the first place, it always sounds hypocritical, dogmatic and dictatorial and that statement is that the unity of Nigeria is non-negotiable.
“Now, that for me is a falsity. Anything is negotiable. The right of people to determine their future is what is non-negotiable. Most nations came to be through negotiations”, he asserted.
The 1987 Nobel prize winner who was on the podium with several other literary icons from Ijaw land, including Prof. John Pepper Clark; 96-year-old poet, Dr. Gabriel Okara and Prof Joe Alagoa, a popular historian, said it was wrong to assume that a country where a part bears the burden of taking care of a wieldy whole should not be negotiated.
He continued: “Sometimes when people say negotiate, what they really mean is restructure. Should Nigeria break up? And my answer to that is no, but please don’t tell me that Nigeria as it stands is not negotiable. For me, it is a fallacy. The nation has got to be negotiated. Negotiation includes ensuring that there is no marginalisation.
“Negotiation has to do with control of resources; negotiation has to do with structuring the nation in such a way that the components, constituents are not feeding an over-bloated centre to the detriment of their own development.
“So, Nigeria is negotiable. What we should say is: what are you willing to sacrifice? What efforts are you willing to make to ensure that Nigeria remains intact? That is the citizen question.
Soyinka was reacting to remarks by Dr. Odia Ofeimun, who compeered the session, advising that Nigerians should continue to re-echo the indivisibility of the country, especially in these trying times.
Dickson, who spoke thereafter, aligned with Soyinka, saying that for the benefit of the young people present at the occasion, everything must be questioned.
“Let me for the benefit of our young people make this clear, God in his infinite wisdom has endowed mankind with several gifts and one of the most important is your ability to reason and use your mind.
“I believe that there is every reason for us to say that we will not circumscribe our minds on any issues. In the course of our education, throughout your life, however illustrious, your education is meaningless unless you have the capacity to question any and every notion”, the governor said.
While agreeing with Soyinka’s position, he noted that though it was desirable to have a united Nigeria, it was nevertheless important to renegotiate the terms.
“I believe that the continued existence of our nation as an indivisible entity is desirable. There is a very strong case to be made for that. After all, our people have been funding the Nigerian experiment for the last 61 years.
“From your backyards they carve out portions of land in Lagos and Abuja and other capitals of the world and call them oil blocks. And I have said that what they sit down in their cozy offices and call oil blocks and give to whoever they choose to give are actually your (Niger Delta communities) ancestral properties.
“That is why we continue to raise issues about environmental justice. What is going on in all your communities I have described severally as environmental terrorism. Nobody should tell us that there is nothing to negotiate.
“There are too many things to negotiate. In this state we have only eight local government areas as decreed by the powers that be. And yet there are states that have forty.
“So, we get less than one quarter of what others get. The local governments can no longer pay salaries because they have no control over what we produce.
“The continued existence of Nigeria is desirable, but Nigerians, all of us have issues to bring to the table for amicable resolution so that we can make our union more enduring and sustainable. There is no shame; no crime in doing that.”
Dr. Ofeimun had earlier held that the nation’s economy was crippled not only because the international prices of crude oil had fallen but because the states had been emasculated of the powers they used to possess.
In a related development, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar yesterday said that no amount effort to suppress the agitation for restructuring of the federation was going to succeed.
He said the biggest challenge facing realization of reforms in the country was allowing moderate voices on restructuring to be drowned by the reckless utterances of those who may not mean well for the nation.
In a speech he delivered at the 3rd Policy Monitoring Dialogue Series on National Unity, Integration, and Devolution of Power/Restructuring in Abuja, Atiku insisted that every Nigerian has constitutional right to peacefully agitate for restructuring.
He said rather than attempting to shove it aside, effort should focus on identifying the reasons for the agitations
“We are now in a democracy and democratic freedoms allow people to express themselves freely, including questioning the political and economic structures of the country and their place in it. We should try to understand the basis for the agitations and call for a new compact rather than vilify the agitators.
“It is disingenuous to accuse everyone who calls for restructuring as trying to break up the county. History tells us that that kind of cheap blackmail will not work as long as the underlying reasons for the agitations persist,” he said
Atiku justified the clamour for restructuring, saying such a move would contribute to national cohesion and good governance.
He also said that devolving more powers to the federating units and transferring more resources to them would help to decongest the centre and enhance greater manageability, efficiency and accountability.
“I have no doubt that restructuring our federal system would contribute the following among other things:
“There will be more clarity in the division of powers and responsibilities between the centre and the federating units, and there will be a reduction in the attention paid to the centre. In my view, there should be no federal roads, therefore states will be responsible for road construction and maintenance and people will know that.
“The same would go for schools and hospitals. State police (for states that so desire) will help improve security. States that do not want their own police forces will work out arrangements with the federal authorities over cost-sharing for policing in their jurisdictions.
“The key thing is that federating units will have greater resources, authority and capacity to tackle localised problems with national impact, including education, health care, roads and insecurity such as the herdsmen-farmers clashes, armed robbery,” he added.
He said the founding political leaders agreed on and erected a federal system of government because they believe that such a structure was the only guarantee for national cohesion, “in view of our diversity, varying resource endowments, varying levels of development”.
Atiku added: “Our diversity encouraged our founding leaders to opt for a federal system of the government which they hoped would allow the federating regions the space to control their resources and to develop at their own paces according to their peculiar situations.
“Yes restructuring may mean different things to different people. Like all things with political and economic implications, those calling for restructuring have varying positions, which is not a bad thing.
“But we won’t really find out how close our positions are to those of others until we sit down with them and start to talk and negotiate.
“The biggest challenge seems to be that we seem to be allowing moderate voices on this issue to be drowned out by the reckless utterances of a few rabble rousers on all sides who may be tools in the hands of those who do not wish this country well. These are some of the people who arrogate to themselves the toga of spokespersons of our diverse groups.”
In a related development, Lagos State Governor Akinwunmi Ambode yesterday said Nigeria would not function effectively with the 1999 Constitution, except the principle of appropriateness is adopted to guide the sharing of power between federal and state governments.
Ambode also rejected the current revenue allocation formula, which he said, unduly allowed the federal government take 52.68 per cent of centrally collected revenues, leaving the state and local governments respectively with 26.72 per cent and 20.68 per cent.
The governor reeled out grave concern about the country’s lopsided federal arrangement at a joint working retreat of the Senate and House of Representatives Committee on the review of the 1999 Constitution ongoing at the Intercontinental Hotel, Lagos.
The retreat had in attendance the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu; Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives, Lasun Yusuf; Senate Minority Leader, Godswill Akpabio and Majority Leader, House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, among others.
Ambode explained that the effect of the Exclusive Legislative List had been unduly unjust for other federating units, pointing out that the arrangement had completely precluded the states from performing several important constitutional responsibilities.
Aside the exclusion of the states from certain constitutional responsibilities, he said the federal government “is equally unable to function effectively. It holds legislative and executive powers on matters of local concern which over-stretch its administrative and supervisory abilities.”
He, thus, canvassed the principle of appropriateness to guide the sharing of powers between the federating units, arguing that the hallmark of federalism “is the autonomy and recognition of the separateness and independence of each government that makes up the federation.”
He explained that the same principle of appropriateness should drive the revenue allocation formula, noting that the current allocation structure was skewed in favour of the federal government.
He opposed the arrangement that allocated revenue to the local governments, arguing that since local governments “are to come under the purview of the states, allocation to them should be shared to states as they can have as many local governments as they wish. The 774 formula is inequitable.”
Ambode called for the need to amend section 214 of the 1999 Constitution “to allow the states to establish their own State Police Service,” noting that Nigeria “is grossly under-policed.”
He noted that the federal government “has been unable to prioritise and provide the resources that are necessary to pay, equip and train policemen to the level required by the challenges they face.”
The governor also faulted the existence of Federal Land Registry, which he said, was an aberration for the federal government to continue to operate land registry in Lagos State.
He noted that the Federal Land Registry which was established when Lagos was Federal Capital Territory “ought to have been closed down and all title therein moved to the Lagos State Land Registry. The National Assembly is urged to look into this and correct this anomaly.
He explained imminent dangers inherent in the proposed Stamp Duties Bill, which he said, would no doubt cripple the internally generated revenue (IGR) due to states in the federation in favour of a federal government agency, Nigerian Postal Service (NIPOST).