Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Igbo Agenda

By C. Don Adinuba, Daily Trust/All Africa

Abuja — The Igbo agenda is no secret, and, far from being in conflict with Nigerian national aspirations, it deepens them and gives the aspirations a practical meaning.

The agenda was articulated in the early 1990s by various Igbo groups like Aka Ikenga, Ohaneze Ndi'Igbo and Mpoko Igbo and presented at the 1994-5 Constitutional Conference by the venerable former Vice President of Nigeria, Dr Alex Ekwueme, GCON, a polyvalent intellectual, original thinker and patriot of the finest hue. Most of the agenda was reflected in the 1995 Constitution; despite initial scepticism and outright objection and hostilities by some vested interests, participants at the conference were to admit that there were no viable alternatives. The innovative features of the 1995 Constitution brought about by the Igbo representatives at the Constitutional Conference were: increasing the derivation principle in sharing national revenue from 3 % to 13%; dividing the country into six geopolitical zones and deciding the zone to which each state should belong; rotating the presidency from one geopolitical zone in the northern part of the country to another in the south; and anon-renewable single term of six years for the president and state governors. The Igbo call for six vice presidents with each representing a zone did not make it.

With all sense of responsibility, it could be said that the Igbo position at the conference has saved Nigeria from imminent chaos. The Niger Delta from which much of our national financial resource is derived has been boiling partly because the people consider the 13% of national oil revenue statutorily given the states in the region paltry. Now, imagine what the situation would have been today if the rest of the country had stoutly refused to accept the Igbo proposal that the derivation principle in sharing national revenues be moved from 3% to 13%.

Dr Ekwueme's rigorous, robust and successful defence of the proposal for the dramatic increase was going to be used against him in 1998 and 1999 by the northern compatriots when he sought their support to run for the office of the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Paradoxically, the South-South, which is the primary beneficiary of the new revenue allocation formula, was largely lukewarm to his presidential ambitions.

As you may know very well, the 1995 Constitution was dumped by the General Abdulsalami Abubakar regime on the insistence of the Afenifere which gave the jettisoning of the Constitution as a condition for its participation in the transition to civil rule programme. Afenifere's anger stemmed from the fact that the Constitution was drawn up under General Sani Abacha. Critics consider the demand an example of throwing away both the baby and the bathwater because the Abacha regime made no input into the Constitution. Gen Abdulsalami, who was desperate to have the Yoruba political establishment participate in the programme so as to give it credibility and enhance national stability, acquiesced to the Afenifere demand. Consequently, the 1979 Constitution was dusted up. Mr. Justice Niki Tobi, an indigene of an oil-bearing state who headed the panel to look into the 1979 Constitution, insisted on having the enhanced derivation percentage incorporated in the new Constitution, but not the other prominent features of the 1995 Constitution like rotational presidency, a single term of five years for the president and the state governors, as well as the six geopolitical zones.

As the nation toys with the idea of effecting some changes in the Constitution, it has to look into the question of multi vice presidency. If there is no vice president from the same geopolitical zone as the incumbent president who will take over and complete the tenure of the president in the event of the president's death, resignation or impeachment, the country will continue to sit on a keg of gun powder.

And this brings up the question of the tenure of the president. The Igbo position at the Constitutional Conference that the president serves only one term of six years was exceedingly thoughtful and incontrovertible. Permitting a president a second term would in practical terms mean that he would automatically get it, however bad he may have been in the first term, so as not to make his zone not feel short-changed.

A word about the geopolitical zones. These should be the federating units. States, as currently constituted, are too many, too poor, too weak, too small and too dependant on the centre. The whole idea of federalism is, therefore, defeated. The theory of federalism is that there are two tiers of government in a nation, and each is autonomous and each is equal to the other, as each has well defined areas of jurisdiction which are sacrosanct. Nigeria practised better federalism in the 1960s when there were only four regions. As the number of states increased, the more unitary the country became. And the less efficient and effective the governments became.

Excerpts of remarks by Adinuba, a writer, at the launch of Nnamdi Chukwumezie's book, "Igbo: The People, Power & Politics" in Lagos, last Wednesday.

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