Nigeria was pulled from the brink of conflagration Thursday, when the Coalition of Arewa Youths, which ordered Nigerians of Igbo extraction to vacate the North by October 1, rescinded the quit notice they issued on June 24.
The retraction of the quit notice came just as legal luminary and Chairman of the Southern Leaders of Thought, Prof. Ben Nwabueze, also disclosed Thursday that the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Mr. Nnamdi Kanu, has agreed to suspend the agitation for the separatist Republic of Biafra, insofar as the campaign for restructuring is progressive.
The Arewa coalition, during a press briefing by its spokesman and Chairman of the Northern Emancipation Movement, Abdulaziz Suleiman, said the decision to recant their position was as a result of various interventions both by the federal government and notable and well-meaning Nigerians, adding that the group had resolved to suspend the quit notice forthwith.
“As a consequence of these vigorous engagements and as cultured people with a tradition of respect for our national values, concerned leaders and elders, we are today pleased to announce the immediate suspension of the relocation clause, otherwise referred to as the quit notice from the Kaduna Declaration,” the group said.
Explaining why it issued the divisive quit notice, Suleiman said they were forced to act due to IPOB’s arrogant attitude and continuing affront on Nigeria’s peace.
“The incessant threats, insults, open calls for violence and war on all other tribes and regions that had become the hallmark of IPOB’s Biafran agitation based on fake and exaggerated claims of marginalisation was what prompted the relocation clause,” he said.
Suleiman stressed that the decision to withdraw the quit notice was borne out of the intense pressure mounted by concerned political, traditional and religious leaders.
“Most significant was our correspondence with the then Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo and most recently our interface with the presidency through the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Political Matters, Babafemi Ojudu.
“As a consequence of these vigorous engagements and as cultured people with a tradition of respect for our national values, leaders and elders, we are today pleased to announce the immediate suspension of the relocation clause, otherwise referred to as the quit notice from the Kaduna Declaration,” Suleiman added.
He noted that the suspension was also a reaffirmation of the group’s allegiance to a united, peaceful and prosperous Nigeria.
The statement was signed by leaders of the 14 groups that make up the coalition, including Shettima Yerima, leader of the Youth Consultative Forum, who read the Kaduna Declaration.
Although the group announced the withdrawal of the quit notice, it said it would still pursue its petition at the United Nations and the call on the federal government to apply appropriate sanctions against Kanu.
It also called for the re-arrest of Kanu and for his prosecution, while calling on the Senate to demand that all senators who stood surety for him in court as part of his bail conditions, to rescind their bond or be suspended from the parliament.
The group pledged to remain available for further interactions with other groups, including those from the South-east with a view to building a greater united Nigeria.
Reacting, Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima, who commended the group for suspending the quit notice, said the concern of the Northern governors was to prevent people from hiding under the notice to cause harm on other Nigerians.
“We are here to ensure that the quit notice was publicly withdrawn the same way it was made publicly,” the governor said.
According to the governor, the order would have been withdrawn earlier but was delayed to avoid any division within the group.
“I am a proud of Nigerians and I am also proud of the Igbos,” he said, noting that the hope of the black man rests on a united Nigeria.
Apart from Governor Shettima, other notable politicians at the press conference were Alhaji Sani Zango Darau, a former minister, and Senator Kabiru Gaya from Kano State.
The group said it would henceforth dedicate its energy and resources to ensuring that never again shall the rights of Northerners be trampled upon.
In proffering suggestions on what should be done to ensure lasting peace among the ethic nationalities in the country, the Northern group said the federal government should allow the Igbos to hold a referendum to determine their position on IPOB’s agitation for self-determination.
“By virtue of Nigeria being a signatory to the various international conventions that entrench the right of a people to self determination, we submit that it is only proper for the Nigerian authorities to reflect that right in the ongoing constitution review, or in the alternative, rescind its endorsement of the said conventions,” he said.
Kanu Agrees to End Agitation
The decision of the Arewa youths to rescind the quit notice came on the heels of the revelation by Prof. Nwabueze Thursday that Kanu has agreed to suspend the agitation for the secession, insofar as the campaign for restructuring was progressive.
Nwabueze, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and an expert on constitutional law, also rejected the declaration by President Muhammadu Buhari, in his nationwide broadcast on Monday, that the National Assembly and the National Council of State were the legitimate bodies to determine the nation’s restructuring.
He revealed Kanu’s readiness to drop the quest for the emergence of the Republic of Biafra at a news conference he addressed with some leaders of the Project Nigeria Movement, a socio-political group recently created to engage leaders of thought across all the geopolitical zones in Nigeria.
He addressed the news conference alongside the former Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku; professor of International Law, Prof. Akin Oyebode; former President of the Ijaw National Congress, Prof. Kimse Okoko; former Managing Director of Daily Times of Nigeria, Chief Tola Adeniyi; a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Solomon Asemota; and Director of the Centre for International Advanced and Professional Studies (CIAPS), Prof. Anthony Kila.
Others included a chieftain of Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo; convener of the Yoruba Assembly, Gen. Alani Akinrinade; former Cross River State governor, Mr. Donald Duke; former Akwa Ibom State governor, Victor Attah; and Chairman of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), Admiral Ndubisi Kanu (rtd).
Nwabueze, who presented the position of the Southern Leaders of Thought on Nigeria’s restructuring, warned against an imminent crisis if Buhari failed to heed the yearnings of the people that Nigeria should be restructured in a manner that guarantees equity and fairness.
Nwabueze said Kanu had already committed to suspending the agitation for a separatist state, if the clamour for restructuring “makes appreciable progress”.
The legal icon said: “Let me announce to you that Nnamdi Kanu has authorised me to tell Nigerians that if restructuring is progressive, he will persuade his group to suspend the demand for the Republic of Biafra and the plan to disrupt the 2019 general election.
“But if the federal government refuses to fairly restructure in line with the people’s aspirations and yearnings, there will be trouble. Nnamdi Kanu will not be the one to cause the trouble. The trouble will be caused by those who are opposing the will of the sovereign people.”
On this basis, Nwabueze called for “negotiated restructuring to be implemented through a new constitution” which, according to him, was the best assurance for the realisation of the collective desire for one Nigeria.
He said: “We are a sovereign people. We have the right to govern ourselves. We also have the right to determine what we want. Any person who attempts to deprive us of such rights, wants to cause trouble. The National Assembly does not have the power to restructure Nigeria.
“As a sovereign people, we have to rise against such individuals. It is for Nigerians as sovereign people to react.
“Obviously, lawmakers are elected. They have certain powers. But the constituent powers belong to the people. The National Assembly does not translate to a constituent assembly.
“If the constituent powers are now given to the National Assembly, they are simply asking for trouble. The trouble will not happen because of you and me. The trouble will happen because the person to whom the political power is delegated is depriving the people of their rights.”
Referring to the president, Nwabueze added that those at the federal level could no longer dictate what happens in the South-west, for instance.
“He can no longer dictate what happens in Ijaw land. He cannot dictate what happens in Hausa/Fulani land. He can no longer dictate what happens in Igbo land,” he charged.
Nwabueze, however, stressed that the call for restructuring “does not translate to disintegration”.
“We want one Nigeria. We want the constituents to manage themselves in all matters of localities. It is time to leave local matters to the local people. The ethnic nationalities want to govern themselves within one Nigeria,” he said.
He also called for a return to the federalism that existed under the 1960/1963 Constitutions, noting that the two legal instruments “were the central objects of restructuring”.
Nwabueze argued that restructuring would guarantee an optimal measure of self-determination or self-government, consistent with the territorial sovereignty of the country.
“In more explicit words, the essential purpose of re-structuring is to enable the component ethnic nationalities, grouped together by affinity of culture/language or territorial contiguity, to govern themselves in matters of internal concern, leaving matters of common concern, not overwhelmingly extensive in their range, to be managed under a central government constituted in such manner as to ensure that it is not dominated by any one group or a combination of them, and above all, to ensure justice, fairness and equity to all in the management of matters of common concern.
“Self-determination connotes essentially, not an independent government, but the right of each group, within the territorial sovereignty of the country as a state, to govern itself in matters that concern it alone, as, for example, local government matters which is an example par excellence of a matter of local concern (local government in a village in Hause land should not be the business of an Igbo man); the election of elective public functionaries in a region or zone – governors and members of legislative assemblies and local government councils, etc.
“The term ‘self-government’ expresses the essence of restructuring in our understanding of it. To reiterate, self government requires that the ethnic nationalities, grouped together by reference to culture/language and geographical contiguity, should be enabled to govern themselves in matters that concern them alone, within the sovereignty of a central government common to all, with powers appropriately circumscribed. Self-government connotes therefore true federalism.
“We highlight the factors that negate or impair the objective of true federalism in Nigeria, the most crushing of which is the over-concentration of political power and financial resources in the federal government far, far beyond what they were under the 1960/63 Constitutions.
“The result of the accretion of power to the centre, either by direct grant by the constitution or by perverse interpretation of its provisions, is to alter the power relations between it (the centre) and the states so significantly as to change the character of the system quite substantially from a federal to a unitary system. The system remains federal largely in name,” he said.
Nwabueze also revisited the Exclusive and Concurrent Legislative Lists under the 1963 Constitution, noting that the powers of the federal government thereunder should be further reduced.
“The over-concentration of financial resources and relations in the federal government affronts true federalism in no less a grievous degree.
“An arrangement whereby every month officials of the state governments, including quite often the state governor himself, go cap-in-hand, as it were, to Abuja for their share of the money in the Federation Account disbursed or paid out to them by officials of the federal government as paymaster is a negation of true federalism; it simply caricatures true federalism,” he explained.
Nwabueze also held the view that the argument that the 1999 Constitution could only be amended or altered, but could not be completely abolished and replaced by a new constitution was erroneous because it failed to take account of the fact that the 1999 Constitution is only a Schedule to Decree 24 of 1999.
He argued that the decree is an existing law under Section 315 of the 1999 Constitution and, like all existing laws within federal competence, can be repealed by the National Assembly.
Upon the repeal of the decree, the 1999 Constitution completely disappears from existence, he explained.
“Restructuring is not a matter that can be implemented by amendment of the 1999 Constitution. It imperatively requires a new constitution adopted or approved by the people at a referendum.
“It is sad that, while the clamour for restructuring is reaching a crescendo and is sweeping across the country, the National Assembly is still regaling us with talks about constitution amendment, and is buttressing its position on the erroneous assertion that the 1999 Constitution can only be amended or altered (Sections 8 and 9), but cannot be abolished and replaced by a new constitution.
“By taking this untenable position, the National Assembly makes itself a big obstacle in the way of restructuring.
“The view that the 1999 Constitution can only be amended or altered but cannot be completely abolished and replaced by a new constitution is erroneous because it fails to take account of the fact that the 1999 Constitution is only a Schedule to a Decree, Decree 24 of 1999.
“That decree is an existing law under Section 315 of the 1999 Constitution and, like all existing laws within federal competence, can be repealed by the National Assembly.
“Upon the repeal of the decree, the 1999 Constitution completely disappears from existence,” Nwabueze pointed out.
On the way forward, he said: “We think the way forward for Nigeria is for the people, in exercise of the power inherent in them as a sovereign people, through a referendum, a new constitution, constituting a new political order. The process must be led by a president, as the elected leader of the people imbued with an ardour for change.”