Atiku, who is a chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and a leading voice in the clamour for the restructuring of Nigeria, expressed shock that the North was yet to join the undying calls for restructuring of the country.
Atiku bared his mind frankly, as he often does on national issues, in a keynote address he delivered at the weekend during a dialogue session among Ohanaeze, Arewa, Oodua and Ijaw youths.
Delivering his address at the event, which was organised by Political Leadership Amongst Youth (PLAY) forum, Atiku declared that he would continue to speak out against the current faulty “unitary-federalism” structure, even at the expense of his political ambition.
He emphasized that the best economic restructuring would be to allow states control their resources, in the spirit of true federalism.
His words: “I want to agree essentially that there is every need for us to sit down and talk about our future. This is because the arrangements in the last 50 years or so have not served us very well.
“I am not a product of the current structure of Nigeria. I am a product of regional government. I saw the government at work and I have also seen the current arrangement at work.
“That was why I came out, some people even said to the detriment of my political career, to advocate for restructuring or rearrangement or whatever you call it of the present structure of the country. I still stand by it. But we cannot determine the practical details of this restructuring until we are able to dialogue and agree on how we want to continue to live together as a country.
“It is good that all the representatives of the ethnic groups agreed that we should continue to live together. I believe it is imperative. But I also don’t believe in the current arrangement which I have always referred to as unitary federalism, which was a creation of a prolonged military rule”.
According to Atiku, Nigeria’s defective political arrangement started a few years after the civil war, when the late head of state, Gen. Murtala Muhammed, set up the Constituent Assembly of 1978 and specifically instructed the Assembly to recommend a very strong federal government which no component can challenge or try to secede from.
“He was understandably coming from the perception of the Biafra civil war. He felt that the war was caused by the region which felt that it was too independent to pull out of the country. Subsequently, they kept amending the constitution, centralizing more and more powers at the centre,” he said.
The Waziri Adamawa further blamed the current political structure on the military’s failure to implement the recommendation of the Constitutional Conference of 1994/1995 of a single term of six years for the President to rotate among the six geopolitical zones.
He said: “Of course, I was a member of the Constitutional Conference of 1994/1995 and what we actually drafted was not what they eventually came out with. We proposed a presidential system with a single term of six years to be rotated among the six geopolitical zones of the country.
“By now, about four zones would have produced the president. We also said that after 36 years, we could review that provision if Nigerians believe it is the best arrangement, otherwise we could discard it.
“By the time we won election in 1999, we saw an entirely different constitution. I was told that they set us a review committee headed by Justice Niki Tobi, which tampered with the draft and ended up with the constitution we now have.
“However, on a serious note, we have seen that the fact that a zone produced a president does not mean that he will get the zone developed. Former President Goodluck Jonathan could not construct a road from Port Harcourt in Rivers State to his home state of Bayelsa.
“Even the South West roads we started during our administration, he could not continue with them. Until former President Olusegun Obasanjo finished his eight-year term, he could not complete the road from Lagos to Ota, Ogun State, where his farm is”.
Speaking further on restructuring, the former Vice President said: “Another issue that needs restructuring is the economy. Left for me, I will ask every part of this country to take charge of its resources while the federal government should handle defence, foreign affairs, and immigrations, among others in the exclusive lists.
“I used to tell people that I would not have gone to school if I were born today. My parents were so poor they couldn’t afford to send me to school. I was born during the era education was free and food was free.
“I was sponsored from primary school to the university. There was even a job waiting for me before I graduated. Yet, there was no oil then. I am not certainly a product of oil boom Nigeria.
“So, I don’t know what those who are against restructuring are afraid of. Those afraid of it must be lazy. We fought the civil war with the Igbo. Today, the Igbo have been completely rebuilt, but we still find mud houses in the North. Is it the fault of the Easterners that the North is like that?”
“So, there are more fundamental issues that we need to deal with after which we would have settled on what basis we want our federation to be. How do we draw the boundary because even the Ijaw are not contiguous to one another? I come from a state where we are minorities. In Adamawa State, whether you are Hausa, Fulani, Christian or Muslim, you are from the minority. It is the same thing in Taraba State.
“I think that what is most important is the devolution of powers and resources with the various governments whether states or regions. How do the people hold those in power accountable for the resources handed over to them?
“We are not as educated as we are today in the First Republic, yet it beats my imagination how those in charge of the local governments were more efficient, honest and transparent in accountable administration.
“Since we have agreed to remain one successful country, it is not complicated because you can start with all the recurrent items in the constitution. The President can dialogue with the governors or National Assembly for states to take charge of the roads, hospitals, schools and such other items in the concurrent list while the federal government will continue with items on the exclusive lists.
“One of the provisions of restructuring should be to remove the provisions for indigene-ship from the constitution so that anywhere a Nigerian decides to stay becomes their home. I posted a number of comments when the Arewa youths gave the Igbo quit notice. I did not agree with them because they did not witness the civil war.
“The war started exactly the way the Arewa youths gave the ultimatum; from quit notices to the exodus and then the fight. I cautioned that the northern youths should not get us into another civil war again. I was nearly killed in Kano in 1966 simply because I was dressed in a shirt and they mistook me for an Igbo. They came to lynch me speaking Hausa and it was when I replied them that they realised I am not Igbo. The quit notice was dangerous, I was really alarmed and scared.”
Atiku expressed his readiness to quit active politics within the next 10 years, saying that the gap between the youths and individuals in leadership positions in the country is not that wide.
“The disconnect (between those in leadership position and the youths) is not such that is total; there is a continuation or a phase out project. I don’t expect that I will be in politics in the next 10 years,” he said.
In an opening remark, the Chief Executive Officer of PLAY Forum, Mr. Charles Okpaleke, called on the youths to eschew violence and promote peace and unity in the country.
He said that the event, which was organised jointly with other non-governmental organisations, was to bring various ethnic youth organisations together to dialogue on their differences and chart a better future for the country.
The highpoint of the event was a panel discussion which had the President of Ijaw Youth Congress, Eric Omare, Che Oyinatumba of Ohanaeze Youth Forum, and a representative of Shettima Yerima of Arewa youths as discussants.