By Deji Elumoye
The recent call by a former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, and ex-Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, for the federal government to set necessary machinery in motion to establish a Constituent Assembly that will fashion out a new constitution for the country has received the support of Southern and Middle Belt leaders.
The Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF), in a statement issued yesterday and entitled: ‘Restructuring: Gowon, Obasanjo Can’t Be Wrong’, emphasised that the warnings to federal government from the two oldest former Nigerian leaders that Nigeria must restructure to avoid a war situation is not lost on the Forum as the country moves from one challenge to the other.
The Forum consisting of leaders of four groups namely South-west, South-east, South-South and Middle Belt in a statement jointly signed by Mr. Yinka Odumakin; Gen CRU Ikekire; Senator Bassey Henshaw; and Dr. Isuwa Dogo respectively, noted that Gowon was the first to warn in January that Nigeria must urgently deal with the business of restructuring to avoid another civil war.
According to the leaders, Gowon was the man who led the country through its last civil war from 1967-1970 and proclaimed “No Victor, No Vanquished,” which we observed more in the breach over the years.
They further noted that the latest admonition is coming from Obasanjo who fought vigorously in the war to keep Nigeria united “but is now warning us 50 years after the hostilities ended that we need to restructure now to save the country from anarchy and break-up even as he commits to fighting for the unity of Nigeria but on the basis of equality of all citizens”.
The Forum, therefore, applauded the position of the two elder statesmen saying “we align with the patriotic interventions of the leaders and call on those in the saddle now to look beyond temporary gains of power and heed the advice to set this country on the path of negotiation, inclusiveness and a federal constitutional order as a stitch in time saves nine, says ancient wisdom”.
The leaders further stressed that “the core issue at the heart of restructuring calls is that we can live together in peace and harmony once we make justice and equity the cornerstones of our existence as a country and not a union of the horse and the rider that is the order at the time in violation of federal spirit.
“Only those who do not wish the county well would not heed the statesmanlike call not to allow the stonewalling of the restructuring call to lead to a situation where frustrations could push nationalities in the country to embrace self-determination instead of trustful give-and – take that the demand for federalism seeks.”
The Forum warned that the agitation for restructuring cannot be ignored or wished away by any government at this particular time in the nation’s history.
They said: “It is sheer wishful thinking for anybody to assume that the displeasure that various nationalities are feeling over the many attendant inequities of unitary Nigeria can disappear with strong-arm tactics and bullying those at receiving ends with terror gangs on rampage around the country .
“A cursory look at events around the world in recent years have shown clearly that the force of arms cannot succeed in keeping together any diverse people brought together by historical circumstance but refuse to constitute themselves with respect, justice and understanding”.