The National Conference and the adopted position of the Yoruba
By Dele Awogbeoba
As all ethnic groups and geo political zones within Nigeria attempt to harmonize their respective positions ahead of the conference, the Yoruba (led by Afenifere and Gen Akinrinade) appears to have reached a common position.
For years now, the Yoruba elite (one of the most educated of Nigeria's tribal elite in Nigeria) have been one of the most strategically inept in advancing the Yoruba interests. It appears like it will (true to form) surpass itself this time as well.
Objectives of the Conference
The objective behind the conference is to renegotiate the way the country is structured in such a way as it allows the various people to truly develop in a manner unrestricted from the over centralized Nigerian federal government. The aim of the various nationalities should be to take a good cold and calculating review of where they currently stand within the current power equation within Nigeria and look for ways of improving their relative position within the structure. It appears like most of the geo-political zones have done that analysis and are advancing positions which aim to improve their relative strengths.
The Yoruba summit (I fear) appears ill prepared for this conference. They have not done an analysis of where the Yoruba currently stand in the power structure and where we want to get to.
Ignoring for the moment the cacophony of noise surrounding the defective structure of Nigeria, the reality of the situation in Nigeria at the present moment is that the current constitution has placed the Yoruba in the second strongest institutional position of Nigeria's tribes in present day Nigeria. Yoruba currently accounts for 83 of the 360 members of the House of Representatives (taking into account some level of under representation of the Yoruba in Kwara and Kogi when compared to their relative population). This gives the Yoruba close to 24% representation in the House of Representatives. The Yoruba account for about 21 of the 109 senators in the Senate. This gives the Yoruba a 20% weighted voice in the senate.
The current position of the Yoruba elite is to request a 6 region structure with the Yoruba in Kogi, Kwara, Delta and Edo being subsumed into the South West region.
They have also argued that each region should have equal representation in the National Assembly. My mathematics is somewhat challenged, but that would mean in a revised National Assembly along the lines envisaged by the Yoruba elite, the Yoruba will now account for 16% of the members of the revised National Assembly.
The implications of this starting position is that the Yoruba elites have traded (before negotiations have even started and in exchange for nothing) a strong relative position for a weaker relative position. Very few people will hire an employment lawyer to negotiate a better salary for them if that lawyer's opening negotiating position is to suggest that one is willing accept a N700,000 salary instead of one's current salary of N1.3 million. This is the logical equivalent of the position of the current people purporting to represent the Yoruba nation with intelligence and gusto!!
My suggestion would be that in the event of a 6 regional structure, membership to the National Assembly should take into account the present representation of each part of the country that consists of the respective regions. So if the current 8 states of the Yoruba (namely Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Oyo, Ekiti, Osun, Kwara and Kogi) has 83 members in the house of representatives, the new region that includes these areas should account for the same percentage number in the new National Assembly in a revised structure.
The issue of the Yoruba has never been in the structure. It has been in our inability to negotiate and leverage our current institutional advantage to our advantage. That means the Yoruba must recognize that it has no permanent friends and no permanent enemies. It has evolving interests. In order to achieve its interests it must form ever shifting alliances with different ethnic groups and geo political zones. Those alliances will only make sense if it allows the Yoruba and its people to improve its relative position within the Nigerian project.
There is no reason why the Yoruba (who accounts for 24% of the members of the house of representatives and 20% of the members of the senate) should be marginalized in the current Nigerian political dispensation. As matters stand, both the core North and the SW feels marginalized. Both zones combined will represent over 50% of the combined National Assembly. The President can veto laws passed by these two blocks and these two blocks can block laws initiated by the federal government. The result is a compromise by both. A shrewd move would be to block or threaten to block certain decisions of the federal government if the marginalization is not addressed or stopped. Running periodically to Aso Rock to plea for better positions connotes a position where we are both unaware of our strength and incapable of utilizing it. APC realized the strength of the opposition when it threatened to stop consideration of the budget unless the Rivers state commissioner of police was transferred. It was promptly done.
For a while now, the Yoruba elite have been stuck in a time warp. All major policy positions of the tribe have been anchored on nostalgia for the past (1950's-1984). Most establishment parties in Yorubaland have harkened for free education, free health care, regionalism and state police and the like. In essence, the position of things in the old western region in 1952. The problem with this approach is that it ignores the dynamism of time and the need to evolve with it.
The Way forward
Free education of the 50's have to some degree given the Yoruba a highly skilled work force and a viable middle class. This should continue to the policy within the Yoruba states.
The South West has become the region of choice for most (x) internally generated investment within Nigeria and (y) externally driven investments. I believe a fund, scheme or private equity vehicle should be set up by all governors of the South West (plus Kwara, Kogi and Edo) to finance the start up businesses of their brightest young graduates. There are so many graduates at the moment that cannot find jobs in an economy that is pregnant with opportunities. This is the next state level initiative that the governments should actively finance (even if it means those governments have a collective a stake in those start up-enterprises at the initial stage).
Tomorrow's industrialists are today's start up merchants. These businesses will be the regions driver of industry in the next decade. This should be how we combine the free education of our past decades with entrepreneurial zeal of the next couple of decades that will have long term benefits for the region and our people. We need a country where central government driven regulation does not inhibit our growth and does not erect obstacles to entrepreneurial innovation within South West Nigeria.
The infrastructure of the Yoruba states will also need to be the centre of attention. Olokola free zone should be encouraged. It appears like the port there is the best suited for docking big and heavy ships because of its deep waters. We need a structure that allows the Yoruba to build ports and to renovate its roads without first needing Federal government approval. In that, I am sure we will have allies in the NC, SE and the SS for that. Those regions would also like to have the ability to drive infrastructural growth projects and harness their internal resources in a way that is not subject to federal government veto.
The Eko Atlantic project is a brave and visionary idea. Other visionary idea's needs to be created and implemented in the 8 states in which the Yoruba call home.
It has long been the position of the Yoruba that it be allowed to develop in a way that allows its progressive inclinations to find full expression. The movement since 1966 from a federal system of government to a highly centralized unitary system of government has not helped matters. What the Yoruba should want and should properly request is greater autonomy to pursue its system of government, build roads, bridges and utilize its inherent resources without any veto or interference from the central government. Additionally, the Yoruba will have to ensure that it does not trade a repressive federal structure for a repressive regional structure.
I personally believe the present constitution is a fair one. No single tribe can impose its will on any other tribes. The constitution compels the various tribes to reach compromises in order to get laws passed. The people that appear to have an advantage in today's Nigeria are the people that are the most pragmatic, strategic and wise thinkers.
Even if laws are currently passed, the structure cannot be changed if 1/3 of the country does not like it. This prevents the tyranny of the majority. The North is not a homogenous entity. It was only able to find a common ground that brought all the tribes of the North within a common political position. Boko Haram has changed that. The North Central zone has now evolved out of the core northern sphere of influence and has moved towards the southern sphere of influence. The SW similarly feels decidedly unwanted in the present power alliance of the Jonathan presidency and is moving towards the core north in an alliance that it hopes will take its interests more into account. These things will continue to be dynamic from time to time and will affect various movements of all geo political zones in different directions. The real issue is not the constitution but the implementers of the constitution. If the same people abuse the provisions of the law and impose their new relative strength to oppress other groups then I dare say we will be back here within 20 years demanding another conference to sort out the mess occasioned by the new constitution.