Bulletin #38: Response To Aare Afe Babalola

By Femi Odedeyi
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RE: Nigeria-- Restructure or reconfigure (7)

We trust that this letter will find you in good health.

The Yoruba Referendum Committee has been following your interventions on Re-Federalizing Nigeria through your published articles in the “Vanguard” Newspaper, titled “Nigeria: Restructure or reconfigure”. Part 7 was published on October 11, 2023. Although you wrote that there are “three main options for undertaking a restructuring process” you zeroed in on the Referendum or Plebiscite.

Without prejudice to the remaining two options, the questions you posed at the end of Part 7 are directly related to our approach to solving the structural problem of Nigeria, hence the need for this letter, not only to acknowledge your suggestion but also to state that the Yoruba Referendum Committee has affirmatively answered the questions you posed through our Bulletins, to wit: Referendum is the most effective, peaceful, legitimate, legal, and valid option.

The Yoruba Referendum Committee came into being as the catalyst for Referendum in Yorubaland as the roadmap/pathway towards Legitimization of the quest for True Federalism in Nigeria, while, for the rest of the country, it could be described as “Nationality/Zonal/Regional” Referendums.

The questions you raised: “The key question is: Do we have a crop of leaders and system in place to conduct and implement a free, fair, and credible referendum to usher in a constitutional restructuring process? First, will governments at all levels support a referendum for important constitutional questions of the day? Secondly, do we have a credible electoral process in place to conduct a fair and transparent referendum in Nigeria? And thirdly, even if we conduct a referendum, will the leaders on all sides respect and implement the end result of the process? It is difficult to answer any of these questions affirmatively. The current winner-takes-all system that we operate in Nigeria has created perverse incentives for rulers to suppress the will of the Nigerian people. It may therefore be a mere wishful thinking in Nigeria of today to expect a free, fair, and credible referendum process to be conducted.”

The Yoruba Referendum Committee responds as follows to your questions:

(a) Since we all agreed that all efforts at Restructuring since 1999 have fallen flat on their faces, the question we asked ourselves was “Why”? We concluded that those efforts failed because they were not backed by the legitimate power of the Constituent Units(subnational), described either as Nationalities, Zones, or Regions.

(b) With due respect sir, we agree with the Yoruba truism that says one’s head cannot be shaved in his/her absence. The previous attempts or conferences shaved our headsin our absence. The main reason for the societal dysfunction being experienced in Nigeria and the only way to remedy the situation is for the Constituents to, in aReferendum within their regions or territories, determine theframework for their aspirations and self-actualization which thenbecomesthe foundation for RESTRUCTURING.

(c) The leadership and system to carry out this function lies with the State Houses of Assembly because they are the critical social and political institutions necessary for this task. Neither the Constitution nor any law approves or denies a Referendum in Nigeria; hence it becomes a political issue, especially for the elites of the Constituent Units or subnationals to ensure its realization. A countrywide or Pan-Nigerian Referendum will deny the aspirations and expectations of the various Constituents, thereby neutralizing Federalism as a co-equal relationship between the national and the subnational since the countrywide Referendum already denies the existence of the subnational as a Constituent. Therefore, the solution is for subnational governments to take the bull by the horns by creating a law that enables policymaking via referendum, preparatory to conducting a state-wide referendum on the preferred structure for relations between the state and the central government.

(d) Hence, for the Yoruba, this will be the “Yoruba Referendum.” Other nationalities with contiguous states can similarly describe their Referendums, while smaller Nationalities or groups can utilize their traditional leadership mechanisms or traditional institutions to organize their Referendum or “partner" with contiguous larger groups with their own special demands or expectations. Each Nationality or a combination thereof can work out the specifics according to their situation. The results of the various Referendums will provide the basis for negotiating a new Federal Nigeria. It is important to recognise that taking such actions at the subnational level certainly requires cooperation between the people and the elite in each state or region.

(e) The State Assemblies and Governments must be engaged towards this end; part of which includes the resolve by the elite of the various Constituents to pursue the Referendum Pathway in such a manner that it becomes the topical issue in the land, indeed the “political slogan” of the land as it serves several purposes, which include the following: (i) provides the platform for, and legitimizes our engagement and pursuit of Re-Federalization/Restructuring (ii) becomes the standard and the mobilization “SLOGAN” by codifying Re-Federalization or Restructuring as a Nationality-specific Referendum as the expression of our resolve to address the contradictions of the Nigerian State (iii) Act as a mobilizing mechanism to various sectors of the society, the country at large and the international community. (iv) Embeds the “ethos” of weaving demand for re-Federalization into the aspirations and expectations of the Peoples of Nigeria(v) obviates the need for any “National Conference” as had previously been the case.

(f) Therefore, the issue to resolve is the acceptance of the Referendum as the pathway which will be backed by law made by the State Assemblies. Nigeria’s National Assembly cannot conduct a Referendum for Nigeria because the Assembly is not an Assembly of the various Peoples who are Constituents of Nigeria. Similarly, the political parties represented in the National Assembly do not represent the various Peoples of Nigeria but their party partisan preferences which may be mostly incongruent with the wishes and aspirations of the Peoples, primary of which is found in the parties’ operations without reference or deferring to the cultural, social, political, and economic aspirations of the Peoples. An example is the Yoruba preference for the Political Economy of the Western Region, now generally accepted as our “Golden Era.”

(g) This Referendum, being the collective and legitimate expression of the aspirations of the People will have to be respected and implemented by the political leadership because it is the foundation for the Constitutional negotiations towards a new Federal Nigeria. Towards this end, the Yoruba Referendum Committee has defined our expectation of a new, Federal Nigeria as a Multi-National Nigerian State in the following manner: a “Federal Nigeria, through a valid Federal Constitution, to be known as The Union of Nigerian Constituent Nationalities, with a Federal Presidential Council, whose members will be selected or elected from each of the Nationalities as Federating Units and from whom a Head of State will be selected or elected as the primus-inter-pares with an agreed term”.The Committee has also sent a Bill for Referendum to the Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ondo, and Ekiti States’ Houses of Assembly to pass into Law and commence preparations for it, although we have no official response yet. What we garnered is that it is seen as a political matter that will be decided upon by the Yoruba Political Leadership, whatever that means.

(h) In passing, it is noted that what eventually saved American democracy on January 6, 2021, was the fact that the “electors” were the states, whose decisions were to be confirmed by US Congress and which the “storming” of Congress sought to prevent and failed to achieve. The confirmation of the “electors” from the States constitutes a major pillar of Democracy in the United States. In a comparable manner, the Federating Unit will become the “electors” to select or elect its representatives to the Federal Council whose decisions cannot be overturned except by the Federating Unit itself.

Sir, we hope this letter provides the context for further engagement with the “Yoruba Political Leadership” across political parties that can benefit from inter-elite dialogue in the Yoruba region as a model to recommend to other regions.

Thank you, sir.
Editorial Board,
Yoruba Referendum Committee