By MIKE ODIEGWU, OZIOMA UBABUKOH, LEKE BAIYEWU and ALLWELL OKPI|PUNCHMoves by the National Assembly to further amend the 1999 Constitution has again brought to the fore the sharp division and mutual distrust between the North and South, as both have taken opposing views on the entrenchment of the six geopolitical zones in the constitution.
The North said it represented 60 per cent of the country’s population, and therefore, would resist efforts to equate it with the South, which it claimed represented just 40 per cent of Nigeria.
It added that any attempt to deny the majority its position on the matter would lead to anarchy.
The Convener of Concerned Northern Politicians, Academics, Professionals and Businessmen, Dr. Juniad Mohammed, said these in an exclusive interview with one of our correspondents on Friday.
The Northern Governors Forum had similarly opposed the inclusion of geopolitical zones in the constitution, just as Arewa Consultative Forum scoffed at the suggestion.
Mohammed said, “When some people insist that 60 per cent of the population must be made equal with the remaining 40 per cent, I don’t understand it. In the last census in 2006, the North-West was 37 million, while Ohaneze’s South-East was 15 million. How do you equate the two of them?
“Democracy is a game of numbers. Any attempt to deny the majority would result in anarchy. From the records of the census that have been conducted in this country, it is obvious that the North constitutes at least 60 per cent of Nigeria’s population.
“They’ve been trying to do this since and now they want do it through the back door by putting it into the constitution. I say it will never happen. Geopolitical zones will never be accepted in the constitution no matter what it takes. North and South are not equal and we can never be equal,” he said.
The President-General, Chief Ralph Uwechue, however, said the current concept of six geopolitical zones was ethnically based, with three zones accorded to the larger ethnic groups while the three other zones were derived from smaller ethnic units.
He explained that this made for political balance and stability.
He said, “The simple lesson from this structural arrangement is that the ethnic units are recognised and accepted as the veritable building blocks in the ongoing construction work and nation-building process in Nigeria.
“We are now saying that the six geopolitical zones of today should inherit the same powers and responsibility the three zones had at that time.
“What it means is that these six zones will become the federating units of Nigeria and any other arrangement each region wants to make will be entirely left for the zones.”
“This is the best thing that can happen to this country right now.
“Our position is that we should have six regions coinciding with the current six geopolitical zones and having the same powers and responsibility as were given to the regions at independence.
“The difference is that instead of three regions at independence, we now have six regions.”
According to the Ohaneze chairman, the northern governor’s refusal to allow the inclusion of the zones in the constitution was a way of perpetuating the autocratic military distortion of the master plan, (political arrangement) which produced Nigeria in 1960.
He further said, “The terms they are kicking against are the terms of having Nigeria as a country, and these terms were arrived at after negotiations between political parties at the time.”
Similarly, the National Publicity Secretary, Afenifere Renewal Movement, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, said the geopolitical zones should be maintained, while power is decentralised.
He said, “In my opinion, the zones should stay. They should be strengthened to function as federating units in the new structure for Nigeria. They should be autonomous and manage the resources within their territories.”
Groups in the South-South angrily told SUNDAY PUNCH in separate interviews that the North was in the “habit of discouraging moves aimed at giving everyone in the country a sense of belonging.”
Such was the position of the Secretary of the Bayelsa State Elders’ Forum, Chief Thompson Okorotie.
He said, “If they are truly interested in the unity and indivisibility of this country, they would not be opposing any move to give a sense of belonging to all the sections of this country.
Okorotie, a former political adviser in the state the governor, therefore described the North’s stance as divisive,
“When they hold this kind of position, one begins to wonder what their agenda for Nigeria is,” he added.
He noted that the reason for the creation of the existing geopolitical zones was to promote unity by ensuring that all sections and ethnic groups were represented in all issues affecting the country.
On its part, the Ijaw National Congress said the North was promoting “disunity and selfishness” by rejecting the inclusion of geopolitical zones.
Its National President, Mr. Joshua Benameisigha, said the group even wanted 10 zones for the country.
“We are in support of 10 zones. We want to be in our own zone because currently we are Balkanized all over the country.
“The northern groups are living in the past because to have a fiscal federalism, all the zones must be included in the constitution.”
Also, a Niger Delta activist, Chief Nengi James, said for all sections of the country to become one entity, the geopolitical zones must be recognised in the constitution.
He said, “This time around, we are ready for them; if they don’t want it, let them go and form a country of their own. We have suffered enough in their hands but we are not ready to suffer any more.”
Meanwhile, in a 14-page memorandum submitted to the National Assembly which was made available to SUNDAY PUNCH, Ohanaeze stated that Nigeria made more progress in national development in the early years of its independence when it practiced true federalism of four regions with more extensive powers devolved from the center to the regions.
The memo read, “To return to true federalism, we need a major restructuring of our current architecture of governance. We would need six federating units, instead of our present 36 units, which not only sustain an over-dominant center, but also compel the country to spend not less than 74% of its revenue on the cost of administration.
“If the existing 36 states must be retained in some form, they could be made cost-effective development zones with minimal administrative structures within the six federating units.”
Uwechue, Eze Ilomuanya, Prof. Joe Irukwu, Justice Ezebuilo Ozobu, Chief Nduka Eya, and Chief Gari-Enwo Igariwey signed the document.
However, a Second Republic Governor of Kaduna State, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, said it was unnecessary to include geopolitical zones in the constitution.
Rather, he opted for the old regional system, which existed in the First Republic.
He said, There are more important issues in the country at this moment. It would be a waste of time and resources to drag the issues, because at the end of the day it will not work out.”
The six zonal structure was adopted in 1995 constitutional conference, following former vice-president, Alex Ekwueme’s proposal.