PANEL DISCUSSION: RECONCILIATION, RECONSTRUCTION AND REHABILITATION – LESSONS LEARNED
CHIEF AYO ADEBANJO TRANSCRIPT
Chief Ayo Adebanjo is a lawyer, politician of the Awolowo school of thought, activist, elder statesman and chieftain of Afenifere (the Pan Yoruba socio-political group first established in the 1950s).
The Chairman of this panel, distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, I want to congratulate this organization for organizing this seminar and choosing the subject of the seminar. The late Shehu Musa Yar’Adua was one of the very few Nigerians who was far-sighted enough to appreciate the unity of Nigeria. And to show that he was appreciated, he defeated a Yoruba man in Lagos during the primaries of the general election before the process was hijacked by the military. I am happy that at this point in our development as a country, it is the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua foundation that has brought into focus the subject of this discussion.
I am asked to contribute to the theme, “what lessons have we learned?” Before we talk of the lessons learned, we need to ask ourselves “what were the issues that took place before we learn these lessons?” To answer these questions, we need to go back to how we arrived at this juncture. Our coming together was in contention as people believe that the colonialist who brought us together gave us a system that was not harmonious with our unity. They met several ethnic nationalities in the country and they imposed a unity form of government on us. Our forefathers, unlike what some of our leaders said earlier, appreciated this because we had a crisis during the First Republic about how we were going to live together; I want to stress that the question is not about living together, I believe we have passed that. The question of Biafra and other related issues is on “How do we want to live together in peace and on agreed terms?” The moment you talk about harmonising, restructuring or federalism, they say “you want to break the country” that is not true. Anybody opposed to restructuring and a federal system of Government in Nigeria is only paying lip-service to our unity and is an enemy of the nation.
Unfortunately, our Acting President gave a wrong synopsis about the question of living together in a federation. He tells us how good it is to live together and how America came into being. In contradiction, the Americans who came together sat together on the terms of their living together, there was war of the American independence before they came to the decision of living together, they asked themselves how they were going to live together and set the terms. They were not forced, there was no unified government imposed on the various groups in America that came to live together. Up until today, a lawyer in New York cannot practice in Houston but that does not say America is not united which is the lesson we ought to learn about Biafra.
What we are saying in Nigeria and what Biafra is telling us from all past incidents which I do not want to take us back to is that, from the crisis of 1953 in parliament, when Chief Enahoro moved the motion for our independence, there was no basis for living together, the colonialists summoned us to London, we took with us the 1954 constitution and said we wanted true federalism where every region, every state had its own constitution written separately and thereafter we were living together It was on that basis that we got our independence. The Sardauna, Awolowo and Azikiwe all agreed on the mode of living together.
Our former President said that our past leaders did not agree on the unity of the country as they were more concerned about freedom. This is not correct as it was on the basis of unifying the country that the London constitutional conference of 1954 was summoned. After the conference, we had true federalism and on that basis we had independence. I also question some of our friends from the North who claim to believe that anybody talking about restructuring wants to break Nigeria; there cannot be any northerner more patriotic than the late Sardauna. The Sardauna, Azikiwe and Awolowo contributed and gave us the constitution at independence in 1960 and in 1953. This history is important because before we come to learn, we have to know how we got to this position, it was settled then and there was competition amongst our leaders as the Sardauna built the Ahmadu Bello University and the Ahmadu Bello Stadium while Awolowo built a stadium… until the military came.
Our problem is the military and would continue to be the military.
The lesson we must learn from Biafra is that the military did not allow us to settle our problems, they added to it for their benefit. From the beginning, Nigeria has been a geographical expression because when the colonialist came here, they saw the different tribes separately, Why did the amalgamation of 1914 occur if we were together? Who brought us together? Did we consent to it? Were we consulted? And thereafter the question of nationalism came and Awolowo warned at the time that a community diverse in religion, culture, ethics and organization cannot be ruled by a central government and he gave the instance that “there is nowhere in the whole world where such a system succeeded with multi-national people” and that is what we were suffering from.
What lessons have we learned? The lesson we must learn is that until we have a constitution that appreciates the various communities that have come together, we can never have peace and the current structure of Nigeria would not exist.
Chief Ayo Adebanjo
May 25, 2017