ACF chief under fire over comment
Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) Chair Ibrahim Coomassie’s statement that the country can never survive without the North has drawn the ire of some Nigerians. Former Senator Femi Okunrounmu, Afenifere Secretary-General Sehinde Arogbofa and United People’s Party (UPP) chieftain, among others, have cautioned elder statesmen against provocative remarks. Leke Salaudeen, Raymond Mordi and Musa Odoshimokhe report.
The debate on the unity of Nigeria has been on for a very long time. One school of thought believes in negotiating the country’s unity by way of restructuring. Another expresses fear that any attempt to discourse the unity will dismember Nigeria as a nation.
Three days ago, the chairman of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Ibrahim Coomassie stirred the hornets’ nest with his comment that “Nigeria can’t survive without the North.”
Commassie’s remarks have been eliciting reactions from some stakeholders in the Nigerian project, with many arguing that no part of the country was unable.
“We all know that without the North, Nigeria can never survive. We still stand by it. But now is the time to walk the talk in the interest of our people,” Coomassie, a one-time Inspector-General of Police (IGP), told members of the Jam’iyya Matan Arewa (JMA), in Kaduna on Tuesday.
Members of the JMA, a foremost northern women socio-cultural organisation, were on a visit to ACF’s National Working Committee (NWC).
The Secretary-General of Yoruba socio-cultural organisation – Afenifere – Chief Seinde Arogbofa, urged elder statesmen to refrain from making inflammatory statements that could incite people against themselves.
Arogbofa said that such comment from an elder in the standing of a former police chief and leader of a pan-North organisation, was uncalled for, giving the security situation in the country.
Urging the ACF leader to be more circumspect in future, Arogbofa said all regions in the country are inter-dependence and that none is indispensable.
The Afenifere scribe said: “We need each other to make the country great; no region should be considered inconsequential. Let’s live together as a nation irrespective of our diversities; let’s unite and work for the progress of this country.
“The peaceful co-existence of the country is what Afenifere stands for and that is why we are calling for true federalism so that each region or zone can develop at its own pace.”
In his own reaction, a lawyer and civil right activist, Monday Ubani, described Coomasie’s statement as ‘an out-of-place’ comment, insisting that “all regions make up Nigeria; no region can claim to be superior to others.”
Ubani, who said that every region was endowed with natural resources, said: “There is no region that can’t stand on its own; anyone saying a region is indispensable to the continuous existence of Nigeria as an entity is deluded under demonic influence.”
The activist pointed out that the clamour for true federalism continued to resonate because of the abundance of God-given resources across the land.
He recalled that in the First Republic, the 1960 Constitution allowed each of the defunct three regions to manage its resources.
“There was pyramid groundnut in the North; rubber and palm oil in the East and cocoa in the West. The regions were developing at their own pace and there was healthy competition among them”, he said.
Ubani regretted that the military intervention stalled the nation’s progress when it suspended the constitution and imposed a unitary system of government on us.
“Despite the absence of true federalism, no region can lord it over the others”, Ubani concluded.
A sociologist, Dr. Alfred Okunbor, cautioned the ACF chief to desist from making statements that can jeopardise the unity of the country.
He said the era of one ethnic group or region claiming superiority was gone for good.
“The days of regional hegemony are gone,” he said.
Insisting that no region was indispensable for the country’s existence, Okunbor said Nigerians should de-emphasise artificial boundaries and see themselves as one united family.
No region is an island
But, an Enugu-based lawyer, Chief Enechi Onyia, (SAN), who agreed that Nigeria cannot survive without the North, said “every region needs the other to survive”.
He said: “Yes, it is true; Nigeria cannot survive without the North. If the North pulls out, is it the same Nigeria again? Can Nigeria survive without the Igbo? It would not be the same Nigeria without the Igbo. Can Nigeria survive without the Yoruba? Can the country survive without the Itsekiri? It cannot be the same anymore.
“But when you become selfish and think that survival is individualistic, then that’s a different thing. We have 240 tribes in Nigeria, if we start this tribalistic thing, how do we go? Have you read the constitution of Nigeria? Do you see anywhere labeled North, East or West? Do you see Igbo, Yoruba or any tribe for that matter?
“There are no geo-political zones in the constitution either; it doesn’t exist. It was only introduced by people who cannot survive in Nigeria, because they are ‘bigmen’. So, they decided to organise Southeast, Southwest and what have you, where they would be at the top.
“What it means is that the country cannot be the same again. We need each other, to develop ourselves and sustain the unity of Africa.
“Indeed, all parts of this country can survive as a country. But what kind of survival is that? What it means is that when an Igbo man is going to Port Harcourt, he would require a visa; when he is going to Benin City, he would need a visa. You are going to Otukpo, you will take visa. What kind of survival is that? My point is that we need each other.”
As far as the All Progressives Congress (APC) spokesman in Anambra State, Mr. Okelo Madukaife, was concerned, the country needs all its constituent parts to survive.
He said: “My response is that people are free to air their views. Nigeria needs all of us to survive; irrespective of the part of the country we come from. From such a positive point of view, what that statement simply means to me is that they have a lot to contribute to Nigeria.
“But I’ve not read the ACF statement, because in matters like this the context is important. It does not sound like a positive statement, if it is turned the other way round: that they are indispensable to Nigeria. But I don’t think it was said in that context.”
Former Senator Femi Okunrounmi described the ACF leader’s comment as delusory.
He said: “When you say we cannot survive without them, you begin to imagine what exactly we get from them that we shall miss if we are not together. They are the ones who depend on us and not the other way round.
“All the oil is in the south, they have not got any oil in the north. From all the years and the billions of naira they have spent looking for oil in the Chad Basin, they have not found any trace of oil there.
“There is no indication that there is any oil in the North, all the industries are in the South, the revenue that we share in Abuja, 80 per cent or more comes from the South.
Okurounmu said the North will benefit a lot from a restructured Nigeria.
He said: “In fact, the bulk of the revenue comes from Lagos, Ogun states and of course the oil producing states in the Delta areas. So, the North would be left with nothing if they are not with the South.
“That is why we are calling for restructuring and in fact, it will benefit the North more. When we restructure, they will be in a position to explore the mineral resources in their domains which at present, they are not exploring. There are enough mineral resources within the states in the country,” the former Ogun senator said.
Also reacting, the National Chairman of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), Prof Bankole Okuwa and his United Progressives Party (UPP) counterpart, Chief Chekwas Okorie, described the remarks credited to Coomasie as unfortunate.
Okorie said: “As a matter of fact the statement is condemnable because many people don’t want Nigeria to continue this way. Many people want to go their separate ways. Why is he talking about Nigeria not surviving without the North? Is it not clear to him that there are many separatist agitations in the country, who feel they are better off without being in Nigeria?
Instead of joining hand with Nigerian leaders of thought to make the country a better place and to have reason to say they are proud Nigerians, he is putting more fuel in a burning fire.”