Duro Onabule: Even the Aburi accord should be on the table

by Duro Onabule


Otherwise, we return to the Aburi Agreement under which possible misuse of para-military forces by the federal government, especially in self-determined but self-serving emergency situations, could be vetoed by the (then) regional governor, i.e. today’s state or zonal state governors.

The significance of the move by Jonathan is that he said anything could be discussed or recommended to be discussed. In the Nigerian liche, there is no “no go” area.

Not unexpectedly, some have suggested that report of the 2006 constitution review panel of the Obasanjo administration should be considered. Perhaps so except that that particular exercise was initially constrained by the “no go areas” imposed. But this time, anything can be considered and recommended. Afterall, at the end of the day, the final document would be approved or rejected by Nigerians in a referendum.

As might be expected, the timing and purpose of Jonathan’s decision to set up the advisory committee for guidelines to review Nigerian constitution have raised suspicions. Even then, nobody could dispute events of the past six to seven years, which, for the first time since the end of the civil war (in 1970), raised uncertainty of the survival of Nigeria’s continued existence as one country. Once again, there have been open threats by sections of the country to break away, all in the battle for national political succession.

If, therefore, President Jonathan granted that nothing should be left out in the guidelines to be recommended for review of Nigerian constitution and some have rightly or wrongly suggested that the report of the 2006 constitutional review should be considered, then we should go the whole hog by also putting on the table for serious/additional consideration the Aburi Agreement.

What was Aburi Agreement? That was the report of last minute efforts made by (as they were then) Lt. Colonel Yakubu Gowon and Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegu-Ojukwu, respective leaders of the disputing sides in the tragic events, leading to the civil war. Non-implementation of the Aburi Agreement was due to inability to grasp the reality of Nigeria’s constitutional imperative, not only of those tragic moments in our history but also of future peace and harmony in Nigeria.

Today, Aburi Report has emerged an irony almost fifty years to the outbreak of the civil war. Otherwise, how do we explain the situation in the country today in which the Northerner, Easterner, the Westerner and Southerner are all unanimous in demanding compulsory review of Nigerian constitution to provide what were the exact joint agreement on the details of the Aburi document? Aburi Agreement provided for state police, more revenue allocation for states (regions at that time or today’s zones), less revenue allocation for the federal government. On top of these, Aburi Agreement effectively contained the prospects of any head of Nigerian government, misusing security forces (police and the army) for personal political purposes, as we have been experiencing since 1999 in Nigeria.

Yet, these are the demands throughout the political environment  in today’s Nigeria. Yet, another irony of the Aburi Agreement. Since the panel for guidelines to review Nigerian constitution set up by President Jonathan took off, there have been demands that a secession clause be inserted to enable any willing part of the country to break away. Aburi Agreement on the other hand provided for single armed forces, single passport, single customs, single immigration, single airways, etc., all of which, no matter how tenuously, would still keep Nigeria one.

Those who stood to lose under Aburi agreement were senior civil servants and politicians for whom the crisis of those days offered the opportunity to enhance their career.

The major problem was and is still that the average sixty-year old Nigerian (about fourteen years old at the time of Almri Conference) knows nothing about the contents and provisions of the Aburi Agreement.

The more reason the historic Aburi Agreement must be released by Nigerian government for everybody to peruse. If Jonathan says everything should be considered (that is no area is forbidden), it clearly means federation, confederation or even disintegration can be considered. Certainly, Aburi Agreement did not provide for the big bear type of federation we have today. Equally, Aburi Agreement never provided for Nigeria’s disintegration. If anything, Aburi Agreement provided for the true federalism everybody is demanding today in which derivation will be a major determinant in allocating revenue. Everybody agrees that the current constitution in which federal government chocks every other part of the country is not in any way desirable. That was exactly the import of the Aburi Agreement.

The current exercise offered by Goodluck Jonathan is an opportunity to avoid the mistakes of the past in which the focus of writing or reviewing constitutions was the prospective political advantage for a particular candidate or majority of delegates were proteges of the candidate of their choice. That is not how to write the constitution of a country.

This time, it will be wrong to aim at a new constitution from the position of anti or pro one part of Nigeria. Rather, any new constitution must cater for the interests of all Nigerians, both now and future generations. A weak union is better than outright disintegration. We just have to accept our different values and culture. Unity or oneness cannot be coerced or artificialised. Unity evolves.

It is most unlikely that a Nigerian Professor of History has adequate grasp of details of the Aburi Agreement since he is steeped in the prejudice and ignorance of the past that the document would disintegrate Nigeria or, at best, weaken the federation. Yet, these are the same Nigerians, demanding restructuring of our constitution along the lines of true or fiscal federalism. Such a man needs to read the Aburi Agreement.

There are points for and against the insertion of secession clause in a Nigerian constitution in the future. The chief point against the idea is the possibility of political cranks, invoking the clause to lead to sudden disintegration of the country. There is the other side. A major cause of the intermittent inter-regional inter-state, inter-ethnic, anti-this section or anti-that section murders even by the state is the impunity, which forecloses repercussion. It is only natural to seek redress for dissatisfaction.

Unlike in the past, the knowledge of the secession clause will compel mutual respect and care for the interests of all Nigerians by fellow Nigerians, including those in government. And why don’t we stop the hypocrisy? Since 1950, one section of Nigeria or another had threatened to secede. The first was the demand for a constitutional arrangement, guaranteeing east for easterners, west for westerners and North for northerners.

We had the last minute abandonment of Araba. There was also the failed Biafran declaration of independence. And lately, since 2010, we have been under intimidation with the blackmail of “our son or we secede, a threat still hanging on Nigeria against outcome of 2015 presidential elections.

Furthermore, we were in this country when federal government forces were unleashed on unarmed village women in Odi, Zaki Biam without any redress or repercussions. It is also the Nigerian federal system that allows a rampaging police force to hinder a state governor with the people’s mandate from performing his constitutional duties. A reckless federal system that disturbed the campaign rally of political rivals by tear-gassing the crowd, leading to the death of a vice-presidential candidate, Chuba Okadigbo?

A reckless federal government, employing its police force to restrict and order the movement of a duly elected state governor? There must be safeguards against such irresponsible government conduct against innocent citizens. In such situations, secession can only be the last resort.

Otherwise, we return to the Aburi Agreement under which possible misuse of para-military forces by the federal government, especially in self-determined but self-serving emergency situations, could be vetoed by the (then) regional governor, i.e. today’s state or zonal state governors.

That is the more reason Aburi Agreement must not only be published by the Federal  Government but also be considered by Nigerians for possible adoption of its valuable provisions into Nigerian constitution. We must all know what efforts were made in the past to pre-empt today’s politically troubling times.

A set of state governors, holding legitimate meeting and disturbed by Nigeria police on the order of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria?

Absence of secession clause in a country’s constitution is no guarantee against breakup or disintegration, as in the case of Yugoslavia into Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, etc. Sudan also had no secession in its constitution. Yet, Southern Sudan also seceded from the North. In prolonged atrocities by the central authorities, leaving the victims no alternative to breaking away. Equally, after years of repression and murders by the Ethiopian central authorities, Eriteria demanded secession clause, which they eventually invoked to attain sovereign status from Ethiopia.

Today, Ethiopians treat their neighbours with respect under international treaty just as Northern Sudanese authorities today manage friendly ties with Southern Sudan. Secession clause is, therefore, not necessarily an immediate danger until compelling reasons arise to take the final.

There are also the two baseless speculations that in the event of a breakup of Nigeria, the North will suffer both from being landlocked and introduction of derivation on revenue allocation mainly from oil revenue. For a start, South Sudan is landlocked and yet insisted on secession from North Sudan. Heaven has not fallen. Uganda is landlocked and remains one of the thriving economics in Africa.

Second, Northern Nigerians are no fools. Before oil, the region was buoyant economically. Oil producing South will eventually be matched by oil in the North with prospects rapidly increasing for oil in commercial quantities in Chad Basin and lately Bida area.

Hence the earlier caution that any future Nigerian constitution must not be planned from a position of anti or pro one section of the country. Eventually, the result will be an illusion.




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