Two Delegates at the National Conference, Tony Nyiam and Bisi Adegbuyi, have both said that their recommendation at the conference is a restructuring of Nigerian government to practice the federalism that accommodates its ethnic peculiarities.
Mr Nyiam said that ethnicity is an important part of Nigeria which cannot be separated from its existence. He said that Nigerians had been carried away by the federalism as practised in America but he believed that Nigeria should have an “Ethnic Federalism” where people’s ethnicities are well recognized.
He noted that America is a country of immigrants and Nigeria should not compare itself to such country. You cannot stop a Buku man from being one. He emphasized that Nigeria needs a return to the federalism that recognises its ethnicity.
Adegbuyi, although differed on the call for “Ethnic Federalism” as he said that “federalism is federalism all over the world” but he acknowledged that indeed, the way to go was for Nigeria to try and understand the agenda of each ethnicity and not to tag ethnicity as a divisive factor.
He noted that Nigeria’s past leaders and the colonial masters knew that Nigeria was made up of different nations and the country in its current state should not pretend about this reality. Citing the developments recorded by regional leaders in the 1960s, he said that empowering regional leadership would be more productive.
Nyiam also emphasized the need to move “from Fiscal Centralism to Fiscal Federalism”, a situation whereby the count
ry moves from the culture of sharing resources at the Federal level and focus on creating those resources.
He agreed with Mr Adegbuyi’s earlier statement on the need to decentralize the government and empower regional governance. He agreed that the system of governance as practised in Nigeria in the 1960s gave Nigeria its best records of development.
Secretary of the Arewa Youth, Ahmed Tijani, representing his organisation’s position on the programme, however, said that they were supporting the
conference because they believed that “half bread is better than none” noting that what they had called for was a sovereign national conference.
He further said, “There is no point in time that Nigeria should experience a breakup”, so “whoever is in the driving seat”
would need support to ensure this. He said that he hoped that at the end of the conference, something good would come out.
One of the delegates, Tony Nyiam, while expressing confidence in the conference and in the sincerity of President Jonathan was of the view that Nigerians were paying too much attention to the nomenclature of the conference.
Mr Adegbuyi, who is a legal practitioner, quoted Section 14 Subsection 2 of the 1999 Constitution which he said, gives the sovereignty of the country to the people, stating that this was also acknowledged by the President.
He stated that there was nothing that makes the ongoing conference less sovereign and that the misconception about the sovereignty of the country having been given to the National Assembly was an exaggeration of their roles.
Northern Elders’ Forum
Reference was also made to the position taken by the Northern Elders’ Forum, who have expressed their stance not to support the conference and dissociated themselves from the delegates at the conference.
Tijani said that the difference in their positions from the elders’ was because the elders are conservative while the youths are progressive. He added that while they do not totally disagree with the elders’ views, they would not tow same line because they are young, “We want change and we have to be for the conference so that things can move on”
On the possibility of the delegates having a unified discourse without ethnic sentiments, Tijani said that the Nigerian President should have made fixing the identity issues of Nigerians a priority ahead of the national Conference, citing the branding of all Northerners as Boko Haram as one of the examples of how many Nigerians still feel different from other Nigerians.
He also complained about the representation of youths at the conference as being too low for a country whose youth population is very high.
Although Adegbuyi disagreed on the youth representation, Nyiam agreed that the youths should be given focus especially in terms of empowerment. He said that the main sectors in which Nigeria derived pride had been held by the youths – entertainment, sports. Therefore, the country needs to go back to the system that allows the youths to flourish.
Adegbuyi, in conclusion, believes that the National Conference has the capacity to move Nigeria forward but the major focus should be how to achieve unity without sacrificing autonomy.