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By AYOOLA OLAOLUWA

Amid a wave of agitations across the country, the clamour for a restructuring of the nation’s federal system at the weekend gained traction, with prominent Nigerians cutting across ethnic lines insisting that for Nigeria to move forward, the current constitution governing it must be tinkered with.

The speakers spoke at the 2021 Obafemi Awolowo Lecture with the theme: ‘Whither Nigeria?’ organised by the Obafemi Awolowo Foundation in Ikenne, Ogun State at the weekend.

One of the speakers, Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, said that in order to tackle some of the major challenges confronting the country, the nation must be restructured.

According to Soyinka, it amounts to foolishness for some Nigerians to believe that the country can work in its present state without being restructured.

The literary giant said that there was a consensus among Nigerians that the country must be restructured urgently, pointing out that anybody still asking what restructuring was all about, in spite of the numerous explanations already provided should be ignored because such persons had chosen to be deliberately ignorant.

“There is a consensus that this country whether in terms of governance, economic relations, security, educational policy, cultural policy, among others, requires restructuring.

“Even the word ‘restructuring’ has been restructured in many directions, in cogent expression which will mean the same thing for everybody.

“For me, for instance, I emphasised decentralisation, reconfiguration…We all know what we have now is not working, it’s obvious and we can’t continue along the same line and say that it will work, it is sign of madness.

“I want to make a plea to all governors, stop being so timid. Push this federal envelope as far as it can go, even while we undertake the technical aspect of restructuring whether in terms of dialogue, evolving the constitution or whatever, something has to go on, after all, we’ve had so many of these confabs.

“My plea is to governors to start with: You are charged with the immediate responsibility of the welfare of your own people in whatever term and if you study the constitution carefully, I have done this with lawyers, and it seems that a lot can be done at this moment.

“You need a season of greater autonomy for your own states and that is what I mean by pushing the federal envelope as far as it can go even with this impossible document that we have to cease what power, what authority you can derive from the constitution.

“Consult with your lawyers, I have consulted with mine and they also expressed the view that the governors are too timid, there is too much centralised mentality embedded in their minds and they are afraid to come out of their cocoons.

“Please remember that your primary responsibility is not the centre but the people, the state.

“So, take in your hands any form of authority that you can even from this constitution as it stands while we are working on a more honest, a more people-oriented constitution”, Soyinka stated.

Soyinka lambasted state governors for getting enmeshed in a centralised mentality and afraid to come out of their cocoons. He advised them to stop being timid and push for greater autonomy.

“I want to make a plea to all governors, stop being so timid. Push this federal envelope as far as it can go, even while we undertake the technical aspect of restructuring.

“Whether in terms of dialogue, evolving the constitution or whatever, something has to go on, after all, we’ve had so many of these confabs.

“My plea is to governors to start with the immediate responsibility of the welfare of your own people in whatever term and if you study the constitution carefully, I have done this with lawyers, and it seems that a lot can be done at this moment.

“Consult with your lawyers, I have consulted with mine and they also expressed the view that the governors are too timid, there is too much centralised mentality embedded in their minds and they are afraid to come out of their cocoons.

“You need a season of greater autonomy for your own states and that is what I mean by pushing the federal envelope as far as it can go even with this impossible document that we have to cease what power, what authority you can derive from the constitution.”

Also speaking, former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, said Nigeria needed a new constitution to replace the obsolete 1999 Constitution, insisting that the new constitution should be produced by the Nigerian people.

“There is no section or ethnic group that does not stand to gain from belonging to one country that is the size and resources of Nigeria.

“Therefore, it is and should be in the common interest of ethnic groups and component parts to sustain and nourish one country.

“The growing level of distrust and divisiveness among ethnic and religious groups are undermining the cohesion and threatening the continued existence of one Nigeria. For how long can the leadership of Nigeria continue to ignore this fact?”

In his own contribution, poet and author, Odia Ofeimun, blamed the rot and backwardness in the educational system of Northern Nigeria on ethnicity.

The poet who was private secretary to Awolowo, said: “Every child in the North should go to school. There is an ethnic argument against education. They are using that argument to stop the rest of us from moving forward”, the poet argued.

However, former Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi I, disagreed with Ofeimun, pointing out that the problem with the educational system in the North was not ethnicity but the failure of the government to provide schools, train the teachers and provide everything needed to encourage the children in the region to go to school.

According to Sanusi, he also had earlier believed that the problem was ethnicity until he became the emir and saw the situation of things differently as an insider.

He noted that the British colonial masters did not want the North to be educated like the South.

The dignitaries at the lecture included the former Secretary-General of Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku; the Emir of Sokoto, Saad Abubakar 111; the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi; former Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II; and former Deputy Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, Obadiah Mailafia.

The 2021 Obafemi Awolowo Lecture was instituted by the Obafemi Awolowo Foundation as part of the programme to commemorate the birthday of the former permier of Western Nigerian, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who died in 1987 at the age of 78.

The series has, since 1993, attracted distinguished intellectuals whose views on public affairs are at once robust and agenda- setting, but sometimes controversial.

The memorial lecture is held annually on a topic freely chosen by the guest lecturer.