‘Quest for regional autonomy by Yoruba will strip FG of power over seaports’

The quest for Nigeria to return to the regional system of government and the demand for regional autonomy as the minimum condition for remaining in the Federal Republic of Nigeria by the Yoruba ethnic group, if it sails through, will strip the Federal Government of its powers over control of the nation’s seaports, according to an analyst.

The Yoruba ethnic group, which comprises six states in the South-west geopolitical zone of the country and has an estimated population of 36 million (21 per cent of the total population of Nigeria), expressed strong will “to exercise its right of self-determination on and up to the right to secede if its demand for regional autonomy is not granted.”

The demands were made last month at a joint news conference of the leadership of the Yoruba Assembly, Afenifere Renewal Group, O’dua Foundation, O’dua Nationalist Coalition, Afenifere Youth Forum, Atayese, Agbekoya Reformed Society and Coalition for O’dua Self-determination Group among others addressed at Gani Fawehinmi Park, Ojota.

The news conference with the theme: “Regional Autonomy… or Nothing”, was addressed by the National Secretary, Chief Ayo Afolabi and Chairman of Atayese Yoruba Group, Chief Tokunbo Ajasin on behalf of the ethnic group.

The group stated that Yoruba “want a regional government with its own constitution and unfettered political and fiscal autonomy, except on issues it agrees to cede to the federal government.”

The group said that every region in the country should have total control over the natural resources in its area.

“It is a call for resource control and what this means is that all natural resources including crude oil and the waterways and the seaports will be in the hands of the region as against the current situation where these are controlled by the Federal Government,” an analyst and Yoruba community leader, Abidoun Oyewopo, told SHIPS & PORTS DAILY.

Oyewopo, who expressed doubt over the acceptance of the Yoruba leaders’ position sent to the ongoing National Constitutional Conference in Abuja, said that the demand is not “entirely new.”

He said, “In the days when Nigeria practiced regionalism before the military adventurism, each region controlled its own resources and made contributions to the centre. If you go to America whose democracy we have poorly imitated, you will see that seaports are owned by counties which is the equivalent of the local governments we have here.”

When asked on the implication of the Yourba leaders’ demand on the various contracts that the Federal Government has entered into in the maritime industry, he said: “I do not think that we should begin to speculate.

“Don’t forget that this is a mere proposal for now although it is a strong one. But if the Yorubas eventually have their way, it means several things will have to be renegotiated but honestly I don’t see it sailing through at the National Conference level.”

Other demands of the Yoruba include a just and equitable taxation system that “will treat the federating units with equality and better coordination at the federal level in order to eliminate the current rent syndrome and fiscal federalism and resource control.

“A system whereby a substantial part of the proceeds accruable from every federating unit will be retained and an agreed percentage contributed to the centre by the federating units for the responsibility of the federal government.”

The group demanded the establishment of regional police and a new people‘s constitution, which the resolutions and conclusions of the 2014 national conference shall lead “to an autochthonous constitution, that is a home-grown and all inclusive draft that shall be submitted to the Nigerian electorate voting in a referendum

It, also, demanded special status for Lagos, which it said, would continue to be the economic nerve centre of Nigeria and the West Africa, hence, there should be an appropriate budgetary provision that is part of the First Line Charge in the Federation Account.

“We are not enforcing our demands on others. They are free to explore whatever suits them while we should be free to organise our governance the way it suits us,” the Yoruba leaders stated.