The meeting tagged “Handshake across The Niger,” organized in Enugu by Nzuko Umunna and the apex Igbo socio-cultural association, Ohanaeze-Ndigbo in alliance with the South-West, South-South and Middle-Belt zones was to further enhance the mutual relationships that had existed among the people of the zones in order to strengthen the nation’s unity.
All those who spoke at the meeting emphasized the urgent need for the country’s present political structure to be re-structured to ensure proper growth and development of all her various segments
The speakers re-stated that except the current lopsided shape of the country was restructured it would be risky and deceptive for the country to continue as a true federation or even to talk of holding the next general elections.
The meeting was attended by prominent Nigerians such as Chief Olu Falae who was a co-chairman of the meeting, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, who led the Yoruba delegation, Olusegun Mimiko, Prof Banji Akintoye, Senator Femi Okorenu, Chief Kofo Buknor-Akerele, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, Prof Pat Utomi, the families of Major-General Aguiyi Ironsi, and Col Adekunle Fajuyi who were killed in the military coup of July 1966.
Others were Chukwuemeka Ezeife, Prof. Anya O. Anya, Chief John Nnia Nwodo, Igwe Alfred Achebe, the Obi of Onitsha, Ikedi Ohakim, Senators Chris Anyanwu, Enyinnaya Abaribe, lady Onyeka Onwenu, Prof. Joe Irukwu, former Governor of Plateau State, Jonah Jang, Air Commodore Idong Eket, who represented Chief Edwin Clark, among others.
Addressing the huge gathering, leader of the Yourba delegation, Chief Ayo Adebanjo said the meeting was a catalyst for the unity of Nigeria.
“The peace of Yoruba land, the peace of Igboland is the peace of Nigeria which is symbolized in the handshake,” he said, adding that the West and the East were not ganging up against anybody but were only saying that the nation should operate on the agreed terms as spelt out by the founding fathers of the country who established a true federal structure that was scuttled by the military rulers.
“Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello all agreed on the federal structure upon which the country was built. Chief Awolowo was emphatic on the condition of creating equal regions upon which the nation would operate.
President Muhammadu Buhari cannot claim to be more northerner than the Sarduana, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello.
“I have challenged Buhari and the APC. Buhari is the problem of Nigeria by opposing restructuring. He has ensured that all the military and paramilitary organs are in the north. We don’t want the unity of the horse and the rider…I want to warn you (the audience), Buhari will not do restructuring in peace because his people are the beneficiaries of the lopsided structure,” Adebanjo said, adding, “We should consolidate the unity by which all Nigerians should come together…The southeast, southwest, southsouth and middle belt unity is vital to Nigeria’s unity.”
Air Commodore Idong Eket (rtd) who represented leader of the Niger Delta people, Chief Edwin Clark, said Nigerians must return to the same political structure the nation’s founding fathers established before the military intervention. “When General Yakubu Gowon created 12 states, we had six states in the north and six states in the south,” he said, pointing out that the south-south zone was “very, very clear about restructuring and true federalism.”
Former Plateau State Governor, Jonah Jang who led the middle Belt delegation said: “I salute Nigerians today because of this occasion. This is what we have been waiting for…It’s the style of the enemies of Nigeria’s unity to say Yorubas should not trust Igbos and Igbos should not trust Yorubas.
This handshake should be extended across Niger Benue; it should be extended to the Riverrine areas; it’s a handshake for all Nigerians. My speech is on behalf of the middle belt.”
Another leader from the MiddleBelt, Timothy Gwande said the question of restructuring Nigeria “is not debatable,” adding that “It’s not a question in the hand of one individual. That Nigeria should be restructured is a task that must be done.”
He added: “Nigeria must survive and exist on unity. It should be a plce for all to be proud of.”
Abia State Governor, Dr Okezie Ikpeazu who was represented by his deputy told the gathering that “This is the time for us to conclude that this country should be restructured…All hands must be on deck to ensure that Nigeria will be truly restructured. Let our resolution after this meeting today be how to restructure Nigeria.”