Lateef Femi Okunnu, a former Federal Commissioner for Works and Housing, says it is “rubbish” for members of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo to ask for slots in the cabinet of the Lagos State government.
Lateef Femi Okunnu also said Nigeria must return to the 12-state structure for proper power balancing and effective restructuring.
The 86-year-old elder statesman said this in an interview with The Sun newspaper.
Okunnu, who served between 1966 to 1975, under the regime of Yakubu Gowon, Nigeria’s former military head of State, said Gowon created 12 states after the civil war to create balance across the region.
“Gowon created 12 states from the existing four regions. Let me say this quickly about the 12 states structure, which I have been advocating should be restored in our effort to restructure the country.
“Part of the agitations that led to the civil war was the size of the North, that it was too large, not only in size but also in population. For true federalism to endure, you need proper balancing and that was what Gowon did, following agitation for state creation.
“He created six states out of the Northern region in concurrence with the political leadership of the North. I was privileged to be a member of the ad hoc Constitutional conference in late 1966 after the second coup, which Gowon set up to bring all the regions together.
“There was the North Central State-Kaduna, Katsina and the likes and there was the North Western State- Sokoto and the likes, so six there, right, and then six in the South.
“We had the Western State: Osun, Ogun, Oyo and Ondo. So, the Afenifere shouting for Oduduwa State lost the chance by allowing the Western State to be broken into pieces.
“We also had the Eastern State. They also lost their chance to have a state for the mostly speaking Igbo Nigerians. We had the Rivers State and the Mid-Western State.
“These 12 states were created with the agreement of the political leadership at the time. So if we had allowed the 12 states structure to endure, Nigeria as a country would grow beyond its present sorry state.”
Lateef Femi Okunnu also rejected the involvement of cultural groups in Nigeria’s politics, stating that the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Ohanaeze Ndigbo and Afenifere have no business in politics.
He said these groups should revert to their roles in nation building and not dabble in politics.
“People exploit ethnicity for political power. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, one of my heroes, was elected on the platform of a democratic party, NCNC alliance in Lagos, first Lagos member not on the platform of Igbo state union which was at its infancy at the time but as a Nigerian. Azikiwe was above ethnicity; the Yoruba elected him.
“There was the Igbo state union, Ibibio state union which concentrated on educating Ibibio students, through award of scholarship. Dr. Udo Udoma was awarded scholarship to study law by the Ibibio state union.
That was the role state unions were playing at that time.
“Chief Awolowo founded Egbe Omo Oduduwa in London in 1946, 47 or thereabouts and established a branch in Nigeria in 1948. Again, in fairness to him, although he was strongly for regionalism, he didn’t use the Egbe Omo Oduduwa platform when he was in government. There was Action Group and there was Egbe Omo Oduduwa, a cultural group awarding scholarship. To me, ACF, Ohanaeze, Afenifere should all revert to that role. They have no business in politics; no place for them in politics.
“Some characters were speaking to the press sometime ago on behalf of Ohanaeze saying they want slots in the Lagos State cabinet. Rubbish! How many Lagos people are asking for cabinet slots in Imo, Abia, Enugu and the like? You leave that to local politics and local politicians. They should join political parties and fight for a space.”