Ademola Babalola in Ibadan
The recent statement credited to the Northern Elders’ Forum (NEF) complaining of marginalisation of the North through the instrumentality of the 2016 budget has attracted criticisms from the Yoruba elders.
The elders under the umbrella of the Yoruba Unity Forum at a press conference held at Premier Hotel, Ibadan and addressed by Reverend Emmanuel Bolanle Gbonigi, critically analysed the one year administration of All Progressives Congress (APC) under President Muhammadu Buhari and returned a verdict that ‘the President needs to be reminded that he was elected by all Nigerians to serve all Nigerians and not a particular ethnic region’.
Gbonigi, the Chairman and leader of the forum at a well -attended conference which has in attendance his deputy, Arbishop Ayo Ladigbolu, his Vice Chairman who also doubles as the Yoruba Think Thank Chairman, Senator Femi Okurounmu, a former minister, Professor Tunde Adeniran, Kofoworola Akerele Bucknor, Princess Bisi Sangodoyin, Mrs. Bolajoko Doherty, Chief Emmanuel Adelana amongst others, said “Nigerians are shocked that a president who prided himself as belonging to no one and belonging to everyone will conceive a policy clearly designed to favour a particular ethnic group which also happens to be his ethnic group.”
The eight page speech examined and centred upon how Buhari administration had impacted on the people; the anti-corruption fight; his frequent foreign travels; increase in the pump price of petroleum products; the gross domestic product on GDP growth; inflation rate which had soared to 13.7%; increase in the number of unemployed persons to the recent sacking of many workers in the financial sector; steady decline in stock exchange; collapse of daily crude oil to just 1.4mbpd; drop in power generation; drop in external reserves below $27billion from about $32billion a year ago and fleeing of foreign investors from Nigeria in droves; among other state of the nation issues that are not palatable to the hearing.
On the NEF’s claim, the elders in Yorubaland stated “This impetuous claim naturally provoked us into taking a detailed look at the 2016 budget capital appropriations, and to our amazement and consternation, we found that just as your appointments have unduly favoured the North, the capital appropriations in the budget were even more annoyingly skewed towards the same North. The President needs to be reminded that he was elected by all Nigerians, to serve all Nigerians.
“A glance at the table showing key appointments made so far underscores the extent of the marginalization of the South. The summary of appointment shows that the North West which is the President zone has 26 positions or 44 per cent of all appointments made by the President so far, North East has 9 positions or 15 per cent , North Central has 6 positions or 10 per cent , South West has 7 positions or 11. 8 per cent , South South has 8 positions or 13.56 per cent and the South East 3 positions or 5 per cent. This bring the total for the North to 41 positions or 69.5 per cent while the South is left with 18 positions or 30.5 per cent .”
The Yoruba Unity Forum, as the name suggests, is an umbrella forum for all Yorubas, irrespective of political affiliation noted that Buhari took over power at a time Nigeria was confronting three major challenges; namely, Insecurity, Declining price of crude oil and Worsening economic indices was however quick to add that “It is also pertinent to note that President Buhari came into power with an unparalleled euphoria in the history of Nigeria.
They reminded the president that, “expectations were unbridled as the change Nigerians clamoured and voted for finally seemed to be on the horizon.
The last 365 days have indeed been momentous for Nigeria. While the President has made significant progress towards routing out the Boko Haram insurgents and restoring peace in the North East, centres of various other insurgencies have sprouted in other parts of the country, like the South South and the South East, not to mention the new terror posed by the rampaging Fulani herdsmen. This sectionally centred insurgencies are bound to continue to arise from time to time with our present over centralised, quasi-unitary structure of governance. This is why well meaning, respectable Nigerians have agitated for decades and continue to agitate for a restructuring of the country to achieve true fiscal and political federalism and to enable each section to mobilise and develop its own resources.
The text read further as follows: “It is also for this reason that many Nigerians welcomed the 2014 National Conference. The President’s recent remarks therefore that he will consign the recommendations of the Conference to the archives, and the present posture of his party against restructuring show that they are out of step with progressive thinking in the country.
“Restructuring of the nation will eliminate most of our recurrent problems… We appreciate the necessity of the President’s foreign trips as a platform to seek international assistance on the war against terror and to attract foreign investment to Nigeria at a time when foreign direct investment in Nigeria continues to drop sharply. However we question the frequency of these trips. The President has travelled overseas in the last twelve months to almost 30 countries, including multiple trips to some of them. Nigerians at this moment of economic and social crisis need to have their President stay more at home to attend to pressing domestic problems. They will also appreciate if he would reduce his penchant for making important policy pronouncements concerning the nation while engaged with foreign audiences. He should show greater regards for Nigerians who are first and foremost, his primary constituency.
“On the recent increase of petrol prices to N145 per litre, while we recognise the need for a partial deregulation of the downstream sector of the petroleum industry, we are appalled by the insensitive manner in which the issue was handled. There should have been prior consultations with all stake holders and the various palliative measures which the government intends to adopt to cushion the harsh effects of the sudden price increase should have been made known to the public. With the new deregulation policy, a new agency solely to regulate the downstream sector will now be required to replace the PPPRA.
“The role of the agency shall be similar to that of the Nigerian Communication Commission which does not fix call rates for networks but only regulates the industry.
“The nefarious activities of armed Fulani herdsmen across the Middle Belt and Southern Nigeria now constitute a most potent threat to national security. These armed Fulani herdsmen abuse the hospitality of their host communities by attacking and killing innocent people, raping girls and women, burning houses, and destroying crops and farmlands.
“The lackadaisical attitude of government and security agencies in confronting these criminals who roam the streets of Nigeria with automatic weapons in broad daylight send mixed signals and may compel citizens to take all necessary measures to defend themselves. We are very unhappy that the President has remained silent even in the face of the heinous crimes committed by this group such as the Agatu massacre in Benue state and the Enugu Massacre just to mention a few. When the President eventually thought it fit to comment, his remarks were without conviction. This silence has been interpreted to mean that these armed Fulani herdsmen may be receiving sympathy from the highest official quarters.
‘The President must publicly condemn these atrocities with the conviction and passion he has shown with lesser crimes. The wanton destruction of lives and property by the Fulani herdsmen such as the recent one in Oke Ako, Ikole local government of Ekiti State while security agents watch or claim ignorance only portends danger for the corporate existence of Nigeria. We therefore call on the traditional rulers, community leaders, youth organisations and hunters in the Southwest to put in place local vigilantes to protect and defend their people as the government and security agents have demonstrated their unwillingness to defend them from aggression.
‘’Furthermore, we call on all governors of the South West states to send bills to their various Houses of Assembly to pass legislations banning nomadic grazing in their various states. Those engaged in cattle breeding should establish ranches.
“Another act of provocation embarked upon by the federal government is the proposal to establish grazing reserves for Fulani herdsmen. Nigerians are shocked that a President who prided himself as belonging to no one and belonging to everyone will conceive a policy clearly designed to favour a particular ethnic group which also happens to be his ethnic group. Public funds should not be used to establish grazing reserves.
Animal husbandry is purely a business venture. The time has come for the Fulani herdsmen to embrace modernity by building ranches to breed their cows as is done in all civilised societies. Certainly no Southwest land shall be available to establish grazing reserves and we urge all our lawmakers in the National Assembly to take note. Government should withdraw the grazing reserves bill from the National Assembly in the interest of peace and stability of the country. We also call on government to ban nomadic grazing in Nigeria with immediate effect.
“Still on insecurity, the renewed restiveness in the Niger Delta should be of great concern to all Nigerians, not only because the region is responsible for between 80 per cent to 90 per cent of our foreign exchange earnings but also, it is responsible for supplying 100 per cent of gas used in powering the turbines that generate about 70 per cent of electricity to Nigeria. The agitation in the Niger Delta is as o ld as the region. The current initiative, the Amnesty Programme, is already showing signs of stress and failure resulting in the upsurge of violence and acts of sabotage. Our appeal to government is to sit with the real leaders of the people and take a holistic view of the agitations for the purpose of finding a lasting solution to the grievances of their people. Palliative measures only help to postpone
“ The task of according justice to the people. the bedrock of our democracy is the rule of law. The President must be commended for the war against corruption and we call on all Nigerians to support this war. The President must, however, ensure that the war is not selective as it is perceived by many that only persons from the opposition party are hunted and prosecuted while allegations abound of many corrupt persons in the ruling party with no evidence that they are being investigated or have been investigated by any of the anti graft agencies.
“Mr. President, it might interest you that the opinion held by many is that the wave of defections to the APC from the PDP stems largely from the desire to avoid harassment from EFCC and other anti graft agencies. This perception, Mr. President, is not good for our democracy, the image of Nigeria among the comity of nations and the credibility of the war against corruption. The anti graft agencies are public institutions and the operators as civil servants have the responsibility to perform their duties as professionals without external influences and in accordance with the rule of law.
“…We congratulate the President for recovering the sum of N115billion so far from treasury looters but hasten to add that unless such looters are named and brought to justice, the mere act of recovering their loot will encourage rather than discourage looting, since a prospective looter would know that the worst that could happen to him would be to forfeit some of his loot.
“we are dismayed that almost all the states are unable to pay salaries and pensions to civil servants as at when due. Worse still is the fact that the allocations coming to the states are insufficient to pay just salaries and pensions alone. These are indications that many of the states as currently constituted are unviable and may be failing. All revenues accruing to states cannot be dedicated solely to the payment of salaries and pensions given that the civil servants constitute less than 5 per cent of the population in the states. The bailout granted states by the federal government was meant to pay salary and pension arrears and has not fundamentally altered the revenue profile of the states. Certainly we cannot continue to live on borrowed time; the need to restructure Nigeria is even greater now.
“Finally, Mr President, we cannot conclude this address without mentioning the observation which Nigerians across all divides have made, throughout your period in office so far, of the extreme lopsidedness of your appointments into public offices, in favour of the North. Your appointments to Presidential offices, to Permanent Secretaryships, to Executive and Board positions in the nation’s top parastatals have sent jitters down the spines of members of nationality groups in the Southern part of the country and set them wondering about their status in Nigeria under your presidency. Mr. President, is it not odd that Northerners control all the security-related outfits and the major government information media, such as the Army, the Air Force, the Civil Defence, NSA, DSS, EFCC, Immigration, Prisons, NTA, FRCN, etc?”