Southern Leaders Kick Against Buhari’s Broadcast, Insist on Restructuring

  • Say discussion with Ojukwu should not foreclose fine-tuning of nation’s architecture
  • Sultan calls for conference of ethnic nationalities, respectful dialogue
  • Presidency cautions critics of president’s speech

Senator Iroegbu in Abuja and Shola Oyeyipo in Lagos with agency report

Southern leaders drawn from the South-west, South-east and South-south geopolitical zones have collectively expressed their strong opposition to the position taken by President Muhammadu Buhari in his national broadcast on Monday.

The leaders, who converged on the Colonades Hotels, Ikoyi, Lagos, Wednesday to take a stand of the president’s broadcast, said in a statement titled, “Only restructuring will ensure the unity, peace and development of Nigeria,” and jointly signed by Chief Edwin Clark and Albert Horsfall for the South-south; Chief Nnia Nwodo and Prof. Joe Irukwu for the South-east; and Chief Reuben Fasoranti and Chief Ayo Adebanjo for the South-west, that Nigeria was in a “very bad shape and requires statesmanship in its leadership”.

Buhari, in his broadcast, barely acknowledged the growing agitation for the nation’s restructuring, and only stated that the appropriate institutions for national discourse were the National Assembly and National Council of State.
The southern leaders noted that the president, in his broadcast, handled some very important issues with levity that did not give cognisance to the level at which they affect the overall well-being of Nigerians.

“We have studied the national broadcast by Mr. President on Monday, August 21, 2017 and after a careful and thorough analysis of the speech, we make the following observations: the president expressed his disaffection about comments on Nigeria while he was away that ‘question our collective existence as a nation’ and which he said had crossed the red lines.

“Against the background of the threat to treat hate speech as terrorism, we see a veiled threat to bare fangs and commence the criminalisation of dissenting opinions in our national discourse.

“The president deployed the imagery of the late Chief Emeka Ojukwu to play down the demand for the renegotiation of the structure of Nigeria by saying they both agreed in Daura in 2003 that we must remain one and united.

“While we agree with them, the meeting between the two of them could not have been a sovereign national conference whose decision cannot be reviewed.

“The fact that we agree on their conclusion that we should remain united does not foreclose discussions of the terms and conditions of the union,” they said.

The leaders contended that the claim that Nigeria’s unity was settled and not negotiable was untenable on the grounds that “every country is in daily dialogue and there is nothing finally settled in its life”.

“Stable nations are still fine-tuning details of the architecture of their existence now and then,” let alone Nigeria, which they described as a country yet to attain nationhood.

Regarding the October 1 quit notice given to Nigerians of eastern extraction by Arewa youths, the southern leaders noted that Buhari did not give the issue the needed attention in his speech.

According to them, “The one sentence by the president that every Nigerian can live anywhere without let or hindrance, if meant to address the quit notice by Arewa youths against the Igbos was rather too short to address the clear and present danger that the unwarranted threat represents.

“We are distressed by the refusal of the police to comply with the arrest orders given by the Kaduna State governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai and the vice-president, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo while the president was away.

“Instead of ensuring that these orders are carried out, the president has now come to make a bland comment on the explosive issue. We are of the view that leadership requires more than that at this crucial moment.”

The southern leaders were also disappointed with the description of the fatal clashes between farmers and weapon-wielding herdsmen as a mere “conflict”, saying: “We are equally miffed that the president talks about the serial onslaught by AK47 wielding Fulani herdsmen against defenceless farmers as a conflict between two quarrelling groups.
“In the last two years, the Fulani herdsmen have become much more ferocious in their attacks against farmers in the south and middle belt areas of the country, with security forces shying away from enforcing law and order.

“To present the various onslaught on farmers by the herdsmen as ‘two-fighting’ would portray the president as taking side with the aggressive Meyiti Allah.

“So, as elders who have spent most of our lives fighting for the unity of the country based on justice, fairness and equity, we call on the president to realise that the country is in a very bad shape at the moment and requires statesmanship and not ethnic, religious and political partisanship.
“This is the time to renegotiate Nigeria along the federal lines negotiated by our founding fathers to stem the tide of separatist feelings and agitations.

“This is why we do not accept that it portrays the president in a favourable light to be away for a long period, only to return to a badly fractured polity and avoid promoting a new dialogue for a better, just, inclusive and peaceful country.”

Other notable persons present at the meeting included Mr. Efiye Bribena, Obafemi Ayo-Adebanjo, Mr. Denzil Kentebe, Mr. Tony Uranta, Chief Supo Shonibare, Col. Tony Nyaim (rtd), Prof. Banji Akintoye, Dr. Amos Akingba, Chief Guy Ikokuru, Mr. Gani Adams, Dr. Walter Ofonagoro, Ambassador George Obiozor and General Ike Nwachukwu (rtd).

Conference of Ethnic Nationalities

Also weighing in on the restructuring debate Wednesday, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Mohammed Sa’ad Abubakar III, called for a conference of ethnic nationalities to reach a resolution on Nigeria’s quest for nationhood, including a discourse on restructuring and federalism.

The sultan, who spoke in Abuja at a colloquium organised by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) with the theme, “The Labour Movement and the Future of a United Nigeria: What Role for Restructuring,” however, maintained that the nation’s unity was sacrosanct.

The sultan posited that there was strength in unity, but stressed the need for dialogue among the ethnic groups in an atmosphere where there will be mutual respect for one another’s views.

While stressing that the country had undergone phases of restructuring since the 1914 amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates by Lord Frederick Lugard, the sultan insisted that as a people, Nigerians needed to know their history and how they came together as a nation.

“It is good to sit down and dialogue but there must be respect. It is important to know who we are and where we come from. We have a history. We must look back at where we are coming from. When we talk about restructuring, what are we to restructure, how do we restructure?

“Let us sit down to talk about all these with position papers prepared by every ethnic nationality – Afenifere, Ohaneze, Arewa, the Ijaws and others.

“Let the federal government provide the enabling environment that will be conducive for us to sit down and discuss these issues. But like I said, there must be respect for one another’s views,” he said.

Sultan Abubakar commended the labour movement for taking the initiative to discuss issues that are germane to the country’s national unity, saying that it was long overdue.

Former Ebonyi governor, Prof. Sam Egwu, who presented the lead paper, however, said he did not subscribe to the notion that Nigeria was indissoluble but would rather advocate what needed to be done to retain the unity.

According to Egwu, “We need to work to retain the existing relationship among the different ethnic nationalities and the unity of the country.”

Egwu, a political scientist, said it was unfortunate that some people calling for restructuring were ignorant of what it means, thus causing tension in the country.

“They only succeeded in creating trying times for the country, trying times for our unity, trying times for our democracy because they keep on overheating the polity and our corporate existence is being threatened,” he said.
Egwu said the call for restructuring was not enough without resolving other dynamics of federalism that needed to be addressed and centre around the institution of the state.

He said: “The central rallying point of identity which is what the state has taken away, leaving the stage for alternative identities such as religion and ethnicity,” explaining that people agitating for one thing or the other were contesting the meaning of the state.

“People are asking legitimate questions but using the wrong platform of religion and ethnicity,” he noted.

Egwu blamed the Nigerian federal system for failing to reflect the principles of true federalism embedded in the shared roles that recognise the peculiarity of each component units of the federation.

He made reference to the 2014 National Conference to which representatives of the six geopolitical zones presented position papers as a better way of arguing on the wrong platform of ethnicity.

To him, restructuring “is about how you can align structures with functions in a federal system”, adding that the problem with Nigeria was that of governance, justice and equity and the inability to mobilise and distribute national resources.
The president of NLC, Mr. Ayuba Wabba, said the colloquium was put together to articul
ate a labour perspective on the debate on the restructuring of Nigeria, adopt just and fair measures of reconciliation, integration and development, and to proffer practical and policy based recommendations on the nature of restructuring.

Pursuant to the outcome of the proceedings, Wabba said the NLC would take a position that would be submitted to the presidency, the National Assembly, state assemblies and labour affiliates for consideration and implementation.
In addition, he said, a labour group would be constituted to monitor the constitution review process and lobby the appropriate bodies to ensure the implementation of the resolutions.

Justifying the need for the labour movement to join in the national discourse, he said the ongoing articulation of positions by the political class, civil society and the contending groups of agitators was being conducted using violent language and deploying ethnic and religious sentiments, which have the potential of shaping the opinions of the Nigerian workers and dividing them along ethnic and religious lines.

“Unfortunately, the working people have been mobilised to be partisan by accepting some of these canvassed positions which are heavily identity-based rather than ideological.

“The Nigeria Labour Congress feels strongly that she should access this dominated space and articulate an agenda for Nigeria by hosting a platform for national discourse on the issue,” he said.

On hand to discuss the papers presented were Prof. Godoni Darah, Prof. Toye Olorode, Mr. Femi Falani, Adams Oshiomhole, and Prof. Jibo Ibrahim.

But there was a mild drama over Oshiomhole’s submission that those calling for restructuring must be interrogated, noting that they were self-serving.

He was of the view that Nigerians should focus more on good leadership that guarantees speedy development.
The ex-Edo State governor stressed that qualitative leadership and devolution of power to the states would lead to a reduction in corruption at the federal, state and local government levels.

Also speaking, the chairman of the occasion and former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Alfa Belgore, commended the NLC, describing it as one of the most educated and informed labour movements in Africa for its concern about the unity of the country. “Nigeria will be united forever,” he said.

‘Threats, Insults Not the Way’

Meanwhile, the Presidency has advised proponents of restructuring to exercise restraint in their choice of words, saying issues can be resolved through “established processes, not by abuses, insults or irresponsible statements”.
Malam Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant to the President, Media and Publicity, gave the advice in a statement in Abuja Wednesday.
Shehu was reacting to the opinions expressed by Nigerians for and against Buhari’s broadcast after his return from a medical vacation.

He said the call had become imperative to avoid heating up the polity and causing acrimony across the country.
The presidential aide said a majority of the citizens welcomed the broadcast, and condemned those criticising the president for not responding to calls for the restructuring of the country, reported the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).

He said the president has no power to impose restructuring on the country by military dictate, explaining that National Assembly members are the elected representatives of the people who can handle agitations for restructuring and other constitutional changes.

According to him, the president is constitutionally bound to work with the National Assembly to deal with such complex issues.

He reminded the critics that Buhari would not exercise arbitrary powers or bypass the legislature in taking such fundamental decisions.

“Changes don’t happen on a whim in a democracy. The ‘immediate effect’ military mentality cannot work under a democratic order.

“Since the president has sworn to defend the constitution, he will remain faithful to that oath by working with the legislature in taking major decisions on the future of Nigeria’s federal system,” Shehu said.
He, however, stated that “while Nigerians are free to express themselves, they should exercise such liberty with restraint and a sense of responsibility”.

He said calling the president an enemy of Nigeria was in extreme bad taste, adding that nothing in Buhari’s service record would justify such language.

“The country’s parliament is ready and willing to discuss all issues but the pundits are more interested in television and newspaper headlines.

“Threats don’t work in a democracy. Democracy requires planning and proper processes; issues are resolved through established processes, not by abuses, insults or irresponsible statements,” he said.