In his broadcast to the nation, President Muhammadu Buhari merely brushed aside the clamour for the country’s restructuring. He will have to do more to assuage the fears of ethnic nationalities, writes Tobi Soniyi
President Muhammadu Buhari assumed the duty of his office even before he complied with Section 145 of the constitution which required him to transmit a notice of his resumption to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
The president’s handlers should have drawn his attention to section 145 of the constitution which provides: “Whenever the President transmits to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives a written declaration that he is proceeding on vacation or that he is otherwise unable to discharge the functions of his office, until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary such functions shall be discharged by the Vice-President as Acting President.”
He would not be the first to act in ignorance of the law though. Dr Goodluck Jonathan once changed the name of the University of Lagos to Moshood Abiola University without first sending an amendment bill to the National Assembly for an alteration of the University of Lagos Act.
That gaffe apart, the president not only failed to douse the tension created by the clamour for restructuring, his decision to threaten those seeking to secede from Nigeria was ill-advised.
In his reaction, the Chairman of the National Conscience Party, Yunusa Tanko rightly described the president’s speech as ‘window dressing’. By brushing aside the clamour for the country to be restructured, the president failed to avail himself of the opportunity to first determine while the agitation has suddenly become more strident. Are there issues fuelling the agitation? Is there anything his government can do to address these issues? By seeking answers to these and other questions, the president would have been able to come up with solutions that will help to reduce tension in the country.
It is wrong to assume that answers to the agitation can not be found within the context of present arrangement in the country.
As observed by the NCP chairman, the president should take further steps to solve the problems on ground. He said: “It is not enough to say that people can live anywhere in the country. He needs to assure the people that their security is guaranteed wherever they are. He should summon a meeting of the Council of States, for instance.
“When people talk, the president must listen. See how you can give them what they want and not what you think is good for them.”
He noted that it is not only the president that has chosen to ignore the people, the National Assembly, he stated, chose to give Nigerians what it thought the people wanted but not what the people asked for.
“We don’t need to waste further time. The president should summon a meeting of the Council of States”, he added.
The president indeed appeared to be taking further steps when the day after the broadcast, he summoned a national security meeting with service chiefs and other heads of security agencies. At the meeting, the president reportedly emphasised the need to keep Nigeria one.
Chief of Defence Staff, Gabriel Olonisakin said the president â€œtalked about the unity of the nation which is non-negotiable.
â€œWe have all been fully instructed to ensure that that directive is carried out to the letter.â€
Also at the meeting were the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, the National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno, and the Director-General, Department of State Security, Lawal Daura.
Olonisakin said that although other security issues such as Boko Haram, kidnapping and farmers-pastoralists clashes, were also mentioned, he however said that the threat posed by separatist groups was seen as urgent and serious.
The military chief also said that the president had ordered escalation of security measures to deal with all belligerent elements.
From all indications, the president has made it clear that he intended to use force to hold Nigeria together. Unfortunately, he may be making a tragic mistake. It is a route the country recently took and it has not yet recovered from the error.
In case the president has forgotten, not long ago, Boko Haram was not a threat to this country. If someone had listened to the leaders of the sect and tried to assuage their fears, perhaps we would not have been fighting an asymmetrical war in the north-east with its attendant human and material resources.
When members of the sect started, someone in authority thought that the best way to handle them was to unleash the military on them just like the president had decided to unleash the military against secessionists today. With better handling, empathy and pragmatic thinking, Boko Haram would have been nipped in the bud. With few millions of naira, we could have re-absorbed and re-integrated members of the sect into the larger society, today Nigeria is spending billions of naira to stop an avoidable war.
If Boko Haram had been better handled, the nation would have been spared the orgy of violence and bloodshed the country was plunged into. If force did not stop Boko Haram, no one should be under the illusion that it will work now. At best, it can postpone the evil days.
If truly, â€œNigeriaâ€™s unity is settled and not negotiable,” as the president said in his broadcast why then is the clamour for secession?
Today, the president has a chance not to repeat the mistake of the past by engaging those who are dissatisfied with the present arrangement, listen to their grievances and look for genuine solutions. One of the first steps he can take is to give every Nigerian a sense of belonging. The other is to reduce the high level of unemployment in the country. The president also needs to visit all the states of the federation, meet with the people and explain to them government’s commitment to their welfare. For too long, the president had ignored the people.
Other eminent Nigerians have made critical suggestions that the president will find useful if he endeavours to consider them.
While the president was away, some concerned Nigerians met and reviewed the tense situation in the country. They warned that except urgent steps were taken, the heat generated by rising hate and deepening division could easily get out of hands. Among others they suggested that: “Government at all levels, including federal, state and local government, must take urgent steps to address the prevailing economic situation and stem the growing patterns or perceptions of chronic inequity, alienation and discontent across the country.”
They also appealed to government at federal, state and local levels to secure public safety and wellbeing and show that Nigerian lives matter.
They therefore urged government to enlist the full support and participation of Nigerians everywhere in confronting the underlying causes and growing incidents of violence, division and hate wherever these occur.
According to them, individuals or groups who by their words or other conduct constitute threats to lives and property of Nigerians or to our collective coexistence should be dealt with swiftly, firmly, lawfully and without discrimination on any grounds such as political or other opinion, origin, religion, gender or status.
They warned that the problems of national cohesion could easily spiral out of control “if we do not prepare adequately to meet the challenges of Nigeriaâ€™s rapidly growing population and the accompanying crisis of social exclusion among our youth population.”
They also advised that government at all levels prioritise effective investment in academic and vocational education, enlightenment, innovation and skills on a sustained basis.
They said: “For this purpose, Nigeria needs to urgently roll out an inclusive national plan on education, innovation and skills that is both fit for purpose and implemented effectively. Such a plan should be built on partnership with private and voluntary sectors, with room for complementary investments from Nigeriaâ€™s international partners.
“None of this can be achieved unless we commit at all levels to zero-tolerance for impunity by improving the performance and credibility of the institutions and processes of accountability, including the police, judiciary and security agencies.
“At this time more than ever before, we urgently call all leaders, including elected, appointed, community, traditional, civic, and faith leaders, to show true leadership and transcend divides of partisan politics, religion, origins, geo-political zones, or hemispheres of north and south. Nigeria is our home and the only country we have. Every Nigerian owes it as a duty to work for the best interest of this country. Many of us already know first hand that Nigeriaâ€™s diversity is a valuable resource and source of strength but we need millions more to realise this and we can only do this if we are willing to constructively engage these issues that challenge us as a country.”
If Boko Haram had been better handled, the nation would have been spared the orgy of violence and bloodshed the country was plunged into. If force did not stop Boko Haram, no one should be under the illusion that it will work now.