Time to Make National Unity a Priority  

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Monday Discourse

In view of the growing sense of uncertainty and fear, President Muhammadu Buhari should urgently adopt measures that will reassure Nigerians that there is a clear pathway to equity, unity and security, writes Segun James

Nigeria is at a crossroads and everyone expects President Muhammadu Buhari to show leadership. His ability to lead Nigeria out of the chaotic agitation for restructuring will determine his place in history.

In the last two years, Nigeria has lost face and influence in the comity of nations in Africa and the world because the country has a president that is not only out of tune with the reality in the global political stage, is not ready to learn.

While the president was away in the United Kingdom to tend to his healt, the nation witnessed a drift. There has been a resurgence in the activities of the terrorist group, Boko Haram while the call for an independent republic of Biafra had become loud but it was the call for the restructuring of the country, coming from the political, religious, professional and pressure groups that occupied the political space.

The nation was at an edge, tensed and agitated. The nation had never been so politically charged since the 1966/67 period which landed the country in a protracted civil war that claimed over 2 million lives.

Many were delighted when they heard that the president upon his return to Nigeria, was going to address the nation. Not a few people were glued to their television to hear the rejuvenated and recovered president on the economic and the political direction of the nation.

The president said: “In the course of my stay in the United Kingdom, I have been kept in daily touch with events at home. Nigerians are robust and lively in discussing their affairs, but I was distressed to notice that some of the comments, especially in the social media have crossed our national red lines by daring to question our collective existence as a nation. This is a step too far.

“In 2003 after I joined partisan politics, the late Chief Emeka Ojukwu came and stayed as my guest in my hometown Daura. Over two days we discussed in great depth till late into the night and analyzed the problems of Nigeria. We both came to the conclusion that the country must remain one and united.

“Nigeria’s unity is settled and not negotiable. We shall not allow irresponsible elements to start trouble and when things get bad they run away and saddle others with the responsibility of bringing back order, if necessary with their blood.

“Every Nigerian has the right to live and pursue his business anywhere in Nigeria without let or hindrance. I believe the very vast majority of Nigerians share this view.

“This is not to deny that there are legitimate concerns. Every group has a grievance. But the beauty and attraction of a federation is that it allows different groups to air their grievances and work out a mode of co-existence.

“The National Assembly and the National Council of State are the legitimate and appropriate bodies for national discourse. The national consensus is that, it is better to live together than to live apart.

“Furthermore, I am charging the Security Agencies not to let the successes achieved in the last 18 months be a sign to relax. Terrorists and criminals must be fought and destroyed relentlessly so that the majority of us can live in peace and safety.

“Therefore we are going to reinforce and reinvigorate the fight not only against elements of Boko Haram which are attempting a new series of attacks on soft targets. kidnappings, farmers versus herdsmen clashes, in addition to ethnic violence fuelled by political mischief makers. We shall tackle them all.

“Finally, dear Nigerians, our collective interest now is to eschew petty differences and come together to face common challenges of economic security, political evolution and integration as well as lasting peace among all Nigerians. I remain resolutely committed to ensuring that these goals are achieved and maintained.”

Rather the balm they had been waiting for to soothe their pain, the president’s speech was more or less an attempt to brush aside the issues. Many were disappointed. Others lost hope.

 To a lot of people, the president’s speech was a prelude to danger signals ahead for the nation. They said that the president missed the point when he shifted the responsibility of restructuring the nation to the National Assembly and the National Council of State when it is his responsibility to convey a meeting of the Council of State and set agenda for its meetings. They wonder why the president shifted the responsibility to restructure the country to the National Assembly, when he knows that such exercise can only succeed if it is driven by the executive. Others were agitated that a president who is yet to defeat Boko Haram in the north east is threaten to wage war against the southeast.

They were also alarmed by the president’s decision to use force against agitators across the country at this critical period when national reconciliation is all that the nation required. They said that the president speech ignored the issues relating to the economy and the well-being of the people.  

But the outcry that followed the speech may have forced the president to retrace his steps as he soon conveyed a meeting with the two main political parties in the country to address lingering issues.

 

A Right Step in Right ‎Direction

The president should consider embarking on wider consultation with opinion moulders, religious leaders, political parties, civil society, trade unions and others.  It is in the wise that the president’s last Friday meeting with the leaders of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) is a right step in the right direction. He should not stop there. He should consult more. This is because Nigerians leaders have continued to rule without carrying the citizens along.

 

The assurance given by the Chairman ‎of the PDP Caretaker Committee, Ahmed Makarfi is instructive. At the meeting with the president he said: “The PDP as a great believer in the unity of this country will also partner with the government in any way(s) that will strengthen our historic bond and rebuild bridges of our beautiful relationships that seem to be cracking at the moment.”

 

The president needs to extract such ‎commitment from religious leaders, socio-political groups like Afenifere, Ndigbo, Arewa, civil society, youth groups, women organisations including market women, and many others opinion moulders.

It is also commendable that the president also met with states governors. He should continue the consultations.

 

Whatever solution the president is seeking to introduce to douse tension must be collectively owned by the people otherwise, such solution will not produce the desire result. The anti-corruption crusade is failing party  because there is no collective ownership of the fight. Whereas, every Nigerian agrees that corruption must be fought, the people have not been made key players in the crusade. 

 

After extracting commitment ‎from all groups, the president should summon a meeting of the council of states and make public the meeting’s decision. The reason for all these meetings is to engender a collective buy in of whatever measures that the president will take to bring the people together and strengthen the country’s unity. He can’t afford to leave anyone behind. Agitation is rising because some people feel ignored and left behind. As the president, he is under obligation to carry everyone along.

 

At the meeting with the president Makarfi said: “We assure you of our cooperation as much as the opposition can possibly give to enable you give your best in the process navigating the ship of our state into of a better tomorrow. We are glad to note that already the legislators of our party are cooperating with those of the majority party in both arms of the National Assembly to ensure a smooth legislative sail for the system. We are also proud of the contributions of our governors to the deliberations and other activities of both the National Council of State and the National Economic Council.” The Makarfi’s speech is an act of statesmanship which the nation required at this critical period.

  

Arewa Youths Withdraw Quite Notice 

 

Nigeria was pulled from the brink when the Coalition of Arewa Youths, which ordered Nigerians of Igbo extraction to vacate the north by October 1, withdrew the quit notice issued on June 24.

The Arewa coalition, during a press briefing by its spokesman and Chairman of the Northern Emancipation Movement, Abdulaziz Suleiman, said the decision to recant their position was as a result of various interventions both by the federal government and notable and well-meaning Nigerians, adding that the group had resolved to suspend the quit notice forthwith.

“As a consequence of these vigorous engagements and as cultured people with a tradition of respect for our national values, concerned leaders and elders, we are today pleased to announce the immediate suspension of the relocation clause, otherwise referred to as the quit notice from the Kaduna Declaration,” the group said.

Explaining why it issued the divisive quit notice, Suleiman said they were forced to act due to IPOB’s arrogant attitude and continuing affront on Nigeria’s peace.

“The incessant threats, insults, open calls for violence and war on all other tribes and regions that had become the hallmark of IPOB’s Biafran agitation based on fake and exaggerated claims of marginalisation was what prompted the relocation clause,” he said.

Suleiman stressed that the decision to withdraw the quit notice was borne out of the intense pressure mounted by concerned political, traditional and religious leaders.

“Most significant was our correspondence with the then acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo and most recently our interface with the presidency through the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Political Matters, Babafemi Ojudu.

“As a consequence of these vigorous engagements and as cultured people with a tradition of respect for our national values, leaders and elders, we are today pleased to announce the immediate suspension of the relocation clause, otherwise referred to as the quit notice from the Kaduna Declaration,” Suleiman added.

He noted that the suspension was also a re-affirmation of the group’s allegiance to a united, peaceful and prosperous Nigeria.

The statement was signed by leaders of the 14 groups that make up the coalition, including Shettima Yerima, leader of the Youth Consultative Forum, who read the Kaduna Declaration.

Although the group announced the withdrawal of the quit notice, it said it would still pursue its petition at the United Nations and the call on the federal government to apply appropriate sanctions against Kanu.

It also called for the re-arrest of Kanu and for his prosecution, while calling on the Senate to demand that all senators who stood surety for him in court as part of his bail conditions, to rescind their bond or be suspended from the parliament.

The group pledged to remain available for further interactions with other groups, including those from the South-east with a view to building a greater united Nigeria.

Reacting, Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima, who commended the group for suspending the quit notice, said the concern of the northern governors was to prevent people from hiding under the notice to cause harm on other Nigerians.

“We are here to ensure that the quit notice was publicly withdrawn the same way it was made publicly,” the governor said.

According to him, the order would have been withdrawn earlier but was delayed to avoid any division within the group.

“I am proud of Nigerians and I am also proud of the Igbos,” he said, noting that the hope of the black man rests on a united Nigeria.

Apart from Shettima, other notable politicians at the press conference were Alhaji Sani Zango Darau, a former minister, and Senator Kabiru Gaya from Kano State.

The group said it would henceforth dedicate its energy and resources to ensuring that never again shall the rights of northerners be trampled upon.

In proffering suggestions on what should be done to ensure lasting peace among the ethic nationalities in the country, the northern group said the federal government should allow the Igbos to hold a referendum to determine their position on IPOB’s agitation for self-determination.

“By virtue of Nigeria being a signatory to the various international conventions that entrench the right of a people to self determination, we submit that it is only proper for the Nigerian authorities to reflect that right in the ongoing constitution review, or in the alternative, rescind its endorsement of the said conventions,” he said.

Kanu Agrees to End Agitation

The decision of the Arewa youths to rescind the quit notice came on the heels of the revelation by Prof. Ben Nwabueze, SAN that Kanu has agreed to suspend the agitation for the secession, insofar as the campaign for restructuring was progressive.

Nwabueze revealed Kanu’s readiness to drop the quest for the emergence of the Republic of Biafra at a news conference he addressed with some leaders of the Project Nigeria Movement, a socio-political group recently created to engage leaders of thought across all the geo-political zones in Nigeria.

He addressed the news conference alongside the former Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, Prof. Akin Oyebode; former President of the Ijaw National Congress, Prof. Kimse Okoko; former Managing Director of Daily Times of Nigeria, Chief Tola Adeniyi; a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Solomon Asemota; and Director of the Centre for International Advanced and Professional Studies (CIAPS), Prof. Anthony Kila.

Others included a chieftain of Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo; convener of the Yoruba Assembly, Gen. Alani Akinrinade; former Cross River State governor, Mr. Donald Duke; former Akwa Ibom State governor, Victor Attah; and Chairman of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), Admiral Ndubisi Kanu (rtd).

Nwabueze, who presented the position of the Southern Leaders of Thought on Nigeria’s restructuring, warned against an imminent crisis if Buhari failed to heed the yearning of the people that Nigeria should be restructured in a manner that guarantees equity and fairness.

He said Kanu had already committed to suspending the agitation for a separatist state, if the clamour for restructuring “makes appreciable progress”.

“Let me announce to you that Nnamdi Kanu has authorised me to tell Nigerians that if restructuring is progressive, he will persuade his group to suspend the demand for the Republic of Biafra and the plan to disrupt the 2019 general election.

“But if the federal government refuses to fairly restructure in line with the people’s aspirations and yearning, there will be trouble. Nnamdi Kanu will not be the one to cause the trouble. The trouble will be caused by those who are opposing the will of the sovereign people.”

On this basis, Nwabueze called for “negotiated restructuring to be implemented through a new constitution” which, according to him, was the best assurance for the realisation of the collective desire for one Nigeria.

“We are a sovereign people. We have the right to govern ourselves. We also have the right to determine what we want. Any person who attempts to deprive us of such rights, wants to cause trouble. The National Assembly does not have the power to restructure Nigeria.

“As a sovereign people, we have to rise against such individuals. It is for Nigerians as sovereign people to react. Obviously, lawmakers are elected. They have certain powers. But the constituent powers belong to the people. The National Assembly does not translate to a constituent assembly.

“If the constituent powers are now given to the National Assembly, they are simply asking for trouble. The trouble will not happen because of you and me. The trouble will happen because the person to whom the political power is delegated is depriving the people of their rights.”

Referring to the president, Nwabueze added that those at the federal level could no longer dictate what happens in the South-west, for instance.

“He can no longer dictate what happens in Ijaw land. He cannot dictate what happens in Hausa/Fulani land. He can no longer dictate what happens in Igbo land,” he charged.

Nwabueze, however, stressed that the call for restructuring “does not translate to disintegration”.

“We want one Nigeria. We want the constituents to manage themselves in all matters of localities. It is time to leave local matters to the local people. The ethnic nationalities want to govern themselves within one Nigeria,” he said.

He also called for a return to the federalism that existed under the 1960/1963 Constitutions, noting that the two legal instruments “were the central objects of restructuring”.

Nwabueze argued that restructuring would guarantee an optimal measure of self-determination or self-government, consistent with the territorial sovereignty of the country.

“In more explicit words, the essential purpose of re-structuring is to enable the component ethnic nationalities, grouped together by affinity of culture/language or territorial contiguity, to govern themselves in matters of internal concern, leaving matters of common concern, not overwhelmingly extensive in their range, to be managed under a central government constituted in such manner as to ensure that it is not dominated by any one group or a combination of them, and above all, to ensure justice, fairness and equity to all in the management of matters of common concern.

“Self-determination connotes essentially, not an independent government, but the right of each group, within the territorial sovereignty of the country as a state, to govern itself in matters that concern it alone, as, for example, local government matters which is an example par excellence of a matter of local concern (local government in a village in Hause land should not be the business of an Igbo man); the election of elective public functionaries in a region or zone – governors and members of legislative assemblies and local government councils, etc.

“The term ‘self-government’ expresses the essence of restructuring in our understanding of it. To reiterate, self government requires that the ethnic nationalities, grouped together by reference to culture/language and geographical contiguity, should be enabled to govern themselves in matters that concern them alone, within the sovereignty of a central government common to all, with powers appropriately circumscribed. Self-government connotes therefore true federalism.

“We highlight the factors that negate or impair the objective of true federalism in Nigeria, the most crushing of which is the over-concentration of political power and financial resources in the federal government far, far beyond what they were under the 1960/63 Constitutions.

“The result of the accretion of power to the centre, either by direct grant by the constitution or by perverse interpretation of its provisions, is to alter the power relations between it (the centre) and the states so significantly as to change the character of the system quite substantially from a federal to a unitary system. The system remains federal largely in name,” he said.

Nwabueze also revisited the Exclusive and Concurrent Legislative Lists under the 1963 Constitution, noting that the powers of the federal government thereunder should be further reduced.

“The over-concentration of financial resources and relations in the federal government affronts true federalism in no less a grievous degree.

“An arrangement whereby every month officials of the state governments, including quite often the state governor himself, go cap-in-hand, as it were, to Abuja for their share of the money in the Federation Account disbursed or paid out to them by officials of the federal government as paymaster is a negation of true federalism; it simply caricatures true federalism,” he explained.

Nwabueze also said the view that the argument that the 1999 Constitution could only be amended or altered, but could not be completely abolished and replaced by a new constitution was erroneous because it failed to take account of the fact that the 1999 Constitution is only a Schedule to Decree 24 of 1999.

He argued that the decree is an existing law under Section 315 of the 1999 Constitution and, like all existing laws within federal competence, can be repealed by the National Assembly.

Upon the repeal of the decree, the 1999 Constitution completely disappears from existence, he explained.

“Restructuring is not a matter that can be implemented by amendment of the 1999 Constitution. It imperatively requires a new constitution adopted or approved by the people at a referendum.

“It is sad that, while the clamour for restructuring is reaching a crescendo and is sweeping across the country, the National Assembly is still regaling us with talks about constitution amendment, and is buttressing its position on the erroneous assertion that the 1999 Constitution can only be amended or altered (Sections 8 and 9), but cannot be abolished and replaced by a new constitution.

“By taking this untenable position, the National Assembly makes itself a big obstacle in the way of restructuring.

“The view that the 1999 Constitution can only be amended or altered but cannot be completely abolished and replaced by a new constitution is erroneous because it fails to take account of the fact that the 1999 Constitution is only a Schedule to a Decree, Decree 24 of 1999.

“That decree is an existing law under Section 315 of the 1999 Constitution and, like all existing laws within federal competence, can be repealed by the National Assembly.

“Upon the repeal of the decree, the 1999 Constitution completely disappears from existence,” Nwabueze pointed out.

On the way forward, he said: “We think the way forward for Nigeria is for the people, in exercise of the power inherent in them as a sovereign people, through a referendum, a new constitution, constituting a new political order. The process must be led by a president, as the elected leader of the people imbued with an ardour for change.”

 

 

One Step Forward, Two Steps Backward

While the president was making progress by meeting with political parties and states governors, his Attorney General and Minister for Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN authorised the filing of an application to cancel the bail granted to Kanu who is charged with treasonable felony before a Federal High Court to pay way for his re-arrest. The AGF’s decision caused outrage in the south-east. 

 

The Igbo socio-cultural group, Ohaneze Ndigbo, and the pro-Biafra group, Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB condemned the decision to arrest Kanu describing it as the height of hypocrisy.

In a statement Saturday, the president of Ohaneze, John Nwodo, asked Malami, to respect his oath of office, and beam his attention on other urgent national matters.

Nwodo said: “I am amazed that the distinguished attorney is prepared to contest the superiority of the provisions of the Constitution on fundamental human rights of freedom of movement and freedom of association over an erroneous judicial proclamation violating those rights.

“A few hours ago under the watchful eyes of the Chairman of the Northern Governors Forum and in total defiance of the Head of State’s proclamation of the rights of a citizen of Nigeria to live anywhere in Nigeria and to do business anywhere in Nigeria, the Arewa Youths, pretending to withdraw their quit notice, gave qualifications to the Head of State’s proclamation, issuing conditions for enjoyment of citizenship status.

“These same Arewa Youths are supposed to have been arrested on the orders of the Governor of Kaduna State and the Inspector General of Police for acts of treason, conversion and sedition. As the chief law officer of the Federation, the Attorney-General looks the other way. He does not go to court to seek an order of arrest or prosecution.”

 

More Danger Signals

 

Like most constitutions, Nigeria’s promises freedom of speech. However, the 1999 Constitution allows the government to limit that freedom with such restrictions as it considers necessary or expedient to maintain national security.

Sometimes, the government embarks on extra-judicial means to limit the rights of Nigerians to enjoy their fundamental rights.

It was within this basis that the military announced that it would start monitoring the social media hence forth. Many wonder if the country is now in a police state and whether it is the constitutional duty of the military to monitor hate speech.

 

Also, the federal government directed the National Broadcasting Commission, NBC, to sanction any radio or television station that broadcasts hate speech, as part of efforts to stem the growing tide of hate speech in the country.

The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed who issued the directive said that “the challenges facing the NBC have never become more daunting, considering the increasing propensity of some radio and television stations across the country to turn over their platforms to ‎the purveyors of hate speech. It is the responsibility of the NBC to put these broadcast stations in check before they set the country on fire.

“The NBC must ensure a strict adherence to the Broadcasting Code, and errant stations must be sanctioned accordingly to serve as a deterrent.”

Mohammed, who cited the ignominious role played by a radio station in fuelling the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, which led to the loss of over 800,000 lives in 100 days, charged the NBC not to allow the purveyors of hate speech to lead Nigeria to the path of destruction.

“If you tune into many radio stations, for example, you will be shocked by the things being said, the careless incitement to violence and the level of insensitivity to the multi-religious, multi-ethnic nature of our country. Unfortunately, even some of the hosts of such radio programmes do little or nothing to stop such incitement. Often times, they are willing collaborators of hate speech campaigners. This must not be allowed to continue because it is detrimental to the unity and well-being of our country,” he warned.

The minister will have to, first teach Nigerians how to distinguish freedom of expression from hate speech.