N’Assembly: Nigeria’s Unity Not Negotiable, Agitators Must Abide by Law

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• House to revisit Devolution of Power Bill
• Buhari promised to address agitations, says Umahi

James Emejo in Abuja and Benjamin Nworie in Abakaliki

Fresh from its two-month recess, the National Assembly Tuesday maintained that the country’s unity was not negotiable, adding that every Nigerian must respect the constitution.

Its position came in response to recent agitations by various groups, which have threatened the country’s co-existence.

This is just as the House of Representatives passed a resolution to immediately revisit the Devolution of Power Bill in the interest of unity.

President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, in his welcome remarks, challenged the upper legislative chamber to stand for the unity and indivisibility of the country amid rising agitations and calls for restructuring by various groups.

He said: “We must condemn in the strongest possible terms all forms of violence as a form of engagement. The constitution and laws have laid down tools and procedures for us to push through our interest as all democratic nations do.

“Our nation is blessed with exceptionally talented and beautiful people, we are collectively strong and indomitable and it is time for all of us to stand up for our nation.
“Our dream of a virile nation must keep us motivated and this dream is already in the horizon.”
Saraki added that the national interest must override other interests.

“As leaders closest to our people, we must rededicate ourselves to the values we have institutionalised in this chamber. In this chamber, we are first and foremost Nigerians.
“Yes, we are Igbos, Yorubas, Hausas, Fulanis. Yes, we are Muslims, Christians and traditional worshipers.
“But we must in all our conversations and decisions continue to be first and foremost Nigerians and as Nigerian citizens be our brothers’ keepers.

“Too many of our youths, too many of our families from the South to the North need a lift. Our job is to help government give them a hand and once again make them feel great again about being Nigerians. This is our mission,” Saraki admonished.
Also, the Senate, after a closed-door session Tuesday, maintained that all groups seeking any form of agitation must pursue such agitations constitutionally, adding that violators would henceforth be brought to book.

Briefing journalists, Senate spokesman, Sabi Abdullahi, said the red chamber further committed to exploring all avenues to ensure that peace is restored in all parts of the country.
Nevertheless, the Senate passed a resolution, mandating the Ministry of Water Resources to commence the dredging of Rivers Niger and Benue as a practical step towards addressing incessant flooding which has taken a huge toll on the national purse and displaced several persons.

The Senate also took time to clarify some issues concerning the resumption date of its former majority leader, Senator Ali Ndume, who was suspended on March 29 for 180 days. He was rumoured to have resumed Tuesday.
But Abdullahi told journalists that going by the administrative calendar of the National Assembly and by the Senate rules, Ndume is expected to resume on November 14.

Also towing the path of the Senate, the Speaker of the House, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, in his welcome address at plenary, urged agitators to lawfully resolve any differences they have.
He said as a constitutional democracy, the country has a clear legal framework for resolving differences that normally arise among citizens, between citizens and government as well as between the structures and arms of government.

“Make no mistake, as representatives of the people we have a duty to champion the protection and preservation of the rights of our constituents and peoples.
“We are very conscious and indeed jealous of the fundamental rights provided under our constitution as well as human and people’s rights under the African Charter.

“As an institution, this House stands firmly on the side of those who seek equity, fairness and justice so long as such is pursued in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which we as honorable members have sworn to protect and preserve.

“Anyone or group who assaults our constitution will not find a partner here because our oath of office repels it, but those who stand for justice, fairness and equity will have partners in us because our oath of office compels it.

“We would work shoulder to shoulder with all those working within the ambit of the constitution and the law for all Nigerians, regardless of creed or ethnicity, to be first class citizens as no nation can truly be first class if it harbours within its borders second or third class citizens,” he said.

He also asked rhetorically: “Do we have a legislative response to the issues that have been thrown up? Is the National Assembly involved in the debate? Can restructuring take place outside the existing legal order?”
“Indeed all the arguments about restructuring are at the end of the day, legislative issues. It may be necessary in due course for the National Assembly to have a second look at the issues that have been thrown up.

“The National Assembly as a representative and product of the people cannot act contrary to the wishes and aspirations of its constituents. We need to sift all the ‘noise’ and find out what exactly a majority of our people actually want? This is a responsibility we cannot outsource,” the speaker added.
Also, at the resumption of plenary Tuesday, the House passed a resolution to immediately revisit the Devolution of Power Bill in the interest of unity.

It also resolved to set up a strong committee to liaise with all stakeholders across the six geopolitical zones for practical solutions to strengthen unity in the country.
House Majority Leader, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila (APC, Lagos), moved the motion under a matter of urgent national importance.

He noted that there have been different agitations across the country and divergent views on the suitability of redefining the structures upon which the unity of Nigeria rests.
He further noted that the various agitations had also resulted in the proscription of groups, loss of lives and judicial pronouncements.

Gbajabiamila said events of the last few weeks brought Nigeria close to the precipice, but for the determination of Nigerians in their show of commitment to the peace and unity of the country.
He said the situation required urgent intervention by the House to salvage the country.
He further argued that it was imperative that the members of the House who hold brief for their constituents must drop partisan politics, ethnic and religious interests and speak with one voice to save the country from disintegration.

The leader of the House urged his colleagues to take the bull by the horn and stand together for unity.
The House consequently assured Nigerians that it stood for the co-dependence of the regions in the country.
However, before putting the motion to vote, Dogara reminded members that the House would be remembered for those issues it confronted in the interest of Nigerians and that which it shied away from.
The lower chamber subsequently voted overwhelmingly to pass the motion.

The newly formed committee saddled with the responsibility of fostering national unity has the Deputy Speaker, Hon. Yussuff Lasu,n as its chairman, while Gbajabiamila serves as its deputy chairman. It also has seven principal officers and two other lawmakers as members.

Reacting to the National Assembly’s commitment towards fostering the unity of the country, the presidency Tuesday commended the various peace initiatives by the legislature.
A statement by the Senior Special Assistant to the President, National Assembly Matters (House of Reps), Hon. Suleiman Abdulrahman Kawu Sumaila, said the move by the lower chamber was in line with President Muhammadu Buhari’s resolve to reunite the country.

He said: “I wish to use this medium to welcome members of the House of Representatives from their annual recess to continue with their legislative business for the betterment of Nigeria and Nigerians.
“May I use this opportunity to commend the 360 members of the House for unanimously passing a resolution to work for the unity of Nigeria in the face of daunting challenges and threats by certain groups who are bent on causing disharmony and dis-unity among Nigerians.

“Indeed, there is no better time to come out with such a strong position than now.
“In the same vein, the lawmakers’ resolve to work with Mr. President for one Nigeria so as to take the country to the next level of development is laudable.

“I wish to assure the lawmakers, under the leadership of Mr. Speaker, the Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara that Mr. President remains resolute and committed to bringing the change he promised Nigerians in different facets of our lives. Thus he needs the support of the House to achieve this.
“It is our hope and belief that the House would continue to work hand-in-hand with the executive to achieve the laudable and positive programmes of this administration.

“We thank members of the House for their support and cooperation since their inauguration on June 9, 2015.”
Meanwhile, the chairman of South-east Governors’ Forum and Ebonyi State Governor, Mr. David Umahi, Tuesday disclosed that the president has promised to address all the issues leading to the agitation by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and would further the discussions with the South-east governors.
Umahi made the disclosure in Ezillo, the headquarters of Ishielu local Government Area in the state during the 2017 Ebonyi Peace Day celebration.

Umahi stated that he was shocked by the president’s humility, as he listened attentively and was humourous when he brought up the issue with Buhari in New York during the 72nd United Nations General Assembly, adding that it showed the president has a good heart.

The governor stressed that he had no apologies for the decision of the South-east governors to proscribe IPOB, noting that the decision saved about 12 million Igbo lives in the Northern part of the country and other Nigerians living in Igboland.

He noted that though they were abused and vilified over their decision, but if the circumstances presented themselves again, he would always toe any path that would ensure the peace and safety of his people.
“Let me hint on this day of peace that I discussed all issues of agitations with President Muhammadu Buhari and he would further the discussions with the South-east governors.

“We would address all issues of concern with him under an atmosphere of peace, even as he sends his regards to Igbo people.
“In the course of the discussion, he said that it did not matter what people thought about someone but God who sends one to do justice to all and leaves the rest to Him,” he said.

He advised that the agitation for secession and concerns over marginalisation should not degenerate to self-help, adding that agitation was not only “insulting to our president, it was insulting to other tribes”.

The governor said that some Igbo youths had been misdirected and the South-east governors had agreed that the agitators would be reabsorbed and reintegrated into meaningful ventures.
He directed his Commissioner of Economic Empowerment and Job Creation to open a register for the agitators to be reabsorbed and reintegrated so as to keep them gainfully employed.