SMBLF: Restructuring Minimum Condition for Supporting Presidential Candidate

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  • Demands a publicly declared timeline for restructuring

Gboyega Akinsanmi

Contrary to the position of President Muhammadu Buhari, the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF) has said restructuring Nigeria is a minimum irreducible condition for supporting any presidential candidate in the next presidential election.

The forum, comprising Afenifere, Ohaneze Ndigbo, Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) and Middle Belt Forum (MBF), has also said such a presidential candidate should be committed to a specific timeline within which the country would be restructured.

The National Treasurer of Afenifere, Chief Olasupo Shonibare expressed the view in a recent interview with THISDAY, saying the 1999 Constitution “is too defective too to address all challenges undermining the peaceful co-existence of all ethnic nationalities in Nigeria.”

The president had at a meeting with a delegation of Urhobo Traditional Rulers on June 2 faulted calls for restructuring by ethnic nationalities and socio-cultural organisations across the federation, saying its proponents all had their personal agenda.

Like the president, the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo had at a townhall meeting with Nigerians in Minnesota, the United States canvassed anti-restructuring position, noting simple geographical restructuring was not the problem with Nigeria.

Rather than restructuring the federation in the interest of nation development, peace and unity, the vice president proposed prudent management of national resources and providing for the people properly, which according to him, were better ideas for Nigeria’s development challenges.

Consequently, Osinbajo’s position stoked public disapproval with former Vice President and a presidential aspirant of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar faulting Osinbajo for failing to appreciate the connection between Nigeria’s defective structure and its underperformance.

At these instances, Shonibare said the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum “has been very clear and most unambiguous about our position. Restructuring is a must. We have maintained a position that we will support a presidential candidate, who has demonstrated commitment to restructuring.

“We will not only support such a presidential candidate, but will also publicly align with him and present him a restructuring template that will be implemented within a publicly declared timeline. That will be the criteria for supporting whoever presents himself for the presidential election next year,” he said.

Apparently, Shonibare noted that the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders “have maintained that the minimum irreducible requirement for the 2019 presidential election is restructuring. The forum, basically, comprises includes Afenifere, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) and Middle Belt Forum (MBF).

“The forum will support a presidential candidate, who is unashamedly a federalist. He must be committed to it not just by saying, but by drawing a timeline to restructure Nigeria. He must set a timeframe within which he will present an executive bill to the National Assembly on changes we have agreed to make in the interest of national development, peace and unity,” Shonibare explained.

He disclosed that some northern leaders under the aegis of Northern Elders’ Forum (NEF) had teamed up with the Southern and Middle Belt leaders in the campaign for restructuring, faulting claims by anti-restructuring elements that calls for restructuring would lead to national disintegration.

He also said: “We are interested in candidates that may be contesting federal legislative seats. Irrespective of their political parties, we are scrutinising all of them to determine those who are committed to restructuring.

“It is a holistic approach to gathering those apostles of restructuring across all political divides. In a democratic system, the only thing we can do is for people to publicly say they will do X and Y within a certain timeline. Within a certain timeline is what has not been given to previous leaders,” Shonibare noted.

He pointed that former President Goodluck Jonathan was lobbied to present an executive bill on restructuring, though eventually did something towards the tail end of his administration.

According to him, there are certain things he could have done. But he did not do it. The present administration has restructuring as part of its manifesto. But there is no timeline it. So, that allowed them the leeway to consign it.