The Southern Leaders Forum on Wednesday in Lagos faulted President Muhammadu Buhari’s statement that issues of national discourse should be taken to the National Assembly and the National Council of State.
Buhari made the statement among others in his Monday broadcast after 104-day medical trip to the United Kingdom.
The forum, represented by Chiefs Edwin Clark, Albert Horsefall (South-South); Chief John Nwodo, Prof. Joe Irukwu (South-East); and Chief Reuben Fasoranti, Chief Ayo Adebanjo (South-West), spoke in Lagos at a press conference titled, ‘Only Restructuring will Ensure the Unity, Peace and Development of Nigeria.’
Others at the event included Prof. Banji Akintoye, Tony Uranta, National Coordinator of the Oodua People’s Congress, Chief Gani Adams; Supo Shonibare, Guy Ikokwu, Tony Nyiam and Prof. Walter Ofonagoro.
The forum stated that while it did not dispute the legality of the National Assembly and NCS, the bodies were not the appropriate bodies to superintend the discourse on the social contract that could bind Nigeria together.
“While the composition of the National Assembly is clearly jigged and indeed one of the bodies to be restructured, the National Council of State is not open to Nigerians. If any discourse is to take place on constitutional changes within the democratic framework, Mr. President is the one who has the responsibility to initiate the process,” the SLF said.
The forum added that the attempt to treat hate speech as terrorism was a veiled threat to bare fangs and criminalizing dissenting opinions in the national discourse.
The group accused the President of deploying the imagery of the late Chief Emeka Ojukwu in his broadcast to play down the demand for the renegotiation of the structure of Nigeria by saying they both agreed in Daura in 2003 that the country must remain one and united.
The SLF said, “The meeting between the two of them could not have been a Sovereign National Conference whose decisions cannot be reviewed. We agree with their conclusion that we should remain united, but that does not foreclose discussions of the terms and conditions of the union.
“The claim that Nigeria’s unity is settled and not negotiable is not tenable. Every country is in a daily dialogue and there is nothing finally settled in its life. Stable nations are still fine-tuning details of the architecture of their existence. How much more Nigeria that has yet to attain nationhood? If we are settled as a nation, we will not be dealing with the many crises of nation-building that are afflicting us today, which have made it extremely difficult to squarely face issues of growth and development.
“The British negotiated to put the various ethnic groups together. All the constitutional conferences held in the years before independence were negotiations. When the North walked out of the parliament in 1953 after Chief Anthony Enahoro moved the motion for independence, it took negotiations to bring them back into the union after an eight-point agenda, which was mainly about confederations.”
It pointed out that the one sentence in the President’s speech that every Nigerian could live anywhere without let or hindrance, if meant to address the quit notice by Arewa youths to the Igbo living in the North, was too short to check the unwarranted threat.
The group further said it was miffed by Buhari’s description of the attacks by deadly Fulani herdsmen on defenceless farmers as conflict between two quarrelling groups.
“To present the various onslaughts on farmers by the herdsmen as ‘two fighting,’ would portray the President as taking sides with the aggressive Meyitti Allah. While we do not hold the administration responsible for all agitations in Nigeria due to the crises of unitary constitution, there are clearly many errors of commission and omission that have accentuated the strong self-determination feelings across the country which only restructuring can tame,” the group said.
According to the leaders, some of the errors made by the current administration are lopsided recruitment and appointment into federal institutions, breach of the Federal Character principle, early retirement of mostly Southern senior officers from the Armed Forces and other security services and concentration of most heads of Armed Forces and other national security agencies in a section of the country.
The group identified others to include the appointment of the legal adviser of Meyitti Allah as the secretary of the Federal Character Commission, indifference to the deadly activities of herdsmen and the President’s declaration that he could not treat those who gave him five per cent votes equally with those who gave him 97 per cent votes in the 2015 presidential election.
The Southern elders noted that having spent most part of their lives fighting for the country’s unity based on justice, fairness and equity, it was necessary to urge the President to realise the mess the country was in and exhibit statesmanship and not ethnic, religious, regional and political partisanship in renegotiating Nigeria along federal lines to tackle separatist feelings and agitations.
No united Nigeria without restructuring, says N’Delta agitators
Some Niger Delta agitators on Wednesday faulted the position taken by President Buhari on the calls for restructuring.
They said without restructuring as being suggested by prominent Nigerians, the nation would not remain united.
The agitators’ position was contained in a statement made available to journalists in Abuja.
Signatories to the statement included John Duku (Niger Delta Watchdogs); Ekpo Ekpo (Niger Delta Volunteers); Osarolor Nedam (Niger Delta Warriors); Henry Okon Etete (Niger Delta Peoples Fighters); Asukwo Henshaw (Bakassi Freedom Fighters); Ibinabo Horsfall (Niger Delta Movement for Justice); Duke Emmanson (Niger Delta Fighters Network) and Inibeghe Adams (Niger Delta Freedom Mandate).
“We wish to thank all well-meaning Nigerians who threw their weight behind restructuring and disassociated themselves from the President’s position on restructuring.
“We want to remind him (the President) that without restructuring, there would be no united Nigeria,” the agitators said.
They said they were surprised that the President said the unity of Nigeria was not negotiable when “indeed he did not believe in other Nigerians apart from those from the North.”
They insisted that Northerners and the Yoruba must leave their region before October 1.
“The Coalition of Arewa Youths’ quit notice to Igbo was in collaboration with the Northern elders, the President’s cabal and top security chiefs from the North. They were properly consulted by the youths.
“Therefore, we maintain our previous position that Northerners and Yorubas should vacate the Niger Delta region before October 1, 2017, until justice is done,” the statement read.
The agitators called on Buhari to reshuffle the Federal Executive Council, as well as appointments into boards of agencies and parastatals in a manner that would reflect federal character.
They also called for the return of oil blocks to natives of the region and the immediate relocation of the oil companies’ headquarters to their operational base, as well as relocation of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation’s headquarters to the Niger Delta region.
They claimed that over 75 per cent of the oil blocks in the Niger Delta region were owned by Northerners, 20 per cent by Yoruba, three per cent by Igbo and the remaining two per cent by people of the region.
“We can no longer tolerate this injustice, marginalisation and being treated as slaves in our own land. We therefore demand that the Northerners should return 70 per cent and Yorubas 15 per cent of their oil blocks to the Niger Delta people for justice to prevail,” they said.
They claimed that they had put all machinery in place to protect Niger Delta from external forces, adding that they would not hesitate to bring the Nigerian economy to a standstill.
Presidency advises Nigerians against harsh words
The Presidency on Wednesday advised opinion leaders in the country to exercise restraint in their choice of words as they criticise Buhari based on his position on restructuring.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, gave the advice in a statement.
Shehu said the restraint was necessary to avoid heating up the polity and causing acrimony across the country.
He noted that while Nigerians are free to express themselves, they should “exercise such liberty with restraint and a sense of responsibility.”
The presidential spokesman said calling Buhari an enemy of Nigeria was in “extreme bad taste.”
He added that nothing in the President’s service record would justify “such scurrilous language.”
Shehu said he was satisfied that majority of Nigerians welcomed Buhari’s broadcast.
He however said it was off the mark to criticise him for not responding to calls for restructuring.
“To criticise the President for not imposing restructuring on the country – whatever that means – is completely off the mark,” he said.
Shehu said Buhari had no power to impose restructuring on the country by military fiat.
He said National Assembly members were the elected representatives of the people who can handle agitations for restructuring and other constitutional changes.
He explained that the President is constitutionally bound to work with the National Assembly to deal with such issues, reminding critics that the President would not exercise arbitrary powers or bypass the legislature in taking fundamental decisions.
He added, “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 would remain faithful to that oath by working with the legislature in taking major decisions on the future of Nigeria’s federal system.
“The country’s parliament is ready and willing to discuss all issues but the pundits are more interested in TV and newspaper headlines.
“Threats don’t work in a democracy. Democracy requires planning and proper process. Issues are resolved through established processes, not by abuses, insults or irresponsible statements.”
Buhari cancels FEC meeting, receives probe report
The meeting of the Federal Executive Council that holds every week did not hold on Wednesday.
The Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, did not disclose the reason behind the decision to cancel the meeting.
This is just as Vice President Yemi Osinbajo on Wednesday submitted the report of the committee that investigated allegations against the suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal; and the Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency, Ayo Oke, to Buhari.
The committee, which had the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN); and the National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno, as members, was initially billed to submit its report to Buhari on May 8, 2017, but could not do so because the President left the country on May 7 for London.
Speaking to State House correspondents after submitting the report, Osinbajo declined to divulge the details of the report.
He said the ball was in the President’s court to study the report and take his decision.
He said, “It is a fact-finding committee and our terms of reference were to find out what transpired in the cases; one involving the SGF and the other, the DG of NIA.
“We have concluded our job and we submitted a full report with recommendations to the President.
“We cannot, of course, give you any detail because the President has to look at the report, study it and then make his own decisions based on the report.”
Osinbajo said members of the committee were fair-minded, adding that justice was done in all cases.
He said it was in the interest of the nation that things were done properly.
When asked how soon Nigerians should be expecting the President’s decision on the report, the Vice President said, “All I can say now is that we have submitted the report to the President and it is a very detailed report as a matter of fact. The President has to study the report and make decisions.
On whether heads will roll based on the report, the Vice President said, “How can I tell you? If you want to know that, you have to wait. You really have to wait.”
Present at the brief ceremony where Osinbajo presented the report to the President were the two other members of the committee and the Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari.
The President had on April 19 suspended Lawal and Oke and constituted a three-man committee led by Osinbajo to investigate them.
The panel investigated allegations of violations of law and due process made against Lawal in the award of contracts under the Presidential Initiative on the North-East while it probed Oke on the discovery of large amounts of foreign and local currencies by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in a residential apartment at Osborne Towers, Ikoyi, Lagos, for which NIA is laying claim to.