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Restructuring: Southern leaders tackle Buhari

*Only restructuring will ensure the unity, peace and development of Nigeria

Southern Leaders Forum (SLF) have disagreed with President Muhammadu Buhari’s position on agitations for restructuring insisting that only restructuring will ensure the unity, peace and development of the country.

The leaders, who tackled President Buhari in his national broadcast, on arrival from a medical vacation, maintained that restructuring will help stem the tide of separatist feelings and agitations in the country.

This, however, came as the Presidency, cautioned Nigerians especially opinion leaders to exercise restraint in bashing the President on issues bothering on restructuring, saying that he (President) cannot foist restructuring on the country.

The Southern Leaders Forum made its position known in a communiqué, after a closed door meeting in Lagos.

Leaders from the South West, South East and South South present include: Afenifere leader, Chief Ayo Adebanjo; former Director General of the Department of State Service, DSS, Chief Albert Horsfall; President of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief John Nwodo; former President of Ohanaeze, Prof Joe Irukwu; former Foreign Affairs Minister, Senator Ike Nwachukwu; former Minister of Information and Culture, Chief Walter Ofonagoro and National Coordinator Oodua People’s Congress (OPC) Otunba Gani Adams.

Others are Prof Adebanji Akintoye, Ohanaeze chieftain, Chief Guy Ikokwu; Mr. Denzik Kentebe, Colonel Tony Nyiam (retd), Chief Supo Shonibare and Mr. Tony Uranta.

Reading the communiqué entitled: ‘Only restructuring will ensure the unity, peace and development of Nigeria’, SLF’s Publicity Secretary, Mr. Yinka Odumakin said the president’s attempt to play down the demand for the renegotiation of Nigeria is untenable.

On the attempt to use repressive tactics to suppress opinions, Odumakin said: “The President expressed his disaffection about comments on Nigeria while he was away that question our collective existence as a nation and which he said have crossed the red lines. Against the background of the threat to treat hate speech as terrorism, we see a veiled threat to bare fangs and commence the criminalisation of dissenting opinions in our national discourse. Experience worldwide has shown that any attempt to deal with dissent by force usually drives it underground which makes it much more dangerous and difficult to deal with.

“We should have learned a lesson or two from Boko Haram which was an open organisation before the state drove it underground and we are still under its reign of terror despite official claim that it has been technically defeated or degraded. As elders, who believe that it is better to seek solutions to problems, we appeal that we must engage in social engineering fully aware that globalisation has made it very difficult to use repressive tactics to suppress opinions.”

He added that “the claim that Nigeria’s unity is settled and not negotiable is untenable. Every country is a daily dialogue and there is nothing finally settled in its life. All the conferences held after independence on constitutionalism are all forms of negotiations. There is no peaceful coexistence that is not about negotiations in a plural society.”

It also disagreed with the President that Nigeria remained a federation insisting that Nigeria ceased to be a federation after the 1966 coup.

“We acknowledge the President’s admission that there are legitimate concerns in the land. That is commendable. We, however, disagree with his take that Nigeria is a federation. Nigeria ceased to be a federation since 1966 after the first coup. The turning of Nigeria into a unitary constitution which is not conducive to peace and development in a multi-ethnic country is what the military imposed 1999 constitution, which lied against itself with the ‘we the people’, is all about. This is the taproot of the crisis of nationhood in Nigeria.”

While it disagreed with Buhari’s claims that the National Assembly and Council of State are legitimate and appropriate bodies for national discourse, the SLF said: “while we do not dispute that these are legal bodies, we insist they are not appropriate bodies to discuss the social contract that could bind us together as a nation state.”

“While the composition of the National Assembly is clearly jigged and indeed one of the bodies to be restructured, the Council of State is not open to Nigerians for any discourse. 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”, Odumakin said.

Fulani herdsmen: On the activities of suspected Fulani herdsmen terrorising farmers which the President described as two quarrelling groups, SLF’s spokesperson said it portrayed the President as taking sides.

He said: “We are equally miffed that the President talks about the serial onslaughts by AK 47 wielding Fulani herdsmen against defenceless farmers as a conflict between two quarrelling groups.

“In the last two years, the Fulani herdsmen have become much more ferocious in their attacks against farmers in the South and Middle Belt areas of the country with security forces shying away from enforcing law and order. To present the various onslaughts on farmers by these herdsmen as two fighting, would portray the President as taking sides with the aggressive Miyeti Allah.”

He pointed out restructuring can tame “many errors of commission and omission the government has committed that have accentuated the strong self-determination feelings across the country.”

It therefore called on the President to “realize that the country is in a very bad shape at the moment and requires statesmanship and not ethnic, religious and political partisanships. This is the time to renegotiate Nigeria along federal lines negotiated by our founding fathers to stem the tide of separatist feelings and agitations.

“This is why we do not accept that it portrays the President in a favourably light to be away for a long period, only to return to a badly fractured polity and avoid promoting a new dialogue for a better, just, inclusive and peaceful country.”

The forum also disagreed with the President that Nigeria remained a federation insisting that Nigeria ceased to be a federation after the 1966 coup.

While it disagreed with Buhari’s claims that the National Assembly and Council of State are legitimate and appropriate bodies for national discourse, the SLF said: “while we do not dispute that these are legal bodies, we insist they are not appropriate bodies to discuss the social contract that could bind us together as a nation state.”

“While the composition of the National Assembly is clearly jigged and indeed one of the bodies to be restructured, the Council of State is not open to Nigerians for any discourse. 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”, Odumakin said.

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