Governors of the southern region on Monday held a meeting in Lagos State.
The meeting is a follow-up to the earlier meeting in Asaba hosted by the Delta state Governor where the governors agreed on far-reaching conclusions on open grazing, restructuring Nigeria, and calls for state police.
Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu received the governors at Alausa, Ikeja, the venue of their meeting and they proceeded to the meeting which was held closed-door.
Some of those at the meeting include Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State; Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State; Gboyega Oyetola of Osun State; and Edo State deputy governor Philip Shaibu.
Others include Ogun State Governor Dapo Abiodun; Enugu State governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi; Ekiti State Governor Kayode Fayemi.
While the Chairman of the Southern Governors Forum, Rotimi Akeredolu, assured that a communique will be issued at the end of the meeting, it is still unclear the actual subject of discussion at the meeting.
President Muhammadu Buhari on Friday said only the National Assembly can tackle issues relating to restructuring, true federalism or devolution of powers.
He made the remark while receiving members of the Nigerian Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) at the State House in Abuja.
According to the President, the ongoing constitutional review process being conducted by the National Assembly will hopefully address the agitations of those calling for the restructuring of the country.
“On the contentious issue of restructuring or true federalism or devolution of powers, like you all know, this is a constitutional matter with which only the National Assembly can deal,” the President said, according to a statement signed by his spokesman Femi Adesina.
“I remain an unapologetic believer in devolving power to the people and that is why I signed the Executive Order granting autonomy to State Legislature and Judiciary. Unfortunately, this was met with some resistance at the state level and led to a more than two months strike action that has cost the country a lot of pain.
“Luckily the National Assembly has nearly completed the constitutional review process, which I hope would address some of the burning issues agitating the minds of our people.’’
The President, at the meeting, also said his administration was working to address the direct and indirect causes of unemployment among the population.
Nigeria has one of the highest levels of unemployment in Africa.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics, the unemployment rate stands at 33.3%.
Buhari ‘pained’ about insecurity
On security, the President told the religious leaders that the government was already going after financiers of criminal elements, who also supply them with arms, but were constrained by the strike by Judiciary workers.
“Fortunately, this strike has been called off and prosecution of some of these people would soon commence, while our security agencies expand their network in closing in on the others,’’ he said.
President Buhari assured that the administration remains committed to “quickly pushing this dark side of our history behind us and we are currently making sure that funding would not hamper our efforts.’’
According to the President, the last Federal Executive Council meeting approved some funds for the security agencies, which would be put to judicious use.
“As I mentioned yesterday, in Lagos, we would not relent in our efforts at clearing these criminals from all parts of our land including the forests,’’ he said.
President Buhari said the government had the major part to play in providing security, adding: “but besides the imperative to abide by democratic processes is the important aspect of support of the citizenry to the security agencies by providing relevant and timely information.’’
“I must confess that I am more pained than anyone can imagine with the on-going security challenges because, like you noted during your meeting, they have increased the hunger, pain and anger in the land,’’ he noted.
The President thanked the religious leaders for their patriotism and commitment to ensuring peace and understanding.
“I have listened to you and I am particularly happy that your meeting clearly identified specific and major roles for both the Government and the people of Nigeria. This is what has been lacking for some time in the national discourse on addressing our current security challenges.’’
In their comments, NIREC, led by Sultan of Sokoto, His Eminence, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, and President of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Rev Dr Samson Ayokunle, thanked the President for the onerous assignment of leading the country, advising government to fund the armed forces better to confront myriad of security challenges facing the country, block sources of illegal arms, publish names of those funding terrorism and try them.
They also canvassed the recruitment of more policemen, strengthening of the judiciary, tackle unemployment by creating jobs for youths particularly, and on separatist agitations in the country, NIREC said: “It is in our togetherness that we are stronger.”
Ahead of the 2023 general elections, leaders from the southern region and the middle belt are demanding that the presidency be zoned to the south in the overall interest of Nigeria as a united country.
The leader of the group, Chief Edwin Clark stated this on Sunday during a press conference in Abuja, describing the ongoing constitutional amendment exercise by the National Assembly, as fraudulent.
He also insisted on a total restructuring of Nigeria and a brand new constitution fashioned after the 1963 constitution.
“The South should be ready to have the next President, without that, no Nigeria. We want to restructure of Nigeria if there has to be a Nigeria to continue,” he said.
“We want the zoning to continue, it is conventional. When the Constitution did not provide for a succession when Yar’ Adua was ill, the convention was adopted.
“Even though zoning is not part of our 1999 Constitution or our party institution, it has been an acceptable convention.”
The elder statesman said the country needs a brand-new constitution, adding that the 1963 Constitution recognised the country as a four-legged country where each region developed at its own pace, which was not the case in recent times.
According to him, the situation of things is such that one state that is not developed would be dragging a developed state down.
See the communique issued after the meeting of the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum below:
COMMUNIQUE ISSUED AT THE END OF AN EXPANDED MEETING OF THE SOUTHERN AND MIDDLE BELT LEADERS’ FORUM HELD ON SUNDAY, 30TH MAY, 2021
An expanded Meeting of the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF), held on Sunday, 30th May 2021, at the Sheraton Hotel and Towers, ABUJA. The Meeting, chaired by Elder statesman, Chief Edwin Kiagbodo Clark, OFR, CON, had, in attendance leaders of various socio-cultural organizations as follows: Afenifere, for the South West; Ohanaeze Ndigbo, for the South East; Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), for the South-South and the Middle Belt Forum (MBF), for the Middle Belt.
The Meeting also had in attendance, former Governors, Ministers and Members of the National Assembly, from the respective Zones (list attached).
The Meeting exhaustively discussed various issues about the State of Affairs in the country, particularly, bordering on the Security, National Dialogue, Restructuring, and the preparations for the 2023 General Elections.
Arising therefrom, the Meeting resolved as follows:
Urges the Federal Government to heed the genuine and reasonable nationwide calls for a transparent National Dialogue, and take urgent steps towards restructuring and birthing a new Constitution; to bring back equitable harmony to the Country;
Insists that it is imperative to immediately restructure the country considering the precarious prevailing atmosphere before any further elections.
iii. Reminds all leading political parties, especially the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and other political parties, that the basis of any viable democracy, especially in a diverse and complex country such as Nigeria, rests in fair and even sharing of power;
Notes that the Northern part of the Country would have fully enjoyed the Office of the Presidency, for the full statutory period of 8 years by 2023, hence, should yield to the South;
Therefore, the Meeting:
Unequivocally and in full resolve, calls on the APC and PDP and other political parties to zone the Presidency, in 2023 to the South; at the next election.
Enjoins political stakeholders from the South not to be lured into the unpatriotic step of seeking such other positions as National Chairmen and Vice President of the main political parties, but join forces to demand and ensure that the Presidency moves to the South in 2023;
iii. Calls on the Federal Government to declare a national emergency on security and urgently come up with proactive strategies to restore peace and security to all parts of the country;
Emphasizes that, if the security situation is not dealt with and banditry stopped or reduced to the barest minimum, it would not be feasible to have proper elections in 2023;
Condemns the cavalier attitude of the federal government towards the resolutions of the Governors of Southern States at their Meeting, held in Asaba, Delta State on 11th May 2021;as it pertains to ban on open grazing and restructuring.
Insists that cattle rearing is a generally, private business enterprise, as such, the Federal Government should avoid committing state resources to promote any particular business, beyond providing the enabling environment, in the performance of its regulatory roles;
vii. Extends condolences to the families of the late Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Ibrahim Attahiru, and 10 other military personnel, who died in the unfortunate military plane crash on 21st May 2021, and calls on the military authorities to carry out a thorough investigation to ascertain the actual cause of the crash;
viii. Reaffirms its commitment to the unity of Nigeria, but must only be sustained on the principles of Equity, Fairness and Justice.
The Meeting was held in an atmosphere of peace and collective commitment to the decisions.
Done in ABUJA, this 30th Day of May 2021.
Chief E. K. Clark, OFR, CON – Leader
Chief Ayo Adebanjo – Leader, Afenifere
Amb. Prof George Obiozor – President General, Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide
Dr. Pogu Bitrus – National President, Middle Belt Forum
Senator Emmanuel Ibok Essien, FNSE, National Chairman PANDEF.
He also advised President Buhari to bury the idea of general elections come 2023 without the necessary restructuring of the country to the path of federalism
“I urged President Muhammadu Buhari to bury the idea of holding an election before returning to federalism by restructuring the country now.
“There must be a country before elections are held; it would be patriotic of him to heed this advice. If Buhari is sincere about keeping the country together, he must restructure the country now; this is the only answer to halt the disintegration of the country. To save Nigeria, restructure the country now,” Adebanjo said.
He added that the consistent advocacy for the restructuring of the country to federalism is based on the founding philosophy of Afenifere.
Adebanjo appreciated other groups such as PANDEF, The Northern Elders Forum, Arewa Consultative Forum, and Middle Belt Forum for joining in the restructuring crusade for a greater and better Nigeria
He also hailed the Southern Governors Forum for joining the calls for restructuring.
The House of Representatives has said that Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila is not opposed to the call by Southern Governors for the restructuring of the country.
Seventeen southern governors had convened on Tuesday in Asaba, the Delta State capital and had demanded for the nation’s restructuring, asking President Muhammadu Buhari to address the nation and to also convene a national dialogue.
But the House via a statement issued on Friday by its spokesman, Benjamin Kalu, said the Speaker and indeed the current leadership of the House has shown commitment to total review of the 1999 constitution to meet the yearning and aspiration of the Nigerian people.
“The attention of the House has been drawn to several publications on online and traditional media claiming that the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, is opposed to the Southern Governors’ call for restructuring,” the statement partly read.
“The House gathers that this allegation was attributed to statements made by the Speaker at a recent interview seeking his opinion on the issue. The House states clearly and unequivocally that the publications are false and misleading.”
SEE FULL STATEMENT BELOW:
The Speaker did not say He is opposed to the Southern Governors’ calls for restructuring
The attention of the House has been drawn to several publications on online and traditional media claiming that the Speaker, Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila, is opposed to the Southern Governors’ call for restructuring. The House gathers that this allegation was attributed to statements made by the Speaker at a recent interview seeking his opinion on the issue. The House states clearly and unequivocally that the publications are false and misleading.
For the avoidance of doubt, below is an accurate reproduction of the statements made by the Speaker at that interview;
“This is not a time for name-calling or blaming one person or the other. If truth be told, we all have equal shares in the blame and whatever challenges we have, we all must come together. In the same way we all have equal shares, we must all come together to make sure that we resolve whatever issues there are. Like I said earlier, the greatest nations have gone through challenges worse than this and I believe that it is that spirit of oneness and that spirit of togetherness and unity and love that will take us through this. You know sometimes there are many things that people have said here and there and you never know where these things are coming from. Sometimes God even puts you through challenges so that you can come out of it stronger, bigger, better, bolder. That’s what I believe is gonna happen to Nigeria. We’re all put together in this one geographical space for a reason. It wasn’t by happenstance or coincidence or by chance. It was ordained by Almighty God and He doesn’t make mistakes, He doesn’t go wrong. What He decrees is what will be and I believe He put us all together. No matter your religion, no matter your ethnicity, talking about over 250 ethnic groups in one country, it is that diversity that God had foreseen that I believe we should tap into as Nigerians. I have belief in the Nigerian resilience and in the Nigerian spirit; and in the spirit of Ramadan, we must continue to pray.”
It is clear to objective reason that nothing in the above statement opposes the Southern Governors’ call for restructuring. Indeed, from the beginning of the 9th Assembly, the House under the leadership of Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila has reiterated its commitment to a thorough review of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as can be seen by the composition and activities of the Constitutional Review Committee of the House.
The media is hereby cautioned to be mindful of peddling false news in the bid to misinform the general public. This is misleading and detrimental to our democracy as a nation. Like the Speaker rightly said, this is not a time to apportion blames rather this is a time for us to come together and deliberate on issues that have birthed the problem we are facing as a nation and to find a suitable solution to it.
The House urges Nigerians to disregard this news and continue to pray for a peaceful Nigeria.
Human rights lawyer and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana, has commended the southern governors for banning open grazing in the 17 southern states of the country.
Falana, who spoke during an interview on Channels Television’s Politics Today on Wednesday, asked the governors to back their ban on open grazing with a legal instrument to enable the prosecution of offenders.
He also asked the governors to ensure state attorneys general come together and put in machinery for translating the resolutions into laws.
“I have read the resolutions and for me, the governors have done very well. They need to mobilise their northern colleagues, they need to walk their talk because if you expect that the presidency will act on this resolution, the governors may be wasting their precious time,” he said.
“Each of the governors will have to make enabling laws to translate the decision in the communiqué to legal instruments.”
A former presidential adviser on political affairs, Professor Rufai Alkali has reacted to calls for restructuring the nation saying issues confronting Nigeria are inherent not only in the structure but also in the leadership and the people.
Alkali, who is also the former Pro-Chancellor of Federal University of Technology Minna (FUTMinna) said this on Monday during an interview on Channels Television breakfast programme, Sunrise Daily.
“Nigeria’s issues are inherent in its leadership and people. It is time for our ruling elite to realise that if we push our people if you mobilise them and push them to a particular place, you cannot take them back. That is why they will take up arms, to fend for themselves,” Alkali said.
He likened the situation of the country’s leadership to fixing square pegs in triangular slots.
According to him, politicians and leaders should at all times learn to speak with the people clearly, to ascertain the precise issues that the population face, “rather than claim to solve issues without understanding the pressing needs of the populace.”
Alkali speaking further on structural issues and solutions to crisis in the nation, advised Nigerian leaders to step up in their responsibility to the public.
On restructuring, Alkali said the issue is not new, he explained that “In fact, it is as old as Nigeria itself. The history of Nigeria is the history of restructuring in the nation. The issue of restructuring in Nigeria dates back to the 1916’s to 1940’s up to 1960 and 1963 during the First Republic.”
He added that “if we were to look deeper into the call for restructuring, we will list about ten items for debates like, state police, creation of more states, devolution of power from the Federal Government, resource control, the abolition of local governments and many more, which usually are reasons for debate and continuous discussions.”
The Presidency has insisted that it will not respond to comments suggesting Nigeria is on the brink of disintegration if President Muhammadu Buhari does not “do one thing or another.”
The Presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, in a series of tweets on Friday described as ‘unpatriotic outbursts’ comments suggesting that Nigeria will break up.
He said these comments are both “unhelpful and unwarranted” and the Federal Government will not succumb to threats.
“Repeat: this administration will not take any decision against the interests of 200 million Nigerians, who are the President’s first responsibility under the constitution, out of fear or threats especially in this hour of a health crisis,” Shehu said.
See his full statement below…
The Presidency responds to the recurring threats to the corporate existence of the country with factions giving specific timelines for the President to do one thing or another or else, in their language, “the nation will break up.”
This is to warn that such unpatriotic outbursts are both unhelpful and unwarranted as this government will not succumb to threats and take any decision out of pressure at a time when the nation’s full attention is needed to deal with the security challenges facing it at a time of the Covid-19 health crisis.
Repeat: this administration will not take any decision against the interests of 200 million Nigerians, who are the President’s first responsibility under the constitution, out of fear or threats especially in this hour of a health crisis.
The President as an elected leader under this constitution will continue to work with patriotic Nigerians, through and in line with the Parliamentary processes to finding solutions to structural and other impediments to the growth and wellbeing of the nation and its people.
THE Presidency responds to the recurring threats to the corporate existence of the country with factions giving specific timelines for the President to to do one thing or another or else, in their language, “the nation will break up.”
Governors and people of the South-South geopolitical zone have demanded the restructuring of Nigeria, in line with the principle of true federalism to guarantee peace, security, and stability of the nation.
The South-South leaders believe the country is not at peace with itself and not working as it should, particularly for the people of the region.
Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State, who is the Chairman of the South-South Governors Forum, stated this on Tuesday as the position of the zone during the regional stakeholders meeting with a presidential delegation.
This followed an initial meeting which failed to hold as a result of an emergency National Security meeting.
The delegation, led by the Chief of Staff to the President, Professor Ibrahim Gambari, met with the governors and other leaders of the region at the Government House in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital.
Governor Okowa informed the delegation that the people of the South-South were committed to the restructuring of the country in a way that would guarantee true federalism and devolution of powers to the states to create and manage their own police and security architecture under a federal structure.
He called for true federalism guided by the principle of derivation, revenue sharing, and control of resources by each state of the Federation as it was the case in the first republic.
According to the governor, the kind of federation the South-South desires is one where federating units are constitutionally empowered to create their own structures like local government areas, manage their elections, and control their judiciary.
“We are all aware of the huge endowment of this country; as such, it is imperative to stress that with a little bit of efforts, imagination, hard work, sacrifice and leadership, every state of the Federation as of today, has the ability and capability to contribute to the national purse.
“This should be encouraged rather than the whole country depending substantially on a region of the country,” he said.
Governor Okowa added, “What is worse and even more painful in this ugly situation is the deliberate lack of understanding, empathy and the uncompromising attitudes of some Nigerians, who have refused to understand the challenges of the South-South region of the country especially, the degradation of the environment and our waters.
“As a result, most of the demands of the region have remained unattended to while the resources of the region have been used continually to develop other parts of the country”.
On behalf of the region, he reiterated the call for the relocation of the headquarters of major oil companies from Lagos and Abuja to the South-South.
Privatise Them Now
The governor also requested the immediate implementation of the consent judgment entered in the Supreme Court Suit No: SC/964/2016 to enable the South-South region get its share of the $55billion shortfall of collection on deep offshore and inland basin production sharing contracts.
He called for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the region’s major seaports in Port Harcourt, Calabar, Warri, in order to enhance the economic development of the region.
In addition, Governor Okowa demanded that the two refineries in Port Harcourt and one in Warri should be privatised.
“Enough is enough. Let us now privatise them and in doing so, however, allow the states and the region among others, considerable equity in the name of fairness and justice,” he said.
The governor observed that one of the major failures of the intervention agency – Niger Delta Development Commission (NCDC) – was its refusal to forge and foster synergy, consultation, and cooperation with the state governments, especially on project location, development, and execution.
He stated, “We have resolved and we, as the state governments, will no longer allow NDDC to execute any project(s) in any state of the region without it consulting state governments.
“Frankly, enough is enough and we have a court judgment to back our position.”
In his remark, Professor Gambari explained that the stakeholders meeting was at the instance of President Muhammadu Buhari, to the delegation comprising all the ministers from the region to visit and consult with representatives of the people regarding the recent #EndSARS protest.
He noted that reports indicated that there were instances where the breakdown of law and order was recorded in various locations in the South-South states.
Decades Of Mishandling
The presidential aide lauded the governors for their quick response and actions in addressing the crisis in the region.
Beyond the issue of #EndSARS, he said the President acknowledged that the people in the region have been dealing with other concerns that were particular to them, such as the degradation of the environment due to decades of mishandling and adherence to environmental standards.
Professor Gambari promised to convey the demands of the governors and leaders of the region to the President.
The Deputy President of the Senate, Ovie Omo-Agege, on his part, urged the leaders of the region to avail themselves of the ongoing review of the 1999 Constitution by the National Assembly, since most of the issues raised were constitutional matters.
Present at the meeting were Governor Nyesom Wike (Rivers), Governor Ben Ayade (Cross River), Governor Udom Emmanuel (Akwa Ibom), Governor Douye Diri (Bayelsa), and Godwin Obaseki (Edo).
Ministers present included Godswill Akpabio (Niger Delta), Timipre Sylva (State for Petroleum), Goddy Agba (State for Power), Festus Keyamo (State for Labour and Employment), Osagie Ehanire (Health), and Lai Mohammed (Information and Culture).
While the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, was absent, the National Chairman of the Pan Niger Delta Forum, Air Commodore Idongesit Nkanga, and former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Onueze Okocha, among others were present.
Members of the Young Progressives Party (YPP) on Wednesday protested in front of the National Assembly demanding a restructuring of the nation’s security architecture.
Led by its national chairman, Bishop Amakiri the party members also called on the leadership of the National Assembly to ensure electoral reforms that will restore the confidence of the electorate in the nation’s electoral system.
Amakiri while speaking with journalists during the protest appealed to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) to desist from overheating the polity.
“We are concerned about the level of insecurity in Nigeria. Also at the moment, Nigerians are calling for the rejig of the security apparatus. If the country is suffering from insecurity it also means that the economic growth of the country is stunted.
“We also believe that the electoral reform is necessary, there’s no any other time than now,” Amakiri said.
He noted that it is unfortunate for the courts to decide elections after the citizens have made their choice.
The YPP members later submitted their petition to representatives of NASS who received them in front of the National Assembly.
A Professor of International Law and Jurisprudence, Akin Oyebode, has described the Nigerian constitution as military in nature and illegitimate.
Oyebode made the comment Tuesday on Sunrise Daily during a discussion of the Nigerian Senate’s recent decision to review the constitution.
He noted that the current constitution does not reflect the will of the Nigerian majority since it was cobbled together by a few people and imposed on the country.
The renowned academic also pointed out that it was not in the Senate’s place to give Nigerians a new constitution. “We got it wrong,” he said.
Oyebode went on to call for the composition of a constituent assembly that represents the totality of Nigerians.
The new constitution, Oyebode noted, should elaborate on true federalism.
What Oyebode actually said?
“It is not for the National Assembly to give Nigerians a constitution. It is the constitution that will give birth to the National Assembly. The job of the National Assembly is to make workaday laws for the peace, order and good government of Nigeria. So it is the constituent assembly that will deliberate and fashion out a fundamental law for Nigeria.
“If we agree that the military decree that is masquerading as a constitution is worse than useless; then of course we have to go about replacing it with a basic law of Nigeria.
“We have to elaborate on true federalism. We need devolution of powers. We should not be running to Abuja for every little thing.
“What we have been operating under the military constitution is a quasi-federal arrangement. So the constituent units don’t have the freedom to legislate on matters that affect their constituents.
“It is not the national assembly that should give us a new constitution. We the people or our representatives formed into a constituent assembly should discuss the modalities of living together.
“What we’ve been having, talking of the Decree 24 of 1979, is an illegitimate instrument. Where did we people gather to discuss and agree to live together? We never had that. It was a product of a military dictate. What you had was the Abdusalam constitution – I believe 29 Nigerians were constituted to draft the 1999 constitution.
“Nigerians now have the right to enact to themselves the fundamental law that will regulate how they are living together.
“If the infelicities of that constitution are well known, we would be wasting time recounting how unworkable a quasi-federal set up is for a country that has over 400 ethnic groups. And that’s why we’ve been in the jam that we find ourselves.
“I think we have to get it right finally by setting up a constituent assembly that will produce a draft constitution which will be voted on by the generality of Nigerians.”
Elder statesman and former governor of Ogun State, Mr Olusegun Osoba, says Nigeria can only be restructured with the current constitution he described as being imperfect.
Osoba stated this during a recent interview on Channels Television’s Newsnight which aired on Monday.
“I am for restructuring. As long as we have a Constitution, we can only restructure within the current Constitution, as imperfect as it is first,” he said.
Speaking about the constitution of the national conference, Osoba explained that the President does not have the powers to convene such an event.
Rather, the former governor called on the National Assembly, in collaboration with the State Houses of Assembly to amend the Constitution at the federal and state levels for proper restructuring of the country.