Nothing about Nigeria is settled, it’s work in progress, Southern leaders tell Buhari

Leaders from the southern parts of the country have faulted President Muhammadu Buhari in his submission that Nigeria’s unity is settled and non-negotiable. The leaders under the aegis of Southern Leaders Forum (SLF) who met in Lagos on Wednesday, noted that every country is a daily dialogue and there is nothing finally settled in its life. President Muhammadu Buhari had in his first national broadcast after returning from a 103-day follow-up medical treatment trip to London, insisted that Nigeria’s unity is settled and non-negotiable. He also stated that Nigeria remains a federation, and that the National Assembly and Council of State are legitimate and appropriate bodies for national discourse. But SLF, in a communiqué issued after the close-door meeting, punctured one after the other almost all the positions of President Buhari on agitating national issues. They insisted that only restructuring will be able to solve the tide of separatist feelings and agitations in the country. Leaders from the South West, South East and South South present at the meeting included: 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, Sen Ike Nwachukwu; former Minister of Information and Culture, Chief Walter Ofonagoro and National Coordinator Oodua People’s Congress, OPC, Otunba Gani Adams. The communiqué which was read out by SLF’s publicity secretary, Yinka Odumakin, and entitled: ‘Only restructuring will ensure the unity, peace and development of Nigeria’ stated, “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.” On Nigeria’s unity being settled and non-negotiable, Odumakin said, “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.” SLF also tackled Buhari’s position that Nigeria is a federation. It said 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,” Odumakin said. On Buhari’s claims that the National Assembly and Council of State are legitimate and appropriate bodies for national discourse, the group said that “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.” SLF accused Buhari of taking side with the Fulani herdsmen in his speech. The southern leaders wondered how the activities of suspected Fulani herdsmen who terrorized farmers will be described as two quarrelling groups by Buhari. The group said, “We are equally miffed that the Pesident 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.” Calling on Buhari to“realise that the country is in a very bad shape at the moment and requires statesmanship and not ethnic, religious and political partisanships, SLF said that “this is the time to renegotiate Nigeria along federal lines negotiated by our founding fathers to stem the tide of separatist feelings and agitations.” Meanwhile, the Presidency on Wednesday cautioned opinion leaders in the country to exercise restraint in attacking President Buhari on issues bothering on restructuring. It argued the President cannot foist restructuring on the country.

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posted at 24-08-17

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