The Southern Leaders Forum (SLF) welcomes President Muhammadu Buhari back to the country after 105 days medical vacation in the United Kingdom.It is our fervent prayer that God Almighty will perfect his health so he can effectively discharge the functions of his office as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
We have studied the national broadcast by Mr President on Monday 21August,2017;and after a careful and thorough analysis of the speech,we make the following observations.
1 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 criminalization 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 learnt a lesson or two from Boko Haram which was an open organization 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 globalization has made it very difficult to use repressive tactics to repress opinions.
2 Mr President deploys the imagery of the late Chief Emeka Ojukwu to play down the the demand for the renegotiation of the structure of Nigeria by saying they both agreed in Daura in 2003 that we must remain “one and united”. While we agree with them,the meeting between the two of them could not have been a Sovereign National Conference whose decisions cannot be reviewed .The fact that we agree on their conclusion that we should remain united does not foreclose discussions of the terms and conditions of the Union.
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. Stable nations are still fine-tuning details of the architecture of their existence now and then. How much more Nigeria that has yet to attain nationhood ? If If we were a settled nation ,we would not be dealing with the many crises of nation building that are afflicting us today which have made it extremely difficult to squarely and urgently 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 their eight-point agenda which was mainly about confederation All the conferences held after independence on constitutionalism are all forms of negotiations .There is no peaceful co-existence that is not about negotiations in a plural society.
3 The one sentence by the President that every Nigerian can live anywhere without let or hindrance if meant to address the quit notice by Arewa youths against Igbos is rather too short to address the clear and present danger that the unwarranted threat represents. We are distressed by the refusal of the police to comply with the arrest orders given by the Kaduna State Governor and the Vice-President while the President was away.Instead of ensuring that these orders are carried out ,the President has now come to just make a bland comment on the explosive issue.We are of the view that leadership requires more than this at this crucial moment.
4 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 for 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.
5 We do not accept the President’s claim that the National Assembly and the Council of State”are the only legitimate the appropriate bodies for national discourse”. 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 appropriate process .
6 We are equally miffed that the President talks about the serial onslaughts by AK-47 wielding Fulani herdsmen against defenseless farmers as a conflict between two quarreling groups.In the last 2 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 Miyetti Allah .
While we do not hold the Administration responsible for all the causes of agitations in Nigeria due to the crises of unitary constitution, there are clearly many errors of commission and omission the government has committed that have accentuated the strong self-determination feelings and agitations across the country which only restructuring can tame today:
1 The insensitive and clearly lopsided recruitments /appointments into all federal institutions .Even key prominent northern leaders have expressed openly their disapproval of the pattern of appointments.
2 Concentration of most of the heads of Armed Forces and other National Security Agencies in a section of the country
3 The President going on a global stage to say he could not treat those who gave him 5% of their votes equally with those who supported him with 97%
4 Official indifference to the murderous activities of herdsmen against peace -loving citizens on their farms and other settlements .
5 The flagrant breach of the constitutionally enshrined Federal Character principle.
6 Appointment of Legal Adviser of Meyiti Allah as Secretary of the Federal Character Commission.
7 The early retirement of mostly southern senior officers from the Nigerian Armed forces and other security forces.
CONCLUSION As elders who who have spent most of our lives fighting for the unity of the country based on justice, fairness and equity, we call on the President to realize that the country is in a very bad shape at the moment and requires statesmanship and not ethnic, religious, regional 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 favorable light to be away for a long time and to return to a badly fractured polity and avoid promoting in a new dialogue for a better, just, inclusive and peaceful country.
Chief E K Clark & Chief A K Horsfall…South South
Chief Nnia Nwodo & Prof. Joe Irukwu…South East
Chief R F Fasoranti & Chief Ayo Adebanjo…South West