Chairman of the South-west Governors’ Forum and Ondo State Governor, Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu

…continuing opposition may threaten unity, polls

By OLUSESAN LAOYE

In the last few weeks, the controversies over the need to restructure Nigeria have continued to be in the forefront of Nigeria’s national discourse. This came a climax last week when the presidential team led by the Chief of staff to the President, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari visited Lagos as part of government fence mending effort in the aftermath of the ENDSARS protest.

In the meeting with the region’s leaders, their position was delivered with certainty to the delegation: Restructure the country or risk disunity and truncation of the 2023 elections. The region has traditionally known with the agitation and demand for restructuring before the coming of the APC government, which seemed to have muted its voice until recently.

However, other parts of the country, such as the South East and South South, and particularly the Middle Belt, who now feels that they are bearing the onslaught of herdsmen, are opting out of the north which they had been part of to dominate power in Nigeria.

Major issues lately that heightened the restructuring debate across the country, include the clamour for the revisit of the 2014 ex President Goodlurck Jonathan’s constitutional conference report, which was adjudged the best document to move the nation forward.

Other issues, include the stand of the Northern  governors and leaders who believed that the agitations of the youth against police brutality that spread across all the Southern states of Nigeria, was mainly their affairs and not a national issue.

There was also the volatile statement of the  Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nazir  El-Rufai accusing the  government and the National Assembly of not willing to look into the recommendation of the All Progressives  Congress on restructuring,  which parts of its ingredients, were  drawn from the recommendations of the 2014 confab,  pertaining to the state  police,  resource control and youth empowerment.

What actually climaxed the debate was that of the End SARS. The meeting  of the Southern leaders that  reiterated their unbending calls for restructuring gave the North serious concern and made them to  realised that as presented by the southern leaders, there can’t  be any other way to guarantee  unity of Nigeria than restructuring.

At the recent meeting of the  South West Governors, leaders, ministers, religious leaders and Traditional Rulers held with the delegation of the Presidency led by the Chief of Staff in which the West unanimously told the presidency, bluntly that the only way forward  was restructuring, which really made the delegation uncomfortable. They also canvassed special protection for the region’s economic interests and assets.

In a communiqué issued after the meeting, the leaders said the review of reports of constitutional conferences held in the past would facilitate the implementation of some of the recommendations, especially with reference to security, economy and equal treatment for citizens.

The communiqué, signed by the Chairman of the South-west Governors’ Forum and Ondo State Governor, Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu, and the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi, noted that the prolonged closure of the border has caused economic difficulties and should be re-examined to alleviate problems of the people in the border communities and the soaring prices of some essential commodities.

The South-west leaders also urged the federal government to use the existing laws, including the 2015 Cyber Act and those regulations benchmarked from other countries to provide safeguards against the spread of fake news.

They endorsed the call by traditional rulers for regular consultations with governors and federal authorities on challenges facing the states and for recognition of their role in the constitution.

“The security architecture of the country requires adjustment to adequately address the threats and realities of insecurity in the country,” they said, adding: “There should be more police presence in communities in the South-west states.”.

The South-west leaders stressed the need for government to be proactive in preventing a repeat of what happened in the country following the demonstrations, adding that security needs to be strengthened in all states.

“We call for review of reports of constitutional conferences, including the 2014 National Conference, and implement some of the recommendations, especially with reference to security, economy, and equal treatment for citizens all over the country.

“We believe that the prolonged closure of the border has caused economic difficulties and should be re-examined to alleviate problems of the people in the border communities and prices of some essential commodities.

“There is a need to review the closure and permit resumption of economic and trading activities.”

They called for a programme to address youth employment, urging that empowerment should be prioritised. The leaders said there should be closer coordination and complementarities between the states and the federal government and asked for a review of the curricular of tertiary institutions with an emphasis on skills acquisition and entrepreneurship.

Speaking on the resolution of the South-West stakeholders at the parley, a leader of Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo demanded action that would result in the immediate implementation of those decisions by the Federal Government.

While commending the governors and royal fathers for their firm stand on restructuring, the elder statesman said that it was an issue whose time has come, and any attempt to delay its implementation would mean that the government was not serious about keeping the country together.

According to him, “Any delay in restructuring the country is an invitation to separation, and the idea which the Federal Government and Buhari, in particular, is encouraging.”

“Let the government act on them. They have taken the right step; let the government act on them. This one is better. The more they delay restructuring of the country, the more they allow a section of the country to cheat the rest of us.

“If the decisions are not immediately acted upon, then the Federal Government is not serious about keeping the country together; then the Federal Government is actually out to encourage those who actually wanted the country to separate.

“A delay in restructuring the country is an invitation to separation, and it is the idea which the Federal Government and Buhari in particular is encouraging,” he added.

On the demand for the implementation of the 2014 Confab report, the Afenifere chieftain lauded the governors and the traditional rulers for making the call, describing the document as a comprehensive report of previous conferences that addressed the challenges the country facing and the way forward.

On his part, the secretary general of Afenifere, Chief Kehinde Arogbofa, who also spoke on the development, described the moves taken by the governors and others as a bold step towards tackling challenges confronting the country, stressing that they demonstrated that they hold sacrosanct the welfare and security of the people of the region and the unity of the country.

Arogbofa stated: “If they did anything less, we would have been disappointed but we feel really very proud of them and what they did and what they said, anything less would have been a great disappointment from those of us from this part of the country.

He, however, said that a meeting of leaders across the country would have been called rather than sectional or regional meetings.

“To start with, what we are beginning to see is like a regional thing that started from the North. The EndSARS protest was not a local issue; it was a national issue and the government should have tackled it nationally, using all means possible.

“I don’t see any reason why all the regions should have their meetings separately and come out with some different positions, alienated other parts of the country or assaulted the demands of others. What we are having is a kind of reaction to what they did in the North. I expect the southern or eastern part of the country to do the same for long.

In fact, the Southern leaders also plainly told their Northern counterparts that those resisting restructuring of the country would soon be consumed by the wave of revolution.

Southern leaders who accused the Northern governors of resisting changing the lopsided Nigerian structure because the current structure favours them vowed that Nigeria must be restructured, else the country will be fragmented.

Senator Seye Ogunlewe, former minister of works has in his reaction, asked the South West governors and other leaders in the region clamouring for restructuring to approach its members at the National Assembly (NASS) on the issue of restructuring and state policing.

The former lawmaker said that in a democracy the National Assembly should be the most powerful tool in the hands of the people to drive any project on their behalf. He stressed that they would only be expected to present a bill to the Assembly and follow it up

The immediate past Secretary-General of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Mr. Anthony Sani has said that restructuring could divide Nigeria, with some sections likely to be more socio-economically viable than others. Sani said those who are agitating for restructuring wished Nigerians should live as if they are in different countries and not in one united Nigeria.

ACF chieftain added that if restructuring must remain on the national discourse, it should be left for politicians and political parties to ensure it forms part of their manifestos in order to convince their supporters to accept it or not.