By AYOOLA OLAOLUWA
President Muhammadu Buhari and his advisers live within the protective belly of the Aso Rock Villa built and continually fortified for one purpose: keeping the president and his close associates in power. But inside the villa these days, the president and his men seem rattled by what’s transpiring outside the windows of this fortified residence: the growing calls for the restructuring of Nigeria, particularly from the South Western part of the country.
When his aides ushered him into his comfortable office last Monday, the president was not drawn by the aura of the magnificent office, but the litany of papers and memos that littered his table. What could be troubling the president this morning, wondered one of his close aides?
In one of the papers, the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), Pastor Enoch Adejare Adeboye, was splashed on the front page, with a banner headline demanding the restructuring of the country. Apart from this newspaper, important memos by top aides, particularly one from the nation’s dreaded secret service organisation, the Department of State Security (DSS), chronicled the growing agitations for the restructuring of the country and power shift to the South.
The president has not seen agitations of this kind since he assumed office on March 29, 2015. Politicians, traditional rulers, opinion leaders, elder statesmen, retired generals, past presidents, scholars, clergies, even his own trusted allies from the South, especially his deputy, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, have all joined the band wagon of pro-restructuring activism. To him, it seems everyone has joined forces to undermine his administration.
This above picture describes the scenes witnessed these days in the presidential villa. According to a close source in the presidency, the mood is that of siege to the president and his handlers. Everywhere they turned to, all they hear is the call for restructuring and the criticism of his administration.
Business Hallmark findings revealed that calls for restructuring have risen to a deafening point that the president and his handlers from the North could no longer ignore them.
This, it was learnt, prompted the hasty and ill-thought out Independence speech and the subsequent vexatious rebuke against restructuring champions by the Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to the President, Garba Shehu, tongue lashing Pastor Adeboye and others asking for restructuring.
However, rather than dampening the already charged atmosphere, the attack touched on raw nerves, throwing up more bile and anger against the administration. Otherwise sober and withdrawn clergies like Pastors Sam Adeyemi of Daystar International Church and Wole Oladiyun, Senior Pastor of the Christ Livingspring Apostolic Ministry (CLAM), without mincing words, returned fire for fire.
The backlash from the attack on the person of Adeboye, it was learnt, further rattled the president and the cabal, with many of them calling for restrain and a better handling of the situation. As if orchestrated, the calls for restructuring, which started afresh some months back, reached its peak in September with the North/South divide now accentuated.
On September 28, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo dropped a bombshell when he said Nigeria may break up if efforts are not made to address cracks in the nation.
Osinbajo, while giving the warning at an interdenominational church service to commemorate Nigeria’s 60th Independence anniversary, said efforts to mend the crack might be opposed, but such opposition would be defeated with focus and consistent prayers.
The Vice-President was represented by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, at the National Ecumenical Centre, where the anniversary service was held.
In attendance were representatives of the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan; Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila; Head of Service of the Federation, Folashade Yemi- Esan; permanent secretaries, military officials, members of the diplomatic community and other senior government officials.
Referencing the biblical story of how Nehemiah championed the rebuilding of the broken walls of Jerusalem, Osinbajo said, “The story should be a challenge to every Christian in Nigeria. It’s only that kind of Nehemiah’s love that will make us, as Nigerians, to rebuild the cracks we have in our walls today.
“For us in Nigeria, Nehemiah should be taken as a metaphor for those Nigerians who either reside in Nigeria or outside, to cry to God to use the abandoned opportunities in Nigeria to address our challenges of nation-building.
“Fortunately for us, our walls are not yet broken, but there are apparent cracks that could lead to a break if not adequately addressed.
“Nehemiah started with fervent prayers, seeking the face of God and pleaded with his king to allow him to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the broken walls because the wall signifies peace, security, contentment and prosperity. It represents the essence of the state of the nation.
“There’s an urgent need for a Nehemiah in our country, Nigeria, today. And like Nehemiah faced opposition in his efforts to rebuild the walls, any Nigerian that desires to rebuild Nigeria must also be ready to face stiffer opposition which will come in torrents. It can only be diffused by consistent focus and prayers.”
Osinbajo’s warning rattled the northern hegemony who quickly demanded a rebuttal. The SGF, Boss Mustapha, tried to do damage control by ascribing the statement to himself, arguing that he went out of script. But the harm has already been done.
Not quite five days after, Osinbajo’s spiritual leader, Pastor Enoch Adeboye of the RCCG, who had visted President Buhari a week before, delivered another powerful punch to the president’s jugular when he warned that the country may break up if it is not restructured.
Speaking at a symposium with the theme, ‘Where will Nigeria be in 2060’, on Saturday, October 3, Adeboye said Nigeria should continue to attempt different forms of government until it finds one that works for it.
“Why can’t we have a system of government that is 100 percent Nigerian, unique to us? For example, we started on with the British system of government, somewhere along the line, we moved over to the American system of government.
“Can’t we have a combination of both and see whether it could help us solve our problems because in mathematics if you want to solve a problem, you try what we call real analysis, then if it doesn’t work, then you move on to complex analysis and see whether that will help you.
“If that fails, you move on to vector analysis and so on. I believe that we might want to look at the problems of Nigeria in a slightly different manner. Some people feel that all our problems will be over if Nigeria should break up.
“Why can’t we have a system of government that will create what I will call the United States of Nigeria? Let me explain. We all know that we must restructure. It is either we restructure or we break; you don’t have to be a prophet to know that one. That is certain – restructure or we break up.
“Now, we don’t want to break up, God forbid. In restructuring, why don’t we have a Nigerian kind of democracy? At the federal level, why don’t we have a president and a prime minister?”, Adeboye stated.
The rebuke against Adeboye by the presidency also drew the ire of several Pentecostal pastors who quickly came to his defence.
Senior Pastor of Daystar Christian Centre, Sam Adeyemi, who also joined other prominent Nigerians to call on the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government, to urgently restructure the country, said, “When did it become a threat for citizens to express opinions, even if strong, about the structuring or restructuring of their country? Effective leaders listen.”
Pastor Wole Oladiyun, Senior Pastor, Christ Livingspring Apostolic Ministry (CLAM), Omole, Lagos, went a notch further by calling on President Buhari to immediately set in motion a process for the deliberate and sincere restructuring of the country.
“The restructuring should lead to a brand-new constitution, a return to the Regional Government structure, and a reduction in the cost of governance. Also, we need to review our system of governance because the current arrangement does not reflect true federalism”, Pastor Oladiyun said in a statement he issued in Lagos.
While notable Nigerians have all at one point or the other expressed their desires for a new Nigeria, the lending of their voices by notable clergies to the movement seems to be having the most notable impact on the polity.
A leader of the Hausa community in Agege, a suburb of Lagos, Alhaji Yunus Idris Lagos, said the words of religious leaders in the South West are like that of emirs and Islamic clerics adding their voices to a cause.
Since most people in the South, particularly Yoruba land are Christians, their pastors have strong influence on them. The same applies in the North, the emirs and clerics have strong influence on the people. When they pronounce a judgment, you dare not openly go against it.
“A case in Kano where a musician was sentenced to death is an example. No Muslim lawyer from the North could come out to defend him for fear of attack on them and their families. It took the intervention of Femi Falana who sent lawyers from Lagos and Abuja to go and file his appeal. If not for that, no northern lawyer will go near him.
“The same applies in the South. Pastors are too powerful and influential. Northern politicians, particularly those currently in power, now know that things have changed. And they are jittery.
“We warned them about the way they were running the government but they won’t listen. How could you fill up virtually all plum positions with your own people without expecting a fight back? Even my people (Hausa) are left out in the sharing of juicy positions – only Fulani. Are they the only ones in Nigeria? We knew this day will come and we warned them, but they won’t listen.
“I am the fourth generation of my family in Lagos. The second, third and fourth rarely go to Kano except during festivities or family occasions. As you know, my last name is Lagos, while that of my son is Agege. His mother is a Yoruba from Abeokuta. My father was buried here and I will also be buried here. That is how it should be, there should be diversity. Let Buhari and his supporters bear their cross; Alhaji Idris Lagos said.
BH gathered that the position held by Idris Lagos is shared by many northern political elites who believe that the president has not represented the region well. According to several sources in the North, the president has made precarious the North’s continued hold on power.
“The president has stirred up religious and ethnic sentiments that are currently threatening to tear up the nation. Northern elites are meeting to find a solution to the looming catastrophe. The last time we are in this mess was when MKO Abiola’s election as president was annulled.
“Buhari has pushed us to the precipice again. We won’t allow him to destroy what we used our blood to build. No, we won’t. 2023 could be the end of him and his cohorts’ relevance in Nigerian politics”, an ex-senator from Kaduna confided in BH.
While northern leaders, particularly those on the other divide are alarmed at the way things are spiraling towards disintegration and anarchy, the president and his inner caucus are said to be shocked at the turn of events.
“In fact, they felt betrayed by the cacophony of voices coming out of the South, especially those they supported into positions. The greatest surprises are Ondo Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu and Ekiti Governor, Kayode Fayemi, who they used blood and sweet to install, against the wishes of Senator Bola Tinubu.
“This shows that all southerners are the same and will always go the same way when push comes to push”, said an APC chieftain close to the inner workings and thinking of the cabal.
Meanwhile, the presidency, it was gathered, is refusing to roll over without staging a fight. One of the tactics being deployed against pro-restructuring advocates and critics is to try to label them as enemies of the state and set security agencies like the DSS, EFCC and police after them.
However, owing to the uproar the move may cause, the harassment by security agents are targeted only at minor players, while influential personalities, like Adoboye are allowed to carry on with the hope that their rumblings would blow away quietly.
A top police officer told our Correspondent that some top critics of the administration like singer, Tiwa Savage, music producer, Don Jazzy, and rights activist, Deji Adeyanju, had all at one point or the order been invited for questioning by the DSS over their negative statements against the government.
Meanwhile, the Federal Government has insisted that it will not succumb to threats and undue pressure over calls for restructuring of the nation by those it described as elements of confusion.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, said, ”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 health crisis”, Shehu stated.