Leaders of the South and the Middle Belt on Thursday appealed to the National Assembly to save Nigeria, which they said was on the edge of a precipice.
While calling on the legislature to drop partisan politics in handling the affairs of the country, the leaders asked that a national emergency be immediately declared.
The elder statesmen made their positions on various issues affecting the country known when they met with the leadership of the Senate in Abuja on Thursday.
The leaders were drawn from the South-West, South-South, South-East and North-Central.
They include the leader of the Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo; a former Federal Commissioner of Information and Chairman, Pan-Niger Delta Elders Forum, Chief Edwin Clark; President General, Ohanaeze Ndi’gbo, Chief John Nwodo; a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation and ex-Minister of Finance, Chief Olu Falae; and the first Military Governor of Plateau State, Air Commodore Dan Suleiman (retd.).
Others are a former Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Obong Victor Attah; a former Governor of the old Anambra State, Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife; and Publicity Secretary of Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin.
Also part of the delegation are Air Vice Marshal Irangate Idongesit; Senator Stella Omu; Prof. Banjo Akintoye; Prof. Chigozie Ogbu; Prof. Ihechukwuma Maduke; Senator Basset Henshaw; Mr. Alfred Mulade; His Highness, Anaba Saraigbe; and Lady Maryam Yunusa.
To receive the delegation were the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki; Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu; Majority Leader, Ahmad Lawan; Deputy Majority Leader, Bala Ibn Na’Allah; Deputy Minority Leader, Emmanuel Bwacha; Minority Whip, Phillip Aduda; Deputy Chief Whip, Francis Alimikhena; Deputy Minority Whip, Biodun Olujimi; and Adamu Aliero.
Clark, in his opening comment, noted that four of the six geopolitical zones in the country were represented at the meeting.
“More than a half of Nigeria is here to see you,” he said, adding that Nwodo would present their case.
Speaking on behalf of the delegation, Nwodo said the elders were at the National Assembly to urge it to intervene in the challenges facing the country.
“Mr. President (Saraki), we have come to beg you. We know that sometimes history places one in a particular juncture to change the order of things. We see you and your colleagues at a particularly unique juncture. You can prevent further bloodshed in this country. You can prevent further drift into ethnic crises. We want you to revisit devolution of power.
“If we have this restructuring and we limit people to mindings domestic affairs and we encourage competition between the various areas of the country, production will increase, standards will increase, security will increase, mutual respect for each other will increase and friendliness will be encouraged. We want to restructure Nigeria. The alternative will be worse than the situation we have today,” he said.
The Igbo leader called on the legislature to initiate the process of restructuring the governance architecture of the country.
Nwodo said, “We are visiting the National Assembly because of its unique position in our Constitution. The democratic system we run in our country rests on three arms and of these three arms, the other two function in accordance with the laws made by this arm. This arm characterises democracy.
“We believe that by visiting you today, we are coming to speak to the conscience of our country. We ask that this discussion today be as frank as possible.
“In situations like this, unless the National Assembly rises like the conscience, the commitment and the patriotism to unveil the façade of partisan politics, partisan advantages and face the real issues of the nation, we stand on the edge of a precipice.
“We have come to you at a time when our economic stability is in a serious danger. Today, international debt is extremely high; it is one of the highest as adjudged by the IMF for countries.
“Our domestic debt is high and growing by the day. Our subsidy indebtedness is something that has defied solution and transparency in disclosure. Our youth despair is gargantuan.
“The federating units in this country, in the unitary system that we have called a federal government, are surviving with great difficulty. The Federal Government has given bailouts just to sustain recurrent expenditure of our state governments. Many of the important units of growth in our country, namely industrial concerns – either not producing at all or producing short of installed capacity – and job creation are low. Despondency stares at us in the face.”
Nwodo lamented the spate of insecurity in the country, particularly the continuous killing of Nigerians.
He said in part, “Look at our security, when we had the regional police this didn’t exist. Every state had domestic security. At no time except during the Nigerian Civil War have people been killed in the way they are being killed today in Nigeria.
“In one year we have recorded more than 1,000 killings. What is surprising is that these killings are not matched with equal reaction by the security forces in our country.
“If it is possible for us to have a situation in which people carry AK-47 freely in Nigeria and murder people every day, and this is happening as if nobody cares; and some people told us that they (killers) came from Libya. When did Gaddafi die? How many years ago?
“If the essence of choosing 17 heads of security arms in this country is to ensure that they come from the same area as the President in order to ensure loyalty, what have they done to guarantee our security? If they must all come from northern Nigeria, please bring those who can do the job. We can no longer tolerate this insecurity.”
The Ohanaeze leader pointed out that there is “an all-time lack of confidence in the institutions of government,” especially those responsible for law and order.
“Our courts speak from the two sides of the mouth. Today in Nigeria, our courts make proclamations that, whether you committed a crime or not, you may not be arrested or even be prosecuted. It is unprecedented in any democracy.
“We have come as elders; we have come as fathers; we have come as heads of different socio-cultural organisations of this country who look up to us for leadership to speak in moments of this nature. We have looked at the problem of our country and we think that it is soluble but we also think that there is lack of will.
“We have come to ginger you to develop that will and seek the consensus of the leadership of the National Assembly and of the political class, who have the necessary legislative empowerment by our Constitution, to make decisions that can reverse our situation. If not in office, you constitute the political class of our country. At times like this, partisanship is criminal.
“We believe that many of the problems we have in our country emanate from the Constitution of our country. We know that the National Assembly has had debates on devolution of powers. And we know that you did promise the nation that you would revisit this issue.
“We have come to ask you to bring up the revisit. We consider it urgent and inevitable because we believe that all the problems that we have today in Nigeria emanate from the fact that our Constitution is not right for a country constituted by people of diverse cultures, religions and political persuasion.”
Nwodo noted that many other countries with similar characteristics have become greater, with some taking “the seedling” of their greatness from Nigeria.
“But we have been kept down by the kind of constitution that we run,” he added.
The Igbo leader recalled the invasion of the chamber and mace snatching by suspected thugs.
He also made reference to the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, who twice ignored summons by the Senate.
He said, “We have watched the helplessness of the National Assembly where members of the executive even refuse your invitation to come and make explanations before you, contrary to the provisions of the Constitution.
“We have found the helplessness of the Senate, when you can be invaded in spite of the security adornment in this place, controlled by the executive. And the seat of the Senate President was almost invaded but for the personal security of the aides. This is because our system makes the tail wag the dog rather than the dog wags the tail.
“We have come to tell you that in our view, it is because we have this over-concentration of power in the Federal Government contrary to the agreement that our forefathers went into for the union called Nigeria; that governance has failed in our country; that the economic development has failed.”
Nwodo warned that a major economic crisis lies ahead of Nigeria as the major consumers of crude oil are diversifying to other sources of energy. He also noted that the country’s oil deposit was drying up.
He stressed that proceeds from oil sales are shared monthly by the federal, states and local governments with little effort to diversify the economy. He stated that agriculture remains the best alternative for the country.
Nwodo noted that the regional government structure abandoned by the country promoted growth.
He added, “In the past, the regions had active competition and it promoted growth. When we were sent to university, if you wanted to read Architecture you would go to Ahmadu Bello University. If you wanted to read Medicine, you would go to the University of Ibadan. If you wanted to read Humanities and Engineering, you would go to (University of Nigeria) Nsukka.
“Under the regime of pre- and immediate post-independence; in three spectacular years, things happened in Nigeria of outstanding proportion. We were the pride of Africa. Suddenly, it became retrogression. Oil is a declining commodity in the international market. China and others have put a time limit – between 2020 and 2024 – to stop production of machines dependent on fossil oil. The immediate consequence of this is that there is going to be a fundamental and phenomenal decline in the world demand for oil.
“Year 2020 is only two years from now. What is the sense of urgency around our country on how to cope with this? We are only interested in power, the sheer ego that ‘I hold power and I can do what I like,’ not in what our children will be tomorrow. There ought to be a time of national emergency now. What must we do to overcome this calamity?”
Saraki, in his remarks, said the National Assembly was ready to play its role to ensure that the country continued on the path of democracy and growth.
On the call to revisit clauses that were rejected during the ongoing constitution review process, Saraki said the National Assembly was ready to reconsider the clauses and that it would do so after the passage of the 2018 budget.
According to him, report on the bill seeking devolution of powers had been laid.
He also noted that although the Buhari-led administration had made some progress on the economy, the effort could be frustrated by the spate of insecurity in the country which he said would prevent foreign direct investment.
The Senate President said, “We are determined, because there is no alternative than for us to see this issue and address them frontally from a legislative point of view.
“You have raised issues on security, economy. I will like to say they are not all gloomy days. The area of concern to all of us is the issue of security. We must all fight insecurity. We will not give up. We will continue to make necessary sacrifice to fight insecurity.”
However, further investigations revealed that the South and Midle Belt delegates specifically requested that the restructuring of Nigeria must be achieved before the 2019 elections.
One of the visitors, who spoke with one of our correspondents on condition of anonymity, said apart from the dateline, the leaders also made their position known on the controversial elections sequence.
The source said, “On the issue of restructuring, we reminded the National Assembly members about the issue of power devolution, an important aspect of restructuring, and we told them to do something about it before the 2019 elections.
“We were unanimous in urging the National Assembly leadership to pursue the issue of elections sequence to its logical conclusion, particularly to the Supreme Court and ensure that they get justice for Nigerians.”
The source noted that they did not take the position because they were against Buhari’s emergence as President again in 2019, explaining that it was aimed at strengthening the nation’s democracy.
He said, “Nigeria’s President is one of the most powerful in the world; putting his election first will automatically determine the results of other elections.
“Nobody starts to build a house from the top. Let all elections start from the bottom to the top. The presidential election must come last. That is our position.”
He said that on the deplorable state of insecurity in the country, the delegates supported the lawmakers’ invitation to the President.
“We supported the invitation extended to President Muhammadu Buhari by the National Assembly to the nation why his government has failed to secure the lives of its citizens.” – Punch.