The Southern and Middle Belt leaders, on Monday, insisted that restructuring remained the only way out of the crisis Nigeria had found itself.
In a statement signed on behalf of the Southern leaders by Senator Bassey Ewa Henshaw (South-South), Yinka Odumakin (South-West), Professor C. Ogbu (South-East) and Mr Isuwa Dogo (Middle Belt), the leaders restated that restructuring, the leaders and not process, was key to resolving Nigeria’s challenges.
In the statement, entitled: “Nigeria in crises: Restructuring, not processing is the way out,” the leaders said the dysfunctional structure of the Nigerian polity took its worst toll on Nigerians in 2017 when they said ‘Suicide’ became the ‘Man of the Year’ even as the National Bureau of Statistics reported the loss of over four million jobs.
According to the leaders, the reference to “process” by the president as the bedrock of the nation’s challenges would amount to a wild goose chase if the structures of the polity were not tampered with to ensure productivity.
“Unfortunately, we are not addressing the cause of our affliction, but only trying to rationalise our needless failure, passing the buck and running from the solutions to our problem. We are in a period where empty platitudes are being offered our people instead of concrete assurances on reasoned prescriptions.
“Social scientists have argued correctly that a problem is not resolved either by running away from it or ascribing it to the wrong source. Unfortunately, that is what we are doing as a country by playing down our crisis of ‘structure’ while on a wild goose chase about ‘process’. That is akin to a man going to Benin City while driving towards Benin Republic. The faster he runs, the farther he is away from his destination,” the leaders said.
The statement further read: “The Southern and Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum welcomes Nigerians into 2018 after a gruelling and harrowing 2017, during which our people went through untold hardship as the crisis of our dysfunctional structure which took its worst toll.
“It was a hellish time when ‘Suicide’ became ‘Man of the Year’, as many of our citizens found life unworthy of further living and jumping into available rivers or hanging on the ceilings. The National Bureau of Statistics reported a loss of four million jobs in the year, with millions of those employed working without pay for several months.
“Our citizens who fled abroad because there is no hope for them at home were subjected to all manners of degrading and inhuman treatments such as the horror tales from Libya, where Nigerians were auctioned for $400, turned to s3x slaves and subjected to extreme violence.
“On the home front, life is becoming short, nasty and brutish as death and violence are now commonplace in the hands of AK 47-wielding herdsmen, armed robbers, kidnappers and enraged spouses.”
The statement indicated that the time was rife for Nigeria to start having “national introspection,” as according to them, the country needed to know where the rain began to beat it and how to dry the clothes.
They submitted that rather than move forward, the nation was retrogressing.
“The truth of the matter is that our nationhood crisis has peaked and there is no further guaranteed opportunities for our citizens, no matter the good intentions of leaders or even unrealistic promises packaged to offer them false hope.
“In 1983, when the Shehu Shagari-led administration was overthrown, its budget for a country of 80 million people was $25.35 billion; years after, the Buhari government has just proposed a $23 billion budget for about 180 million people.
“The above clearly shows that there is no way out of our systemic crisis except we resume productivity which was our hallmark in the years that we practised federalism as an entity. We have exhausted all possibilities of a rentier and sharing economy and all that is left is unemployment, hunger, gnashing of teeth and conflicts among nationalities over shrinking opportunities,” they said.
According to the leaders, Nigeria could not become a productive country under the 1999 Constitution which they said kept 68 items on the exclusive list, including mineral resources that abound in the states.
The statement further read: “We need to give authorities to the federating units over their resources for self-sustenance and paying all necessary dues to the federation to sustain common services. We must devolve more powers and authorities to them to have effective state administrations. The federal police have shown it lacks the capacity to deal with crimes in a multiethnic society like ours, the imperative of state police has never been more urgent than now.
“Restructuring means nothing else than the above. It is a call for the return to a Nigeria that worked under federalism as against the failing state we are becoming under a unitary structure.
“Nigerians must organise, mobilise and work towards building an inclusive and productive country in 2018, using all democratic and peaceful means. It is a year to battle for the soul of the country by forces of federalism and upholders of a suffocating unitary system.
“May victory be on the side of those who seek the progress of Nigeria.”
Also commenting on the president’s opposition to restructuring, a prominent political commentator, Colonel Gabriel Ajayi (retd), faulted Buhari on his postulation as the alternative road Nigeria should travel because of the potential danger in retaining the existing convoluted and lopsided structure.
He also warned against behaving like the Ostrich in the face of a powerful clique holding the rest of the major stakeholders in the Nigerian project hostage.
“No organisation or country can survive without some occasional radical changes. It is a truth about human existence advancement development and survival. Nigeria cannot be an exception.
“Rome was once a mighty empire with so much influence worldwide. It collapsed due to similar internal contradictions like ours.
“We must make hay while the sun shines. We must restructure Nigeria now before it is too late and before Nigeria restructures all of us as that will be too bad.
“For a long time now, a tiny minority of Nigerian privileged elite in whose hands Providence has placed the governance, have held the nation hostage. This has stunted regional initiatives and progressive growth of an otherwise vibrant black experiment,” he said.
In his own reaction, national treasurer and chairman of Afenifere in Lagos State, Chief Supo Shonibare, said it was instructive that the president acknowledged the growing and strident demand for restructuring and a return to a parliamentary system of government because of the existing unjust arrangement.
Having tried the two forms of government, he said it should be clear to the president, which one had served the country and Nigerians better, progressive and forward-looking
Part of Shonibare’s response read: “I wish the president a happy New Year. It is incumbent upon us to strive for a working structural arrangement to enable us to evolve as a working entity and not this present unwieldy ineffective unitary structure masked as a federal system.
“Instructive that the president, at least, acknowledges that some of us are clamouring for a parliamentary system. He said we have tried that system.
“What he hasn’t considered is the length of time we spent in operating that system as a Republic. For the records, we only operated the parliamentary system for barely three years.
“The impatience the president alludes is more poignant in the way and manner the military jettisoned that system after only a short period.
“Meanwhile, we have patiently operated the presidential system for initially as a military junta enabling since 1966, with civilian rulership (not democracy) enabling since 1979.
“All we have experienced has been gloated, corrupt rulership with recurrent expenses verging on consuming 75 per cent of our total expenditure which figure increases to 80 per cent in some states.
“It is time to change a system that is not working, in in spite of the president’s best efforts and those of his predecessors and it’s time for us to wake up from being delusional and face the most effective structure able to meet infrastructural services, needs and a more inclusive growth trajectory and the inalienable right for the Nigerian people to demand a less expensive government structure, devolution of government and home rule. It’s time for change if we hope to keep the Nigerian entity as a united federal nation.”
A delegate to the 2014 national conference, Chief Sola Ebiseni, described the pronouncement of the president as an utter disregard for the popular stand of Nigerians on restructuring.
Ebiseni, a lawyer and former commissioner in Ondo State, claimed that the statement of the president clearly underlined his stance about being for all as opposed to being aligned to a minority that had consistently held the nation by the jugular.
Ebiseni had triggered controversy at the conference when he submitted that contrary to belief, crude oil was first discovered in Araromi in Ondo State and not Oloibiri in Rivers State.
Reacting to the president’s broadcast to the nation, the legal practitioner stated: “President Buhari has been consistent in his contempt for the Nigerian people and one hopes this would be the last straw that will open Nigerians’ consciousness to the incurable feudal disposition of the man they emotionally elected.
“It is now clear, that when Buhari plagiarised the statement of being for everyone and no one, the message he was passing across was that no one’s opinion would affect his fixed mindset of Nigeria being a conquered territory of his potentate supervision.
“He hasn’t rubbished the noses of ordinary Nigerians as much as those leaders who still deceive themselves, particularly those who rightly believe that moving forward depends on the restructuring of this evil federation to achieve freedom of the federating nationalities, that this President is redeemable.
“His party, through its manifesto, promised true federalism and devolution of powers. His party was recently compelled by overwhelming public opinion to engage Nigerians in geopolitical town hall meetings and the larger clamour was for restructuring.
“He has no regards for all that. It is remarkable that the president, with all the knowledgeable people around him, could not differentiate between the structure of the Nigerian state, which is federalism, and the form of government, whether it is presidential or parliamentary.
“While the form of government is debatable, federalism, proper one at that, which guaranteed freedom of action for the federating units, is imperative for our continued existence as a nation, which the president insensitively regards as non-negotiable.
“As it is, Nigerians would have to decide either to liberate themselves or wait endlessly at President Buhari’s whims. This is the divine year for the battle line he has drawn with the people of Nigeria.”