Barely two weeks after threatening to raise an army against the killer herdsmen in Benue State, elder statesman and Chairman of the Northern Elders Forum (NEF), Dr Paul Unongo has stepped down.
He resigned yesterday at an emergency meeting of the Forum in Abuja.
Unongo, who succeeded the late former Nigeria’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Maitama Sule, last year as Convener of the elite Northern group, convened the emergency meeting where he informed members of the Forum of his decision to step aside.
Speaking with newsmen after his resignation, Unongo said he stepped down on his own volition so as to give way for a new leader who will ensure dutiful implementation of the suggestions he had made as well as help move the forum forward.
“I opted to step down because of my conviction that the time has come for the NEF to produce the type of leaders that will implement some suggestions we have made. My stepping down will also afford me the opportunity to concentrate fully on other things that will further move the country forward”, Unongo said.
He told newsmen that the forum accepted his decision to step aside and even gave him the choice of selecting a successor.
“But I gave them the freedom to choose whoever they want and I will give the person my full support”, he noted.
Confirming the development in a statement signed by its spokesperson, Prof. Ango Abdullahi, NEF said it accepted Unongo’s resignation reluctantly, even as it approved that the deputy Convener, Alhaji Sani Zangon Daura, should hold forth in the interim until a new Convener is appointed.
Abdullahi stated: “The Forum reluctantly accepted the offer of its Convener to step aside to allow the emergence of a structured leadership which should prepare the Forum to deal with many of the challenges facing the North.
“It took note of the sterling contributions of Wantaregh Paul Unongo to the foundation and development of the Northern Elders Forum along with its late predecessor and confident, Danmasanin Kano Alhaji Yusuf Maitama Sule.
“The Forum has been assured by Wantaregh Paul Unongo of his life-time commitment to the goals and projects of the Forum, and is grateful for the fatherly and statemanly status which he will continue to place at the service of the Forum.
“The Forum has approved that the Deputy Convener, Alhaji Sani Zangon Daura, CON should assume responsibility for the interim leadership of the Forum. Further reorganization of the Forum will be undertaken in the next few days”.
The statement further disclosed that at the meeting, NEF also reviewed some critical national developments, particularly the tensions about national security challenges generated by killings in many communities, in Benue, Taraba, Adamawa, Kaduna, Zamfara and other parts of the country. According to Abdullahi, the Forum while commiserating with families and communities that lost members and assets, called on the federal and state governments as well as security agencies to take more decisive steps to restore the security of lives and property of citizens.
He continued: “The Forum calls on all leaders to exercise the highest levels of restraint and responsibility in the manner they exercise their powers to shape opinion and determine the responses of the citizens.
“It appeals to all communities to maintain vigilance over their relations with each other, and seek solutions that do not involve endemic conflicts that leave all of us as losers.
“The Forum will continue to seek all opportunities and avenues to engage leaders, governments and all stakeholders in the search for peace and security in the North and Nigeria.
“The Forum re-examined its basic philosophy and record, and has been re-assured that it represents a strategic asset for all Northerners, irrespective of location, ethnicity or faith. “It is motivated, under the circumstances, to seek to re-assure all communities that it will defend and protect the interests of all Northerners and it will not succumb to blackmail and mischief that will reduce it as a platform for only one type of Northerner”.
Unongo’s appointment as NEF chairman was announced last year July during a visit by members of the forum to the residence of the late Maitama Sule at Dawaki Road, GRA in Kano.
In his acceptance speech, Unongo had said, “One evidence of our commitment as one Northern entity and to sustain the legacy left behind by Danmasanin is the decision of my colleagues in the Forum to trust me with its leadership.
“This clearly shows that our commitment to reinforcing the idea of one North, one people as left behind by Danmasanin was not just a slogan but the expression of the reality that while we may speak different languages and worship God in different ways, history, destiny and the realities of our existence have combined to make us one entity as northerners who must swim or sink together”.