Following menacing and persistent security and other socio-economic challenges confronting Nigeria under the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government, elder statesmen across four geo-political zones, yesterday, declared that the country had come to a sinking stage.
The elder statesmen, from the South-East, South-West, South-South and the Middle-belt, also noted that the situation in the country required a state of national emergency, stressing that the only way out of the quagmire was to restructure the defective federation.
The leaders made the declaration while on a courtesy visit to the Senate leadership at the National Assembly Complex, Abuja, insisting that a restructured Nigeria, anchored on devolution of powers and functional fiscal federalism, was the only way to salvage Nigeria from imminent destruction.
The elders, who came under the umbrella of “Leaders of South and Middle Belt Forum (LSMBF), expressed their positions through the President of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief John Nnia Nwodo, who said that the way out of the threatening situation in the country was for the National Assembly to effect devolution of powers through constitution amendment.
Nwodo pointed out that systemic dysfunction was the worst of all the problems confronting the country, saying that it was the remote cause of most of the multifarious crises currently threatening the survival and corporate existence of Nigeria.
He said: “We have come to you at a very difficult time in the history of our country. We are visiting the National Assembly because if its unique position in the Constitution.
“The democratic system we run in Nigeria rests on three arms of government, and of these three arms, the other two function in accordance with laws made by this arm. The arm characterises democracy because in a military government, you will have both the Judiciary and Executive. But it is only in a democratic government that you have the Parliament.
“The Parliament is a microcosm of the people because every section of the country, by universal adult suffrage, has delegated its voice to this Parliament. So, we believe that by visiting you today, we are coming to speak to the conscience of the people.
“We ask that this discussion be as frank as possible because in situations like this, unless the National Assembly rises like one man that is the conscience, commitment and patriotism to unveil the problem of partisan politics and partisan advantages and face the real issues of the nation, we stand on the edge of a precipice.
“We have come at a time when our economic stability is in serious decline. Today, our international debt is extremely, perhaps one of the highest as adjudged by the IMF for countries without GDP. Our domestic debt is high and growing by the day. Our subsidy indebtedness is something that has defied solution and transparency.
“Our youth-despair is gargantuan. The federating units in this country, in the unitary system that we call a Federal Government, are also battling with great difficulty. The Federal Government has made bailouts just to sustain recurrent expenditure of our state governments.
Many of the important units of great growth in our country are either not producing at all or producing short of installed capacity. Job creation is low. Despondency stares us in the face.
“Political instability has compounded this; and, at no time, except during the Nigerian civil war, are people being killed in the rate at which they are being killed today in Nigeria. In one year, we have recorded more than 1, 000 killed. What is surprising is that these killings are not matched with equal reaction by the security forces in our country.
“There is a resultant lack of confidence in the institutions of government, especially the institutions that are responsible for law and order. Our courts speak from two sides of the mouth. Our Chief Justice said that corruption in the Judiciary is not only ingratiation of judicial officers, but deviation from the rules of engagement by judges by making pronouncements that are completely out of pattern in the exercise of dispensation of justice.
“We have had today in Nigeria, our courts make proclamations whether you commit crime or not, you may not be arrested or even prosecuted. It is unprecedented in any democracy. We have come as elders, we have come as fathers; we have come as heads of different sociocultural 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 think that there is lack of will. We have come to ginger you to develop that will, to seek a 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 a political class of our country. And times like this, partisanship is criminal.
“We believe that many of the problems we have been having in our country emanate from the constitution of our country. We know that the National Assembly has had debates on devolution of powers.
We know that you did promise the nation that you will have a revisit to this issue. “We have come to ask you to bring up a revisit. We consider it urgent and inevitable because we believe that all the problems we have today in Nigeria emanate from the fact that our constitution is not ripe for a country constituted by people of diverse culture, diverse religion, and diverse political persuasions of our country.
“Our problems emanate from the constitution being presently run in the country as against the ones operated between 1954 and 1966 which gave room for decentralized federation with attendant development- driven or healthy rivalries among the federating units. “We have been kept down by the kinds of constitution we run, which to a large extent, provides for over-centralised federation by way of concentrating powers and resources for running the country at the centre alone to the detriment of the federating units-the 36 states. Nwodo asserted that if the country was restructured, and competition between various areas of the country encouraged, production would increase and standards would also increase. “We want the restructuring of Nigeria. We can no longer tolerate this insecurity.
We can no longer feel that some people are strangers in their own country. The escalation of this feeling has only one destination; it will lead inevitably to break down of law and order.”
He said that oil was at the point of exhaustion and that the greatest source of national revenue would come from agriculture, urging that there should be nothing to fear about restructuring or devolution of powers because other zones of the country could stand strong economically. “The north has the monopoly of animal husbandry. It has a monopoly of vegetable and dairy.
The challenge is that national attention has not been given to the development of it for export attention. The north could virtually finance the whole federation if we give priority to that. We call on you members of the national assembly to rise up and save our country”, he said. Nwodo’s submissions were corroborated by Chief Ayo Adebanjo, who spoke on behalf of South West, Air Commodore Dan Suleiman on behalf of the Middle Belt and Chief Edwin Clark on behalf of South South geo-political zone. Adebanjo further urged the National Assembly to use the report of the 2014 National Conference in effecting the required change, pointing out that all the solutions being canvassed by the Forum were captured in the Confab report. The South and Middle Belt leaders also con-demned the President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Executive for its flagrant disregard for the legislative arm of government. Nwodo said that the recent invasion of the Senate by thugs that forcefully snatched the mace of the Red Chamber and the refusal of the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, to honour the summons of the Senate were clear examples of the Executive’s disregard for the institution of the National Assembly. In his response, the President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, assured the elder statesmen that the Senate, and by extension, the National Assembly, would revisit the devolution of powers in its constitution amendment exercise.
“We will consider the report on devolution of power immediately after the passage the 2018 budget as a way of addressing issues raised. “We are determined to address the issues frontally because they are very fundamental to the growth and development of our country. You can count on us “, he said.
The meeting had in attendance, the representatives of Afenifere (South West), Ohanaeze Ndigbo (South East), Pan- Niger Delta Forum (South South) and the Middle Belt Forum (North Central). Personalities present at the meeting included the leader of PANDEF, Chief Edwin Clark; leader of the Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo; National Chairman of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Chief Olu Falae; Secretary of Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin among others.