By Henry Umoru
CALABAR – SOUTHERN Senators, yesterday, rose from a three-day retreat, demanding that President Muhammadu Buhari should, as a matter of urgency, summon a conference to consider the report of the 2014 National Conference.
In their view, the delegates to such a conference would include but not be limited to state governors, federal/state lawmakers, Civil Society Organisations, religious leaders, the academia, the media.
At the retreat in Calabar,” organised by the Southern Senators Forum, SSF,with the theme, “National Unity and Restructuring”, the legislators disagreed with President Buhari and those insisting that Nigeria’s unity was not negotiable. They, however, made it clear that they did not support the call for secession.
In its two-page communique, issued at the end of the retreat, they urged the leadership of both chambers of the National Assembly to initiate full scale debate on the report of the 2014 conference.
In joining the call for restructuring, the legislators insisted that most successful countries engaged restructuring at some point in their history.
Senator Hope Uzodinma, chairman of the SSF, explained that such stakeholders meeting would help to look at the recommendations of the committee and advice the federal government on the way forward . He said that the National Assembly should also consider immidiate debate on the report .
Meanwhile, Bishop of Sokoto, Mathew Hassan Kukah, former minister of foreign Affairs, Senator Ike Nwachukwu, Afinifere, the apex Yoruba socio-cultural body, said that those opposed to restructuring are the real enemies of the country.
In his presentation, Bishop Kukah said that efforts must be made to restore our value system, make every Nigerian subordinate to the constitution, Senator Nwachukwu said that “events have shown that those things that hitherto keep us together can no longer work based on the present realities”.
Bishop Kukah said it is wrong for anybody or group of persons to see the call for restructuring as an attempt to dismember Nigeria, just as he stressed that there must be openness and fairness in such debate to dispel such fears in some regions.
In his contribution, the Publicity Secretary of Afinifere, Yinka Odumakin, insisted on a radical shift to productive economy, where revenue sharing formula will be based on unit contributions to the national economy .
During the opening ceremony of the retreat, Senate President Bukola Saraki had said that if Nigeria must achieve development, stability and greatness, the nation must ensure that unity thrives, declaring that he cannot be intimidated when he is doing what he believes is right and would move the country forward.
Saraki said, “we must always put Nigeria first” in the ongoing debate about restructuring of the country and other similar agitations. As a nation, unity is a prerequisite for development, stability and greatness. Unity is the first focus. Without unity, we can achieve nothing. And yet we know that, since the end of the Nigerian Civil War, our unity has never been more challenged than at the present time. There are agitations across the length and breadth of this country that threaten our unity. And this time around, the threats are multi-faceted, and the vagaries of modern times have made the issues even more challenging than in the early post-independence era.”
The Senate President, who noted that the founders of Nigeria’s Constitution had envisioned the current agitations, and had put in place guidelines to ensure that the entire country must be on the same page in order to take drastic decisions, said, “in seeking to carry out any reform or restructuring, it is worth bearing in mind that the founders of our country, in their wisdom, had laid down some guidelines, making clear that it cannot be done by a simple majority, but rather by a two-thirds majority.
In his Keynote address, Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, who said that there was the urgent need for restructuring, stressed that if the call for restructuring of Nigeria must be achieved in all its ramifications, there must be patience, more enlightenment and dialogue, just as he blamed misconception and ethno-sectional suspicions for the opposition to the idea.
According to Ekweremadu, “in simple terms, therefore, the quest for restructuring is a quest for a return to the old covenant and original foundation laid by our fathers. It is a quest to revive the original master plan, removing those ugly and excess weights introduced by successive military regimes. It is an admission that we cannot continue to do the same thing that has failed us for more than half a century and expect a different result. If you are driving to Abuja from Ibadan and you face Lagos, you can only end up in Badagry or the Atlantic”.