By Yinka Odumakin
THE Southern Senators Forum under the leadership of Senator Hope Uzodimma in quite a historic move stormed Calabar between 24-26 November, 2017 to find a perfect mix for unity within the concept of restructuring.
In a fine template that showed how regional grouping should behave in a plural society to earn the confidence of all, the retreat attracted speakers from all corners of Nigeria in an open session with media coverage throughout the proceedings.
There were Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, Jigawa Governor, Alhaji Badaru Abubakar, Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, Bayelsa Governor Hon. Seriake Dickson and Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah.
They were joined by Gen. Ike Nwachukwu, Prof. Gerorge Obiozor, Prof. G.G Darah, Ms. Ankkio Briggs and yours truly in dissecting the most important discourse in Nigeria today around which three is so much orchestrated confusion in a country that specialises in complicating the very simple.
Senator Uzodimma made brilliant presentation and captured the role of groupings like the Southern Senators Forum when he said: “Forums and caucuses are important facets of democratic governance in all parts of the world.
They allow for internal brain storming among groups which share the same outlook .The process allows them to harmonise their viewpoints on national issues and take a united and patriotic stand in the search for solutions to national problems….We in the Southern Senators Forum are using this very unique platform to arrive at the surest and most peaceful means of achieving national unity on all issues capable of destabilising our polity”.
How to stay united
The presentations that followed his address were clearly indicative of the search for common grounds on contentious issues with Senator Saraki posing a vital question:
“In all of this – the ability to dialogue, to listen to one another, to seek to understand the other person and to accept each other’s differences – is important in this issue of unity. Indeed, unity must exist before you can even talk about restructuring or reform. And so, Distinguished Colleagues, one of my messages to you today is this poser: How Do We Stay Together?”
His Deputy Senator Ekweremandu spelt out clearly how we can live together in conviviality. He recalled how the South was patient with the North when the latter said it was not ready for independence and that similar long-suffering is required with the North, indeed a section of it that says it does not understand restructuring.
“I believe that the man from Zamfara is unlikely to stand against a return to true federalism if he is made to understand that such would allow the state to exploit the abundant gold and granite in the state.
“The woman from Kogi will not likely oppose restructuring if she understands how rich the state is in solid minerals such as coal, iron ore, ornamental stone, gemstone, limestone, feldspar, phosphate, mica, and granite.
“And, how restructuring the country will give the state constitutional access to those mineral deposits could transform Kogi to one of the richest states in the country. The man from the North-East will not likely oppose decentralised policing if he understands that his family and business will be better protected,’’ he said.
When it was the turn of Governor Abubakar to address the gathering, he repeated the line that different advocates of restructuring are saying different things and not bringing clarity to the polity.
Malami’s funeral dirge
The only presenter who fouled the atmosphere was AGF Malami who behaved like that unfortunate Ballard who sings funeral dirge at a wedding ceremony. He mounted the podium talking like a Colonial Secretary of State and citing provisions of a constitution that is at the heart of the strains on the polity to justify why the status quo must remain. Like he did at NIPSS colloquium in Abuja months back, he started talking down at the people with such arrogant syntax like “no amount of clamour” can change this and that. For him a centralised army is all you need to sustain the unity of Nigeria.
It was a big relief that Bayelsa Governor Seriake Dickson was called to speak after Malami’s misspeak.The lawyer in him made a logical and eloquent presentation that earned him a standing ovation and thunderous acclaim. First he told Governor Abubakar that restructuring does not have two meanings than returning to true federalism which was the outcome of the various negotiations by our forefathers that brought about our independence constitution.
He lampooned Malami’s notion that force and constitutional provisions are what is needed to sustain the unity of a country insisting that it is sustained by shared values and ideals.
The governor cited the example of the Soviet Union, which he described as a behemoth that was very strong militarily but eventually disintegrated into many states because of its internal contradictions and that Nigeria is facing a similar situation like the former Soviet Union.
He however explained that restructuring is not synonymous with disintegration or division of Nigeria contrary to the claim of opponents of the debate.
“Restructuring does not mean secession. It is not coterminous with a Nigeria that is divided.
“Restructuring simply means a call for constitutional reforms to guarantee a more stable country. In other words, it is a return to true federalism.
“We should not shy away from the issue of restructuring. The more the opinions, the better. That is the reason we need this debate.
“Nobody should tell Nigerians that our unity is not negotiable. A lot of people talking about restructuring do not even know the issues,” he said.
Nigeria’s unity desirable
The governor stressed that the unity of Nigeria is desirable because we are better off together and that if we there was a vote, majority of Nigerians will vote for a united Nigeria.
“I don’t want to be a citizen of one tiny oil-rich country that one big African country can easily overrun. Nigeria is one of the greatest nations on the face of the earth. Nigeria’s unity depends on us and the solidarity and support we give to it. Nigeria is not a mistake neither is it just a mere geographical expression.
“But we must break down the barriers. We have to challenge ourselves to see how we can create a Nigeria that is sustainable. The current state of Nigeria is not one we can hand over to our children.”
He also called on the President to convoke a meeting of the National Assembly, the governors and the Speakers of the 36 Houses of Assembly in the country, leaders of ethnic nationalities, faith-based organisations and other opinion leaders to address the critical issue of restructuring and true federalism.
Most Reverend Emmanuel Chukwuma and Bishop Hassan Kukah added their intellectual fecundity to a retreat with a communique which stated inter alia:
“( b)While the unity of the country should not and cannot be compromised under any circumstance, it has however become apparent that the foundation upon which the Nigerian nation was rested at independence in 1960 have been eroded and that there is need to return to the original dreams of true federalism by our founding fathers, which was a product of negotiation, compromise and accommodation”.
“(C)President Muhammadu Buhari should convoke a meeting of the National Assembly leadership, Governors and the leadership of State Houses of Assembly to a closed door brain storming session to commence the implementation of the recommendations of the 2014 National Conference ”
“(d) Urge the leadership of the Senate to bring up the the 2014 National Conference report for consideration”
“(e) Members of the Southern Senators Forum should liaise with their colleagues in the National Assembly to kick start a legislative process that can lead to the actualisation of the above objectives”.