By Bashir Bello
KATSINA — Northern senators, yesterday, replied their Southern counterparts on their call on President Muhammadu Buhari to consider report of 2014 national conference.
This came as the Senate President, Bukola Saraki said members of the National Assembly are crucial to the call for restructuring.
Chairman, Northern Senators Forum, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, who spoke for the forum at yesterday’s retreat of Northern senators in Katsina, Katsina State, said it is unfair for Southern senators to ask the President to implement a report to which he was not part of.
He described the call as a fallacy borne out of ignorance, adding that those who put their trust in the report have not even read it, saying there was nothing in it.
Recall that Southern senators had in their retreat in Calabar, last month, asked President Muhammadu Buhari to, as a matter of urgency, summon a conference to consider the report of the 2014 National Conference.
Why Buhari can’t implement report
Adamu said: “Some of the agitators for restructuring are urging President Buhari to implement the report of the Jonathan conference because they believe the country’s political and economic future lies dormant now in the report.
“This, I am sorry to say, is a fallacy borne out of ignorance. I can safely bet that those who put their trust in the report have not even read it.
“Although it treats restructuring extensively, it actually fell back on the status quo. It is mealy-mouthed about fiscal federalism.
“The conference report is not the open sesame to a restructured Nigeria. The fact that the man who convened it, President Goodluck Jonathan, did not believe in its work effectively sealed its fate.
“It is unfair to ask President Muhammadu Buhari to implement a report to which he was not a party. He was not privy to its underlying philosophy or its primary objectives. Where would he start from?
“We must also interrogate the legitimacy of the conference itself. Was it convened in accordance with the extant laws of the land? Was it intended to usurp the constitutional functions of the National Assembly?’’
Senator Adamu also said the forum would discuss issues around the 2018 budget and insecurity bedeviling the North.
On insecurity, he said the war against Boko Haram insurgency was not over yet, with the insurgents still attacking soft targets.
On 2018 budget, Adamu said the forum would use it as a bench mark to assess the impact of federal budgets on the North, adding that the three Northern zones are the most deprived in the country.
No restructuring without NASS — Saraki
Meanwhile, the Senate President, Abubakar Bukola Saraki, said at the forum that members of the National Assembly are crucial to the call for restructuring.
According to him, no restructuring can happen without the National Assembly.
Saraki, who stated this while declaring open the Northern Senators Forum retreat, said: “In our own soul-searching in this great country, Nigeria, it is worth noting that we, members of the 8th National Assembly, are best placed to direct the debate over restructuring as elected representatives of the people.
“It is enshrined in our constitution that no restructuring can happen without the National Assembly. Such is the crucial role we play. I am convinced that the only way we can fulfill this great responsibility, is for us to see ourselves as Nigerians first.
‘Beyond language, religion, region or whatever consideration, we must be Nigerians above all else. It is my hope that this retreat will infuse us with the spirit of compromise necessary to make the required leap. It is only fitting, seeing that our democracy revolves around this same spirit of compromise.
“At this point, I think it is important to acknowledge that the North has been on the receiving end of considerable vitriol in the course of some of our national debates. We have had to endure some severe bashing from those who question what the North brings to the table, even going as far as suggesting that we are parasites on the body of the nation.
‘’Let us see the vilification, undeserved though it may be, as a challenge to us as leaders to redouble our efforts, and strive to put in place far-sighted policies that will transform the region and silence the naysayers.
Development of North’s assets
“The question as to what the North brings to the table is bound to resurface in this debate about restructuring. As I see it, the profitable development of the North’s assets proffers its own powerful response to the question.
‘’A North led by visionary leadership knows, surely, that it has leverage; and that it ought to renegotiate from a position of strength rather than weakness. Few will disagree with me when I say, therefore, that a North that is economically strong and vibrant is better placed to negotiate on restructuring or whatever else.
“On the economic front, whatever it will take to bring about growth and development is what must be done. We must work to stimulate greater participation of state governments and the private sector in the economy.
‘’We have to create an enabling environment for economic activities, and mitigate those factors that discourage investment. It is clear that, as things stand now, there is little or no incentive for an investor to pursue economic activity in locations blighted by insecurity.
‘’We need peace and stability, therefore, for our economic objectives to have the chance to come to fruition.
“Beyond the headlines, the over-arching issues of the North have not gone away. The Northern Senators Forum has its work cut out on this retreat, therefore. Economic diversification is not just a buzzword; it is a real-life transition that must be made, if we are to deliver the dividends of democracy to our people.
‘’In this period of economic recovery, it is imperative that we continue to focus priority attention on diversification, with greater emphasis on the need to boost the North’s agriculture and mineral resources sectors, especially food production.
World highest figure of out-of- school children
“It is with that eye on the future that I call our attention, once again, to the estimated 12 to 15 million children not currently in the education system, the highest number of out-of-school kids in the world. Nigeria’s ignominious distinction in this regard is not only regrettable, it is a weakness in the human assets of this country, and poses a serious threat to national security.
‘’It is a stain on our collective conscience that such a huge demographic is without education in the 21st century. We simply cannot abandon millions of Nigerian children to the trap of ignorance and poverty. It behoves us, therefore, to come up with policies that will lead to a significant decrease in the out-of-school population, and improve on the numbers as we go along.
‘’The crisis in education also manifests itself at tertiary level. When it comes to private universities in this country, the statistics tell the story: The North has the least number. However we look at it, access to education is a serious challenge in the North.
‘’We need to change the game, to empower our people to compete on equal terms with the rest of the country, and the world.
“Restructuring, for good or for ill, is the front burner issue in the polity at the present time. I have intimated elsewhere that one problem with all the talk about restructuring is that the discussion is not being framed properly – and certain precepts are missing.
‘’I have said, and it is my firm conviction that we must give precedence to the unity of Nigeria at all times, and put the interests of the country first. We must not be afraid to think outside the box. We must not be afraid of reform.
My view on restructuring — Saraki
“My own restructuring is when we work towards economic development in every part of the country, so we can all take pride of place in the Nigerian project, and no region is seen as a weak link.
“My own restructuring is when we oversee the budget process to ensure equitable spread of critical infrastructure in every corner of the country, so that no region is left out of the gains of economic recovery. My own restructuring is when we create jobs and enhance food production so our people do not go hungry.
“My own restructuring is when we educate our children so that they can realise their full potential and partake in the promise of the future. My own restructuring is when we place a premium on delivering good governance, fight against corruption, valourise honesty and live to serve the people, without betraying the trust reposed in us.
“These are just a few fragments of my own idea of a restructuring that is not merely cosmetic, but has the power to truly transform lives. Every Nigerian will have his or her own perspective on the issue, no doubt.
‘’It is my hope that this retreat will go some way in helping to crystallise these ideas, and shine a light on the road ahead. And so, what do we expect from the Northern Senators Forum in this talk of restructuring?
‘’Permit me to suggest that we need you to pay close attention to the debate, having regard to the various shades of opinion on the matter. Thereafter, we look to you to distil from the debate a coherent message that perfectly articulates the position of the North. We have full confidence in you.
“I have no doubt in my mind that we, as leaders, need to do a lot more work; we need to carry out analysis and research to be able to pick the substance from the sentiment. I say this because, during the last Constitutional Review, there were items that were rejected, for example, devolution of powers.
‘’But upon reflection, we realised that it was actually not inimical to the interests of the people. It is my hope that in the quieter atmosphere of this retreat, such issues can get the clear-eyed consideration they deserve.
‘’In terms of security, our region has suffered the most, due to the insurgency and other crises. It is in our interest, therefore, to strengthen and reform the security architecture of the North. The onus is on us to provide worthy leadership. We must be focused. We must be prepared to correct the mistakes of the past.’’
Restructuring not the issue — Masari
In his remarks, Governor Aminu Bello Masari of Katsina State said no amount of restructuring would solve the nation’s problem unless the fundamental issues were addressed.
“Create 1,000 states, it will not solve the problem. The problem is not creating the state or local government but addressing the fundamental issues.
“Unless there is proper devolution, devolution with responsibilities, it won’t address the fundamental issues,” Governor Masari said.
Chairman, Northern State Governors Forum and Zamfara State Governor, Abdulaziz Yari, stressed the need for synergy between senators and governors from the region to turn around the backwardness of the Northern region and deliver the dividend of democracy to the people.
The Sultan of Sokoto, Alh. Sa’ad Abubakar III, called on the senators not to betray the hope of the common man, and called on them to come up with a report after the deliberations and implement it.
Governor Abubakar Bagudu of Kebbi State lamented that there was too little investment in the agricultural sector of the nation and called for increase in investments.
In attendance were the Sultan of Sokoto, Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal of Sokoto State, Governor Abubakar Bagudu of Kebbi State, Former Inspector General of Police and Chairman, Northern Delegates in 2014 National Conference, Ibrahim Ahmadu Coomassie, Elder Statesman Ango Abdullahi, among others. 58 senators were also present at the retreat.