By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South, Sam Oyadongha, Festus Ahon, Emmanuel Una and Chioma Onuegbu
Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, the umbrella body of monarchs, leaders and stakeholders of coastal states of Niger-Delta, says it does not completely trust Friday’s declaration for restructuring by the Coalition of Northern Groups, CNG, Northern Elders Forum, NEF, Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, while they opposed rotational presidency
Anglican Bishop of Calabar Diocese in Cross River State, Tunde Adeleye, Chief Obun Ekanem, facilitator of Niger Delta Development Union, NDDU, Dr. Akpor Mudiaga-Odje, President, Ijaw Professionals Association (Homeland Chapter), Iniruo Wills and other South-South stakeholders, in separate interviews with Sunday Vanguard, also questioned the northern groups’ support for restructuring and contradictory resistance to rotational presidency.
Why PANDEF is suspicious?
Responding to the avowal of the northern groups, the National Publicity Secretary, Hon Ken Robinson, explained: “There is no doubt that restructuring is now not only a vital necessity but has become expedient for the survival of Nigeria as a united entity.
“PANDEF, therefore, welcomes, but with caution, the declaration of support for restructuring by some northern groups, including the Arewa Consultative Forum and Northern Elders Forum.
“However, against the background of inconsistencies and contradictions, we would rather take their declaration with a pinch of salt. For instance, how can they declare support for restructuring and then say they do not support power rotation? That is most illogical and creates room for doubt.
“Both restructuring and power rotation are issues that border on making Nigeria a better, safer and more egalitarian country.
“The northern elite and political leadership would, therefore, need to demonstrate to the rest of the country that they are sincere and serious; they should match their words with action.
“We have been on this flawed system for 60 years and it has, largely, contributed to our being a sub-par nation, despite the country’s enormous human and material resources.
“The stark reality is that Nigeria cannot continue in the present contorted and destructive trajectory, the federal government must heed the voice of reason and, without any further delay, institute a genuine dialogue process on the restructuring of the country, to guarantee harmonious and peaceful coexistence, for the benefit of present and future generations, before it is too late.”
‘What FG should quickly do’
National Chairman, PANDEF, Senator Emmanuel Ibokessien, who personally spoke to Sunday Vanguard, stated: “In terms of restructuring, PANDEF has been the champion of restructuring of the country. That is one major item in our 16- point agenda. So I am glad that the northern elders groups have seen the need for restructuring of the country. It is a welcome development and PANDEF is happy with that resolution of the northern elders.
“I do not think anybody want Nigeria to disintegrate. We all want to remain as one Nigeria but the problem is how do we remain as one Nigeria? That is where the issue of restructuring comes in very strong.
“The West has already keyed into restructuring; recently, I read the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) saying they are ready for restructuring. PANDEF is ready for restructuring, Afenifere, Ohaneze are also ready and the Middle Belt Consultative Forum is ready for restructuring.
“So now that all the regions have accepted restructuring, what is left now is for the Presidency and the National Assembly to ensure that they bring out modalities, put mechanism in place for all the people of Nigeria to sit together and restructure because, if we do not restructure it now, Nigeria will restructure itself”
Responding to the rejection of rotational presidency by the northern groups, Ibokessien said because each party has its own Constitution, “therefore, the party should abide by that constitutional provision, for me, zoning of the presidency is a party matter”
Adeleye, Anglican Bishop of Calabar Diocese, in agreeing with PANDEF, said: “The position of Arewa is fraught with inconsistencies. At one point we hear they do not want restructuring and, at another, they want restructuring. What this shifting position amounts to is shifting the goal post in the middle of the game.
“They know it is the turn of the South to produce the President in 2023, but since they want to hang on to power, they are now speaking from both sides of their mouths.
“What the South should do is to put up a united front and demand for the president in 2023 to come from the South.”
Also reacting, a community leader in Cross-River, Chief Obun Ekanem, stated: “What they are doing is calling for the fragmentation of the country. I see chaos in 2023. For them to say negotiations should take place with Boko Haram and bandits is to tacitly support insurgency and criminality which is quite funny. They want to use such criminal position to hang on to power and to continue to carry out nepotism.
“The South should gird its loins and fight for what is theirs because allowing the North to perpetually produce the President will fragment the country along ethnic lines.”
Facilitator of Niger Delta Democratic Union, NDDU, lawyer and activist, Dr. Akpo Mudiaga-Odje, who spoke to Sunday Vanguard in Warri, Delta State, on his part, said: “The great 18th century poet, Victor Hugo, stated that ‘no amount of a standing army can defeat an idea which time has come’. And so it is with the idea of restructuring, we as a people united against our will and consent need to now sit down together to seriously discuss how we now live together with our consent and collective will of the people.
“And such forum or fora for discussion and its objects shall and most include rotational presidency to any issue that touches on the very fabric of the nation.
“The ventilation of ideas from proponents to opponents will bring a very robust and prosperous template for our governance. We all meet at the roundtable with our best negotiators and representatives, a situation which will not allow for stampeding anyone ethnic group by another.”
In Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, President, Ijaw Professionals Association (Homeland Chapter), Iniruo Wills, told our reporter: “The message of restructuring is a welcome one, but it is drowned out by the internal cacophony of contradictory signals from the release. Why bluff over rotational presidency which is a political convention and practically part of our soft law now?
“Why promote banditry and terrorism as pedestals for negotiation? Will banditry liberate the North or any other region from the endemic poverty and vivid underdevelopment across the country? The northern elite like all other regions’ elites sounds averse to truth.
“It is time for all regional elites, northern or southern or western, to tuck their tails between their legs, reconcile with hard home truths through thorough introspection before coming out to renegotiate Nigeria inter se. All this grandstanding is neither about Nigeria nor about northern Nigeria’s masses. It is about elite preservation, pure and simple.”
National Spokesman, Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) Worldwide, Comrade, Ebilade Ekerefe, also said: “Nigeria is a multi-cultural society and, therefore, it is extremely important that political power is evenly distributed to the regions for the purpose of balancing and peaceful coexistence.
“We cannot afford to run a democratic system of government where a particular region will dominate the political affairs of the country as we have witnessed under the present administration.
“For us, after the north has done its eight years, power should naturally gravitate towards the South. That is why most northerners who want the political stability of the country are supporting such argument and we commend them. Nobody or region would blackmail the North. This is the best way to go and we are committed as Ijaw people to achieving that through constructive engagements with our northern brothers to deepen the conversation.
“For the insecurity in the country, we have never had it this bad and it is gradually getting out of control. First we were dealing with Boko Haram terrorism, but today, there are different forms of insecurity challenges which is emboldened by the presidency for not condemning the acts of the rampaging Fulani herdsmen who are ransacking communities uncontrollably.
“Killing and maiming innocent and defenseless citizens in the name of cattle grazing in their own ancestral communities, this is unacceptable. On top of this, banditry and kidnapping have also become a big business in the North. It is a sad commentary but if only the presidency has been decisive in clamping down on these monsters, they would have secured the country and we would not have had all the secessionist agitations. The presidency must rise up and begin to treat sections equally in this country and rebuild the confidence of the people.”