By Ralph Madugu
Southern and Middle Belt leaders have insisted on the “fundamental restructuring” of the country to reflect true federalism and enthrone equity, fairness and justice before the 2023 General Elections.
According to the leaders, the existing Constitution and structure of the country are grossly flawed, noting that because local government affairs are state matters, listing local governments in the Constitution is inconsistent with the principle of federalism.
The leaders made their position known in a communique issued at the end of a meeting of the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum held in Abuja.
They discussed on the state of affairs in the country especially the security situation, restructuring and the 2023 general elections and noted that the reports of both the 2014 National Conference and the Governor Nasir El-Rufai – APC Committee on True Federalism of 2018 recommended that the Federation of Nigeria should remain as constituted by the Federal Government and the States, and excluded local government from being a tier of government in the federation but only subject to the creation and administration of the states.
The meeting, chaired by Chief Edwin Clark, also had in attendance a delegation of the SMBLF led by leader of the Afenifere Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Dr. Pogu Bitrus, President of the Middle Belt Forum, Prof. George Obiozor, President-General, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, represented by the Secretary-General, Amb. Okey Emuchay, and Sen. Emmanuel Ibok Essien, National Chairman of the Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF.
They stated that granting local government autonomy by legislations of the National Assembly are “superfluous and exercise in futility.”
Making a case for state police, the leaders declared: “State Police is a sine qua non in a Federal System of Government; notes that there is no government, properly so-called, that is without the instrument and capacity to enforce its laws and maintain security within its territorial jurisdiction.”
They posited that the resultant effect of the monopoly of internal security by the Federal Government is the unprecedented dire state of insecurity in the country.
Emphasizing that the designation of the governor of a state as the Chief Security Officer is a ruse without being in control of the state’s security apparatus, the SMBLF leaders insisted that every state in the country should have its own police to complement the Nigeria Police Force.
While demanding the harmonization and immediate implementation of the reports of the 2014 National Conference and the 2018 APC Committee on True Federalism “rather than the current cosmetic Constitutional Amendment” which they termed “a drain on the resources of the country and do not address fundamental issues including fiscal federalism,” they however, maintained that the basis of any viable democracy, especially in a diverse and complex country such as Nigeria, is fair and even power sharing.
Reiterating their earlier call for power shift, the leaders called on all lovers of peace and equity in Nigeria, particularly the people of Southern Nigeria and Middle Belt regions, to reject any political party that fails to zone its presidential ticket to the South.
“Therefore, unequivocally, and in full resolve, again, call on all political parties in the country to zone their Presidential tickets to the South.
“Consequently cautions Political Stakeholders from Southern Nigeria against aspirations or actions that would compromise the shared Resolve of our people.
“On the worsening state of insecurity in the country, the Forum, particularly, decries the continued kidnappings and killings of innocent citizens and wanton destruction of livelihoods across the country by terrorists and criminals, especially in the North West, North East and Middle Belt region.”
On what the SMBLF described as “the ongoing massacres and decimation of indigenous populations,” in Zuru, Kebbi State, Southern Kaduna, Benue, Plateau and Southern Gombe, where an untold number of citizens have been killed and communities “deliberately displaced, by Islamic extremists and foreign Fulani Herders, with plausible official complicity,” the leaders condemned the attacks and urged the Federal Government “to be alive to its primary duty of protecting the lives and property of citizens; safeguard all Communities across Nigeria, and ensure the immediate return of displaced citizens to their ancestral homes.”
They also demanded for the immediate release of Nnamdi Kanu and a stop to any further persecution of Sunday Igboho in the interest of Nigeria, warning that the continued detention and trial of Nnamdi Kanu on charges of terrorism and treasonable felony while known Boko Haram terrorists are being given VIP treatment and hosted in government houses “is not only provocative and perfidious but a bizarre double standard on the part of the Nigerian State.”
Making a case for Internally Displaced Nigerians, the SMBLF said: “More disconcerting is the fact that the women and children rendered widows, orphans, and displaced by the terrorists, now being gratified by the Federal Government and its security agencies, are wallowing in wretched IDP camps.
“Warns that the Federal government’s lukewarm attitude in tackling the security challenges in the country lends credence to impressions that this administration is using insecurity to foster certain political agenda.”
They reaffirmed their commitment to the unity of Nigeria, which they declared was based on the tenets of equity, fairness, justice, and the principle of federalism.